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The Metamorphoses of Shakespearean Comedy

The Metamorphoses of Shakespearean Comedy

William C. Carroll
Copyright Date: 1985
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    The Metamorphoses of Shakespearean Comedy
    Book Description:

    This book argues that the idea of metamorphosis is central to both the theory and practice of Shakespearean comedy. It offers a synthesis of several major themes of Shakespearean comedy--identity, change, desire, marriage, and comic form--under the master trope of transformation.

    Originally published in 1985.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5481-3
    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. Part One Introduction

    • Preface
      (pp. 3-6)

      “Metamorphosis” seldom remains in the cocoon of its narrowest definition. The word constantly breaks free, sheds its old skin, and emerges in contexts having little to do with butterflies. It can refer to a physical shifting of shape, an internal transformation, or simply to change itself. In the Renaissance the word might apply to something as specific as the myth of Proteus or to something so commonplace as poetic encounters with that most inconstant of mistresses, Mutability. The word might range from the height of I Corinthians to the bottom of Bottom. In Shakespearean comedy, the terms “transformation” and “metamorphosis”...

    • Chapter One Metamorphosis
      (pp. 7-40)

      An obsession with the nature of change runs throughout Western thought, beginning, like most of our ideas, with the pre-Socratics. Stories of the explicit changes called metamorphoses seem equally ancient, their origins in folk-tale, their historical manifestation in such sophisticated narratives as those of Lucian and Apuleius. Ovid’s was not the first collection of metamorphic tales. Yet, common as these stories are in earlier literatures, it is quite difficult to find systematic attempts to explain them. Christian analysts pursued the question perhaps most vigorously, since metamorphosis could not obviously be reconciled with the nature of God and the doctrine of...

    • Chapter Two The Taming of the Shrew and Marriage
      (pp. 41-60)

      The Taming of the Shrewserves effectively as an introductory specimen of comic metamorphosis in Shakespeare. It contains, in some form, virtually every mode of metamorphosis found in the later plays, and its central question is the psychological transformation, the “taming” of a shrew into a wife. The question of metamorphosis inThe Taming of the Shrewcan be most directly confronted by dealing with the play’s most remarkable and controversial instance of it—Kate’s transformation, or at least her speech announcing it, at the conclusion. Yet that final scene, as everyone has noticed, is amply anticipated (with much else)...

  5. Part Two Doubling and Mimesis

    • [Part Two Introduction]
      (pp. 61-62)

      Pliniereporteth to have seeneLucius Cossitiusupon his marriage day to have beene transformed from a woman to a manPontanusand others recount the like Metamorphosies to have hapned inItaliethese ages past And through a vehement desire of him and his mother

      Vota puer solvit, quae faemina voverat Iphis.


      Metamorphoses, XV. 794

      Iphisa boy, the vowes then paid,

      Which he vowʹd when he was a maid

      My selfe traveling on a time byVitryinFrance, hapned to see a man, whom the Bishop ofSoissonshad in confirmation, namedGermane, and all the...

    • Chapter Three To Be and Not to Be: The Comedy of Errors and Twelfth Night
      (pp. 63-102)

      InThe Comedy of ErrorsandTwelfth Night, Shakespeare stretches the possibilities of transformation from the “offered fallacy” ofErrorsto the more complex “natural perspective” ofTwelfth Night, by subtle and ingenious manipulations of the apparently hackneyed formulae of doubling and twins. Two familiar topoi of doubling are reanimated in these comedies. The first is the Plautine convention of lost or separated twins, unknown to each other or anyone else, brought to the same location. The consequences include considerable confusion, questions of identity, and challenges to perspective and knowledge; the Shakespearean prototype is found inThe Comedy of Errors,...

    • Chapter Four “Forget to Be a Woman”
      (pp. 103-138)

      The actor’s knowledge of metamorphosis is necessarily firsthand, for each working moment on the stage requires an act of self-transformation; and that act must be accompanied (paceBottom) by a self-immolating transgression of apparent boundaries. Yet neither act can ever be complete. It is one thing, moreover, for an Elizabethan actor to become a Bottom or a Iago, and something else again to switch sexes and become a Rosalind; and when Rosalind asks us to pretend that she is not a woman, and she isn’t, vertigo sets in. Shakespeare was aware of the inherent thematic possibilities of his own craft...

  6. Part Three Comic Monsters

    • Chapter Five A Midsummer Nightʹs Dream: Monsters and Marriage
      (pp. 141-177)

      “Monsters are not shocking, if they are seen at a proper distance.” So said Hazlitt after his more famous comment aboutA Midsummer Night’s Dream:“Fairies are not incredible, but fairies six feet high are so.”¹ By definition, however, monsters are always shocking, even when they are comic, and even when they are seen at a “proper” distance. In the most explicitly metamorphic of Shakespeare’s comedies—A Midsummer Night’s Dream—the boundaries between the human and the monstrous continually dissolve and reform. Shakespeare continued his comic exploration of marriage, monsters, and metamorphosis with Falstaff inThe Merry Wives of Windsor,...

    • Chapter Six Falstaff and Ford: Forming and Reforming
      (pp. 178-202)

      Hal’s transformation from madcap prince to the “mirror of all Christian kings” (H5, 2Prol.6) forms the official plot of the Henriad, and suggests the darker side of change as loss. (We will examine Falstaff’s metamorphosis into a comic monster in a moment.) Most of the transformations in the Henriad andThe Merry Wives of Windsorfall under the heading of “formation” and “reformation,” terms suggesting not only the education of a prince but also the reforming self-inventiveness of Falstaff and the reversal of Ford’s deformation. Hal’s great transformation is of course quite self-conscious, contrived and staged for a variety of...

  7. Part Four Magic

    • [Part Four Introduction]
      (pp. 203-204)

      … a girl of twenty-five years dreamt that she had cooked dinner for her family of five. She had just served it and she now called her parents and her brothers and sister to dinner Nobody replied. Only her voice returned as if it were an echo from a deep cave. She found the sudden emptiness of the house uncanny She rushed upstairs to look for her family. In the first bedroom, she could see her two sisters sitting on two beds In spite of her impatient calls they remained in an unnaturally rigid position and did not even answer...

    • Chapter Seven The Changes of Romance
      (pp. 205-244)

      Although Shakespeare’s romances also reveal his recurring interest in metamorphosis, particularly the Ovidian variety, much has changed sinceTwelfth NightandThe Merry Wives of Windsor. The generic assumptions and conventions of the late romances are different enough from those of the romantic comedies to give us pause before affirming the obvious connections. Most readers have rightly found Shakespeare much changed in the late romances, though they have often disagreed on the exact nature of the change, from the world-weary boredom described by Lytton Strachey through G. Wilson Knight’s vision of enraptured mysticism to more recent accounts of an experimental...

  8. Appendix: Commedia dellʹArte Transformations
    (pp. 245-254)
  9. Notes
    (pp. 255-286)
  10. Index
    (pp. 287-292)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 293-293)