Shakespeare’s Tragedies Reviewed

A Spectator’s Role

by Hugh M. Richmond (Author)
©2015 Monographs XIV, 207 Pages
Series: Studies in Shakespeare, Volume 22


Shakespeare’s Tragedies Reviewed explores how the recognition of spectator interests by the playwright has determined the detailed character of Shakespeare tragedies. Utilizing Shakespeare’s European models and contemporaries, including Cinthio and Lope de Vega, and following forms such as Aristotle’s second, more popular style of tragedy (a double ending of punishment for the evil and honor for the good), Hugh Macrae Richmond elicits radical revision of traditional interpretations of the scripts. The analysis includes a major shift in emphasis from conventionally tragic concerns to a more varied blend of tones, characterizations, and situations, designed to hold spectator interest rather than to meet neoclassical standards of coherence, focus, and progression. This reinterpretation also bears on modern staging and directorial emphasis, challenging the relevance of traditional norms of tragedy to production of Renaissance drama. The stress shifts to plays’ counter-movements to tragic tones, and to scripts’ contrasting positive factors to common downbeat interpretations – such as the role of humor in King Lear and the significance of residual leadership in the tragedies as seen in the roles of Malcolm, Edgar, Cassio, and Octavius, as well as the broader progressions in such continuities as those within Shakespeare’s Roman world from Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra to Cymbeline. It becomes apparent that the authority of the spectator in such Shakespearean titles as What You Will and As You Like It may bear meaningfully on interpretation of more plays than just the comedies.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Chapter One: Introduction: The Spectator and the Dramatists
  • Chapter Two: Renaissance Dramaturgy
  • Chapter Three: Richard III as “a Tragedy with a Happy Ending”
  • Chapter Four: A Spectator’s View of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and Lope de Vega’s Castelvines y Monteses
  • Chapter Five: Interlude: Mixed Modes Throughout Shakespeare
  • Chapter Six: Julius Caesar and Neoclassicism
  • Chapter Seven: Hamlet: The Spectator as Detective
  • Chapter Eight: Othello: Iago’s Audience
  • Chapter Nine: Macbeth: Satisfying the Spectator
  • Chapter Ten: Coriolanus: The Spectator and Aristotelianism
  • Chapter Eleven: Enjoying King Lear
  • Chapter Twelve: Antony and Cleopatra: Comical/Historical/Tragical
  • Chapter Thirteen: Cymbelene as Resolution: Tragical-Comical-Historical-Pastoral
  • Chapter Fourteen: Epilogue: Henry VIII and The Two Noble Kinsmen
  • Appendix I
  • A. Titus Andronicus
  • B. Timon of Athens
  • Appendix II
  • A. Sir Philip Sidney: From An Apologie for Poetrie (1595)
  • B. Lope de Vega: The New Art of Making Plays in this Age
  • References
  • Index
  • Series index

← x | xi → Acknowledgments

In the course of more than fifty years at U.C. Berkeley I have taught, produced, directed, performed in, or written about, almost all of Shakespeare’s tragedies in innumerable venues and publications, activities from which many of the discussions that follow are derived directly or indirectly. Most of these occasions and earlier published sources are indicated in this book’s “References,” or are listed on our website at shakespearestaging.berkeley.edu I am most grateful to all the individuals and institutions involved in these activities and wish I could more adequately recognize many of them. All specific citations and allusions to them in this text connect to the relevant entries in the “References” section, including Shakespeare quotations, cued to the Riverside Shakespeare. This study’s epigraph (page ix) is spoken by the Emperor Diocletian in Act II of Lope de Vega’s tragicomedy Lo fingido verdadero (Gilbert, 540)

Despite such listings I cannot hope to acknowledge adequately the significant indebtedness involved to the individuals and institutions that have inspired, funded, reviewed, and otherwise participated in the evolution of this particular study. However, one essential precedent for what I attempt here, in stressing the role of the spectator as a determining factor in theatrical performance, lies in the observations of my friend and colleague, the late and much-lamented Marvin Rosenberg, with his authoritative surveys of the historical staging of Shakespeare’s tragedies and audiences’ responses to them. My other early mentors ← xi | xii → in Shakespeare interpretation at Berkeley were Willard Farnham and Bertrand Evans. I am also much indebted to other fellow Berkeleyans who encouraged me to persist in the use of performance as an educational and scholarly resource, particularly Alan Nelson, Stephen Booth, Joel Altman and Warren Travis. My interest in performance was vastly increased by the invitation of Ronnie Mulryne and Margaret Shewring to contribute studies of the performance histories of Richard III and Henry VIII to their Manchester University Press series. A similar debt is owed to Richard Nochimson for including my Shakespeare and the Renaissance Stage and Shakespeare Stage History in the Pegasus series of Shakespeare bibliographies, and to Sandra Clark for her assistance in completing Shakespeare’s Theatre for Continuum. I learned much about the Spanish theatre and Lope de Vega from my association with a leading expert on the Golden Age John J. Allan, in our U.C. B. outreach programs on “Shakespeare, California, and the Spanish Connection.” I am also most grateful for the initiative and encouragement of Philippa Kelly in my organizing of the material in these essays for our shared courses at the U.C. Berkeley Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, with their enlightened participants, at the gracious invitation of Director Susan Hoffman. Most immediately I greatly appreciate the efforts of the staff at Peter Lang, particularly Michelle Salyga, who first solicited this script, and Alan Powers, who thoroughly reviewed it.

This presentation has also been illuminated by intense interaction with many theatre-professionals with whom I have worked over the decades, both in and outside the classroom, and on and off stage, particularly the group now called the California Shakespeare Theatre, with which I have been closely associated under its several titles for over forty years, including serving as dramaturge for their 1999 productions of King Lear, directed by Denis Arndt, and Two Gentlemen, with Ed Hastings (earlier Director of the American Conservatory Theatre). My interest in Spanish theatre was fostered by one of California Shakespeare’s distinguished Artistic Directors, Dakin Matthews; and I have gained much from the nuanced interpretations of its newly retired one, Jonathan Moscone. A further crucial influence from the professional theatre was that of Sam Wanamaker, in recruiting me as an advocate and participant in the reconstruction of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre on a site in Southwark, near its original setting on the South Bank of the River Thames. This association was greatly enriched by my participation in the theatre’s early operation with Mark Rylance and Andrew Gurr. The U.C. Berkeley Shakespeare Program’s staging there of Much Ado on 15 July 1996 was one of the first Elizabethan-style productions recorded in the rebuilt theatre, and this experience, greatly aided by director Louis Fantasia, remains the high-water mark of my concern with performance of Shakespeare. This apotheosis was shared by my students, whose excitement and support have been principal driving forces throughout my career.

← xii | xiii → On the most practical level, such activities could not have progressed without the continual assistance of the staffs of both our Dramatic Art and English Departments, and also of the Pacific Film Archive, the U.C.B. Television Office and the Educational Technology Office, all of whom cheerfully endured decades of eccentric demands on their resources and ingenuity. I should particularly recognize Paul Shepard, Tom Hutcheson and Audrey Ichinose for the contribution of their invaluable production skills. We were all also deeply indebted to the National Endowment for the Humanities, the California Council for the Humanities, the University of California (particularly U.C. Berkeley), and several private individuals and foundations for multiple grants listed on our website. This support has permitted my leaves in the seclusion of our home at Gairloch, in the Highlands of Scotland, where this book was drafted and revised, which explains the remote geographical site at the end of this prologue.

Indeed, in the text it will become clear that my family has been an invaluable participant in the theatrical experiences on which this book is based, as when I cite the reactions of our daughters, Elizabeth and Claire as significant contributions. The most essential of these personal reinforcements has been the love and involvement of my wife, Velma, without whom most of what is recorded here would never have been achieved: she has not only tolerated absurd demands on her time and energy, but she has been a principal agent in all these activities, not least in monitoring my erratic proofing skills, and she has been the major determinant in any successes I may have had.

H.M.R., Gairloch, Wester Ross, Scotland, 2014← xiii | xiv →

← xiv | 1 → CHAPTER ONE

Recently I talked to a committed theatre-goer who told me that she had seen a widely-praised performance of a play by a leading modern dramatist which had made a profound effect on her: she was miserable for weeks afterwards. Apparently this was just the effect intended by the playwright, the director and actors, and endorsed by the reviewers. Looking at almost any review of a modern production of a Shakespearean tragedy the preferred outcome of most of those involved seems similar. At a production of King Lear by the Berkeley Shakespeare Festival a few years ago, the stage manager began the evening with the traditional list of prescriptions about cell-phones, taping and photography, ending with the rueful observation: “Well, I won’t wish you a happy evening tonight, because, after all, you are going to see King Lear!” It seems very strange to think of anyone deliberately spending considerable sums of money to be made miserable: at such prices one expects to emerge from a tragic performance exhilarated, more aware, better able to cope with the challenges of life—something along the lines of the expectations about poetry of the ancient Roman Horace: “dulce et utile” (which I will update as “delightful and instructive”). If a play-wright has a craft, like a wheel-wright or a ship-wright, it is to entertain, excite, even inspire a spectator, so that the first concern is to hold the viewer’s attention, and reward it by whatever means available—not to conform to an aesthetic theory, nor to advocate a dogmatic policy. As Professor Tom Evans, for many years director of the Hanover College Theatre, recently wrote to me:

← 1 | 2 → I go to the theatre hoping for a solid, insightful, inspired script that offers new, or different, or brilliantly imagined pictures that reflect truths about life and how humans live that life. In the very best of these live events I experience what Sam Selden calls the ‘exaltation of the soul.’ I come into the theatre at one level of existence, and when the experience is over I exit on a higher level of existence. I feel better about the possibilities open to humanity. Even when the story has been of the darkest sort, good writers leave a door slightly ajar, a door that opens on to a vista where we as a society might make things better.

It is my concern in the following essays to identify how Shakespeare’s skillful accommodation of the positive hopes of such spectators might govern his art, resulting ultimately in the creation of distinctive and memorable artifacts, even unique ones.

Another professional Shakespearean, Ian Gallanar, Founding Artistic Director of the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company, expressed these issues thus, in a recent interview by Kathleen Bossert, explaining why he used the original intimacy of the original Globe Playhouse as his model for his company’s new indoor theatre:


XIV, 207
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2015 (August)
Cinthio Lope de Vega Renaissance King lear
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2015. XIV, 207 pp.

Biographical notes

Hugh M. Richmond (Author)

Hugh Macrae Richmond is Professor of English Emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley. He earned a BA from Cambridge University and a DPhil from Oxford University, as well as diplomas in language from Florence and Munich. He has received many awards for his scholarship and teaching. His numerous books include: Shakespeare’s Political Plays, Shakespeare’s Sexual Comedy, and editions of Henry IV, Part 1 and Henry VIII. Dr. Richmond has also compiled critical bibliographies: Shakespeare and the Renaissance Stage to 1616: Shakespearean Stage History 1616 to 1998 and Shakespeare’s Theatre: A Dictionary of His Stage Context. He has created two websites: http://shakespearestaging. berkeley.edu/ and http://miltonrevealed.berkeley.edu/.


Title: Shakespeare’s Tragedies Reviewed
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224 pages