Show Less
Restricted access

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.
Show Summary Details
Restricted access

Chapter Six: Julius Caesar and Neoclassicism


← 58 | 59 → CHAPTER SIX

Julius Caesar and Neoclassicism

Julius Caesar, like Coriolanus and Macbeth, is largely devoid of humor, distinguishing it from other major tragedies of Shakespeare such as Hamlet, Othello, and King Lear. The three more emotionally consistent plays each have a tone appropriate to their concentration on issues of government and succession of leadership that brings them far closer to the Aristotelian norm and seemingly differ from the mixed mode of drama favored by Cinthio and Lope de Vega. Their contrast with the powerful intrusion of comic figures such as Falstaff and Pistol into the most successful English history plays like Henry IV and Henry V is very conspicuous, though Richard II had certainly started the second tetralogy in a similar sober style to the two later Roman tragedies.

One senses that Shakespeare was consciously writing to more neoclassical specifications for tragedy in handling his Roman subjects, just as The Comedy of Errors in its classical setting consciously conformed to the parameters set out by the Plautine precedent Menaechmi, from which much of its content and procedures are derived—matching the limits for the plot set by the Neoclassical Unities of Time, Place and Action. Though less rigorous in these broader terms, as a result of its consistency of tone Julius Caesar has proved manageable for teachers, providing one of the basic texts used to introduce Shakespeare to adolescents. However, it does this with less theatrical success than the other popular tragedies,...

You are not authenticated to view the full text of this chapter or article.

This site requires a subscription or purchase to access the full text of books or journals.

Do you have any questions? Contact us.

Or login to access all content.