Shakespeare's Staging
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:

[To] Will Baker: Knowing that Mr. [James Mabbe] was to send you this Book of Sonnets, which with Spaniards here is accounted of their Lope de Vega as in England we should of our Will Shakespeare, I could not but insert thus much to you, that if you like him not, you must never read Spanish poet.


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:

Second in quality is the kind of plot some put first. I mean the plot having a double arrangement, like that of the Odyssey, and concluding in opposite ways for the good and the bad. It seems to be first in rank because of the weakness of the spectators. For the poets in their compositions follow the wishes of the audience.
(Gilbert, 86-7)

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:

Now, because poetry has been discovered, as I say, to delight and recreate the common people, it should have as its subject those things that can be understood by the common people and when understood can make them happy. These are the things that happen every day and that are spoken of among the people, and that resemble historical accounts and the latest reports about the world.
(Gilbert, 308)

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:

I have composed some [tragedies] with happy endings, the Altile, the Selene, the Antivalomeni, and others merely as a concession to the spectators and to make the plays appear more pleasing on the stage, and that I may be more in conformity with the custom of our time. . . . And in this sort of play often for the greater satisfaction and better instruction of those who listen, they who are the cause of disturbing events, by which the persons of ordinary goodness in the drama have been afflicted, are made to die or suffer great ills. . . . It gives extraordinary pleasure to the spectator when he sees the astute trapped and deceived at the end of the drama, and the unjust and the wicked finally overthrown.
(Gilbert, 256-7)

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:

Truly, if today men understood how to compose tragicomedy (for it is not an easy thing to do), no other drama should be put on the stage, for tragicomedy is able to include all good qualities of drama and to reject all bad ones; it can delight all dispositions, all ages and all tastes—something that is not true of the other two, tragedy and comedy, which are at fault because they go to excess.
(Gilbert, 512)

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:

Not that I am unaware of the rules; thank God that even as an apprentice to grammar I had already read the books which treated of these subjects. . . . But I finally found that the plays in Spain at that time were not as their early makers in the world thought they should be written, but as many untutored writers treated them who worked for the public according to its own rude ways, and thus insinuated themselves into favor to such an extent that whoever now writes plays with art dies without fame or reward. . . . It is true that I have written [plays] in accordance with the art, that few know, but later when from others I saw proceed monstrous things full of theatrical apparatus, to which the crowd and the women who canonize this sad business came running, I returned to the barbarous manner, and when I have to write a play I lock the rules away with six keys; . . . and I write in the manner of devisers who aspired to the acclaim of the crowd; for since it is the crowd that pays, it is proper to speak to it stupidly in order to please.
(Gilbert, 542)

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:

The tragic mixed with the comic, Terence with Seneca, although it be like another monster of Pasiphae, will make one part grave, the other absurd: and this variety gives much delight. Nature gives a good example, for because of such variety it has beauty.
(Gilbert, 544)

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.




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.



Brooke, C. F. Tucker, ed., The Shakespeare Apochrypha, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1918; rept 1967.

Bulwer, John, Chirologia: or the Natural Language of the Hand, and
Chironomia: or the Art of Manual Rhetoric
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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.

Dekker, Thomas, The Dramatic Works, ed. Fredson Bowers, 4 vols, with Introductions, Notes and Commentaries by Cyrus Hoy, 4 vols, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1953-1961; 1980.

Dekker, Thomas, The Works [various editions] at Luminarium:

Dekker, Thomas, The Gull's Horn Book, London,1609; rept. Menston: Scolar Press, 1969.

Documents Relating to the Office of the Revels in the Time of Queen Elizabeth, ed. Albert Feuillerat, Louvain: A. Uystpruyst, 1908.

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.

Fletcher, John, The Works [various editions] at Luminarium:

Foakes, Reginald A., ed., Illustrations of the English Stage 1580-1642, London: Scolar Press, 1985.

Fuller, Thomas, The Worthies of England, ed. John Freeman, London: George Allen and Unwin, 1952.



Gascoigne, George, The Complete Works, ed.J. W. Cunliffe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1907-10; repr. New York: Greenwood Press, 1969.

Gascoigne, George. "The Green Knight": Selected Poetry and Prose, ed. Roger Pooley, Manchester: Carcanet, 1982.

Gesta Grayorum; or the History of the High and Mighty Prince Henry of Purpoole
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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.

Gosson, Stephen, The School of Abuse, Containing a Pleasant Invective Against Poets, Pipers, Players, Jesters, etc. London: 1579; rept. London: Alex Murray, ed. Edward Arber, 1868, 1895; etc.

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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.

Herbert, Sir Henry, The Dramatic Records of Sir Henry Herbert, Master of the Revels, 1623-73, ed. J. Q. Adams, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1917.

Heywood, Thomas, An Apology for Actors (1612), ed. Richard H. Perkinson, New York: Scholars' Facsimiles and Reprints, 1941.

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:

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.



Kathman, David, Biographical Index of English Drama Before 1660[: a Complete Annotated List of all Playwrights, Actors, Patrons, Musicians, and Miscellaneous Other People Active in English Drama Before 1660"]:

Kawachi, Yoshiko, Calendar of English Renaissance Drama, 1558-1642, New York: Garland, 1986.

Kemp, William, Kemp's Nine Daies Wonder, Performed in Daunces from London to Norwich, ed. Alexander Dyce, London: Camden Society, 1840.

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.

Kozlenko, William, ed., Disputed Plays of Shakespeare, New York: Hawthorn Books, 1974.


The title page of Thomas Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy of 1615.

Kyd, Thomas, The Spanish Tragedy [various editions] at Luminarium:



Lodge, Thomas, The Complete Works, ed. Edmund Gosse, 4 vols, Glasgow: Hunterian Club. 1883.

Lyly, John. The Complete WorksT, ed. Warwick Bond, 3 vols, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1902.

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Manningham, Richard, Diary, . . . 1602-1608, ed. J. Bruce, London: Camden Society, 1868.


Title page to a 1620 printing of Doctor Faustus showing Faustus conjuring and Mephistopheles rising through a stage trap door.

Marlowe, Christopher, The Collected Works [various editions] at Luminarium:

Marlowe, Christopher, The Complete Works, ed. Fredson Bowers, 2 vols, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, revised edn. 1981.

Meres, Francis, Palladis Thasmia: Wit's Treasury. London: 1598. Selections reprinted in Shakespeare Allusion Book, ed. John Munrow et al. and The Riverside Shakespeare, ed. G. Blakemore Evans. 2nd edn. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1997.

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The Mirror for Magistrates, ed. Lily B. Campbell. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1938.

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Munrow, John, with C. M. Ingleby, L. Toulmin Smith, F. J. Furnival, eds., Shakespeare Allusion Book, 1909, 1932; rept, New York: Books for Libraries Press, 1970.



Nashe, Thomas, Works, ed. R. B. McKerrow, 5 vols; revd F. P. Wilson, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1958.



Ovid, Shakespeare's Ovid: Being Arthur Golding's Translation of the "Metamorphoses", ed. W. H. D. Rouse, London: De La Mare Press, 1984.



Painter, William, The Palace of Pleasure, ed. Joseph Jacobs, 3 vols. New York: Dover, 1966. (repr. of 1890 London edn., ed. David Nutt).

Peele, George, Selected Works [various editions] at Luminarium:

Peele, George, The Life and Works of George Peele, ed. C. T. Prouty, 3 vols, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1952-70.

Pepys, Samuel. The Diary, ed. Robert Latham and William Matthews, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1970.

Pilgrimage to Parnassus: The Three Parnassus Plays, ed J. B. Leishman, London: Nicholson and Watson, 1949.

Platter, Thomas, Travels in England, trans. Clare Williams, London: Jonathan Cape. 1937.

Plautus, [Plays,] trans. Paul Nixon, 5 vols., Loeb Classical Library, London: William Henemann, 1953.

Plutarch, Shakespeare's Plutarch, ed. T. J. B. Spencer, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1964.

Purchas. Samuel, Hacklytus Posthumus; or Purchas His Pilgrimes, [1625] ; Glasgow: James MacLehose, 1905-7.

Puttenham, Richard, The Arte of English Poesie, London: 1589, ed. Edward Arber, London: Constable, 1906.



Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria, trans. H. Butler, Loeb Classical Library, London: Heinemann, 1953.



Rainoldes, John, Th'Overthrow of Stage Playes, [Middleburg:] 1599, reprin. New York: Johnson Reprint, 1972.

Richmond, Velma E. B., Laments for the Dead in Medieval Narrative, Pittsburg & Louvain: Duquesne University Press, 1966.

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Rutter, C. C., ed., Documents of the Rose Playhouse, Manchester: Manchester University Press 1984.



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Stow, John, Survey of London, ed. Charles L. Kingsford, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971.



Tarlton, Richard, Tarlton's Jests and News Out of Purgatory, ed. James O. Halliwell, London: Shakespeare Society, 1844.

Terence, [Plays,] trans. John Sargeaunt, 2 vols., Loeb edn., London: Heinemann, 1979 & 1951.


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. .

Thomas, William, The History of Italy. London, 1549; ed. George B. Parks, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1963.

Thomas of Woodstock, ed. E. B. Everitt and R. L. Armstrong, Nottingham: Nottingham University Press Drama Texts, 1977

Transcript of the Registers of the Stationers' Company, 1553-1640, ed. Edward Arber. 5 vols, London: Roxburghe Club, 1913-14.

Turberville, George, The Book of Falconry or Hawking, London, 1611; repr. New York: De Capo Press, 1969.

Turberville, George, The Life and Works, Lawrence: University of Kansas, 1940.

Turberville, George, The Noble Art of Venery or Hunting, London, 1576; repr. London: Tudor and Stuart Library, 1908.



Udall, Nicholas, The Dramatic Writings of Nicholas Udall, ed. John S. Farmer, London : Early English Drama Society, 1906.

Udall, Nicholas, Ralph Roister Doister [various editions] at Luminarium:



Vega, Lope de. Arte Nuevo de hacer comedias, ed. Jorge Campos. Madrid: Santillana, 1976.

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Vertumnus sive Annus Recurrens Oxonii, Oxford: 1607.



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Xavier University Library, Shakespeare Editions and Adaptations at www.



Young, Karl, The Drama of the Medieval Church, 2 vols. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1933.



Zesmer, David M., Guide to Shakespeare, New York: Barnes and Noble, 1976.



A Renaissance Print-Shop. Engraving from Stephen Batman, The Doom Warning All Men to the Judgment, 1581.

Sir Philip Sidney: from An Apologie for Poetrie (1595)

Our tragedies and comedies, not without cause, are cried out against, observing rules neither of honest civility nor skilful poetry. Excepting Gorboduc (again I say of those that I have seen), which notwithstanding, as it is full of stately speeches, and well- sounding phrases, climbing to the height of Seneca his style, and as full of notable morality, which it does most delightfully teach, and so obtain the very end of poesy; yet, in truth, it is very defectuous in the circumstances, which grieves me, because it might not remain as an exact model of all tragedies. For it is faulty both in place and time, the two necessary companions of all corporal actions. For where the stage should always represent but one place; and the uttermost time presupposed in it should be, both by Aristotle's precept, and common reason, but one day; there is both many days and many places inartificially imagined.

But if it be so in Gorboduc, how much more in all the rest? where you shall have Asia of the one side, and Afric of the other, and so many other under kingdoms, that the player, when he comes in, must ever begin with telling where he is, or else the tale will not be conceived. Now shall you have three ladies walk to gather flowers, and then we must believe the stage to be a garden. By and by, we hear news of shipwreck in the same place, then we are to blame if we accept it not for a rock. Upon the back of that comes out a hideous monster with fire and smoke, and then the miserable beholders are bound to take it for a cave; while, in the meantime, two armies fly in, represented with four swords and bucklers, and then, what hard heart will not receive it for a pitched field?

Now of time they are much more liberal; for ordinary it is, that two young princes fall in love; after many traverses she is got with child; delivered of a fair boy; he is lost, groweth a man, falleth in love, and is ready to get another child; and all this in two hours' space; which, how absurd it is in sense, even sense may imagine; and art hath taught and all ancient examples justified, and at this day the ordinary players in Italy will not err in. Yet will some bring in an example of the Eunuch in Terence, that containeth matter of two days, yet far short of twenty years. True it is, and so was it to be played in two days, and so fitted to the time it set forth. And though Plautus have in one place done amiss, let us hit it with him, and not miss with him. But they will say, How then shall we set forth a story which contains both many places and many times? And do they not know, that a tragedy is tied to the laws of poesy, and not of history; not bound to follow the story, but having liberty either to feign a quite new matter, or to frame the history to the most tragical convenience? Again, many things may be told, which cannot be showed: if they know the difference betwixt reporting and representing. As for example, I may speak, though I am here, of Peru, and in speech digress from that to the description of Calicut; but in action I cannot represent it without Pacolet's horse. And so was the manner the ancients took by some "Nuntius," to recount things done in former time, or other place.

Lastly, if they will represent an history, they must not, as Horace saith, begin "ab ovo," but they must come to the principal point of that one action which they will represent. By example this will be best expressed; I have a story of young Polydorus, delivered, for safety's sake, with great riches, by his father Priamus to Polymnestor, King of Thrace, in the Trojan war time. He, after some years, hearing of the overthrow of Priamus, for to make the treasure his own, murdereth the child; the body of the child is taken up; Hecuba, she, the same day, findeth a sleight to be revenged most cruelly of the tyrant. Where, now, would one of our tragedy-writers begin, but with the delivery of the child? Then should he sail over into Thrace, and so spend I know not how many years, and travel numbers of places. But where doth Euripides? Even with the finding of the body; leaving the rest to be told by the spirit of Polydorus. This needs no farther to be enlarged; the dullest wit may conceive it.

But, besides these gross absurdities, how all their plays be neither right tragedies nor right comedies, mingling kings and clowns, not because the matter so carrieth it, but thrust in the clown by head and shoulders to play a part in majestical matters, with neither decency nor discretion; so as neither the admiration and commiseration, nor the right sportfulness, is by their mongrel tragi-comedy obtained. I know Apuleius did somewhat so, but that is a thing recounted with space of time, not represented in one moment: and I know the ancients have one or two examples of tragi-comedies as Plautus hath Amphytrio. But, if we mark them well, we shall find, that they never, or very daintily, match horn-pipes and funerals. So falleth it out, that having indeed no right comedy in that comical part of our tragedy, we have nothing but scurrility, unworthy of any chaste ears; or some extreme show of doltishness, indeed fit to lift up a loud laughter, and nothing else; where the whole tract of a comedy should be full of delight; as the tragedy should be still maintained in a well-raised admiration.

But our comedians think there is no delight without laughter, which is very wrong; for though laughter may come with delight, yet cometh it not of delight, as though delight should be the cause of laughter; but well may one thing breed both together. Nay, in themselves, they have, as it were, a kind of contrariety. For delight we scarcely do, but in things that have a conveniency to ourselves, or to the general nature. Laughter almost ever cometh of things most disproportioned to ourselves and nature: delight hath a joy in it either permanent or present; laughter hath only a scornful tickling. For example: we are ravished with delight to see a fair woman, and yet are far from being moved to laughter; we laugh at deformed creatures, wherein certainly we cannot delight; we delight in good chances; we laugh at mischances; we delight to hear the happiness of our friends and country, at which he were worthy to be laughed at that would laugh: we shall, contrarily, sometimes laugh to find a matter quite mistaken, and go down the hill against the bias, in the mouth of some such men, as for the respect of them, one shall be heartily sorrow he cannot choose but laugh, and so is rather pained than delighted with laughter. Yet deny I not, but that they may go well together; for, as in Alexander's picture well set out, we delight without laughter, and in twenty mad antics we laugh without delight: so in Hercules, painted with his great beard and furious countenance, in a woman's attire, spinning at Omphale's commandment, it breeds both delight and laughter; for the representing of so strange a power in love procures delight, and the scornfulness of the action stirreth laughter.

But I speak to this purpose, that all the end of the comical part be not upon such scornful matters as stir laughter only, but mix with it that delightful teaching which is the end of poesy. And the great fault, even in that point of laughter, and forbidden plainly by Aristotle, is, that they stir laughter in sinful things, which are rather execrable than ridiculous; or in miserable, which are rather to be pitied than scorned. For what is it to make folks gape at a wretched beggar, and a beggarly clown; or against the law of hospitality, to jest at strangers, because they speak not English so well as we do? what do we learn, since it is certain,

"Nil habet infelix pauperatas durius in se,
Quam qnod ridiculos, homines facit."


But rather a busy loving courtier, and a heartless threatening Thraso; a self-wise seeming school-master; a wry-transformed traveller: these, if we saw walk in stage names, which we play naturally, therein were delightful laughter, and teaching delightfulness: as in the other, the tragedies of Buchanan {89} do justly bring forth a divine admiration.

But I have lavished out too many words of this play matter; I do it, because, as they are excelling parts of poesy, so is there none so much used in England, and none can be more pitifully abused; which, like an unmannerly daughter, showing a bad education, causeth her mother Poesy's honesty to be called in question.


"The Woman Who Broke the Rules"

Nora Roberts is probably the most successful novelist you've never heard of. There are more than 400 million Nora Roberts novels in print. Last year alone she shifted 10 million books. It takes her 45 days to write a novel. Most importantly, she writes what she likes to read. And "What's so bad about a happy ending?" she asks—"Romance gets disparaged for the happy endings. But all genres have expectations and all genres require narrative resolution. But it's disparaged because it's happy—if it was important, it would be tragic. Which is bullshit! Look at Much Ado About Nothing—everybody is happy!" —"You prefer Shakespeare's comedy?"—"Yes! And it's brilliant romantic comedy. It's one of my favorites. And that's not crap. A Midsummer Night's Dream isn't crap. There's nothing wrong with being happy." There isn't. Whatever the New York Times book review happens to think.

Condensed from an interview by Carole Cadwalladr, "The Woman Who Broke the Rules…" The Observer, New Review, 20/11/11, pages 44-5.

Last Updated on Monday, 19 August 2013 23:27 Read : 10891 times
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