Shakespeare Electronic Conference, SHK 7.0888. Tuesday, 26 November 1996.
Date: Monday, 25 Nov 1996 22:22:35 -0600
Subject: Q: Shakespeare and the Unities
Shakespeare and the Unities:
Shakespeare paid little heed to the classical unities (time, place, and
action), especially when the story just couldn't be stuffed into the confines
of 24 hours and one location. In H5, for example, the speaker of the prologue
invites the audience to get ready for a story whose scenes span time and space.
[For 'tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings, / Carry them here and
there; jumping o'er times, / Turning the accomplishment of many years / Into
an hour-glass.] Was this a self-conscious effort to prepare his
Unity-expecting audience, who might otherwise be troubled?
Question 1: Was Shakespeare doing anything unusual here? Were all the other
Elizabethan playwrights already setting aside strict conformity to the unities
in the same way? Was Shakespeare an innovator, or was he just part of an
Question 2: In my understanding, the Italian theater at the time paid much
stricter regard to the unities, No? Did they ever come to the same kind of
freedom? I can imagine that the Italians might have scoffed at Shakespeare's
cavalier regard for the unities as provincial and barbaric. Do we have any
record of the Italian reaction to the English practice?
Question 3: Were any of Shakespeare's plays performed in Italy at the time? If
so, how did the Italians react to his violation of the unities? If not, could
his disregard for the unities have been one of the reasons nobody wanted to
produce his plays in Italy?
Any answers will be appreciated. Thanks in advance.