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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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Appendix I


This Appendix recognizes the omission from this book, so far, of full discussion of two scripts from the First Folio that are normally included among Shakespeare’s tragedies: Titus Andronicus and Timon of Athens. In relegating them to this marginal role in the present book, I do so only because they do not seem to meet the positive specifications of this book’s opening paragraph, and not because of questions about their authorship. However, partly because of their generally admitted awkwardness, these two relatively neglected tragedies do invite ascription of major parts of them to Shakespeare collaborators: with Titus, to George Peele; and, with Timon, to Thomas Middleton. T. S. Eliot notoriously called Titus “one of the stupidest and most uninspired plays ever written.” (Selected Essays, 55) D. J. Palmer more wittily defined it as “The unspeakable in pursuit of the uneatable,” adding more illuminatingly that he saw in it how “tragedy is transformed into jest.” (Critical Quarterly, 336) And Timon has fared little better.

Yet there remain valid grounds for including these two plays here, even if only marginally to my presentation. I must recognize that the unpredictable audience interest in them, whether Elizabethan or modern, requires scholars and critics to recognize both Titus and Timon more respectfully, despite their distastefulness to many sensibilities. And modern scholarship insists that Titus in particular also reflects the influence of relevant Italian precedents. Mariangela Tempera calls Cinthio’s Orbecche the “trail-blazer of horror Italian style,” saying that “For ← 173 | 174 → its...

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