Shakespeare’s last group of plays, Cymbeline, The Winter’s Tale and The Tempest, are called “romances” because of their features: the unreality of the story, romantic love, the appearance and intervention of supernatural beings and conclusions emphasising harmony and reconciliation. Predominant themes are magic, love and peace. The language is rich in evocative imagery. It is used to excite the imagination and move the emotions. Shakespeare’s most representative work of this final period is The Tempest (1612), his last play, where the dramatist seems to have reached a new serene and detached vision of the world after a period of sad experience. Here Prospero's magic art does not bring revenge upon his enemies, but unites the opposing factions in the marriage of the young lovers, Miranda and Ferdinand.
Wednesday, 25 July 2012
A GENERAL VIEW OF SHAKESPEARE’S WORKS
William Shakespeare wrote both dramatic and non-dramatic works. The plays attributed to him are 38. It is possible to divide them into three chronological periods, each one with clear characteristics of its own.
The first period (1590-1599) includes comedies (e.g. The Comedy of Errors, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Merchant of Venice), history plays (Richard III) and tragedies (Romeo and Juliet, Julius Caesar). In this period Shakespeare showed great sympathy for human nature and a positive attitude to life. Even when the play has a tragic conclusion, life is still presented positively as worth living. Romeo and Juliet, for example, is a celebration of love in spite of its tragic ending. These plays are characterized by complicated plots and increasing ability in characterization; great experimentation in the use of poetic imagery which is often influenced by the language of courtly love; mixture of rhyme, blank verse and prose. The central themes are love and appearance and reality, especially in the comedies, the restoration of order in the histories and tragedies.
In the second period (1600-1609) Shakespeare’s works gradually reflected a gloomier vision of life. Traditional human values, such as love, friendship and honour, collapse; family and society are broken and destroyed by treachery, violence and war; man seems to live in a godless chaotic universe, victim to a cruel fate. This can be deduced from the great tragedies: Hamlet, Othello, King Lear and Macbeth. The other plays of this period (Twelfth Night, Measure for Measure, All’s Well that Ends Well), which reveal the pessimistic attitude of the dramatist, are in balance between comedy and tragedy, showing the ambiguities inherent in such feelings as love and friendship; only their happy endings technically make them comedies; for these reason they are often referred to as "dark comedies".
The principal themes have negative connotations: conflict, disorder, ambition, hate, usurpation, madness, death. Style is characterised by a predominance of blank verse and an elaborate choice of imagery and rhetorical figures (e.g. simile, metaphor, antithesis, personification, etc.) connected with a troubled nature, which was meant to reproduce human conflicts and sufferings in the texture of language.
Shakespeare’s non-dramatic works consist of three poems and a sequence of 154 sonnets. Two poems Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece deal with classical subjects, while The Phoenix and the Turtle is an allegory on the theme of constant love and faithfulness.
The sonnets can be divided into two sections. The first is addressed to a “fair youth”, probably Shakespeare’s young patron, the Earl of Southampton; the second section is addressed to a mysterious “dark lady” who, though physically unattractive, is temptingly desirable.
The choice of the addresses is an innovation of the Shakespearean sonnets since it breaks with the Petrarchan courting tradition. The situations suggested in the sonnets are means to explore universal themes such as time, death, love, beauty, art. The style is characterized by a rich and brilliantly descriptive language, the effective use of rhyme, the adaptation of stress to the movement of emotions, and the multitude of cultural references implied.
Sonnet 130, for example, is a pleasure to read for its simplicity and frankness of expression. It is one of the few of Shakespeare's sonnets with a humorous tone. Its message is simple: the dark lady's beauty cannot be compared to the beauty of a goddess or to that found in nature, for she is but a mortal human being. In truth this sonnet plays an elaborate joke on the conventions of the Petrarchan love poetry common to Shakespeare's day, and it is so well-conceived that the joke remains funny today.
I hope you like this beautiful YouTube clip! Alan Rickman's voice reciting Sonnet 130 is amazing!