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posted by Morning Star in Arts

Fear Not Shakespeare’s Tragedies: A Comprehensive Introduction by Jenny Farrell (Nuascealta, £10.88)

MORE than a mere introduction, Jenny Farrell’s book provides a comprehensive guide for all wishing to understand Shakespeare for pleasure or study and his impact on cinema, theatre and even opera.

Central to the interpretation of each text is a close reading, setting the plays in their historical context.

The opening chapter explores the early modern period as a time of momentous change, in which the beginning of bourgeois society and Renaissance and Tudor absolutism defined the epoch from which Shakespearean theatre originates.

That brief outline leads on to Shakespeare’s life, about which much has been written but little is really known.

The readings of the four plays consider plot, characters, themes, dramatic devices, endings and tragic content.

Unlike most mainstream academic research, Farrell does not approach the text with a preconceived thesis to be illustrated but is guided by the conflicts developed in the tragedies.

These are, according to her convincing interpretation, the expression of a fundamental collision of conflicting historical and ethical forces that emerged after the collapse of the mediaeval world and the rise of the early bourgeoisie.

On the one hand, there arose a self-liberating humanity whose values are peace, justice, the welfare of all and, ultimately, the idea of human equality.

On the other, the instinct for domination and submission leading, in the final analysis, to the plundering of the planet.

Farrell describes these conflicting forces as between the humanism expressed by Erasmus and Thomas More and the ideas promoted by Niccolo Machiavelli in The Prince, his breviary on the gaining and retaining of power.

Other forces involved in this struggle were the representatives of the old order of the feudal world and the working people, given a voice for the first time in Hamlet’s gravediggers.

They all came into conflict in the plots of the four tragedies, which illuminate the clash of these forces in a diversity peerless in world drama.

In a highly concentrated conclusion, Farrell offers an overall interpretation highlighting the utmost relevance of Shakespeare’s tragedies in our own time. Essential reading.

By Thomas Metscher