William Empson: Essays on Renaissance Literature: Volume 2, by William Empson, John Haffenden

By William Empson, John Haffenden

This number of William Empson's essays on drama is the second one quantity of his writings on Renaissance literature. Edited by means of major Empson pupil John Haffenden, the contents variety from essays at the Spanish Tragedy, Volpone and The Duchess of Malfi to a sprightly piece on Elizabethan spirits. moreover, there are numerous hitherto unpublished essays, together with a powerful, provocative new studying of A Midsummer Night's Dream. in the course of the quantity Empson fights his personal severe nook with unequaled zest, intelligence and perception.

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One would assume that all the characters were a bit wicked, but the main sentiment would be against these oppressively important royal marriages (which the queen of England had been quite right to refuse); ( The Spanish Tragedy' (i) 25 one would take for granted that any amount of murder would be done before such a thing was arranged. A slight suggestion that all these characters are wicked no doubt helps to bring in the idea of fate, which gets rather unusual treatment. Some critics have called the ghost a clumsy and undramatic device because, not only pointless, he has no effect on the action.

Presumably the audience wouldn't bother much; they would only feel sure that the marriage somehow mattered a great deal. The question, of course, was a major one of current politics. Spain and Portugal had acquired the first maritime empires, and the pope had divided America between them. For England, the great enemy was Spain, and Spain when the play was new had recently acquired by inheritance the whole empire of Portugal. That is, Philip II took it in 1580 and made a reasonable hereditary claim; he had to send an army to Lisbon, and I gather had other grounds such as that the Portuguese had been trying to take Morocco, but the hereditary claim was an essential part.

As the chief object of Hieronymo is to speak to the king away from the brother and nephew, this means that his choice of mad behaviour nearly succeeded. ) But the king only says this after he has gone, and then refers the matter to the duke, who has Lorenzo at the interview; so that Hieronymo again feels that his case is hopeless. He next comes in (scene xiii) 'with a book in his hand' like Hamlet, because he is grappling with the theory of revenge. I want to maintain that his arguments were meant to seem mad to the audience, or at least tragically deluded; such is the point of development he ought to have reached, and he is at least very confused about the well-known difficulties of his topic.

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