Shakespeare's Labored Art: Stir, Work, and the Late Plays

By Maurice Hunt | Go to book overview

Chapter 1
Work and Shakespeare's Age

The history of labor in Shakespeare's age begins with the Bible and the impact of religious doctrine on successive generations. As Jacques Le Goff has shown, "Christianity did offer a spiritual approach to labor, a veritable theology of work."1 Later centuries inherited the ambivalent attitude of medieval Christianity toward work. On the one hand, the punishment for original sin entails labor in the sweat of the worker's brow. On the other, work became the qualifying means for a privileged place in Christian society. Paul's pronouncement--"If any would not work, neither should he eat" ( 2 Thess. 3:10)--became a foundation of medieval preferment. At the end of the ninth century and continuously thereafter, medieval society divided itself into oratores (men of prayer), bellatores (men of war), and laboratores (men of work). The final class mixed rudimentary artisans with manual laborers of all kinds. During the middle ages, both clerics and warriors tended to regard laborers contemptuously. Le Goff notes that "the Church explained the serf's lowly condition as that of society's scapegoat, invoking man's servitude to sin" (110). Manual laborers in the middle ages performed physical penance for the sins of the upper classes who either worked war or conducted the business of the church.

Beginning with the twelfth century, however, a new theology of labor began to emerge, brought about by the specialization of labor in trade guilds and by the birth of the idea of vocation as a consequence of a more developed personal consciousness within the individual. Previously the choice between the active and contemplative lives, between Martha and Mary, or Rachel and Leah, had been weighted toward the thoughtful existence. But beginning with the twelfth century, "there was a rehabilitation of Martha, and in practice manual labor was restored to a

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Shakespeare's Labored Art: Stir, Work, and the Late Plays
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Table of Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • Chapter 1 - Work and Shakespeare's Age 1
  • Notes 22
  • Chapter 2 - From Hamlet to Timon of Athens: Work in Shakespeare's Later Plays 27
  • Notes 63
  • Chapter 3 - Pericles 71
  • Notes 91
  • Chapter 4 - Cymbeline 95
  • Notes 130
  • Chapter 5 - The Winter's Tale 135
  • Notes 159
  • Chapter 6 - The Tempest 163
  • Notes 193
  • Chapter 7 - King Henry VIII 199
  • Notes 227
  • Chapter 8 - The Two Noble Kinsmen 231
  • Notes 255
  • Chapter 9 - Shakespeare's Labored Art 259
  • Notes 276
  • Works Cited 279
  • Index 305
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