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CHAPTER SEVEN

CONCLUSIONS


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    An appreciation of Shakespeare's treatment of disorder, conflict and violence in the comedies and romances considerably enhances our understanding of his art, and to summarise my findings I propose to deal with particular aspects of disruption found in these plays, so arriving at some general conclusions.  Certain comic acts or situations are by nature anarchic, entailing a humorous display of disorder: for example, we may laugh when servants deliberately disobey their masters or misinterpret instructions; wives may beat their husbands or children defy their parents, both of which are disorderly actions capable of comic treatment.  This type of comic disruption is used by Shakespeare throughout his career, but its use in the middle comedies shows a refinement, so that it becomes almost unrecognisable in the last plays, the romances.

 

    When it is first encountered in the early comedies there is a tendency towards farce, with servants such as the Dromios, Grumio, Launce and Speed being beaten, either on the stage or reportedly, for their sometimes deliberate misdemeanours.  Similarly, Katherina's disorderly behaviour in attempting to dominate her husband, and Bianca's disobeying her father in the matter of her suitors, give scope for farcical presentation.  Farce is also a factor in A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Merry Wives of Windsor, where the anarchic nature of comedy is evident in the chaotic events in the wood near Athens and in the gulling of Falstaff on the one hand and Evans and Caius on the other.  After these plays, farce all but vanishes from Shakespearean comedy, and anarchy is the subject of increasingly serious treatment, as seen in The Merchant of Venice and Much Ado about Nothing, where Shylock and Don John disrupt the ordered lives of their communities in singularly unamusing ways: misrule and lawlessness become cause for serious concern.  With the exception of Twelfth Night, which looks back to the earlier plays in its handling of comic anarchy, the remaining comedies and romances all make a study of the effects of disordered behaviour and misgovernment in their main plots, and the lighter, comic episodes are generally parodic without necessarily being farcical.

 

    The question arises as to what constitutes disordered behaviour in a Shakespearean play, and a broad definition would be any activity which is anti-social, the most important being the contradiction of figures of authority, found in every one of the comedies and romances.  It has as its basis the belief in a hierarchical structure of society, with a supreme authority figure at the head of a community, usually a king or


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duke.  Shakespeare's rulers function in remarkably diverse ways, and vary considerably in the way they are related to the main plot.  They may take little part in the action, appearing only to sort out complications, or make arbitrary decisions: such are the rulers in The Comedy of Errors, A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Merchant of Venice.  In many of the comedies, however, the head of state has a more important function in the plot, being either one of the lovers, as in Love's Labour's Lost and Twelfth Night, or closely connected with the romantic interest in the play, as found in Much Ado about Nothing, As You Like It, All's Well That Ends Well and the romances.  This participation in the action may be taken to such an extreme that the exercising of authority becomes subservient to the pursuit of love, in which case disorder flourishes, as we see in Love's Labour's Lost and Twelfth Night.  This dereliction of duty and its attendant disruption are also found in Measure for Measure, for different reasons: the Duke, here, is not in love, but deliberately relinquishes his power in an attempt to restore order to his dominions.  Shakespeare's rulers, then, are important figures in his comedies, providing a norm of behaviour and a centre of stability; and where they do not serve this function, the community life is disrupted, degenerating into violence and chaos.

 

    A frequently encountered contradiction of authority is the dissension between parents and their romantically inclined offspring.  It is found in Bianca's deception of Baptista and elopement with Lucentio; Silvia spurns Thurio, her father's choice of suitor, as does Hermia Demetrius, who is favoured by Egeus.  In The Merry Wives of Windsor the same idea is used, comically multiplied: both Page and his wife promote different men to the hand of their daughter, Anne, who is herself in love with a third.  In All's Well That Ends Well, Cymbeline and The Winter's Tale parental opposition becomes a central concern, with, in the first instance, Bertram rejecting Helena, the woman wished on him by his mother and the King.  Again, in Cymbeline, Imogen refuses to have anything to do with Cloten, the man her father wants her to marry, and in The Winter's Tale Perdita and Florizel continue their relationship in defiance of the wishes of Polixenes.  Generally this type of conflict is resolved when the young lovers comically thwart parental opposition, so that the fecundity and regeneration of youth asserts itself, conquering the sterility of old age.  The one exception to this is All's Well That Ends Well, in which Bertram must submit to the demands of those older than himself before fertility and reparation are possible.  In The Tempest the


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theme is modified, with Prospero in supreme command, threatening Ferdinand with punishments if he is disobedient.  However, neither Miranda nor Ferdinand does disobey Prospero, whose opposition to their love is only a pretence, designed to test and prove the devotion of the lovers to each other.  It can be seen, then, that disagreements between the older generation and young people in love were a fertile source of conflict for Shakespeare, in some cases dominating the action.  It is only once harmony has been achieved that fertility and regeneration become possible, and this can be seen in Romeo and Juliet, where the tragic potential of parental conflict is explored: the deaths of the lovers are a point of departure, signalling a new beginning when the feuding houses are brought to amity.

 

    Another instance of disrespect for those in power, used by Shakespeare to add interest to his plots, is the disobedience of wives, sometimes associated with shrewish behaviour.  In The Comedy of Errors Adriana's unhappy marriage is partly accounted for by her scolding and her tendency to dominate her husband, which drives him from home.  This receives a fuller treatment in The Taming of the Shrew, in which male dominance is depicted as a prerequisite for a happy, ordered household, and Katherina's submission to Petruchio makes hers the only successful marriage in the play.  In A Midsummer Night's Dream Titania's insistence on her right to the Indian boy, contradicting the wishes of Oberon, leads to chaos in both the mortal and fairy worlds; and to point the need for female submission, the overarching action contains the example of the harmonious relationship between Theseus and his submissive Amazonian Queen.  Later in his career Shakespeare put the concept of male dominance to different use in the conflict between Paulina and Leontes: the King relies on Paulina's reputation for dominant behaviour to discredit her, but ironically he is seen in a poorer light as a result; and once his accusations directed at Hermione have been proved false, Paulina does indeed take a dominant role in ordering events to the King's advantage, while nevertheless remaining subservient to him.  Her positive action recalls the parts played by the heroines in earlier comedies: Julia in The Two Gentlemen of Verona, as well as Portia, Rosalind and Helena - all are actively involved in winning the men they love, but all ultimately submit to the norm of male domination.

 

    An obvious example of disorderly behaviour is the flouting of hierarchy in the relationship between masters and servants, and Shakespeare's handling of this shows a mellowing in the later plays.  The


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Dromios, Grumio, Launce, Speed and Simple are all treated harshly in order to keep them subservient and orderly, but there is no understanding on the parts of their masters: comic beatings abound, and the servant is expected to bear these with equanimity, striving to please by improving.  Similar observations apply to Touchstone, Feste and Lavatch, although there is less tendency towards open violence to these characters, who in turn are correspondingly less rebellious.  Malvolio is a servant of a higher class, and we find other such people in Adam, Parolles, Helicanus, Pisanio, Antigonus and Gonzalo, all of whom are taken into the confidence of their masters.  Except for Malvolio and Parolles, whose faults exclude them from this category, they all favourably influence those in authority, and may be classified as agents of order.  Their prototype is Adam in As You Like It, who is a kindly, faithful friend of his master.  The value of such servants is not always recognised, and the conflicts which Pisanio and Antigonus have with their masters are of considerable importance in bringing about the restoration of harmony at the close of their plays, when their true worth is acknowledged.  As Shakespeare's treatment of his comic material becomes more serious, so the witty, frivolous and sometimes even farcical conflicts between master and servant give way either to more serious conflicts generated through the spurning of advice given by the faithful servant-confidant (Pisanio and Antigonus), or to the support and comforting during trials external to the relationship between master and servant (Adam, Helicanus and Gonzalo).

 

    Sexual liberty constitutes yet another type of anti-social, disorderly behaviour which concerned Shakespeare in many of his comedies and romances, and again there is a perceptible change in approach if the early comedies are compared with those that followed.  Antipholus of Ephesus is sexually active outside the bounds of matrimony, and this results in the dissolution of marital harmony - a serious theme given farcical treatment, although the farce does not altogether obscure the earnest consideration given to the misery of an unhappy marriage.  Such dark overtones are given less attention in The Merry Wives of Windsor, where the supposed sexual improprieties of the wives, and Falstaff's libidinous intentions, are once again the subject of farce.  Here sexual licence is comic, and one of the principal sources of humour is the stock figure of the jealous husband: his rantings amuse us because we know his suspicions are baseless, in this case, and we eagerly await his enlightening.  A similar situation arises in Much Ado about Nothing,


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where Claudio is given a false cause of suspicion - but here the treatment is serio-comic.  Tension is created because we are never quite sure how far the conflict between Claudio and Hero will be allowed to develop before the Watch reveals the deception: we may laugh nervously when Don Pedro and Claudio are challenged, firstly by Leonato and Antonio, and then, more importantly, by Benedick.

 

    Revulsion at the idea of a woman's promiscuity motivates Claudio in his rejection of Hero, and this emotion found tragic expression in Troilus and Cressida, Hamlet and Othello; and when sexual liberty is next encountered in the dark comedies there is heightened interest in its correction.  We are no longer presented with laughable parodies of human passion as seen in the jealousy of Adriana and Ford; or merely a supposed misdemeanour like Hero's: instead, Shakespeare dwells on the suffering induced by actual sexual misconduct, vigorously revealing the need for orderly, chaste behaviour.  Bertram's immoral pursuit of women, the licentiousness of Overdone, Pompey and Lucio, and Angelo's sexual depravity - all have serious consequences, and disturb or even disgust us, although we may find the exploits of the lighter characters amusing.  The romances, too, deal with unacceptable, disorderly sexuality, which finds its most powerful expression in Cloten's perverted desires and Leontes' unreasonable suspicion of Hermione's chastity, and in both plays the conflict is resolved only through death and suffering.  Indeed, whenever it is encountered in Shakespeare, socially unacceptable sexual behaviour is associated with disorder and conflict, which may give way to violence, be it that of the farce in The Comedy of Errors and The Merry Wives of Windsor, or the opposite extreme, found in the nauseating excesses of Titus Andronicus.

 

    A particular aspect of sexual disorder which merits closer scrutiny is the jealousy that may arise when a lover or marriage partner is unfaithful.  This sometimes gives rise to a three-cornered conflict, with the jealous lover violently opposing both the unfaithful partner and the interloper.  In the early comedies this theme is usually given comic treatment, with the cuckolded husband being ridiculed tirelessly in jokes relating to the cuckold's horns, which in many cases have phallic connotations.  The insecurity of marriage relationships is conveyed clearly in the songs which close Love's Labour's Lost, and this was more fully explored in Ford's jealousy in The Merry Wives of Windsor.  After this Shakespeare shows greater concern with the destructive potential of jealous conflicts, something portrayed briefly in the suffering of both


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Adriana in The Comedy of Errors and Julia in The Two Gentlemen of Verona.  Claudio's jealous reaction to reports of Hero's unfaithfulness nearly succeeds in terminating their relationship permanently, while Posthumus and Leontes bring on themselves and their acquaintance much pain and anguish as a result of their over-hasty judgements and consequent jealous passion.

 

    A further source of conflict in the comedies is the opposition of Shakespeare's misanthropic characters, or figures of Lent, to those of Carnival.  These misanthropes are not merely the rulers whose duty it is to uphold order, suppressing disorder when it arises; they are characters on the same social rung as the revellers, but who do not join in the holiday release of comedy.  The most important dampening influences are Shylock, Don John, Jaques and Malvolio, but perhaps their epitomes are found in Thersites and Timon, both unforgiving and hypercritical of men's faults.  All these characters are denied participation in the happiness of a comic denouement, remaining as social misfits at the ends of their plays.  Don John is merely a comic villain whose function is to create disorder by disrupting festivity, but Shylock and Malvolio are more disturbing characters because they engage our sympathy, and we are uneasy when we see their folly bringing them suffering.  The conflict of Shylock with the Christian community is intractable, and Shakespeare uses it to highlight the unpleasant aspects of human nature found in all the principal characters of the play, tacitly inviting the audience to examine their own reactions and prejudices.  Malvolio's puritanical suppression of riotous behaviour is ironically itself a breach of order: he is motivated partly by his aspiring love for Olivia, forbidden in the Elizabethan hierarchical code.  Jaques, on the other hand, is more akin to Thersites than Shylock and Malvolio: he is content to distance himself from the comic action, criticising the behaviour of those involved in the conflict and turmoil of the romantic plot.  Don John's misanthropy creates tension, being the mainspring of the action of Much Ado about Nothing; Shylock, Malvolio and Jaques are more interesting people, serving not only as centres of conflict, but also as studies in human nature and behaviour.

 

    Closely allied to the misanthropes are those of an irascible, violent disposition.  These characters create tension and hold our interest because they are unpredictable, and we are never sure how they will respond to the various conflicts as they arise.  Furthermore, their violence may threaten or even harm those around them. The first such


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person encountered in the comedies is Antipholus of Ephesus, who, apart from comically beating his servant, gives a display of temper when he is shut out of his own home, and threatens serious violence when he is treated as insane.  Like Antipholus, Pertuchio beats his servant, but his violence is otherwise put to constructive effect in the taming of Katherina, herself an ill-tempered, demonstrative woman.  Of equal importance and interest in The Merry Wives of Windsor is Ford, whose decisive pursuit of Falstaff is central to the action: his throwing about of clothes when searching the buck basket and his beating of the old woman of Brainford, actually Falstaff, amuse us by their futility.  In like manner, Caius, with his angry attacks on Simple, Evans, and finally the whole Windsor community, is an entertaining caricature of irascibility.

 

    As the plays become more serious, so the violent characters they depict grow more menacing: Angelo goes to extreme lengths to curb disorder in Vienna and also to satisfy his illegitimate sexual appetite.  What makes him so frightening is the power vested in him, giving him the ability to execute his plans with impunity.  This may also be observed in the romances, where Cloten, Leontes, Polixenes, Sebastian, Antonio, and even Prospero himself, are given to violent means to achieve their ends, and all are in positions of power or authority.  Because of this, we are no longer at ease in their presence, as we were when Petruchio, Ford or Caius gave free expression to their anger.  In the case of Prospero, violence and irascibility are put to good effect, restoring order and harmony in the community; nevertheless, even here, the absolute power of Prospero's magic inspires awe, and the fact that he has good cause to wreak terrible vengeance makes him a man to be feared.

 

    Obviously violent characters use violence to reveal their personae, but apart from this, Shakespeare often relies on violence to create a sense of disruption: conflicts are given physical expression to create the disorderly atmosphere of Carnival in which the complications of the plot are unravelled.  Thus in A Midsummer Night's Dream the lovers pursue each other through the forest with hostile intentions; in Much Ado about Nothing there is the verbal violence of Beatrice and Benedick; in Twelfth Night we find mock duels and the cruel punishment of Malvolio.  The confusion and chaos resulting from these conflicts are a necessary purgation before the harmony of new and lasting relationships can be established.  In some instances there is an element of sadism, pleasure in inflicting suffering: this is found frequently in the clashes between


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masters and servants, where the dominant characters enjoy their position of superiority.  In addition to this we sense that Puck delights in tormenting his victims in the forest; Portia relishes her triumph over Shylock; Sir Toby, Maria and Feste are gratified by the chastising of Malvolio.  The contemplation of this sadism is not necessarily unpleasant for the audience: Shylock's defeat is deeply disturbing, but the same cannot be said of all Shakespeare's uses of sadism, where the joy of the sadist may be infectious - as is Puck's, and that of those other fairy tormentors in The Merry Wives of Windsor, whose violence forms part of an elaborate masque-like spectacle of purgation.

 

    An interesting source of conflict and violence is the lesson of instruction, found in The Taming of the Shrew and The Merry Wives of Windsor.  The first schoolmaster encountered in the comedies is Pinch in The Comedy of Errors, and he is entrusted with the care of the supposedly mad Antipholus and Dromio of Ephesus, who are, at his command, bound and kept in darkness.  Another schoolmaster is found in Love's Labour's Lost, where Holofernes lacks the violent disposition of Pinch, parodying instead the niceties of the pedant in his insistence on correct form.  The role played by Evans in The Merry Wives of Windsor during William's Latin lesson combines both of these unpleasant characteristics of teachers - violence and pedantry - and relies heavily for its comic effect on the audience's stock response to the teacher. 7.1  The relevance of this episode to the plot is slight, but it does provide a diverting interlude to signify the passing of time, amusing us by its comic portrayal of the conflict between teacher and inept pupil, and the subsequent threat of a beating.  The first lesson in The Taming of the Shrew is not presented on the stage, but it is an example of the comic inversion of order: Katherina loses patience with Hortensio, her music teacher, and breaks a lute over his head.  In the second lesson there are two teachers vying with each other for the pupil's attention: in this comic parody of instruction, conflict manifests itself between the two teachers rather than between pupil and teacher.  This in itself is comic, but the principal function of the scene is to reveal Bianca's duplicity, both in deceiving Baptista and in playing one lover off against the other.

 

    Duelling and war were often used by Shakespeare in highlighting conflicts or creating atmospheres of disorder and violence.  Physical combat itself is rarely presented on the stage, but feigned or inconsequential confrontations are frequently included to create dramatic


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tension, enhance a sense of disorder, underline a conflict or simply to provide humour.  Two mock duels, in The Merry Wives of Windsor and Twelfth Night, are elaborately prepared for, and delight us not only in their anti-climaxes (the fights never become violent), but also in the comic scenes revealing the fear of the combatants.  The inconclusive challenges in A Midsummer Night's Dream and Much Ado about Nothing are more serious, serving to emphasise the heightened state of chaos which has resulted in the possibility of blows being struck, and hence the need to resolve the conflict, bringing about peace and order.  In the latter play war is a feature of the introductory material, used to explain Don John's behaviour and also to lead naturally into the wit combats which follow.  War is given greater stress in All's Well That Ends Well and Cymbeline, where military exploits and bravery are significant aspects of the plot: the honour won in war is of limited value when compared with the feminine virtues espoused by Helena; and in Cymbeline the valour of the combatants is important in establishing their virtue and patriotism, while the war also reflects the disordered state of Britain.  Duelling terms are often a source of humour, but may, at the same time, point the violence or intensity of emotion in the combats of wit in which they are used.  These are frequently sexual in nature, and the punning on such words as 'staff', and 'pike' aptly points this aspect.  Such imagery is particularly important in Love's Labour's Lost, where the men see their wooing of the women as a military assault; and also in All's Well That Ends Well, in which the defence of virginity is expressed forcefully in military terms, highlighting the undercurrent of hostility between male and female values.

 

    This is one of many conflicts which appear as recurring themes in the comedies and romances, with refinements or shifting of emphasis between one presentation and the next.  The opposition of male and female values is typified in the conflict between love and friendship, found as a serious problem in The Two Gentlemen of Verona, where the relationship between the two gentlemen is tested when they both fall in love with the same woman.  The treatment of friendship in this play follows the conventions of romance, with Silvia being viewed by Valentine as a piece of property he can bestow as a token of goodwill - an absurd gesture which makes love subservient to male bonding, although both love and friendship are retained as equal partners in the happy ending.  In Love's Labour's Lost the handling of the concept of male friendship opposed to heterosexual love is more satisfactory: the men come to realise that


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their allegiance to the sterile rules of the academe must give way to the fertility of marriage, and female values are triumphantly asserted at the close.  The conflict between love and friendship is given its most powerful expression in The Merchant of Venice, where Portia succeeds in winning Bassanio from Antonio: here Antonio's melancholy hints at a possible homosexual tie between the men, making the final establishment of heterosexual love a more emphatic expression of fertility.

 

    The opposition of male and female values is found in a different guise in Much Ado about Nothing, where the contrary demands of love and war are superimposed on the simple disruption of the friendship of Claudio and Benedick by female love.  Benedick ridicules Claudio for his devotion to love and his neglect of the masculine pursuit of war, and this gives rise to the comic situation of the mocker mocked, when Benedick himself falls in love.  There is a corresponding conflict between love and war in All's Well That Ends Well, which contains a clear statement of the value of female love, fertile, regenerating.  In this play masculine values are shown to be sterile and corrupt, and until they are made subservient to the demands of the productive, harmonious married life prized by the women, disorder and violence persist.  In all of these plays Shakespeare uses the conflict between feminine love and male bonding, or the masculine pursuit of war, to point the way to redemption: while male values hold sway, prosperity and harmony decline.

 

    One conflict that is found in all the comedies and romances is that between appearance and reality, or, in a slightly different form, that between Art and Nature.  This was a powerful device which could be used as an entity of fascination itself, or to create humour, dramatic irony, tension, or even further conflicts leading to violence.  Disguise and mistaken identity are the most obvious of all the possible sources of the conflict between appearance and reality, and this is found tirelessly repeated, occurring in every one of the sixteen comedies and romances. 7.2  The majority of these deceptions are used to create comic conflicts, transparently illustrated in The Comedy of Errors, where the device is exploited shamelessly again and again.  In subsequent plays Shakespeare is more subtle: for example, the entire central conflict of Much Ado about Nothing hinges on one instance, the mistaking of Margaret for Hero by Claudio and Don Pedro; in The Two Gentlemen of Verona and Twelfth Night there is a degree of pathos, enhanced by the disguise of the heroines as young men; in Cymbeline this is developed into the fine expression of grief by Imogen on mistaking the dead Cloten for Posthumus;


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and in the dark comedies mistaken identity is the means of clarification and redemption through the bed trick.  Other important confusions of appearance and reality are the legends on the caskets in The Merchant of Venice; the eavesdropping scenes in Much Ado about Nothing; and the seeming virtue of Angelo in Measure for Measure.  Apparent guilt is also used by Shakespeare, its victims being Hero, Imogen and Hermione, all of whom win audience sympathy by their suffering innocence.  In every case I have cited, the discrepancy between appearance and reality is an important contributor to the comic complications which must be resolved in the denouement.

 

    The related conflict between Art, signifying appearance, and Nature, or reality, is first met as a major plot device in Love's Labour's Lost, where it is central to the play: the behaviour of the men is ridiculously contrived and so is affiliated to Art, while the women favour a more natural expression of their emotions.  In As You Like It the conflict is presented in terms of the clash between the corrupt values of court life, representing Art, and the Arcadian life close to Nature in the forest; but the most forceful expositions of the conflicting values of Art and Nature, or court and country life, are to be found in the romances.  In Cymbeline the presentation is complex, with the virtuous life of Belarius and the princes in the Welsh mountains being contrasted with courtly wiles and sophistication, while at the same time the princely qualities of the young men are a tribute to Nature, showing forth despite the Art of their lowly upbringing.  In The Winter's Tale the debate between Perdita and Polixenes on the merits of Art and Nature is intensely ironical, since Polixenes argues in favour of Art, but then rejects Perdita on the grounds of her lowly birth, indicating that he recognises the merits of Nature, not Art, in human virtue.  On the other hand, in All's Well That Ends Well the conflict is between nobility and virtue, both innate qualities representing Nature, and here we find virtue valued above nobility.  In The Tempest Gonzalo's commonwealth opposes the virtues of Nature found in a simple, Arcadian world, to those of the corrupt court of Milan ruled by Alonso.  In every instance it is Nature that leads to ultimate fertility and regeneration, with Art being rejected as a contrived and futile attempt at improving God-given qualities.

 

    In order to point the resolution towards which the comic action is moving, or to emphasise disorder and conflict by means of contraries, Shakespeare frequently uses three images which convey a sense of order


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and harmony: feasting, music and dancing.  An invitation to share food at a meal indicates the absence of hostility, and we find banquets with this significance at the ends of The Comedy of Errors and The Taming of the Shrew.  More often, however, Shakespeare's use of food imagery is ironical, with overtones of hostility conveyed in the meal's irregularities: Antipholus of Ephesus is excluded from dinner with his wife, underlining the conflict between them; Petruchio will not let Katherina eat while she is unruly and dominating; Shylock goes to dinner with the Christians unwillingly because he hates them; Duke Senior in the forest of Arden dines in amity with his companions, but is interrupted by Orlando, who is not yet in harmony with the Arcadian way of life; and Ariel shows the castaways a sumptuous banquet signifying concord, but removes it before food is consumed, as strife and disorder are still prevalent.  Music accompanies many of the visions in the romances, particularly if they are expressive of harmony, present or still to be achieved; but as with the imagery of feasting, musical images can be used ironically: in The Tempest, when Caliban's conspiracy becomes threatening, discordant sounds disrupt the vision of harmony and fecundity presented to Ferdinand and Miranda by Prospero.  Dancing accompanied by music was a particularly powerful token of concord with strong sexual overtones, and so suited Shakespeare's association of order, fecundity and regeneration.  The dance of Oberon and Titania has exactly this significance as does that which ends As You Like It.  The dance is used ironically in Love's Labour's Lost to point the hostility between the men and women, and we find the same application in Much Ado about Nothing: in both cases irregularities in the dances make their significance clear.

 

    The most astonishing aspect of Shakespeare's comedies and romances is their insistence on death: from Egeon's opening couplet in The Comedy of Errors, requesting death as a release from suffering, to Prospero's closing thoughts of dissolution and death in The Tempest, the sinister idea of dying is never far from the playwright's thoughts, and finds expression in a multitude of references, many humorous or trivial.  Of the sixteen plays I have dealt with, five entail deaths in the course of their actions, 7.3 seven contain serious threats of death, 7.4 and in the remaining four death may be presented as a comic possibility, 7.5 seen in the duels between Caius and Evans, or Viola and Sir Andrew; or the concern of Vincentio in The Taming of the Shrew that Lucentio has been murdered; or the parodic threat of death made by the robbers in The Two


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[return to note 1.23]

 

Gentlemen of Verona.  Alternatively it may have serious overtones, as in Olivia's sterile mourning for her dead brother; but the inclusion of death to comic effect is encountered more frequently and is not restricted to the group of four plays not containing actual deaths or serious threats of death.  For example, the intense conflict between Hermia and her father, with its attendant death sentence, is parodied in the comic treatment of parental opposition to love in Pyramus and Thisbe, and the absurdly over-stated presentation of the deaths of these lovers by the mechanicals.  In the same way Parolles' fear of death is made comic, and highlights the bravery of the other men in the wars; by contrast Claudio's dread of dying is a serious matter in Measure for Measure, giving rise to the climactic clash of interest between brother and sister.  Barnadine's refusal to prepare himself for death is a satirical comment on Claudio's fear and also on the unequal dispensation of justice in Vienna since the criminal here, in effect, determines the execution of his own sentence.  In the first three romances death is an ugly reality forcefully presented in each play: the heads of Antiochus' victims are on display in the opening scene of Pericles; Cloten's head is carried on in Cymbeline, and Imogen daubs his blood on her face; and Antigonus in The Winter's Tale meets a violent, terrifying death in being torn to pieces by a bear.  Beside the horror of these harsh presentations we also find the pathos of death, the anguish and despair of bereavement: Pericles' speech as he consigns Thaisa's body to the sea is among the most moving passages in Shakespeare; Imogen's grief over the body of her dead husband is given full expression, while the princes' stylised funeral dirge over the dead Fidele is equally effective for its quiet restraint.  Less passionately Leontes mourns the deaths of Mamillius and Hermione, his grief kept alive by careful reminders from Paulina.  In each case death is the consequence of some serious breach of order, and its function is to point the necessity for a harmonious, ordered existence which, in the romances, is brought about through trial and suffering.

 

    Closely associated with suffering, death and redemption are the violent tempests at sea which are scattered through these plays.  The stormy sea was, for Shakespeare, a complex image of both birth and death, since it was responsible for taking life, but also finally for its restoration.  It has this function in The Comedy of Errors, where Egeon is separated from Emilia in a storm, and then a sea journey from Syracuse to Ephesus reunites the family.  The same applies to Twelfth Night, in


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which Viola and Sebastian are separated at sea, being cast ashore in Illyria, where they are both brought to new life in separate marriages.  The most powerful use of sea imagery occurs with both benevolent and hostile results, and in The Winter's Tale the sea consumes those who conspire to expose Perdita but at the same time delivers the princess safely into the hands of the Bohemian shepherds, so that a new and fertile life can be established for the play's communities.  The Tempest opens with a sea storm which initiates the process of purging for those who had plotted Prospero's expulsion from Milan.  Once this has been achieved, with harmony restored, the castaways return home on a calm sea to a prosperous new life.

 

    The violence of Nature in these storms is a reflection of disorder in human affairs, just as the bad weather in A Midsummer Night's Dream reflects disruption in the fairy world.  When chaos reigns at any level in society, conflict and suffering will result; and since none of the comedies and romances is free of disorder, so all entail suffering.  Emotional or physical pain is unpleasant to contemplate, although we may laugh at the comic beating of a servant or clown, or the gulling of a susceptible person.  Nevertheless, when these punishments are carried to excess we become uneasy and anxiously anticipate the clarification and release from torment.  In comedy it is not only the guilty who suffer, however, and when we see violence being committed against the innocent, our desire to see the resolution of conflict is the more intense.  The necessity for suffering must be appreciated if Shakespeare's comic vision is to be understood: disorder, conflict and violence all contribute in bringing about a comic catharsis which enables an ordered, harmonious state to be founded, made particularly effective in the romances by the use of supernatural powers or divine intervention, implying that the play's characters are at one not only with each other, but also with the higher powers of an ordered universe.

 

 

- - -  NOTES: CHAPTER SEVEN  - - -

 

7.1  There is ample evidence of the characteristics of contemporary teachers and their methods.  For example, in John Brinsley, Lvdvs Literarivs: Or, The Grammar Schoole (London: Thomas Man, 1612) (I have given an abbreviated title: see the bibliography for the full title, which is some twelve lines in length), we find beating of pupils recommended as a last resort - 'in greater faults, to giue three or fowre ierkes with a birch, or with a small redde willow where birch cannot be had' (p.288);


- 386 -

 

furthermore, 'anger in the Schoole-master is as necessary as in any other, to be angry at the negligence and other vices of the children' (p.290).  The lessons we find in Shakespeare are typical of those found in contemporary books on the theory of teaching: for example, see Charles Hoole, A New Discovery of the Old Art of Teaching Schoole, in Four Small Treatises (London: J.T. for Andrew Crook, 1660):

 

The Analysis of a Noun Substantive

What part of Speech is Lignorum of sticks.

Lignorum of sticks, is a Noun.

Why is Lignorum a Noun?

Because lignum a stick is the name of a thing that may be seen.

(p.87)

 

Apart from the lessons I have discussed in Shakespeare's comedies, there is also Katherine's English lesson in Henry V: here the superior status of the pupil precludes any violence on the part of the tutor, but the impatience of the princess sometimes makes itself felt.  return

 

7.2  Admittedly its application in The Tempest is slight: Trinculo and Stephano are deceived by the appearance of Caliban, mistaking him for a god.  Among the disguises and mistaken identities in the remaining plays are the following:

The Comedy of Errors: confusion between the Ephesian and Syracusian pairs of twins.

The Taming of the Shrew: disguise of Lucentio and Hortensio; substitution of the Mantuan pedant for Vincentio.

The Two Gentlemen of Verona: Julia's disguise.

Love's Labour's Lost: the masque of the Muscovites.

A Midsummer Night's Dream: Bottom translated.

The Merry Wives of Windsor: Ford and Falstaff disguised; the fairy disguises, and those of Anne Page and her suitors.

The Merchant of Venice: Portia and Nerissa as the doctor and clerk.

Much Ado about Nothing: mistaking of Margaret for Hero.

As You Like It: disguise of Rosalind and Celia.

Twelfth Night: disguise of Viola and confusion with Sebastian.

All's Well That Ends Well: the bed trick; Helena's disguise.

Measure for Measure: the Duke's disguise; the bed trick.

Pericles: Pericles wins Thaisa incognito, and fails to recognise Marina.

Cymbeline: disguises of Imogen, Posthumus, Belarius, Guiderius and Arviragus.

The Winter's Tale: disguises of Florizel and Polixenes.  return

 

7.3  Love's Labour's Lost (France); Measure for Measure (Ragozine); Pericles (Antiochus and his daughter); Cymbeline (Cloten and the Queen); The Winter's Tale (Mamillius; Antigonus and all on board his ship).  return

 

7.4  The Comedy of Errors, A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Merchant of Venice, Much Ado about Nothing, As You Like It, All's Well That Ends Well and The Tempestreturn

 

7.5  The Taming of the Shrew, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, The Merry Wives of Windsor and Twelfth Nightreturn

 


 

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