Shakespeare, the First Steps

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  •  15-12-2018
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Автор:Marko Minkoff
ISBN: Тегло (гр.): Формат: 140 / 200 Състояние: Мн. добро
Shakespeare, the First Steps / Marko Minkoff


THE HISTORY PLAYS ............................... 11
Henry VI. Part 1................................... 11
Henry VI. Part 2................................... 27
Henry VI. Part 3................................... 39
Richard III....................................... 45
TRAGEDY: TITUS ANDRONICUS........................112
THE COMEDIES.....................................138
The Taming of the Shrew.............................138
The Comedy of Errors ...............................156
The Two Gentlemen of Verona..........................174
Love’s Labour’s Lost ...............................189
INDEX .............................................216

Although Shakespeare’s early plays have, naturally enough, received far less attention than his riper ones, they have nevertheless, especially in the last few years, been the object of various full-length studies, sufficiently detailed for any further book on the subject to require a special justification. The excuse for the present study is that it seeks to lay a more particular stress on the development of Shakespeare’s craftsmanship both as dramatist and poet than has been attempted hitherto. This has become possible owing above all to a general change of attitude towards the early history plays during the last generation and the realization of the true nature of the bad quartos. Indeed by now, instead of dismissing these early works as shapeless chronicles on which to vent an instinctive sense of superiority towards the form of Elizabethan drama, the critic is more likely to be hampered by a sense of the reverence due to even the first steps of a genius. But at least he is able to see them as the work of a single man, and also, after Cairncross’s edition of the three parts of Henry VI in the New Arden Shakespeare, to see them in their proper order of composition, with Part I taking its obvious place as the point of departure, and the whole leading on without any logical break in the action down to the close of Richard III.

Each of these four plays, however, while forming part of a series and closely linked to the others, has a certain character of its own, distinguishing it from the rest and making it, in some ways at least, an experiment in a different type of drama. This is no doubt due in very large part to the character of the material on which each is based, but it does seem to show at the same time a certain groping after a more perfect form, even more evident in the stylistic developments than in the dramaturgy. For the manner of writing sometimes seems to change more markedly within a given play than from play to play, and the latter half of Part 3, for instance, seems to differ more from the earlier half than that does from the closing acts of the preceding play. But the more epic approach of Part 1, based predominantly on the clash of impersonal forces, of nation with nation, does differ markedly from the treatment of the meshwork of personal entanglements in Part 2, and from the more controlledly dramatic structure of Part 3, which seems more like a synthesis of the two methods; while the possibility of centering the whole action in a single protagonist in Richard III was an invitation to employ here the machinery and structure of tragedy.

Thus each play, while belonging to the same fairly specific genre, does to some extent represent an experiment in a different form, and this is true to an even greater extent of the comedies, which one must presume to have been written at roughly the same time as the histories, and which do rather markedly seem to stand out even as conscious experiments in the various types known, though scarcely very clearly distinguished in theory, in his day. And for this very reason, since each is apparently seeking for its own appropriate style, they do not present such an obvious line of development as the histories. Indeed, no clear agreement as to the order in which they were written exists to this day among scholars, and it was largely with a view to throwing more light on this problem that the present study was undertaken. For the more usual methods, based on attempts at absolute dating, give very few handholds, though I believe the interpretation offered here of Love's Labour's Lost as including a skit on Henry IV’s abandonment of the Protestant cause does give the possibility of an absolute dating of that play, and confirms the impression it makes as the most sophisticated of the early comedies.

The importance of the stylistic development in this context has imposed a rather sharp separation of style and matter, or form and content, in the treatment of the histories. Not that I would advocate such a separation in principle, though in dealing with a period that very definitely did itself regard style as an external ornament to be imposed at will on a given subject, and that to a very large extent worked in just that way, the separation is less objectionable than it would be at any other time. And it does, I hope, justify itself in the results, for the picture obtained is of a development taking its own path, and only very gradually achieving a more marked interdependence with the matter. It was hoped that the sliding scale obtained in this way would provide a standard against which the other plays could be measured. And in some respects at least the hope was fulfilled. The Taming of the Shrew does show definite affinities with the earliest parts of the series, while the remaining comedies belong more clearly towards the end. And the great stylistic gap between the Henry VI plays and Richard III suggests a point at which much of the other work could best be fitted in. But the concept of style as a garment to be assumed at will does at the same time mitigate rather strongly against any very close contacts between plays of different genres. And with Titus Andronicus the scale offers very little help indeed, beyond a general suggestion that it would be one of the plays best suited to fill the gap. Perhaps its having been written for Strange’s men may explain its peculiar position as odd man out.
Finally a word of justification must be said for treating the plays as a separate group. For though the idea that Shakespeare’s work falls naturally into four periods is so widespread that it may be said to work automatically, Soviet scholars like Morozov have pointed out, with a great deal of truth, that there is no difference of mood or outlook separating the first period from the second, and have preferred to run them both together, admitting only three periods in all. And even in the Anglo-Saxon world, while most scholars accept the idea of an early period,

( here is less agreement as to which plays it comprises and where the boundary should be drawn, showing that it is after all a rather artificial concept. In general, it might be said that the plague years of 1592-93 mark a break in Shakespeare’s work no less than they do in the theatrical history of the troupes, and that the work he produced after the reopening of the theatres shows the marks of the more luscious style he had developed in his two narrative poems and, at any rate, the earlier sonnets. Yet traces of the "lyrical" style occur in the early plays also, and it is by no means certain that the date of the first known performance of The Comedy of Errors in 1594 is not also the date of its composition. One may say too, as has already been suggested, that the early plays seem more experimental, more uncertain in their approach, and that they often suggest lines that were not explored any further. Yet Shakespeare never ceased experimenting, and The Merry Wives of Windsor or Traitas and Cressida, though more easily explained through the theatrical fashions of the moment, represent just such blind alleys in their different ways as The Comedy of Errors or Titus Andronicus. However, for the purposes of this book, which seeks in the first place to trace certain lines of development and to keep the interpretation down to sober, solid fact, it is less important to determine common links that would bind the plays to a whole than to fix the limits of the development treated. The history plays form together a logical series, and they lead up to Richard III, which not only marks a definite achievement in itself but led on to nothing further in just the same vein, even though it does mark a turning point in Shakespeare’s dramatic style. Along the comic line Love's Labour's Lost even more obviously marks a definite stage, the achievement of the comedy of love with its delicate mockery of the foolish ways of lovers as its theme. In some ways it would have been more logical to continue to the much more definite achievement of A Midsummer Night’s l>rcam, in which the full synthesis of court comedy with popular romance is. onipleted, and which represents a better point of departure for the riper l omedies of love. But at the same time, it belongs definitely beyond the boundary marked by the plague years, and could not conveniently be discussed apart from a number of other plays with which it is intimately connected in style. And the same holds good of Romeo and Juliet, which, if it links on to the early plays at all, does so rather with The Two Gentlemen of Verona than with either of the tragedies. That leaves Titus Andronicus standing alone as the one pure tragedy; its true successor would be Hamlet.

My thanks are due to the publishers and editors of English Studies and Shakespeare Quarterly for permission to reprint largely from articles that first appeared in those periodicals.

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