Play, Death, and Heroism in Shakespeare

By Kirby Farrell | Go to book overview

Chapter 5

The Hero and the Tomb

A "commercial writer" like Shakespeare, says Leslie Fiedler, "can rediscover antique fable only in the cliché," yet "fortunately, every stereotype is a sleeping archetype, a myth which seems moribund or dead until resurrected by the Kiss of the Prince, the touch of a great popular artist." 1 This flippant assessment, which links Shakespeare's use of myth to his preoccupation with revival, reminds us how commonplace mythic forms may be, even as it remystifies myth by touting the artist's magical touch.

Since empirical proofs are out of the question, the subject of archetypes invites academic impressionism and compensatory theorizing. Whether universal archetypes even exist is debatable. Putting discretion before valor, the present chapter tiptoes past such controversies. Instead it considers archetype as a source of heroic authority. My concern is with recurring patterns of heroic imagination whose antiquity and representation of fundamental human concerns have made them useful paradigms. After weighing analogies between play-death, the quest of the archetypal hero, and ritual sacrifice, I examine Shakespeare's tactic of subverting naive archetypes in order to evoke more sublime meanings. Attention then turns to Christian paradigms, and finally to the tomb viewed as a conceptual device for controlling the boundary between life and death, an inquiry Chapter 6 continues by treating heroism as movement in a psychic landscape determined by death-defying boundaries.

World history is replete with myths of the hero that celebrate an awakening or deliverance from death. In Joseph Campbell's synthesis the formula of the hero's so-called rites of passage calls for

a separation from the world, a penetration to some source of power, and a life-enhancing return. The Greeks referred fire, the first support

-74-

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Play, Death, and Heroism in Shakespeare
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Play, Death, and Heroism in Shakespeare *
  • Contents *
  • Preface ix
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • Part One *
  • Chapter 1 - Introduction 3
  • Chapter 2 - Play-Death, Self-Effacement, and Autonomy 13
  • Chapter 3 - Play, Death, and Apotheosis 36
  • Chapter 4 - Heroism and Hero Worship 56
  • Chapter 5 - The Hero and the Tomb 74
  • Chapter 6 - The Topography of Death and Heroism 90
  • Part Two *
  • Chapter 7 - Love, Death, and the Hunt in Venus and Adonis 117
  • Chapter 8 - Love, Death, and Patriarchy in Romeo and Juliet 131
  • Chapter 9 - Prophecy and Heroic Destiny in the Histories 148
  • Chapter 10 - Play-Death and Individuation 172
  • Chapter 11 - Epilogue 192
  • Appendix 201
  • Notes 207
  • Index 231
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