The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.188 Tuesday, 24 May 2016
Date: May 11, 2016 at 11:14:38 AM EDT
Subject: Book Announcement: Shakespeare’s Symmetries
I am pleased to announce the publication of my book, Shakespeare’s Symmetries: The Mirrored Structure of Action in the Plays.
The book demonstrates that the mature plays are structured chiastically (ABCDCBA), usually with thematic actions as the repeated elements, one to each scene. Shakespeare’s use of chiasmus in sentences, speeches and scenes has been widely remarked, and some chiastic pairings between scenes have been noticed, especially when those pairs flank the central scene: the murders of Caesar and Cinna in Julius Caesar, Coriolanus’s two denunciations of the tribunes in Coriolanus, the wrong choices of Portia’s first two suitors in The Merchant of Venice, etc. This mirrored pairing of actions occurs not only in the central flanking scenes but between all corresponding scenes of the first and second halves of mature plays. The basis of the pairing is not always obvious, for the completed, repeated or contrasting actions may be reported or narrated rather than enacted. For example, Cominius is embraced by Coriolanus in one early scene and in the corresponding later scene reports that he has been rebuffed by Coriolanus. And in some later plays the connection is even less evident. In Cymbeline, for instance, the change in Posthumus is expressed metaphorically: he is a “flyer” in the third scene and a “stander” in the third-last scene. The structure has gone unnoticed because of the subtlety of the reflections.
This arch-like thematic structure resolves a number of perennial problems, including questions of scene division, the number and placement of scenes, and the structural logic of puzzling plays like Cymbeline. The “thematic arch” explains, for example, the scene divisions in Folio Measure for Measure, Folio 2 Henry IV and other plays whose scene designations are routinely changed. It also suggests—to take one other vexing issue—that the twenty-seven scenes of Folio Macbeth should remain unchanged and that the first Hecate scene contains a non-Middletonian portion that reflects Macbeth’s speech in the corresponding scene and should therefore be retained. Most importantly, the thematic arch illuminates Shakespeare’s constructive practice and reveals the underlying consistency even of such apparently dissimilar works as A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Antony and Cleopatra.
The book is available from McFarland & Company. (http://www.mcfarlandpub.com/book-2.php?id=978-1-4766-6370-8).