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The Myth of Deliverance

The Myth of Deliverance: Reflections on Shakespeare's Problem Comedies

Introduction by A.C. Hamilton
Copyright Date: 1993
Pages: 128
  • Book Info
    The Myth of Deliverance
    Book Description:

    In these essays Northrop Frye addresses a question which preoccupied him throughout his long and distinguished career - the conception of comedy, particularly Shakespearean comedy, and its relation to human experience.

    In most forms of comedy, and certainly in the New Comedy with which Shakespeare was concerned, the emphasis is on moving towards a climax in which the end incorporates the beginning. Such a climax is a vision of deliverance or expanded energy and freedom. Frye draws on the Aristotelian notion of reversal, or peripeteia, to analyse the three plays commonly known as the 'problem comedies': "Measure for Measure," "All's Well That Ends Well," and "Troilus and Cressida," showing how they anticipate the romances of Shakespeare's final period.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-6471-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. ix-xx)
    A.C. Hamilton

    Frye wrote this book during the time he had become totally committed to fulfilling what he always held would be his canonical work, a book on the Bible and literature. By December 1980, the manuscript of the first volume,The Great Code: The Bible and Literature, had been sent to his publisher; and while planning its sequel,Words with Power, he spent the first three months of 1981 setting down his reflections on Shakespeare’s three problem comedies, and then until November turning the lectures into a book. These circumstances help to explain the argument he shaped out of his reflections,...

  5. CHAPTER ONE The Reversal of Action
    (pp. 3-34)

    In this book I return to an interest that has preoccupied me over the years; the conception of comedy, more particularly Shakespearean comedy, and its relation to human experience. I should like to base the main argument on the three plays of Shakespeare that are sometimes called ‘problem plays,’Measure for Measure, All’s Well that Ends Well, andTroilus and Cressida. Many of the critics who first called them problem plays imposed what I consider a pseudo-problem on them which is here being ignored. The term originally suggested that these plays were more ‘realistic’ and more concerned with ‘serious’ social...

  6. CHAPTER TWO The Reversal of Energy
    (pp. 35-60)

    In the previous chapter we discussed Aristotle’s conception of reversal as a structural principle of drama. Aristotle was mainly concerned with tragedy, and reversal is the structural feature resulting from the fact that the outcome of tragedy is usually the opposite of what the tragic hero hoped for or aimed at. The basis of tragic reversal in Greek drama is normally a process in which a contract of order and balance, supported by gods, human society, and nature itself, recovers its balance after an aggressive act. The recovering of balance is the basis of what is generally callednemesis; but...

  7. CHAPTER THREE The Reversal of Reality
    (pp. 61-90)

    Two of shakespeare’s problem plays, then, are fairly typical comedies in which redemptive forces are set to work that bring about the characteristic festive conclusion, the birth of a new society, that gives to the audience the feeling that ‘everything’s going to be all right after all.‘ Such plays illustrate what we have been calling the myth of deliverance, a sense of energies released by forgiveness and reconciliation, where Eros triumphs over Nomos or law, by evading what is frustrating or absurd in law and fulfilling what is essential for social survival. But comedy is a mixture of the festive...