The Backgrounds of Shakespeare's Plays

The Backgrounds of Shakespeare's Plays

The Backgrounds of Shakespeare's Plays

The Backgrounds of Shakespeare's Plays

Excerpt

As its title implies, The Backgrounds of Shakespeare's Plays is concerned with both the playwright's art and what lies behind it-the social, literary, theatrical, and philosophical antecedents which determine to a marked degree the modern reader's appreciation, understanding, and even prejudices about Shakespeare. This book is not an attempt to pluck out the heart of Shakespeare's mystery; more modestly it is merely a combination biography and critical handbook to Shakespeare's dramatic work, written for the student and the general reader who wants to know as well as to appreciate. It aspires to be simply a factual and an imaginative guide on a great adventure. The early chapters are concerned with William Shakespeare as an Elizabethan playwright, writing Elizabethan plays, for production in the Elizabethan manner, by Elizabethan actors, in an Elizabethan playhouse, before an Elizabethan audience. The later chapters, by tracing Shakespeare's after-fame, attempt to show how his plays have become something more as each succeeding age has accepted his works as contemporary and left the mark of its appreciation as a kind of patina around them.

A glance at the analytical table of contents will reveal an approach which is both historical and critical. What we really know about Shakespeare's life is here separated from what we merely surmise and is thus freed from the incrustation of speculation and ingenious deduction with which even the best biographies of the dramatist are inflated. The stirring age which produced Shakespeare is described in some of its more important social and cultural aspects, with especial emphasis upon the playwright's relation to them. Several chapters are concerned with the dramatic and theatrical traditions Shakespeare accepted and shared with his contemporaries; the conditions, social and professional, under which his work was first produced; and the importance of the Elizabethan stage, company, and audience to the playwright. The language Shakespeare used is discussed as a living, plastic medium, colored by the life, the thought, and the culture of his age. A chapter on . . .

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