Lecture 6

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Lecture 6

    Lecture 6&7

    The Elizabethan Age: Shakespeare

    1 A sketch of the history of English drama

    2.1 Four kinds of play

    ? Miracle plays

    The miracle play had as its subject either a story from the bible, or else the life and martyrdom of a saint.

    In the usage of some historians, however, “miracle play” denotes only dramas based on saints’ lives, and

    term “mystery play”.

    ? Morality plays

    ? Morality plays were dramatized allegories of a representative Christian life in the plot form of a quest

    for salvation, in which the crucial events are temptations, sinning, and the climactic confrontation

    with death.

    ? The usual protagonist represents Mankind, or Everyman; among the other characters are

    personifications of virtues, vices and Death, as well as angels and demons who contest for the prize

    of the soul of Mankind. A character known as the Vice often played the role of the tempter in a

    fashion both sinister and comic; he is regarded as a precursor both of the cynical, ironic villain and

    of some of the comic figures in Elizabethan drama, including Shakespeare’s Falstaff.

    ? Interlude

    Interlude is a term applied to a variety of short stage entertainments, such as secular farces and witty

    dialogues with a religious or political point. In the late fifteen and early sixteenth centuries, these little

    dramas were performed by bands of professional actors; it’s believed that they were often put on

    between the courses of a feast or between the acts of a long play.

    ? True drama

     The true drama appeared in the Elizabethan age and it had its deep roots in the miracle and morality

    plays. It represents real life as lived by real people. Here were real people with real names with no

    abstract personifications, involved in real events that were culled from reality, and replicating human

    behavior in their daily existence, Plots evolved around intriguing true-to-life stories in some conceivable

    order, which were normally sequential at first in well-arranged acts and scenes.

    2.2 The Elizabethan dramatists who influenced Shakespeare

    ? University Wits

    ? The mystery plays, the morality plays and the interludes paved the way for the coming of the golden

    age of English dramathe Elizabethan Age.

    ? At the beginning of this period, a group of Oxford and Cambridge graduates came to London with the

    ambition to become professional writers. They were eager to put what they had learned at

    universities before the public. They worked as poets, prose-writers and playwrights. This group, later

    known as the “University Wits,” consists of a group of talented young writers, such as Robert

    Greene, John Lyly, Thomas Nashe, Thomas Lodge, Thomas Kyd, George Peele, and Christopher


    ? They helped to free English tragedy from artificial restrictions imposed by classical authority and

    they developed a comedy tradition that is more close to life. Their plays paved the way for the

    creation of many of Shakespeare’s masterpieces. Their influence on Shakespeare is certain: Kyd and

    Marlowe influenced his great tragedies; Greene, Peel, Lodge and Lyly influenced his comedies and


    ? Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593)

    ? Christopher Marlowe died the youngest among the “university wits.” However, he is widely

    acknowledged as the greatest tragedy writer before William Shakespeare. Marlowe’s talent as a

    skillful playwright was first shown at Cambridge, where he composed Tamburlaine (c.1587), a

    drama in blank verse. In the following six years, he wrote five more plays: Tamburlaine, Part II, The

    Massacre at Paris, Edward II (1594), which served as a model for Shakespeare’s Richard II and

    Richard III; The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus (performed in 1594; published in 1604); and the

    tragedy The Jew of Malta (performed about 1592; Published in 1633).

    ? Marlowe is one of the first playwrights to use blank verse in English drama. His influence on

    Shakespeare is certain and he could even have a hand in the composition of some of Shakespeare’s

    plays. Marlowe’s tragedies demonstrate a passion and grandeur that only Shakespeare’s plays can

    match. But he was often so much carried away by emotion that he neglected the structural

    smoothness demanded of a first playwright.

    ? The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus is a play based on the German legend of a magical aspiring

    for knowledge and finally meeting his tragic end as a result of selling his soul to the devil. The play’s

    dominant moral is human rather than religious. It celebrates the human passion for knowledge,

    power and happiness; it also reveals man’s frustration in realizing the high aspirations in a hostile

    moral order. And the confinement to time is the cruelest fact of man’s condition.

    ? Blank verse

     Blank verse is unrhymed poetry, typically in iambic pentameter, brought by Earle of Surrey into ?

    English poetry, and as such, the dominant verse form of English dramatic and narrative poetry since

    ththe mid-16 century.

    ? Blank verse was adopted by Italian Renaissance writers from classical sources; it became the

    standard form of dramatists. Christopher Marlow used blank verse for dramatic verse; and English

    playwright William Shakespeare transformed blank verse into a supple instrument, uniquely capable

    of conveying speech rhythms and emotional overtones. According to the English poet John Milton,

    only unrhymed verse could give English the dignity of a classical language.

    2.3 Ben Johnson

    ? The last great Elizabethan and probably the first poet Laureate (1616) and the first dictator in English


    ? His reputation as a playwright was established by the success of his comedy, Every Man in His Humor


    ? Was a realistic writer

    ? Is remembered today chiefly as a playwright

    ? Calls Shakespeare the Soul of the Age, and Not of an age but for all time

    3 William Shakespeare

    3.1 Shakespeare’s life

    ? Shakespeare was born in April 1564, on April 23, in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire. ? He was a very talented person and studied in a local grammar school for six years. He learned not only

    writing and reading, but also Latin and Greek.

    ? According to the legend, he had poached upon the lands of a certain Sir Thomas Lucy, a rich landlord

    and country magistrate and was caught by Lucy’s keepers and severely punished. Shakespeare avenged

    himself by composing a satirical ballad; very soon it became so popular throughout the countryside that

    wherever Sir Thomas Lucy appeared he was met with the strains of the ballads. Sir Thomas was enraged

    and redoubled his persecution to such a degree that Shakespeare was compelled to leave Stratford and seek refuge in London.

    ? While at home he often went to watch the traveling companies’ plays such as miracle plays in the neighboring town of Coventry.

    ? In 1582 he married a farmer’s daughter Anne Hathaway, who was eight years his elder. He arrived in London in 1586 or 1587. From then on he began his career as a playwright. Shakespeare died on his birthday, April 23, 1616, and was buried in Holy Trinity Church, Stratford.

    3.2 Shakespeares literary career

     As the greatest English dramatist and poet, Shakespeare left us a great wealth of 37 plays, including 14 comedies, 12 tragedies, and 11 historical plays, 154 sonnets, as well as two long poems.

    3.2.1 Shakespeare as a playwright

    ? Three periods of Shakespeares creation of plays

    ? The first period: 1590 to 1600, in which he wrote altogether 22 plays: 11 comedies, three tragedies

    and eight historical plays. Generally speaking, this is a period marked by youthfulness, optimism and

    rich imagination. Shakespeare looked upon the world as a just one in which good can always

    overcome evil in the long run, and justice would eventually win its cause in the end. In this period he

    created his best history plays: Henry?, Richard?,and Henry?, and the best comedies he wrote

    in this period are A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Merchant of Venice; Much Ado about Nothing,

    As You Like It; and Twelfth Night; as well as his first masterpieces in tragedy, Romeo and Juliet and

    Julius Caesar.

    ? The second period: 1601 to 1608, the period of tragedies. This period is marked by gloom and

    depression combined with masterly workmanship. During these years, the mind and the heart of the

    poet were concerned with deepest matters of human life and this period reflected his growth in

    experience, in vision, and in sympathy. In this period he produced his four great tragedies: Hamlet,

    Othello, King Lear, and Macbeth, which represent the climax of his dramatic power. In each of those

    plays there is an intense moral struggle, a less joyous view of life, and a profound view of

    philosophy. He touches all the depth of human passion and human tragedy, treachery, lust, jealousy,

    ingratitude, madness of man, etc. During this period Shakespeare’s belief and trust in mankind had

    been shattered. The world no longer seemed a just one, but a world filled with hopeless pessimism,

    gloom and depression. “The time is out of joint: O cursed spite, that ever I was born to set it right!”

    ? The third period: 1609 to 1612, the period of dramatic romances. The plays in this period are full of

    unrealistic compromises and fantasy. It is a period of restored serenity and tolerant resignation. He

    no longer hated the world but accepted it with a smile of resignation. He writes no more historical

    plays full of bloody horrors; no more tragedies in which the whole world goes crashing down with

    the hero; and no more comedies filled with sprightly wit. However, he finds life once more worth

    living, and the world beautiful, enchanting, and fantastically attractive.

    ? Chief achievements and characteristics of Shakespeare’s drama

    Shakespeare’s success as a great playwright chiefly rest on the following five aspects: 1) The progressive significance of his themes; 2) His successful character portrayal; 3) His master-hand in constructing plays; 4) The ingenuity of his poetry; 5) His mastery of English language. ? Shakespeare’s themes

    No other writer in English history has dealt with such a variety of themes as William Shakespeare.

    Through his plays, he touched almost every aspects of human life, of human pleasures and human

    tragedies. Shakespeare paints in his dramas a faithful panorama of the decline of old feudal nobility

    and the rise of the Tudor monarchy, which represented the interests of the English bourgeoisie.

    Moreover, he is perhaps the perfect expression of Renaissance humanism. He distilled into his drama

    the humanistic spirit of the Renaissance, and his drama becomes an expression, a monument of the

    English Renaissance.

? Shakespeare’s character portrayal

    In his 37 dramas, Shakespeare created a large group of lifelike characters who live and struggle,

    suffer and rejoicerepresenting all the complexities and implications of real life. His keen insight

    into the workings of human spirit enabled him to pierce to the very core of his characters and made

    his men and women unforgettable creatures of flesh and blood. Though his characters are often

    clothed in foreign dresses, the thoughts and feelings of the characters belong to the age of

    Shakespeare. He wrote about his own people and for his own people.

    ? Shakespeare’s play construction

    Shakespeare is a master-hand for every form of dramacomedy, tragedy, and historical plays.

    Moreover, his tragedies may have comic elements, and his comedies include sardonic commentaries

    on human frailty. He is skillful at recreations that under his pen every old story puts on a new look,

    shines with a new beauty of its own, and becomes a dramatic art with a new significance. The plots

    of Shakespeare’s plays are well-arranged according to the requirement of the theme and content. The

    action is developed freely, without being hindered by the rules of the classical unities (action, place

    and time).

    ? Shakespeare’s Poetry

    In his creation of dramas, he succeeded in combing the two sides of his talentShakespeare the poet

    into one and produced the most remarkable poetic dramas in and Shakespeare the dramatist

    England or perhaps in the whole world. The lines in his plays are not mere decorations but all have

    their own values. They serve as a vehicle of utterance to all the possible sentiments of his characters.

    Shakespeare not only produced wonderful poetry in different forms, like songs, sonnets, rhymed

    couplets, and especially dramatic blank verse, he was also a master of prose of various styles, both

    effective and powerful.

    ? Shakespeare’s Language

    Shakespeare’s command of vocabulary was the largest among the Elizabethan dramatists. He used

    more than 16000 different words and enriched the English language with his own coinage. Under his

    hand, words glow with life, which vitalize the printed pages with beauty, melody, humor, pathos,

    tenderness, force, or whatever effect he choose to produce. He uses the English language the greatest

    freedom and ease, so that all the speeches fit all the characters that use them.

    ? Major comments on some of Shakespeare’s works

    ? The Merchant of Venice

    ?A double plot: (1) the story between Bassanio and Portia: (2) the story between Antonio and


    ? The theme: on eulogy of the triumph of justice and love over insatiable greed and brutality.

    ? The image of Portia: Portia is a woman of the Renaissance-beautiful, prudent, cultured,

    courteous, resourceful, decisive, independent and capable of rising to an emergency. She is one of

    Shakespeare’s ideal women.

    ? Hamlet

    Hamlet was published in 1603.and was considered to be the summit of Shakespeare’s art.

    Shakespeare took the source from an old story of Prince Amleth of Denmark. But the content of the

    play is in fact the reflection of his time. So the play is the profound expression of Shakespeare’s

    humanism and his criticism of contemporary life.

    ? Hamlet (Act 3, Scene 1, Lines 55-86) (Selected Readings, P8-9)

     This is one of the most famous soliloquies of Hamlets.

     Soliloquy is the act of talking to oneself, whether silently or aloud. In drama it denotes the

    convention by which a character, alone on the stage, utters his or her thoughts aloud.

     (Discuss the questions in the Selected Readings)

    1) The character of Hamlet

     a. Hamlet is Prince of Denmark and he is a man of Renaissance with humanist’s ideal—a

    soldier, scholar, courtier, the glass of fashion and the mold of form.

     b. When he first appears in the play, he is in the state of depression, because, first he found the

    evil and corruption in his country: the world to him is “an un-weeded garden, the time is out

    of joint. O cursed spite, That ever I was born to set it right!” Secondly, he, from the ghost,

    knows the real cause of his father’s death. Therefore, the most important problem he is

    facing now is to avenging his father’s death. But the situation he is in is very dangerous in

    which he had to fight against that stronghold of feudalism with his uncle on the top. So he

    feigned madness. Here we can say he is a little resourceful himself. Besides this, he is a

    melancholy, hesitant, reasonable and philosophical man as well as a great moralizer, and a

    slow avenger of his father’s death. At other times he did have chance to act but he remains

    puzzled, undecided, and skeptical, dallies with his purposes, till the occasion is lost, and

    finds out some pretense to relapse into indolence and thoughtfulness again. For this reason

    he refuses to kill the king when he is at his prayers.

     c. He also disgusts at evil things, such as his uncle’s drunkenness, his loathing of his mother’s

    sensuality, his astonishment and horror at her shallowness, his contempt for everything

    pretentious or false. He is far from a perfect humanist, he is a man himself.

    2) The theme of Hamlet

    a. It expresses the sharp contradiction between the rising bourgeoisie and the feudal power

    through a bloody revenge.

    b. It also shows that England was no longer a merry England as it was before. It’s a country full

    of disturbances, social evils.

    c. It also praises Hamlet’s struggle against his evil uncle.

    ? The questions for further consideration and essays writing

    1) Through Hamlet’s comment on the play, what perspectives do you think Shakespeare possesses

    of a play?

    2) Why didn’t Hamlet kill his uncle while the king was at his prayers?

    3) Give me your comment on those two women: Ophelia and the queen.

    4) Image of Polonius.

    5) Do you notice any hints or clues about chivalry in this play?

    6) What’s Hamlet’s concept of chastity?

    7) Where is the climax of the play?

    3.2.2 Shakespeare as a poet

    ? A sonnet is a poem consisting of 14 lines with rhyme arranged according to definite scheme. It was

    introduced by Thomas Wyatt into England

    ? Shakespearean sonnet: the English sonnet, having 14 lines with tree quatrains and one couplet that make

    an effective and unifying climax to the whole. It has a consistent rhyme scheme of abab cdcd efef gg. ? Discussion of Sonnet 18

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