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Eric Pudney

The chapter opens with a discussion of Elizabethan attitudes to witchcraft, arguing that a gender gap in credibility between male and female users of magic was something that proponents of witchcraft persecution had to overcome. The supposed absence of witches in Elizabethan drama is discussed, and this perception is ascribed to the way in which female magic users are represented before 1603 – they tend to be modelled on classical witches such as those of John Lyly and Robert Greene or (male) magicians rather than popular ideas about witches. An example of witchcraft without witches is also examined: Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the context of its source, The Golden Asse. Some exceptions to this rule are also examined, and it is argued that the first properly demonological witch to be represented on stage is Marlowe’s Dr Faustus.

in Scepticism and belief in English witchcraft drama, 1538–1681
Eric Pudney

This chapter presents the evidence for King James I’s immediate impact on witchcraft plays, arguing that the theatrical representation of witchcraft is much more clearly influenced by demonology after his accession to the throne. The Jacobean period produces an elite mini-genre of witch plays such as Sophonisba, Macbeth, and The Masque of Queens which represent monarch and witch (or witch’s client) as opposites. These plays are interpreted within the context of the court and its concerns. Eventually, however, growing dissatisfaction with the new monarch and his notoriously corrupt and licentious court came to a head with the scandal surrounding the murder of Sir Thomas Overbury. Thomas Middleton’s play The Witch exploited the resulting public outrage in a daring parody of this genre.

in Scepticism and belief in English witchcraft drama, 1538–1681
Eric Pudney

This chapter discusses the growing importance of spirits, and growing interest in precisely what spirits are and how they supposedly interact with the physical world, during the Restoration. This interest in spirits, always of great underlying importance within the debate on witchcraft, enters into this debate more openly during the Interregnum and Restoration periods. A number of dramatic treatments of witchcraft during the Restoration are discussed, many of which bear traces of this increasing interest in the connections between the spiritual and physical realms, and all of which tend to suggest increasing scepticism towards witchcraft. Particularly striking in this regard are the Shakespeare adaptations of Richard Davenant, whose versions of Macbeth and The Tempest exemplify much greater interest in the workings of the spiritual world than Shakespeare’s originals.

in Scepticism and belief in English witchcraft drama, 1538–1681
Steve Sohmer

This chapter explains why Twelfth Night must begin with 1.2 rather than 1.1, and cites eighteenth- to nineteenth-century productions as conclusive evidence.

in Reading Shakespeare’s mind
Steve Sohmer

This chapter endorses the identification of Emilia Bassano Lanier as the ‘Dark Lady’ of Shakespeare’s Sonnets … and the inspiration of Jessica in The Merchant of Venice.

in Reading Shakespeare’s mind
Open Access (free)
Personal Shakespeare
Steve Sohmer

This chapter summarizes the thesis of the book: that William Shakespeare was a far more personal writer than scholars have recognized.

in Reading Shakespeare’s mind
Open Access (free)
Sukanta Chaudhuri

Pastoral is one of the few literary modes whose genesis can be clearly traced. While poems reworking pristine rustic experience might have existed earlier, the pastoral mode as now recognized originated with the Greek poet Theocritus in the third century BCE. More correctly put, Theocritus provided a model that others followed to create the mode.

in Pastoral poetry of the English Renaissance
Steve Sohmer

Elizabethan writers frequently complained about what we call ‘close reading’, i.e., that their readers imputed seditious and/or scandalous intentions to the author. We take a close look at this practice, and how it should influence our reading of Shakespeare today.

in Reading Shakespeare’s mind
Steve Sohmer

Shakespeare’s M.O.A.I. riddle in Twelfth Night has been his most intractable crux. This chapter provides the solution, and explains how a mis-translation concealed the truth from scholars for 400 years.

in Reading Shakespeare’s mind
Steve Sohmer

This chapter explains that Christopher Marlowe was the inspiration for Jaques in Shakespeare’s As You Like It – and that Shakespeare wrote the play to commemorate the seventh anniversary of Marlowe’s death. We take a close look at how Shakespeare felt about his rival, mentor and friend.

in Reading Shakespeare’s mind