Last Things and Last Plays: Shakespearean Eschatology

Synopsis

In this first sustained examination of Cymbeline, The Winter's Tale, Pericles, and The Tempest in the context of English Renaissance discussions of death, judgment, and afterlife, Cynthia Marshall contends that the late plays of Shakespeare represent the active concerns of a culture heavily imbued with apocalypticism.

Only recently has there been wide recognition of how thoroughly apocalyptic thought pervaded the culture of England in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Millenarians, Puritans, Anglicans, and Roman Catholics all shared a concern for last things. Even King James I, speaking in Star Chamber, referred to "the latter days drawing on."

In fact, these four plays, considered in themselves, exhibit distinctive qualities of "lastness." They contain, Marshall argues, an alternative theatrical eschatology, representing anxieties about judgment, hopes for personal reunion, and transcendent perspectives on time.