Shakespeare’s profound allegiance to received moral ideas is rarely contested and will not be, here. Not until the end of his career as an author did he write for anything other than the popular theatre, and even when the Blackfriars was available, his plays seem also to have been played at the Globe. Like most of the dramatists in the popular tradition, he was a moral conservative, and it would therefore be most unlikely that he should be attracted to the drama of moral experiment. He tried it only once, in Measure for Measure, just as he tried his hand at satiric drama once, in Troilus and Cressida. In the case of Measure for Measure, the attempt came right at the beginning of the new King’s reign, and is one of the very earliest dramas of experiment. He was actually helping to define and promote the form, even if Measure for Measure is by no means wholly committed to the impulse to experiment morally. Aside from this single play, though, the drama of moral experiment is conspicuously absent from his work.
KeywordsMoral Experiment Experimental Drama Moral Idea Sexual Purity Early Drama
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- 1.Terence Hawkes’ book, Shakespeare and the Reason: a Study of the Tragedies and Problem Plays (New York, 1965), details the Renaissance neo-Platonist preference for the perception of the intuition, rather than that of the reason (see esp. pp. 22–7). In Hawkes’ discussion of Othello, it is Othello’s failure of intuitive perception which is stressed: in this failure, he ‘allows Iago to manufacture his own world of cause and effect, and to lead Othello into it’ (p. 105); and ‘in murdering Desdemona, Othello murders a whole realm of “holy” non-rational belief.Google Scholar
- 2.This translation of de Consolatione Philosophiae is Chaucer’s (‘Boece’). The section quoted is from the end of Book II (Metrum 8). See F. N. Robinson (ed.), The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer, 2nd edn. (Oxford, 1957) pp. 340–1.Google Scholar
- 3.Wilson Knight, ‘King Lear and the Comedy of the Grotesque’, in The Wheel of Fire … With Three Additional Essays (New York, 1957) p. 162, specifically identifies Lear’s failure as ‘a fault of the mind’. He sees Lear’s condition as ‘greatness linked to puerility’.Google Scholar
- 5.See Huston Diehl’s important article, ‘Horrid Image, Sorry Sight, Fatal Vision’, Shakespeare Studies, XVI (1983) pp. 191–204, on the Renaissance view of perception as ‘not merely a physical act [but] a moral act as well (p. 191). For Diehl, Macbeth illustrates ‘a failure to understand the moral dimension of what he sees … [whereupon] the fantasy tempts him’. Thereafter, Macbeth lives only among illusions (p. 198). Diehl interestingly cites Aquinas’ view that demons have only an erratic knowledge of the future.Google Scholar
- 6.See Joan Hartwig, Shakespeare’s Tragicomic Vision (Baton Rouge, 1972) for her sustained attention to Shakespeare’s stress on wonder in these plays. Of the many interpretations of their connection with religious faith, seeGoogle Scholar
- Howard Felperin, Shakespearean Romance (Princeton, 1972) ch. 5, for an intelligent demonstration of their connections with Medieval religious drama.Google Scholar
- 8.Robert Grams Hunter, Shakespeare and the Comedy of Forgiveness (New York and London, 1965) p. 152, remarks that ‘by agreeing to a test of love, Posthumus has offended against love … [which is] too important to risk destroying by admitting the possibility of its destruction’.Google Scholar
- 9.See Douglas L. Peterson, Time and Tide and Tempest (San Marino, 1973) pp. 108–50, on the issues of ‘proof’ and nature in the play.Google Scholar
- 14.Robert B. Pierce, ‘“Very Like a Whale”: Scepticism and Seeing in The Tempest’, Shakespeare Survey, 38 (1985) pp. 167–74, treats the play as a Montaignean essay in misperception, but stresses the instinctive perception by Ferdinand and Miranda of each other’s fitness (p. 170). Drama is of course the perfect medium for such an enquiry into illusory perception.Google Scholar
- 15.See Howard Felperin’s ideas on ‘Demystification and Remystification in The Tempest’ in Carol McGinnis Kay and Henry Jacobs (eds), Shakespeare’s Romances Reconsidered (Nebraska, 1978) ch. 4.Google Scholar