Shakespeare's late romances

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Miranda - The Tempest JWW

The late romances, often simply called the romances, are a grouping of William Shakespeare's later plays, or final plays[1] including Pericles, Prince of Tyre; Cymbeline; The Winter's Tale; and The Tempest. The Two Noble Kinsmen is sometimes included in this grouping. This term was first used in regard to these works in Edward Dowden's Shakespeare: A Critical Study of His Mind and Art (1875). One characteristic of Shakespeare final plays is the remarkable and substantial things are combined with humor.[2]

Labeling and structure[edit]

The category of Shakespearean romance arises from a desire among critics to recognize them as a more complex kind of comedy, and the labels of romance and tragicomedy are preferred by the majority of modern critics and editors.[3] Although Pericles did not appear in the First Folio of 1623, its editors, John Heminges and Henry Condell, listed The Tempest and The Winter's Tale as comedies; Cymbeline is listed as a tragedy. In 1875, when Dowden argued that Shakespeare's late comedies be called "romances," he did so because they resemble late medieval and early modern "romances," a genre in which stories took place across expanses of space and time. The romances have grand plot points in conjunction with humor, as well as feature dramatic action and deep personal journeys.[4] They also feature broader characters, larger spectacles and a different handling of the themes of appearance and reality.[5] The late romances differed from early comedies by relying on emphasis, rather than clear distinction. Tragedies ending happily, rather than a moment of danger that passes quickly into resolution.[6] They also focus on the relationships between father and daughter.[7]

Defining characteristics[edit]

The final plays share a few common traits:

  • Tragic or potentially tragic elements the the beginning of the play that are then resolved by the end (such as Leonte's jealousy in The Winter's Tale, or the tempest in The Tempest.)[8]
  • Older men are more prominently featured[9]
  • Young lovers are a part of each play, but they aren't central to the plot[10]
  • A redemptive plotline with a happy ending involving the re-uniting of long-separated family members;
  • Magic and other fantastical elements;
  • The presence of pre-Christian, masque-like figures, like Jupiter in Cymbeline and the goddesses whom Prospero summons in The Tempest;
  • A mixture of "courtly" and "pastoral" scenes (such as the gentry and the island residents in The Tempest and the pastoral and courtly contrasts of The Winter's Tale).

Tragicomedy[edit]

Shakespeare's romances were also influenced by two major developments in theatre in the early years of the seventeenth century. One was the innovation in tragicomedy initiated by John Fletcher and developed in the early Beaumont and Fletcher collaborations. Tragicomedies made a pretense at "grave stuff," but invariably ended with a happy solution that provided light entertainment.[11] The romances are more sharply tragicomic than the comedies: Threats of death and scenes of suffering are more acute. Encounters with the supernatural are also more direct and emphatic.[12] The other was the extreme elaboration of the courtly masque being conducted at the same time by Ben Jonson and Inigo Jones. [See: The Masque of Blackness; The Masque of Queens.] Key scenes in the late romances are closely related to court masques: They embrace the visual impressiveness but also the superficiality of such display.[13]

The distinctiveness of the late romances has been questioned – the plays certainly share commonalities with earlier Shakespearean works like Twelfth Night, with earlier romances by other authors back to the ancient world, and with works in genres like pastoral. Yet Shakespeare's late plays have a distinctive aura to them, with elements of tragicomedy and masque blended with elements of comedy and romance and pastoral – not into a chaos as might be expected, but into coherent, dramatically effective and appealing plays.

History[edit]

The popular drama during the Renaissance was subject to external influences, specifically what the ruler wanted to see. Elizabeth I enjoyed watching what the people liked, which were the tragedies. Elizabeth I reined until her death in 1603. James I succeeded her, and he preferred the romances.[14]

In addition, Shakespeare's health was impaired, and he would die five years after The Tempest, his last single authored play.[15] The shift indicates that he was giving up composition. He would retire to Stratford following completion of his final play.[16] It is also suggested that the plays were not autobiographical in regards to his old age, but because the actors themselves were older. The King's Men occupied a second playhouse, the Blackfriars, which had been out of use for several years. The playhouse had been shut down due to objections of local residents, but was reopened during the second half of 1608. Due to the gap in time, the actors had aged, and Shakespeare adjusted the age of his characters.[17]

The Kings Men changed their name from Lord Chamberlain's Men in 1603 when James I acceded the throne. They would put on as many as two new plays a week. Many plays had only a few performances, and there was no director, so actors were expected to be familiar with fairly standard patterns of blocking.[18] Because the theater audiences at the Blackfriars were generally more sophisticated, the romances tend to lean more toward aesthetics and culture.[19]

Performances[edit]

The romances create a challenge for directors, as they require spectacular effects to be shown onstage.[20] For Pericles, in 1854, Samuel Phelps created the effect of a storm by using rowers manning oars to carry Pericles from one location to another while a panorama moved behind them to create the illusion of travel.[21] Cymbeline often offers two different directions for staging: grand and simple. In 1896, Henry Irving staged the play at the Lyceum Theatre with elaborate Celtic sets for Cymbeline's palace gardens and interior rooms, a Roman banqueting hall for Posthumus's visit to Rome, a handsomely decorated bedchamber for Imogen, and a spectacular dream setting for the descent of Jupiter. Ben Greet at the Old Vic in 1918, on the other hand, chose a simple, Elizabethan approach.[22] The Winter's Tale possesses the challenges of both time passing and a bear pursuing Antigonus off stage. In 1976, Trevor Nunn and John Barton cast John Nettles as both Time and the bear. At Stratford-upon-Avon in 1986, Terry Hands used a bearskin rug, which rose off the ground to chase Antigonus off.[23] In 1609, The Sea Venture was wrecked in the Bermudas, and this became the inspiration for the opening scene in The Tempest.[24] This scene has allowed for different stagings, from William Charles Macready in 1842 at Covent Garden featuring a huge sea vessel, fully rigged and manned, to Robert Falls's production at the Goodman Theatre in 1987, where the scene was set on a cruiseship, with tourist passengers in deck chairs or playing shuffleboard until disaster struck.[25]

Criticism[edit]

Due to the shift in style, as well as Shakespeare's physical state, there has been much debate about why the late plays were written as they were. Dowden created a biographical view that suggested that Shakespeare had been depressed when he wrote his tragedies, and that he had worked his way out of it to create the romances. E. K. Chambers suggested that he suffered a breakdown while writing Timon of Athens, and the romances reflect a kind of psychological convalescence. Clifford Leech viewed the romances as being infected with a kind of fantastical puritanism that came from Shakespeare's personal revulsion to sex. D. G. James believed that Shakespeare ran out of poetic energy as he got older.[26] Raphael Lyne points out, however, that it is impossible to show that Shakespeare managed his career to this extent, and there is no pressing need to consider these works as anything other than coincidentally "late." [27] It is also believed that the late plays deal with faith and redemption, and they are variations on themes of rewarding virtue over vice.[28]

Plays[edit]

Shakespeare's late romances include:

The Norton Shakespeare describes Henry VIII (ca. 1612–13) as being characteristic of the late romances, but still considers it one of the histories.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Bieman, Elizabeth (1990). William Shakespeare : the romances. Boston: Twayne. p. 1. ISBN 0-8057-6995-1. 
  2. ^ Lyne, Raphael (2007). Shakespeare's late work (1. publ. ed.). Oxford [u.a.]: Oxford Univ. Press. p. 6. ISBN 978-0-19-926595-4. 
  3. ^ Thorne, Alison (2003). Shakespeare's Romances. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire; New York: Palgrave Macmillan. p. 2. 
  4. ^ Lyne, Raphael (2007). Shakespeare's late work (1. publ. ed.). Oxford [u.a.]: Oxford Univ. Press. pp. 6 and 99. ISBN 978-0-19-926595-4. 
  5. ^ Smith, Hallett (1964). "Shakespeare's Romances". Huntington Library Quarterly 27 (3): 285. 
  6. ^ Bevington, David (2007). This wide and universal theater : Shakespeare in performance : then and now (Pbk. ed. ed.). Chicago [u.a.]: Univ. of Chicago Press. p. 191. ISBN 0-226-04478-5. 
  7. ^ Lyne, Raphael (2007). Shakespeare's late work (1. publ. ed.). Oxford [u.a.]: Oxford Univ. Press. p. 81. ISBN 978-0-19-926595-4. 
  8. ^ Bieman, Elizabeth (1990). William Shakespeare : the romances. Boston: Twayne. p. 1. ISBN 0-8057-6995-1. 
  9. ^ Bieman, Elizabeth (1990). William Shakespeare : the romances. Boston: Twayne. p. 4. ISBN 0-8057-6995-1. 
  10. ^ Bieman, Elizabeth (1990). William Shakespeare : the romances. Boston: Twayne. p. 1. ISBN 0-8057-6995-1. 
  11. ^ Quincy Adams, John (1923). A Life of Shakespeare. Cambridge: Riverside Press. p. 414. 
  12. ^ Lyne, Raphael (2007). Shakespeare's late work (1. publ. ed.). Oxford [u.a.]: Oxford Univ. Press. p. 4. ISBN 978-0-19-926595-4. 
  13. ^ Lyne, Raphael (2007). Shakespeare's late work (1. publ. ed.). Oxford [u.a.]: Oxford Univ. Press. pp. 43–44. ISBN 978-0-19-926595-4. 
  14. ^ Quincy Adams, Joseph (1923). A Life of Shakespeare. Cambridge: Riverside Press. pp. 411–412. 
  15. ^ Quincy Adams, Joseph (1923). A Life of Shakespeare. Cambridge: Riverside Press. p. 422. 
  16. ^ Quincy Adams, Joseph (1923). A Life of Shakespeare. Cambridge: Riverside Press. p. 429. 
  17. ^ Alexander, ed. by Catherine M. S (2009). The Cambridge companion to Shakespeare's last plays ([Online-Ausg.]. ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 8. ISBN 978-0-521-70819-7. 
  18. ^ Bevington, David (2007). This wide and universal theater : Shakespeare in performance : then and now (Pbk. ed. ed.). Chicago [u.a.]: Univ. of Chicago Press. pp. 17–20. ISBN 0-226-04478-5. 
  19. ^ Thorne, Alison (2003). Shakespeare's Romances. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire; New York: Palgrave Macmillan. p. 14. 
  20. ^ Bevington, David (2007). This wide and universal theater : Shakespeare in performance : then and now (Pbk. ed. ed.). Chicago [u.a.]: Univ. of Chicago Press. p. 212. ISBN 0-226-04478-5. 
  21. ^ Bevington, David (2007). This wide and universal theater : Shakespeare in performance : then and now (Pbk. ed. ed.). Chicago [u.a.]: Univ. of Chicago Press. p. 195. ISBN 0-226-04478-5. 
  22. ^ Bevington, David (2007). This wide and universal theater : Shakespeare in performance : then and now (Pbk. ed. ed.). Chicago [u.a.]: Univ. of Chicago Press. pp. 200–201. ISBN 0-226-04478-5. 
  23. ^ Bevington, David (2007). This wide and universal theater : Shakespeare in performance : then and now (Pbk. ed. ed.). Chicago [u.a.]: Univ. of Chicago Press. pp. 205–206. ISBN 0-226-04478-5. 
  24. ^ Alexander, ed. by Catherine M. S (2009). The Cambridge companion to Shakespeare's last plays ([Online-Ausg.]. ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. xiv. ISBN 978-0-521-70819-7. 
  25. ^ Bevington, David (2007). This wide and universal theater : Shakespeare in performance : then and now (Pbk. ed. ed.). Chicago [u.a.]: Univ. of Chicago Press. p. 215. ISBN 0-226-04478-5. 
  26. ^ Smith, Hallett (1964). "Shakespeare's Romances". Huntington Library Quarterly 27 (3): 281–282. 
  27. ^ Lyne, Raphael (2007). Shakespeare's late work (1. publ. ed.). Oxford [u.a.]: Oxford Univ. Press. ISBN 978-0-19-926595-4. 
  28. ^ Semon, Kenneth J. (2007). "Time, Tide and Tempest: A Study of Shakespeare's Romances". Modern Language Quarterly 35 (4): 423–425. 
  29. ^ F. E. Halliday, Shakespeare Companion, pp. 419, 507-8. See also Hallett Smith on the "many links between this and the previous plays...," in: The Riverside Shakespeare, G. Blakemore Evans, textual editor; Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1974; p. 1640.

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