|Primary Renaissance Texts|
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|Monday, 28 March 2005 07:29|
Leonard Digges refers to Will Shakespeare as England's Lope de Vega for sonnet-writing, in an inscription about James Mabbe's sending Vega's Rimas (1613) to Will Baker. In the flyleaf of the book he wrote to Will Baker:
TEXTS RELEVANT TO SHAKESPEARE'S STAGE
The more fully informed we are about earlier theatres in other societies, however remote and alien, the more we discover exactly what expectations were shared by their audiences and met by theatre professionals then and now. This certainly includes the medieval antecedents of the Shakespearean theatre, for the mystery plays covered biblical history in a spirit of ultimate trust in divine providence reflected in the very title of Dante's Divine Comedy. Even earlier the great Aristotle, precursor of so many later theorists, admitted in his Poetics that his preference for deeply depressing plays was not shared by his fellow Athenians. He preferred plays with a single plot about the downfall of one great man, and proceeded to prescribe in detail how that distressing kind of plot should be presented. His terms have been largely accepted by influential later critics like Sir Philip Sidney in his Apologie for Poetrie (excerpted after the bibliography of this section), and rigorously codified by successive neoclassicists who have tried for centuries to enforce their "rules" on theatre professionals with questionable success in many cases. Nevertheless Aristotle himself had to concede the existence of at least one alternative mode to his ideal:
For Aristotle, theatre audiences are wrong and intellectuals like himself know better what artists should do. Not all scholars, critics and theatre professionals have agreed with him, including many known and imitated by Shakespeare.
For example, in the sixteenth century, an Italian academic well-versed in Aristotle, called Giovambattista Giraldi Cinzio (usually identified as Cinthio in English studies of Shakespeare's sources) asserted the right of later authors to defy Aristotle's prescriptions: "To speak generally, authors who are judicious and skillful in composition should not so restrain their liberty within the bounds set by their predecessors that they dare not set foot outside the old paths" (269). Another even more orthodox Renaissance follower of Aristotle named Ludovico Castelvetro nevertheless accepts the artist's obligations to his modern audience:
Cinthio was not only a critic but also a practitioner of the arts, and his theatrical practice confirms the opinions of the more narrowly academic Castelvetro about the "secondary" class of tragedy and its positive impact on audiences regretted by Aristotle:
Shakespeare certainly knew and liked Cinthio's works, for his Hecatommithi (a collection of short stories) provided plots for Measure for Measure and Othello. So it is not surprising that Cinthio's positivist criteria for drama might apply generally to Shakespeare's plays, even to so negative a drama as King Lear, for all the evil characters in it do die: Goneril, Cornwall, Regan, Oswald, and Edmund. Even the murdered Cordelia is not innocent, since her obtuseness initiates the whole disaster, including a French invasion of England, something Shakespeare clearly shows to be disgraceful in King John. As for the deaths of both Gloucester and Lear, they might be properly attributed to natural causes, simply from old age, not murder. Gloucester certainly dies from excess of happiness on rediscovering his lost son Edgar, and one possible reading may suggest that even Lear dies hopeful of Cordelia's survival. At least in the Folio, authority in his kingdom seems to be taken over by Edgar—the name of one of the most successful kings in British history (see individual play entry).
In attacking critics' attempts to limit classification of drama into just two categories, tragedy which ends sadly and comedy which ends happily, Cinthio goes on to say: "Critics fall into this error because they were of the opinion that there cannot be a tragedy which ends happily" (Gilbert, 257). In postulating the superiority of the mixed, positive category of tragedy, he is backed up by Guarini who asserts that his version of it appeals to all levels and types of humanity:
Another theatre practitioner, the Spaniard Lope de Vega, sardonically adopts a similar posture in rejecting the high art advocated by the followers of Aristotle, whom he pretends to be addressing respectfully. He argues that such high art as they require simply will not sell, and so he is obliged to surrender to popular tastes:
So what is this popular kind of mixed drama with a double plot that Castelvetro, Cinthio, and Lope de Vega all agree is required by their modern audiences? It approximates to the genre reviled by Aristotle as an inferior popular type, and called by Guarini "tragedy with a happy ending." Lope expands on the character of this variant:
Like the drama of many of his contemporaries in the English theatre, Shakespeare's art in general can best be understood by these terms of reference provided by such sources, familiar to him and his European contemporaries, since almost all his plays approximate to some degree to what has often been called "tragicomedy," a term that first appeared as early as the prologue to the Amphitryon of Plautus. Its attributes are based exclusively on expedient stage practices, not aesthetic theories, and the precedents do not apply just to Shakespeare's comedies and romances, with their distinctive mixture of acute stress, comic wit, farce, and provocative resolutions. The frequent failure of some of his plays to match the specifications of academic theories of comedy and tragedy has led to the creation of a dubious academic category of indefinables called "problem plays." These often also include tragedies such as Hamlet and Julius Caesar, for their failure to conform to Aristotelian norms means that many of Shakespeare's tragedies must be relegated to the same anomalous group, unless we can show that they have their own distinct characteristics.
If Shakespearean tragedies have detectable patterns, they are ones which were governed primarily by what theatre audiences welcomed, not by respect for supercilious authorities such as Sidney, who despised the contemporary Elizabethan popular theatre, and whose opinions were thus largely irrelevant to its practices. Elizabethan plays' structure, characterization, tone, and emotional impact are defined primarily by recurring responses to performances from their popular audiences. So it is not just in his comedies that Shakespeare avoided presenting spectators with painfully "correct" art, offering audiences instead What You Will, or As You Like It. We should distinguish between the productions of "play-writers" such as Ben Jonson whose artistic principles seem to be favored by intellectuals like Hamlet, and the practical craftsmanship of traditional "playwrights." Like Lope de Vega, it is to this latter category that Shakespeare primarily belongs, as a craftsman, like a wheelwright or a shipwright, designing works purely for the satisfaction and convenience of his customers, not to meet some supposedly superior standard of excellence, whether aesthetic or metaphysical, such as those promulgated by Renaissance Academies. A carpenter makes a chair from readily accessible materials for its immediate purchaser to sit in comfortably, not for it to be included in some posthumous anthology of Collected Chairs. We shall see this process reflected in many subsequent sections of this site. © HMR
Gilbert, Allan H., ed. 1962. Literary Criticism: Plato to Dryden. Detroit: Wayne State Univ. Press.
BIBLIOGRAPHY OF PRIMARY SOURCES
Arber, Edward, ed., A Transcript of the Register of the Company of Stationers of London 1554-1640, 5 Vols., London, priv. print., 1875-77; Birmingham, 1894 [reprint, New York: Peter Smith, 1950].
Aristotle, The Poetics, trans.. Stephen Halliwell, London: Duckworth, 1987.
Aubrey, John, Brief Lives, ed. Oliver L. Dick, London: T. Brun, 1947.
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Burton, Robert, The Anatomy of Melancholy, ed. Thomas C. Faulkner, Nicholas R. Kressling, and Rhonda L. Blair, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989-98.
Castiglione, Baldesar, The Book of the Courtier, Venice: Aldine Press, 1528; tr. Sir Thomas Hoby, London, 1561.
Cicero, De Oratore, tr. E. W. Sutton and H. Rackham, Loeb Series, 2 vols, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1948.
Cinzio, G. G. Giraldi. Discorso over lettera di Giovambattista Giraldi Cinzio Intorno al comporre delle comedie e delle tragedie a Giulio Ponzio Ponzoni, in Scritti Critici, ed. Camillo Guerrierii Crocetti. Milan: Marzorati, 1973.
Clark, Sandra, ed., Shakespeare Made Fit: Restoration Adaptations of Shakespeare, London: Dent, 1997.
Contarini, Gasparo (cardinal). De Magistratibus et Republica Venetorum. 1543. reprin. as Gaspar Contareno, The Commonwealth and Government of Venice, Amsterdan and New York: De Capo Press, 1969.
Dante, Convivio, in Le Opere, ed. E. More, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1894.
Davies, John, Civil Wars of Death and Fortune, London, 1605; Microcosmos, 1603; Scourge of Folly, London: 1611. Selections repr. The Riverside Shakespeare, ed. by G. Blakemore Evans. 2nd edn, New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1997.
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Donne, John. Biathanatos. A Declaration of That Paradox or Thesis, That Self- Homicide is Not So Natural a Sin That It May Never Be Otherwise (1648), ed. Ernest W. Sullivan, Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1984.
Dramatic Documents from the Elizabethan Play-houses: Stage Plots; Actors' Parts; Prompt Books, ed. Walter W. Greg, 2 vols, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1931.
Drayton, Michael, Works, Edited by J. W. Hebel, K. Tillotson, and B. H. Newdigate. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1931-41.
Earle, John, Micro-cosmographie. London, 1628; ed. W. H. D. Rouse, London: Temple Classics, 1899.
Elizabethan Erotic Verse, ed. Sandra Clark, London: Everyman, 1994.
Elizabethan Love Stories, ed. Terence J. B. Spencer, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1968.
The English Drama and Stage Under the Tudor and Stuart Princes 1543-1664 Illustrated by a Series of Documents, Treatises and Poems, ed. William C. Hazlitt, no location: Roxborough Library, 1869.
Field, John, A Godly Exhortation, London, 1583.
The First Part of the Reign of King Richard II or Thomas of Woodstock, London: Malone Society Reprints, 1927.
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Gesta Grayorum; or the History of the High and Mighty Prince Henry of Purpoole
Gifford, George, A Discourse of the Subtle Practices of Devils by Witche and Sorcerers, London: 1587.
Gilbert, Allan H. ed., Literary Criticism: Plato to Dryden, Detroit: Wayne State, 1962. [includes Cinthio, Lope de Vega, Castelvetro, etc.]
Gillespie, Stuart, Shakespeare's Books: A Dictionary of Shakespeare's Sources, London: Continuum/Athlone, 2000.
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Hall. Edward, Union of the Two Noble and Illustre Famelies of Lancastre andYorke. 1550; rept. Menston, U.K.: Scolar Press, 1970.
Hall, John, "The Malcontent" in Characters of Virtues and Vices, London, 1608; repr. The Norton Anthology of English Literature, ed. M. H. Abrams, New York: Norton, 3rd edn, 1974.
Hamilton, Fiona, "Dig at new theatre site reveals Shakespeare's first playhouse," The Times. London, August 6, 2008, p. 18.
Henryson, Robert, The Poems, ed. Denton Fox, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1981.
Henslowe, Philip, Henslowe's Diary: Edited with Supplementary Material, Introduction and Notes, ed. R. A. Foakes and R. T. Rickert, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1961.
Henslowe, Philip. Henslowe' s Papers: The Diary, Theatre Papers, and Bear Garden Papers, ed. Reginald A. Foakes, 1977.
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Holinshed, Raphael, Holinshed's Chronicle As Used in Shakespeare's Plays, ed. Allardyce Nicoll and Josephine Nicoll, London: Dent, 1927.
Holinshed, Raphael, Shakespeare's Holished, ed. Richard Hosley, New York: Putnam, 1968.
The three Witches meet Macbeth and Banquo in an engraving from Raphael Holinshed's Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland (1577). On stage Shakespeare's actors probably wore similar Elizabethan costumes.
Irace, Kathleen, Reforming the Bad Quartos: Performance and Provenance of Six Shakespeare First Editions, Newark; University of Delaware Press, 1994.
Jonson, Ben, The Complete Poems, ed, George Parfitt: New Haven: Yale University Press, 1982.
Jonson, Ben, Ben Jonson's Complete Literary Criticism, ed. James D. Redwine, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1970
Jonson, Ben, The Complete Masques, ed. Stephen Orgel, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1969
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Jonson, Ben, The Works [various editions] at Luminarium: http://www.luminarium.org/renlit/
Jourdan, Sylvester, A Discovery of the Bermudas, Otherwise Called the Isle of Devils, London: 1610; ed. Joseph Q. Adams, New York: Scholars' Facsimilles and Reprints, 1940.
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King Edward III, ed. Giorgio Melchiori, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.
Kinney, Arthur F., ed., Rogues, Vagabonds and Sturdy Beggars: A New Gallery of Tudor and Early Stuart Rogue Literature Exposing the Lives, Times and Cozening Tricks of the Elizabethan Underworld, Barre, Mass.: Imprint Society, 1973.
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The title page of Thomas Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy of 1615.
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Title page to a 1620 printing of Doctor Faustus showing Faustus conjuring and Mephistopheles rising through a stage trap door.
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Marlowe, Christopher, The Complete Works, ed. Fredson Bowers, 2 vols, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, revised edn. 1981.
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Pilgrimage to Parnassus: The Three Parnassus Plays, ed J. B. Leishman, London: Nicholson and Watson, 1949.
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Shakespeare was called "the English Terence." He could have seen this edition of Terence's plays, published in Venice in 1580. For a full description of this edition and its significance see the desccription of one of its images in Gallery 8, Page 1, Image 37. .
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A Renaissance Print-Shop. Engraving from Stephen Batman, The Doom Warning All Men to the Judgment, 1581.
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