Northrop Frye's Writings on Shakespeare and the Renaissance

Northrop Frye's Writings on Shakespeare and the Renaissance

Troni Y. Grande
Garry Sherbert
Volume: 28
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 968
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3138/9781442689886
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  • Book Info
    Northrop Frye's Writings on Shakespeare and the Renaissance
    Book Description:

    This volume brings together Frye's extensive writings on Shakespeare and other Renaissance writers (excluding Milton, who is featured in other volumes), and includes major articles, introductions, public lectures, and four previously published books on Shakespeare.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8988-6
    Subjects: History, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  4. Credits and Sources
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. xix-xxii)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. xxiii-2)

    AlthoughFearful SymmetryandAnatomy of Criticismsecured his academic reputation as a literary theorist and critic of post-Renaissance literature, it is Northrop Frye’s work on Shakespeare and the Renaissance that did much to provide a conceptual framework for his major writings and earn him a popular following. As Alvin Lee points out, the acknowledged importance of post-Renaissance culture for Frye should not make us forget that “There is also a ‘Renaissance’ Frye, who did write extensively on sixteenth-and seventeenth-century texts, including four books on Shakespeare, one on Milton, and numerous articles on Renaissance topics, and whoseAnatomy of Criticism...

  7. 1 The Argument of Comedy 7 September 1948
    (pp. 3-13)

    The Greeks produced two kinds of comedy, Old Comedy, represented by the eleven extant plays of Aristophanes, and New Comedy, of which the best-known exponent is Menander. About two dozen New Comedies survive in the work of Plautus and Terence. Old Comedy, however, was out of date before Aristophanes himself was dead;³ and today, when we speak of comedy, we normally think of something that derives from the Menandrine tradition.

    New Comedy unfolds from what may be described as a comic Oedipus situation. Its main theme is the successful effort of a young man to outwit an opponent and possess...

  8. 2 Don Quixote December 1949
    (pp. 14-19)

    A new translation ofDon Quixote, the result of sixteen years of work, has now made its appearance, and it is, we are told, the first really good English rendering of the world’s greatest novel. There have been fourteen English versions altogether,¹ but two made in the eighteenth century, one by Peter Motteux, a naturalized Frenchman who also completed the Urquhart Rabelais,² and one by Charles Jarvis, a friend of Pope,³ have held the field. The former is the better known in America, and the latter in England. Mr. Putnam’s introduction is severe on Motteux, whom he accuses of having...

  9. 3 Comic Myth in Shakespeare 2 June 1952
    (pp. 20-32)

    The Elizabethan age evolved two kinds of comedy, and the names of Ben Jonson and Shakespeare may be taken to typify each kind.² Jonson’s great comedies are comedies of manners: they are not exactly realistic plays, but they do maintain a kind of realistic illusion.³ No character or incident is introduced which permanently upsets that illusion, and unities of time and place are observed, not out of pedantry, but because they are essential to the unity of action.⁴ Shakespeare, on the other hand, never wrote a pure comedy of manners, and never failed to include something in his comedy which...

  10. 4 Characterization in Shakespearean Comedy 28 December 1952
    (pp. 33-41)

    In drama, characterization depends on function: what a character is follows from what he has to do in the play. Dramatic function in its turn depends on the structure of the play: the character has certain things to do because the play has such and such a shape. Given a sufficiently powerful sense of structure, the characters will be essentially speaking dramatic functions, as they are in Jonson’s comedy of humours. The structure of the play in its turn depends on the category of the play: if it is a comedy, its structure will require a comic resolution and a...

  11. 5 Molière’s Tartuffe 7 May 1954
    (pp. 42-43)

    A cheerful set and some pleasant seventeenth-century music make an excellent background for Molière’sTartuffeat the Theatre Intime. Mr. Robert Hartle’s translation is in prose laced with verse, which means in practice a prose translation with a number of rhyme tags. It is a clean and speakable English, avoiding laboured colloquialism and stodginess equally well. It was Mr. Hartle’s job to translate all the original, but I think a more ruthless direction, cutting lengthy speeches and a thick underbrush of adjectives and subordinate clauses, would have brought more sparkle out of some rather gabbly moments. Otherwise, the play is...

  12. 6 Introduction to Shakespeare’s Tempest 1959
    (pp. 44-52)

    In the opening scene ofThe Tempestthere is not only a sinking ship but a dissolving society. The storm, like the storm inKing Lear, does not care that it is afflicting a king, and Gonzalo’s protests about the deference due to royalty [I. 19] seem futile enough. But while everyone is unreasonable, we can distinguish Gonzalo, who is ready to meet his fate with some detachment and humour, from Antonio and Sebastian, who are merely screaming abuse at the sailors trying to save their lives [II. 40–1, 43–5]. The boatswain, who comes so vividly to life...

  13. 7 The Structure of Imagery in The Faerie Queene 29 April 1960
    (pp. 53-71)

    The Faerie Queene, long as it is, is not nearly as long as the poem that Spenser intended to write, according to his letter to Raleigh and two of theAmorettisonnets.¹ It therefore at once raises the problem of whether the poem as it now stands is unfinished or merely uncompleted. If merely uncompleted, then it still may be a unity, like a torso in sculpture; if unfinished, then, as in Dickens’sMystery of Edwin Drood, certain essential clues to the total meaning are forever withheld from us.

    Many readers tend to assume that Spenser wrote the poem in...

  14. 8 Shakespeare’s Experimental Comedy 14 August 1961
    (pp. 72-80)

    When Elizabethan drama first developed, comedy was far better supplied than tragedy was with models, precedents, and ready-made characters and themes. It had about two dozen of the adaptations from Greek New Comedy made by Plautus and Terence. Shakespeare’s earlyComedy of Errorsis based on Plautus’sMenaechmi, with subsidiary themes from other plays of Plautus. It also has some romance themes used later inPericles, and a range of imagery and emotion far beyond anything that Plautus ever knew existed, but still it goes down in the handbooks as an adaptation of Plautus. The influence of the Romans was...

  15. 9 Toast to the Memory of Shakespeare 17 August 1961
    (pp. 81-82)

    When we speak of Shakespeare, there are at least three aspects of a personality involved. First, there is a man who lived like other men and died three and a half centuries ago. About this man we know very little, and even less that is really significant. We know that Ben Jonson loved him,¹ and Ben Jonson did not love easily—he described his wife, as I remember, as “a shrew yet honest.”² But we have no authentic likeness of Shakespeare, for I certainly do not regard the goggle-eyed mask that stares vacantly at us from the frontispiece of the...

  16. 10 The Tragedies of Nature and Fortune 18 August 1961
    (pp. 83-94)

    In my first lecture I said that in the earlier period of Elizabethan drama comedy was better supplied than tragedy with models and precedents. Tragedy had Seneca, whose plays may not have been intended for the stage at all, and Seneca bequeathed ghosts, revenge plots, much impressive rhetoric, and mythological themes. The earlier writers of tragedy learned some of their structural principles from writing historical plays, and historical plays had inherited more directly the medieval conception of tragedy. In the Middle Ages tragedy was thought of not dramatically but as a certain kind of narrative, dealing normally with the fall...

  17. 11 How True a Twain 1962
    (pp. 95-113)

    Any critic of Shakespeare’s sonnets will, to some extent, tell the world more about his own critical limitations than about his subject; and if he starts out with very marked limitations, the clear surface of the sonnets will faithfully reflect them. Many readers tend to assume that poetry is a record of a poet’s experience. Those who tell us that Shakespeare must have been a lawyer to have known so much about law, or a nobleman in disguise to have known so much about aristocratic psychology, always start with this assumption as their major premise. The assumption is then used...

  18. 12 Recognition in The Winter’s Tale 1962
    (pp. 114-126)

    In structureThe Winter’s Tale, likeKing Lear, falls into two main parts separated by a storm. The fact that they are also separated by sixteen years is less important. The first part ends with the ill-fated Antigonus caught between a bear and a raging sea [3.3.49–58],¹ echoing a passage in one of Lear’s storm speeches [3.4.9–17, 28–34]. This first part is the “winter’s tale” proper, for Mamillius is just about to whisper his tale into his mother’s ear [2.1.30–2] when the real winter strikes with the entrance of Leontes and his guards. Various bits of...

  19. 13 A Natural Perspective: The Development of Shakespearean Comedy and Romance 19–27 November 1963
    (pp. 127-225)

    The present book is a revision of the Bampton Lectures, delivered at Columbia University in November, 1963, under the title “The Development of Shakespearean Romance.” I am greatly indebted to Columbia University and to my hosts who acted as chairmen for the lectures, Vice-President Lawrence Chamberlain, Professor Lewis Leary, the Reverend John McGill Krumm, and Professor Lionel Trilling, for so much kindness and hospitality.

    The lectures have of course been altered and expanded for publication, but the contents of this book are still within the orbit of the public lecture. That is, they are not contributions to Shakespearean scholarship as...

  20. 14 Shakespeare and the Modern World 13 May 1964
    (pp. 226-235)

    Let us suppose that hundreds of years from now, an archaeologist from the People’s Republic of Central Africa starts digging out the H-bomb rubble that covers our civilization and gets down to the year 1964. He can decipher very little of the language, but he finds two types of pictures recurring. One is of four young men with shocks of untidy hair;² the other is a vacant mask-like face, floating on top of a collar and doublet, representing a poet born in 1564.³ Our African would perhaps come to the conclusion that religion in 1964 was of an orgiastic and...

  21. 15 Nature and Nothing April 1964
    (pp. 236-249)

    Criticism exists because literature is endlessly fascinating, and one of the things that is fascinating about literature is the sense of the oracular that we get from it.⁴ The fascination that the fool or the madman had for primitive societies was based on the feeling that when the ordinary consciousness was disordered or put out of action, something mysterious, awful, perhaps divine, could speak in its place. A prophet’s “Thus saith the Lord” is much more convincing if he can say little that makes much sense in his own person. Nowadays we have a similar veneration for “creative” minds, the...

  22. 16 Fools of Time 15–17 March 1966
    (pp. 250-327)

    What follows is the original written version of the Alexander Lectures, delivered at Convocation Hall, University of Toronto, on March 15, 16, and 17, 1966. The oral version, considerably shorter and more concise, had its advantages, but for publication I felt that the longer form, with its greater number of examples and expanding passages, was preferable. This is the fifth series of lectures I have published, and two more series are in course of publication.² But for all the experience I have had with it, I still find the public lecture a fantastically difficult genre, and nowhere more so than...

  23. 17 General Editor’s Introduction to Shakespeare Series 1968
    (pp. 328-332)

    We do not know much about Shakespeare, and a good deal of what we talk about in connection with him is fiction. The fictions begin with his birthdate, which is generally assumed to be April 23, 1564, because he probably died on that day fifty-two years later, because we have a record of his baptism on the 26th, and because April 23 is the day of St. George, the patron saint of England.² We know nothing at all about him as a writer until he appears as an established dramatist in London: the gap used to be filled in by...

  24. 18 Shakespeare’s The Tempest 18 May 1979
    (pp. 333-345)

    In Shakespeare’s day, if a cultivated person had been asked what a comedy was, he would probably have said that it was a play which depicted people in the middle and lower ranks of society, observed their foibles and follies, and was careful not to diverge too far from what would be recognized as credible, if not necessarily plausible, action. This was Ben Jonson’s conception of comedy, supported by many prefaces and manifestos, and is illustrated by the general practice of English comic writers down to our own day.² But the earlier Elizabethan dramatists—Peele, Greene, Lyly—wrote in a...

  25. 19 Il Cortegiano May 1961
    (pp. 346-360)

    Castiglione’sIl Cortegianopurports to describe a conversation among a number of people gathered at the court of the duke and duchess of Urbino in the spring of 1507.¹ They had proposed, as one of their aftersupper “games,” the ideal courtier as a theme for a discussion extending over four nights. Some kind of actual discussion seems to have been the basis for the book, and Castiglione himself was no doubt present at it, though he follows the modest precedent of Plato in thePhaedoand represents himself as absent in England.² He was not able to get down to...

  26. 20 The Myth of Deliverance 25–27 March 1981
    (pp. 361-424)

    This book is based on the Tamblyn lectures, given at the University of Western Ontario on 25, 26, and 27 March 1981, as the inaugural series. I am grateful to many at that university for the honour of inviting me to give the lectures and for their hospitality during my visit. I think particularly of Dean John Rowe, Professor James Reaney, and Professor John Graham, along with so many of my friends and former students who made the occasion festive.

    I have written about these plays of Shakespeare before, and consequently some repetition of earlier work is inevitable; but the...

  27. 21 Something Rich and Strange: Shakespeare’s Approach to Romance 11 July 1982
    (pp. 425-439)

    The First Folio of 1623 describes Shakespeare’s plays on the title page as comedies, histories, and tragedies. Since then, students of Shakespeare have increasingly come to think of four plays written near the end of Shakespeare’s career,Pericles,Cymbeline,The Winter’s Tale, andThe Tempest, as forming a special group called “romances.” These romances are obviously close to comedy, even thoughCymbelineis grouped with the tragedies in the Folio. They represent a type of romantic drama that was becoming fashionable at the time (probably Shakespeare was mainly responsible for the fashion), and is also found in Shakespeare’s younger contemporaries...

  28. 22 The Stage Is All the World 28 July 1985
    (pp. 440-454)

    The proverb “all the world’s a stage” was a commonplace in Shakespeare’s day, partly because it had come down from Classical times and could be quoted in Latin:totus mundus exerceat histrionem.¹ The Globe theatre, the one popularly associated with Shakespeare’s plays, bore on it the mottoQuod fere totus mundus exerceat histrionem: “nearlyall the world’s a stage.”² Apparently the Globe architects made the curious blunder of getting an academic, or conceivably a lawyer, to write out the phrase for them, which he was unable to do without a qualification. The aphorism is used a good many times in...

  29. 23 Northrop Frye on Shakespeare 1986
    (pp. 455-622)

    I have been teaching an undergraduate course in Shakespeare for some time² and it would never have occurred to me to make a book out of my lecture notes. But Robert Sandler taped the lectures over a period of years and got a publisher interested, and my secretary, Mrs. Jane Widdicombe, supplied me with the transcripts. The material in the book comes mainly from them, but in altering the format from oral lectures to a book I have had to make certain changes.

    One change is the altering of the format from two or three lectures on each play to...

  30. 24 Speech on Acceptance of the Governor General’s Award for Northrop Frye on Shakespeare December 1987
    (pp. 623-624)

    It may seem strange, even ironic, that the first of my twenty-six books to receive this award¹ should be a book written practically by accident, which I did not start out with the intention of writing, and could hardly believe I had written. It was not pondered for years, like other books of mine, but appeared suddenly on my desk in the form of typed transcripts of lecture notes.² Still, it is pleasant that it is one of my teaching books. It will not tell a Shakespearean scholar anything he does not know, but it may suggest to a student,...

  31. 25 Natural and Revealed Communities 22 April 1987
    (pp. 625-641)

    I am using the connection of this lectureship with Thomas More to reconsider hisUtopia, a work I shall always associate with butterflies in the stomach. In my first year as a junior instructor fifty years ago,¹ I was arbitrarily assigned a course in sixteenth-century literature, andUtopia, in the Elizabethan Robinson translation, was practically the first text I taught to undergraduates.² Despite this, the lectures went very well: that is to say, they disappeared. I asked the two stock questions about the book and got the two stock answers. How many would rather live in Utopia than in Henry...

  32. 26 Foreword to Unfolded Tales 1989
    (pp. 642-646)

    This varied and fascinating collection of essays deals with aspects of one of the strangest success stories in English literature, the domination of the Elizabethan-Jacobean period by romance. This era had a strong sense of hierarchy in literary genres as elsewhere, and romance had, in theory, an inferior status.² Romance stirred up sexual anxieties (see the quotation from Ascham in Carol Kaske’s paper);³ it was constantly ridiculed for its extravagance, its neglect of the unities, the incredibility of its characters and their actions, its lack of attention to everything that critics of that time meant by “nature.”⁴ Yet it is...

  33. Notes
    (pp. 647-764)
  34. Emendations
    (pp. 765-766)
  35. Index
    (pp. 767-794)