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Shakespeare’s Tragedies Reviewed

A Spectator’s Role

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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 Three: Richard III as “a Tragedy with a Happy Ending”

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← 22 | 23 → CHAPTER THREE

Richard III as “a Tragedy with a Happy Ending”

The exact composition and intellectual capacities of the Elizabethan playhouse audiences have been debated by authorities such as Andrew Gurr and Ann Jennalie Cook. The nature of such audiences’ interaction with performed scripts has become an even more dominant issue upon the advent of the New Historicism, with its highly political interpretation of the supposed dramatic “affect” in the Elizabethan playhouses. We have been told by critics such as Stephen Greenblatt of the existence in Elizabethan theatres of Shakespearean Negotiations involving the interaction of the Elizabethan stagings with their audiences. Such negotiations might appear to match the kind of obligatory interactions supposedly governing the play-writing of Lope de Vega. But Greenblatt does not talk much in practical detail about mutual interactions governing the nature of stage performance per se, which Lope de Vega describes as determining his actual composition of scripts. Rather Greenblatt follows Michel Foucault’s fixation on power and social control in his account of the political forces governing enforcement of establishment authority via the players. Such pressures supposedly led the players to influence audiences towards social conformity by offering scripts with seeming subversions that are ultimately invalidated by the ruling powers. This totalitarian management of theatrical activity is politically analogous to Neo-Aristotelian authoritarianism in its application of theories governing the nature of drama.

← 23 | 24 → It is not clear precisely how such systems might intervene in interactions taking place...

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