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Shakespeare's Comic Commonwealths

Shakespeare's Comic Commonwealths

Camille Wells Slights
Copyright Date: 1993
https://doi.org/10.3138/9781442679894
Pages: 290
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3138/9781442679894
  • Book Info
    Shakespeare's Comic Commonwealths
    Book Description:

    By combining historical scholarship with formal analysis and incorporating insights from social anthropology and feminist theory,Shakespeare's Comic Commonwealthsoffers new readings of Shakespeare's early comedies.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7989-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-2)
  4. CHAPTER ONE Introduction
    (pp. 3-10)

    After Titaniaʹs declaration of love, Bottom muses, ʹreason and love keep little company together now-a-days. The more the pity that some honest neighbors will not make them friendsʹ (MND, III.i. 143–6).¹ What interests me most about these remarks is not the commonplace observation of loveʹs irrationality but the assumption that reconciliation is a job for ʹhonest neighbors.ʹ When Bottomʹs attention is on dramatic performance, he assumes a play-world populated by lovers and tyrants, but in considering a situation in his own life, he thinks in terms of people performing roles in a closely knit human community. Like Bottom, critics...

  5. Part I Belonging

    • CHAPTER TWO Egeonʹs Friends and Relations: The Comedy of Errors
      (pp. 13-31)

      Preaching on Ephesians 5, a text that seems to lie behind the setting ofThe Comedy of Errors,¹ John Donne offers an analysis of the essential nature of all human societies since the birth of Eveʹs first son: ʹfrom that beginning to the end of the world, these three relations, ofMasterandServant,ManandWife,FatherandChildren, have been, and ever shall be the materialls, and the elements of all society, of families, and of Cities, and of Kingdomes.ʹ² Whether or not all societies of all times consist of these three relationships, as Donne alleges,The Comedy...

    • CHAPTER THREE The Raw and the Cooked in The Taming of the Shrew
      (pp. 32-54)

      LikeThe Comedy of Errors,The Taming of the Shrewcreates humor by violating the decorum of social roles and resolves comic confusion with the recognition that the major characters have found places in the social order. Although these two early comedies share the assumption that people are social beings, they explore the contrast between wildness and civilization and between belonging and not belonging from significantly different perspectives. Egeonʹs narrative at the beginning ofThe Comedy of Errorsfills in a background of harsh physical nature and capricious fate against which the drama of losing and recovering social identity will...

  6. Part II Cultural Values and the Values of Culture

    • CHAPTER FOUR Common Courtesy in The Two Gentlemen of Verona
      (pp. 57-73)

      UnlikeThe Comedy of ErrorsandThe Taming of the Shrew, which build on contrasts between the civilized and the uncivilized,The Two Gentlemen of Verona and Loveʹs Laborʹs Lostexplore the manners and values of courtly society. InThe Comedy of Errors, the physical danger threatening anyone outside the social group frames and conditions all the dramatic action. The violence of the physical world that originally dispersed the family, the Ephesian law that threatens aliens with death, and the harsh ministrations of Doctor Pinch that isolate transgressors produce the farcical confusions that can end only when everyone is recognized...

    • CHAPTER FIVE Learning and Language in Loveʼs Laborʼs Lost
      (pp. 74-100)

      While inThe Two Gentlemen of Veronascenes set in the woods represent lawlessness beyond the reach of civilized values,Loveʼs Laborʼs Lostpresents no alternative to its courtly milieu. The major characters are the King of Navarre with his retinue and the Princess of France with hers. The characters less exalted in the social hierarchy – Holofernes, Nathaniel, and Armado – share courtly values and are in the service of the court. And even more humble characters – Constable Dull, Costard, and Jaquenetta – have no existence independent of their relations to the court. The courtly activities of the...

  7. Part III Change and Continuity

    • CHAPTER SIX The Changes and Chances of Mortal Life in A Midsummer Nightʼs Dream
      (pp. 103-124)

      Among Shakespeareʹs plays, only TheMerry Wives of Windsoris set in contemporary England; all others portray worlds temporally or geographically distant. Yet these fictional settings combine the foreign with the familiar. Shakespeareʹs versions of republican Rome inCoriolanus, medieval Scotland inMacbeth, or sixteenth-century France inLove’s Labor’s Lostare distinctive cultures, differing significantly from each other and from Elizabethan and Jacobean England, but they also exhibit social and political structures and processes familiar to Shakespeare and his contemporaries. The political career of Caius Martius Coriolanus was peculiar to the conditions of republican Rome, but Shakespeareʹs representation of it,...

    • CHAPTER SEVEN Deserving and Diversity in The Merchant of Venice
      (pp. 125-148)

      LikeA Midsummer Nightʼs Dream,The Merchant of Veniceblends the foreign with the familiar in two distinct settings that at once invite and resist thematic oppositions between reason and imagination, law and love. Both plays include a diverse assortment of characters – a stage-struck weaver and a Jewish usurer as well as marriageable aristocrats with their families and servants. In both, changes in personal and social relationships cause and resolve conflict. But the two plays present radically different versions of social change. InA Dreamthe charactersʹ happiness and the audienceʹs satisfaction come from the achievement of stability despite...

  8. Part IV Court and Country

    • CHAPTER EIGHT Pastoral and Parody in The Merry Wives of Windsor
      (pp. 151-170)

      InThe Merry Wives of WindsorandMuch Ado About Nothingthe sources of conflict are not so much the misunderstandings and antagonisms inevitably produced by changing circumstances within diversified communities as attempts by outsiders to exert control over local communities. Falstaff and his men Bardolph, Pistol, and Nym not only try to help themselves to the women and the wealth of Windsor but also provoke and complicate pre-existing familial and amatory tensions. Don Pedro and his entourage similarly disturb the equilibrium of Messina, setting off events that culminate in Heroʹs disgrace in the church on her wedding-day. As Sherman...

    • CHAPTER NINE The Unauthorized Language of Much Ado About Nothing
      (pp. 171-190)

      In the first scene ofMuch Ado About Nothing, when Claudio and Don Pedro make fun of Benedickʹs use of a conventional verbal formula, Benedick retorts: ʹNay, mock not, mock not. The body of your discourse is sometime guarded with fragments, and the guards are but slightly basted on neither. Ere you flout old ends any further, examine your conscienceʹ (I.i.285–9). When Benedick accuses his friends of guarding their discourse with fragments that are ʹbut slightly basted on,ʹ his attack is both rhetorical and moral. Assuming the value of elegant language, he claims that Don Pedro and Claudio also...

  9. Part V Renewal and Reciprocity

    • CHAPTER TEN Changing Places in Arden: As You Like It
      (pp. 193-215)

      While inThe Merry Wives of WindsorandMuch Ado About Nothingthe tranquility of provincial communities is disrupted by visitors from outside, inAs You Like ItandTwelfth Nighttrouble is native born. Rather than having to resist seduction and domination by socially and politically superior outsiders, the protagonists must confront conflicts generated within their own social groups. In both plays, erosion of social cohesion is well under way when the dramatic action begins. Reminders of death in the early scenes introduce societies that have suffered crucial losses and have been unable to contain the centrifugal forces that...

    • CHAPTER ELEVEN The Principle of Recompense in Twelfth Night
      (pp. 216-235)

      Twelfth Nightbegins with remarkably little conflict. The opening scenes introduce no villain bent on dissension and destruction, nor do they reveal disruptive antagonism between parents and children or between love and law. In contrast to the passion and anger of the first scene ofA Midsummer Nightʼs Dream, the restless melancholy that pervades the beginning ofThe Merchant of Venice, or the brutality and tyranny that precipitate the action inAs You Like It, the dominant note of Orsinoʹs court and of Oliviaʹs household is static self-containment. A sense of grief and loss permeates the opening scenes as it...

    • CHAPTER TWELVE Conclusion
      (pp. 236-244)

      Until recently Shakespeareʹs comedies usually have been valued for providing a holiday release from the problems of the real world, soaring above questions of politics or ethics into a world of imagination. While I agree that they grind no polemical axes, I have tried to demonstrate that the ten plays discussed in this book offer acute commentary on social situations and behavior. None of the plays presents itself as an accurate representation of a segment of contemporary culture much less as a comprehensive portrayal of sixteenth-century English society. Nevertheless these golden worlds of Italy, Arden, and Illyria scrutinize and seek...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 245-272)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 273-284)
  12. Index
    (pp. 285-290)