Literature Subtopic COURSES & Language English Literature

William Shakespeare:

Comedies, Histories, and ‘Tragedies

Course Guidebook

Professor Peter Saccio Dartmouth College


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Peter Saccio, Ph.D.

Leon D. Black Professor of Shakespearean Studies Dartmouth College

eter Saccio has taught at Dartmouth Prix since 1966. He chaired the English

department from 1984 to 1988; in addition, he has won Dartmouth’s J. Kenneth Huntington Memorial Award for Outstanding Teaching. He has served as visiting professor at Wesleyan University and at University College in London.

He received a B.A. from Yale University and a Ph.D. from Princeton. He is the author of The Court Comedies of John Lyly (1969) and Shakespeare s English Kings (1977), the latter a classic in its field. He edited Middleton’s comedy A Mad World, My Masters for the Oxford Complete Works of Thomas Middleton (1996). He has published or delivered at conferences more than twenty papers on Shakespeare and other dramatists.

Professor Saccio has directed productions of Twelfth Night, Macbeth, and Cymbeline. He has devised and directed several programs of scenes from Shakespeare and from modern British drama, and he served as dramaturg for the productions of his Dartmouth colleagues. He has acted the Shakespearean roles of Casca, Angelo, Bassanio, and Henry IV as well as various parts in the ancient plays of Plautus and the modern plays of Harold Pinter, Tom Stoppard, and Peter Shaffer. m


Table of Contents


Professor Biography #:):ciscases.eteeecseeweeeei pail AR i COUNSE SCOPO kenaa o ataa AE A A 1



Shakespeare Then and NOwW.............:::::ccceceeceeceeeeeeeeeeeteeceenneneeeeeeeeees 3 LECTURE 2

The Nature of Shakespeare’s PlayS ..........::cccecceeeceeceeeeeeeeeeettneeeeeeenaas 6 LECTURE 3

Twelfth Night—Shakespearean Comedy. ............:.:eceeeeeeeeeeeercaeeeeeeeeees 9 LECTURE 4

Twelfth Night—Malvolio in Love .......:::cccceccceceeeteeeeeeeneeeeeeetnieeeeeeees 12 LECTURE 5

The Taming of the Shrew—Getting Married in the 1590s ................ 15 LECTURE 6

The Taming of the Shrew—Farce and Romance „seeen 17 LECTURE 7

The Merchant of Venice—Courting the Heiress ................:::000ceeee 20 LECTURE 8

The Merchant of Venice—SHNylock ....asssiseeeseerissrsrsereisiccrirrrinieerneais 22 LECTURE 9

Measure for Measure—Sex in Society eessen 24 LECTURE 10

Measure for Measure—Justice and Comedy „n... 26


Table of Contents

LECTURE 11 Richard IlI—Shakespearean History ...............:::::es:eceecceeeeeeeeeteeeeteees 28 LECTURE 12 Richard I!l—The Villain’s Career 00.0... .ccccccccccccecccseeeceeeeeeeeeeeeseeneeeeeane 31 LECTURE 13 Richard II—The Theory of Kingshi ................::::::ececeeeceeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeees 34 LECTURE 14 Richard Il—The Fall of the King oesscnessionecccnieradnioneionsi 37 LECTURE 15 Henry IV—AIl the King’s Men ..........ceeeeeeceeeeeeeeeeeeeencaeeeeeeenaeeeeeeeaes 40 LECTURE 16 Henry 1V—The Life of Falstaff 0.0... eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeneeeeeeenteeeeeeeaas 43 LECTURE 17 Henry V—The Death of Falstaff 00... ee ccceeeeeencneeeeeeenceeeeeeeaas 46 LECTURE 18 Henry V—The King Victorio Sansan naana 60 LECTURE 19 Romeo and Juliet—Shakespearean Tragedy... 63 LECTURE 20 Romeo and Juliet—Public Violence and Private Bliss.................... 66 LECTURE 21 Troilus and Cressida—Ancient Epic in a New Mode ...........:0:::cee 68 LECTURE 22 Troilus and Cressida—Heroic Aspirations ...........cccccccecsssssessssseeeeneees 71 LECTURE 23 Julius Caesar—The Matter Of ROME ............ccccccsseceeeceeaceeeeeeeeseaaeeeees 73

Table of Contents

LECTURE 24 Julius Caesar—Heroes of HIStory ..........::::ccccecceceeeeeeeeeeeeceeeeeeeeeeeeees 75 LECTURE 25 Hamlet—The Abundance of the Play ........... ee eceeeeeeeseeeeeeeesteeeeeeeeaes 77 LECTURE 26 Hamlet—The Causes of Tragedy ..........ccccceceeeeeeeeeentteeeeeeenteeeeeeeaes 80 LECTURE 27 Hamlet—The Protestant Hero ....eeeeeerseserrrrrrerrrierrrrerrrrerreenns 82 LECTURE 28 Othello—The Design of the Tragedy ............::::::ccccceeeeeeeeeeeeenenneaeees 85 LECTURE 29 Othello—“O Villainy!” ............ccccceccecceeeeeeeeeeececceeecaeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeesnesineaeees 88 LECTURE 30 Othello—‘The Noble Moor?” 91 LECTURE 31 King Lear—‘This Is the Worst? .........ecccccceeeeseeeeeeeencaeeeeeeenaeeeeeeeaaas 94 LECTURE 32 King Lear—Wisdom Through Suffering.............2:::::::ecceeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeees 97 LECTURE 33 King Loar— Then We Go On” scscscecseniiotieriiiia tiretta 99 LECTURE 34 Macbeth— Fair IS Foul kessin a 102 LECTURE 35 Macbeth—Musing on Murder .....0......ceeeececeeeeneeeeeeeeeteeeeeeeetaeeeeeeenaaes 105 LECTURE 36 Macbeth—“Enter Two Murderers” ..........ccccccccecceseeccsseeeseeeeeeeeeeeeeeaas 108

Table of Contents


Chart of Shakespeare’s Plays .......0...cccccceeeeeseeeeeeeeetteeeeeettneeeeereee 111 alll aa(<)| al oaereereree treeeterrrrrererr er crererrre nn re rererr rrr rere tre 113 GIOSSANY E E sheet E O E E E E aie ate 122 Biography of William Shakespeare. .............ceecceeeeeeeeeeeeeeettteeeeeeenaees 127 Bibliography ses eee 129


William Shakespeare: Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies


Histories, Tragedies introduces the plays of Shakespeare and delineates

the achievement that makes Shakespeare the leading playwright in Western civilization. The key to that achievement is his “abundance,” not only the number of plays he wrote and the length of each one, but also the variety of human experiences they depict, the multitude of actions and characters they contain, the combination of public and private life they deal with, the richness of feelings they express and can provoke in an audience and in readers, and the fullness of language and suggestion.

thirty-six half-hour lectures, William Shakespeare: Comedies,

The first two lectures are introductory. They consider how Shakespeare’s plays have been found valuable by four centuries of readers, and how they have been interpreted and reinterpreted by the generations who have read and seen them. The lectures consider the kind of theater for which he wrote, the characteristic structures of his plays, and the way the plays easily mingle events from different realms: different social levels, different levels of realism, different metaphysical contexts.

The course then proceeds to consider the plays in terms of genre. Lectures 3 through 10 discuss four comedies. Twelfth Night offers an example of basic Shakespearean comic structure and subject matter: courtship by several young couples. Renaissance courtship practices are discussed, together with their implications about the place of romantic love in human life as a whole. Shakespeare also includes in his survey of lovers Malvolio the ambitious steward, for whom courtship is a means of social advancement. The Taming of the Shrew provides a more realistic look at bourgeois marriage customs and the place of a strong woman in a patriarchal society. It shows as well Shakespeare experimenting with an unusually sharp collision of romance and farce. The Merchant of Venice entails a particularly lofty form of romantic idealism in the courtship plot, but it confronts that idealism with the problematic, possibly tragic, character of Shylock, who has forced generations


of actors into reinterpretation of Shakespeare. Measure for Measure shows Shakespeare on the verge of breaking out of comic conventions altogether. The characters marry at the end, as is customary, but the route to their unions is a gritty path entailing near-rape and near-execution via the courtrooms and the sexual underground of a corrupt modern society.

Lectures 11 through 18 deal with five plays drawn from English history. The nature of the history play is explained. Richard HI is followed through the arc of his villainous and entertaining career. Richard IT raises constitutional problems that vex us still: what can be done with a ruler who is undoubtedly entitled to rule and is also damaging the realm? The two plays named after Henry IV show Shakespeare’s widest scope in depicting the realm of England from throne room to tavern to countryside, and they introduce Shakespeare’s most remarkable comic creation, Falstaff. In Henry V, Shakespeare kills Falstaff in a scene of extraordinary artistic skill and emotional effect, and then takes the king to a military victory that still arouses all our conflicted convictions about the morality of warfare.

Lectures 19 through 36 deal with Shakespeare’s tragedies. They show him taking Romeo and Juliet, who should be the leading pair of lovers in a comedy, and plunging their private bliss in the public violence of a city torn by feud. Why ancient Rome was important to Shakespeare (and to the Renaissance as a whole) is explored in two lectures on Julius Caesar. Two lectures on Troilus and Cressida show Shakespeare re-writing Homer into a bitter satire on vainglorious men and unfaithful women. Finally, three lectures apiece are devoted to each of the four greatest tragedies, Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, and Macbeth, so that the richness and variety of each can be explored. Emphasis falls on the scope of the tragic effect: Shakespeare’s acute development of the inner consciousness in his tragic soliloquies, placed within the far-ranging philosophical and theological implications of tragic events for the whole of human life.

As with his students at Dartmouth, Professor Saccio expects his listeners and viewers to have some familiarity with the plays (he does not waste time on basic plot summary), but otherwise he provides the critical tools necessary for the appreciation of Shakespeare’s world, his artistry, his significance, and his emotional power. m


Shakespeare Then and Now Lecture 1 O

This is a course in the plays of William Shakespeare. It will explore some of the most powerful works of art available to us in the Western tradition. They first filled theaters in London 400 years ago, and they continue to please, to move, and to enlighten many people today.

hakespeare was an extremely prolific playwright, composing 38

surviving plays as well as 154 sonnets and several other poems. In

about the year 1601, the scholar Gabriel Harvey said Hamlet pleased “the wiser sort.” Several years earlier, the hack writer Thomas Nashe had described Shakespeare’s effect on his audiences. Puritans said plays were pretense and provided bad examples of immoral behavior. Nashe countered that the plays honored history and provided good examples of valor and heroism.

Shakespeare’s plays have enriched many generations of readers and listeners. They have encouraged patriotism. They have provided a livelihood for actors; e.g., following the Puritans’ closure of England’s theaters between 1642 and 1660. They have become important in school and university curricula. They !

have assumed centrality in the culture of English actor Edmund Kean in the English-speaking world—indeed, in menarai

all European-based cultures. John Dryden

and Samuel Johnson found Shakespeare to be the greatest modern writer. Matthew Arnold and Ralph Waldo Emerson found him to be semi-divine.

Different generations have interpreted him according to their own interests. The most influential scholarship of the 1940s and 1950s saw Shakespeare

Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-USZ62-120971.

Lecture 1: Shakespeare Then and Now

as a conservative figure who upheld the “Elizabethan World Picture.” More recent critics interpret Shakespeare as an advocate of liberal or even radical positions in favor of underprivileged classes and feminism. Shakespeare is a “culture hero”: a mythical figure, a founder of the society, a lawgiver, a prophet. Each age must reinterpret such a figure according to its The most extreme own needs. reinterpretation is

anti-Stratfordianism, which argues that someone other than

The most extreme reinterpretation is anti- Stratfordianism, which argues that someone other than Shakespeare wrote the plays attributed to him. There is no factual basis for Shakespeare wrote the such arguments. Anti-Stratfordianism stems plays attributed to him. from false expectations. People expect great es playwrights to be celebrities whose lives are

recorded in detail. People expect plays about aristocrats to be written by an aristocrat. People expect plays with learned allusions to have been written by a university graduate.

Anti-Stratfordianism is an extreme version of a natural response to Shakespeare’s abundance: the desire to reconceptualize him to meet the expectations, interests, or fancies of the present. m

Essential Reading

Schoenbaum, William Shakespeare: A Compact Documentary Life. If a briefer account is preferable, most one-volume complete Shakespeares include the basic facts in the introduction.

Supplementary Reading

Schoenbaum, Shakespeare s Lives, Part 6: “Deviations.”

Taylor, Reinventing Shakespeare.


Questions to Consider

1. Discuss the sorts of things that readers and audiences nowadays expect of a person who is labeled a “great writer.”

2. Do stage performances run the risk of immorality? Explore the issues involved.

Lecture 2: The Nature of Shakespeare’s Plays

The Nature of Shakespeare’s Plays Lecture 2

Aristotle observed that it was a principle of Greek drama to have a single unified action, but Shakespeare regularly has multiple plots; three or four couples court one another in a comedy. ... Three or four parties are scheming against each other in a history or a tragedy. And the number of dead bodies at the end of a tragedy is ultimately controlled only by the absence of a front curtain; you have to have enough living people standing up to carry off the corpses.

hakespeare was a professional man of the theater. His dramatic

genius could flourish because he lived at a time when theater itself

flourished. He was by no means a solitary genius. Shakespeare’s plays are abundant in their contents. They have five acts and many scenes, lines, characters, and plots. The plots are derived from diverse sources. Originality lay less in one’s invention of stories than in his treatment and development of existing stories. Measure for Measure, for instance, was based on a basic plot that had been often retold. Shakespeare gave the familiar story a new twist, and therein lay his genius.

The size of the stage in Shakespeare’s time invited both epic and intimate effects. The stage features known as the heavens and the hell provided a potential supernatural context. The size of the stage invites setting personal lives in a wide social context. For instance, the large stages of Shakespeare’s time allowed the depiction of eavesdropping. There is a case of double eavesdropping in Troilus and Cressida, in brilliant ways to

which a single event means five different things to make the complex three different sets of characters. inner self speak.

a) Shakespeare found

= Shakespeare keeps both the private and the public

in interplay. He presents the title character of Richard IT in both his private and public roles. Shakespeare found brilliant ways to make the complex inner self speak. For instance, he invented the modern soliloquy. Romeo and Juliet offers another example of this dichotomy between public and

private identities. Romeo’s desire to be altogether private in his love for Juliet is thwarted by his public identity as a Capulet. Despite the centrality of the feelings, motivations, and desires of Shakespeare’s characters, we are continually aware that their lives are intertwined with the condition of the societies in which they live.

Shakespeare keeps the down-to-earth and the imaginative in interplay. In Much Ado About Nothing, Beatrice refers at once to the pain her mother suffered in giving birth to her and to the fantastic vision of a star dancing over the scene of her birth. Cleopatra’s dream of Antony romanticizes her dead lover but also refers to qualities that Antony genuinely had.

Hemmings and Condell first collected Shakespeare’s plays under the title Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories and Tragedies. Nevertheless, Shakespeare strains at the boundaries of generic definition. Shakespeare’s tragedies and comedies are quite different from those of ancient Greece. There is no ancient Greek analogue to Shakespeare’s history plays. m

Essential Reading

Shakespeare, Antony and Cleopatra, Act 5, scene 2. , Richard II, Act 3, scene 2.

, Romeo and Juliet, Act 3, scene 1.

, Troilus and Cressida, Act 5, scene 2.

Supplementary Reading

Beckerman, Shakespeare at the Globe.

Questions to Consider


Compare the characteristic form and structure of a Shakespeare play with a play of another period, ancient or modern. What is gained or lost by the “abundance” of the former as opposed to the more disciplined focus of the latter?


Lecture 2: The Nature of Shakespeare’s Plays

2. Do the multifarious contents of a Shakespearean play make it unreasonably difficult to grasp?

Twelfth Night—Shakespearean Comedy Lecture 3 O

Comedy is concerned with desire and fulfillment. People are in a state of yearning, which of course entails a state of frustration, and eventually, they arrive at a condition of satisfaction.

hakespearean comedy centers on the human desire for romantic love, which moves through courtship to marriage. This comedic pattern is as basic as the tragic pattern of decline and fall. Shakespeare has helped to establish modern Western ideas about courtship and marriage. The plots of comedies concern overcoming the barriers to the fulfillment of desire. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, As You Like It, and The Merchant of Venice, these obstacles to desire-fulfillment are external to the characters; in Much Ado About Nothing and The Taming of the Shrew, they are internal to the characters. These obstacles generate the major plot patterns of the plays. The $= external barriers lead to an action of Foolish behavior arises escape from the place where the barriers particularly because rule; internal barriers lead to an action of

: ene mee ieties inv i invasion into the deadlocked situation. Societes ent highly

artificial codes of conduct

Shakespeare especially perceives that and speech for lovers. love is both foolish, prompting us into mmmmmmm behavior that looks silly to the rest of

the world, and wonderful, a profound and character-changing experience. Romantic comedies are thus both funny and moving. Foolish behavior arises particularly because societies invent highly artificial codes of conduct and speech for lovers. Courtship involves a highly stylized and ritualized set of behaviors. Early twentieth-century Americans courted with restraint, formal visits, and chaperones. Late twentieth-century American lovers converse in psychobabble. Late sixteenth-century English lovers courted in ballads, formal speeches of praise drawing classical mythology from Ovid, and sonnets drawing stylized descriptions from Petrarch.

Lecture 3: Twelfth Night—Shakespearean Comedy

The main plot of Twelfth Night illustrates and contests these sixteenth-century conventions. Orsino in 1.1 praises Olivia and compares himself to the hunter Actaeon, the main character in a story from Ovid’s Greek mythology. Orsino describes himself as a stag pursued by hounds representing his unsatisfied desires. Acting at Orsino’s behest, Cesario (Viola in male disguise) approaches Olivia with a formal speech of praise, but Olivia rejects the praise and mocks the method. Speaking more directly, Cesario addresses Olivia with masculine appreciation and feminine insight.

Cesario rebukes Olivia for cloistering herself from human relationships. According to the parable of the talents in the Gospel of Matthew, we do not own our possessions, merits, virtues, and other natural gifts and abilities. Instead, we hold them in trust from God and must put them to work in the world. The movement from self-absorption to generosity and reciprocal interaction with others is a basic measure of character in Shakespeare, especially for lovers. m

Essential Reading

Shakespeare, Twelfth Night.

Supplementary Reading

See the film of Twelfth Night, directed by Trevor Nunn, or the BBC-TV videotape.

Hawkins, “The Two Worlds of Shakespearean Comedy.” Warren and Wells, Introduction to Twelfth Night (Oxford edition).

Questions to Consider

1. During the play, we see Orsino, Cesario, and Malvolio court Olivia, and Olivia court Cesario and Sebastian. Compare and contrast modes of courtship within the play.

What varying tones do you find in the play? Is it purely comic? Are there moments of melancholy, anger, and other feelings that qualify the comedy? How does this affect our experience as we read or see the play?

Lecture 4: Twelfth Night—Malvolio in Love

Twelfth Night—Malvolio in Love Lecture 4

Shakespeare is a comprehensive writer. Comprehensiveness is one of his great virtues. He closes this comedy with predominant happiness, but reminds us that there are always some people who decline to join the supposedly universal celebrations of common humanity.

n this discussion of Twelfth Night, we take a closer look at the characters

of the play. This enables us to contrast the young lovers with the one

character who is clearly outside their circle, yet would like to be in it. That character is Malvolio (whose very name gives us a hint of his true nature). Malvolio is also placed in contrast with a group of lesser characters who plot—and achieve—revenge as he plots for the hand of Olivia. We will see that this is a comedy with a bite, which does not necessarily resolve itself into the characteristic “happy” ending of Shakespearean romantic comedy in general.

In his soliloquy in Act 4 Scene 3, Sebastian acknowledges the bizarre quality of events in Illyria, and he argues for Olivia’s sanity nonetheless. The real point of the speech lies, however, in his eager embrace of the good things of the world: the sun, the air, the Countess. This is a vital part of the view of life in Shakespearean comedy. The scene of Sebastian in the sun contrasts directly with that of Malvolio confined to the darkhouse, which represents his inability and unwillingness to see beyond himself.

In a great Elizabethan country house, the upper servants were significant Malvolio in the dark (Act 4, Scene 2).


and Photographs Division, LOT 8520.

Library of Congr

people, perhaps members of the lesser gentry themselves. Malvolio is a person of consequence, conscientious in his job as estate manager. His concern for the estate contrasts with Sir Toby’s merry-making. This is one of the instances, recurring in Shakespeare, of opposition between festival and duty, Carnival and Lent, merry-making and Puritanism. Twelfth Night, or Epiphany (January 6), is the festive occasion that follows the solemnity of Christmas. Malvolio has the Puritan desire for power and the Puritan repressiveness but not the Puritan religious zeal or devotion. He is negatively virtuous; he wants to do away with all festivity.

Malvolio’s concern with decorum and order is especially repressive because it coexists with the indecorum in his soul, his wish to rise above his place by marrying Olivia. Shakespeare does not consider it wrong to desire a desirable woman, but Malvolio wants her not for herself but for the worldly position he would achieve through her. Worldly position is not wrong either, except that Malvolio wants it only to exert trivial power over others. His fantasy of the marriage to Olivia in 2.5 consists entirely of tinpot tyranny.

j iii The darkhouse is a The plot of Toby, Maria, Andrew, Feste, symbol of Malvolio’s self- and Fabian to punish Malvolio for his ignorance and egomania. repressiveness and threats is a precisely mmmmmm measured piece of comic revenge. Their revenge is exact and just. They tyrannize over him and make him appear to be mad. The darkhouse is a symbol of Malvolio’s self-ignorance and egomania. At some point, however, we begin to feel sorry for Malvolio. The comic revenge turns slightly sour as we perceive his genuine suffering. His fate is exact and just, but few if any of us can endure such strict justice. At the end, Malvolio achieves some dignity in his blank-verse appeal to Olivia for some explanation of why he has been abused.

Malvolio refuses to acknowledge his faults, and he rejects Fabian’s peace- making overtures. Shakespeare’s inclusion of one unreconciled person who still wants revenge in the otherwise happy and harmonious ending is a characteristic mark of his comprehensiveness. Malvolio’s refusal to be reconciled dilutes our pleasure slightly at the end of the play. Shakespeare thereby anchors the play in real life. m

Lecture 4: Twelfth Night—Malvolio in Love

Essential Reading

Shakespeare, Twelfth Night.

Supplementary Reading

Barber, Shakespeare s Festive Comedy, chapter 10. Leggatt, Shakespeare 5 Comedy of Love, chapter 9.

Questions to Consider

1. Malvolio is a somewhat problematic character for a Shakespeare comedy. Is his punishment, stimulated by revenge, condign? Why do you think Shakespeare fails to redeem him at the end of the play?

2. After listening to the lectures on The Merchant of Venice (Lectures 7

and 8), compare and contrast Malvolio and Shylock in terms of their character, actions, and downfall. Is one more sympathetic than the other? More realistic? More justified in his actions?

The Taming of the Shrew—Getting Married in the 1590s

Lecture 5

Lots of people have disliked [The Taming of the Shrew], and the play has caused considerable amount of argument and hard scholarly research

from feminist scholars in the last 25 years.

action. The play is realistic in its survey of courtship practices of the

T: Taming of the Shrew presents problems about both doctrine and

1590, though many of these practices appear odd or even offensive to the modern reader. Propertied parents often arranged marriages for their children. Dowries and dowers were expected as we now expect college degrees, for economic security. The source of wealth for young people of the upper classes lay in the family, not in working at a career. In individual

cases, arranged marriages might succeed or fail.

Some preachers and moralists in late sixteenth-century England discouraged arranged marriage and argued for more consideration of personal affection.

Romancers and poets could elevate personal affection among young couples to an absolute. In Shrew, the arranged marriage of Baptista’s daughter Kate with Petruchio works better than the romantic one of his other daughter Bianca with Lucentio.

Kate closes the play with a 44-line speech in which she emphatically agrees with the doctrine of male supremacy in marriage. Actresses have played the speech for irony. This can be done either crudely or elegantly. Actresses can contradict the speech with gestures. Difficulties arise when the literal meaning of the speech

SSS SSS Some preachers

and moralists in late sixteenth-century England discouraged arranged marriage and argued for more consideration of

personal affection. SSS

is undercut or ignored. The doctrine of male supremacy requires careful statement. Shrew exemplifies the usefulness of old plays in reminding us that people have not always behaved or thought as we do today.


Lecture 5: The Taming of the Shrew—Getting Married in the 1590s

Kate’s speech may be done sincerely but framed to acknowledge a variety of views. In Andrei Serban’s production of Shrew, Kate recites the speech slowly and uncertainly, as if discovering something new. In the epilogue of the Serban production, the actors appear in their ordinary clothes and embrace each other in ways that suggest a multiplicity of relationships among them. Thus Serban supplements Shakespeare’s portrayal of the “full stream of the world” by suggesting that heterosexual union with female submission, as depicted in the play, is not the only relationship possible. m

Essential Reading

Shakespeare, The Taming of the Shrew.

Supplementary Reading

See Zeffirelli film with Burton-Taylor or ACT video directed by Ball. Cook, Making a Match: Courtship in Shakespeare and His Society. Kahn, “The Taming of the Shrew: Shakespeare’s Mirror of Marriage.” Saccio, “Shrewd and Kindly Farce.”

Questions to Consider

1. How does Bianca either reflect or contrast with Kate?

2. Is Kate straightforward or ironic in her long final speech?

The Taming of the Shrew—Farce and Romance Lecture 6 O O

The verbal wit of the play is often farcical. Compared to the lyrical strain of speeches in later Shakespearean comedies like Twelfth Night or As You Like It, the wit of The Taming of the Shrew comes near wisecracking.

combines farce with romance. The romantic thread lies in Kate’s

discovery of herself and of love for her husband. The bulk of the action, though, is farce. The play has many farcical elements and characters. Tranio displays the trickery and disguising inherited from ancient Roman farce. Grumio is a pantaloon out of the Italian Commedia dell’ Arte. Petruchio and his servants engage in slapstick. The verbal wit consists of wisecracks and grotesque catalogues. The script invites farcical invention from directors and actors.

|: The Taming of the Shrew, an early comedy, Shakespeare adventurously

Farce has a poor reputation with critics, and it is often described negatively. Robert Heilman has averred that farces typically depict limited personalities that operate in mechanical fashion. Those having this sort of personality cannot feel or think deeply, and they are not moved by scruple. According to Heilman, farce represents a selective anesthetizing of the person. Such a mode of critical description could be applied to tragedy or any other genre with equally devastating effect. Characters in many of Shakespeare’s tragedies show personality traits that Heilman attributes to characters in comedic In The Shrew, farces: they rush to extremes, they fail to pause or farce celebrates reflect on their actions (or do so faultily), they lack a sense of humor about their problems.

the virtues of energy, ingenuity, Farce deserves a positive description. In The Shrew, and resilience. farce celebrates the virtues of energy, ingenuity, and = resilience. These virtues are especially demonstrated

by the male characters arriving in Padua: Petruchio, Lucentio, and Tranio. Petrochio’s speeches exemplify energy. Ingenuity is exemplified by the


Lecture 6: The Taming of the Shrew—Farce and Romance

suitors’ use of unconventional means to attain their ends. Both Petruchio and Tranio illustrate resilience in their stubbornness and adaptability, and in their ability to endure repeated setbacks. Kate also has verbal and physical energy and determination, but at the start she suffers from compulsiveness and destructiveness. Over time she grows in farcical range. Petruchio teaches her to play, thus releasing her energies more fully.

Play—game or pastime—is the dominating activity and metaphor of The Shrew. At first Kate’s understandable anger prevented her from playing games, and she has not met any men worth her respect. She is “curst,” and thus she cannot play and is not fully human. There are faint suggestions in the second and third acts of her interest in Petruchio.

The development of her mind is more carefully traced in the fourth and fifth acts. She becomes sympathetic with the victims of Petruchio’s temper- tantrums, such as Grumio and the other servants. She is perplexed by Petruchio’s claim that he acts out of love. She resorts to anger and insists on obvious facts. In 4.5, the scene of the sun and the moon, she realizes that Petruchio is playing games. She starts playing with him, and she quickly learns to keep up with his rule-changing, to exaggerate, and to mock. Games have a cathartic effect. They release Kate from her compulsiveness and her insistence on literal fact.

Since the story of the shrew is a play enacted by the anonymous lord’s players for the tinker Christopher Sly, it is all a game. Theater is Shakespeare’s great game, in which he persuades audiences that the sun is the moon and that a thirteen-year-old boy is a nubile virgin named Kate or Bianca. Such games may be therapeutic. Once Kate loses her anger, she becomes a very effective farceuse. m

Essential Reading

Shakespeare, The Taming of the Shrew.


Questions to Consider


In view of the (often) negative view of farce expressed by critics, how can we explain its enduring appeal across time, language and even culture?

The basic premise of this play has been adapted, with greater or lesser effect, into Broadway musicals (Kiss Me Kate), westerns, television sit- coms and even updated versions of the Bard’s play set in contemporary times. You are a producer/director for a new movie version. Which contemporary actress-comedienne would cast for Kate? How would you direct her to bring out the farcical elements discussed in this lecture?


Lecture 7: The Merchant of Venice—Courting the Heiress

The Merchant of Venice—Courting the Heiress Lecture 7

Over 50 years ago, a great actor, director, and Shakespearean critic, Harley Granville-Barker, said there was no more reality in Shylock’s bond and the Lord of Belmont’s will than there is in Jack and the Beanstalk, and he spoke wisely.

he Merchant of Venice is a fairy tale. Winning the hand of a princess

by a lottery is unrealistic. Borrowing money on collateral of a pound

of flesh is unrealistic. Shakespeare frequently used unlikely plots. The purpose of art is not realism. Characters and events may be true to life without being realistic on the surface. Portia’s father’s will displays a genuine concern of fathers.

The casket plot contrasts the three suitors. The prince of Morocco is a man of heroic exploit and reputation. His rhetoric imitates that of Marlowe’s Tamburlaine. His love is merely the desire to have what every other man desires. The prince of Arragon is a snob. He assumes that he deserves Portia. Shakespeare is suspicious of desert, especially

in matters of the heart. Like Morocco, Arragon = essentially chooses himself rather than Portia. The leading

protagonists of

Bassanio is a problematic hero since the plot high comedy tend

does not allow him to do anything heroic. This is a difficulty that recurs in high comedy, which to be women. tends to stress not the manly and heroic values of courage and strength, but the more womanly

values of wit, grace, and civilized behavior. Thus, the leading protagonists of high comedy tend to be women. Bassanio has been described as a fortune- hunter out to gain Portia’s money in order to repay his debts. Shakespeare describes Bassanio as a knight on a romantic quest. He displays generosity in small matters.

Bassanio’s heroism emerges in his choice. The song that precedes his choice distinguishes between desire (“fancy”) and love. Bassanio is aware of


this distinction. The casket labels reveal the risk in love. Bassanio’s great generosity is to leave the choice to Portia. m

Essential Reading

Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice.

Supplementary Reading

See BBC-TV videotape of The Merchant of Venice. Barber, Shakespeare s Festive Comedy, chapter 7. Coghill, “The Basis of Shakespearean Comedy.”

Danson, The Harmonies of “The Merchant of Venice.”

Questions to Consider

1. How much do we know about Portia? How does she handle her difficult situation?

2. Compare the suitors with lovers elsewhere in Shakespearean comedy— Orsino, Orlando, Benedick.


Lecture 8: The Merchant of Venice—Shylock

The Merchant of Venice—Shylock Lecture 8

Shakespeare’s England was almost monolithically Christian, so that to be a Jew was defined negatively. It was to be not a Christian, to be one who had rejected the dispensation of love, mercy and salvation that Christianity says is available through Jesus Christ. [Shylock ] is an alien, not part of the Christian community of love.

hylock may be merely a villain, a character contrasting with the

generosity of Antonio, Portia, and Bassanio. The character of Shylock

is founded on a three-part stereotype. He is a miser. He is a usurer; money lending at interest was officially condemned but tolerated as a necessary evil. He is a Jew at a time when Jews were thought of simply as “other,” as non-Christian, as scapegoats.

In England this stereotype had a special purity. Only in England did Jews dominate finance, albeit temporarily. They were a major source of Crown revenue. The belief that the Jews killed Christian children—the “blood libel”—originated in England. Jews were banished from England between 1290 and the 1660s. No real people could be damaged by English anti- Semitism, since very few Jews lived in England during Shakespeare’s time. The stereotype of the Jewish usurer and murderer could flourish in the absence of experience. Shakespeare develops the character beyond stereotype. Actors have reinterpreted the role of = Shylock over time. We do not know how Richard Burbage played Shylock in 1596. In the late seventeenth century, Shylock was a comic villain. In the eighteenth century, Charles Macklin made Shylock a serious villain. In the Romantic period, Edmund Kean made him an honest villain, marked by directness and honesty. In the Victorian period, Henry Irving made him a heroic patriarch, marked by dignity and heroic pride. In 1970, Laurence Olivier made him a banker- aristocrat of the industrial age.


Shakespeare develops the character beyond stereotype. “Hath not a Jew eyes?” is both a cruel piece of exaggerated and vengeful illogic and an overwhelming outpouring of painful feeling. Revenge is not an automatic, physiological reaction, as bleeding is when pricked or laughing is when tickled. Shylock points out that Jews resemble Christians both in their humanity and—at times—their inhumanity. Shylock contains the faults of us all. m

Essential Reading

Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice.

Supplementary Reading

See BBC-TV videotape of The Merchant of Venice. Gross, Shylock: Four Hundred Years in the Life of a Legend.

Shapiro, Shakespeare and the Jews.

Questions to Consider


Compare Shylock’s mode of speech with that of Bassanio or Antonio.


Shylock does villainous things and yet we feel enormously sympathetic to him at times. Is Shylock a coherent characterization? Consider especially the passage with Tubal at the end of 3.1.


Lecture 9: Measure for Measure—Sex in Society

Measure for Measure—Sex in Society Lecture 9

In this case, the plot is intricate, and unusual, and Shakespeare made some key changes in the sources from which he inherited it.

four couples on the point of marriage, but the means by which they

arrive at this point are unusual. The play derives from an old folktale (“the unjust judge”) in which a woman tries to save a man (her husband or brother or father) from execution by begging the judge for a pardon. There are various endings to this scenario.

| ike other Shakespearean comedies, Measure for Measure ends with

In this case, the judge, Angelo, acting for the absent duke of Vienna, offers to pardon the young fornicator, Claudio, only if his religious sister, Isabella, will sleep with him (Angelo). When Claudio begs Isabella to comply with Angelo’s demand, she rejects his plea. But the disguised duke intervenes, arranging an assignation in which Angelo’s rejected fiancée Mariana will substitute for Isabella in Angelo’s bed. Although he believes he had slept with Isabella, Angelo nonetheless orders the execution of Claudio. When Angelo is accused of injustice in the last act, after many confusions and revelations, Unusually for the play can end happily with four unions: Claudio Shakespeare, and Julietta, Angelo and Mariana, Lucio and Kate the play deals Keepdown, the duke and Isabella.

extensively with

The play differs from standard Shakespearean ĉ@ brothel and

romantic comedy in many ways other than its with syphilis. peculiar plot. The characters cannot be romantic or —==—=—=— lighthearted: they are far too troubled by the power of

lust, the abuse of authority, and the threat of dishonor and death. The actions occur in stifling and claustrophobic places, and the jokes are gallows humor.

Instead of being a source of life and pleasure, sex is a source of death and pain. It brings people to hatred of themselves and lack of charity to others.

Unusually for Shakespeare, the play deals extensively with a brothel and with


syphilis. At 1.2.108—110, Claudio compares the workings of sexual desire to those of rat poison. At 3.1.137—148, the threat to Isabella’s chastity leads her to denounce her brother Claudio as a bastard. In his soliloquy at the end of 2.2, in one of Shakespeare’s great speeches of personal awareness, deserving of a close reading, Angelo is filled with self-loathing upon the discovery of sexual desire. m

Essential Reading

Shakespeare, Measure for Measure.

Questions to Consider

1. Trace the motif of “fairness” in the play as covered in this lecture. Is the duke fair to Angelo by placing him in a position of tempting power? Is Angelo fair to Claudio—both at the beginning and the end of the play? Is Claudio fair to Isabella? Is Isabella fair to Claudio? What other endings could you envision for this play?


Compare Shakespeare’s treatment of sex in this play to any of the other comedies covered in this course of lectures. What reasons can you adduce for the negative “spin” he puts on sexual desire in Measure for Measure?

Lecture 10: Measure for Measure—Justice and Comedy

Measure for Measure—Justice and Comedy Lecture 10

Measure for Measure was not a popular play in the nineteenth century. The Victorian period did not like to discuss sexual matters of this kind on the stage. But at the turn of the century, critics began to take a fresh interest in the play, and differentiated it from Shakespeare’s other comedies by calling it a “problem play,” or “problem comedy”—that is, a play dealing with social problems.

easure for Measure deals with some weighty problems: sin, mercy, law, sexual probity (or lack thereof) and more. It is also a play about authority and the problems of authority. This lecture

will explore these issues and will consider, at the end, the “problem” of the genre of dramatic quality against which this play strains.

The title of the play recalls a passage in the Sermon on the Mount (The Gospel according to Matthew, chapter 7). In this Gospel account, Jesus warns his followers that people will be judged by the standards by which they themselves judge others. Isabella points out to Angelo at 2.2.113—126 that human beings are inclined to abuse authority and judgment.

The particular law central to the plot makes fornication a capital crime. It is normal in Shakespearean comedy for law to form an obstacle to the happiness of young lovers. In A Midsummer Nights Dream, a young woman must marry the man her father selects, or die or enter a convent. In The Merchant of Venice, Portia must marry the man who correctly solves the lottery devised in her late father’s will. Such laws are not realistic but they set up revealing dramatic situations. The fornication law in Measure for Measure, however, although not historically accurate, is nonetheless realistic. Concerned people in Shakespeare’s London seriously advocated the death penalty for fornication.

The play explores the way in which various authority figures attempt to cope with the teeming and often gross sexuality of Vienna. Although authority may


err, the play never doubts that authority is necessary. Angelo’s prescription is “repress,” a Puritan formula that allows little room for the urges