Everybody's Shakespeare: Reflections Chiefly on the Tragedies

By Maynard Mack | Go to book overview

CHAPTER THREE
PLAY AND HISTORY

I

THE reinterpretation of Shakespeare's plays, like Tennyson's brook, goes on forever. In a sense, they were first reinterpreted by his colleagues Heminges and Condell, who gave them a new context and status simply by juxtaposing them within the covers of a single large folio, a format usually reserved for theology and the classics of Greece and Rome. Subsequent interpretations have enabled them to survive the impertinence of neo-classical rules, the rationalism of the eighteenth-century textual editors, the O altitudos of Romantic criticism, and the sheer clutter of the Victorian proscenium stage.

In our own day, owing probably to the fact that much of the Shakespeare industry is now situated among academics, this process has accelerated. During a bare half-century we have seen the School of Character Analysis, very much in the ascendant when I went to university, ousted by the School of Imagery and New Criticism, and both of these, during especially the last two decades, steadily giving ground to what I will call the School of Performance, since its chief tenet seems to be that Shakespeare's plays are only to be known aright in actual productions. Meantime, ever more visible in the wings, eager for center-stage, the School of New Historicism comes on with Tarquin's ravishing strides; while just to its left and right, stretched out to the crack of doom like the race of Stuarts fated to descend from Banquo, marxism, feminism, structuralism, psychoanalysis, and many a shape as yet unnamed vie for position.

All this is doubtless as it should be, lest one good custom corrupt the world. Moreover, we do learn something from each vogue as it passes, if

-39-

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