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The Love Story in Shakespearean Comedy

The Love Story in Shakespearean Comedy

Copyright Date: 1992
Pages: 248
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  • Book Info
    The Love Story in Shakespearean Comedy
    Book Description:

    In this fascinating study, Anthony J. Lewis argues that it is the hero himself, rejecting a woman he apprehends as a threat, who is love's own worst enemy. Drawing upon classical and Renaissance drama, iconography, and a wide range of traditional and feminist criticism, Lewis demonstrates that in Shakespeare the actions and reactions of hero and heroine are contingent upon social setting -- father-son relations, patriarchal restrictions on women, and cultural assumptions about gender-appropriate behavior. This compelling analysis shows how Shakespeare deepened the familiar love stores he inherited from New Comedy and Greek romance.

    Beginning with a penetrating analysis of the hero's contradictory response to sexual attraction, Lewis's discussion traces the heroine's reaction to abandonment and slander, and the lover's subsequent parallel descents into versions of bastardy and death. In arguing that comedy's happy ending is the product of the gender role reversals brought on by their evolving relationship itself, Lewis shows in meticulous detail how sexual stereotypes influence attitudes and restrict behavior.

    This perceptive discussion of male response to family and of female response to rejection will appeal to Shakespeare scholars and students, as well as to the theater community. Lewis's persuasive argument, that Shakespeare's heroes and heroines are, from the first, three-dimensional figures far removed from the stock types of Plautus, Terence, and his continental sources, will prove a valuable contribution to the ongoing feminist reappraisal of Shakespeare.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5643-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    When he entered the Maine woods in 1846, Henry David Thoreau, not a man ordinarily given to the rhapsodic, exclaimed, “Talk of mysteries!— Think of our life in nature . . . thesolidearth! theactualworld! Thecommon sense! Contact! Contact! Whoare we?where are we?”¹ Traipsing along Tinker Creek Annie Dillard asks, “what’s going on here?”²; Edward Abbey simply wonders, “What does it mean?” as he looks across the deserts of the American Southwest;³ while Peter Matthiessen, searching for the snow leopard in the Himalayas, is asked by Nepalese children, “Where are you-a going?”⁴ The wonder...

  5. 1 “The Spirit of My Father”
    (pp. 11-30)

    Shakespeare’s version of the typical New Comedy love story begins not with boy meeting girl, as we might expect, but rather with the separation of a young man from his father.¹ Though this division between parent and child is ordinarily cordial and no sign of a change in either the son’s or the father’s loyalties, it has a profound effect on the young man’s social position, attitudes, and feelings, and therefore on his relationship with the woman he will soon meet and eventually wish to marry.

    It is not surprising that Shakespeare’s comedies begin with such father/son divisions, inasmuch as...

  6. 2 “We Cannot Fight for Love”
    (pp. 31-47)

    InReinventing Womanhood,Carolyn G. Heilbrun suggests that “the stories of women are the stories of acceptance, and passivity,”¹ and Rachel Brownstein, inBecoming a Heroine,tells us that “a beautiful virgin walled off from an imperfect real world is the central figure in romance.”² Feminist criticism has argued persuasively that the heroines of literature are at least virginal and passive, waiting like so many Sleeping Beauties for the liberating and vivifying influence of a heroic man. Bound by stultifying paternalistic codes, the women are free only to fulfill preordained roles leading to marriage and motherhood or to sequestration in...

  7. 3 “Any Bar, Any Cross, Any Impediment”
    (pp. 48-72)

    However they choose one another, sooner or later the lovers in Shakespearean comedy—indeed, in New Comedy in general—separate. In some plays their division follows hard on the heels of their meeting, as it does inThe Comedy of Errorswhen Antipholus of Syracuse tries to book passage out of Ephesus shortly after he falls in love with the “mermaid” (III.ii.45) Luciana; in others it occurs years after their marriage, as when Leontes suddenly accuses Hermione of infidelity inThe Winter’s Tale.What distinguishes Shakespeare’s treatment of the lovers’ parting is that it is the young man himself, and...

  8. 4 “We Are All Bastards”
    (pp. 73-103)

    InA Midsummer-Night’s DreamLysander tells us that “The course of true love never did run smooth” (I.i.134), that it is perturbed by threats of forced marriage to another or by “War, death, or sickness” (142). WatchingA Midsummer-Night’s Dream,which begins with an angry father separating his daughter from her true love, Shakespeare’s audience could hardly be faulted for assuming that the play would simply illustrate how lovers overcome parents and other, greater vexations. As it turns out, of course, the real problems for Lysander and Hermia, as for Demetrius and Helena, have a good deal less to do...

  9. 5 “Patience on a Monument”
    (pp. 104-123)

    In the fourth act ofOthello,Desdemona sings the “Willow” song as she waits for her husband in her bedchamber. The sad song describes a relationship gone bad, and a “poor soul” who “sat [sighing] by a sycamore tree,” “Her hand on her bosom, her head on her knee” (iii.40-42). Desdemona learned the song from Barbary, her mother’s maid, a woman whose lover “prov’d mad, / And did forsake her” (27-28) and who “died singing it” (30). Barbary s sad song will not go from Desdemona’s head on the night Othello kills her.

    Shakespeare uses the “Willow” song to suggest...

  10. 6 “Th’ Idea of Her Life”
    (pp. 124-169)

    When Claudio spurns Hero as a whore in IV. i ofMuch Ado about Nothingand Hero swoons under the weight of public humiliation, Friar Francis devises a plan to “Change slander to remorse” (211) and rescue lost love. He suggests to her father, Leonato, that they lie and “publish it that she is dead indeed” (204). His stratagem will gain time for the beleaguered Hero, but from “this travail” he looks “for greater birth” (213):

    So will it fare with Claudio:

    When he shall hear she died upon his words,

    Th’ idea of her life shall sweetly creep


  11. 7 “The Marriage of True Minds”
    (pp. 170-208)

    Shakespearean comedy ends not with hero and heroine communing with one another during their separation but rather with their face-to-face confrontation in the fifth act. That final meeting is a confirmation and ratification of encounters, physical and spiritual, we witness earlier in the play, and establishes a new relationship between lovers, one that has evolved from their earlier acquaintance into something different and often unexpected. But whether the new relationship merely affirms old stereotypes, demanding that women be silent and consigning them to an inferior social position, or describes a more equal and humane bond between husband and wife has...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 209-212)

    The great heroines of Elizabethan/Jacobean drama, Beatrice-Joanna, Anne Frankford, the Duchess of Malfi, for example, all play out their sad stories virtually alone, dying for, or because of, men whom audiences think shallow and unworthy of their passionate, misguided assaults on the restrictions of patriarchy. Much the same can be said about the tragic heroines of the nineteenth-century novel, Emma Bovary or Anna Karenina, women who spiral downward while weak or mean-spirited husbands relax in their armchairs or respond only as ignorant spokesmen for repressive cultures. In those stories, husbands and lovers are often presented as part of the problem,...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 213-230)
  14. Index
    (pp. 231-240)