Shakespeare and Ovid

Shakespeare and Ovid

Shakespeare and Ovid

Shakespeare and Ovid

Synopsis

Written by a leading Shakespeare scholar, this book is the first comprehensive account of the relationship between Shakespeare and his favorite poet, Ovid. Bate examines the full range of Shakespeare's works, identifying Ovid's presence not only in the narrative poems and pastoral comedies, but also in the Sonnets and mature tragedies. Demonstrating how profoundly creative Ovid's influence was, especially in his representations of myth, metamorphosis, and sexuality, this original and elegantly written study reveals Shakespeare as an extraordinarily sophisticated reader of Ovidian myth and as a metamorphic artist as fluid and nimble as his classical original.

Excerpt

People who are interested in Shakespeare are likely at some point to ask themselves about his reading. If you admire a writer, it is natural to wonder which writers that writer admired. For a long time it has been widely agreed that Shakespeare's favourite classical author, probably his favourite author in any language, was Publius Ovidius Naso. Readers who wish to pursue the relationship can consult a large number of specialized studies of particular aspects of it, but no single book which explores it in a variety of ways and across a broad range of works. That is the gap which this study aims to fill.

As will be clear from the length of my bibliography, a single book could never exhaust the subject. By its nature it invites many different approaches, ranging from the minutely linguistic to the broadly conceptual, from consideration of little words which Shakespeare snapped up from Arthur Golding's translation of the Metamorphoses to reflection upon such large matters as the representation of sexuality and the function of myth. This book is deliberately eclectic in its approach--sometimes it dwells on particular verbal details, while at other times it proposes less tangible infusions; sometimes it unweaves complex intertextual entanglements, while at others it simply helps the student or theatre-goer to see what Shakespeare is getting at when he alludes to Actaeon or Proserpina. It must, however, be stressed that the aims of the book are more ambitious than those of positivistic 'source-study' often are: what we read does much to make us what we are (or so Renaissance educational theorists believed), so by reading Shakespeare's reading of Ovid we may come to a remarkably full--though not, of course, complete--picture of the sort of artist that Shakespeare was.

Chapter 1 is an introduction to Shakespeare's Ovid and the sixteenth-century Ovid more generally; after what in the Renaissance would have been called an exordium, it surveys Shakespeare's classical education and then the Ovidianism of his immediate forebears in the theatre, John Lyly and Christopher Marlowe. Chapter 2 reads Shakespeare's most directly Ovidian works, his narrative poems, in relation to their sources in the Metamorphoses and the Fasti.

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