Not Wisely but Too Well: Shakespeare's Love Tragedies

Not Wisely but Too Well: Shakespeare's Love Tragedies

Not Wisely but Too Well: Shakespeare's Love Tragedies

Not Wisely but Too Well: Shakespeare's Love Tragedies

Excerpt

For modern readers the Elizabethans are primarily love poets and Shakespeare is Cupid's prophet. This is as it should be; the Elizabethans wrote so fluently and so well about love that few poets since have equalled them at their best. As is fitting, Elizabethan love poems and plays have been scrutinized often and lengthily. Yet out of the lifetimes of scholarship devoted to comedies and lyrics, comparatively little work has been spent upon Shakespeare's love tragedy as the expression of Renaissance aesthetic and philosophical thought. Most critics have either catalogued Renaissance attitudes only to disregard them in the plays or else with more logic have discounted these attitudes altogether on the grounds that Shakespeare is not like other dramatists. This study attempts to trim the boat by taking the stated opinions of Elizabethan poets, moralists, and literary critics quite seriously. If at times I lean too far in one direction, the reader is asked to exercise his critical intuition.

Other approaches to the plays will reveal other things. For instance a really effective analysis of the images of love remains to be made. An examination of the rhetoric of love in its relation to theories of decorum and the conventions of the Elizabethan stage will, I think, show further links between high comedy and what the pirated Quarto calls the "pleasant conceited tragedy" of Romeo and Juliet. Within its limits, however, this study tries to show certain consistent patterns of Shakespeare's mind as it reveals itself in the action of the love plays Romeo and Juliet, Troilus and Cressida, and Antony and Cleopatra. Perhaps there is no art to find the mind's construction in the plays. Every drama is more than the sum of its parts. I assume notwithstanding that thematic patterns as they reveal themselves in dramatic action will show us the bent of the author's thought. Thus I have concentrated . . .

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