If Shakespeare had died in the plague of 1594, his name would be that of a promising playwright who had achieved less than Marlowe. However, the four plays he wrote for the reopened theatres are less crude, more conscious; their writing and shaping more careful and consistent. He had completed two accomplished long poems, and the new plays have richer poetic dimensions than their predecessors. Indeed, these four plays are sometimes called, for want of a better term, ‘lyrical’. Richard II (discussed in the next chapter) is cast in a stately and plangent verse; the others (two comedies and a romantic tragedy) are mostly in blank verse but with much rhymed verse, some songs and sonnets, and, in their comic scenes, some prose. All four plays explicitly discuss language, and also verse and prose, alerting the audience to notice the different levels of style. They also discuss acting, to make the audience aware of its own collaborative role in the makebelieve of theatre. These new plays are better than the plays of his contemporaries: more skilful, and in a language which creates a larger and more conscious world.
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