Middle Shakespeare

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Middle Shakespeare
Middle Shakespeare
Nov 2014
 The year 1600 approx the dead
centre of Shakespeare’s career
(writing: ?1589 - ?1613)…
Denmark, Illyria, Troy, Vienna,
Venice / Cyprus
Twelfth Night
Troilus and Cressida
Measure for Measure
 (based on Oxford Shakespeare chronology)
Richard Westall,
Tragedy and
Comedy’, 1835
 The best actors in the world, either for tragedy,
comedy, history, pastoral, pastoral-comical,
historical-pastoral, tragical-historical, tragicalcomical-historical-pastoral, scene individable, or
poem unlimited…
 1600-1
 1601
Twelfth Night
 1602
Troilus and Cressida
 1603-4
Measure for Measure
 1603-4
 Satirico-tragi-comical… Monstruous hybrids
Form: Verse/prose proportions
 King John, Richard II, Henry VI, 1 and 3 = 100% verse
(Richard III 98%); Shrew and Dream = 80%
 (But Nb: Henry IV, 1 (55/45) and 2 (50/50); Falstaff)
 Hamlet 75/25
 Twelfth Night 40/60
 Troilus 70/30
 Measure 65/35
 Othello 80/20
Form: Loosening the line
 O God! methinks it were a happy life,
To be no better than a homely swain;
To sit upon a hill, as I do now,
To carve out dials quaintly, point by point,
Thereby to see the minutes how they run,
How many make the hour full complete;
How many hours bring about the day;
How many days will finish up the year;
How many years a mortal man may live.
When this is known, then to divide the times:
So many hours must I tend my flock;
So many hours must I take my rest;
So many hours must I contemplate;
So many hours must I sport myself;
So many days my ewes have been with young;
So many weeks ere the poor fools will ean:
So many years ere I shall shear the fleece:
So minutes, hours, days, months, and years,
Pass'd over to the end they were created,
Would bring white hairs unto a quiet grave. (3 Henry VI, 2.5. c.1591)
Middle to Late Style
 A series of feminine endings makes blank verse seem
more speechlike, less patterned, exactly because, as
in phrases of ordinary speech, rhyme is absent and the
final unstressed syllables fail to match […]
Shakespeare’s late plays, in fact, show four
related style changes: feminine endings appear
much more frequently; the verse in which they
appear is usually blank; the phrasing breaks more
often after the sixth syllable (or later) rather than
the fourth or fifth; and most of the lines are
 Shakespeare’s Metrical Art, George T Wright (Berkeley,
1988) pp.162-3
ANGELO: What's this? what's this? is this her fault or mine?
The tempter, or the tempted, who sins most? Ha!
Not she, nor doth she tempt; / but it is I
That, lying by the violet in the sun,
Do as the carrion does, not as the flower,
Corrupt with virtuous season ./ Can it be
That modesty may more betray our sense
Than woman's lightness? Having waste ground enough,
Shall we desire to raze the sanctuary
And pitch our evils there? / O fie, fie, fie!
What dost thou? or what are thou, Angelo?
Dost thou desire her foully for those things
That make her good? O, let her brother live:
Thieves for their robbery have authority
When judges steal themselves. What, do I love her,
That I desire to hear her speak again,
And feast upon her eyes? what is't I dream on?
O cunning enemy that, to catch a saint,
With saints dost bait thy hook: / most dangerous
Is that temptation that doth goad us on
To sin in loving virtue. Never could the strumpet
With all her double vigor, art and nature,
Once stir my temper; but this virtuous maid
Subdues me quite. / Ever till now,
When men were fond, I smiled and wondered how.
The Bed – Hamlet:
Let not the royal bed of Denmark be
A couch for luxury and damned incest.
Nay, but to live
In the rank sweat of an enseamed bed,
Stew'd in corruption, honeying and making
The Bed – Twelfth Night
 Calling my officers about me, in my branched velvet
gown; having come from a day-bed, where I have
left Olivia sleeping,—
 Wilt thou go to bed, Malvolio?
 To bed? Aye, sweetheart, and I’ll come to thee.
The Bed – Measure for Measure
 Claudio: upon a true contract
I got possession of Julietta's bed (1.2)
 Isabella: Were I under the terms of death,
The impression of keen whips I'd wear as rubies,
And strip myself to death, as to a bed
That longing have been sick for, ere I'd yield
My body up to shame. (2.4)
 Duke to Isabella: Haste you speedily
to Angelo: if for this night he entreat you to his
bed, give him promise of satisfaction. (3.1)
 ‘Bed-trick’ (see also All’s Well that Ends Well)
The Bed – Troilus and Cressida
 Achilles and Patroclus:
Upon a lazy bed the livelong day
Breaks scurril jests; (1.3)
 Whereupon I will show you a chamber with a
bed; which bed, because it shall not speak of
your pretty encounters, press it to death: away!
And Cupid grant all tongue-tied maidens here
Bed, chamber, Pandar to provide this gear!
The Bed - Othello
Material Culture
 See e.g.
 Sasha Roberts, ‘“Let me the curtains draw”: the
dramatic and symbolic properties of the bed in
Shakespearean tragedy’ in Staged Properties
(eds Gil and Korda), 2002
 Catherine Richardson, ‘Households, rooms, and
the spaces within’ in her Shakespeare and
Material Culture (Oxford, 2011)
 Carol Rutter, ‘“Her first remembrance from the
Moor”: Actors and the Materials of Memory’ in
Peter Holland (ed.), Shakespeare, Memory and
Performance (Cambridge, 2006)
Lust / Punishment / Prisons /
 Claustrophobia – no Green Worlds
 Plague of 1603-4 would close theatres and kill 36,000
Sonnet 129
 The expense of spirit in a waste of shame
Is lust in action; and till action, lust
Is perjured, murderous, bloody, full of blame,
Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust,
Enjoy'd no sooner but despised straight,
Past reason hunted, and no sooner had
Past reason hated, as a swallow'd bait
On purpose laid to make the taker mad;
Mad in pursuit and in possession so;
Had, having, and in quest to have, extreme;
A bliss in proof, and proved, a very woe;
Before, a joy proposed; behind, a dream.
All this the world well knows; yet none knows well
To shun the heaven that leads men to this hell.
Reading symptomatically:
A Medical Diagnosis
 Shakespeare’s obsession with syphilis in the plays and Sonnets—
and the contemporary gossip about his promiscuity—
provides circumstantial evidence that he may have had an STD
. The Elizabethan sweating treatment for syphilis could be surpri
singly effective in curing syphilis, given Treponema pallidum’s ex
quisite sensitivity to heat. However, Shakespeare might have be
en cured of syphilis only to be poisoned by mercury vapor, ev
entually leading to a tremor and personality changes. Shakespe
are’s suppressed rage at this experience may surface in plays s
uch as Timon of Athens and Troilus and Cressida and certain o
f the Sonnets. However, it appears that Shakespeare’s unusually
large capacity for empathy enabled him to overcome his bitt
erness and anger.
 Shakespeare’s Tremor and Orwell’s Cough: The Medical Lives of
Famous Writers (2012), John J. Ross, M.D.
From ‘Lines to the master’,
Vernon Scannell
In middle age I hold few certainties
But here is one to last me to the grave:
He was, and is, the Master of them all.
He wrote our own and Everyman’s biography
And at the last, alone in the sterile cave
On the desolate shore, his unrecorded cry
Would not have echoed battered Timon’s roar.
He who embodied all the savage truths,
Dissecting rage, ambition, lust and hate,
Possessed a serum that protected him
From his own creatures’ worst contagions:
He was philanthropos and loved mankind.
The Four Dogmas of
Subjective Biography
 1) that the actual evolution of Shakespeare’s personal life
must be read into his poetic and dramatic work
 2) that dramatists write tragedies when their mood is
tragic, and comedies when they are feeling pleased with
 3) that Shakespeare was so far a child of his own age that
he faithfully reflected its spirit in his literary work
 4) that the spirit of the age was heroic and optimistic under
Elizabeth, degenerating towards the end of her reign into
the cynicism, disillusionment, and pessimism which marked
the reign of James the First.
 C.J. Sissons ‘The Mythical Sorrows of Shakespeare’ 1934.
In defence of imaginative
 ‘Yet no formal life of Shakespeare laying claim to
serious regard can limit itself to the facts and to
logical deductions from the facts alone; the
writing of literary biography after all requires the
play of literary imagination’
 Samuel Schoenbaum, Shakespeare’s Lives p.527
Regime Change
 Nor doth the silver tongued Melicert,
Drop from his honied Muse one sable teare
To mourne her death that graced his desert,
And to his laies opend her Royall eare.
Shepheard remember our Elizabeth,
And sing her Rape, done by that Tarquin, Death.
 (Henry Chettle, ‘England’s Mourning Garment’ 1603)
 ‘Melicert’ may be Shakespeare; either way, no elegy
or memorial poem by Shakespeare survives
The New King
 James to Parliament in 1604:
 ‘What God hath conjoined then, let no man
separate. I am the husband, and all the whole
isle is my lawful wife; I am the head and it is my body; I am
the shepherd and it is my flock’
 16 May 1603 royal patent issued to Shakes and Co ‘freely
to use and exercise the art and faculty of playing
comedies, tragedies, histories, interludes, morals, pastorals,
stage plays and such like as they have already studied or
hereafter shall use or study, as well as for the recreation of
our loving subjects, as for our solace and pleasure when
we shall think good to see them during our pleasure’. Will
play at least 138 times at Court from 1603-13.
The King’s Men
 Shakespeare may have stopped acting – he is in the
cast lists of Jonson’s Every Man in his Humour (1598) and
Sejanus (1603) as published in Jonson’s folio (1616), but
not those of Volpone (1605), The Alchemist (1610) and
Catiline (1611)
Life and Business
 1601
death of father John Shakespeare
 May 1602
purchases a conveyance of land in
fields to North and East of Stratford (127 acres) for £320
(= c£225k in current terms)
 1605
purchases from Stratford Corporation tithes
for £440 (= c£300k in current terms) – a 31 year lease on
these tithes allowing him to charge and make c.£40
profit per annum – i.e. make investment back in 11 years
with 20 of profit to follow. Nb: he would die in 1616.
 Nb: playwrights customarily paid between £5 – 8 per
play in 1590s/1600s
Segue: an unpopular play…
 I heard thee speak me a speech once, but it
was never acted. Or, if it was, not above once,
for the play, I remember, pleased not the million:
‘twas caviare to the general…
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