Shakespeare's Problem Comedies

Shakespeare's Problem Comedies

Shakespeare's Problem Comedies

Shakespeare's Problem Comedies

Excerpt

This book is, to a considerable extent, the result of preoccupation with the Middle Ages. For the past twenty-five years, I have been working in mediæval language and literature with graduate students in Columbia University, and for nearly the same length of time I have given a course in Shakespeare for undergraduates. Discussions in this course have often shown that perplexing questions connected with Shakespeare's art may be solved by a consideration of his inheritance from earlier times. By this I do not mean the usual "source study," but something much more comprehensive. His plays are, of course, not complete re-creations of older themes in the spirit of his own age, but a combination of Elizabethan conceptions and mediæval survivals. No Chinese wall separated him from the Middle Ages; the Renaissance, that much-abused and yet shadowy term, means not a new birth after death, but a new spirit in a living and developing body. Most of the mediæval elements in Shakespeare's work are not obscure or difficult to understand, though considerable study is required to make clear the subtler issues. Many problems which baffled the older critics, and which are still subjects of controversy, may by this general method of approach be much better understood, and often definitely settled.

My original intention was to write a book illustrating the general importance of a study of mediæval literature and life for an understanding of Shakespeare's plays. During the past quarter century, however, much highly significant research has been published, historical in method, rather than . . .

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