Titus and the Earliest Comedies
PERHAPS THE MOST ordinary of critical commonplaces is the statement that when one turns from Shakespeare's dramas written after 1595-96 to his earlier plays, one is struck by the author's relative immaturity. Yet equally commonplace is the statement that from Shakespeare's earliest playwriting emerged the unique artistry of the later dramas. From this last point of view alone, a detailed study of his early work should be worthwhile. One can not assume, however, that immaturity from a modern point of view or from the point of view of the entire Shakespearean corpus would be considered immaturity in the early 1590's. In the late sixteenth century, criticism probably would be based upon the way in which an artist reflected the external objects of his day and the representational methods of his era; and as the preceding chapters have indicated, any reflection of external objects in the drama seems to be subordinate to the playwright's use of popular motifs, current concepts, and structural developments. 1 From this point of view, Shakespeare's plays through Richard II show such a skillful use of Elizabethan attitudes, ideas, and theatrical traditions that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to name any dramatist writing before 1596 who shows a greater skill and variety.
The preceding discussions established the nature of some methods used in creating laughter and the nature of some serious characters and structural movements that probably were familiar to author, actor, and regular theater-goer. The immediately preceding chapter also indicated the technique of some of Shakespeare's early contemporaries and the control that they exercised over their material. In the following pages, consequently, Shakespeare's use and control of the comic within the confines of the individual play will be examined. In addition, as Titus Andronicus and the early history plays are analyzed, it will be seen how Shakespeare also utilized the serious types of character and the structural patterns that have been noticed in the artistry of his contemporaries. So effectively does Shakespeare develop what was conventionally comic and