Play, Death, and Heroism in Shakespeare

By Kirby Farrell | Go to book overview

Chapter 11

Epilogue

To my knowledge, no contemporary writer was so richly concerned with play-death and apotheosis as Shakespeare. After his passing the ground of heroism shifted radically in England. The iconoclastic imaginations that defaced statues of saints and killed the king were acting out a change in the dynamics of hero worship that the Restoration would not undo. At the same time Puritan emigrants to the New World, many of them anxious about portents of doom in reprobate England, were gradually transforming the old system of self-effacement and autonomy into a new ethos of pious self-reliance that was to have unforeseeable consequences.

The Shakespearean pattern flourished again only in the nineteenth century, in Poe's indefatigable corpses and Twain's self-dramatizing Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. In the visionary psychology of Romanticism the pattern is crucial. Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, for instance, develops as an obsessive sequence of play-deaths that make possible the chimerical omnipotence that excites its narrators. The novel's protagonist loses himself in fainting spells, trances, fevers, traumatic hysteria, and numbing polar wastes, splitting into the godlike scientist and a monstrous, instinctual alter ego brought to life by genius. At the other end of the century Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and H. G. Wells's invisible man also undertake sinister, liberating immortality projects.

Rising from his coffin to recruit an ever-expanding army of surrogate selves through his oral depradations, Bram Stoker's insatiable count is the apotheosis of heroes who have triumphed over Turkish infidels as Henry V daydreams his son will do (H5 5.2.206-9). At one point linked to the ghost in Hamlet, Dracula is no less a Richard III born to bite the world. Served by a tacitly incestuous harem, he reincarnates the atavistic warrior-lord in an ambivalent Victorian patriarch who would command eternity. In one crisis, having fed on Mina's

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Play, Death, and Heroism in Shakespeare
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Play, Death, and Heroism in Shakespeare *
  • Contents *
  • Preface ix
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • Part One *
  • Chapter 1 - Introduction 3
  • Chapter 2 - Play-Death, Self-Effacement, and Autonomy 13
  • Chapter 3 - Play, Death, and Apotheosis 36
  • Chapter 4 - Heroism and Hero Worship 56
  • Chapter 5 - The Hero and the Tomb 74
  • Chapter 6 - The Topography of Death and Heroism 90
  • Part Two *
  • Chapter 7 - Love, Death, and the Hunt in Venus and Adonis 117
  • Chapter 8 - Love, Death, and Patriarchy in Romeo and Juliet 131
  • Chapter 9 - Prophecy and Heroic Destiny in the Histories 148
  • Chapter 10 - Play-Death and Individuation 172
  • Chapter 11 - Epilogue 192
  • Appendix 201
  • Notes 207
  • Index 231
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