Fancy's Images: Contexts, Settings, and Perspectives in Shakespeare and His Contemporaries

By Charles R. Forker | Go to book overview

2 Titus Andronicus, Hamlet, and the Limits of Expressibility

Hippolytus. Animusne cupiens aliquid effari nequit? Phaedra. Curae leves locuntur, ingentes stupent.

-- Seneca, Hippolytus

A heavier task could not have been impos'd Than I to speak my griefs unspeakable.

-- The Comedy of Errors


I

Interested (as inevitably they were) in exploiting passions upon the stage, Elizabethan dramatists could hardly avoid confronting the fundamental problem of what language can and cannot express. Sooner or later the playwrights were bound to encounter that linguistic barricade that Marlowe's Tamburlaine defines so poignantly for us:

If all the pens that ever poets held
Had fed the feeling of their masters' thoughts
And every sweetness that inspired their hearts,
Their minds and muses on admired themes;
If all the heavenly quintessence they still
From their immortal flowers of poesy,
Wherein as in a mirror we perceive
The highest reaches of a human wit--
If these had made one poem's period
And all combined in beauty's worthiness,
Yet should there hover in their restless heads
One thought, one grace, one wonder at the least,
Which into words no virtue can digest.

( Tamburlaine, Part I, V.i.161-173) 1

-18-

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