For years scholars and others have been trying to out Shakespeare as an ardent Calvinist, a crypto-Catholic, a Puritan-baiter, a secularist, or a devotee of some hybrid faith. In Religion Around Shakespeare, Peter Kaufman sets aside such speculation in favor of considering the historical and religious context surrounding his work. Employing extensive archival research, he aims to assist literary historians who probe the religious discourses, characters, and events that seem to have found places in Shakespeare's plays and to aid general readers or playgoers developing an interest in the plays' and playwright's religious contexts: Catholic, conformist, and reformist. Kaufman argues that sermons preached around Shakespeare and conflicts that left their marks on literature, law, municipal chronicles, and vestry minutes enlivened the world in which (and with which) he worked and can enrich our understanding of the playwright and his plays.
Considering the playwright and his work, the author theorizes that Shakespeare's elusive personality is a result of his supremacy as a dramatist--that he submerged his identity in his characters--and assesses evolving meanings of the plays and poems.
In his Pulitzer prize-winning 1993 book Lincoln at Gettysburg, Garry Wills showed how the Gettysburg Address revolutionized the conception of modern America. In Witches and Jesuits, Wills again focuses on a single document to open up a window on an entire society. He begins with a simple question: If Macbeth is such a great tragedy, why do performances of it so often fail? After all, the stage history of Macbeth is so riddled with disasters that it has created a legendary curse on the drama. Superstitious actors try to evade the curse by referring to Macbeth only as "the Scottish play," but production after production continues to soar in its opening scenes, only to sputter towards anticlimax in the later acts. By critical consensus there seems to have been only one entirely successful modern performance of the play, Laurence Olivier's in 1955, and even Olivier twisted his ankle on opening night. But Olivier's ankle notwithstanding, Wills maintains that the fault lies not in Shakespeare's play, but in our selves.
Drawing on his intimate knowledge of the vivid intrigue and drama of Jacobean England, Wills restores Macbeth's suspenseful tension by returning it to the context of its own time, recreating the burning theological and political crises of Shakespeare's era. He reveals how deeply Macbeth's original 1606 audiences would have been affected by the notorious Gunpowder Plot of 1605, when a small cell of Jesuits came within a hairbreadth of successfully blowing up not only the King, but the Prince his heir, and all members of the court and Parliament. Wills likens their shock to that endured by Americans following Pearl Harbor or the Kennedy assassination. Furthermore, Wills documents, the Jesuits were widely believed to be acting in the service of the Devil, and so pervasive was the fear of witches that just two years before Macbeth's first performance, King James I added to the witchcraft laws a decree of death for those who procured "the skin, bone, or any other part of any dead person--to be employed or used in any manner of witchcraft, sorcery, charm, or enchantment." We see that the treason and necromancy in Macbeth were more than the imaginings of a gifted playwright--they were dramatizations of very real and potent threats to the realm.
In this new light, Macbeth is transformed. Wills presents a drama that is more than a well-scripted story of a murderer getting his just penalty, it is the struggle for the soul of a nation. The death of a King becomes a truly apocalyptic event, and Malcolm, the slain King's son, attains the status of a man defying cosmic evil. The guilt of Lady Macbeth takes on the Faustian aspect of one who has singed her hands in hell. The witches on the heath, shrugged off as mere symbols of Macbeth's inner guilt and ambition by twentieth century interpreters, emerge as independent agents of the occult with their own (or their Master's) terrifying agendas. Restoring the theological politics and supernatural elements that modern directors have shied away from, Wills points the way towards a Macbeth that will finally escape the theatrical curse on "the Scottish play."
Rich in insight and a joy to read, Witches and Jesuits is a tour de force of scholarship and imagination by one of our foremost writers, essential reading for anyone who loves the language.
In a study of "Hamlet," the author discusses mysteries surrounding the play and its central character, discussing how both break through theatrical conventions while analyzing major soliloquies, scenes, characters, and events.
Renaissance plays and poetry in England were saturated with the formal rhetorical twists that Latin education made familiar to audiences and readers. Yet a formally educated man like Ben Jonson was unable to make these ornaments come to life in his two classical Roman plays. Garry Wills, focusing his attention on Julius Caesar, here demonstrates how Shakespeare so wonderfully made these ancient devices vivid, giving his characters their own personal styles of Roman speech.
In four chapters, devoted to four of the play s main characters, Wills shows how Caesar, Brutus, Antony, and Cassius each has his own take on the rhetorical ornaments that Elizabethans learned in school. Shakespeare also makes Rome present and animate by casting his troupe of experienced players to make their strengths shine through the historical facts that Plutarch supplied him with. The result is that the Rome English-speaking people carry about in their minds is the Rome that Shakespeare created for them. And that is even true, Wills affirms, for today s classical scholars with access to the original Roman sources."
Reveals the influence of the Renaissance scholar-priest Marsilio Ficino on Shakespeare and how the Neoplatonic philosophy of love shaped the inner meaning of his work- Shows how Shakespeare's works offer a path back to the divine unity of all things - Explains the role of love in the Christian-Platonic concept of the three worlds In Love's Labours Lost, Shakespeare talks of the true Promethean fire that is lit by the doctrine he reads in women's eyes. What is this doctrine and what is this true Promethean fire to which it gives birth? In Shakespeare and the Ideal of Love, Jill Line shows that Shakespeare shared the perennial philosophy of a long line of teachers, including Hermes Tristmegistus, Pythagoras, Plato, Plotinus, and especially the Florentine scholar and mystic Marsilio Ficino. The answer to these questions, Line claims, lies in Ficino's Christian-Platonic philosophy of love, from which all Shakespeare's plays have their genesis. Love, according to Ficino, is the force that inspired the creation of the worlds of the angelic mind, the soul, and the material, and it is through love that each of these worlds expands into the next. Love is also the vehicle that allows human beings to make the return journey to the source of their being, where they find unity in God. This is the path on which all of Shakespeare's lovers embark. Jill Line explains how Shakespeare's plays represent more than poetic literary constructs: They are mirrors of the progress of the soul, in many conditions and situations, as it returns to the divine unity of all things.
A TIMES LITERARY SUPPLEMENT BEST BOOK OF THE YEARDrawing on an exceptional combination of skills as literary biographer, novelist, and chronicler of London history, Peter Ackroyd surely re-creates the world that shaped Shakespeare--and brings the playwright himself into unusually vivid focus. With characteristic narrative panache, Ackroyd immerses us in sixteenth-century Stratford and the rural landscape-the industry, the animals, even the flowers-that would appear in Shakespeare's plays. He takes us through Shakespeare's London neighborhood and the fertile, competitive theater world where he worked as actor and writer. He shows us Shakespeare as a businessman, and as a constant reviser of his writing. In joining these intimate details with profound intuitions about the playwright and his work, Ackroyd has produced an altogether engaging masterpiece.
When an essay is due and dreaded exams loom, this book offers students what they need to succeed. It provides chapter-by-chapter analysis, explanations of key themes, motifs and symbols, a review quiz, and essay topics. It is suitable for late-night studying and paper writing.