Shakespeare and the Arts of Design: (Architecture, Sculpture, and Painting)

Shakespeare and the Arts of Design: (Architecture, Sculpture, and Painting)

Shakespeare and the Arts of Design: (Architecture, Sculpture, and Painting)

Shakespeare and the Arts of Design: (Architecture, Sculpture, and Painting)

Excerpt

The present volume deals with Shakespeare and the arts of design, restricted to architecture, sculpture, and painting. While there has been some casual discussion of Shakespeare and the fine arts, no systematic treatment of them has yet appeared, nor is it my purpose to attempt one. Shakespeare was not actively interested in the fine arts as such, if indeed we may even designate them as fine arts in his day, and outside of the chief arts of design there are either comparatively few allusions to the fine arts in his plays or, as in one case, the field belongs to the technical expert. Poetry, or the poet, Shakespeare barely mentions. If the well-known passage in Midsummer Night's Dream and phrases in the Sonnets may be said to be praise, other passages are in sardonic vein; and Shakespeare "shows singularly little desire to magnify his office as artist," as Sir Edmund K. Chambers says. Shakespeare loved music, perhaps even regarding with suspicion those who did not, and only five of his plays are said to be without allusions to music; but this field appears to have been adequately treated by such technical experts as Mr. Louis C. Elson and Mr. E. W. Naylor. Of the minor arts of design, such as engraving, 'Ivories,' and needlework, I have made little mention or none at all, because the number of Shakespeare's allusions does not warrant it. Wax modeling, more important then than now, is briefly mentioned in connection with sculpture; and tapestries, more intimately connected with painting in that day than is generally supposed, receive what I believe to be their relative emphasis in the discussion of that art. Accordingly, I have restricted my field as I have indicated; and, though Shakespeare's allusions to the major arts of design neither are uniform in importance nor reflect the degree of general interest in the fine arts that we find in some later writers, I hope to show, not only that these arts of design comprise an important part of Shakespeare's background, but also that they have a very real significance in our understanding and appreciation of certain aspects of his achievement.

More immediate objectives are determined by the circumstances behind them. My purpose is not to attempt to show the influence of the arts of design upon the stage itself, for though these arts actually touched the stage at a few points the general physical and external features of the stage, as we know, were such as to make it owe very little to them. Fortunately for us, Shakespeare compensated for the lack of stage equipment and setting by working on the "imaginary forces" of his audience through brilliant phrase and vivid description and making the swift scene move with "no less celerity than that of thought." Neither is it my purpose, if this need be said, to attempt to show that Shakespeare himself exerted any influence upon the arts of design. In the arts at least, Shakespeare assimilated rather than formulated ideas; and though we may well believe he had his convictions on many contemporary issues and situations he had no evident mission and attempted no definite reform. Accordingly, what I hope to show is, not Shakespeare's influence upon the arts of design, for he doubtless had little or none at all, but their influence upon him. To this end, I have attempted to outline a background for each of these arts in order to afford a truer . . .

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