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Time and Change

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Abstract

‘For eating the forbidden fruit of the tree of knowledge’, says Raleigh, ‘was Adam driven out of Paradise in exilium vitae temporalis, into the banishment of the temporal life.’1 The history plays are recognisable generically by their emphasis on the continuing movement of time, and they convey in a variety of ways the experience of temporality, the bewilderment and frustration of people who find themselves in a world where nothing is permanent, and their attempts to withstand the effects of time. Our awareness of time depends entirely on our sense of change because it is through change that time reveals itself, whether in the movement of the fingers of a clock or the collapse of an empire. Drama is a form well suited to portraying the processes of time since performance has to take place within a certain more or less fixed period, and this sense of time passing is one of the resources of drama which Shakespeare exploits. An audience is made conscious, for example, of the prolongation of the suffering of Lear or Othello as it moves steadily towards its conclusion. They are not allowed the choice of avoiding any part of it, as we can by skipping the pages of a book or speeding up a tape recording.

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Notes and References

  1. 5.
    Geoffrey Bullough, Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare, 5 vols (London, 1958–64) vol. III (1960) p. 169.Google Scholar

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© John Wilders 1978

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