Monday, April 2, 2012

William Shakespeare Research Paper

William Shakespeare Research Paper

William Shakespeare is said to have he reputation of one of the best writers of plays in Western literature in English language. Genres of his plays were historically divided into tragedy, comedy and history, but there were also some of his works that were very difficult to categorize, as their structure broke any generic conventions. His most famous plays include such masterpieces, as Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, King Lear, the Taming of the Shrew, Julius Caesar, Twelfth Night, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Richard III, Othello, etc.

In order to analyze Shakespearean plays, it is essential to know what the theatre looked like during the time of his work and following existing trends in writing plays. When Shakespeare first moved to London at the late 16th century, theatre was changing its traditional appearance. Two different trends of dramatic traditions were combined by the authors into the one, called Elizabethan synthesis. The most popular form of theatre at that time was Tudor morality plays, the mixture of farce, slapstick and piety. The plot and the characters in such plays were not realistic, but symbolic. Classical aesthetic theory was another dramatic tradition, which was originally derived from Aristotle. Plays were staged upon the basis of Roman closet drama and were usually performed in Latin. Distinctive feature of such kind of plays is that they were more static with lengthy dialogue, rather then showing physical actions.

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When Shakespeare began to write his plays, both writing traditions were still relevant. During the period of Renaissance in England, morality and academic plays popularity was growing supported by two revolutionists of theatre- Christopher Marlowe and Thomas Kyd. Their plays combined the morality drama of an old type with more contemporary classical theory. The meanings of new style plays were more complex and profound, an also less concentrated upon simple allegory. Shakespeare was very much inspired by this new artistic style, and began to write plays that were speaking not to the emotional conditions of the audience, but also to its mind, debating upon the basic elements of how is it to be human and what does that mean. Such approaches were relating to the tragedies, but comedy plays also experiences changes and transformation, but from the hands of John Lyly and George Peele. They offered new play models for comedies, which included romantic action, witty dialogues and exotic locations, and eventually formed the Shakespeare’s comedic writing style.

Shakespeare’s tragedies of the Elizabethan period were also historical plays with tragic design (Richard II, for instance) shows that his writing style was independent from the classical model.

Thou chidest me well: proud
Bolingbroke, I come
To change blows with thee for our day of doom.
This ague fit of fear is over-blown;
An easy task it is to win our own.
Say, Scroop, where lies our uncle with his power?
Speak sweetly, man, although thy looks be sour.

But still he took the notion of decorum from Horace and Aristotle; he was focusing predominantly upon national affairs as the subject of the tragedy, as well as upon high-born characters. This is the early period in his tragedy plays and the moralities style can be easily observed. The influence of Marlowe’s Tamburlaine is obvious. But despite the influence, Shakespeare shows more restrain than Marlowe did, and has more detailed and skeptical attitudes to his characters. The earliest tragedy of Shakespeare is Titus Andronicus, which lost its popularity during Victorian age. This is what Nurse says in the Act 4, Scene 2:

A joyless, dismal, black, and sorrowful issue!
 Here is the babe, as loathsome as a toad
Amongst the fair-fac'd breeders of our clime;
 The Empress sends it thee, thy stamp, thy seal,
And bids thee christen it with thy dagger's point.

Shakespeare’s early comedies are very romantic and are written in new comedy style. They are famous for romantic intrigues, influenced by Lyly, and less attention in them are paid to deceit, jests and witty dialogues.

At the end of the reign of Elizabeth, Shakespeare reached the maturity as the writer. During first years of the James’s reign, he responded to the dramatic shift in the tastes of the pubic and appeared to introduce the new fashion for tragicomedy by establishing darker and more profound visions of natures of the characters derived from the environments of pervasive corruption. This period in his work is referred to as Jacobean and was influenced by the plays of young satiric dramatists. Carol in 1967-67 wrote about tragedy of that period Troilus and Cressida: “Troilus and Cressida, that most vexing and ambiguous of Shakespeare's plays, strikes the modern reader as a contemporary document—its investigation of numerous infidelities, its criticism of tragic pretensions, above all, its implicit debate between what is essential in human life and what is only existential are themes of the twentieth century. [...] This is tragedy of a special sort—the "tragedy" the basis of which is the impossibility of conventional tragedy”.

Shakespeare’s writing style is difficult not to be recognized. Many passages of his plays are written in prose, and those that are not –follow iambic pentameter. In his early works (Romeo and Juliet, for instance) punctuation at the end of iambic pentameters was added to intensify the rhyme. Juliet speaks in the Capulet’s orchard to her nurse in the 2nd scene:

O, break, my heart! poor bankrupt, break at once!
To prison, eyes, ne'er look on liberty!
Vile earth, to earth resign; end motion here;
And thou and Romeo press one heavy bier!

Rhyming couplet for suspense and holding audiences breathe was also frequently used at the end of the scenes. This is how it is done in Macbeth, when Macbeth leaves the stage for Duncan murder:

Hear is not Duncan; for it is a knell
That summons thee to heaven or hell.

Humor is also the key element of Shakespearean plays, influenced by Plautus. One of the most entertaining scenes are of course reflected in his comedies, but can be also found in Hamlet and Henry IV (1st part). One of the most outstanding features in Shakespearean plays is the use of soliloquies (Maurer, 2005), when the hero speaks to himself and the audience is able to understand his inner experiences, motivations and conflicts. One of the most famous soliloquies is the monologue of Hamlet:

To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them?
To die: to sleep;
 No more; and by a sleep to say we end…

One of my favorite soliloquies is that of Macbeth in Act 5, Scene 5, 19-28:

To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
 Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
 The way to dusty death.
Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
 And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
 Signifying nothing.

Speaking about the source material and ideas Shakespeare used in his plays, it is important to mention that he used as the basis plays of other playwrights and just retell old stories in the new manner, as well as studied thoroughly historical information. This dependence upon already written material was stipulated with the fact that plays at that period of time were written very quickly and the rewritten old stories were likely to have more popularity and larger audiences. Reason of aesthetic origin was also present, as aesthetic theory of the Renaissance period dictated severely that the tragic historical moment should be memorized and grounded in history. But it was only about historical plays and tragedies- for comedies Shakespeare had not involved any definite source.

There is also much dispute regarding the chronology of the Shakespearean plays, as well as their authorship. There are three key stylistic grouping to which the plays of Shakespeare can be referred. To the first grouping of plays relate plays that were written during the last decade of the 16th century. Shakespeare’s early plays are predominantly adaptations for the works of other playwrights and in style little rhythm variation can be observed. Many of his famous comedies were written during that period to cheer people up after the plague hit. The second grouping of plays starts with Julius Caesar written in 1599. This period can be called the darkest one, as during it Shakespeare wrote his most famous dramas (Macbeth, King Lear and Hamlet) and was mainly addressing such themes as power, egoism, betrayal, murder and lust. And finally the last grouping of plays is late romances of Shakespeare, which were somewhat similar to romance literature of medieval times (Pericles, Prince of Tyre, Cymbeline, the Tempest and The Winter’s Tale). They all have happy ends and include magic or some fantastic elements.

In the conclusion, I would like to summarize that Shakespearean plays are unique and genuine. Even though they were influenced by many dramatists of the period, they are outstanding heritage of the epoch, which had taken its glory through centuries and seems that will keep alive forever. Even at present moment they are equally relevant and entertaining, which the sign that they are real masterpieces.
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