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Shakespeare's Comedies of Love

Shakespeare's Comedies of Love

Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 320
  • Book Info
    Shakespeare's Comedies of Love
    Book Description:

    Shakespeare's Comedies of Loveis a tribute to Alexander Leggatt, a critic who has shaped the way the world understands Shakespeare and his comedies.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8910-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
    KB and RK
  5. Introduction
    (pp. xv-xxvi)

    ThusThe Year’s Work in English Studiesannounced the publication in 1974 of Alexander Leggatt’sShakespeare’s Comedy of Love. In its short title this anthology echoes and pays tribute to that volume. Excerpted twice, reissued often, translated into Japanese, and regularly plagiarized by teachers and lecturers in innumerable classrooms, it has attained the widest readership of all Leggatt’s many books and may thus act as a metonymic symbol for his distinguished career as a scholar, critic, and teacher of Renaissance drama.¹ The essays gathered in the present volume aim to continue and extend the conversation about Shakespeare’s comedies to which...


    • The Comedy of Love and the London Lord Mayor’s Show
      (pp. 3-29)

      In Thomas Middleton’s 1619 London Lord Mayor’s Show,The Triumphs of Love and Antiquity, the allegorical character of Love, who speaks directly to the mayor both at the show’s beginning and at its end, in its closing speech explicitly draws attention to itself as the preoccupation and structuring focus of the entire event:

      I was the first, grave lord, that welcom’d thee

      To this day’s honour, ...

      And ’tis my turn again now to speak last;

      For love is circular, like the bright sun,

      And takes delight to end where it begun. (Love and Antiquity329–30)

      The Lord Mayor’s...

    • A ‘Pennyworth’ of Marital Advice: Bachelors and Ballad Culture in Much Ado About Nothing
      (pp. 30-54)

      To marry or not to marry? That was the question confronting young adults in early modern England, and there was no shortage of answers. In hisDiscourse of Marriage and Wiving, Alexander Niccholes warned of the high stakes of selecting a spouse in an era without divorce: ‘Marriage of all the humane actions of a mans life, is one of the greatest weight and consequence, as thereon depending the future good, or euill, of a mans whole aftertime and daies; that Gordian knot once fastned not to be vnloosed but by death ... [is] not to be danced into lightly...

    • Shakespeare’s Comedies and American Club Women
      (pp. 55-64)

      Shakespeare’s comedies have had a long and complex rapport with women readers and writers.¹ Indeed, before the end of the nineteenth century several women had already paved the way for specific female interpretations of the comic heroines. Anna Jameson’sCharacteristics of Women(1832 and reprinted through the century), Mary Cowden Clarke’sThe Girlhood of Shakespeare’s Heroines(1850–2), and Helena Faucit Martin’sOn Some of Shakespeare’s Female Characters(1880–4) established Shakespeare as acceptable subject matter for women’s scholarly pursuits.² Shakespeare offered crucial material for intellectual development at a time when women began to organize in groups for study and...


    • ‘Five thousand year a boy’: Love as Arrested Development
      (pp. 67-79)

      Towards the end of his book on the comedies Alexander Leggatt, speaking ofTwelfth Night, turns to the question of erotic experience in time. He writes of a tension between time the untangler of difficulties, friend of lovers and their meetings, and time the destroyer, of illusions as well as of physical bodies and the sensibilities they have contained (Shakespeare’s Comedy of Love251–3). Time the destroyer is also, at the other end of each individual lifespan, time the maturer, and modern parents might have particular sympathy with the Shepherd’s complaint inThe Winter’s Tale: ‘I would that there...

    • Love’s Labour’s Lost and Won
      (pp. 80-97)

      This essay proposes to look at the performance of male anxiety about women in some of Shakespeare’s comedies, and at the male’s unsteady progression from the self-abasements ofLove’s Labour’s Lostto the selfassured success of the protagonist ofHenry V. The journey is an unsteady one, to be sure, and in good part because early male ‘successes’ like those registered inThe Taming of the Shrew and A Midsummer Night’s Dreamare achieved at the cost of an unbalanced relationship with the male in a dominating position. Those costs are not explicitly registered when those early successes occur but...

    • Affecting Desire in Shakespeare’s Comedies of Love
      (pp. 98-109)

      Two recent books describe how Shakespeare’s language may be used as a tool of seduction:Seduction by Shakespeare: Advice, Observations, and Quotes on Love, Lust, Beauty and Desire, by A.K. Crump, andShakespeare and the Art of Verbal Seduction, by Wayne F. Hill and Cynthia J. Ottchen. Both of these books are collections of passages from Shakespeare’s plays and poetry. The authors tout them as seduction primers, how-to manuals for those who took Cole Porter’s advice inKiss Me Kateseriously: ‘Brush up your Shakespeare, / Start quoting him now, / Brush up your Shakespeare / And the women you...

    • A Spirit of Giving in A Midsummer Night’s Dream
      (pp. 110-125)

      The vexation of Egeus in the first scene ofA Midsummer Night’s Dreamis expressed in a list of those items that Lysander has given to his daughter: ‘bracelets of thy hair, rings, gawds, conceits, / Knacks, trifles, nosegays, sweetmeats’ (1.1.33–4).¹ The objects in themselves are insignificant or, at least, interchangeable, homogeneous in value, and to those who consider passionate love for another person qualitatively special and hence incommensurable, such a list of ‘knacks’ and ‘trifles’ may appear trivializing if not degrading. But the angry father considers the objects to be messengers of strong prevailment. And the speech introduces...

    • Love in the Contact Zone: Gender, Culture,and Race in The Merchant of Venice
      (pp. 126-154)
      suzanne westfall

      When Alexander Leggatt publishedShakespeare’s Comedy of Lovein 1974, he began to explore several issues that continue to be important critical controversies. In reference toA Midsummer Night’s Dream,he states, ‘the secure harmony ... is not achieved without some sacrifice. The play itself acknowledges the existence of a darker side of life that has been omitted in order to create a purely comic world’ (117–40). Some of this effect, he goes on to note, is present inThe Merchant of Veniceas well. Is the ominous reading that Leggatt perceived a result of presentism, a post-Holocaust, post...

    • The Unity of Twelfth Night
      (pp. 155-174)

      ‘Dealing with Shakespeare’s comedies,’ Alexander Leggatt writes in the Preface toShakespeare’s Comedy of Love, ‘there is a ... danger insidious and ... serious: the normal, understandable desire of the critic to seek the inner unity of a work of art.’ The observation seems timely, even prophetic, in the Foucauldian age of postmodernism in which he was writing, and it is reiterated as the fundamental premise of his study:

      This aim, reasonable in itself, can have unfortunate effects. ‘Unity’ can be too narrowly defined, and when everything is seen as contributing to a central idea, a single pattern of images,...

    • The Baby in the Handbag: ‘Family Matters’ in Shakespeare
      (pp. 175-190)

      My title recallsThe Importance of Being Earnest, probably Alexander Leggatt’s favourite play, and links it to the punning title of Rohinton Mistry’s award-winning novel. I do this because I propose, in this essay, to look at an aspect of Shakespearean and Elizabethan comedy that deals, if not with babies and handbags, with reunions like that of Ernest Worthing and his lost family. Family does ‘matter’ in Shakespeare, in a way that seems to set him apart from his contemporaries, both fellow-dramatists and writers (or translators) of sources.

      Writers on Shakespeare’s comedies have for years devoted much attention to the...


    • ‘Songs of Apollo’: Love’s Labour’s Lost in 1961
      (pp. 193-212)
      R. B. PARKER

      The standard stage history ofLove’s Labour’s Lost (Gilbert, Shakespeare in Performance)does not even mention it, but Michael Langham’s 1961 production at the Stratford Festival in Ontario was nothing less than an epiphany for those of us fortunate enough to have seen it: an almost perfect production of a text regarded only too often as impossibly stilted, dated, difficult, and self-indulgent. The doyen of American Shakespeare scholars of that time, Alfred Harbage of Harvard, who had just laboriously edited the play, proclaimed rapturously, ‘I have been living withLove’s Labour’s Lostfor many months, but I had no idea...

    • Smitten: Staging Love at First Sight at The Stratford Festival
      (pp. 213-227)
      C. E. McGEE

      In Shakespeare’s comedies of love, love at first sight is ubiquitous and protean. Such love is sometimes part of the past that is prologue to the action of a play, as Orsino’s obsession with Olivia is, or the incipient love interest of Portia and Bassanio, or that of the ladies of France encamped outside the King of Navarre’s gates. In other cases, characters are smitten during the unfolding present of the story, but offstage: hence Gratiano reports on his new love for Nerissa, as Valentine does for Silvia, Oliver for Aliena, and Don Adriano de Armado for Jaquenetta. Trapped by...

    • Romancing The Shrew: Recuperating a Comedy of Love
      (pp. 228-245)
      G. B. SHAND

      In the past year and a half, I have been experiencing a change of heart regardingThe Taming of the Shrew. Not so long ago, I found it well-nigh impossible to conceive of the play as anything but distasteful, a patriarchal manifesto in which a woman’s humiliation is insidiously cloaked in brilliant but callous farce. The play was genially cruel, a comedy of love in form, perhaps, but not in spirit, despite Alexander Leggatt’s judicious treatment of it inShakespeare’s Comedy of Loveas a positive instance of character newly transformed by and for a love relationship. My own inclination...

    • Love in a Naughty World: Modern Dramatic Adaptations of The Merchant of Venice
      (pp. 246-261)

      InShakespeare’s Comedy of Love, Alexander Leggatt tracks the genre chronologically to show how each new version reacts against the preceding one. Despite such obvious continuities as the theme of romantic love, unpredictability characterizes not only the sequence but also individual plays (xi–xiii). As Leggatt analyses the series, some texts prove more unpredictable than others. ClearlyThe Merchant of Venice, interpreted afterLove’s Labour’s Lost and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, seems uncomfortable at significant moments in its comic format: ‘It is a dramatic experiment of considerable daring, and not all the risks come off’ (121). Specifically, the ending of...

    • Staging the Jew: Playing with the Text of The Merchant of Venice
      (pp. 262-272)

      Just before Christmas break in 1999, a group of four students put on a scene fromThe Merchant of Veniceto fulfill their third-year Shakespeare course’s performance requirement. The students had no experience in performance or with this particular play or its issues, beyond the two weeks we had spent on the play during the fall term. During that twoweek period of lectures and discussion, I had shown the class parallel scenes from two film versions ofThe Merchant of Venice, one directed by Jonathan Miller and the other by Jack Gold. Although we had been concerned to uncover post-Holocaust...

  9. Works Cited
    (pp. 273-294)
  10. Contributors
    (pp. 295-300)
  11. Index
    (pp. 301-316)