Shakespeare and the Romance Tradition

Shakespeare and the Romance Tradition

Shakespeare and the Romance Tradition

Shakespeare and the Romance Tradition

Excerpt

It is strange indeed that among the many thousands of volumes devoted to Shakespearean criticism so few works on his comedies seem worth remembering. A sentence of Johnson (His tragedy seems to be skill, his comedy to be instinct'), or some words of Hazlitt ('The spectators rather receive pleasure from humoring the inclinations of the persons they laugh at than wish to give them pain by exposing their absurdity') come to the mind, but not the extended treatises we should expect. In our own day, Professor H. B. Charlton has made a gallant attempt to provide us with what we need, but while we rejoice in much that he tells us, much is still to do. Investigations of parts of Shakespearean comedy, such as Professor W. W. Lawrence Shakespeare's Problem Plays (or the 'Dark' Comedies, as Mr. Pettet prefers to call them), throw light on part of the field, and innumerable studies of characterisation, of imagery, or of stage technique enable us to see certain aspects of the comedies more clearly. A satisfying guide through the whole body of the plays, however, is still to seek. Mr. Pettet would be the last to claim that his is such a guide, but the book he has given us will constantly be in the hands of anyone in future who essays the task, for he will find Mr. Pettet's study to be a clear and convincing discussion of one of the most important factors of Shakespearean comedy - romance and romantic love.

When Shakespeare came to London in the eighties of the sixteenth century he found a flourishing theatrical world about him, practising many forms of drama, among which was romantic comedy. What could have been more acceptable to a youthful dramatist - but what in time could have become more unsatisfying as a dramatic form? A careful scrutiny of Shakespeare's plays shows how this feeling of dissatisfaction crept in, and how it modified his drama as it moved inevitably from the confident ebullience of The Two Gentlemen of Verona to the uneasy comedy world of Much Ado about Nothing and The Merchant of Venice. Once Shakespeare had arrived at the anti-romantic stage so perfectly expressed by Rosalind:

The poor world is almost six thousand years old, and in all this time there was not any man died in his own person, videlicet, in a love-cause. Troilus had his brains dashed out with a Grecian club; yet . . .

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