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Women images in Shakespeare’s comedies

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I. Introduction

1.1 General characteristics of the work

Before making the investigation in our qualification work we should give
some notions on its organization structure.

1. Theme of qualification work.

The theme of my qualification work sounds as following: “Women images in
Shakespeare’s comedies” I have chosen this theme as in my opinion the
role of a Woman in society is difficult to overestimate and it was
Shakespeare who first took the role of women in high rank among the
writors of Middle Age literary Reneissanse in Great Britain. And in
comedies it is most obviously showed all the opositions of a woman’s
character.

2. Actuality of the theme.

The real actual character is based on the thesis that all Shakespeare’s
works remain up-to-day even though they had been writen more than three
centuries ago! They do not only teach us all the best features of a
women’s character but also shows us the worst which we, women, have. All
these, both good and evil, we still have. One more actual character lies
in purely linguistic features:The Great Bard introduced more than 10000
new English words and not in the last degree it concerns the adjectives
which Shakespeare used when characterizing women in his comedies.

3. The tasks and aims of the work.

Before the beginning of writing our qualification work we set the
following tasks and aims before ourselves:

1. To analyze the moral values shown in the plays.

2. To investigate the peculiarities of feminine characterization in
Shakespeare’s comedies.

3. To analyze the nature of authors approach to women characters in
different stages of his life.

4. To show the ways how the heroes are related to each other by finding
out oppositions and correspondences between men and women.

4. The novelty of the work.

We consider that the novelty of the work is revealed in new materials of
the linguists which were published in the Internet.

5. Practical significance of the work.

In our opinion the practical significance of our work is hard to be
overvalued. This work reflects modern trends in linguistics and we hope
it would serve as a good manual for those who wants to master modern
English language by classical language of William Shakespeare.

6. Ways of scientific investigation used within the work.

The main method for compiling our work is the method of comparative
analysis, translation method and the method of statistical research.

7. Fields of amplification.

The present work might find a good way of implying in the following
spheres:

1. In High Schools and scientific circles of linguistic kind it can be
successfully used by teachers and philologists as modern material for
writing research works dealing with William Shakespeare

2. It can be used by teachers of schools, lyceums and colleges by
teachers of English as a practical manual for teaching english
literature.

3. It can be useful for everyone who wants to enlarge his/her knowledge
in English.

8. Linguists worked with the theme.

As the base for our qualification work we used the works of a
distinguished Russian linguists Dmitry Urnov and the noted British
philologist Alfred Bates The full list of works and authors is mentioned
in bibliography to this qualification paper.

9. Content of the work.

The present qualification work consists of four parts: introduction, the
main part, conclusion and bibliography. It also includes the appendix
where some interesting Internet materials, tables, schemes and
illustrative thematic materials were gathered. Within the introduction
part, which includes two items we gave the brief description of our
qualification work (the first item) and gave general notion of the life
and creative heritage of William Shakespeare. The main part of our
qualification work includes ten thematic items. There we discussed such
problems as the role of women in Shakespeare’s tragedies, the tratment
om women in such significant tragedies as “Hamlet”, “Othello” and
“Antony and Cleopatra”. We also discussed the peculiar femine characters
as Ophelia, Gertruda and Juliet. Moreover, some supporting women parts
in Shakespeare’s tragedies which are not so well-known were taken into
consideration in the main part. To this part we refered the images of
Nurse in “Romeo and Juliet”, Cornelia and Cymbeline. In conclusion to
our qualification work we studied the problem of understanding texts of
Shakespeare as the language of the latter is not always clear for modern
readers. In the very end of the work we gave the bibliography list of
authors, the works of whom we used when compiling the present
qualification work. In bibliography part we mentioned more than 20
sources of which were used while compiling the present work. It includes
linguistic books and articles dealing with the theme, a number of used
dictionaries and encyclopedias and also some internet sources.
Appendices to our work include some interesting information on
Shakespeare and his works.

2.1 The Genius of Shakespeare

“He was not of an age, but for all time.” So wrote Ben Jonson in his
dedicatory verses to the memory of William Shakespeare in 1623, and so
we continue to affirm today. No other writer, in English or in any other
language, can rival the appeal that Shakespeare has enjoyed. And no one
else in any artistic endeavor has projected a cultural influence as
broad or as deep.

Shakespeare’s words and phrases have become so familiar to us that it is
sometimes with a start that we realize we have been speaking Shakespeare
when we utter a cliche such as “one fell swoop” or “not a mouse
stirring.” Never mind that many of the expressions we hear most
often–“to the manner born,” or (from the same speech in Hamlet) “more
honored in the breach than the observance”–are misapplied at least as
frequently as they are employed with any awareness of their original
context and implication. The fact remains that Shakespeare’s vocabulary
and Shakespeare’s cadences are even more pervasive in our ordinary
discourse today than the idiom of the King James Bible, which Bartlett
lists as only the second most plentiful source of Familiar Quotations.

And much the same could be said of those mirrors of our nature,
Shakespeare’s characters. From small delights like Juliet’s Nurse, or
Bottom the Weaver, or the Gravedigger, to such incomparable creations as
Falstaff, King Lear, and Lady Macbeth, Shakespeare has enlarged our
world by imitating it. It should not surprise us, therefore, that
personalities as vivid as these have gone on, as it were, to lives of
their own outside the dramatic settings in which they first thought and
spoke and moved. In opera alone there are enough different renderings of
characters and scenes from Shakespeare’s plays to assure that the
devotee of Charles-Francois Gounod or Giuseppe Verdi, Richard Wagner or
Benjamin Britten, could attend a different performance every evening for
six months and never see the same work twice. Which is not to suggest,
of course, that the composers of other musical forms have been remiss:
Franz Schubert, Felix Mendelssohn, Robert Schumann, Franz Liszt, Hector
Berlioz, Pyotr Tchaikovsky, Claude Debussy, Jean Sibelius, Sergey
Prokofiev, and Aaron Copland are but a few of the major figures who have
given us songs, tone poems, ballets, symphonic scores, or other
compositions based on Shakespeare. Cole Porter might well have been
addressing his fellow composers when he punctuated Kiss Me Kate with the
advice to “Brush Up Your Shakespeare.”

Certainly the painters have never needed such reminders. Artists of the
stature of George Romney, William Blake, Henry Fuseli, Eugene Delacroix,
John Constable, J. M. W. Turner, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti have drawn
inspiration from Shakespeare’s dramatis personae; and, thanks to such
impresarios as the eighteenth-century dealer John Boydell, the rendering
of scenes from Shakespeare has long been a significant subgenre of
pictorial art. Illustrators of Shakespeare editions have often been
notable figures in their own right: George Cruikshank, Arthur Rackham,
Rockwell Kent, and Salvador Dali. Meanwhile, the decorative arts have
had their Wedgwood platters with pictures from the plays, their
Shakespeare portraits carved on scrimshaw, their Anne Hathaway’s Cottage
tea cozies, their mulberry-wood jewelry boxes, and their Superbard
T-shirts.

Every nation that has a theatrical tradition is indebted to Shakespeare,
and in language after language Shakespeare remains the greatest living
playwright. Not merely in terms of the hundreds of productions of
Shakespeare’s own plays to be blazoned on the marquees in any given
year, either: no, one must also bear in mind the dozens of film and
television versions of the plays, and the countless adaptations,
parodies, and spinoffs that accent the repertory–from musicals such as
The Boys from Syracuse (based on The Comedy of Errors) and West Side
Story (Leonard Bernstein’s New York ghetto version of the gang wars in
Romeo and Juliet), to political lampoons like Macbird (contra LBJ) and
Dick Deterred (the doubly punning anti-Nixon polemic), not to mention
more reflective dramatic treatments such as Edward Bond’s Bingo (a
“biographical drama” about Shakespeare the man) and Tom Stoppard’s
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (an absurdist re-enactment of
Hamlet from the perspective of two innocents as bewildered by the court
of Renaissance Elsinore as their twentieth-century counterparts would be
in a play such as Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot).

When we broaden our survey to include the hundreds of novels, short
stories, poems, critical appreciations, and other works of serious
literature that derive in one way or another from Shakespeare, we
partake of an even grander view of the playwright’s literary and
cultural primacy. Here in America, for example, we can recall Ralph
Waldo Emerson’s awestruck response to the Stratford seer, his
exclamation that Shakespeare was “inconcievably wise,” all other great
writers only “conceivably.” On the other side of the coin, we can
indulge in the speculation that Shakespeare may have constituted an
aspect of the behemoth that obsessed Herman Melville’s imagination, thus
accounting for some of the echoes of Shakespearean tragedy in the form
and rhetoric of Moby-Dick. In a lighter vein, we can chuckle at the
frontier Bardolatry so hilariously exploited by the Duke and the King in
Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn. Or, moving to our own century, we can
contemplate William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury as an extended
allusion to Macbeth’s “tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” soliloquy.
Should we be disposed to look elsewhere, we can puzzle over “the riddle
of Shakespeare” in the meditations of the Argentine novelist and
essayist Jorge Luis Borges. Or smile (with perhaps but an incomplete
suspension of disbelief) as the Nobel Prize-winning African poet and
dramatist Wole Soyinka quips that “Sheikh Zpeir” must have had some
Arabic blood in him, so faithfully did he capture the local color of
Egypt in Antony and Cleopatra .

Implicit in all of these manifestations of Shakespeare worship is a
perception best summed up, perhaps, in James Joyce’s rendering of the
charismatic name: “Shapesphere.” For in showing “the very age and body
of the time his form and pressure” (as Hamlet would put it), Shakespeare
proved himself to be both the “soul of the age” his works reflected and
adorned and the consummate symbol of the artist whose poetic visions
transcend their local habitation and become, in some mysterious way,
contemporaneous with “all time” (to return once more to Jonson’s
eulogy). If Jan Kott, a twentieth-century existentialist from eastern
Europe, can marvel that Shakespeare is “our contemporary,” then, his
testimony is but one more instance of the tendency of every age to claim
Shakespeare as its own. Whatever else we say about Shakespeare, in other
words, we are impelled to acknowledge the incontrovertible fact that,
preeminent above all others, he has long stood and will no doubt long
remain atop a pedestal (to recall a recent New Yorker cartoon) as “a
very very very very very very important writer.”

So important, indeed, that some of his most zealous admirers have paid
him the backhand compliment of doubting that works of such surpassing
genius could have been written by the same William Shakespeare who lies
buried and memorialized in Stratford-upon-Avon. Plays such as the
English histories would suggest in the writer an easy familiarity with
the ways of kings, queens, and courtiers; hence their author must have
been a member of the nobility, someone like Edward de Vere, the
seventeenth Earl of Oxford. Plays such as Julius Caesar , with their
impressive display of classical learning, would indicate an author with
more than the “small Latin and less Greek” that Ben Jonson attributes to
Shakespeare; hence the need to seek for their true begetter in the form
of a university-trained scholar such as Francis Bacon. Or so would urge
those skeptics (whose numbers have included such redoubtable personages
as Henry James and Sigmund Freud) who find themselves in sympathy with
the “anti-Stratfordians.” Their ranks have never been particularly
numerous or disciplined, since they have often quarreled among
themselves about which of the various “claimants”–the Earl of Derby,
Christopher Marlowe, even Queen Elizabeth herself–should be upheld as
the “true Shakespeare.” And because many of their arguments are
methodologically unsophisticated, they have never attracted adherents
from scholars with academic credentials in the study of English
Renaissance history and dramatic literature. But, whatever their
limitations, the anti-Stratfordians have at least helped keep us mindful
of how frustratingly little we can say for certain about the life of the
man whose works have so enriched the lives of succeeding generations.

II. The Main Part

1.2 Some words on Shakespeare’s biography

One thing we do know is that if Shakespeare was a man for all time, he
was also very much a man of his own age. Christened at Holy Trinity
Church in Stratford-upon-Avon on 26 April 1564, he grew up as the eldest
of five children reared by John Shakespeare, a tradesman who played an
increasingly active role in the town’s civic affairs as his business
prospered, and Mary Arden Shakespeare, the daughter of a gentleman
farmer from nearby Wilmcote. Whether Shakespeare was born on 23 April,
as tradition holds, is not known; but a birth date only a few days prior
to the recorded baptism seems eminently probable, particularly in view
of the fear his parents must have had that William, like two sisters who
had preceded him and one who followed, might die in infancy. By the time
young William was old enough to begin attending school, he had a younger
brother (Gilbert, born in 1566) and a baby sister (Joan, born in 1569).
As he attained his youth, he found himself with two more brothers to
help look after (Richard, born in 1574, and Edmund, born in 1580), the
younger of whom eventually followed his by-then-prominent eldest brother
to London and the theater, where he had a brief career as an actor
before his untimely death at twenty-seven.

The house where Shakespeare spent his childhood stood adjacent to he
wool shop in which his father plied a successful trade as a glover and
dealer in leather goods and other commodities. Before moving to
Stratford sometime prior to 1552 (when the records show that he was
fined for failing to remove a dunghill from outside his house to the
location where refuse was normally to be deposited), John Shakespeare
had been a farmer in the neighboring village of Snitterfield. Whether he
was able to read and write is uncertain. He executed official documents,
not with his name, but with a cross signifying his glover’s compasses.
Some scholars interpret this as a “signature” that might have been
considered more “authentic” than a full autograph; others have taken it
to be an indication of illiteracy. But even if John Shakespeare was not
one of the “learned,” he was certainly a man of what a later age would
call upward mobility. By marrying Mary Arden, the daughter of his
father’s landlord, he acquired the benefits of a better social standing
and a lucrative inheritance, much of which he invested in property (he
bought several houses). And by involving himself in public service, he
rose by sure degrees to the highest municipal positions Stratford had to
offer: chamberlain (1561), alderman (1565), and bailiff (or mayor) and
justice of the peace (1568). A few years after his elevation to the
office of bailiff, probably around 1576, John Shakespeare approached the
College of Heralds for armorial bearings and the right to call himself a
gentleman. Before his application was acted upon, however, his fortunes
took a sudden turn for the worse, and it was not until 1596, when his
eldest son had attained some status and renewed the petition, that a
Shakespeare coat of arms was finally granted. This must have been a
comfort to John Shakespeare in his declining years (he died in 1601),
because by then he had borrowed money, disposed of property out of
necessity, ceased to attend meetings of the town council, become
involved in litigation and been assessed fines, and even stopped
attending church services, for fear, it was said, “of process for debt.”
Just what happened to alter John Shakespeare’s financial and social
position after the mid 1570s is not clear. Some have seen his
nonattendance at church as a sign that he had become a recusant,
unwilling to conform to the practices of the newly established Church of
England (his wife’s family had remained loyal to Roman Catholicism
despite the fact that the old faith was under vigorous attack in
Warwickshire after 1577), but the scant surviving evidence is anything
but definitive.

The records we do have suggest that during young William’s formative
years he enjoyed the advantages that would have accrued to him as the
son of one of the most influential citizens of a bustling market town in
the fertile Midlands. When he was taken to services at Holy Trinity
Church, he would have sat with his family in the front pew, in
accordance with his father’s civic rank. There he would have heard and
felt the words and rhythms of the Bible, the sonorous phrases of the
1559 Book of Common Prayer, the exhortations of the Homilies. In all
likelihood, after spending a year or two at a “petty school” to learn
the rudiments of reading and writing, he would have proceeded, at the
age of seven, to “grammar school.” Given his father’s social position,
young William would have been eligible to attend the King’s New School,
located above the Guild Hall and adjacent to the Guild Chapel
(institutions that would both have been quite familiar to a man with the
elder Shakespeare’s municipal duties), no more than a five-minute walk
from the Shakespeare house on Henley Street. Though no records survive
to tell us who attended the Stratford grammar school during this period,
we do know that it had well-qualified and comparatively well-paid
masters; and, through the painstaking research of such scholars as T. W.
Baldwin, we now recognize that a curriculum such as the one offered at
the King’s New School would have equipped its pupils with what by modern
standards would be a rather formidable classical education.

During his many long school days there, young Shakespeare would have
become thoroughly grounded in Latin, acquired some background in Greek,
and developed enough linguistic facility to pick up whatever he may have
wanted later from such modern languages as Italian and French. Along the
way he would have become familiar with such authors as Aesop, Caesar,
Cicero, Sallust, Livy, Virgil, Horace, Ovid, and Seneca. He would have
studied logic and rhetoric as well as grammar, and he would have been
taught the principles of composition and oratory from the writings of
such masters as Quintilian and Erasmus. In all probability, he would
even have received some training in speech and drama through the
performance of plays by Plautus and Terence. If Shakespeare’s references
to schooling and schoolmasters in the plays are a reliable index of how
he viewed his own years as a student, we must conclude that the
experience was more tedious than pleasurable. But it is difficult to
imagine a more suitable mode of instruction for the formation of a
Renaissance poet’s intellectual and artistic sensibility.

Meanwhile, of course, young Shakespeare would have learned a great deal
from merely being alert to all that went on around him. He would have
paid attention to the plant and animal life in the local woods that he
would later immortalize, in As You Like It, as the Forest of Arden. He
may have hunted from time to time; one legend, almost certainly
apocryphal, has it that he eventually left Stratford because he had been
caught poaching deer from the estate of a powerful squire, Sir Thomas
Lucy, four miles up-stream. He probably learned to swim as a youth,
skinny-dipping in the river Avon. He may have participated in some of
the athletic pursuits that were the basis of competition in the
Elizabethan equivalent of the Olympics, the nearby Cotswold Games. He
would undoubtedly have been adept at indoor recreations such as hazard
(a popular dice game), or chess, or any of a number of card games. As he
grew older, he would have become accustomed to such vocations as
farming, sheep-herding, tailoring, and shopkeeping. He would have
acquired skills such as fishing, gardening, and cooking. And he would
have gathered information about the various professions: law, medicine,
religion, and teaching. Judging from the astonishing range of daily life
and human endeavor reflected in his poems and plays, we can only infer
that Shakespeare was both a voracious reader and a keen observer, the
sort of polymath Henry James might have been describing when he referred
to a character in one of his novels as “a man on whom nothing was lost.”

Once his school years ended, Shakespeare married, at eighteen, a woman
who was eight years his senior. We know that Anne Hathaway was pregnant
when the marriage license was issued by the Bishop of Worcester on 27
November 1582, because a daughter, Susanna, was baptized in Holy Trinity
six months later on 26 May 1583. We have good reason to believe that the
marriage was hastily arranged: there was only one reading of the banns
(a church announcement preceding a wedding that allowed time for any
legal impediments against it to be brought forward before the ceremony
took place), an indication of unusual haste. But whether the marriage
was in any way “forced” is impossible to determine. Some biographers
(most notably Anthony Burgess) have made much of an apparent clerical
error whereby the bride’s name was entered as Anne Whateley of Temple
Grafton in the Worcester court records; these writers speculate that
Shakespeare was originally planning to marry another Anne until Anne
Hathaway of Shottery (a village a mile or so from Shakespeare’s home in
Stratford) produced her embarrassing evidence of a prior claim. To most
scholars, including our foremost authority on Shakespeare’s life, S.
Schoenbaum, this explanation of the Anne Whateley court entry seems
farfetched. Such hypotheses are inevitable, however, in the absence of
fuller information about the married life of William and Anne Hathaway
Shakespeare.

What we do have to go on is certainly compatible with the suspicion that
William and Anne were somewhat less than ardent lovers. They had only
two more children–the twins, Hamnet and Judith, baptized on 2 February
1585–and they lived more than a hundred miles apart, so far as we can
tell, for the better part of the twenty-year period during which
Shakespeare was employed in the London theater. If we can give any
credence to an amusing anecdote recorded in the 1602-1603 diary of a law
student named John Manningham, there was at least one occasion during
those years when Shakespeare, overhearing the actor Richard Burbage make
an assignation, “went before, was entertained, and at his game before
Burbage came; then, message being brought that Richard the Third was at
the door, Shakespeare caused return to be made that William the
Conqueror was before Richard the Third.” If we read the sonnets as in
any way autobiographical, moreover, we are shown a poet with at least
one other significant liaison: a “Dark Lady” to whom Will’s lust impels
him despite the self-disgust the affair arouses in him (and despite her
infidelity with the fair “Young Man” to whom many of the poems are
addressed and for whom the poet reserves his deepest feelings).

But even if there is reason to speculate that Shakespeare may not have
always been faithful to the marriage bed, there is much to suggest that
he remained attached to Anne as a husband. In 1597 he purchased one of
the most imposing houses in Stratford–New Place, across the street from
the Guild Chapel–presumably settling his wife and children there as
soon as the title to the property was clear. He himself retired to that
Stratford home, so far as we can determine, sometime between 1611 and
1613. And of course he remembered Anne in his will, bequeathing her the
notorious “second-best bed”–which most modern biographers regard as a
generous afterthought (since a third of his estate would have gone to
the wife by law even if her name never occurred in the document) rather
than the slight that earlier interpreters had read into the phrasing.

Naturally we would like to know more about what Shakespeare was like as
a husband and family man. But most of us would give just as much to know
what took place in his life between 1585 (when the parish register shows
him to have become the father of twins) and 1592 (when we find the
earliest surviving reference to him as a rising star in the London
theater). What did he do during these so-called “dark years”? Did he
study law, as some have suspected? Did he travel on the Continent? Did
he become an apprentice to a butcher, as one late-seventeenth-century
account had it? Or–most plausibly, in the view of many modern
biographers–did he teach school for a while? All we can say for certain
is that by the time his children were making their own way to school in
rural Stratford, William Shakespeare had become an actor and writer in
what was already the largest city in Europe.

Shakespeare probably traveled the hundred miles to London by way of the
spires of Oxford, as do most visitors returning from Stratford to London
today. But why he went, or when, history does not tell us. It has been
plausibly suggested that he joined an acting troupe (the Queen’s Men)
that was one player short when it toured Stratford in 1587. If so, he
may have migrated by way of one or two intermediary companies to a
position with the troupe that became the Lord Chamberlain’s Men in 1594.
The only thing we can assert with any assurance is that by 1592
Shakespeare had established himself as an actor and had written at least
three plays. One of these–the third part of Henry VI–was alluded to in
that year in a posthumously published testament by a once-prominent poet
and playwright named Robert Greene, one of the “University Wits” who had
dominated the London theater in the late 1580s. Dissipated and on his
deathbed, Greene warned his fellow playwrights to beware of an “upstart
crow” who, not content with being a mere player, was aspiring to a share
of the livelihood that had previously been the exclusive province of
professional writers such as himself. Whether Greene’s Groatsworth of
Wit accuses Shakespeare of plagiarism when it describes him as
“beautified with our feathers” is not clear; some scholars have
interpreted the phrase as a complaint that Shakespeare has borrowed
freely from the scripts of others (or has merely revised existing plays,
a practice quite common in the Elizabethan theater). But there can be no
doubt that Greene’s anxieties signal the end of one era and the
beginning of another: a golden age, spanning two full decades, during
which the dominant force on the London stage would be, not Greene or Kyd
or Marlowe or even (in the later years of that period) Jonson, but
Shakespeare.

2.2 Introducing words to Shakespeare’s Comedy

The Comedy of Errors – first pure comedy

If Shakespeare’s earliest efforts in the dramatization of history
derived from his response to the political climate of his day, his first
experiments in comedy seem to have evolved from his reading in school
and from his familiarity with the plays of such predecessors on the
English stage as John Lyly, George Peele, Robert Greene, and Thomas
Nashe. Shakespeare’s apprentice comedies are quite “inventive” in many
respects, particularly in the degree to which they “overgo” the
conventions and devices the young playwright drew upon. But because they
have more precedent behind them than the English history plays, they
strike us now as less stunningly “original”–though arguably more
successfully executed–than the tetralogy on the Wars of the Roses.

Which of them came first we do not know, but most scholars incline
toward The Comedy of Errors, a play so openly scaffolded upon Plautus’s
Menaechmi and Amphitruo (two farces that Shakespeare probably knew in
Latin from his days in grammar school) that one modern critic has summed
it up as “a kind of diploma piece.” Set, ostensibly, in the
Mediterranean city familiar from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians,
the play begins with a sentence on the life of a luckless Syracusan
merchant, Aegeon, who has stumbled into Ephesus in search of his son
Antipholus. After narrating a tale of woe that wins the sympathy of the
Duke of Ephesus, Aegeon is given till five in the afternoon to come up
with a seemingly impossible ransom for his breach of an arbitrary law
against Syracusans. Meanwhile, unknown to Aegeon, the object of his
search is in Ephesus too, having arrived only hours before him;
Antipholus had set out some two years earlier to find a twin brother by
the same name who was separated from the rest of the family in a stormy
shipwreck more than twenty years in the past. By happy coincidence, the
other Antipholus has long since settled in Ephesus, and so (without
either’s knowledge) has their mother, Aegeon’s long-lost wife, Aemilia,
who is now an abbess. To complicate matters further, both Antipholuses
have slaves named Dromio, also twins long separated, and of course both
sets of twins are indistinguishably appareled. Into this mix Shakespeare
throws a goldsmith, a set of merchants, a courtesan, a wife and a
sister-in-law for the Ephesian Antipholus, and a conjuring schoolmaster.
The result is a swirling brew of misunderstandings, accusations, and
identity crises–all leading, finally, to a series of revelations that
reunite a family, save Aegeon’s life, and bring order to a city that had
begun to seem bewitched by sorcerers.

The Comedy of Errors reached print for the first time in the 1623 First
Folio. We know that it was written prior to 28 December 1594, however,
because there is record of a performance on that date at one of the four
Inns of Court. Some scholars believe that the play was written for that
holiday Gray’s Inn presentation, but most tend to the view that it had
been performed previously, possibly as early as 1589 but more likely in
the years 1592-1594. Most critics now seem agreed, moreover, that for
all its farcical elements, the play is a comedy of some sophistication
and depth, with a sensitivity to love that anticipates Shakespeare’s
great comedies later in the decade: when Luciana advises her sister
Adriana about how she should treat her husband Antipholus, for example,
she echoes Paul’s exhortations on Christian marriage in Ephesians. And
with its use of the devices of literary romance (the frame story of
Aegeon comes from Apollonius of Tyre), The Comedy of Errors also looks
forward to the wanderings, confusions of identity, and miraculous
reunions so fundamental to the structure of “late plays” such as
Pericles and The Tempest.

3.2 “The Taming of the Shrew” the first feminine comedy

What may have been Shakespeare’s next comedy has also been deprecated as
farce, and it is frequently produced today with staging techniques that
link it with the commedia del l’arte popular in Renaissance Italy. But
for all its knockabout slapstick, The Taming of the Shrew is too
penetrating in its psychology and too subtle in its handling of the
nuances of courtship to be dismissed as a play deficient in feeling. Its
main event is a battle of the sexes in which Petruchio, who has “come to
wive it wealthily in Padua,” takes on a dare no other potential suitor
would even consider: to win both dowry and docility from a sharp-tongued
shrew avoided as “Katherine the curst.” Apparently recognizing that
Katherine’s willfulness is a product of the favoritism her father has
long bestowed upon her younger sister, and having the further good sense
to realize that the fiery Kate is capable of becoming a much more
attractive wife than the much-sought-after but rather devious Bianca,
Petruchio mounts a brilliant campaign to gain Kate’s love and make her
his. First, he insists that Kate is fair and gentle, notwithstanding all
her efforts to disabuse him of that notion. Second, he “kills her in her
own humour,” with a display of arbitrary behavior–tantrums, scoldings,
peremptory refusals–that both wears her down and shows her how
unpleasant shrewishness can be. At the end of the play Petruchio shocks
his skeptical fellow husbands by wagering that his bride will prove more
obedient than theirs. When Kate not only heeds his commands but
reproaches her sister and the other wives for “sullen, sour” rebellion
against their husbands, it becomes manifest that Petruchio has succeeded
in his quest: Kate freely and joyfully acknowledges him to be her
“loving lord.” If we have doubts about whether Kate’s transformation can
be accepted as a “happy ending” today–and alterations of the final
scene in many recent productions would suggest that it may be too
offensive to current sensibilities to be played straight–we should
perhaps ask ourselves whether the Kate who seems to wink
conspiratorially at Petruchio as she puts her hands beneath his foot to
win a marital wager is any less spirited or fulfilled a woman than the
Kate who drives all her wouldbe wooers away in the play’s opening scene.

Whether or not The Taming of the Shrew is the mysterious Love’s Labor’s
Won referred to by Francis Meres in 1598, it seems to have been written
in the early 1590s, because what is now generally believed to be a bad
quarto of it appeared in 1594. The Taming of a Shrew differs
significantly from the version of Shakespeare’s play that was first
published in the 1623 Folio–most notably in the fact that the drunken
tinker Christopher Sly, who appears only in the induction to the later
printing of the play, remains on stage throughout The Taming of a Shrew,
repeatedly interrupting the action of what is presented as a play for
his entertainment and resolving at the end to go off and try Petruchio’s
wife-taming techniques on his own recalcitrant woman. Some directors
retain the later Sly scenes, but no one seriously questions that the
Folio text is in general the more authoritative of the two versions of
the play.

4.2 The Two Gentlemen of Verona based on Feminine Work

The Folio provides the only surviving text of The Two Gentlemen of
Verona, a comedy so tentative in its dramaturgy (for example, its
ineptitude in the few scenes where the playwright attempts to manage
more than two characters on the stage at once), and so awkward in its
efforts to pit the claims of love and friendship against each other,
that many scholars now think it to be the first play Shakespeare ever
wrote. Based largely on a 1542 chivalric romance (Diana Enamorada) by
Portuguese writer Jorge de Montemayor, The Two Gentlemen of Verona
depicts a potential rivalry between two friends–Valentine and
Proteus–who fall in love with the same Milanese woman (Silvia) despite
the fact that Proteus has vowed his devotion to a woman (Julia) back
home in Verona. Proteus engineers Valentine’s banishment from Milan so
that he can woo Silvia away from him. But Silvia remains faithful to
Valentine, just as Julia (who has followed her loved one disguised as
his page) holds true to Proteus, notwithstanding the character he
discloses as a man who lives up to his name. In the concluding forest
scene Valentine intervenes to save Silvia from being raped by Proteus;
but, when Proteus exhibits remorse, Valentine offers him Silvia anyway,
as a token of friendship restored. Fortunately, circumstances conspire
to forestall such an unhappy consummation, and the play ends with the
two couples properly reunited.

Unlike The Comedy of Errors and The Taming of the Shrew, The Two
Gentlemen of Verona has never been popular in the theater, even though
it offers two resourceful women (whose promise will be fulfilled more
amply in such later heroines as Rosalind and Viola), a pair of amusing
clowns (Launce and Speed), and one of the most engaging dogs (Crab) who
ever stole a stage. In its mixture of prose and verse, nevertheless, and
in its suggestion that the “green world” of the woods is where
pretensions fall and would be evildoers find their truer selves, The Two
Gentlemen of Verona looks forward to the first fruits of Shakespeare’s
maturity: the “romantic comedies” of which it proves to be a prototype.

Titus Andronicus

The one remaining play that most critics now locate in the period known
as Shakespeare’s apprenticeship is a Grand Guignol melodrama that seems
to have been the young playwright’s attempt to outdo Thomas Kyd’s
Spanish Tragedy (produced circa 1589) in its exploitation of the horrors
of madness and revenge. The composition of Titus Andronicus is usually
dated 1590-1592, and it seems to have been drawn from a ballad and
History of Titus Andronicus that only survives today in an
eighteenth-century reprint now deposited in the Folger Shakespeare
Library. (The Folger also holds the sole extant copy of the 1594 first
quarto of Shakespeare’s play, the authoritative text for all but the one
scene, III.ii, that first appeared in the 1623 Folio.) If Shakespeare
did take most of his plot from the History of Titus Andronicus, it is
clear that he also went to Ovid’s Metamorphoses (for the account of
Tereus’s rape of Philomena, to which the tongueless Lavinia points to
explain what has been done to her) and to Seneca’s Thyestes (for Titus’s
fiendish revenge on Tamora and her sons at the end of the play).

Although Titus Andronicus is not a “history play,” it does make an
effort to evoke the social and political climate of fourth-century Rome;
and in its depiction of a stern general who has just sacrificed more
than twenty of his own sons to conquer the Goths, it anticipates certain
characteristics of Shakespeare’s later “Roman plays”: Julius
Caesar,Antony and Cleopatra, and Coriolanus. But it is primarily as an
antecedent of Hamlet (influenced, perhaps, by the so-called lost
Ur-Hamlet) that Titus holds interest for us today. Because whatever else
it is, Titus Andronicus is Shakespeare’s first experiment with revenge
tragedy. Its primary focus is the title character, whose political
misjudgments and fiery temper put him at the mercy of the Queen of the
Goths, Tamora, and her two sons (Demetrius and Chiron). They ravish and
mutilate Titus’s daughter Lavinia, manipulate the Emperor into executing
two of Titus’s sons (Martius and Quintus) as perpetrators of the crime,
and get Titus’s third son (Lucius) banished for trying to rescue his
brothers. Along the way, Tamora’s Moorish lover Aaron tricks Titus into
having his right hand chopped off in a futile gesture to save Martius
and Lucius. After Lavinia writes the names of her assailants in the sand
with her grotesque stumps, Titus works out a plan for revenge: he slits
the throats of Demetrius and Chiron, invites Tamora to a banquet, and
serves her the flesh of her sons baked in a pie. He then kills Tamora
and dies at the hands of Emperor Saturninus. At this point Lucius
returns heading a Gothic army and takes over as the new Emperor,
condemning Aaron to be half-buried and left to starve and throwing
Tamora’s corpse to the scavenging birds and beasts.

As Fredson Bowers has pointed out, Titus Andronicus incorporates a
number of devices characteristic of other revenge tragedies: the
protagonist’s feigned madness, his delay in the execution of his
purpose, his awareness that in seeking vengeance he is taking on a
judicial function that properly rests in God’s hands, and his death at
the end in a bloody holocaust that leaves the throne open for seizure by
the first opportunist to arrive upon the scene.

5.2 Character of Titania in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”

Affectation of another kind is depicted in a delightful scene from what
many regard as Shakespeare’s most charming comedy, A Midsummer Night’s
Dream. As the Athenian courtiers are quick to observe in their critiques
of the “tragical mirth” of Pyramus and Thisby in V.i, the “mechanicals”
who display their dramatic wares at the nuptial feast of Theseus and
Hippolyta are even more fundamentally “o’erparted” than the hapless
supernumeraries of Love’s Labor’s Lost. But there is something deeply
affectionate about Shakespeare’s portrayal of the affectations of Bottom
and his earnest company of “hempen home-spuns,” and the “simpleness and
duty” with which they tender their devotion is the playwright’s way of
reminding us that out of the mouths of babes and fools can sometimes
issue a loving wisdom that “hath no bottom.” Like “Bottom’s Dream,” the
playlet brings a refreshingly naive perspective to issues addressed more
seriously elsewhere. And, by burlesquing the struggles and conflicts
through which the lovers in the woods circumvent the arbitrariness of
their elders, “Pyramus and Thisby” comments not only upon the fortunes
of Demetrius and Helena, Lysander and Hermia, but also upon the
misfortunes of Romeo and Juliet. After all, both stories derive
ultimately from the same source in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and
Shakespeare’s parallel renderings of the “course of true love” in Romeo
and Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream are so closely linked in time
and treatment that it is tempting to regard the two plays as companion
pieces–tragic and comic masks, as it were, for the same phase
(1595-1596) of Shakespearean dramaturgy.

Whether or not A Midsummer Night’s Dream was commissioned for a wedding
ceremony at Whitehall, as some scholars have speculated, the play is in
fact a remarkable welding of disparate materials: the fairy lore of
Oberon and Titania and their impish minister Puck, the classical
narrative of Theseus’s conquest of the Amazons and their queen
Hippolyta, the confused comings and goings of the young Athenian lovers
who must flee to the woods to evade their tyrannical parents, and the
rehearsals for a crude craft play by a band of well-meaning peasants. It
is in some ways the most original work in the entire Shakespearean
canon, and one is anything but surprised that its “something of great
constancy” has inspired the best efforts of such later artists as
composer Felix Mendelssohn, painters Henry Fuseli and William Blake,
director Peter Brook, and filmmakers Max Reinhardt and Woody Allen.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is in many respects the epitome of “festive
comedy,” an evocation of the folk rituals associated with such occasions
as May Day and Midsummer Eve, and its final mood is one of unalloyed
romantic fulfillment. Romance is also a key ingredient in the concluding
arias of Shakespeare’s next comedy, The Merchant of Venice, where
Bassanio and Portia, Lorenzo and Jessica, and Gratiano and Nerissa
celebrate the happy consummation of three love quests and contemplate
the music of the spheres from a magical estate known symbolically as
Belmont. But the “sweet harmony” the lovers have achieved by the end of
The Merchant of Venice has been purchased very dearly, and it is hard
for a modern audience to accept the serenity of Belmont without at least
a twinge of guilt over what has happened in far-off Venice to bring it
about.

The Merchant of Venice

Whether The Merchant of Venice is best categorized as an anti-Semitic
play (capitalizing on prejudices that contemporaries such as Marlowe had
catered to in plays like The Jew of Malta) or as a play about the evils
of anti-Semitism (as critical of the Christian society that has
persecuted the Jew as it is of the vengeance he vents in response), its
central trial scene is profoundly disturbing for an audience that has
difficulty viewing Shylock’s forced conversion as a manifestation of
mercy. Shylock’s “hath not a Jew eyes” speech impels us to see him as a
fellow human being–notwithstanding the rapacious demand for “justice”
that all but yields him Antonio’s life before Portia’s clever
manipulations of the law strip the usurer of his own life’s fortune–so
that even if we feel that the Jew’s punishment is less severe than what
strict “justice” might have meted out to him, his grim exit nevertheless
casts a pall over the festivities of the final act in Belmont.

By contrast with A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a play in which the
disparate components of the action are resolved in a brilliantly
satisfying synthesis, The Merchant of Venice remains, for many of us, a
prototype of those later Shakespearean works that twentieth-century
critics have labeled “problem comedies.” Even its fairy-tale elements,
such as the casket scenes in which three would-be husbands try to divine
the “will” of Portia’s father, seem discordant to a modern audience that
is asked to admire a heroine who dismisses one of her suitors with a
slur on his Moroccan “complexion.” Though it seems to have been written
in late 1596 or early 1597 and, like A Midsummer Night’s Dream, was
first published in a good quarto in 1600, The Merchant of Venice feels
closer in mood to Measure for Measure–which also pivots on a conflict
between justice and mercy–than to most of the other “romantic comedies”
of the mid to late 1590s.

The Merry Wifes of Windsor

The first good text of a related play, The Merry Wives of Windsor, also
appeared in the Folio, but it too was initially published in a bad
quarto, this one a memorial reconstruction dated 1602. Just when Merry
Wives was written, and why, has been vigorously debated for decades.
According to one legend, no doubt apocryphal but not totally lacking in
plausibility, Shakespeare was commissioned to write the play because the
Queen wanted to see Falstaff in love. If so, it seems likely that the
play was also produced as an occasional piece in honor of the award of
the Order of the Garter to Lord Hunsdon, the patron of the Lord
Chamberlain’s Men, on 23 April 1597. There are references to a Garter
ceremony at Windsor Castle in act five of The Merry Wives of Windsor,
and Leslie Hotson has argued that even though the play may well have
been performed later at the Globe, its first presentation was before
Queen Elizabeth and Lord Hunsdon at Windsor on St. George’s Day 1597.

The Merry Wives of Windsor is unique among Shakespeare’s comedies in
having an English town for its setting. Its bourgeois characters have
delighted audiences not only in the playhouse but also on the operatic
stage, in what many critics consider the most successful of Verdi’s
numerous achievements in Shakespearean opera. Despite its obvious
charms, however, the play has never been a favorite among Shakespeare’s
readers and literary interpreters. The reason is that the Falstaff we
see in The Merry Wives of Windsor is a Falstaff largely lacking in the
vitality and appeal of the character we come to love in the first part
of Henry IV. Without Prince Hal and the wit combats afforded by his
jokes at Falstaff’s expense, the Falstaff of Merry Wives is merely
conniving and crude. We may laugh at the comeuppances he receives at the
hands of the merry wives he tries to seduce–the buck-basket baptism he
gets as his reward for the first encounter, the beatings and pinchings
he suffers in his later encounters–but we see nothing of the
inventiveness that makes Falstaff such a supreme escape artist in part 1
of Henry IV. So attenuated is the Falstaff of The Merry Wives of Windsor
that many interpreters have argued that it is simply a mistake to
approach him as the same character. In any case, we never see him in
love. His is a profit motive without honor, and it is much more
difficult for us to feel any pity for his plight in Merry Wives than it
is in the three Henry plays that depict the pratfalls and decline of the
young heir-apparent’s genial lord of misrule.

The play does have the clever Mistress Ford and Mistress Page. And in
the jealous Master Ford and the tyrannical Master Page it also has a
pair of comic gulls whose sufferings can be amusing in the theater. But
it is doubtful that The Merry Wives of Windsor will ever be among our
favorite Shakespearean comedies, particularly when we examine it
alongside such contemporary achievements as Much Ado About Nothing and
As You Like It.

Much Ado about Nothing

Much Ado About Nothing and As You Like It were probably written in late
1598 and 1599, respectively, with the former first published in a good
quarto in 1600 and the later making its initial appearance in the 1623
First Folio. Both are mature romantic comedies, and both have enjoyed
considerable success in the theater.

“Nothing” is a word of potent ambiguity in Shakespeare (the playwright
was later to explore its potential most profoundly in the “nothing will
come of nothing” that constitutes the essence of King Lear), and in Much
Ado About Nothing its implications include the possibilities inherent in
the wordplay on the Elizabethan homonym “noting.” Through the
machinations of the surly Don John, who gulls the superficial Claudio
into believing that he “notes” his betrothed Hero in the act of giving
herself to another lover, an innocent girl is rejected at the altar by a
young man who believes himself to have been dishonored. Fortunately, Don
John and his companions have themselves been noted by the most
incompetent watch who ever policed a city; and, despite their asinine
constable, Dogberry, these well-meaning but clownish servants of the
Governor of Messina succeed in bringing the crafty villains to justice.
In doing so, they set in motion a process whereby Hero’s chastity is
eventually vindicated and she reappears as if resurrected from the
grave. Meanwhile, another pair of “notings” have been staged by the
friends of Benedick and Beatrice, with the result that these two
sarcastic enemies to love and to each other are each tricked into
believing that the other is secretly in love. At least as much ado is
made of Benedick and Beatrice’s notings as of the others, and by the
time the play ends these acerbic critics of amorous folly, grudgingly
acknowledging that “the world must be peopled,” have been brought to the
altar with Claudio and Hero for a double wedding that concludes the play
with feasting and merriment.

Shakespeare could have drawn from a number of antecedents for the story
of Hero and Claudio, among them cantos from Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso
and Spenser’s Faerie Queene. But the nearest thing to a “source” for
Beatrice and Benedick may well have been his own The Taming of the Shrew
, whether another pair of unconventional would-be lovers struggle their
way to a relationship that is all the more vital for the aggressive
resistance that has to be channeled into harmony to bring it about. In
any event, if there is some doubt about where Benedick and Beatrice came
from, there is no doubt about the direction in which they point–to such
gallant and witty Restoration lovers as Mirabell and Millamant in
William Congreve’s The Way of the World.

As You Like It

With As You Like It Shakespeare achieved what many commentators consider
to be the finest exemplar of a mode of romantic comedy based on escape
to and return from what Northrop Frye has termed the “green world.” As
in A Midsummer Night’s Dream (where the young lovers flee to the woods
to evade an Athens ruled by the edicts of tyrannical fathers) and The
Merchant of Venice (where Belmont serves as the antidote to all the
venom that threatens life in Venice), in As You Like It the
well-disposed characters who find themselves in the Forest of Arden
think of it as an environment where even “adversity” is “sweet” and
restorative.

Duke Senior has been banished from his dukedom by a usurping younger
brother, Duke Frederick. As the play opens, Duke Senior and his party
are joined by Orlando and his aged servant Adam (who are running away
from Orlando’s cruel older brother Oliver), and later they in turn are
joined by Duke Senior’s daughter Rosalind and her cousin Celia (who have
come to the forest, disguised as men, because the wicked Duke Frederick
can no longer bear to have Rosalind in his daughter’s company at court).
The scenes in the forest are punctuated by a number of reflections on
the relative merits of courtly pomp and pastoral simplicity, with the
cynical Touchstone and the melancholy Jaques countering any sentimental
suggestion that the Forest of Arden is a “golden world” of Edenic
perfection, and her sojourn in the forest allows the wise and witty
Rosalind to use male disguise as a means of testing the affections of
her lovesick wooer Orlando. Eventually Orlando proves a worthy match for
Rosalind, in large measure because he shows himself to be his brother’s
keeper. By driving off a lioness poised to devour the sleeping Oliver,
Orlando incurs a wound that prevents him from appearing for an
appointment with the disguised Rosalind; but his act of unmerited
self-sacrifice transforms his brother into a “new man” who arrives on
the scene in Orlando’s stead and eventually proves a suitable match for
Celia. Meanwhile, as the play nears its end, we learn that a visit to
the forest has had a similarly regenerative effect on Duke Frederick,
who enters a monastery and returns the dukedom to its rightful ruler,
Duke Senior.

As You Like It derives in large measure from Thomas Lodge’s romance
Rosalynde or Euphues’ Golden Legacy, a prose classic dating from 1590.
But in his treatment of the “strange events” that draw the play to a
conclusion presided over by Hymen, the god of marriage, Shakespeare
hints at the kind of miraculous transformation that will be given major
emphasis in the late romances.

Twelth Night

The last of the great romantic comedies of Shakespeare’s mid career,
probably composed and performed in 1601 though not published until the
1623 First Folio, was Twelfth Night. Possibly based, in part, on an
Italian comedy of the 1530s called Gl’Ingannati , Twelfth Night is
another play with implicit theological overtones. Its title comes from
the name traditionally associated with the Feast of Epiphany (6 January,
the twelfth day of the Christmas season), and much of its roistering
would have seemed appropriate to an occasion when Folly was allowed to
reign supreme under the guise of a Feast of Fools presided over by a
Lord of Misrule. In Shakespeare’s play, the character who represents
Misrule is Sir Toby Belch, the carousing uncle of a humorless countess
named Olivia. Together with such companions as Sir Andrew Aguecheek, the
jester Feste, and a clever gentlewoman named Maria, Sir Toby makes life
difficult not only for Olivia but also for her puritan steward Malvolio,
whose name means “bad will” and whose function in the play, ultimately,
is to be ostracized so that “good will” may prevail. In what many
consider to be the most hilarious gulling scene in all of Shakespeare,
Malvolio is tricked into thinking that his Lady is in love with him and
persuaded to wear cross-gartered yellow stockings in her
presence–attire that he believes will allure her, but attire that
persuades her instead that he is deranged. The “treatment” that follows
is a mock exercise in exorcism, and when Malvolio is finally released
from his tormentors at the end of the play, he exits vowing revenge “on
the whole pack” of them.

As with the dismissal of Shylock in The Merchant of Venice, the
punishment of Malvolio’s presumption in Twelfth Night has seemed too
harsh to many modern viewers and readers. But that should not prevent us
from seeing that Twelfth Night is also a play about other forms of
self-indulgence (Count Orsino’s infatuation with the pose of a courtly
lover, and Olivia’s excessively long period of mourning for her deceased
brother) and the means by which characters “sick of self-love” or
self-deception are eventually restored to mental and emotional sanity.
Through the ministrations of the wise fool, Feste, and the providential
Viola, who arrives in Illyria after a shipwreck in which she mistakenly
believes her brother Sebastian to have died, we witness a sequence of
coincidences and interventions that seems too nearly miraculous to have
been brought about by blind chance. By taking another series of
potentially tragic situations and turning them to comic ends,
Shakespeare reminds us once again that harmony and romantic fulfillment
are at the root of what Northrop Frye calls the “argument of comedy.”

All’s Well that Ends Well

Modern in another sense may be a good way to describe All’s Well That
Ends Well. After a long history of neglect, this tragicomedy has
recently enjoyed a good deal of success in the theater and on
television, and one of the explanations that have been given is that it
features a heroine who, refusing to accept a preordained place in a
hierarchical man’s world, does what she has to do to win her own way.

Orphaned at an early age and reared as a waiting-gentlewoman to the
elegant and sensitive Countess of Rossillion, Helena presumes to fall in
love with the Countess’s snobbish son Bertram. Using a cure she learned
from her dead father, who had been a prominent physician, Helena saves
the life of the ailing King of France, whereupon she is rewarded with
marriage to the man of her choice among all the eligible bachelors in
the land. She astonishes Bertram by selecting him. Reluctantly, Bertram
consents to matrimony, but before the marriage can be consummated he
leaves the country with his disreputable friend Parolles, telling Helena
in a note that he will be hers only when she has fulfilled two
presumably impossible conditions: won back the ring from his finger and
borne a childe to him. Disguised as a pilgrim, Helena follows Bertram to
Florence. There she substitutes herself for a woman named Diana, with
whom Bertram has made an assignation, and satisfies the despicable
Bertram’s demands.

One of the “problems” that have troubled critics of All’s Well That Ends
Well is the device of the “bed trick.” But we now know that Shakespeare
had biblical precedent for such a plot (Genesis 35) and that it was
associated in the Old Testament with providential intervention. Which
may be of some value to us in dealing with the other major issues: why
should Helena want so vain and selfish a man as Bertram in the first
place, and how can we accept at face value his reformation at the end?
If we suspend our disbelief enough to grant the fairy-tale premises of
the plot (which derived from a story in Boccaccio’s Decameron,) we
should be able to grant as well that in a providentially ordered world,
the end may not only justify the means but sanctify them. And if the end
that Helena has in view is not only to win Bertram but to make him “love
her dearly ever, ever dearly,” we must grant the playwright the final
miracle of a Bertram who can be brought to see his evil ways for what
they are and repent of them.

Measure for Measure

A similar miracle would seem to be the final cause of Measure for
Measure. At the beginning of the play, Duke Vincentio, noting that he
has been too lenient in his administration of the laws of Venice,
appoints as deputy an icy-veined puritan named Angelo, whom he expects
to be more severe for a season of much-needed civic discipline. Almost
immediately upon the Duke’s departure, Angelo finds himself confronted
with a novitiate, Isabella, who, in pleading for the life of a brother
condemned for fornification, unwittingly arouses the new deputy’s lust.
Angelo offers her an exchange: her brother’s life for her chastity.
Astonished by the deputy’s disregard for both God’s laws and man’s,
Isabella refuses. Later, as she tries to prepare Claudio for his
execution and discovers that he is less shocked by the deputy’s offer
than his sister had been, Isabella upbraids him, too, as a reprobate.

At this point the Duke, who has been disguised as a friar, persuades
Isabella to “accept” Angelo’s offer on the understanding that his former
betrothed, Mariana, will sleep with him instead. Once again the bed
trick proves effectual and “providential.” In the “trial” that takes
place at the entrance to the city upon the Duke’s return, Isabella
accuses Angelo of having corrupted his office and executed her brother
despite an agreement to spare him (an order of the deputy’s that,
unknown to Isabella, has been forestalled by the “friar”). But then, in
response to Mariana’s pleas for her assistance, she decides not to press
her claim for justice and instead kneels before the Duke to beg that
Angelo’s life be spared. The Duke grants her request, and
Angelo–illustrating Mariana’s statement that “best men are molded out
of faults”–repents and accepts the Duke’s mercy.

Measure for Measure qualifies as a tragicomedy because the questions it
raises are serious (how to balance law and grace, justice and mercy, in
human society) and the issue (whether or not Angelo will be executed for
his evil intentions with respect to Claudio) is in doubt until the
moment when, by kneeling beside Mariana, Isabella prevents what might
have been a kind of revenge tragedy. (The Duke tells Mariana, “Against
all sense you do importune her./Should she kneel down in mercy of this
fact,/Her brother’s ghost his paved bed would break,/And take her hence
in horror.”) In Shakespearean comedy, of course, all’s well that ends
well. Revenge gives way to forgiveness or repentance, and characters who
might have died in self-deception or guilt are given a second chance. As
for Isabella, she too gains insight and sensitivity as a consequence of
her trials, and at the conclusion of the play she finds herself the
recipient of a marriage proposal from her previously disguised
counselor, the Duke. Whether she accepts it, and if so how, has become
one of the chief “problems” to be solved by directors and actors in
modern productions.

The Empowerment of Women in Shakespearean Comedy Based on: Richard Laws
Dutiful Daughters, Willful Nieces: The Empowerment of Women in
Shakespearean Comedy Washington University Press 2000 p.45-50

In Shakespeare’s comedies, many – possibly even most – of the female
characters are portrayed as being manipulated, if not controlled
outright, by the men in their lives: fathers, uncles, suitors, husbands.
And yet, there are women inhabiting Shakespeare’s comedic world who seem
to enjoy a greater degree of autonomy and personal power than one would
expect in a patriarchal society. Superficially, therefore, Shakespeare’s
comedies appear to send mixed signals regarding the notion of female
empowerment. Some women are strong and independent, others are
completely submissive, and the behavior of either seems to be influenced
more by theme or plot than by any qualities within the characters
themselves.

A closer look, though, should make it evident that this is not the case;
as in many of Shakespeare’s plays, appearances can be deceiving. In some
cases, the exterior behavior is a deliberate faзade to mask the
character’s real feelings; in others, it is an acculturated veneer that
is burned away as a result of the play’s events. Despite their outward
appearances, though, most of these comedic women belong to one of two
opposing archetypes. An examination of these archetypes allows the
reader to see past such deceptions to the real personality beneath.

The “Daughter” and “Niece” Archetypes

Within Shakespeare’s comedies, many of the female characters are
portrayed as submissive and easily controlled. Like dutiful daughters,
these women submit to patriarchal repression with little complaint.

Perhaps the best example of a “daughter” character in Shakespearean
comedy is the role of Hero in Much Ado About Nothing. Hero is completely
under the control of her father Leonato, especially with regard to
courtship. When, in Act Two, Leonato believes that Don Pedro may seek
Hero’s hand in marriage, he orders Hero to welcome the prince’s advances
despite the difference in their ages:

“Daughter, remember what I told you.

If the Prince do solicit you in that kind,

you know your answer” (II.i.61-3).

Thus we see that Leonato controls not only Hero’s actions, but even her
words as well.

In fact, Hero is so thoroughly repressed by the male-dominated society
in which she lives that she submits not only to her father’s will, but
to that of nearly every other man in the play. She is easily wooed and
won by Don Pedro posing as Claudio (II.i.80-93). She is just as easily
undone in a single speech when Claudio pronounces her an adulteress
(IV.i.30-41). Even Don John, through his nefarious schemes, is able to
manipulate Hero, very nearly to her death. Despite the influence of the
more liberated Beatrice in her life, Hero shows no sign of acting under
her own volition anywhere in the play.

Unlike Hero, however, other female characters in Shakespeare’s comedies
do not submit easily to the will of a patriarchal character, or indeed,
that of any man. Just as Much Ado About Nothing presents us, in Hero,
with the very model of a dutiful “daughter” character, so it delineates
the archetypical “niece” character, the quick-witted Beatrice. The
“merry war” (I.i.58) she wages with Benedick may showcase her character
to best advantage, but it is clear from the first scene of the play that
Beatrice does not easily submit to the commands or beliefs of any man.

In fact, it often seems that Beatrice would liberate her cousin Hero
from patriarchal repression as well. While virtually every main
character in the play is conspiring to arrange Hero’s marriage, Beatrice
counsels Hero to follow her own desires, despite contemporary custom:

[I]t is my cousin’s duty to make curtsy and say, “Father, as it please
you.” But yet for all that, cousin, let him be a handsome fellow, or
else make another curtsy and say, “Father, as it please me”
(II.i.49-52).

Beatrice’s willfulness continues even through the final scene of the
play. Despite her earlier vows to requite Benedick’s love
(III.i.109-16), when he at last proposes, she makes sure to emphasize
that they are to be married only because she agrees, not because he
wills it (V.iv.72-95).

The “Daughter”/“Niece” Binary in The Taming of the Shrew

Although Kate is (literally speaking) a daughter to the patriarchal
figure Baptista, she seldom submits to her father’s authority, in
matters of behavior or of courtship. She therefore fits better with the
willful “niece” characters than she does with the obedient “daughter”
types; the archetype is informed by the behavioral, not familial,
relationship. It is Kate’s disobedience – her “niece” behavior – that
provides the impetus for the play’s action.

By contrast, Kate’s sister Bianca is presented as a “daughter” character
throughout most of the play:

“[W]hat you will command me will I do

So well I know my duty” (II.i.6-7).

Even the play’s minimal stage directions emphasize Bianca’s submissive
nature: Bianca enters and exits scenes only at the behest of a male
character (or Kate, in Act II and again in Act V). Her subjugation to
her father is especially evident with regard to her potential suitors:
Baptista proclaims in his first lines that Bianca may not be courted
until Kate is married (I.i.49-51). Bianca, in fact, is outwardly so
submissive that she even professes to be willing to stand aside and
allow Kate her choice of Bianca’s many suitors (II.i.10-18).

The final scene of the play, however, reverses these archetypal
characterizations completely. Once married to Lucentio, Bianca
immediately becomes willful and disobedient, refusing to respond to his
summons (V.ii.79-85). Kate, on the other hand, comes dutifully when
Petruchio calls for her (99-104). At his request, she fetches Bianca,
and delivers her long speech regarding wifely duty (140-183).

This final scene demonstrates that the “daughter” and “niece”
characterizations are actually masks that each sister has used to obtain
the sort of husband each desires. Bianca poses as a dutiful, obedient
“daughter” to attract a husband of means; once she has done so, she can
drop the faзade and become the pampered, petulant child she has always
been. Kate, on the other hand, wields her “shrewishness” to rid herself
of suitors whom she cannot respect. When Petruchio resolves to wed her
anyway, she realizes that he is just the sort of husband she can be
happy with, and so becomes a loving, obedient wife (whether to please
him, or because that is the sort of relationship she desires). It is
fitting, in a play so concerned with disguise, that both Kate and Bianca
exercise power by exploiting the guises provided by their respective
archetypes.

The “Daughter”/“Niece” Binary in As You Like It

The “daughter” and “niece” archetypes, of course, are not universally
applicable to all women in Shakespeare’s comedies. In As You Like It,
there are other female characters which defy such classification.
Phoebe, for example, exhibits traits of both “niece” (in her willful
pursuit of the erstwhile Ganymede) and “daughter” (as when she readily
submits to Ganymede’s stipulation that she marry Silvius), while the
country wench Audrey cannot easily be assigned to either category.
Still, the archetypes once again prove useful in an examination of the
relative empowerment of the play’s central female characters, Rosalind
and Celia.

On the surface, Rosalind appears to be one of the most independent, and
thus empowered, women in any of Shakespeare’s works. Like Beatrice with
Benedick, Rosalind is able to dictate completely the terms of her
relationship with Orlando; throughout most of the play, he obeys her
every whim – and this despite his belief that she is only a simulacrum
of Rosalind. In a time when marriage was customarily (judging by the
texts) a business arrangement between the groom and the bride’s father,
Rosalind actually arranges her own union with Orlando, albeit in
disguise (V.iv.5-10); further, she even arranges the marriage of Silvius
and Phoebe (V.ii, V.iv.11-25). The dramatic irony of this chain of
circumstances, in fact, is the basis for the play’s comedic action:
Ganymede, who exerts such control over the lives of others, is really a
woman.

It may be contended that Rosalind gets what she wants not because she is
a truly empowered woman, but because she poses as a man, and that before
adopting this disguise, she has no agency. Duke Frederick, to whom
Rosalind is a literal as well as archetypical niece, robs her of control
over her own fate when he summarily banishes her from his court
(I.iii.39-87). Yet even here we can see that Rosalind already possesses
the potential to become empowered. When asked why she is sentenced to
exile, the duke replies, “Let it suffice thee that I trust thee not . .
. Thou art thy father’s daughter” (I.iii.53, 56). The duke, rightly or
wrongly, views Rosalind as a threat, and only an empowered woman would
pose a threat to him. Viewed in this light, the masculine disguise only
unlocks the latent power that the “niece” archetype already possesses.

Celia, on the other hand, is clearly a “daughter” character. Her sole
act of volition in the entire play comes when she determines to join
Rosalind in exile (I.iii.83-103), and even this one act of defiance is
motivated more by Celia’s loyalty to her cousin than by any desire of
her own. When, in the play’s final act, Oliver determines to marry
Celia, only Orlando is given any right of decision over her lot
(V.ii.1-15); Celia has apparently consented to be wed (l. 7), but is not
really a party to the negotiations.

Thus, even while presenting a strong, independent female character, As
You Like It seems to reinforce the patriarchal notion of women as
subjugated beings. Rosalind exercises some control over her own destiny,
but only after she disguises herself as a man; lacking such a guise,
Celia is virtually powerless to determine her own fate. But this
superficial view is an inadequate interpretation. The Ganymede disguise
– indeed, the entire journey to Arden – is the crucible that releases
Rosalind’s latent personal power, but the power has always been there;
like Kate and Bianca, she has always been a “niece.” Celia remains
subjugated not because she chooses to travel as a woman, but because she
is, at heart, a dutiful “daughter.”

Conclusion

1.3. Having said about Shakespeare’s comedies we dare to say that it is
the most important milestone in the creative activity of him. But even
amongst his immortal works of this kind the play “A Midsummer Night’s
Dream” stands in the special play. The first reason of this lies in the
period of writing of it. The play is referred to the third, last period
of creative activity, it is seemingly summarizes the whole life of the
dramatist and the death of the main heroes at the fourth act is a hint
for the closest death of Shakespeare himself. So one another reason for
the significance of the comedy follows just after: it maybe the only
work of Shakespeare where the humour and laughter are being mixed with
the tragedy. And this mixing appears on the background of the exact
description of humans life and characters which are closely similar to
the historic chronicles. In our work we tried to demonstrate this spirit
of comedy mixed with the tragedic chronicles of the author himself.

Our work aimed to show the novelity of the play though it was written
three-four centuries ago, we tried to prove that even being a dream the
narration does not lose the real character. We made our conclusion that
fairy tales cannot but link with the real life and the problems of life,
love, happiness, sadness, revenge exist in both at the Heavens and the
Earth.

2.3. In our qualification work we tried to give some light to the
following items:

a) To show the unusual, unique compositional structure of the play on
the example of the most significant scenes of each act of the play.

b) To analyze the main themes of the play.

c) To prove the brilliant nature of the Shakespeare’s language.

d) To compare the different features of the main heroes in their
controversy and similarity.

Having worked on our qualification work we could do the following
conclusion and notes:

1) Being not volumable play it remained in our hearts as one of the most

brilliant things created by the “Avon Bard”.

2) The main idea of the play was to show the interrelations between life
and dream, the different state of minds of illiterate but kind and
passionate wandering actors and foolish, cruel, envious power “handers”.

3) The main themes of the play are order and disorder, love and
marriage, appearance and reality.

4) The genius of the author is concluded in mixing and installation of
one narration into another, assistance of prose and poetry with single
repliques and comments.

5) The heroes of the play are not happy even having got the things they
dreamt.

In the very end of our qualification work we would like to say that the
play “A Midsummer Night’s Dream ” seems to us as the most meaningful not
only for those who is interested in Shakespeare but for the whole
humanity.

Shakespeare’s Tragicomedies and women images in them.

The Winter’s Tale (tragicomedy)

Enlightenment and contrition are prerequisite to the happy ending of The
Winter’s Tale, too. Here again a husband falls victim to vengeful
jealousy, and here again the plot builds up to the moment when he can be
forgiven the folly that, so far as he knows, has brought about his
innocent wife’s death. Based primarily on Robert Greene’s Pandosto: The
Triumph of Time, a prose romance first published in 1588 and reprinted
under a new title in 1607, The Winter’s Tale was probably completed in
1610 or 1611. Its initial appearance in print was in the 1623 Folio.

The action begins when Leontes, King of Sicilia, is seized with the
“humour” that his wife Hermione has committed adultery with his
childhood friend Polixenes. It is abundantly clear to everyone else,
most notably Hermione’s lady-in-waiting Paulina, that Leontes’
suspicions are irrational. But he refuses to listen either to the
counsel of his advisers or to the oracle at Delphi–persisting with this
“trial” of Hermione until he has completely devastated his court. He
drives Polixenes away with the faithful Sicilian lord Camillo; he
frightens to death his son Mamilius; and he pursues Hermione so
unrelentingly that she finally wilts into what Paulina declares to be a
fatal swoon. At this point, suddenly recognizing that he has been acting
like a madman, Leontes vows to do penance for the remainder of his life.

Years later, after Perdita (the “lost” child whom the raging Leontes has
instructed Paulina’s husband Antigonus to expose to the elements) has
grown up and fallen in love with Florizel, the heir to Polixenes’ throne
in Bohemia, the major characters are providentially regathered in
Leontes’ court. Leontes is reunited with his daughter. And then, in one
of the most stirring and unexpected moments in all of Shakespeare’s
works, a statue of Hermione that Paulina unveils turns out to be the
living–and forgiving–Queen whom Leontes had “killed” some sixteen
years previously. In a speech that might well serve to epitomize the
import of all the late romances, Paulina tells the King “It is
requir’d/You do awake your faith.” The regenerated Leontes embraces his
long-lamented wife, bestows the widowed Paulina on the newly returned
Camillo, and blesses the forthcoming marriage of Perdita to the son of
his old friend Polixenes, the object of the jealousy with which the
whole agonizing story has begun.

Tempest (tragicomedy)

The circle that is completed in The Winter’s Tale has its counterpart in
The Tempest, which concludes with the marriage of Prospero’s daughter
Miranda to Ferdinand, the son of the Neapolitan king who had helped
Prospero’s wicked brother Antonio remove Prospero from his dukedom in
Milan a dozen years previously.

Like The Winter’s Tale,The Tempest was completed by 1611 and printed for
the first time in the 1623 Folio. Because it refers to the “still-vext
Bermoothes” and derives in part from three accounts of the 1609 wreck of
a Virginia-bound ship called the Sea Adventure, the play has long been
scrutinized for its supposed commentary on the colonial exploitation of
the New World. But if the brute Caliban is not the noble savage of
Montaigne’s essay on cannibals, he is probably not intended to be an
instance of Third World victimization by European imperalism either. And
Prospero’s island is at least as Mediterranean as it is Caribbean. More
plausible, but also too speculative for uncritical acceptance, is the
time-honored supposition that the magician’s staff with which Prospero
wields his power is meant to be interpreted as an analogy for
Shakespeare’s own magical gifts–with the corollary that the
protagonist’s abjuration of his “potent art” is the dramatist’s own way
of saying farewell to the theater. Were it not that at least two plays
were almost certainly completed later than The Tempest, this latter
hypothesis might win more credence.

But be that as it may, there can be no doubt that Prospero cuts a
magnificent figure on the Shakespearean stage. At times, when he is
recalling the usurpation that has placed him and his daughter on the
island they have shared with Caliban for a dozen lonely years, Prospero
is reminiscent of Lear, another angry ruler who, despite his earlier
indiscretions, has cause to feel more sinned against than sinning. At
other times, when Prospero is using the spirit Ariel to manipulate the
comings and goings of the enemies whose ship he has brought aground in a
tempest, the once and future Duke of Milan reminds us of the Duke of
Vienna in Measure for Measure. But though his influence on the lives of
others turns out in the end to have been “providential,” Prospero
arrives at that beneficent consummation only through a psychological and
spiritual process that turns on his forswearing “vengeance” in favor of
the “rarer action” of forgiveness. Such dramatic tension as the play
possesses is to be found in the audience’s suspense over whether the
protagonist will use his Neoplatonic magic for good or for ill. And when
in fact Prospero has brought the “men of sin” to a point where they must
confront themselves as they are and beg forgiveness for their crimes, it
is paradoxically Ariel who reminds his master that to be truly human is
finally to be humane.

Uniquely among the late tragicomic romances, The Tempest has long been a
favorite with both readers and audiences. Its ardent young lovers have
always held their charm, as has the effervescent Ariel, and its
treatment of the temptations afforded by access to transcendent power
gives it a political and religious resonance commensurate with the
profundity of its exploration of the depths of poetic and dramatic art.
In the end its burden seems to be that an acknowledgment of the limits
imposed by the human condition is the beginning of wisdom

Appendix 1

Some quotes from Shakespeare’s comedies

1 As you like it (Act V Sc. I)

JAQUES:

All the world’s a stage,

And all the men and women merely players:

They have their exits and their entrances;

And one man in his time plays many parts,

His acts being seven ages.

Ttranslation:

Жак: Весь мир – театр.

В нем женщины, мужчины – все актеры.

У них свои есть выходы, уходы,

И каждый не одну играет роль.

Семь действий в пьесе той.

2 Much ado about nothing (Act V Sc. II)

CLAUDIO

Never any did so, though very many have been beside their wit. I will
bid thee draw, as we do the minstrels; draw, to pleasure us.

DON PEDRO

As I am an honest man, he looks pale. Art thou sick, or angry?

CLAUDIO

What, courage, man! What though care killed a cat, thou hast mettle
enough in thee to kill care.

BENEDICK

Sir, I shall meet your wit in the career, and you charge it against me.
I pray you choose another subject.

Translation:

Клавдио: Этого еще никто не делал, хотя многим их остроумие вылезает
боком. Мне хочется попросить тебя ударить им, как мы просим музыкантов
ударить в смычки. Сделай милость, развлеки нас.

Дон Педро: Клянусь честью, он выглядит бледным – Ты болен или сердит?

Клавдио: Подбодрись дружок! Хоть говорят, что забота и кошку умудрить
может, у тебя такой живой нрав, что ты можешь и заботу уморить.

Бенедикт: Синьор, я ваши насмешки поймаю на полном скаку, если они ко
мне относятся:нельзя ли выбрать другую тему для разговора?

3 The Merchant of Venice (Act.1 Sc.3)

Antonio: The devil can gnote Scripture for his purpose.

An evil soul, producing holy witness,

Is like a villain with a smiling cheek,

A goodly apple rotten at the heart.

O, what a goodly outside falsehood hath!

Translation

Антонио: Заметь, Бассанио:

В нужде и чорт священный текст приводит.

Порочная душа, коль на святыню

Ссылается, похожа на злодея

С улыбкой на устах иль на красивый,

Румяный плод с гнилою сердцевиной.

О, как на вид красива ложь бывает!

4 Troilus and Cressida (Act III, Scene 2)

TROILUS You have bereft me of all words, lady.

PANDARUS Words pay no debts, give her deeds: but she’ll

bereave you o’ the deeds too, if she call your

activity in question. What, billing again? Here’s

‘In witness whereof the parties interchangeably’–

Come in, come in: I’ll go get a fire.

[Exit]

CRESSIDA Will you walk in, my lord?

TROILUS O Cressida, how often have I wished me thus!

Translation

Троил Милая! Ты лишила меня языка.

Пандар Язык тут ни при чем. Долг платежом красен. Плохо, если на дело не
хватит сил. Так, так… опять уж нос с носом… Отлично… «Когда обе
стороны приходят ко взаимному соглашению»… и проч… и проч. Войдите,
войдите в двери, а я поищу огня. (Уходит.)

Крессида Угодно тебе войти, царевич?

Троил О Крессида! Как долго я томился ожиданьем этого счастья!

5 Much ado about nothing (Act I Sc I)

Leonato:…There was never yet a philosopher

That could endure the toothache patiently….

Translation

Леонато: Прошу молчи. Я только плоть и кровь.

Такого нет философа на свете,

Чтобы зубную боль сносил спокойно,-

Пусть на словах подобен он богам

В своем презренье к бедам и страданьям

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