Theme 3: Renaissance. William Shakespeare's Work and His Theatre.
1. The history of Renaissance and its philosophy.
2. William Shakespeare – his life and work.
3. W. Shakespeare's best comedies.
4. W. Shakespeare's best historical dramas.
5. W. Shakespeare's best tragedies.
6. W. Shakespeare's importance for the development of the English language, literature and theatre.
The history of Renaissance and its philosophy
Renaissance was a great cultural movement that began in Italy during the early 1330's. It spread to England, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, and other countries in the late 1400's and ended about 1600.
The word 'Renaissance' comes from the Latin word 'rinascere' and means rebirth. The Renaissance was the period when European culture was at its height. At that time great importance was assigned to intellect, experience, scientific experiment. The new ideology proclaimed the value of human individuality. This new outlook was called Humanism. The humanists were scholars and artists who studied subjects that they believed would help them better understand the problems of humanity. These subjects included literature and philosophy. The humanists considered that the civilizations of ancient Greece and Rome had excelled in such subjects and could serve as models.
During the Middle Ages the most important branch of learning was theology. Renaissance thinkers paid greater attention to the study of humanity.
The Renaissance in England
During the Renaissance period (particularly 1485-1603) Middle English began to develop into Modern English. By the late 1500's the English people were speaking and writing English in a form much like that used today.
The Renaissance in England is usually studied by dividing it into three parts: the rise of the Renaissance under the early Tudor monarchs (1500-1558), the height of the Renaissance under Elizabeth I (1558-1603), and the decline of the Renaissance under the Stuart monarchs (1603-1649).
The greatest of all English authors and one of the greatest in the world literature William Shakespeare belongs to those rare geniuses of mankind who have become landmarks in the history of world culture. Thus it was Shakespeare who embodied in the immortal images of his plays all the greatest ideas of Renaissance and in the first place the ideas of humanism which means love for mankind blended with active struggle for its happiness. Moreover he was one of the first founders of realism, a master-hand at realistic portrayal of human characters and relations.
No wonder that Shakespeare's works were so cherished by the greatest minds of mankind, who regarded Shakespeare as the 'the greatest dramatic genius the world has ever known'.
William Shakespeare was born on the 23d of April 1564 in Stratford-on-Avon. His father, John Shakespeare, the son of a small farmer settled in Stratford and entered the trade. At the age of seven Shakespeare was sent to the local grammar school which he attended for six years. Besides reading and writing he was taught Latin and Greek. In 1577 he was taken from school and for some time had to help his father in his trade.
There are reasons to believe that Shakespeare distinguished himself at school for there is a tradition according to which he, in his young years, was a schoolmaster in his place. When still at Stratford Shakespeare became well acquainted with theatrical performances. Stratford was often visited by traveling companies of actors.
In 1582 Shakespeare married a farmer's daughter Anne Hathaway, 8 years elder than Shakespeare with three children. At the time Shakespeare arrived in London the drama was rapidly gaining popularity among the people. Shakespeare is known to have been an actor and playwright in one of the leading companies of players. Later on he became a shareholder of the theatre, which later was called 'The Globe'.
In his works Shakespeare was always keenly alive to events of contemporary life which made his plays extremely popular. Shakespeare's activity as a dramatist, poet, actor and proprietor lasted till the year 1612 when he retired from the stage and returned to Stratford. Shakespeare died on the 23d of April 1616.
The first complete edition of Shakespeare's works was published by his fellow-players and friends in 1623.
For more than 25 years Shakespeare had been associated with the best theatres of England. During the 22 years of his literary work he produced 37 plays, two narrative poems and 154 sonnets.
His literary work may be divided into three major periods:
the first period from 1590-1600
the second period from 1601-1608
the third period from 1609-1612
The First Period (1590-1600)
The first period of Shakespeare's work may be defined as a period of comedies and histories. An exception is 'Romeo and Juliet' (1594), one of the tragedies written before 1600. But it preserves many traits of the other plays of this period and remains an apotheosis of youthful and triumphant love. On the whole, the spirit of Shakespeare's early work is optimistic.
Still the plays of this period are based on sharp conflicts. His early comedies already present the mixture of tragic and comic elements – the contrast between the laughable and the serious, or in other words the blending of opposite qualities, which is so characteristic of Shakespeare's realistic art. Thus in the 'Comedy of Errors' which is full of fun and merriment one hears sorrowful and even tragic notes.
In the 'Taming of the Shrew' Shakespeare's critical tendencies are already distinctly revealed. The plot of the comedy is borrowed. But having taken the old plot, Shakespeare infused a new life into it, created a comedy, humane and progressive in its essence. He gave a new interpretation to the principal characters, introduced new ones for contrast and made the social background stand out with great vividness. The main heroes: Petruchio, Babtisla, Katharina, Bianca.
'Twelfth Night' — the last play of the first period – may be considered an artistic consummation of the best images and ideas of all Shakespeare's comedies. (Sebastian, Viola, Olivia, Orsino). The play is imbued with humanist ideas. It is
devoted to the glorification of faithful love that overcomes the hardest of obstacles. The young girl Viola struggles for her happiness and wins it owing to her love and wit. Love works wonder with people turning the cold and naughty Olivia into a tender-hearted girl and making the Duke marry Viola, a girl who is inferior to him in rank.
As it is always the case with Shakespeare true love is associated with high-mindedness and mutual understanding.
Shakespeare's interest in the history of his country was one of the manifestations of the patriotic feelings of the common people of England and of the rise of their national consciousness in the latter half of the 16th century.
In his Histories Shakespeare gives a broad panorama of English life. Scenes of private and domestic life alternate with heroic episodes of war and political intrigues. The principal idea of his historical plays is the necessity of the consolidation of the country under the king. The feudal lords who struggle with each other and against the king are doomed, and their fall is inevitable. Like the majority of humanists of his time Shakespeare believed in a wise and humane king who would like to serve his country. But with the only exception of Henry V Shakespeare's treatment of real English kings is extremely critical.
Shakespeare's Histories are political plays. A gallery of characters is presented in Shakespeare's Histories; rich and poor, great and humble, good and evil. We learn not only of kings and lords but also of common people.
Romeo and Juliet (1594)
Romeo, the young heir of the Montaques and Juliet, the beautiful young daughter of the Capulets, fall in love with each other. There is an age-old feud between two families, which serves as insurmountable barrier to the union of the youthful lovers. They plan to escape, but circumstances are against them and both die, victims of feudal despotism of their parents.
Feudalism to W. Shakespeare meant the doom of all genuinely human feelings and of natural human relations. Shakespeare shows us the terrible world of human relations of people who hate one another and are hateful to one another. And the two young men fight against this world of hatred.
Heinrich Heine, the great German poet, in his critical article devoted to Shakespeare's feminine images writes that not only the above-mentioned lovers
are the heroes of the play but love itself is. And though the play is tragic, it is an optimistic tragedy, love defeats hatred.
The Second Period (1601-1608)
'Hamlet, Prince of Denmark' is the most thoughtful of all Shakespeare's plays. It tells the story of a Danish Prince (Hamlet). After his father's death his mother queen married Claudius, Hamlet's uncle. At midnight the ghost of his father rises and tells Hamlet that murder has been done, that his uncle is the murderer, and calls upon him to revenge his father's cruel death. To this task Hamlet devotes himself. Hamlet is an intellectual character. In details Shakespeare gives the mental and the spiritual state of Prince Hamlet.
The play is an optimistic tragedy. 'Hamlet' contains the most important message of all art-love for mankind, the call to an active struggle for a better future, for the happiness of all people, for the total annihilation of all tyrants and oppressors, for justice.
Another great tragedy is 'Othello, the Moor of Venice'. This is also a humanist tragedy. Certain elements of the plot were borrowed by Shakespeare from an Italian source, where the Moor of Venice had been depicted as a rather primitive soldier whose dominating passion was jealousy. Shakespeare's Othello is quite different. Shakespeare's Othello is a great man and a great warrior, and as many of the really great men he is too noble-minded to mistrust those whom he loves. As A.S. Pushkin said: 'Othello is not jealous by nature, on the contrary, he is trustful'. He values sincerity and loftiness of mind above all other human qualities, and he loves Desdemona so dearly just because he finds her to be the very embodiment of these high qualities.
King Lear (1605)
In 'King Lear' we have the story of a poor old king who was turned out of house and home and exposed to the fury of a tempest by his ungrateful daughters between whom he had divided his kingdom, foolishly believing that they loved him too dearly to be unkind to him.
At length he becomes crazy in consequence of all he has to endure, and is finally rescued by his youngest daughter who, he had thought loved him best of all. The
two wicked daughters died by violent death, and the third and only good one fell a victim to a heartless wretch who caused her to be killed in prison. This was more than the king could bare and he laid himself down to die beside the body of the daughter who had loved him so fondly.
Theme 3: The Renaissance in the culture of Europe and England. The importance of W. Shakespeare's activities and creations for the establishment of the English drama and theatre. The brief outline of a comedy, a history and a tragedy in Shakespeare's interpretation. W. Shakespeare on the stage and in the movies.
1. Characterize the period of Renaissance on the whole.
2. What influence did Shakespeare make upon the world literature?
3. What did the great poet have in common with the Globe theatre?
4. What works made Shakespeare immortal?
5. Characterize Hamlet. Why does he delay avenging for his father?
6. Why did Romeo and Juliet's lives end tragically?
7. Who were the main protagonists of Shakespeare's sonnets?
8. What are the Shakespearian sonnets important for?