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 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.
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.
This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in this book. The book extends the approach developed in French Origins of English Tragedy through a series of more sustained explorations centred on three plays of William Shakespeare: Hamlet, Antony and Cleopatra and All's Well That Ends Well. The basic difficulty is the overwhelming dominance of Plutarch's Life of Antony as the source of Shakespeare's play and all the significant prior dramatic 'sources' and 'analogues', as diligently assembled by Geoffrey Bullough, from G. B. Geraldi Cinthio's Cleopatra to Samuel Daniel's. A series of discussions of All's Well, a play that pushes broadly in the direction of French knowledge, illustrates the staying power of the idea of Shakespeare's rudimentary competence. By means of its generic disclaimers, All's Well may purport to reassure an audience, freeing it from, amongst other burdens, that of political engagement.
The Merchant of Venice, Measure for Measure, Twelfth Night
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.
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.
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.