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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 Nine: Macbeth: Satisfying the Spectator

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Macbeth: Satisfying the Spectator

Many years ago, having to give a lecture on Throne of Blood, the Kurosawa film of Macbeth, I realized that I had never taught or written about the play before, for numerous reasons. First, the play seemed so gloomy in tone; and it was often performed in semi-darkness. A. C. Bradley says “almost all the scenes which at once recur to the memory take place at night or in some dark spot.” (Riverside, 1307). Such gloomy impressions are universal, truly world-wide, for in the context of the 2014 Bengali production of Macbeth, directed by Kaushik Sen, in a highly political application to the contemporary Bengal, Ashutosh Mukhopadhyay observed: “When a person goes to watch a play, not only does he expect a ‘hero,’ but also an antagonist who will oppose him. Then the viewer can identify with the protagonist and leave the hall with a sense of contentment and empathy. Macbeth does not give us this opportunity.” (Sohini Kumar, Ageless Political Empathy in Shakespeare) Sen’s production ended with the impression that Malcolm would prove no better than the Macbeth he has overthrown, and that he might well be succeeded in similar brutal fashion by Fleance. This conclusion was matched in Zeffirelli’s earlier film production, of which the final shot showed the new King Malcolm’s envious younger brother, Donalbain, on his way to consult with the witches.

With such performances current, it is not surprising that...

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