The Shakespearian Tempest: With a Chart of Shakespeare's Dramatic Universe

The Shakespearian Tempest: With a Chart of Shakespeare's Dramatic Universe

The Shakespearian Tempest: With a Chart of Shakespeare's Dramatic Universe

The Shakespearian Tempest: With a Chart of Shakespeare's Dramatic Universe

Excerpt

(In this note references to The Wheel of Fire (1949 edition), The Imperial Theme, The Crown of Life and The Shakespearian Tempest are given under the headings WF, IT, CL and ST)

THE reissue of this volume may profitably be made the occasion of a few remarks on recent developments in Shakespearian study. We have lately seen a number of works and articles stressing the intellectual 'background' of Shakespeare's plays, Elizabethan worldpictures, and so on. I have already pointed out that the significances adumbrated, in so far as they are Shakespearian at all, were first discovered not by any reading of medieval or Elizabethan philosophies, but by a simple inspection of the poetry. A new layer of symbolic meaning was unearthed by direct interpretation; of this certain elements were abstracted by scholarship and equated with medieval philosophy; and finally the philosophy--not even the Shakespearian elements--is arbitrarily applied to the poetry from outside as the one sure canon of judgment and necessary implement of interpretation. The illogicality is patent. Let us inspect the dangers.

That Shakespeare's work contains a high proportion of medieval thought is not strange; but the drama itself is more important than the thought. Hamlet and Antony and Cleopatra could not have been composed and acted in the age of Chaucer. Now, whereas Shakespeare's thought may often be related to a philosophy of 'order' (and other hierarchies), his action functions regularly as a challenge to such concepts. Though the philosophies themselves may be either medieval or contemporary, we can certainly relate the challenge itself to Renaissance humanism, and, beyond that, to poetic and dramatic genius. Anyone can understand the necessity of order; we all know how salutary it is, in any age, to pray for 'the squire and his relations', or their equivalents. What only genius can do is . . .

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