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.

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