Women images in Shakespeare's comedies

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I. Introduction

1.1 General characteristics of the work

Before making the investigation in our qualification work we should give some notions on its organization structure.

1. Theme of qualification work.

The theme of my qualification work sounds as following: «Women images in Shakespeare’s comedies» I have chosen this theme as in my opinion the role of a Woman in society is difficult to overestimate and it was Shakespeare who first took the role of women in high rank among the writors of Middle Age literary Reneissanse in Great Britain. And in comedies it is most obviously showed all the opositions of a woman’s character.

2. Actuality of the theme.

The real actual character is based on the thesis that all Shakespeare’s works remain up-to-day even though they had been writen more than three centuries ago! They do not only teach us all the best features of a women’s character but also shows us the worst which we, women, have. All these, both good and evil, we still have. One more actual character lies in purely linguistic features: The Great Bard introduced more than 10 000 new English words and not in the last degree it concerns the adjectives which Shakespeare used when characterizing women in his comedies.

3. The tasks and aims of the work.

Before the beginning of writing our qualification work we set the following tasks and aims before ourselves:

1. To analyze the moral values shown in the plays.

2. To investigate the peculiarities of feminine characterization in Shakespeare’s comedies.

3. To analyze the nature of authors approach to women characters in different stages of his life.

4. To show the ways how the heroes are related to each other by finding out oppositions and correspondences between men and women.

4. The novelty of the work.

We consider that the novelty of the work is revealed in new materials of the linguists which were published in the Internet.

5. Practical significance of the work.

In our opinion the practical significance of our work is hard to be overvalued. This work reflects modern trends in linguistics and we hope it would serve as a good manual for those who wants to master modern English language by classical language of William Shakespeare.

6. Ways of scientific investigation used within the work.

The main method for compiling our work is the method of comparative analysis, translation method and the method of statistical research.

7. Fields of amplification.

The present work might find a good way of implying in the following spheres:

1. In High Schools and scientific circles of linguistic kind it can be successfully used by teachers and philologists as modern material for writing research works dealing with William Shakespeare

2. It can be used by teachers of schools, lyceums and colleges by teachers of English as a practical manual for teaching english literature.

3. It can be useful for everyone who wants to enlarge his/her knowledge in English.

8. Linguists worked with the theme.

As the base for our qualification work we used the works of a distinguished Russian linguists Dmitry Urnov and the noted British philologist Alfred Bates The full list of works and authors is mentioned in bibliography to this qualification paper.

9. Content of the work.

The present qualification work consists of four parts: introduction, the main part, conclusion and bibliography. It also includes the appendix where some interesting Internet materials, tables, schemes and illustrative thematic materials were gathered. Within the introduction part, which includes two items we gave the brief description of our qualification work (the first item) and gave general notion of the life and creative heritage of William Shakespeare. The main part of our qualification work includes ten thematic items. There we discussed such problems as the role of women in Shakespeare’s tragedies, the tratment om women in such significant tragedies as «Hamlet», «Othello» and «Antony and Cleopatra». We also discussed the peculiar femine characters as Ophelia, Gertruda and Juliet. Moreover, some supporting women parts in Shakespeare’s tragedies which are not so well-known were taken into consideration in the main part. To this part we refered the images of Nurse in «Romeo and Juliet», Cornelia and Cymbeline. In conclusion to our qualification work we studied the problem of understanding texts of Shakespeare as the language of the latter is not always clear for modern readers. In the very end of the work we gave the bibliography list of authors, the works of whom we used when compiling the present qualification work. In bibliography part we mentioned more than 20 sources of which were used while compiling the present work. It includes linguistic books and articles dealing with the theme, a number of used dictionaries and encyclopedias and also some internet sources. Appendices to our work include some interesting information on Shakespeare and his works.

2.1 The Genius of Shakespeare

«He was not of an age, but for all time.» So wrote Ben Jonson in his dedicatory verses to the memory of William Shakespeare in 1623, and so we continue to affirm today. No other writer, in English or in any other language, can rival the appeal that Shakespeare has enjoyed. And no one else in any artistic endeavor has projected a cultural influence as broad or as deep.

Shakespeare’s words and phrases have become so familiar to us that it is sometimes with a start that we realize we have been speaking Shakespeare when we utter a cliche such as «one fell swoop» or «not a mouse stirring.» Never mind that many of the expressions we hear most often--«to the manner born,» or (from the same speech in Hamlet) «more honored in the breach than the observance"--are misapplied at least as frequently as they are employed with any awareness of their original context and implication. The fact remains that Shakespeare’s vocabulary and Shakespeare’s cadences are even more pervasive in our ordinary discourse today than the idiom of the King James Bible, which Bartlett lists as only the second most plentiful source of Familiar Quotations.

And much the same could be said of those mirrors of our nature, Shakespeare’s characters. From small delights like Juliet’s Nurse, or Bottom the Weaver, or the Gravedigger, to such incomparable creations as Falstaff, King Lear, and Lady Macbeth, Shakespeare has enlarged our world by imitating it. It should not surprise us, therefore, that personalities as vivid as these have gone on, as it were, to lives of their own outside the dramatic settings in which they first thought and spoke and moved. In opera alone there are enough different renderings of characters and scenes from Shakespeare’s plays to assure that the devotee of Charles-Francois Gounod or Giuseppe Verdi, Richard Wagner or Benjamin Britten, could attend a different performance every evening for six months and never see the same work twice. Which is not to suggest, of course, that the composers of other musical forms have been remiss: Franz Schubert, Felix Mendelssohn, Robert Schumann, Franz Liszt, Hector Berlioz, Pyotr Tchaikovsky, Claude Debussy, Jean Sibelius, Sergey Prokofiev, and Aaron Copland are but a few of the major figures who have given us songs, tone poems, ballets, symphonic scores, or other compositions based on Shakespeare. Cole Porter might well have been addressing his fellow composers when he punctuated Kiss Me Kate with the advice to «Brush Up Your Shakespeare. «

Certainly the painters have never needed such reminders. Artists of the stature of George Romney, William Blake, Henry Fuseli, Eugene Delacroix, John Constable, J. M. W. Turner, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti have drawn inspiration from Shakespeare’s dramatis personae; and, thanks to such impresarios as the eighteenth-century dealer John Boydell, the rendering of scenes from Shakespeare has long been a significant subgenre of pictorial art. Illustrators of Shakespeare editions have often been notable figures in their own right: George Cruikshank, Arthur Rackham, Rockwell Kent, and Salvador Dali. Meanwhile, the decorative arts have had their Wedgwood platters with pictures from the plays, their Shakespeare portraits carved on scrimshaw, their Anne Hathaway’s Cottage tea cozies, their mulberry-wood jewelry boxes, and their Superbard T-shirts.

Every nation that has a theatrical tradition is indebted to Shakespeare, and in language after language Shakespeare remains the greatest living playwright. Not merely in terms of the hundreds of productions of Shakespeare’s own plays to be blazoned on the marquees in any given year, either: no, one must also bear in mind the dozens of film and television versions of the plays, and the countless adaptations, parodies, and spinoffs that accent the repertory--from musicals such as The Boys from Syracuse (based on The Comedy of Errors) and West Side Story (Leonard Bernstein’s New York ghetto version of the gang wars in Romeo and Juliet), to political lampoons like Macbird (contra LBJ) and Dick Deterred (the doubly punning anti-Nixon polemic), not to mention more reflective dramatic treatments such as Edward Bond’s Bingo (a «biographical drama» about Shakespeare the man) and Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (an absurdist re-enactment of Hamlet from the perspective of two innocents as bewildered by the court of Renaissance Elsinore as their twentieth-century counterparts would be in a play such as Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot).

When we broaden our survey to include the hundreds of novels, short stories, poems, critical appreciations, and other works of serious literature that derive in one way or another from Shakespeare, we partake of an even grander view of the playwright’s literary and cultural primacy. Here in America, for example, we can recall Ralph Waldo Emerson’s awestruck response to the Stratford seer, his exclamation that Shakespeare was «inconcievably wise,» all other great writers only «conceivably.» On the other side of the coin, we can indulge in the speculation that Shakespeare may have constituted an aspect of the behemoth that obsessed Herman Melville’s imagination, thus accounting for some of the echoes of Shakespearean tragedy in the form and rhetoric of Moby-Dick. In a lighter vein, we can chuckle at the frontier Bardolatry so hilariously exploited by the Duke and the King in Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn. Or, moving to our own century, we can contemplate William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury as an extended allusion to Macbeth’s «tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow» soliloquy. Should we be disposed to look elsewhere, we can puzzle over «the riddle of Shakespeare» in the meditations of the Argentine novelist and essayist Jorge Luis Borges. Or smile (with perhaps but an incomplete suspension of disbelief) as the Nobel Prize-winning African poet and dramatist Wole Soyinka quips that «Sheikh Zpeir» must have had some Arabic blood in him, so faithfully did he capture the local color of Egypt in Antony and Cleopatra.

Implicit in all of these manifestations of Shakespeare worship is a perception best summed up, perhaps, in James Joyce’s rendering of the charismatic name: «Shapesphere.» For in showing «the very age and body of the time his form and pressure» (as Hamlet would put it), Shakespeare proved himself to be both the «soul of the age» his works reflected and adorned and the consummate symbol of the artist whose poetic visions transcend their local habitation and become, in some mysterious way, contemporaneous with «all time» (to return once more to Jonson’s eulogy). If Jan Kott, a twentieth-century existentialist from eastern Europe, can marvel that Shakespeare is «our contemporary,» then, his testimony is but one more instance of the tendency of every age to claim Shakespeare as its own. Whatever else we say about Shakespeare, in other words, we are impelled to acknowledge the incontrovertible fact that, preeminent above all others, he has long stood and will no doubt long remain atop a pedestal (to recall a recent New Yorker cartoon) as «a very very very very very very important writer. «

So important, indeed, that some of his most zealous admirers have paid him the backhand compliment of doubting that works of such surpassing genius could have been written by the same William Shakespeare who lies buried and memorialized in Stratford-upon-Avon. Plays such as the English histories would suggest in the writer an easy familiarity with the ways of kings, queens, and courtiers; hence their author must have been a member of the nobility, someone like Edward de Vere, the seventeenth Earl of Oxford. Plays such as Julius Caesar, with their impressive display of classical learning, would indicate an author with more than the «small Latin and less Greek» that Ben Jonson attributes to Shakespeare; hence the need to seek for their true begetter in the form of a university-trained scholar such as Francis Bacon. Or so would urge those skeptics (whose numbers have included such redoubtable personages as Henry James and Sigmund Freud) who find themselves in sympathy with the «anti-Stratfordians.» Their ranks have never been particularly numerous or disciplined, since they have often quarreled among themselves about which of the various «claimants"--the Earl of Derby, Christopher Marlowe, even Queen Elizabeth herself--should be upheld as the «true Shakespeare.» And because many of their arguments are methodologically unsophisticated, they have never attracted adherents from scholars with academic credentials in the study of English Renaissance history and dramatic literature. But, whatever their limitations, the anti-Stratfordians have at least helped keep us mindful of how frustratingly little we can say for certain about the life of the man whose works have so enriched the lives of succeeding generations.

II. The Main Part

1.2 Some words on Shakespeare’s biography

One thing we do know is that if Shakespeare was a man for all time, he was also very much a man of his own age. Christened at Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon on 26 April 1564, he grew up as the eldest of five children reared by John Shakespeare, a tradesman who played an increasingly active role in the town’s civic affairs as his business prospered, and Mary Arden Shakespeare, the daughter of a gentleman farmer from nearby Wilmcote. Whether Shakespeare was born on 23 April, as tradition holds, is not known; but a birth date only a few days prior to the recorded baptism seems eminently probable, particularly in view of the fear his parents must have had that William, like two sisters who had preceded him and one who followed, might die in infancy. By the time young William was old enough to begin attending school, he had a younger brother (Gilbert, born in 1566) and a baby sister (Joan, born in 1569). As he attained his youth, he found himself with two more brothers to help look after (Richard, born in 1574, and Edmund, born in 1580), the younger of whom eventually followed his by-then-prominent eldest brother to London and the theater, where he had a brief career as an actor before his untimely death at twenty-seven.

The house where Shakespeare spent his childhood stood adjacent to he wool shop in which his father plied a successful trade as a glover and dealer in leather goods and other commodities. Before moving to Stratford sometime prior to 1552 (when the records show that he was fined for failing to remove a dunghill from outside his house to the location where refuse was normally to be deposited), John Shakespeare had been a farmer in the neighboring village of Snitterfield. Whether he was able to read and write is uncertain. He executed official documents, not with his name, but with a cross signifying his glover’s compasses. Some scholars interpret this as a «signature» that might have been considered more «authentic» than a full autograph; others have taken it to be an indication of illiteracy. But even if John Shakespeare was not one of the «learned,» he was certainly a man of what a later age would call upward mobility. By marrying Mary Arden, the daughter of his father’s landlord, he acquired the benefits of a better social standing and a lucrative inheritance, much of which he invested in property (he bought several houses). And by involving himself in public service, he rose by sure degrees to the highest municipal positions Stratford had to offer: chamberlain (1561), alderman (1565), and bailiff (or mayor) and justice of the peace (1568). A few years after his elevation to the office of bailiff, probably around 1576, John Shakespeare approached the College of Heralds for armorial bearings and the right to call himself a gentleman. Before his application was acted upon, however, his fortunes took a sudden turn for the worse, and it was not until 1596, when his eldest son had attained some status and renewed the petition, that a Shakespeare coat of arms was finally granted. This must have been a comfort to John Shakespeare in his declining years (he died in 1601), because by then he had borrowed money, disposed of property out of necessity, ceased to attend meetings of the town council, become involved in litigation and been assessed fines, and even stopped attending church services, for fear, it was said, «of process for debt.» Just what happened to alter John Shakespeare’s financial and social position after the mid 1570s is not clear. Some have seen his nonattendance at church as a sign that he had become a recusant, unwilling to conform to the practices of the newly established Church of England (his wife’s family had remained loyal to Roman Catholicism despite the fact that the old faith was under vigorous attack in Warwickshire after 1577), but the scant surviving evidence is anything but definitive.

The records we do have suggest that during young William’s formative years he enjoyed the advantages that would have accrued to him as the son of one of the most influential citizens of a bustling market town in the fertile Midlands. When he was taken to services at Holy Trinity Church, he would have sat with his family in the front pew, in accordance with his father’s civic rank. There he would have heard and felt the words and rhythms of the Bible, the sonorous phrases of the 1559 Book of Common Prayer, the exhortations of the Homilies. In all likelihood, after spending a year or two at a «petty school» to learn the rudiments of reading and writing, he would have proceeded, at the age of seven, to «grammar school.» Given his father’s social position, young William would have been eligible to attend the King’s New School, located above the Guild Hall and adjacent to the Guild Chapel (institutions that would both have been quite familiar to a man with the elder Shakespeare’s municipal duties), no more than a five-minute walk from the Shakespeare house on Henley Street. Though no records survive to tell us who attended the Stratford grammar school during this period, we do know that it had well-qualified and comparatively well-paid masters; and, through the painstaking research of such scholars as T. W. Baldwin, we now recognize that a curriculum such as the one offered at the King’s New School would have equipped its pupils with what by modern standards would be a rather formidable classical education.

During his many long school days there, young Shakespeare would have become thoroughly grounded in Latin, acquired some background in Greek, and developed enough linguistic facility to pick up whatever he may have wanted later from such modern languages as Italian and French. Along the way he would have become familiar with such authors as Aesop, Caesar, Cicero, Sallust, Livy, Virgil, Horace, Ovid, and Seneca. He would have studied logic and rhetoric as well as grammar, and he would have been taught the principles of composition and oratory from the writings of such masters as Quintilian and Erasmus. In all probability, he would even have received some training in speech and drama through the performance of plays by Plautus and Terence. If Shakespeare’s references to schooling and schoolmasters in the plays are a reliable index of how he viewed his own years as a student, we must conclude that the experience was more tedious than pleasurable. But it is difficult to imagine a more suitable mode of instruction for the formation of a Renaissance poet’s intellectual and artistic sensibility.

Meanwhile, of course, young Shakespeare would have learned a great deal from merely being alert to all that went on around him. He would have paid attention to the plant and animal life in the local woods that he would later immortalize, in As You Like It, as the Forest of Arden. He may have hunted from time to time; one legend, almost certainly apocryphal, has it that he eventually left Stratford because he had been caught poaching deer from the estate of a powerful squire, Sir Thomas Lucy, four miles up-stream. He probably learned to swim as a youth, skinny-dipping in the river Avon. He may have participated in some of the athletic pursuits that were the basis of competition in the Elizabethan equivalent of the Olympics, the nearby Cotswold Games. He would undoubtedly have been adept at indoor recreations such as hazard (a popular dice game), or chess, or any of a number of card games. As he grew older, he would have become accustomed to such vocations as farming, sheep-herding, tailoring, and shopkeeping. He would have acquired skills such as fishing, gardening, and cooking. And he would have gathered information about the various professions: law, medicine, religion, and teaching. Judging from the astonishing range of daily life and human endeavor reflected in his poems and plays, we can only infer that Shakespeare was both a voracious reader and a keen observer, the sort of polymath Henry James might have been describing when he referred to a character in one of his novels as «a man on whom nothing was lost. «

Once his school years ended, Shakespeare married, at eighteen, a woman who was eight years his senior. We know that Anne Hathaway was pregnant when the marriage license was issued by the Bishop of Worcester on 27 November 1582, because a daughter, Susanna, was baptized in Holy Trinity six months later on 26 May 1583. We have good reason to believe that the marriage was hastily arranged: there was only one reading of the banns (a church announcement preceding a wedding that allowed time for any legal impediments against it to be brought forward before the ceremony took place), an indication of unusual haste. But whether the marriage was in any way «forced» is impossible to determine. Some biographers (most notably Anthony Burgess) have made much of an apparent clerical error whereby the bride’s name was entered as Anne Whateley of Temple Grafton in the Worcester court records; these writers speculate that Shakespeare was originally planning to marry another Anne until Anne Hathaway of Shottery (a village a mile or so from Shakespeare’s home in Stratford) produced her embarrassing evidence of a prior claim. To most scholars, including our foremost authority on Shakespeare’s life, S. Schoenbaum, this explanation of the Anne Whateley court entry seems farfetched. Such hypotheses are inevitable, however, in the absence of fuller information about the married life of William and Anne Hathaway Shakespeare.

What we do have to go on is certainly compatible with the suspicion that William and Anne were somewhat less than ardent lovers. They had only two more children--the twins, Hamnet and Judith, baptized on 2 February 1585--and they lived more than a hundred miles apart, so far as we can tell, for the better part of the twenty-year period during which Shakespeare was employed in the London theater. If we can give any credence to an amusing anecdote recorded in the 1602−1603 diary of a law student named John Manningham, there was at least one occasion during those years when Shakespeare, overhearing the actor Richard Burbage make an assignation, «went before, was entertained, and at his game before Burbage came; then, message being brought that Richard the Third was at the door, Shakespeare caused return to be made that William the Conqueror was before Richard the Third.» If we read the sonnets as in any way autobiographical, moreover, we are shown a poet with at least one other significant liaison: a «Dark Lady» to whom Will’s lust impels him despite the self-disgust the affair arouses in him (and despite her infidelity with the fair «Young Man» to whom many of the poems are addressed and for whom the poet reserves his deepest feelings).

But even if there is reason to speculate that Shakespeare may not have always been faithful to the marriage bed, there is much to suggest that he remained attached to Anne as a husband. In 1597 he purchased one of the most imposing houses in Stratford--New Place, across the street from the Guild Chapel--presumably settling his wife and children there as soon as the title to the property was clear. He himself retired to that Stratford home, so far as we can determine, sometime between 1611 and 1613. And of course he remembered Anne in his will, bequeathing her the notorious «second-best bed"--which most modern biographers regard as a generous afterthought (since a third of his estate would have gone to the wife by law even if her name never occurred in the document) rather than the slight that earlier interpreters had read into the phrasing.

Naturally we would like to know more about what Shakespeare was like as a husband and family man. But most of us would give just as much to know what took place in his life between 1585 (when the parish register shows him to have become the father of twins) and 1592 (when we find the earliest surviving reference to him as a rising star in the London theater). What did he do during these so-called «dark years»? Did he study law, as some have suspected? Did he travel on the Continent? Did he become an apprentice to a butcher, as one late-seventeenth-century account had it? Or--most plausibly, in the view of many modern biographers--did he teach school for a while? All we can say for certain is that by the time his children were making their own way to school in rural Stratford, William Shakespeare had become an actor and writer in what was already the largest city in Europe.

Shakespeare probably traveled the hundred miles to London by way of the spires of Oxford, as do most visitors returning from Stratford to London today. But why he went, or when, history does not tell us. It has been plausibly suggested that he joined an acting troupe (the Queen’s Men) that was one player short when it toured Stratford in 1587. If so, he may have migrated by way of one or two intermediary companies to a position with the troupe that became the Lord Chamberlain’s Men in 1594. The only thing we can assert with any assurance is that by 1592 Shakespeare had established himself as an actor and had written at least three plays. One of these--the third part of Henry VI--was alluded to in that year in a posthumously published testament by a once-prominent poet and playwright named Robert Greene, one of the «University Wits» who had dominated the London theater in the late 1580s. Dissipated and on his deathbed, Greene warned his fellow playwrights to beware of an «upstart crow» who, not content with being a mere player, was aspiring to a share of the livelihood that had previously been the exclusive province of professional writers such as himself. Whether Greene’s Groatsworth of Wit accuses Shakespeare of plagiarism when it describes him as «beautified with our feathers» is not clear; some scholars have interpreted the phrase as a complaint that Shakespeare has borrowed freely from the scripts of others (or has merely revised existing plays, a practice quite common in the Elizabethan theater). But there can be no doubt that Greene’s anxieties signal the end of one era and the beginning of another: a golden age, spanning two full decades, during which the dominant force on the London stage would be, not Greene or Kyd or Marlowe or even (in the later years of that period) Jonson, but Shakespeare.

2.2 Introducing words to Shakespeare’s Comedy

The Comedy of Errors — first pure comedy

If Shakespeare’s earliest efforts in the dramatization of history derived from his response to the political climate of his day, his first experiments in comedy seem to have evolved from his reading in school and from his familiarity with the plays of such predecessors on the English stage as John Lyly, George Peele, Robert Greene, and Thomas Nashe. Shakespeare’s apprentice comedies are quite «inventive» in many respects, particularly in the degree to which they «overgo» the conventions and devices the young playwright drew upon. But because they have more precedent behind them than the English history plays, they strike us now as less stunningly «original"--though arguably more successfully executed--than the tetralogy on the Wars of the Roses.

Which of them came first we do not know, but most scholars incline toward The Comedy of Errors, a play so openly scaffolded upon Plautus’s Menaechmi and Amphitruo (two farces that Shakespeare probably knew in Latin from his days in grammar school) that one modern critic has summed it up as «a kind of diploma piece.» Set, ostensibly, in the Mediterranean city familiar from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians, the play begins with a sentence on the life of a luckless Syracusan merchant, Aegeon, who has stumbled into Ephesus in search of his son Antipholus. After narrating a tale of woe that wins the sympathy of the Duke of Ephesus, Aegeon is given till five in the afternoon to come up with a seemingly impossible ransom for his breach of an arbitrary law against Syracusans. Meanwhile, unknown to Aegeon, the object of his search is in Ephesus too, having arrived only hours before him; Antipholus had set out some two years earlier to find a twin brother by the same name who was separated from the rest of the family in a stormy shipwreck more than twenty years in the past. By happy coincidence, the other Antipholus has long since settled in Ephesus, and so (without either’s knowledge) has their mother, Aegeon’s long-lost wife, Aemilia, who is now an abbess. To complicate matters further, both Antipholuses have slaves named Dromio, also twins long separated, and of course both sets of twins are indistinguishably appareled. Into this mix Shakespeare throws a goldsmith, a set of merchants, a courtesan, a wife and a sister-in-law for the Ephesian Antipholus, and a conjuring schoolmaster. The result is a swirling brew of misunderstandings, accusations, and identity crises--all leading, finally, to a series of revelations that reunite a family, save Aegeon’s life, and bring order to a city that had begun to seem bewitched by sorcerers.

The Comedy of Errors reached print for the first time in the 1623 First Folio. We know that it was written prior to 28 December 1594, however, because there is record of a performance on that date at one of the four Inns of Court. Some scholars believe that the play was written for that holiday Gray’s Inn presentation, but most tend to the view that it had been performed previously, possibly as early as 1589 but more likely in the years 1592−1594. Most critics now seem agreed, moreover, that for all its farcical elements, the play is a comedy of some sophistication and depth, with a sensitivity to love that anticipates Shakespeare’s great comedies later in the decade: when Luciana advises her sister Adriana about how she should treat her husband Antipholus, for example, she echoes Paul’s exhortations on Christian marriage in Ephesians. And with its use of the devices of literary romance (the frame story of Aegeon comes from Apollonius of Tyre), The Comedy of Errors also looks forward to the wanderings, confusions of identity, and miraculous reunions so fundamental to the structure of «late plays» such as Pericles and The Tempest.

3.2 «The Taming of the Shrew» the first feminine comedy

What may have been Shakespeare’s next comedy has also been deprecated as farce, and it is frequently produced today with staging techniques that link it with the commedia del l’arte popular in Renaissance Italy. But for all its knockabout slapstick, The Taming of the Shrew is too penetrating in its psychology and too subtle in its handling of the nuances of courtship to be dismissed as a play deficient in feeling. Its main event is a battle of the sexes in which Petruchio, who has «come to wive it wealthily in Padua,» takes on a dare no other potential suitor would even consider: to win both dowry and docility from a sharp-tongued shrew avoided as «Katherine the curst.» Apparently recognizing that Katherine’s willfulness is a product of the favoritism her father has long bestowed upon her younger sister, and having the further good sense to realize that the fiery Kate is capable of becoming a much more attractive wife than the much-sought-after but rather devious Bianca, Petruchio mounts a brilliant campaign to gain Kate’s love and make her his. First, he insists that Kate is fair and gentle, notwithstanding all her efforts to disabuse him of that notion. Second, he «kills her in her own humour,» with a display of arbitrary behavior--tantrums, scoldings, peremptory refusals--that both wears her down and shows her how unpleasant shrewishness can be. At the end of the play Petruchio shocks his skeptical fellow husbands by wagering that his bride will prove more obedient than theirs. When Kate not only heeds his commands but reproaches her sister and the other wives for «sullen, sour» rebellion against their husbands, it becomes manifest that Petruchio has succeeded in his quest: Kate freely and joyfully acknowledges him to be her «loving lord.» If we have doubts about whether Kate’s transformation can be accepted as a «happy ending» today--and alterations of the final scene in many recent productions would suggest that it may be too offensive to current sensibilities to be played straight--we should perhaps ask ourselves whether the Kate who seems to wink conspiratorially at Petruchio as she puts her hands beneath his foot to win a marital wager is any less spirited or fulfilled a woman than the Kate who drives all her wouldbe wooers away in the play’s opening scene.

Whether or not The Taming of the Shrew is the mysterious Love’s Labor’s Won referred to by Francis Meres in 1598, it seems to have been written in the early 1590s, because what is now generally believed to be a bad quarto of it appeared in 1594. The Taming of a Shrew differs significantly from the version of Shakespeare’s play that was first published in the 1623 Folio--most notably in the fact that the drunken tinker Christopher Sly, who appears only in the induction to the later printing of the play, remains on stage throughout The Taming of a Shrew, repeatedly interrupting the action of what is presented as a play for his entertainment and resolving at the end to go off and try Petruchio’s wife-taming techniques on his own recalcitrant woman. Some directors retain the later Sly scenes, but no one seriously questions that the Folio text is in general the more authoritative of the two versions of the play.

4. 2 The Two Gentlemen of Verona based on Feminine Work

The Folio provides the only surviving text of The Two Gentlemen of Verona, a comedy so tentative in its dramaturgy (for example, its ineptitude in the few scenes where the playwright attempts to manage more than two characters on the stage at once), and so awkward in its efforts to pit the claims of love and friendship against each other, that many scholars now think it to be the first play Shakespeare ever wrote. Based largely on a 1542 chivalric romance (Diana Enamorada) by Portuguese writer Jorge de Montemayor, The Two Gentlemen of Verona depicts a potential rivalry between two friends--Valentine and Proteus--who fall in love with the same Milanese woman (Silvia) despite the fact that Proteus has vowed his devotion to a woman (Julia) back home in Verona. Proteus engineers Valentine’s banishment from Milan so that he can woo Silvia away from him. But Silvia remains faithful to Valentine, just as Julia (who has followed her loved one disguised as his page) holds true to Proteus, notwithstanding the character he discloses as a man who lives up to his name. In the concluding forest scene Valentine intervenes to save Silvia from being raped by Proteus; but, when Proteus exhibits remorse, Valentine offers him Silvia anyway, as a token of friendship restored. Fortunately, circumstances conspire to forestall such an unhappy consummation, and the play ends with the two couples properly reunited.

Unlike The Comedy of Errors and The Taming of the Shrew, The Two Gentlemen of Verona has never been popular in the theater, even though it offers two resourceful women (whose promise will be fulfilled more amply in such later heroines as Rosalind and Viola), a pair of amusing clowns (Launce and Speed), and one of the most engaging dogs (Crab) who ever stole a stage. In its mixture of prose and verse, nevertheless, and in its suggestion that the «green world» of the woods is where pretensions fall and would be evildoers find their truer selves, The Two Gentlemen of Verona looks forward to the first fruits of Shakespeare’s maturity: the «romantic comedies» of which it proves to be a prototype.

Titus Andronicus

The one remaining play that most critics now locate in the period known as Shakespeare’s apprenticeship is a Grand Guignol melodrama that seems to have been the young playwright’s attempt to outdo Thomas Kyd’s Spanish Tragedy (produced circa 1589) in its exploitation of the horrors of madness and revenge. The composition of Titus Andronicus is usually dated 1590−1592, and it seems to have been drawn from a ballad and History of Titus Andronicus that only survives today in an eighteenth-century reprint now deposited in the Folger Shakespeare Library. (The Folger also holds the sole extant copy of the 1594 first quarto of Shakespeare’s play, the authoritative text for all but the one scene, III. ii, that first appeared in the 1623 Folio.) If Shakespeare did take most of his plot from the History of Titus Andronicus, it is clear that he also went to Ovid’s Metamorphoses (for the account of Tereus’s rape of Philomena, to which the tongueless Lavinia points to explain what has been done to her) and to Seneca’s Thyestes (for Titus’s fiendish revenge on Tamora and her sons at the end of the play).

Although Titus Andronicus is not a «history play,» it does make an effort to evoke the social and political climate of fourth-century Rome; and in its depiction of a stern general who has just sacrificed more than twenty of his own sons to conquer the Goths, it anticipates certain characteristics of Shakespeare’s later «Roman plays»: Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra, and Coriolanus. But it is primarily as an antecedent of Hamlet (influenced, perhaps, by the so-called lost Ur-Hamlet) that Titus holds interest for us today. Because whatever else it is, Titus Andronicus is Shakespeare’s first experiment with revenge tragedy. Its primary focus is the title character, whose political misjudgments and fiery temper put him at the mercy of the Queen of the Goths, Tamora, and her two sons (Demetrius and Chiron). They ravish and mutilate Titus’s daughter Lavinia, manipulate the Emperor into executing two of Titus’s sons (Martius and Quintus) as perpetrators of the crime, and get Titus’s third son (Lucius) banished for trying to rescue his brothers. Along the way, Tamora’s Moorish lover Aaron tricks Titus into having his right hand chopped off in a futile gesture to save Martius and Lucius. After Lavinia writes the names of her assailants in the sand with her grotesque stumps, Titus works out a plan for revenge: he slits the throats of Demetrius and Chiron, invites Tamora to a banquet, and serves her the flesh of her sons baked in a pie. He then kills Tamora and dies at the hands of Emperor Saturninus. At this point Lucius returns heading a Gothic army and takes over as the new Emperor, condemning Aaron to be half-buried and left to starve and throwing Tamora’s corpse to the scavenging birds and beasts.

As Fredson Bowers has pointed out, Titus Andronicus incorporates a number of devices characteristic of other revenge tragedies: the protagonist’s feigned madness, his delay in the execution of his purpose, his awareness that in seeking vengeance he is taking on a judicial function that properly rests in God’s hands, and his death at the end in a bloody holocaust that leaves the throne open for seizure by the first opportunist to arrive upon the scene.

5.2 Character of Titania in «A Midsummer Night’s Dream»

Affectation of another kind is depicted in a delightful scene from what many regard as Shakespeare’s most charming comedy, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. As the Athenian courtiers are quick to observe in their critiques of the «tragical mirth» of Pyramus and Thisby in V. i, the «mechanicals» who display their dramatic wares at the nuptial feast of Theseus and Hippolyta are even more fundamentally «o'erparted» than the hapless supernumeraries of Love’s Labor’s Lost. But there is something deeply affectionate about Shakespeare’s portrayal of the affectations of Bottom and his earnest company of «hempen home-spuns,» and the «simpleness and duty» with which they tender their devotion is the playwright’s way of reminding us that out of the mouths of babes and fools can sometimes issue a loving wisdom that «hath no bottom.» Like «Bottom's Dream,» the playlet brings a refreshingly naive perspective to issues addressed more seriously elsewhere. And, by burlesquing the struggles and conflicts through which the lovers in the woods circumvent the arbitrariness of their elders, «Pyramus and Thisby» comments not only upon the fortunes of Demetrius and Helena, Lysander and Hermia, but also upon the misfortunes of Romeo and Juliet. After all, both stories derive ultimately from the same source in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and Shakespeare’s parallel renderings of the «course of true love» in Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream are so closely linked in time and treatment that it is tempting to regard the two plays as companion pieces--tragic and comic masks, as it were, for the same phase (1595−1596) of Shakespearean dramaturgy.

Whether or not A Midsummer Night’s Dream was commissioned for a wedding ceremony at Whitehall, as some scholars have speculated, the play is in fact a remarkable welding of disparate materials: the fairy lore of Oberon and Titania and their impish minister Puck, the classical narrative of Theseus’s conquest of the Amazons and their queen Hippolyta, the confused comings and goings of the young Athenian lovers who must flee to the woods to evade their tyrannical parents, and the rehearsals for a crude craft play by a band of well-meaning peasants. It is in some ways the most original work in the entire Shakespearean canon, and one is anything but surprised that its «something of great constancy» has inspired the best efforts of such later artists as composer Felix Mendelssohn, painters Henry Fuseli and William Blake, director Peter Brook, and filmmakers Max Reinhardt and Woody Allen.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is in many respects the epitome of «festive comedy,» an evocation of the folk rituals associated with such occasions as May Day and Midsummer Eve, and its final mood is one of unalloyed romantic fulfillment. Romance is also a key ingredient in the concluding arias of Shakespeare’s next comedy, The Merchant of Venice, where Bassanio and Portia, Lorenzo and Jessica, and Gratiano and Nerissa celebrate the happy consummation of three love quests and contemplate the music of the spheres from a magical estate known symbolically as Belmont. But the «sweet harmony» the lovers have achieved by the end of The Merchant of Venice has been purchased very dearly, and it is hard for a modern audience to accept the serenity of Belmont without at least a twinge of guilt over what has happened in far-off Venice to bring it about.

The Merchant of Venice

Whether The Merchant of Venice is best categorized as an anti-Semitic play (capitalizing on prejudices that contemporaries such as Marlowe had catered to in plays like The Jew of Malta) or as a play about the evils of anti-Semitism (as critical of the Christian society that has persecuted the Jew as it is of the vengeance he vents in response), its central trial scene is profoundly disturbing for an audience that has difficulty viewing Shylock’s forced conversion as a manifestation of mercy. Shylock’s «hath not a Jew eyes» speech impels us to see him as a fellow human being--notwithstanding the rapacious demand for «justice» that all but yields him Antonio’s life before Portia’s clever manipulations of the law strip the usurer of his own life’s fortune--so that even if we feel that the Jew’s punishment is less severe than what strict «justice» might have meted out to him, his grim exit nevertheless casts a pall over the festivities of the final act in Belmont.

By contrast with A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a play in which the disparate components of the action are resolved in a brilliantly satisfying synthesis, The Merchant of Venice remains, for many of us, a prototype of those later Shakespearean works that twentieth-century critics have labeled «problem comedies.» Even its fairy-tale elements, such as the casket scenes in which three would-be husbands try to divine the «will» of Portia’s father, seem discordant to a modern audience that is asked to admire a heroine who dismisses one of her suitors with a slur on his Moroccan «complexion.» Though it seems to have been written in late 1596 or early 1597 and, like A Midsummer Night’s Dream, was first published in a good quarto in 1600, The Merchant of Venice feels closer in mood to Measure for Measure--which also pivots on a conflict between justice and mercy--than to most of the other «romantic comedies» of the mid to late 1590s.

The Merry Wifes of Windsor

The first good text of a related play, The Merry Wives of Windsor, also appeared in the Folio, but it too was initially published in a bad quarto, this one a memorial reconstruction dated 1602. Just when Merry Wives was written, and why, has been vigorously debated for decades. According to one legend, no doubt apocryphal but not totally lacking in plausibility, Shakespeare was commissioned to write the play because the Queen wanted to see Falstaff in love. If so, it seems likely that the play was also produced as an occasional piece in honor of the award of the Order of the Garter to Lord Hunsdon, the patron of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, on 23 April 1597. There are references to a Garter ceremony at Windsor Castle in act five of The Merry Wives of Windsor, and Leslie Hotson has argued that even though the play may well have been performed later at the Globe, its first presentation was before Queen Elizabeth and Lord Hunsdon at Windsor on St. George’s Day 1597.

The Merry Wives of Windsor is unique among Shakespeare’s comedies in having an English town for its setting. Its bourgeois characters have delighted audiences not only in the playhouse but also on the operatic stage, in what many critics consider the most successful of Verdi’s numerous achievements in Shakespearean opera. Despite its obvious charms, however, the play has never been a favorite among Shakespeare’s readers and literary interpreters. The reason is that the Falstaff we see in The Merry Wives of Windsor is a Falstaff largely lacking in the vitality and appeal of the character we come to love in the first part of Henry IV. Without Prince Hal and the wit combats afforded by his jokes at Falstaff’s expense, the Falstaff of Merry Wives is merely conniving and crude. We may laugh at the comeuppances he receives at the hands of the merry wives he tries to seduce--the buck-basket baptism he gets as his reward for the first encounter, the beatings and pinchings he suffers in his later encounters--but we see nothing of the inventiveness that makes Falstaff such a supreme escape artist in part 1 of Henry IV. So attenuated is the Falstaff of The Merry Wives of Windsor that many interpreters have argued that it is simply a mistake to approach him as the same character. In any case, we never see him in love. His is a profit motive without honor, and it is much more difficult for us to feel any pity for his plight in Merry Wives than it is in the three Henry plays that depict the pratfalls and decline of the young heir-apparent's genial lord of misrule.

The play does have the clever Mistress Ford and Mistress Page. And in the jealous Master Ford and the tyrannical Master Page it also has a pair of comic gulls whose sufferings can be amusing in the theater. But it is doubtful that The Merry Wives of Windsor will ever be among our favorite Shakespearean comedies, particularly when we examine it alongside such contemporary achievements as Much Ado About Nothing and As You Like It.

Much Ado about Nothing

Much Ado About Nothing and As You Like It were probably written in late 1598 and 1599, respectively, with the former first published in a good quarto in 1600 and the later making its initial appearance in the 1623 First Folio. Both are mature romantic comedies, and both have enjoyed considerable success in the theater.

«Nothing» is a word of potent ambiguity in Shakespeare (the playwright was later to explore its potential most profoundly in the «nothing will come of nothing» that constitutes the essence of King Lear), and in Much Ado About Nothing its implications include the possibilities inherent in the wordplay on the Elizabethan homonym «noting.» Through the machinations of the surly Don John, who gulls the superficial Claudio into believing that he «notes» his betrothed Hero in the act of giving herself to another lover, an innocent girl is rejected at the altar by a young man who believes himself to have been dishonored. Fortunately, Don John and his companions have themselves been noted by the most incompetent watch who ever policed a city; and, despite their asinine constable, Dogberry, these well-meaning but clownish servants of the Governor of Messina succeed in bringing the crafty villains to justice. In doing so, they set in motion a process whereby Hero’s chastity is eventually vindicated and she reappears as if resurrected from the grave. Meanwhile, another pair of «notings» have been staged by the friends of Benedick and Beatrice, with the result that these two sarcastic enemies to love and to each other are each tricked into believing that the other is secretly in love. At least as much ado is made of Benedick and Beatrice’s notings as of the others, and by the time the play ends these acerbic critics of amorous folly, grudgingly acknowledging that «the world must be peopled,» have been brought to the altar with Claudio and Hero for a double wedding that concludes the play with feasting and merriment.

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