Secular authorities had (and still have) every investment in discouraging revenge. If citizens perceive that the law no longer serves them, then we get the kind of situation that Francis Bacon famously warned of:
‘Revenge is a kind of wild justice’
And this is a point that Jonathan Bate develops, quoting Fredson Bowers:
Private action undermines the authority of the state:Elizabethan law felt itself capable of meting out justice to murderers, and therefore punished an avenger who took justice into his own hands just as heavily as the original murderer.The authorities, conscious of the Elizabethan inheritance of private justice from earlier ages, recognised that their own times still held the possibilities of serious turmoil; and the were determined that private revenge should not unleash a general disrespect for law.
Act IV however adds the dimension of the breakdown of DIVINE justice to the individual’s decision to subvert the legal process.
My experience of Shakespeare’s Rome is the city where Cinna the Poet is torn apart by the mob for his ‘bad verses’ (Julius Caesar, III.iii), and the antagonistic opening to Coriolanus. So, what first struck me as the play opened was just how thin the veneer of civilisation proved to be.
Peter Saccio, Shakespeare’s English Kings: History, Chronicle, and Drama (Oxford University Press: Oxford, 2000)
One of the biggest problems with being on holiday with non-reading friends is that you become embarrassed by the amount of time you want, no NEED, to spend in bookshops.
So this was a book I could easily have missed whilst browsing a second-hand bookshop in Leominster. I was really lucky to have my other half on hand to find it out for me, because time was running out, and I was beginning to worry about the patience of the friends we were holidaying with, who had already politely wandered round the shop and were now at the ‘waiting outside for you‘ stage ….
Ponytail Shakespeare: The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Act II.
If The Taming of the Shrew was about disguises, William C Carroll is right in considering The Two Gentlemen as a text about metamorphosis in the tradition of Ovid.
Before we look at these transformations, though, a word on Silvia. It drives me mad every time I hear or read someone preface some ill-informed remark with ‘Shakespeare was …’ More on this at regular intervals, I suspect. But for the moment, let’s take a small nibble at ‘Shakespeare was misogynist‘.
Recently, I wrote about bringing your personal baggage to your interpretation and enjoyment of texts. It’s why I re-read: every few years I genuinely believe I approach a text as a different person, changed in infinite, indescribable ways by my experiences.
This is my first time with the Two Gentlemen, though, and I approached this text with some trepidation. It has a reputation – despite being the first play performed at the newly-built Globe – and Dennis Carey‘s reaction on being asked to direct the play was not reassuring:
“I had only just read the play, and was badly shaken. Could the author really be grateful to anyone for preserving this youthful, unfinished, minor exercise?”
It’s been a while since I expressed some mild distaste at the prank played on the admittedly unsympathetic Christopher Sly at the beginning of this play.
(the reading continues to schedule, by the way, but I can see myself having to catch up on the act-by-act commentaries over the summer holidays)
Doing a bit of research – perhaps on the back of my reluctance to engage with the comedies, I found that the play has plenty of detractors, but I’ve seen it once – several years ago, at the Cambridge Shakespeare Festival – and enjoyed the performance.The casting certainly seemed to back up Robert Atkins’ views: