Shakespeare critical essays

Complementing other volumes in the Shakespeare Criticism Series, this collection of twenty original essays will expand the critical contexts in which Antony and Cleopatra can be enjoyed as both literature and theater. The essays will cover a wide spectrum of topics and utilize a diversity of This book explores traditional approaches to the play, which includes an examination of the play in light of current history, in the context of Renaissance England, and in relation to Shakespeare's other Roman plays as well as structural examination of plot, language, character, and source material This collection of original essays provides a selection of current criticism on the Henry VI plays.

Topics addressed will include feminist commentaries on the play, the principal of unity in the trilogy, the tradition of illumination of the play, textual variations, and finally, anachronism and This essay collection offers a lengthy introduction describing trends in criticism and theatrical interpretation of As You Like It.

Shakespeare's Tragedy

Twenty-six major essays on the play, including several written especially for this volume highlight the work, coupled with twenty-three reviews of various productions, Stay on CRCPress. Per Page. Include Forthcoming Titles. Venus and Adonis: Critical Essays 1st Edition. Macbeth: New Critical Essays 1st Edition. Legend suggests that he interrupted his work on the second history cycle to compose the play in two weeks for Queen Elizabeth, who wished to see Falstaff by then familiar from the history plays portrayed as a lover.

What Shakespeare ended up writing was not a romantic but instead a bourgeois comedy that depicts Falstaff attempting to seduce Mistress Ford and Mistress Page, both wives of Windsor citizens. He fails, but in failing he manages to entertain the audience with his bragging and his boldness. This is the only strain of romance in the comedy, whose major event is the punishment of Falstaff: He is tossed into the river, then singed with candles and pinched by citizens disguised as fairies.

Regardless of whether this act has a ritual purpose, the character of Falstaff, and the characters of Bardolph, Pistol, and Justice Shallow, bear little resemblance to the comic band of Henry IV, Part I. In fact, T he Merry Wives of Windsor might be legitimately seen as an interlude rather than a fully developed comedy, and it is a long distance from the more serious, probing dramas Shakespeare would soon create. The play differs from the earlier romantic comedies, however, because the hero rejects the heroine, preferring instead to win honor and fame in battle.

When Bertram finally assents to the union he bears little resemblance to comic heroes such as Orlando or Sebastian; he could be seen in fact as more a villain or perhaps a cad than a deserving lover. Measure for Measure has at the center of its plot another bed trick, by which a patient and determined woman Mariana manages to capture the man she desires. That man, Angelo, is put in the position of deputy by Duke Vincentio at the opening of the action.


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He determines to punish a sinful Vienna by strictly enforcing its laws against fornication; his first act is to arrest Claudio for impregnating his betrothed Juliet. He asks for a measure of her body in return for a measure of mercy for her brother. Thus, Angelo commits the deed that he would punish Claudio for performing.

Through another substitution, however, Claudio is saved. Some critics have argued that this interpretation transforms Duke Vincentio into a Christ figure, curing the sins of the people while disguised as one of them. Whether or not this interpretation is valid, Measure for Measure compels its audience to explore serious questions concerning moral conduct; practically no touches of humor in the play are untainted by satire and irony.

For about four years following the writing of Measure for Measure , Shakespeare was busy producing his major tragedies. It is probably accurate to say that the problem comedies were, to a degree, testing grounds for the situations and characters he would perfect in the tragedies. His earliest—and clumsiest—attempt at tragedy was Titus Andronicus. From Seneca, the Roman playwright whose ten plays had been translated into English in , Shakespeare took the theme of revenge: The inflexible, honor-bound hero seeks satisfaction against a queen who has murdered or maimed his children.

She was acting in retaliation, however, because Titus had killed her son. He and the wicked queen Tamora are oversimplified characters who declaim set speeches rather than engaging in realistic dialogue. He never comes to terms with the destructive code of honor that convulses his personal life and that of Rome. With Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare reached a level of success in characterization and design far above the bombastic and chaotic world of Titus Andronicus. Some critics have in fact faulted the tragedy because its plot lacks the integrity of its poetry; Romeo and Juliet come to their fates by a series of accidents and coincidences that strain credulity.

The tireless Friar Lawrence attempts, through the use of a potion, to save Juliet from marrying Paris, the nobleman to whom she is betrothed, but the friar proves powerless against the force of fate that seems to be working against the lovers. Although it lacks the compelling power of the mature tragedies, whose heroes are clearly responsible for their fate, Romeo and Juliet remains a popular play on the subject of youthful love. At least three years passed before Shakespeare again turned his attention to the tragic form.

Instead of treating the subject of fatal love, however, he explored Roman history for a political story centering on the tragic dilemma of one man. That is, he might have presented the issue of the republic versus the monarchy as a purely political question, portraying Caesar, Brutus, Cassius, and Antony as pawns in a predestined game. Instead, Shakespeare chose to explore the character of Brutus in detail, revealing the workings of his conscience through moving and incisive soliloquies.

By depicting his hero as a man who believes his terrible act is in the best interest of the country, Shakespeare establishes the precedent for later tragic heroes who likewise justify their destructive deeds as having righteous purposes. The tragic plot is developed by means of irony and contrast. Caesar appears to be a superstitious, somewhat petty figure, but in typical fashion, Shakespeare makes his audience see that, just as the conspirators are not free of personal motives such as jealousy, so Caesar is not the cold and uncompromising tyrant they claim he is.

Brutus and Cassius quarrel before the end, but they nevertheless achieve a kind of nobility by committing suicide in the Roman tradition. For Brutus, the events following the assassination demonstrate the flaw in his idealism; he could not destroy the spirit of Caesar, nor could he build a republic on the shifting sand of the populace. In Julius Caesar , one witnesses a tragedy that is both politically compelling and morally complex. Although the revenge theme is an important part of Julius Caesar , it dominates the action of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark.

Critical Analysis sonnet 116 by William Shakespeare

As a result, Hamlet delays his revenge—a delay that has preoccupied audiences, readers, and critics for centuries. These explanations, while appealing, tend to shift attention away from other, equally significant elements in the play. When Hamlet finally acts, however, he does so in the role of an avenger and scourge.

He murders Claudius after the king has arranged for Laertes to slay him in a duel and after the queen has fallen dead from a poisoned drink intended for Hamlet. Though Fortinbras stands as a heroic figure, one cannot help but observe the irony of a situation in which the son, without a struggle, inherits what his father was denied.

Track 1: Shakespeare: A cultural icon

In Troilus and Cressida , one encounters another kind of irony: satire. This strange play, which may have been composed for a select audience, possibly of lawyers, was placed between the histories and tragedies in the First Folio. The dual plot concerns the political machinations among the Greeks during their siege of Troy and the tortured love affair between Troilus and the unfaithful Cressida. Much of the political action consists of debates: Hector argues eloquently that Helen should be sent back to Menelaus; Ulysses produces many pithy arguments urging the reluctant Achilles to fight.

Many of these scenes, moreover, end in anticlimax, and action is often frustrated. Throughout, Thersites, the satirist-onstage, bitterly attacks the warring and lecherous instincts of men; even the love affair between Troilus and Cressida seems tainted by the general atmosphere of disillusion. Although the two lovers share genuine affection for each other, one cannot ignore the truth that they are brought together by Pandarus and that their passion has a distinctly physical quality.

Although probably written after the other major tragedies, Timon of Athens shares a number of similarities with Troilus and Cressida. Here again is an ironic vision of humanity, this time in a social rather than martial setting. That vision is expanded by the trenchant comments, usually in the form of references to sexual disease, of Apemantus, another cynical choric commentator.

Timon appears to be a tragic rather than misanthropic figure only if one sees him as the victim of his idealistic reading of humankind. When those on whom he has lavishly bestowed gifts and money consistently refuse to return the favor, Timon then becomes a bitter cynic and outspoken satirist. One cannot say that the hero acquires a larger view of humanity or of himself as the result of his experience; he simply seems to swing from one extreme view to its opposite.

An experiment that clearly succeeded is Othello, the Moor of Venice , an intense and powerful domestic tragedy. Based on an Italian tale by Giambattista Giraldi Cinthio, the story concerns a Moor, a black man who is made to believe by a treacherous, vengeful ensign that his new Venetian bride has cuckolded him with one of his lieutenants, Cassio.


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  • In a rage, theMoor suffocates his bride, only to discover too late that his jealousy was unfounded. Rather than face the torture of a trial and his own conscience, he commits suicide as he bitterly accuses himself of blindness. He also creates a world with two distinct symbolic settings: Venice and Cyprus. In Venice, Othello shows himself to be a cool, rational captain, deserving of the respect he receives from the senators who send him to Cyprus to defend it from the Turks.

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    Critical Essays on Shakespeare's the Tempest

    Although some critics have ridiculed Shakespeare for depending so heavily on one prop to resolve the plot, they fail to note the degree of psychological insight Shakespeare has displayed in using it. It may be especially important to perceive Iago as another Satan, since commentators have suspected the sufficiency of his motive he says he wants revenge because Othello passed over him in appointing Cassio as his lieutenant.

    Such a reading tends to simplify what is in fact a thoroughgoing study of the emotions that both elevate and destroy humankind. When the play opens, he is in the process of retiring from the kingship by dividing his kingdom into three parts, basing his assignment of land on the degree of affection mouthed by each of the three daughters to whom he plans to assign a part. Cordelia, his youngest and favorite, refuses to enter into this hollow ceremony, and Lear responds by suddenly and violently banishing her. Left in the hands of his evil and ambitious daughters Goneril and Regan, Lear quickly discovers that they plan to pare away any remaining symbols of his power and bring him entirely under their rule.

    This theme of children controlling, even destroying, their parents is echoed in a fully developed subplot involving old Gloucester and his two sons, Edmund and Edgar. With Cordelia and Edgar cast out—the former to live in France, the latter in disguise as Poor Tom—Lear and Gloucester suffer the punishing consequences of their sins. Gloucester, who is also lacking insight into the true natures of his sons, is cruelly blinded by Regan and her husband and cast out from his own house to journey to Dover.

    On the way, he is joined by his disguised son, who helps Gloucester undergo a regeneration of faith before he expires. Cordelia performs a similar task for Lear, whose recovery can be only partial, because of his madness. After Cordelia is captured and killed by the forces of Edmund, whose brother conquers him in single combat, Lear, too, expires while holding the dead Cordelia in his arms. This wrenching ending, with its nihilistic overtones, is only one of the elements that places this play among the richest and most complex tragedies in English.

    More than any other Shakespearean tragedy, King Lear also succeeds in dramatizing the relationship between the microcosm, or little world of humankind, and the macrocosm, or larger world. At the moment when Lear bursts into tears, a frightening storm breaks out, and civil war soon follows. Gloucester must learn a similar lesson, although his dilemma involves a crisis of faith. Just as he realizes that Cordelia represents those qualities of truth and compassion that he has been lacking, she is suddenly and violently taken from him. Macbeth treats the de casibus theme of the fall of princes, but from a different perspective.

    Once that deed is done, Macbeth finds himself unable to sleep, a victim of conscience and guilt. Although Lady Macbeth tries to control his fears, she proves unsuccessful, and her influence wanes rapidly. Immediately, Macbeth rushes to the witches to seek proof that he is invincible.

    They tell him that he will not be conquered until BirnamWood comes to Dunsinane and that no man born of woman can kill him. Seeking to tighten his control of Scotland and to quiet his conscience, Macbeth launches a reign of terror during which his henchmen kill Lady Macduff and her children.