Other writers were feeling similar influences and across Western Europe, especially in France and Spain, tragic drama became a popular form. Opening with a sketch of the progress of the theatre, Kiernan goes on to provide a portrait of Shakespeare as a professional.
He then considers each of the eight tragedies from Julius Caesar to Coriolanus, drawing out their contrasts and recurring themes.
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Romeo and Juliet No Fear Shakespeare. James Shapiro. The Sonnets and a Lover's Complaint. Macbeth No Fear Shakespeare. Othello: The Oxford Shakespeare. Eric Rasmussen.
Othello No Fear Shakespeare. King Richard III. Your review has been submitted successfully. Not registered? Forgotten password Please enter your email address below and we'll send you a link to reset your password.
Eight Tragedies of Shakespeare
Not you? Forgotten password? Forgotten password Use the form below to recover your username and password. New details will be emailed to you. Simply reserve online and pay at the counter when you collect. The Reformation was a turning back, like the Renaissance, but to medieval theology and austerity, though not to celibacy and monastic withdrawal from the world.
It revived much that would have to be forgotten again later, like the doctrine of mankind's total depravity, but also did much to save Christian ethics from the very real threat of being forgotten. Hamlet instructed his actors that the business of art was to hold a mirror up to nature: human nature, that is, and its social setting.
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Dr Johnson in turn found Shakespeare's greatest quality in his fidelity to truth and reality, his holding up 'a faithful mirrour of manners and of life' 3, Clearly, however, this was a deceptively simple image. A painter is expected to show us more in a face, or a landscape, than we have been able to decipher ourselves. Shakespeare observed the swirling life of London, and translated it into dramatic events.
Hamlet wanted drama to be true to men's deeper feelings and interests, not to the minutiae of their external lives; the complex of what was meaningful in these lives and their relations with one another.
The new times were making possible a fuller realization of all this than ever before; they were inaugurating what was to be an unending exploration of life in an ever-changing world. There had been peoples of old, it was known, who left memorials very different from those of the present; the question could begin to be raised of how one civilization came to be succeeded by another. Consciousness of time was stimulated by widening consciousness of space, thanks to the explorers and the finding of unknown lands and seas.
We must suppose Shakespeare to have been very exceptionally sensitive to other human beings and their heartbeats; most of us are, by comparison, usually obtuse, impermeable. Countless spectators and readers have found his characters 'life-like', as Johnson did; we can believe in the possibility of men and women like them, and are aware of kindred features in ourselves.
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Yet four centuries of vertiginous change stretch between them and us. On the other hand the underlying essentials of their social system and ours have altered far less than the means of transport we employ, or of communication; they are to be found in inequality of advantages, opportunity, education. Because of this, and still more as a result of their own long, slow evolution, the deeper structures of personality have been much slower still to change.
There may be an indication of this in what we are told by psychologists, that our patterns of individual response and behaviour are permanently fixed by the time we have left infancy behind. This is not to say that 'human nature is always the same', a shibboleth dear to conservatives because it seems to prove that the comfortable position they occupy must always remain as it is. But each personality is a very complex bundle of elements not evolving integrally; and each community is capable not only of wider vision, higher aspiration, but also of precipitous relapses or disintegrations.
Writers have been allowed different places in society, and the pushings and proddings they have met with there have had a strong influence on their perceptions of life. To comprehend Shakespeare we must do our best to call back the England he lived in, the London he worked in. However, we must not try to imprison him there. Human consciousness, private or collective, roves backward and forward, and some of its wanderings may have more meaning than the common stuff of daily life.
Elizabethans, especially the more literate, breathed the air of manifold epochs, from classical and biblical times to glimpses or fantasies of times still to dawn. Even the unlettered had their Golden Age fable, their land of Cockayne; countryfolk had their not altogether unreal legend of a 'Norman yoke' which had been fastened on them by invaders and was still resented see Hill. It was in its way a genuine historical theory to explain a real historical situation.
We too are products of our age, but not of it alone. We react against our age and its assumptions, as well as being indebted to it, much as we react to our parents and teachers. Ideas can only take effect after men and women have been prepared by experience to open their minds. When civil war broke out in England in its causes, and the war-aims of Cavaliers and Roundheads, were too hazy sometimes deliberately so to excite the masses, particularly in the countryside where most of the population lived.
There was, however, a huge outpouring, with populous London its centre, of reading and writing about matters of Church and State, and about relations between class and class. England was very considerably altered by the events of those two decades, if not very much outwardly for the ploughman or labourer.
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