Viewed through the eyes of most orthodox and most radical critics of Shakespeare, the vision of his tragedies appears to be profoundly conservative. In the two dominant, complementary manoeuvres, the tragedies are presented either as endorsing the established order of things by vindicating conventional values, or as reconciling us to our intractably flawed human nature, and thus to the necessity of our generic plight, however monstrous and unbearable its cruelty and injustice may be. At their most blinkered, radical historicists treat these texts as insidious tools or dupes of hegemony, ripe for dispassionate exposure.1 Even Francis Barker, one of new historicism’s sternest left-wing critics, concedes that ‘it would take massive rewriting to make this kind of tragedy radical’,2 and believes that the best we can do is read between the lines for involuntary flickers of disaffection. But the traditional critical response, with which I will chiefly be concerned in this chapter, has been keener to surrender to the sway of the awesome and ineffable: What do we touch in these passages? Sometimes we know that all human pain holds beauty, that no tear falls but it dews some flower we cannot see. Perhaps humour, too, is inwoven in the universal pain, and the enigmatic silence holds not only an unutterable sympathy, but also the ripples of an impossible laughter whose flight is not for the wing of human understanding.
Swipe to navigate through the chapters of this book
Please log in to get access to this content
To get access to this content you need the following product:
- Shakespearean Tragedy: The Subversive Imagination
- Macmillan Education UK
- Sequence number
- Chapter number