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SEL Studies in English Literature 1500-1900
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Helen Thomas
Abstract: Recent criticism has labeled the sixteenth-century interlude Jacob and Esau "rigidly Calvinistic," one critic even stating that the prologue and epilogue are direct translations from Calvin's Institutes. But the interlude can hardly be Calvinistic with the lines in the epilogue attributing God's predestination of man to His foreknowledge of man's future merits. In fact, Calvin uses the Jacob and Esau story to argue against that very doctrine. Actually the source of the doctrinal prologue and epilogue is not Calvin's Institutes but rather the ninth chapter of Paul's Epistle to the Romans. Even though the play proper might seem to illustrate Calvinistic predestination, showing Esau as innately evil, the lines in the epilogue negate this position. In making predestination dependent on God's foreknowledge of man's future conduct, the author, probably Nicholas Udall, may have been supporting Erasmus on the freedom of the human will in opposition to Luther's bondage of the will. At any rate, the interlude cannot be rigidly Calvinistic with the lines in the epilogue attributing predestination to God's foreknowledge of man's future merits.
Sacvan Bercovitch
Abstract: The dialectic conflict between love and strife provides the structural basis of Kyd's Spanish Tragedy. The opposition, alternation, and interaction between the two forces in their various forms—friendship and revenge, peace and war, desire and hate—serves as the framework of the action and as the internal dynamic of character conception and motivation. Underlying this structural movement, and lending it a distinctive substantive meaning, is the Empedoclean cosmology, as this was understood and applied throughout in Renaissance English literature. This paper attempts both to specify Empedocles's influence upon Kyd and to suggest its importance, implicitly and explicitly, for The Spanish Tragedy. In so doing, it addresses itself to certain major problems in the drama's development (the "too dilatory" opening, for example, or the apparent inconsistencies in character-portrayal) and tries to explain the coherence of Kyd's imagery and stage-effects, the purpose of his various dramatic techniques (e.g., irony, Chorus, plot-subplot parallels), and in general the process whereby he welds together a host of incongruous ideas, dramatic and philosophical, into a brilliantly unified revenge tragedy.
Clifford Davidson
Abstract: A new examination of the scene at Rome as it appears in the 1616 quarto of Marlowe's Doctor Faustus is necessary since we can no longer assume, as did Leslie Oliver ("Rowley, Foxe, and the Faustus Additions," MLN, LX [1945], 391-394), that the episode was mainly the work of Rowley. The more detailed account of the visit to the papal court in the 1616 text has been demonstrated to be closer to what Marlowe wrote and, furthermore, it is not irrelevant to the design of the play. Like Faustus, the proud Pope Adrian pretends to an absolute power which ultimately proves deceptive. Marlowe's view of the papacy reflects, of course, the usual Protestant position as set forth by Luther and John Foxe: the Pope, since he claims illegitimate power, is actually a servant of darkness. Bruno, who has received his election at the hands of the Emperor, stands against papal pretensions as personified in the Pope and as codified in the "Statutes Decretall." The struggle between good and evil which informs Doctor Faustus is thus in the scene at Rome projected onto the screen of history. As in the case of the play as a whole, the scene at Rome is permeated by Protestant theology.
Ruth Nevo
Abstract: Embedded in the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet, in the characters of the Friar and of Romeo himself, are two opposing traditional views concerning the origin of suffering, hence of tragedy, in human life. The play however eludes both the "providential" and the "fatal" formulae and offers us an early, but fully articulated Shakespearean tragic structure. This is marked by a characteristic emphasis on the opacity of appearances which the protagonists fail to penetrate, by tragic heroes whose high distinction is to be understood in terms of their embodiment of the forces whose collision provides the dynamic of the action; by a finely turned peripetia in which coincidence and inevitability meet in a nexus of ironies; and by the evolving affirmation, made both dramatically (through action and character contrast) and poetically (through the light imagery) of the high value of idealized sexual love.
Michael Taylor
Abstract: Along with our recognition of the obvious innocent delights of A Midsummer Night's Dream's dream world, we should also recognize an unfestive reality whose constituents are human pettiness and its concomitant, a stubborn intractability. In ironic fashion both the "good" and the impish fairies reflect not only the play's "gossamer web" charm, but are anthropomorphized in such a manner as to be equally human in their concern for petty triumph—hence the acerbity of the quarrel between Oberon and Titania. Their "jangling" is similar to that of the human lovers Hermia, Lysander, Helena, and Demetrius. Even the more noble and, in a sense, ideally representative human lovers, Theseus and Hippolyta, are touched by complacency and irrationalism, modifying somewhat our delight in the perfect harmony of their union. Out of this discord, however, like Helena's "comforts from the East," comes concord, a harmony which in retrospect the play makes seem inevitable. An awareness of the presence both of disharmony and of concord is essential to a full understanding of Shakespeare's purpose, particularly to make relevant its darker aspect (the disharmony of human triviality).
Marilyn L. Williamson
Abstract: The episode in which Henry goes disguised among his troops on the night before Agincourt, the subsequent quarrel with the soldier Williams, and its eventual result after the battle need scrutiny because they yield insight into characteristics Shakespeare develops in Henry from Richard II through Henry V. In the episode Henry reveals vestiges of his habits as Prince Hal: the disguise repeats those used to trick Falstaff and the consciousness of ceremony in the soliloquy recalls that in the planned reformation by Hal. The quarrel with Williams shows Henry still learning to be king: we discover that as king he has special privileges (being ransomed); his word cannot be trusted like other men's. In extricating himself from the oath to Williams, Henry tries to pay him off, but what would have worked in Eastcheap works no longer. The exchange of gloves echoes Hal's travesty of chivalric values in Richard II. Survival of old habits modifies the official view of Henry's reformation and rejection of Falstaff described by the Archbishop and the Chorus. Shakespeare did not jettison the character he had created, but made Henry a more complex and interesting character than we have thought.
Lee Sheridan Cox
Abstract: Critical appraisals of Autolycus have usually dealt with limited aspects of his role (e.g., Autolycus as implementer of satire on country and court). A study of his large function in the context of the whole play reveals that, in adding the Autolycus passages to the story borrowed from Greene, Shakespeare provides illuminating, if playful, counterpoint to the Leontes story. Moreover, Autolycus—taleteller and singer, rogue-agent of Providence, man of masks and busy clothes-changer—serves to advance a variety of themes on art and nature, appearance and reality. Most important, at the conclusion of Autolycus's last appearance on the stage, the Clown's fanciful declaration of faith in the "tallness" of a man he knows is false is more than comic variation on Leontes's affirmation of faith in the life of what he sees as stone. Both scenes are part of a pattern which develops related propositions on the regeneration or "creation" potential in proper fancy and proper faith and on the truth of the art (even false tale or pied flower) grounded in "great creating nature."
Manfred Weidhorn
Abstract: The Shakespearean tragic hero undergoes, when faced with severe adversity, a loss of identity. This crisis is signalled by the loss of his title and name. Towards the end of his career, the name—or some dignified name—and identity are recovered, but not the title. Cleopatra sees herself as not "Madam, Royal Egypt, Empress" but as like the meanest milkmaid and then as wife. Richard II finds that with the fall of the title "King" the name "Richard" vanishes as well. Lear, especially, confronts the question, "Who am I?" When he comes to regard himself as but a "poor old man" in need of forgiveness, he attains true royal dignity. The stages of Coriolanus's career, above all, are marked by his name. Caius Marcius becomes, by dint of heroic combat, "Coriolanus" but is denied by the populace the title "consul." Going into exile, he rejects the agnomen and sees himself as a man without names or titles. He is finally destroyed by a typical explosion of his anger over being called the very names which he is left with and which ironically best fit him, "traitor, Marcius, boy."
Anne B. Lancashire
Abstract: The Elizabethan play Look About You has until now been regarded, along with many other minor Elizabethan plays, as a fictional historical romance, not as a "history play" in the sense that, for example, Richard II is: a drama based on definitely historical material and containing, for purposes of political didacticism and the arousal of patriotic feeling, parallels between its subject matter and contemporary Elizabethan politics. A study of the sources of Look About You reveals, however, that the play is based, both generally and in some details, on chronicle history (largely of the reign of Henry II), and also is concerned with political parallels and didacticism, dealing in general with the problems of the succession, rebellion, and royal favoritism, and in particular with factionalism at the court of Elizabeth I and with the queen's relationship with the Earl of Essex. Thus, although its main plot centers on fictional multiple-disguise, Look About You is a true history play in every sense of the term. Perhaps the minor Elizabethan drama in general may be much more truly "historical" than has hitherto been supposed.
Joel Kaplan
Abstract: The initial situation of John Marston's Fawn resembles that of the playwright's earlier Malcontent. Each centers about an incognito duke who exposes a lascivious court. Yet in its course of action and resolution The Fawn seems closer to The Dutch Courtesan, in which Marston's raillery gives way to a type of curative exuberance. The Fawn, in fact, might be called a saturnalian satire, in which a process of suppling replaces the satirist's more traditional lancet and invective is superseded by a rhetoric of increase. Duke Hercules, the play's protagonist, appropriately spans both modes, and in purging Gonzago's court while assuring the perpetuation of his own royal line, the Duke symbolically completes two Herculean labors that held particular significance for Marston: the cleansing of the Augean stables and the creation of a royal line in Beotia. There is, however, an overall unity to Hercules's dual function—his satiric and saturnalian roles—as those who have defiled the court have done so by committing crimes against procreation. This helps to explain the play's concluding masque, in which devices from the traditions of formal satire and holiday revelry form the backdrop for Hercules's ultimate triumph.
Mark Eccles
©William Marsh Rice University 1969