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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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Chapter Two: Renaissance Dramaturgy


← 10 | 11 → CHAPTER TWO

Renaissance Dramaturgy

Recreating a performance from a time before arrival of the modern media is an uncertain business: reviews, personal impressions, pictures, surviving costumes and props—all cannot fully document the original experience, and even with modern recording resources the elusive interaction of actors and spectators tends to be lost or at best distorted. However, the reconstructed Globe on Bankside in London invites us to resite aesthetic discussions of Shakespeare’s plays in approximately the kind of venue for which they were systematically and consciously designed by the playwright. At least some of the original spatial relationships may be evoked, even if the character of the first spectators is largely lost and cannot be duplicated. Performance experiences on the site may offer some clues about those appropriate to such a space latent in the scripts for theatres such as the Globe, and about the type of interaction possible between actors and spectators explored by such scholars as Andrew Gurr and Alan Dessen. Despite Stephen Greenblatt’s references to ideological “negotiations” in Elizabethan theatres between professionals and their customers, such interpretative literary critics as the New Historicists attempt little detailed demonstration of specific theatrical interaction as a self-sufficient subject of critical exposition. Their emphasis has tended to abstract aesthetic, sociological, political, or even moralistic censure of texts. This negative emphasis is itself traditional, for (as Jonas Barish describes in The Anti-Theatrical Prejudice) it was shared by the theoreticians of the sixteenth-century, such as Sir Philip...

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