This book applies to tragic patterns and practices in early modern England a long-standing critical preoccupation with English-French cultural connections in the period. With primary, though not exclusive, reference on the English side to Shakespeare and Marlowe, and on the French side to a wide range of dramatic and non-dramatic material, it focuses on distinctive elements that emerge within the English tragedy of the 1590s and early 1600s. These include the self-destructive tragic hero, the apparatus of neo-Senecanism (including the Machiavellian villain) and the confrontation between the warrior-hero and the femme fatale. The broad objective is less to ‘discover’ influences—although some specific points of contact are proposed—than at once to enlarge and refine a common cultural space through juxtaposition and intertextual tracing. The conclusion emerges that the powerful, if ambivalent, fascination of the English for their closest Continental neighbours expressed itself not only in, but through, the theatre.
This book explores English tragedy in relation to France with a frank concentration on Shakespeare. Three manifestations of the 'Shakespearean tragic' are singled out: Hamlet, Antony and Cleopatra and All's Well That Ends Well, a comedy with melancholic overtones whose French setting is shown to be richly significant. Hamlet has occasioned many books on its own, including a recent study by Margreta De Grazia, Hamlet without Hamlet, whose objective is to free the text from the 'Modern Hamlet'. The influence of Michel de Montaigne on Hamlet is usually assumed to have left its traces in more or less precise verbal or intellectual correspondences. The book proposes two further sources of French resonance accessible to auditors of the ultimate early modern English tragedy. It talks about two French Antonies. One is the steadfast friend of Caesar and avenging Triumvir, as heralded in Jacques Grévin's César and vividly evoked in Robert Garnier's Porcie. The other is the hedonist who ruins himself for Cleopatra, as first brought on stage in France by Étienne Jodelle in Cléopâtre captive, then substantially fleshed out in Garnier's own Marc Antoine. The distance between the tragedies and All's Well comes down to the difference between horizontal and vertical lifeless bodies. When he grafted the true-to-life histoire tragique of Hélène of Tournon onto the fairy-tale of Giletta of Narbonne, Shakespeare retained the latter's basic family situation. Shakespeare's Helena succeeds where the King has failed by exploiting her position as an outsider.
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.
This introductory chapter discusses the dynamic imaginative engagement of late sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century English dramatists and audiences with French contexts and texts. It examines how Shakespeare, Marlowe and the Politics of France demonstrates the construction and representation of nationhood, as well as the intertextual relationships indicated in this study. This chapter also tries to map a range of relations between diverse French discourses and particular aspects of English tragedy.
Richard II, La Guisiade and the invention of tragic heroes
This chapter studies Shakespeare's Richard II, a play that naturally figured in Shakespeare, Marlowe and the Politics of France, and reviews its relation to the propagandistic La Guisiade. It focuses on Shakespeare's play as a tragedy instead of history, and considers what the French precursor has to show about the phenomenon of the psychologically self-destructive tragic hero.
This chapter takes a look at the confrontations between the warrior-hero and the femme fatale. It proposes that maybe the most culturally prominent instance of a combined metaphysical and military narrative—the biblical encounter between the Jewish heroine Judith and the Assyrian tyrant Holofernes—hovers intertextually in the background in two ‘warrior plays’ by Shakespeare and Marlowe.
From pathos to bathos in early English tragedy; or, the comedy of terrors
This chapter examines some applications of classicism in both form and content. This discussion focuses on the production of political meanings. It studies the extension of French neo-classical influence to the Elizabethan theatre in its most popular and public form, and tries to declassicise French drama itself. This chapter also studies the characters of Caesar and Brutus, the former becoming the epitome of greatness fatally tainted by ambition, and focuses on adaptations of classical machinery.
The metaphysical complications attached by William Shakespeare to the protagonist of Saxo/Belleforest are rooted in an essentially political dilemma. Hamlet's malcontent and menacing behaviour, projected into the Mousetrap, is presumed to revolve around his anomalous position vis-à-vis the throne of Denmark; the 'mystery' whose 'heart' his erstwhile friends would 'pluck out' is understood as his political intention. Most of the verbal correspondences belong to the meditations often termed 'philosophical' of the protagonist, to such a degree that Hamlet's thought has come to epitomize the influence of Montaigne on Shakespeare, and especially the impact of the 'Apologie de Raymond Sebond'. The relations among father, mother and uncle in the story of Gaston Phoebus anticipate 'young Hamlet' as wavering, if not torn, at a basic emotional level, the entire dimension, in short, that modern commentary tends to assimilate to Oedipal psychology.
French ripples within and beyond the ‘Pembroke Circle’
Étienne Jodelle dares to show kings descending to the level of clowns in a flagrantly indecorous manner for a sound French Humanist. The essence of the author's argument is that the English plays of Mary Sidney Herbert, Countess of Pembroke, Samuel Daniel and William Shakespeare are far from standing above or outside the Jodelle's dynamic. The theatrical image put into play by Jodelle becomes indispensable to Shakespeare's version, where the power mimetically to renew Cleopatra's humiliation would appropriate her 'infinite variety' as a reflection of Caesar's immortality. Apart from North's translation of Amyot's Plutarch, Antony and Cleopatra had re-entered the English discursive field by way of Herbert, whose translation of Robert Garnier's Marc Antoine was first published in 1592. The sense that Shakespeare reaches within and behind the text of Jodelle is sustained by Antony's ghost, who is as relentlessly moralistic and vengeful as he is garrulous.
The distance between the tragedies and All's Well comes down to the difference between horizontal and vertical lifeless bodies. All's Well's presentation of the scions of great houses as inflamed with ardour for Italian glory echoes a recurrent motif in the military life of Blaise de Monluc. Monluc's nostalgic reminiscence, although less romantically extravagant than that of William Shakespeare's King, leads him likewise to affirm his own generation's superiority in the point of humility. It seems that Shakespeare's ideological purpose of 'deliberately foregrounding French history and suppressing its Catalan history' is subverted by Helena, who 'decisively demolishes' 'the construct of a French Roussillon'. The Cathars of the Midi remain elusive within Shakespeare's text. Indeed, this gesture at historicizing the first and original Roussillon tends to confirm that such an exercise offers limited footholds in itself and has limited potential for opening up the play as a whole.