Beyond Tragedy

Beyond Tragedy: Structure and Experience in Shakespeare's Romances

Robert W. Uphaus
Copyright Date: 1981
Pages: 160
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  • Book Info
    Beyond Tragedy
    Book Description:

    In this compact, yet comprehensive exploration of Shakespeare's romances, Robert W. Uphaus suggests that the romances bring us to a realm of human and dramatic experience that is "beyond tragedy." The inexorable movement of tragedy toward death and a final close is absorbed in romance by a further movement in which death can lead to renewed life, characters can experience a second time of joy and peace, and the audience's conventional expectations about reality and literature are challenged and enlarged.

    In the late tragedies ofKing LearandAntony and Cleopatra, Uphaus finds the tragic structure augmented by elements that will later contribute to the form of the romances. Turning then to the romances themselves, he sees these plays as forming a profession in whichPericlesis a brilliant outline of the conventions of romance andCymbelineis romance taken to its dramatic limits, in fact to the point of parody. Through his fresh and provocative readings of the plays we experience anew the delight of Shakespearean romance and glimpse the world of renewal at its heart.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-6474-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. ONE Beyond Tragedy
    (pp. 1-11)

    The argument of this study is easy enough to describe, but perhaps more difficult to execute. Although one critic has cautioned that “if the literary genre of romance can be defined—or described—it is not by formal characteristics,”¹ I shall argue that in at least five fundamental ways Shakespeare’s romances represent and enact a realm of human experience which can be said to be “beyond tragedy.”

    Customarily tragedy has been regarded as the be-all and end-all of human and dramatic experience. Whether one argues that tragedy deals with “‘boundary situations,’ man at the limits of his sovereignty,” or that...

  5. TWO Tragedy and the Intimations of Romance
    (pp. 12-33)

    Many critics have noted significant relationships between Shakespeare’s last tragedies and the romances.¹ Just as the romances chronologically follow a number of tragedies, so experientially and dramatically they draw from tragedy as the necessary prelude to the experience of romance. In this chapter I shall consider the spectrum of tragic structure in some of Shakespeare’s later tragedies and argue that whileMacbethis an orthodox tragedy,King LearandAntony and Cleopatra, defined againstMacbeth, introduce elements which intimate the idea of Shakespearean romance and, just as important, define that idea against the structure and experience of tragedy. By looking...

  6. THREE Pericles and the Conventions of Romance
    (pp. 34-48)

    Periclesis a magnificent outline of the conventions of romance. Although there continue to be disputes about the authorship of the play—the predominant view being that Shakespeare wrote only the last three acts—this argument in no way affects my approach.¹ We know that Shakespeare had a major hand in the creation of the play, and we can therefore conclude that he was aware of the play’s basic design and use of a variety of dramatic conventions. I must say, however, that the play’s use of romance conventions is internally so consistent that I find it difficult, on purely...

  7. FOUR Cymbeline and the Parody of Romance
    (pp. 49-68)

    IfPericlesis an example of a pure romance, thenCymbeline, with its prominent emphasis on disjunction and mortality, is at once romance taken to its dramatic limits and a skeptical response to the optimism ofPericles. I have repeatedly emphasized the absorptive capacity of Shakespeare’s romances—their ability to encompass diverse genres within a framework of reversible time—but inCymbelineShakespeare appears to test the absorptive capacity of romance, both generically and experientially, by overloading the structure of romance with seemingly recalcitrant details, characters, and experiences. It is almost as if Shakespeare set out to determine how much...

  8. FIVE The Issues of The Winter’s Tale
    (pp. 69-91)

    IfPericlesandCymbelineexplicitly display the conventions of romance—the former as a pure exercise in romance, the latter as a parody of that purity—The Winter’s Taletakes those conventions and invests them with extraordinary human significance. One wayThe Winter’s Talegenerates its power is through the continual employment of both latent and explicit versions of contention. Not only do the characters frequently contend with one another, but whole sections of the play stand in opposition to one another, though the opposition is less a rigid contrast than an unfolding process, drawing on different generic perspectives, which...

  9. SIX Prospero’s Art and the Descent of Romance
    (pp. 92-117)

    In the last chapter I argued thatThe Winter’s Taleis marked by defiance, meaning that throughout the play Shakespeare is apparently quite willing to do implausible things. That willingness to challenge conventional notions of reality, including the audience’s dependence on rational explanations, is best represented by the statue scene in V .iii. In a sense, this scene is the high point of Shakespearean romance, if we understand “high point” as a metaphor for a peak moment of imaginative experience. This experience, however, is the product of a dramatic process which initially posits a realistic situation, Leontes’s tragic jealousy, and...

  10. SEVEN History, Romance, and Henry VIII
    (pp. 118-140)

    Prospero’s descent into history, signified by his desire to return to Milan and his method of accomplishing that end, represents not only a move beyond tragedy but an attempt to align the experience of romance much more closely with the audience’s sense of “reality.” Finally appearing in his own person, stripped of his supernatural powers, Prospero both is and enacts the absorptive power of Shakespearean romance. But where Prospero expresses a wish to return into history,Henry VIII, viewed as an extension ofThe Tempest’sdescending process, constitutes a historical version, if not a historical verification, of the literary experience...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 141-148)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 149-150)