Shakespeare's Tragedies Re-Viewed: a Spectator's Role

My sequence of essays on Shakespeare's audiences has been consolidated into a print version in press at Peter Lang which was published on 30 August 2015 under the title: Shakespeare's Tragedies Re-Viewed: a Spectator's Role. It radically revises interpretation of the tragedies in the light of audience approval, as dictated by Lope de Vega in his witty poetic treatise On the New Art of Writing Plays. Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet is compared to Lope de Vega's. Hamlet is treated as a detective story. It is suggested that Othello be renamed Iago, as his is the dominant part. Richard III and Macbeth are treated as examples of Cinthio's new genre "tragedy with a happy ending." Lear is defined as a study of the perils and potentialities of retirement. Cleopatra is celebrated as the ultimate Shakespearean achievement in positive characterization, and Cymbeline is seen as the sequel to her play in a trilogy starting with Julius Caesar, one in which Octavius is defeated by the pending new world view of Christianity.

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In this learned and comprehensive study, Hugh Macrae Richmond, of  U.C. Berkeley, argues that “Shakespearean tragedies are governed primarily by what audiences welcome, not by respect for the criteria of authorities such as Sidney. Shakespeare rather followed Cinthio (1504-1573), Guarini (1538-1612), and Lope deVega (1562 – 1635) than Aristotle." The Spanish and Italian dramatists advocated the superiority of the mixed, more positive category of tragedy with a happy ending. This reversal involves a drastic reviewing of scripts to recognize the obligatory positive elements of plot, characterization, and ideology exacted by many spectators, which have been underestimated. Applying this approach to Shakespeare may seem as fresh as daring. All in all, Richmond’s claim to offer a new perspective on the Italian-English cultural dialogue during the Renaissance and its contribution to intellectual history provides fresh insights into an exciting field. Richmond leaves us with an impressive testimony of his admirably wide reading and expertise in early modern literature and culture.

Summary of review by Sonja Fielitz of Marburg University in Archiv für das Studium der neueren Sprachen und Literaturen,

 

 Hugh Macrae Richmond
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