This is a book about Shakespeare's conception of creation. More exactly, it explores a conflict between visionary and more rational uses of imagination. Early commentators such as Nicholas Rowe associated the visionary in Shakespeare with "Magick." In his essay on Falstaff, Maurice Morgann identifies poetry itself with magic:
True Poesy is magic, not nature; an effect from causes hidden or unknown. To the Magician I prescribed no laws . . . his power is his law. Him, who neither imitates, nor is within reach of imitation, no precedent can or ought to bind, no limits to contain. . . . -- But whither am I going! This copious and delightful topic has drawn me far beyond my design. . . .
My own argument uses the concepts of magical thinking and play. As Johan Huizinga Homo Ludens demonstrates, "magic" and "play" have far more precise meanings--and more in common--than we popularly suppose. Lest they be thought phantoms of the critic's heat-oppressed brain, I will venture no quick definitions of these terms here. Let me say, however, that the secret of Shakespeare's creative genius does not lurk between these covers. Nor is this a study of the Renaissance beliefs in ghosts, witches, and the occult arts surveyed in R. H. West The Invisible World.
Part One of this book examines magic and play in the structure of Shakespeare's sonnets and drama. It begins with an analysis of certain sonnets as acts of "magical" praise, and means of evoking wonder from the audience. In Part Two the emphasis shifts to Shakespeare's exploration of his characters' creative faculties and the complex moral consequences of their imaginative behavior. For Maurice Morgann, "this copious and delightful topic" is a