4
Family Romances

The late plays focus with unusual intensity on certain family dynamics, especially the relationship between father and daughter. They also focus on the fundamental importance of these bonds and on the healing power they have when they are restored after long separations. In Shakespeare's tragedies the same bond (as in Romeo and Juliet, King Lear, Hamlet, and Othello) features, in combination with the powerful pressure of the absent or present mother on her children. They are at the heart of the psychological dramas most of all because violent tragic power results from the dissolution of these bonds under extreme pressure. In Shakespeare's comedies fathers and daughters are again central, but the dynamic is very different. Daughters free themselves from their fathers' control and the comic ending is a celebration of a new domestic hierarchy, with them now closer to their new husbands than to their fathers. In the late plays the reunion of father and daughter (in Cymbeline, The Winter's Tale, and Pericles), the birth of a daughter (Henry VIII), or in the rather different case of The Tempest, the comic transference of the daughter from father to husband, but under strict paternal control, are all vital to the emotional structures of the plays. Accordingly, critics such as Cyrus Hoy, interested in the 'psychological climate which produces the romances', emphasize the positive nature of this relationship: 'The dramatist is engaged in a quest to free the imagination from all the shrill mistress-wife-mother figures who have inhabited the late tragedies, and to create in their place an ideal of femininity on whom the imagination can bestow its tenderest sentiments, without the distraction of sexual desire.'1 While this may work as a broad summary, the imaginative and emotional energy of these plays is not so well ordered. This chapter will explore

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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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