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The Late Shakespearian Canon

Nothing of him that doth fade
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.

(The Tempest, 1.2.402–4)

Readers, audiences, and critics have regularly described special qualities in the works written towards the end of Shakespeare's theatrical career: especially Pericles, Cymbeline, The Winter's Tale, and The Tempest. Ariel's song, quoted above, calms and perplexes Ferdinand with its description of an intriguing physical change, but as the prince discovers later, Alonso has not actually died at all. While extraordinary stories filled with emotional intensity and challenging dramaturgy add up to a 'rich and strange' new direction in Shakespeare's career, the metamorphosis can be overstated—many key interests of earlier works find themselves reworked. The goal of this book is to explore and characterize new and old features in Shakespeare's late writing. This is a complex but rewarding task: these are elusive, finely tuned works that illuminate the richness and strangeness of fundamental questions about people, society, the supernatural, and the dramatic, rather than offering answers.

Even the question 'what is Shakespeare's late work?' is only deceptively straightforward. There is an easy answer, namely 'the work written at and towards the end of Shakespeare's career'. However, this answer masks considerable complexity. Critics have defined different groupings of 'late' or 'last' plays, the usual tendency being to create tight trios, quartets, or quintets centred on The Tempest. E. M. W. Tillyard's classic study Shakespeare's Last Plays (1938) covers

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Shakespeare's Late Work
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Oxford Shakespeare Topics - General Editors: Peter Holland and Stanley Wells Shakespeare S Late Work iii
  • Acknowledgements vii
  • Contents ix
  • 1: The Late Shakespearian Canon 1
  • 2: Seeing is Believing 30
  • 3: Faith and Revelation 55
  • 4: Family Romances 81
  • 5: Conservative Endings 99
  • 6: Shakespeare, Middleton, and Fletcher 116
  • 7: Shakespeare, Early and Late 138
  • Further Reading 156
  • Notes 160
  • Index 171
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