The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.0381 Tuesday, 22 February 2000.
Date: Monday, 21 Feb 2000 19:00:42 -0500
Subject: Who's Who in Hell
I've been brooding for some time about the question of tragedy/comedy
distinction (raised in connection with T&C). It may have something to do
with where the characters would spend eternity if they were real
people. Considering that Elizabethans, irrespective of their actual
personal beliefs, were perforce regular churchgoers, and sudden death
was quite commonplace, this was probably a "hot button" issue. Tragedy:
the people we're rooting for go to Hell. Comedy: the people we're
rooting for don't.
Although to many SHAKSPER-ians (including me), Antonio's demand that
Shylock immediately convert to Christianity is offensive, I think in the
world-view of Shakespeare's audience, this was an extremely generous
offer. Not only does it (in this worldview!) make Shylock capable of
salvation, in effect it bolsters MV's status as a comedy. Perhaps that's
what the dialogue between Launcelot and Jessica ("my husband has saved
me...he has made me a Christian") is doing in the play. (Of course,
jokes about bastardy were to the early modern stage what explosions are
to action movies...perhaps Shakespeare simply felt that things had gone
on too long without one.)
With or without Ethel the Pirate's Daughter, R&J does seem to start off
as if it were going to become a comedy, with Juliet in doublet and hose
en route to Mantua. However, once Romeo has incurred his own damnation
by murdering Tybalt, the play can no longer be a comedy, and so the
theo(logical) next step s despair, suicide, and damnation all around.
By the way, although he hasn't been there very long, Hamlet Senior has
failed to get the point of Purgatory, by inducing his (presumably
beloved) son to embark on a course of revenge that will result in Hamlet
Fils' damnation. As for that flight of angels, Horatio is simply
whistling past the graveyard....
Curses, foiled again,