Dynamism of Character in Shakespeare's Mature Tragedies

Dynamism of Character in Shakespeare's Mature Tragedies

Dynamism of Character in Shakespeare's Mature Tragedies

Dynamism of Character in Shakespeare's Mature Tragedies

Synopsis

Dynamism of Character in Shakespeare's Mature Tragedies applies the systems theory of character to the analysis of the psychological and dramatic consistency of the main characters from Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, and Macbeth. The theory considers human behavior in terms of functional equilibrium between the stable properties of the mind, independent of the pressures of the sociocultural environment and the immediate situational context. What we call "character" thus denotes an autonomous configuration of psychological elements, which ensure the consistency and continuity of individual identity, despite the influence of the changing external circumstances. Systems theory of character thus offers an interesting alternative both to the traditional, intuitive, and impressionistic approaches to character criticism, to the New Critical aesthetic readings of Shakespeare's plays that often ignore psychology as a valid interpretive perspective, and to the more recent cultural materialist readings thatconsider dramatic characters solely as functions of external, sociocultural forces.

Excerpt

Since its beginnings, Shakespearian criticism has been practically synonymous with character analysis, a critical approach based on the perception—now regarded as unfashionable—that Shakespeare's dramatic personae, although fictitious, are not unlike "real people” as we know them from real-life experience. This humanistic premise governed Shakespearean criticism at least since the days of Dr. Johnson, and in fact the shift from character-oriented criticism toward the study of other aspects of the plays, such as their sources, artistic design, imagery, theatrical conventions, and so on, is a relatively recent, early-twentieth-century phenomenon. The legacy of Romanticism, with its glorification of individualism and the human genius, as well as the interest in personality found in the nineteenth-century popular fiction could still inspire such influential critics as A. C. Bradley, but the rest of the twentieth century has seen a decline of character analysis of this kind. First the New Critics, notably G. Wilson Knight, J. Dover Wilson, and L. C. Knights, moved toward the problems of artistic design and the intrinsic aesthetic qualities of Shakespeare's plays, and in the last generation the postmodernist critics shifted their attention even away from the literary texts themselves into the external realms of socioeconomic conditions, political ideologies, and determinants of race, class, and gender, which—it is argued—underlie the production of literary works. Today the traditional humanistic and psychologizing study of characters as independent elements of Shakespeare's plays is often considered naive and old-fashioned, as dramatic characters and their psychology are often regarded as mere reflections of the external sociocultural and political processes involved in the production of the plays.

The shift away from the close reading of the plays to the external "cultural text” is evidenced for example by the respective editorial policies behind the second and the third Arden series of Shakespeare. If the (mostly) New Critical editors of the second series would always do justice to the plays' plots, language, imagery . . .

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