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Laurie Johnson

This chapter examines how the supernatural elements in A Midsummer Night’s Dream are constructed from mythical and folkloric sources but reconfigured as contemporary topical allusions. The play thus seems to be a locus for potentially competing influences: borrowing from the past while also writing to the present moment, most likely to excite the interest of his audiences and their yen for gossip or scandal. Shakespeare’s invention of the name ‘Puck’ for the puckle figure of folklore creates opportunities for every member of an audience to see the figure as consonant with their own local knowledge of such a sprite, but also enables the playwright to develop an allusion to George Buck and his competition with John Lyly for the reversion of the Master of Revels. The play thus also positions the censor as its first audience, with the allusion and Puck’s epilogue addressed directly to the Master of Revels at the time, Edmund Tylney, making amends for recent offences by Shakespeare’s company. The forest outside Athens becomes the site for a clash between modes of signification – sources and topicality – anchoring supernatural elements to far more worldly contemporary issues.

in Shakespeare and the supernatural
Supernatural generation and the limits of power in Shakespeare’s Richard III
Chelsea Phillips

The importance of successful, legitimate birth and childrearing to the health of early modern society, from the monarch to the lowest orders, created a strong corollary between the processes of generation (procreation, birth, parenting) and social order. Supernatural influence on these processes, whether divine or malignant, raised cultural anxieties about the limits of supernatural power. From the extra-ordinary but still ‘natural’ process of maternal impression, via the specific malignancy of witchcraft or fairy-taking, to the calamitous monstrosity of personal sin or political upheaval, early modern generation was construed as a natural process intimately entwined with and susceptible to outside influence. This chapter explores how Shakespeare constructs the limits of supernatural power on generation in relation to social, legal, medical, and theological norms familiar to an early modern audience, using Richard III as a central example.

in Shakespeare and the supernatural

Shakespeare and the supernatural explores the supernatural in Shakespearean drama, taking account of historical contexts and meanings together with contemporary approaches to these aspects in performance on stage, screen and in popular culture. Supernatural elements constitute a significant dimension of Shakespeare’s plays, contributing to their dramatic power and intrigue: ghosts haunt political spaces and psyches; witches foresee the future; fairies meddle with love; natural portents foreshadow events; and a magus conjures a tempest. Although written and performed for early modern audiences, for whom the supernatural was still part of the fabric of everyday life, the plays’ supernatural elements continue to enthral us and maintain their ability to raise questions in contemporary contexts. The collection considers a range of issues through the lens of five key themes: the supernatural and embodiment; haunted spaces; supernatural utterance and haunted texts; magic, music and gender; and present-day transformations. The volume presents an introduction to the field, covering terminology and the porous boundaries between ideas of nature, the preternatural and the supernatural, followed by twelve chapters from an international range of contemporary Shakespeare scholars whose work interrogates the five themes. They provide new insights into the central issues of how Shakespeare constructs the supernatural through language and how supernatural dimensions raise challenges of representation and meaning for critics and creators. Shakespeare and the supernatural will appeal to scholars, dramatists, teachers and students, providing valuable resources for readers interested in Shakespeare or the supernatural in drama, whether from literary, historical, film or performing arts perspectives.

Victoria Bladen

In Shakespeare’s England, ghosts were problematic, associated with Catholic ideas about Purgatory. However, ghosts proved popular on the early modern stage, and in Shakespeare’s plays the throne is a particularly haunted space. In Hamlet, Julius Caesar, Richard III and Macbeth, political leaders encounter ghosts who had held power themselves or who were murdered as part of the brutal process of obtaining political power. Ghosts not only unsettle the boundary between life and death in these plays but also question monarchs’ positions, undermining assumptions of legitimacy. Pursuant to the theory of the king’s two bodies, the spirit of divine kingship passed seamlessly to the next legitimate ruler, but in cases of rupture, where power did not legitimately pass, the spirit of ‘authentic’ monarchy could be left disembodied, thus constituting a spectral presence displaced from the political body. Shakespeare was intensely interested in cases of rupture. This chapter explores the ghosts in these four plays, examining how they haunt political spaces, and resonate with the additional spectre, the second ghost, of the disembodied, legitimate ruler.

in Shakespeare and the supernatural
Transformations of witchcraft in Macbeth discourse
William C. Carroll

This chapter analyses how the Macbeth narrative first appeared (in terse accounts a few decades after the historical Macbeth’s death in 1057 CE) without any hint of witchcraft; accounts of Duncan’s death – in battle, not in a secret murder – emphasised his weakness as a king. The story gradually acquired witches and their prophecies through the imaginations of early Scottish chroniclers, especially in Hector Boece’s 1527 Historia Gentis Scotorum. After Shakespeare’s masterful representation of the ‘wayward sisters’ in Macbeth, the witches began to multiply in number, sing, and become semi-comic figures in Restoration adaptations (including a parody of them as early as 1674). Whatever their nature originally, the witches are now always connected to prophecy and dream.

in Shakespeare and the supernatural
Abstract only
Richard Hillman

This chapter brings three principal French intertexts (and some secondary ones) to bear on A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It first argues that Dream evokes a recent play comically adapting Italianate pastoral conventions, La Diane, by Nicolas de Montreux (1594). The next key intertext explored is Le proumenoir (1594), by Marie de Gournay, which offers a feminist slant on the histoire tragique as exemplified by her source, the Champs faëz of Claude de Taillemont. Gournay’s novel presents love as tragic, particularly for women as victims of male inconstancy, as in the legend of Theseus and Ariadne. Gournay introduces this exemplum through the Epithalamium of Catullus, where it counterpoints celebration of a mythical marriage – an effect matching the intrusion of sombre overtones on Shakespeare’s representation of marriage as comic fulfilment. Finally foregrounded is the relation between the burlesque ‘tragedy’ of Pyramus and Thisbe staged by Shakespeare’s Mechanicals and an anonymous Moralité, which illuminates the Mechanicals’ absurd approach to theatrical challenges. Also considered is a poetic reworking of Ovid’s narrative by Antoine de Baïf, which anticipates Shakespeare’s embellishment of this material with humanist trappings. These intertexts highlight the parodic potential Shakespeare exploited in insinuating the fragility of generic boundaries.

in The Shakespearean comic and tragicomic
Love’s Labour’s Lost and As You Like It
Richard Hillman

This chapter proposes that the three Shakespearean comedies set in France (Love’s Labour’s Lost, As You Like It, All’s Well That Ends Well) depend for their effect on particular perceptions and forms of knowledge concerning France on the part of contemporary audiences. The focus is on the earlier two plays, since All’s Well has been considered elsewhere. Love’s Labour’s Lost introduces insistent political allusions (mainly through the names of the characters), which nevertheless resist all efforts to detach them from their romantic-comic frame. The consequence is an unresolvable tension between comic and tragic tendencies that is focused in the unconventional conclusion. As You Like It might be supposed to reject the realistic in favour of the romantic by way of its exotic ‘French’ pastoral source – Thomas Lodge’s novel Rosalynde – but Lodge actually presents his setting with an insistence on material realities. Conversely, even as he downplays Lodge’s French specificity in favour of recognisable elements of ‘Englishness’, Shakespeare attaches to the French setting and characters a dimension of romance resulting in a destabilising doubleness: Arden/Ardennes, Robin Hood/Rowland de Boys.

in The Shakespearean comic and tragicomic
The Merchant of Venice, Measure for Measure, Twelfth Night
Richard Hillman

This chapter treats three comedies dating from between 1596 (roughly) and 1604 as experiments in tragicomedy, broadly understood here as an uneasy juxtaposition of comic patterns fulfilled with an affirmation of tragic potential as encoded in the human condition and left suspended at the conclusions. The comic patterns are mainly of Italian origin, but certain tragically tending elements emerge more clearly through hitherto neglected French intertexts. One bearing especially on both Merchant and Measure is a Protestant allegorical morality by Henri de Barran, L’Homme justifié par Foy (1554), which dramatises the Reformation reading of Mankind as doomed by sinfulness according to the Old (Mosaic) Law and redeemable only by the New Law of Mercy. Mankind’s struggle is staged in terms especially evocative of the confrontation between Antonio and Shylock, but light is also shed on the fall, suffering and forgiveness of Angelo. The potentially tragic fate of the latter is also illuminated by the tragedy of Philanire, by Claude Roillet, whose French version presents particular intersections with Measure. Finally, it is argued that the tragicomic associations of Malvolio in Twelfth Night may have been enriched for audiences by knowledge of the contemporary life and writings of Pierre Victor Palma Cayet.

in The Shakespearean comic and tragicomic
French inflections
Author: Richard Hillman

This book discusses Shakespeare’s deployment of French material within genres whose dominant Italian models and affinities might seem to leave little scope for French ones. It proposes specific, and unsuspected, points of contact but also a broad tendency to draw on French intertexts, both dramatic and non-dramatic, to inflect comic forms in potentially tragic directions. The resulting tensions within the genre are evident from the earliest comedies to the latest tragicomedies (or ‘romances’). An introduction establishes the French inflection of Italian modes and models, beginning with The Taming of the Shrew, as a compositional paradigm and the basis for an intertextual critical approach. Next, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is related to three French intertexts highlighting, respectively, its use of pastoral dramatic convention, its colouration by the histoire tragique and its parodic dramatisation of the Pyramus and Thisbe story. The third chapter interrogates the ‘French’ settings found in the romantic comedies, while the fourth applies French intertexts to three middle-to-late comedies as experiments in tragicomedy. Finally, the distinctive form given tragicomedy (or ‘romance’) in Shakespeare’s late production is set against the evolution of tragicomedy in France and related to French intertexts that shed new light on the generic synthesis achieved—and the degree of bricolage employed in achieving it.

Making room for France
Richard Hillman

This introduction establishes the French inflection of Italian modes and models in Shakespearean comedy as a compositional paradigm and the basis for an intertextual critical approach. After discussion of the broad theoretical principles of such an approach, The Taming of the Shrew is set off against its anonymous analogue, The Taming of a Shrew, so as to throw into relief the latter’s incorporation, in the key passage presenting the heroine’s acceptance of her ‘taming’, of a translation from Guillaume Du Bartas’s La création du monde. The intertextual dynamic thereby set in motion is then applied to Shakespeare’s text, with attention to the different interpretative possibilities thereby made available, given the uncertain relation between the two plays with regard to chronology and authorship.

in The Shakespearean comic and tragicomic