“Soul of the Age! The applause, delight,
the wonder of our stage.”
-- Ben Johnson, “To the Memory of My Beloved Master
William Shakespeare, and What He Hath Left Us”
Renaissance playwrights were greatly
influenced by Humanism, looking not
only to the Bible but also to Latin and
Greek Scholarship for wisdom and
knowledge.
All of Shakespeare’s plays, like most drama,
are about one great general theme:
.
What is the order in this society?
How is that order violated?
How do the characters respond to the loss of
traditional order?
How is order restored?
Is the new order at the end of the play
something healthy or is it shot through with
ironic resonance?
A story written to be performed by actors.
Sophisticated (classical) dramas
originated in Greek religious ceremonies
honoring Dionysus (god of wine, new life,
illusion & fertility).
• Always involves conflict
• Opening scene conveys a sense of a normal society
• A society which is held together by shared rules
• Large group scene as symbol of social unity
• Something unusual and often unexpected happens
to upset the normality
• Creates confusion and conflict
• Source of humor OR political, personal, and psychological
torment
• Attempts to understand what is going on or to deal
with it simply compound the conflict, accelerating it
and intensifying it.
• Finally, the conflict is resolved
’
“Tragedy, then, is an imitation of an action
that is serious, complete, and of a certain
magnitude; in language embellished with
each kind of artistic ornament, the several
kinds being found in separate parts of the
play; in the form of action, not of narrative;
through pity and fear effecting the proper
purgation of these emotions.”
-- Aristotle, The Poetics, Part VI
’
“Tragedy, then, is an
of an action
that is serious, complete, and of a certain
magnitude; in language embellished with
each kind of artistic ornament, the several
kinds being found in separate parts of the
play; in the form of action, not of narrative;
through pity and fear effecting the proper
purgation of these emotions.”
-- Aristotle, The Poetics, Part VI
(from Greek mimesis, or mimeisthai
which means to imitate)
The attempt to capture the essence of
reality in artificial form.
’
“Tragedy, then, is an
of an action
that is serious, complete, and of a certain
magnitude; in language embellished with
each kind of artistic ornament, the several
kinds being found in separate parts of the
play; in the form of action, not of narrative;
through
and fear effecting the proper
purgation of these emotions.”
-- Aristotle, The Poetics, Part VI
(from Greek eleos, which means “pity” or
“mercy”)
The feeling of pain one experiences when
watching another suffer.
’
“Tragedy, then, is an
of an action
that is serious, complete, and of a certain
magnitude; in language embellished with
each kind of artistic ornament, the several
kinds being found in separate parts of the
play; in the form of action, not of narrative;
through
and
effecting the proper
purgation of these emotions.”
-- Aristotle, The Poetics, Part VI
(from Greek phobos, which means fear,
panic or flight)
The sense of panic or loss of self in terror.
’
“Tragedy, then, is an
of an action
that is serious, complete, and of a certain
magnitude; in language embellished with
each kind of artistic ornament, the several
kinds being found in separate parts of the
play; in the form of action, not of narrative;
through
and
effecting the proper
of these emotions.”
-- Aristotle, The Poetics, Part VI
(from Greek katharsis, which means "purging, cleansing)
Removing impurities, as when metal is purified to remove trace
elements so that only one material remains.
Tragedy “purifies” pity and fear so that we feel only those two
emotions.
Cleansing, as when something harmful is forcefully removed.
Tragedy “purges” harmful emotions like pity and fear from the
body.
The purification or concentration of a substance, as when alcohol is distilled
to make it stronger.
Tragedy “distills” and “purifies” pity and fear so that they become even more
intense for the audience.
Depicts the downfall of a basically good
person through some fatal error or
misjudgment, producing suffering and
insight on the part of the protagonist and
arousing pity and fear on the part of the
audience.
An outstanding person of high rank whose downfall is
caused by his own flawed behavior.
Part of the hero’s character that leads him to make a
fatal mistake.
A cleansing through the emotions (pity, fear, awe)
generated by the play.
An unhappy ending featuring the destruction of the
hero.
.
:
occurs only with the death of the main character who
usually discovers (just before his death) that he brought
about his own demise.
:
1) Hero dies
2) Group laments over the body of fallen hero & reflects
upon the significance of his life
3) Hero’s body is carried out & the social group is reformed
(thanks to the sacrifice of the main character(s))
Depiction of ordinary people in conflict with
society.
Conflicts are always happily resolved, and
typically arise from misunderstandings,
deceptions, disapproving authority figures,
and mistaken identities.
Emphasis is on human foibles & weaknesses
of society.
Arouses sympathy & amusement.
Plots full of wild coincidences (full of zaniness, slapstick humor, and
hilarious improbability) and seemingly endless twists and
complications (i.e. deception, disguise, and mistaken identity).
Love plot featuring 2 lovers who tend to be young, likeable, and
apparently meant for each other, but are kept apart by some
complicating circumstance until, surmounting all obstacles, they are
finally wed.
Exploration of human vice & folly through plots that trace the rising
fortune of a central character who is likely to be cynical, foolish, or
morally corrupt.
.
Occurs when everyone recognizes what has been going on,
learns from it, forgives, forgets, and re-established his or her
identity in the smoothly functioning social group.
Typically ends with a group celebration (especially one
associated with a betrothal or wedding), often accompanied
by music and dancing.
The emphasis is on the reintegration of everyone into the
group, a recommitment to their shared life together.
All sources of anti-social discord have reformed their ways,
been punished, or is banished from the celebration.
“The play’s the thing.”
Hamlet, Act II, Scene ii
’
How can you tell what kind of Shakespeare
play you’re reading/watching?
Just follow the 3 C’s:
Count the
,
, and
at the
end, and you know what your play is.
– somebody’s named King.
– everybody gets married.
– everybody dies.
Factually based with dramatic liberties.
Keeping the monarch, Queen Elizabeth,
happy (and, consequently, staying out of
jail) means ignoring potentially great
dramatic material.
Showing the messy divorces and
deaths of Henry VIII’s six wives
might have sold a lot of tickets, but
at what cost?
Synopsis of all the History plays (they’re
all pretty much the same):
An English king (usually named
Henry, sometimes Richard, and once
John) is fighting the French. At the same
time, someone at home is trying to take
over the throne of England from the
reigning king.
Constructing a Shakespearean comedy is
like ordering from a Chinese restaurant:
Choose one item from Column A
(setting), two items from Column B
(characters), five items from Column C
(unnecessarily complicated plot points),
then select a title from Column D.
It’s simple & fun!
Setting
Characters
Plot Points
Title
Verona
Long-lost identical
Shipwreck
Love As You Like It
twins
Venice
Mistaken
Measure for Gentleman
Parents who don’t
identity
Arden
The Comedy of Nothing
understand
Unrequited love
Tyre
Twelfth Night Dream
Dimwitted lower-class
Arranged
An island
A Midsummer’s Winter
character
marriages
A forest
The Taming of the
Girl disguised as boy
A pound of
Comedy
Athens
Cuckolded husband
flesh
Much Ado About Ends
Denmark
Nondescript young
Magical potions
Troilus and Cymbeline
Syracuse
lovers
Pretending to be
Love’s Errors Lost
Schenectady Half-human/half-beast
dead
Pericles, Tyred of Shrews
A quarrelsome couple
Drunkenness
Magical fairy or
Sibling rivalry
sorcerer
Broken vows
Jews!
In Shakespeare’s tragedies you know
going in that the title character is going
to die by the end of Act V.
“Knowing the ending does not diminish the
experience. It’s like the movie Titanic. You knew
from the title that the ship was going down, but you
still enjoyed watching Leonardo DiCaprio freeze to
death” – From Reduced Shakespeare
’
climax
’
Language changes all the time. The way
people spoke 400 years ago was different
from the way we speak now. When reading
Shakespeare, remember that his words were
intended to be performed.
The first rule of learning how to read
Shakespeare is
!!!
The second rule is that you must read it more
than once.
’
“ ”
Forms of “do” were not necessary in forming
questions or making imperative statement or their
negatives.
How long within this wood intend you stay?
How long do you intend to stay in this wood?
Using “do” was reserved for its emphatic use.
I love you not.  I do not love you.
What said she?  What did she say?
I think not of them.  I do not think of them.
Slept she here?  Did she sleep here?
’
Negatives were often compounded for emphasis.
Today, we would classify the following as “double
negatives” and consider them improper.
“Which never shook hands, nor bade farewell to him . . .”
“Nor will you not tell me who you are?”
“No, nor I neither.”
’
The pronouns thee, thou and thy are seldom, if ever, used today. They
are occasionally employed to suggest elevated language or a style of
“classical” English. During Shakespeare’s day these words were
commonplace and followed a more or less specific structure.
Thee and thou, rather than you, were used as objects of a verb or
preposition.
God give thee joy!
You OR thee/thou were used as subjects with only subtle
distinctions if any.
Would’st thou have me?
Thou hath killed my child!
If you would not, it were a good sign.
Likewise with your and thy as possessive pronouns:
I do not fear your favours or your hate.
So well thy words become thee as thy wounds.
’
The apparel oft proclaims the man. 
It’s gotta be the shoes.
There is small choice in rotten apples. 
Beggars can’t be choosers.
Now I am in a holiday humor. 
Party on . . .
Suit the action to the word, the word to the action. 
Just do it.
An honest tale speeds best being plainly told. 
To make a long story short . . .
What’s gone and what’s past help should be past grief. 
Don’t cry over spilled milk.
And thereby hangs a tail. 
That’s all, Folks!
’
Many of Shakespeare’s idioms or words/phrases
have become part of the English language.
That boy is always hungry! He’ll eat us out of
house and home!
“He hath eaten me out of house and home.” –
Henry IV, Part 2 II.i.75-6
“There’s a method in my madness”
“Though this be madness, yet there is method
in’t.” – Hamlet, II.ii.99
The world is your oyster.
“Why then, the world’s mine oyster.” – The Merry
Wives of Windsor, II.ii.4-5
Plays are divided into sections called acts and
scenes. The following line reference is
typically utilized when quoting a
Shakespearean play:
Macbeth, II.i.35
The play’s title is written in italics.
The act is written in capital Roman numerals.
The scene is in small Roman numerals.
The line number is written as a normal number.
Reading Shakespeare for
Due to the nature of the theater, Shakespeare had to create
atmosphere and setting though language. He used words to
paint scenery and language to achieve lighting effects.
People went to “hear” a play, not “see” it.
Questions to ask about comprehension:
• Who are the characters in the play? (The way characters
speak and the language they use tell us a great deal
about them and their situation.)
• What is the situation in the play?
• Where do the events take place?
• When do the events take place?
• How can the words be lifted off the page and hold the
attention of the audience?
Reading Shakespeare for
Identify literary devices and figurative language:
imagery
repetition
puns
antithesis
onomatopoeia
malapropism
simile
rhyme
monosyllables
metaphor
lists
apostrophe
hyperbole
bombast
synecdoche
personification
rhetoric
assonance
irony
alliteration
oxymoron
Reading Shakespeare for
Some Common Shakespearean Themes:
conflict, appearance & reality, order &
disorder, change (metamorphosis)
Questions to ask about theme:
• Is there a specific point the author is
trying to get across to the
reader/viewer?
• How does the theme or controlling idea
relate to your world?
Historical Context You Need to Know
Age of Consent, for a female child:
(from The Law’s Resolution of Women’s Rights, 1632)
7: “Father shall have aid of his tenants to marry her”
9: “she is able to deserve and have dower”
12: can “consent to marriage”
*”A woman married at 12 cannot disagree afterward. But if
she be married younger, she may dissent till she be 14.”*
14: considered to be outside wardship
16: “to be past the Lord’s tender of a husband”
21: “able to make a land grant”
Worthiness:
(from A Very Fruitfull and Pleasant Booke called Instruction of a Christian Woman, 1523 )
“. . . first let her understand that chastity is the
principal virtue of a woman.”
Fairies, magic, witches, spells and prophecies all
formed part of the Elizabethan view of life. Folklore
and superstition were often as important to people as
the official religious beliefs taught by the church.
Many Elizabethans thought that fairies, goblins and
sprites came out at night to play tricks on innocent
people. It was believed they could make people go
insane, give them terrible nightmares or even lure
them into a devilish underworld.
Diseases and disasters were often blamed on witches.
Many women who didn’t fit into society were branded
as witches and accused of working for the devil.
There were many explanations of a ghostly visit during
Shakespeare’s time. A ghost could be . . .
a hallucination brought about by stress, poor diet, or
exhaustion.
a specter seen as a portent or omen
a spirit of a dead person returned to perform some deed left
undone in life
a spirit of a dead person returned from the grave or from
purgatory by divine permission
an angel disguised as a dead person, or a devil disguised as
a dead person to tempt a living relative into eternal
damnation
The human body was thought to be a
miniature representation of the universe
as a whole. Various parts of the body were
linked to the planets and the signs of the
zodiac. Things that happened in the
universe (the “macrocosm”), were suppose
to happen on a much smaller scale within
the human body (the “microcosm”).
The body was thought to contain four “humours”,
or fluids – black bile, phlegm, blood & choler. A
person’s temperament depended on the way the
humours were mixed. In Julius Caesar, Mark
Anthony describes Brutus as a man in whom all
these humours are mixed perfectly. But most
people were thought to have one humour that was
more dominant than the others.
Illnesses & mental disorders were blamed on an
imbalance of the humours. For example,
melancholia (depression) was thought to be
caused by an excess of black bile.
Characters have mental problems in several of
Shakespeare’s tragedies. They go insane with grief or
with the pressure of having to make a decision.
Feelings of guilt may come out in strange ways.
Some examples:
Lady Macbeth pretends to be tough and mocks
Macbeth for feeling guilty for their crimes, but her
own horror is revealed when she starts sleepwalking
and imagines she can see blood on her hands.
Ophelia in Hamlet goes insane with grief, eventually
committing suicide, when Hamlet rejects her and kills
her father, Polonius.
A concept inherited from the Middle Ages as an attempt to give
order or “degree” to the vastness of creation. The idea was that God
created everything in a strict hierarchy, or chain that stretched
from God himself down to the lowest things in existence.
Everything had its own place.
Humans occupied a place in the chain below angels but above
animals, plants, and stones
Humans, from Highest to Lowest:
Monarch
Nobles
Churchmen
Gentlemen
Commoners
All women were considered to be inferior to men; except Queen Elizabeth – her
position as monarch outweighed the fact that she was a woman.
Accepting one’s place in the chain was a duty that would be
rewarded by God in heaven. Disrupting the chain was thought to
lead to chaos.
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Focus on Literary Form: Drama