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Shakespeare’s Tragedies Reviewed

A Spectator’s Role


Hugh M. Richmond

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.
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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 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....

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