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R. S. White and Ciara Rawnsley

The suggestive phrase ‘discrepant awareness’ was coined in 1960 by Bertrand Evans to explore the ways in which Shakespeare presents differences in knowledge and understanding between characters, and between characters and audience, in order to build up irony and suspense, and to complicate plotting. This device, Evans suggests, is crucial to Shakespeare’s dramatic craftsmanship and a clue to the great range of theatrical effects he creates, respecting the multiplicity of perceptions that coexist and interact. However, while Evans shows how narrative complexity is enhanced by studying the limitations of what each individual knows or is ‘aware of’ at a particular moment he pays little attention to what each character is feeling. The argument advanced in this chapter is that the neglected notion of discrepant awareness can fruitfully be developed to include consideration of emotional fluctuations in each play, including passions (fixed obsessions), affects (humoral aspects in character creation), and emotions (fleeting situational responses). We explore emotional complexity of scenes for both characters and audiences, using scenes respectively from The Two Gentlemen of Verona and Cymbeline. It might be regarded as a distinctive hallmark of Shakespeare’s dramatic method in dealing with emotional complexity.

in The Renaissance of emotion