Eighteenth-Century Adaptations of Shakespearean Tragedy

Eighteenth-Century Adaptations of Shakespearean Tragedy

Eighteenth-Century Adaptations of Shakespearean Tragedy

Eighteenth-Century Adaptations of Shakespearean Tragedy

Excerpt

The Seventeenth- and eighteenth-century adaptations of Shakespearean plays have never received much critical attention. Except for Dryden All for Love, which owes so little to Shakespeare that it may almost be regarded as an independent play, the altered plays have little literary merit. Shakespearean scholars understandably have regarded the alterations only as mutilations and have treated them with scorn. This attitude, however understandable, leads to an indulgence of questionable value. The plays in their altered form can be useful. Each adapter must have felt that he was improving the original play, that his version was a more polished and better constructed piece than Shakespeare's. By the changes he made and the details he kept he disclosed his literary values. The altered plays thus provide a kind of laboratory manual of the diction, dramatic theory, and dramatic practice of the age in which they were written: they disclose writers surveying the literature of an earlier time, selecting the parts they especially value, and preserving those parts while removing the marks of a "barbaric" age.

It is my intention in this study to examine the alterations to determine, if possible, what the adapters thought they were doing, to discover their motivations for sacrificing parts of Shakespeare that we particularly value. I do not wish to document atrocities or to exclaim at the presumption and bad taste of a vitiated age, but to seek comprehension, to understand the assurance and vitality of the eighteenth-century attitude.

I have chosen to concentrate on the eighteenth century rather than repeat work that has already been done on the Restoration adaptations. Readers interested in a more detailed treatment of . . .

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