Shakespeare's Festive Comedy: A Study of Dramatic Form and Its Relation to Social Custom

Shakespeare's Festive Comedy: A Study of Dramatic Form and Its Relation to Social Custom

Shakespeare's Festive Comedy: A Study of Dramatic Form and Its Relation to Social Custom

Shakespeare's Festive Comedy: A Study of Dramatic Form and Its Relation to Social Custom

Synopsis

In this classic work, acclaimed Shakespeare critic C. L. Barber argues that Elizabethan seasonal festivals such as May Day and Twelfth Night are the key to understanding Shakespeare's comedies. Brilliantly interweaving anthropology, social history, and literary criticism, Barber traces the inward journey--psychological, bodily, spiritual--of the comedies: from confusion, raucous laughter, aching desire, and aggression, to harmony. Revealing the interplay between social custom and dramatic form, the book shows how the Elizabethan antithesis between everyday and holiday comes to life in the comedies' combination of seriousness and levity.


"I have been led into an exploration of the way the social form of Elizabethan holidays contributed to the dramatic form of festive comedy. To relate this drama to holiday has proved to be the most effective way to describe its character. And this historical interplay between social and artistic form has an interest of its own: we can see here, with more clarity of outline and detail than is usually possible, how art develops underlying configurations in the social life of a culture."--C. L. Barber, in the Introduction


This new edition includes a foreword by Stephen Greenblatt, who discusses Barber's influence on later scholars and the recent critical disagreements that Barber has inspired, showing that Shakespeare's Festive Comedy is as vital today as when it was originally published.

Excerpt

I hope that a reader who is only looking for commentary on one of the comedies will nevertheless take the time to read the first chapter. For the treatment of each major play develops the idea of festive comedy which is sketched there.

An early version of Chapter 9 appeared as “The Use of Comedy in As You Like It” in Philological Quarterly, Volume XXI (1942). A good deal of the Introduction was printed as “The Saturnalian Pattern in Shakespeare’s Comedy,” in The Sewanee Review, Volume LIX (1951). Part of Chapter 8 was published under the title “From Ritual to Comedy: an Examination of Henry IV” in English Stage Comedy, edited by W. K. Wimsatt, Jr. (New York, 1955), and profited from Mr. Wimsatt’s editorial attention. The same essay was reprinted in Shakespeare: Modern Essays in Criticism, edited by Leonard Dean (New York, 1957). Permission to reprint this material is gratefully acknowledged. And I am particularly grateful to the Harvard University Press for permission to reprint in Chapter 3 considerable extracts from the account in Norreys Jephson O’Conor’s Godes Peace and the Queenes of a “Summer Lord game” in Lincolnshire.

This book was first conceived in the liberty provided by a Junior Fellowship in the Society of Fellows at Harvard University. After the interruption of the war, two Folger Fellowships made it possible to work in the pleasant, efficient, and friendly circumstances of the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington. A Faculty Fellowship from the Fund for the Advancement of Education and a Travelling . . .

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