A Spectator’s Role
Chapter Five: Interlude: Mixed Modes Throughout Shakespeare
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Interlude: Mixed Modes Throughout Shakespeare
The same considerations which Lope de Vega says should dictate the diversification of tragedies also bear on Shakespeare’s comedies: for such plays the boldest diversification of plot, characters and feeling ensures an audience’s attention. Any comprehensive discussion of Shakespearean tragedy ought therefore to take account of the presence and spectator-impact of tragic motifs in almost all his comedies, giving them a provocative diversity of tone and emotion that most spectators find significant and enriching. Lisa Marciano has observed that “Shakespeare’s comic characters repeatedly come face to face with mortality,” adding “Oddly enough, then, having a brush with death and urging others to live wisely are staples of Shakespeare’s comedies.” Yet, she says, “Few critics systematically examine how the awareness of death is a didactic tool in Shakespearean comedy.” (“The Serious Comedy of Twelfth Night,” 3)
Even if we consider a comedy with a preponderance of humorous elements such as such as A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a play roughly contemporary with Romeo and Juliet, tragedy appears not only latent throughout, but determines the basic form of its climax. The 2014 production of the play by the California Shakespeare Theatre commenced with a violent physical struggle between Theseus and Hippolyta—legitimately so, because we are soon told by Theseus that these ← 51 | 52 → two lovers met on the battlefield trying to kill each other: “Hippolyta, I woo’d thee with my sword, / And won...
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