The Old Masters; how well they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along.
(W.H. Auden, ‘Musee des Beaux Arts’)
Discuss some of the ways in which Shakespeare’s plays use the interaction and distance between their protagonists and surrounding minor characters to illuminate the ‘human position’ of suffering.
This quote, taken from Auden's poem Musee des Beaux Arts, deals with the incongruous nature of human suffering, an idea that we are provoked to think about when reading many of Shakespeare plays. However the play which comes to mind first when any reader of Shakespeare hears the word suffering is surely King Lear, which arguably contains the most amount of pain and personal torment of all of Shakespeare's work. Although appearing in the Quarto edition as The History of King Lear, the indescribably tragic plot led the Folio edition to be named The Tragedy of King Lear. Many adaptations and rewrites chose to drastically change the whole idea of the play by omitting perhaps the most heart-breaking part and the grandest loss; the death of Cordelia. What is never lost, however, is the numerous examples of suffering. As a major theme, suffering can be discussed in relation to many different elements of the play, one which has a strong and obvious link to the idea of suffering is the interaction of major and minor characters. More specifically though we will look at how this, along with distance between characters, highlight suffering and create interesting ideas in relation to the human position of pain.
Before looking in detail at the ideas which these points provoke, defining the terms interaction and distance seems crucial. With regard to interaction we will be looking at how smaller, less significant characters mix with and relate to the more important characters when suffering is being dealt with. It will also be necessary to explore
Bibliography: Shakespeare, William, The Complete Works, ed. by Jonathan Bate and Eric Rasmussen (Hampshire: Macmillan Publishers, 2008). George Wilson Knight, The wheel of fire: interpretations of Shakespearian tragedy, 2nd edition (Sussex, Psychology Press, 2001) Samuel Johnson and Arthur Murphy, The works of Samuel Johnson, ed by Alexander Chalmers (Boston: H. C. Carey & I. Lea, 1825). --------------------------------- [ 1 ]. Samuel Johnson and Arthur Murphy, The works of Samuel Johnson, ed by Alexander Chalmers (Boston: H. C. Carey & I. Lea, 1825). [ 2 ]. George Wilson Knight, The wheel of fire: interpretations of Shakespearian tragedy, 2nd edition (Sussex, Psychology Press, 2001) [ 3 ]. William Shakespeare, The Complete Works, ed. by Jonathan Bate and Eric Rasmussen (Hampshire: Macmillan Publishers, 2008). All subsequent quotations from Shakespeare’s plays refer to this edition.