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Fathers and Sons in Shakespeare

Fathers and Sons in Shakespeare: The Debt Never Promised

Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 400
  • Book Info
    Fathers and Sons in Shakespeare
    Book Description:

    Through careful scrutiny of word and deed, the scholarship inFathers and Sons in Shakespearereveals the complex attitude Shakespeare's sons harbour towards their fathers.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-9905-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. A Note on Texts
    (pp. xv-2)
  6. Introduction: Interpreting Shakespeare’s Sons – Ambivalence, Rescue, and Revenge
    (pp. 3-14)

    Any book purporting to say something new about the meaning of major Shakespearean plays merits immediate suspicion, especially if its subject is as apparently accessible as the relations of fathers and sons. Although there has never been a comprehensive study of the topic (unlike fathers and daughters in Shakespeare), a good deal of ink has been spilled on it, and one may wonder why additional commentary is called for. The simple answer is that there is more to Shakespeare’s central depictions of fathers and sons than meets the eye, even the critical eye. The principal interpretive difficulty is posed by...

  7. 1 Paternal Authority and Filial Autonomy in Shakespeare’s England
    (pp. 15-40)

    Placing Shakespeare’s depiction of fathers and sons in its historical context is not straightforward because the nature of that context is itself the subject of debate. In 1977 Lawrence Stone’s weighty but stylishly provocative study,The Family, Sex and Marriage in England 1500–1800, initiated a major controversy about affective relations in the early modern family. Stone argues that from roughly 1580 to 1640 the norm in English families was a pernicious form of patriarchy in which the father became a ‘legalized petty tyrant within the home.’¹ In large brush strokes, Stone connects the burgeoning of paternal authority in the...

  8. 2 Henry VI, Part One: Prototypical Beginnings – The Two John Talbots
    (pp. 41-67)

    InPart One of Henry VI,one of Shakespeare’s earliest plays, we encounter a depiction of a father and son – Lord John Talbot and young John Talbot – that anticipates in uncanny detail his accomplished handling of the relationship. As in plays to come, the father is an imposing figure past his prime and becoming increasingly vulnerable, while his son is coming of age and hoping to prove himself. Although the two John Talbots espouse the same commitment to family honour, they are soon engaged in a muted conflict, as Lord John attempts to impose his will and young John resists...

  9. 3 Richard II: Patrilineal Inheritance and the Generation Gap
    (pp. 68-92)

    In the history plays following1 Henry VI, the father-son relationship continues to loom so large as to suggest that it was central to Shakespeare’s understanding of historical continuity. Elizabethans often conceived of history in genealogical terms, and from this perspective the relationship of father and son (especially eldest son) was crucial, for the legal and economic continuity of families was maintained through this patrilineal bond. The continuance of great families depended on the patrimony being inherited by a son, who in turn could bestow it on a son of his own. As the fate of the John Talbots in...

  10. 4 Henry IV, Part One: ‘Deep Defiance’ and the Rebel Prince
    (pp. 93-124)

    A troublesome discrepancy runs through much of the critical writing on1 Henry IV. While praising the play for its richness and many points of view, critics have usually endorsed a fairly simple interpretation of its central character, Prince Hal. In this view, the play is about the maturation (or education, or reformation) of the Prince. The most influential exposition of this view was formulated in John Dover Wilson’sThe Fortunes of Falstaff(1943), which begins by associating Prince Hal with the prodigal sons of Tudor morality plays and then refines upon that model in a chapter entitled ‘The Prince...

  11. 5 Henry IV, Part Two: The Prince Becomes the King (with a Note on Henry V)
    (pp. 125-151)

    Part Two of Henry IVhas never been as popular or critically acclaimed asPart One, but not for the reason a person unacquainted with the play might expect. Instead of the repetitiveness and lack of inspiration that characterize most sequels,Part Twois perhaps too surprisingly inventive, too different from its celebrated predecessor. Though the action is continuous with that of1 Henry IV– it begins with messengers bringing news of the battle of Shrewsbury to the Earl of Northumberland in the north of England – everything is changed. Suddenly old age, disease, and exhaustion have overtaken the pulsing world...

  12. 6 Hamlet: Notes from Underground – Paternal and Filial Subterfuge
    (pp. 152-185)

    Dazzled by its incomparable excellences and puzzlements, critics have often discussedHamletas if it were a completely unprecedented expression of Shakespeare’s creativity. A frequent corollary is a tendency to relate the play to Shakespeare’s life (documented or imagined) rather than to his unfolding body of work. Because Shakespeare’s father died in 1601, probably a year or so afterHamletwas completed, and because the dramatist’s only son (who died in 1596) was named Hamnet, many commentators have linked the fathers and sons inHamletto Shakespeare’s putative responses to these deaths in the family. The most noted example of...

  13. 7 King Lear: The Usurpation of Fathers – and of Fathers and Sons
    (pp. 186-210)

    In the great arc of Shakespeare’s career, the depiction of fathers and sons inKing Learis simultaneously both a climax and an attenuation. Seen in the light of the earlier plays, the depiction of fathers and sons looks to be climactic: it picks up and brings to a new level of intensity familiar motifs. But withinKing Learitself, the theme – inventive and intense as it is – proves to be less significant than other concerns. In formal terms, Shakespeare’s handling of fathers and sons is restricted to a sub-plot, subordinated to the story of King Lear and his daughters....

  14. 8 Macbeth and the Late Plays: The Disappearance of Ambivalent Sons
    (pp. 211-241)

    In the plays followingKing Lear,depictions of fathers and sons continue to appear with considerable frequency, with four examples inMacbethand three inThe Winter’s Tale.But the sustained frequency masks a diminished importance. In the late plays, plots are no longer driven by the interaction between father and son, and the relationship is never again at the heart of things. To be sure, there are links between father-son relations and larger patterns in the plays, most notably in the rhythm of familial division and reunification that is a defining generic feature of the late plays. Thus, a...

  15. 9 Biographical Coda: William Shakespeare, Son of John Shakespeare
    (pp. 242-269)

    In the foregoing chapters, I have attempted to observe a self-denying ordinance regarding speculation about Shakespeare the private person. The plays were the thing. It is, however, natural to be curious about possible connections between Shakespeare’s life and work, especially with regard to a theme so likely to bear the impress of his own family as fathers and sons. Of course, the undertaking can easily become quixotic, if not downright foolish, and contemporary criticism has tended to shy away from bringing the biographical record to bear on the plays.¹ Beyond the inherent riskiness of interpreting great drama biographically –allthe...

  16. Appendix 1: Shakespearean Fathers and Sons in Edward III
    (pp. 270-277)
  17. Appendix 2: Thomas Plume’s Anecdote: The Merry-Cheeked, Jest-Cracking John Shakespeare, Sir John Mennes, and Sir John Falstaff
    (pp. 278-282)
  18. Notes
    (pp. 283-330)
  19. Works Cited
    (pp. 331-354)
  20. Index
    (pp. 355-360)