Shakespeare's Festive Comedy: A Study of Dramatic Form and Its Relation to Social Custom
C. L. Barber
Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub
Originally published 1961.
In this classic work, acclaimed Shakespeare critic C. L. Barber argues that Elizabethan seasonal festivals such as May Day and Twelfth Night are the key to understanding Shakespeare's comedies. Brilliantly interweaving anthropology, social history, and literary criticism, Barber traces the inward journey--psychological, bodily, spiritual--of the comedies: from confusion, raucous laughter, aching desire, and aggression, to harmony. Revealing the interplay between social custom and dramatic form, the book shows how the Elizabethan antithesis between everyday and holiday comes to life in the comedies' combination of seriousness and levity.
"I have been led into an exploration of the way the social form of Elizabethan holidays contributed to the dramatic form of festive comedy. To relate this drama to holiday has proved to be the most effective way to describe its character. And this historical interplay between social and artistic form has an interest of its own: we can see here, with more clarity of outline and detail than is usually possible, how art develops underlying configurations in the social life of a culture."--C. L. Barber, in the Introduction
This new edition includes a foreword by Stephen Greenblatt, who discusses Barber's influence on later scholars and the recent critical disagreements that Barber has inspired, showing that Shakespeare's Festive Comedy is as vital today as when it was originally published.
atmosphere of make-believe, with a sibyl lurking in every court-yard and gateway, and a satyr in the boscage of every park, to turn the ceremonies of welcome and farewell, without which sovereigns must not move, by the arts of song and dance and mimetic dialogue, to favour and to prettiness. The fullest scope for such entertainments was afforded by the custom of the progress, which led the Court summer by summer, to
their waste, ink his blots, every speech his parenthesis” (1913). He accumulates at leisure as he builds towards a rhetorical rather than a grammatical period; when he is at his best he contrives a single concentrated line for the détente: “Invented letters to write lies withal” or “Would promise monarchs immortality.” His characteristic fault is to put in too much elaboration, not all of it effective, as he moves through each large unit. But his command of elaborate
them that I Pyramus am not Pyramus, but Bottom the weaver. This will put them out of fear. (III.i.18–23) Now this expresses Bottom’s vanity, too. But producers and actors, bent on showing “character,” can lose the structural, ironic point if they let the lines get lost in Bottom’s strutting. What the clowns forget, having “never labour’d in their minds till now,” is that a killing or a lion in a play, however plausibly presented, is a mental
movement from release to clarification with masterful control in clown episodes as early as 2 Henry VI. The scenes of the Jack Cade rebellion in that history are an astonishingly consistent expression of anarchy by clowning: the popular rising is presented throughout as a saturnalia, ignorantly undertaken in earnest; Cade’s motto is: “then are we in order when we are most out of order” (IV.iii.199). In the early plays, the clown is usually represented as oblivious of what his burlesque
him thy Harry’s company. Banish plump Jack, and banish all the world! (II.iv.519–527) I quote such familiar lines to recall their effect of incantation: they embody an effort at a kind of magical naming. Each repetition of “sweet Jack Falstaff, kind Jack Falstaff” aggrandizes an identity which the serial clauses caress and cherish. At the very end, in “plump Jack,” the disreputable belly is glorified. In valid heroic and majestic action, the bodies of the personages