Modern criticism views Shakespeare as a consummate and innovative interpreter of classic literature who availed himself of the vast lexicon of symbols, characters, themes, and subjects from the Greek and Roman mythological traditions for his dramas and poetry. Shakespeare's innumerable references, whether implied or explicit, to the figures of classical mythology have prompted numerous studies, with contemporary critical consensus acknowledging that the principal source of Shakespeare's mythic allusions is the Roman poet Publius Ovidius Naso's Metamorphoses—a work that details in fifteen volumes the most well-known mythological stories associated with the theme of transformation. Other works by Ovid, including his Fasti, are also considered significant sources, as is Lucius Apuleius's Golden Ass. Because Elizabethan audiences would have immediately recognized references to mythical characters, and since this is no longer necessarily the case among contemporary viewers and readers, modern Shakespearean myth criticism has traditionally centered on the explication of allusions to mythic figures and their possible symbolic or thematic significance. More recently, a number of scholars have discerned in the plays not only a variety of allusion, but also evidence that Shakespeare may have adapted myths retold by Ovid and other classical writers as structural components for his dramas. Likewise, contemporary critics have suggested that extensive mythic patterns inform the major characters and situations of the tragedies, and to varying degrees, the late romances.
Ovid's Metamorphoses has long been considered the single-most influential work upon the Shakespearean canon. The early poem Venus and Adonis is said to follow Ovid stylistically, although Shakespeare generally manipulated his sources in the work, as João Froes (see Further Reading) notes. Other contemporary critics have continued the tradition of illuminating the impact of Ovid's poetry on Shakespeare's writing. Barbara Roche Rico (1985) proposes that Shakespeare reworked the Ovidian myth of Pygmalion in a number of his plays. D. J. Palmer (1979) and A. B. Taylor (1997) comment on the significance of Ovid's version of the Echo and Narcissus myth to Shakespeare's Twelfth Night. Motifs of narcissism and unrequited love figure prominently in their analyses of the play's principal characters Orsino, Viola, and Olivia. Considering Ovid's influence on the same drama, M. E. Lamb (1980) claims that metamorphosis is a guiding metaphor in the work. Lamb additionally sees Shakespeare's language in Twelfth Night, with its verbal contortions and rhetorical poses, as indicative of an Ovidian mode. Barbara A. Mowat (1981) examines the presence of characters and themes from the Metamorphoses in Titus Andronicus and The Merchant of Venice. In the former, Mowat observes that explicit reference is made to Ovid's Philomela, who is raped and mutilated in a manner similar to Shakespeare's Lavinia. In the latter, the critic contends that the mythological story of Jason and Medea provides a structural parallel to the tale of Bassanio and Portia.
The significance of myth to the dramatic tone and substance of Shakespearean tragedy is a subject of particular interest to late twentieth-century critics, who find implicit mythic patterns reenacted in the stories of Shakespeare's tragic protagonists. O. B. Hardison, Jr. (1975) suggests that the philosophical framework for King Lear derives from the myth of Ixion, an ungracious king later punished in the afterworld by being strapped to a ceaselessly moving wheel. Concentrating on the tragedy Coriolanus, Peggy Muñoz Simonds (1985) studies parallels between the pugnacious Coriolanus and his domineering mother Volumnia, and the Roman mother-goddess Juno and her son Mars, the god of war. Elizabeth Truax (1989-90) observes affinities between Shakespeare's “bewitched” killer Macbeth and the murderous Hercules of the Senecan tragedy Hercules Furens. André Lorant (1982) perceives in Hamlet the animating feature of a “cosmogonic myth.” According to Lorant, Shakespeare's drama presents a tragic universe declining toward decadence, corruption, and chaos—a universe in desperate need of a hero to restore order. Antony and Cleopatra is of particular interest to myth critics as its somewhat broader scheme of allusion draws from both Roman and Egyptian sources. Harold Fisch (1970) studies archetypal patterns in the work, including the love/war dichotomy represented by the Roman gods Venus and Mars, and the death and fertility motifs associated with the Egyptian ruler of the underworld Osiris. Clayton G. MacKenzie (1990) presents a complimentary study of Antony and Cleopatra. After enumerating Roman mythological allusions and discussing their martial significance, MacKenzie argues that Shakespeare abandoned the military ideals of Rome by the close of the play in favor of a new myth that explores the transcendent possibilities of love.
Although allusions to classical mythology are present throughout Shakespeare's dramatic works, such references are thought by some scholars to provide a level of structural unity and thematic integrity to a few of the comedies, and especially to the late romances. René Girard (1980) studies this process by attempting to reconstruct Shakespeare's theory of mythology. Girard emphasizes Shakespeare's use of myth in dramatizing a crisis of mimetic desire—a crisis that upsets the prevailing cultural pattern until a new mythology can be generated to replace the old, thus resolving the initial disturbance to the symbolic order. Considering the somewhat disjointed romance Cymbeline, Marjorie Garber (1977) asserts that Shakespeare's references to classical mythology and mythic symbolism provide an aesthetic unity for this “experimental” play. A number of recent critics have also investigated mythological counterparts to the female characters in the comedies and romances, and have examined the associated issue of gender relations. Discussing Cymbeline, Peggy Muñoz Simonds (see Further Reading) tracks Ovidian allusions in the romance, and proposes that the story of Cupid and Psyche, likely known to Shakespeare via Apuleius, offers a mythic substructure to the drama in terms of its thematic and psychological affinity to Imogen's quest for her husband. Janet S. Wolf (1994) concentrates on the female characters in The Winter's Tale, arguing that Perdita, Hermione, and Paulina bear comparison to the triad of feminine goddesses Persephone, Demeter, and Hecate, and to the three stages of a woman's life that they represent. Finally, Douglas Freake (1998) carries on a venerable tradition in Shakespearean myth criticism by interpreting mythological elements in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Centered on the figure of Theseus, Freake's analysis highlights gender dynamics related to this classical hero, who in the Renaissance was particularly noted for his abandonment of the maiden Ariadne.
Criticism: Overviews And General Studies
SOURCE: “Myth and Naturalism: Merchant to Macbeth,” in Shakespeare: Pattern of Excelling Nature, edited by David Bevington and Jay L. Halio, Associated University Presses, 1978, pp. 136-42.
[In the following essay, Brooke analyzes the juxtaposition of naturalism and myth in All's Well That Ends Well, Macbeth, and several other Shakespearean dramas.]
It seems that it is myth and archetype that have replaced religion for the twentieth century, not poetry. Poems and plays are often regarded as little more than media for the transmission of myth; and myth is therefore thought of as more permanent than the forms in which it is transmitted. So the problems of art are sometimes seen as the adjusting of universal myths to contemporary realities. I doubt that; I believe rather that the interaction of myth and realism is mutually modifying, producing a mythology as contemporary, and therefore as temporary, as the realism. But that proposes, at least, the central importance of both to any understanding of art.
In Shakespeare's early work, especially the comedies, the potential conflict is glossed over in the fanciful forms of Mannerism in which myth is hardly serious and reality is freely distorted. The last acts of Love's Labour's Lost and A Midsummer Night's Dream do indeed confront the problem sharply if briefly, but in The Merchant of Venice...
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SOURCE: “Shakespeare's Theory of Mythology,” in Classical Mythology in Twentieth-Century Thought and Literature, edited by Wendell M. Aycock and Theodore M. Klein, Texas Tech Press, 1980, pp. 107-24.
[In the following essay, Girard endeavors to reconstruct Shakespeare's view of mythology, and claims that Shakespeare employed myth to dramatize an essential “mimetic crisis” in human culture.]
Lévi-Strauss primarily operates with one principle, his principle of binary differentiation. There is a great deal of material, however, that will not respond to the binary differentiation treatment. Unlike many of his followers, Lévi-Strauss realizes this failure. In the last chapter of L'Homme nu, he implicitly acknowledges it, but in the case of ritual only. Instead of differentiating properly, as it should, ritual tries, he claims, to retrieve an “undifferentiated immediacy.”
The notion of “undifferentiated” certainly describes part of what goes on in rituals all over the world—promiscuous sexual encounters, for instance, the overturning of hierarchies, the supposed metamorphosis of the participants into monstrous beings, etc. One cannot agree, however, that what is “undifferentiated” is perceived as some false ideal, to which ritual would absolutely commit itself. The “undifferentiated” is more in the nature of a passage or ordeal, and all...
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Criticism: Mythic Patterns In The Tragedies
SOURCE: “Antony and Cleopatra: The Limits of Mythology,” in Shakespeare Survey, Vol. 23, 1970, pp. 59-67.
[In the following essay, Fisch considers archetypal patterns of love/war and fertility/death associated with Roman and Egyptian mythological allusions in Antony and Cleopatra. The critic concludes by explaining the ways in which these mythological patterns are transcended at the close of the drama.]
When critics speak of myth and ritual in Shakespeare they have in mind chiefly the symbolic structure of the plays. Thus The Winter's Tale which begins in winter (‘a sad tale's best for winter’, I, i, 25) and ends in high summer (‘not yet on summer's death nor on the birth of trembling winter’, IV, iv, 80) perfectly corresponds to the fertility rhythm. The accent on fertility in the sheep-shearing in Act IV gives to the structural form its emotional and spiritual content, whilst the symbolic revival of Hermione at the end rounds off the pattern of death and resurrection so basic to ‘the myth of the eternal return’. Such an archetypal structure is older than Christianity (in spite of the Christian colouring) and perhaps older than the conscious memory of man.
In King Lear the symbolic structure of the play viewed as myth-ritual is defined by the image of the wheel. Lear speaks of himself as being bound on a wheel of...
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SOURCE: “Myth and History in King Lear,” in Shakespeare Quarterly, Vol. 26, No. 3, Summer, 1975, pp. 227-42.
[In the following essay, Hardison traces parallels between King Lear and the story of the mythological king Ixion.]
Ever since A. W. Ward's History of English Drama (1899) scholars have recognized that the plot of Gorboduc is a compound of two heterogeneous elements. First, there is the pseudo-history derived ultimately from Geoffrey of Monmouth. In its original form, this material lacks shape. A second element, a framework, is needed within which it can be articulated. Thomas Sackville and Thomas Norton might simply have “invented” such a framework, but instead, following the habit of the age they drew on a classical myth previously used by Seneca. Ward and later scholars agree that this myth is “the ancient Theban story of the sons of Oedipus and Iocasta and their fatal strife.”1 I do not wish to pursue the influence of the Theban material on Gorboduc but merely to call attention to the fact. It is, in its way, a remarkable fact. It leads to the conclusion that the first regular English tragedy was a self-conscious fusion of history and myth, with the history supplying the local habitation and the name, and the myth, the pattern which makes these elements coherent drama.
Forty-five years after Gorboduc was...
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SOURCE: “Hamlet and Mythical Thought,” in Diogenes, Vol. 118, Summer, 1982, pp. 49-76.
[In the following essay, Lorant offers a mythical reading of Hamlet by viewing the tragedy's representation of a corrupted world degrading toward chaos and in need of a redeeming hero.]
“The myth is linked to the first knowledge which man acquires of himself and his environment; moreover it is the structure of his consciousness; primitive man does not have two images of the world, one ‘objective’ ‘real’ and the other ‘mythical’, but a unique understanding of the landscape.”
The survival of some masterpieces of literature across the ages is still an unexplained mystery. Deeply rooted in their time, they reflect the preoccupations of a given historical period and have an impact, by means of their testimony, on future generations. They bring into play images, drives and phantoms which have remained unchanged from prehistoric time to our day. The perfection of their form has remained unequaled; their examples incite us to meditation and creativity.
While studying the impact of these works, full of spiritual energies, one is aware that they reproduce in an original way ‘some basic human conditions’ (Schadewaldt) which are directly related to mythical thought. From this point of...
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SOURCE: “Coriolanus and the Myth of Juno and Mars,” in Mosaic, Vol. 18, No. 2, Spring, 1985, pp. 33-50.
[In the following essay, Simonds describes the figures of Coriolanus and Volumnia in Shakespeare's tragedy Coriolanus as personifications of the Roman gods Mars and Juno, respectively.]
Shakespeare's Coriolanus has usually been studied as a socio-political statement by the dramatist, as a psychological case history of a hero dominated by his mother, or as evidence of the playwright's attitudes toward Roman history, a subject of great general interest during the Renaissance. Although all these aspects of the tragedy are clearly important, I believe they mainly provide rich surface textures which mask an essential and thus far overlooked mythical substructure of the play. Recently John W. Velz has advanced what seems to be a mythological interpretation in an article attempting to demonstrate similarities between the character of Coriolanus and that of Virgil's warlike Turnus, a primitive type who must be overcome by Aeneas in order for Roman destiny to reach fulfillment.1 However, Velz makes no effort to explain the equally primitive personality of Volumnia and her strange relationship with her son, an element of the Coriolanus story which does not have a counterpart in the Aeneid. In any case, the majority of scholars agree that Sir Thomas North's 1579...
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SOURCE: “Macbeth and Hercules: The Hero Bewitched,” in Comparative Drama, Vol. 23, No. 4, Winter, 1989-90, pp. 359-76.
[In the following essay, Truax draws comparisons between Shakespeare's Macbeth and the mythological hero of Seneca's tragedy Hercules Furens.]
On 27 August 1605, James I was welcomed at the gates of Oxford by three Sibyls who greeted him as the fulfillment of a prophecy made to Banquo long ago and hailed him as King of Scotland, King of England, and King of Ireland.1 Four years later, Macbeth, inspired perhaps by the Oxford playlet, was performed before the King at Hampton Court as an entertainment to please and flatter the monarch. Shakespeare's tragedy also serves to remind an audience of courtiers and commoners that the perils as well as the joys of history are linked to transitory and cyclical patterns of nature. In the course of history, great men rise to power through natural forces, by inheritance or election like James I, and often, like Hercules, they are called upon to make personal choices, whether for good or evil, that will affect generations to come. The witches, like the furies of classical myth, have come to meet with Macbeth, a hero of extraordinary stature like Hercules, and they plan to bewitch him by undermining his deepest moral convictions and bringing about a metamorphosis that will change the course of history.
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SOURCE: “Antony and Cleopatra: A Mythological Perspective,” in Orbis Litterarum, Vol. 45, No. 3, 1990, pp. 309-29.
[In the following essay, MacKenzie suggests that Shakespeare constructed parallels between the eponymous characters of Antony and Cleopatra and figures from Roman mythology, only to abandon this classical perspective later in the play in order to pursue a new mythology based upon the ideal of human love.]
The tensions of divided loyalty in Antony and Cleopatra have challenged the imaginations and ingenuity of many critics. Hazlitt speaks of a duel between “Roman pride and Eastern magnificence,”1 a century later M. W. MacCallum argues, of Mark Antony, “the life at Rome and the life at Alexandria both tug at his heart-strings,”2 and Eugene Waith insists that the “central problem remains the validity of Cleopatra's, as opposed to Caesar's ideal.”3 Some commentators have further articulated the mechanism of tension by relating it to structural and verbal perspectives, pointing to the visual alternation of Roman and Egyptian worlds, as Granville-Barker4 has done in Prefaces to Shakespeare, and to differing verbal textures that serve to identify and distinguish these worlds, the latter approach best exemplified in the work of Maurice Charney.5
Few critics have sought to examine the...
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Criticism: Mythological Structure And Allusion: Romances And Comedies
SOURCE: “Myth and Type in As You Like It,” in ELH, Vol. 33, No. 1, March, 1966, pp. 1-22.
[In the following essay, Knowles highlights a number of mythological allusions in As You Like It, specifically studying references to the classical hero Hercules and the Christian mythology associated with him.]
If many a careful scholar still hesitates to accept mythical readings of Shakespeare, it is largely because up to now there have been few studies in the middle range between theoretical interpretations on the one hand and historical fact on the other. One has had to be content with the best of either world but seldom of both. Drawing on anthropological and psychological theories, Northrop Frye makes illuminating, even dazzling analogies between certain archetypal patterns and the structure of the plays and poems, but he offers no full explanation of how such analogous forms got into the Shakespeare canon;1 Douglas Bush, bringing to bear a thorough historical knowledge of Elizabethan familiarity with Greek and Roman myths, shows the local applicability of Shakespeare's mythological allusions but not their relationship to an overall mythical pattern in play or poem.2 On the whole, mythic and ritual interpretations by Knight, Traversi, Tillyard, Barber, and others neglect the specific mythological allusions, while detailed studies of the allusions usually attempt to show...
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SOURCE: “Cymbeline and the Languages of Myth,” in Mosaic, Vol. 10, No. 3, Spring, 1977, pp. 105-15.
[In the following essay, Garber observes Shakespeare's use of classical mythology as a unifying force in Cymbeline.]
In many ways, Cymbeline is an experimental play. Like Pericles, it presents audience and reader with a relatively new mode of image-making, which we may perhaps call “realization”: things, objects, and concrete images, which in the tragedies were part of metaphors, are in the romances brought out of the linguistic texture of utterance, and transferred to the dramatic texture of action. As an example of this technique, we might consider the jewel, which is used in the play as a metaphor for a beloved person, and by extension for that person's fidelity and chastity. In the course of the action the jewel as image becomes equated with actual jewels in the dramatic action: the ring Imogen gives to Posthumus, and the bracelet he gives her in return—“she your jewel, and this your jewel,” as Iachimo expresses it (I.iv. 157-8).1 When, pursuing this pattern, Iachimo steals Imogen's bracelet, Posthumus is persuaded that he has stolen her chastity as well; he then completes his part in the wager by giving his jewel, the ring, to Iachimo.
Now, this taking of things for concepts has an intellectual, as well as a stylistic...
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SOURCE: “Myth and Ritual in Shakespeare: A Midsummer Night's Dream,” in Textual Strategies: Perspectives in Post-Structuralist Criticism, edited by Josué V. Harari, Cornell University Press, 1979, pp. 189-212.
[In the following essay, Girard explores the relationship between rhetoric, reversals, and conflicts of imitative desire in A Midsummer Night's Dream and Shakespeare's representation of “a serious genetic theory of myth” in the play.]
I have considered, our whole life is like a Play: wherein every man, forgetfull of himselfe, is in travaile with expression of another. Nay, wee so insist in imitating others, as wee cannot (when it is necessary) returne to ourselves: like Children, that imitate the vices of Stammerers so long, till at last they become such; and make the habit to another nature, as it is never forgotten.
—Ben Jonson, Timber of Discoveries
The opening scene of A Midsummer Night's Dream leads the audience to expect an ordinary comedy plot. Boy and girl love each other. A mean old father is trying to separate them, with the help of the highest authority in the land, Theseus, duke of Athens. Unless she gives up Lysander, Hermia will have no choice but death or the traditional convent. As soon as this formidable edict is proclaimed, the father figures depart,...
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SOURCE: “‘Like an Old Tale Still’: Paulina, ‘Triple Hecate,’ and the Persephone Myth in The Winter's Tale,” in Images of Persephone: Feminist Readings in Western Literature, edited by Elizabeth T. Hayes, University Press of Florida, 1994, pp. 32-44.
[In the following essay, Wolf examines parallels between the leading female characters in Shakespeare's drama The Winter's Tale and the Greek goddesses Persephone, Demeter, and Hecate.]
It has long been recognized that the Persephone myth plays a role in The Winter's Tale, Shakespeare's story of redemption, rebirth, and reconciliation. The earliest and most complete development of the idea was made by W. F. C. Wigston in 1884. He noted that Hermione, with the loss of Perdita, falls like the earth in winter into her death-sleep. She is restored to life at the return of her daughter who, like Persephone, is a lost child and is connected with the spring through the text. G. W. Knight (1958, 106) and Northrop Frye (1986, 161) also touch on the idea. Carol Neely specifically connects the myth to the dominant role of women in the play (1987, 81).
All of these studies quite rightly focus on Hermione as the figure of grieving Demeter and Perdita (whose name means “lost”) as the lost Persephone. But there is another grieving woman in the play, Paulina, and Hermione is also lost and brought back from the dead, in...
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SOURCE: “A Midsummer Night's Dream as a Comic Version of the Theseus Myth,” in A Midsummer Night's Dream: Critical Essays, edited by Dorothea Kehler, Garland Publishing, 1998, pp. 259-74.
[In the following essay, Freake interprets Shakespeare's recasting of the classical myth of Theseus in A Midsummer Night's Dream, particularly focusing on issues of gender dynamics and patriarchal power contained in the story.]
Myth criticism, by which I mean examinations of the relation between literary works and the myth on which they are based or to which they allude, has fallen on hard times. Poststructuralist criticism in general distrusts essentialist or trans-temporal modes of interpretation; and varieties of poststructuralism, such as new historicism, which emphasize the intricate connections between texts and their social contexts, shy away in embarrassment from the sort of literary criticism encouraged by Jung or Joseph Campbell.
A Midsummer Night's Dream, it could be argued, is of all Shakespeare's plays the most indebted to a mythic source. Yet, perhaps because it is a comedy—and therefore assumed to use myth decoratively rather than seriously—the play's mythical sources, while not ignored, have received less attention than they deserve. Although the specific episode of the Theseus story used by Shakespeare is a relatively minor one—Theseus' marriage to the...
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Criticism: Ovid's Metamorphoses: Shakespeare'S Adaptation Of Myth
SOURCE: “Twelfth Night and the Myth of Echo and Narcissus,” in Shakespeare Survey, Vol. 32, 1979, pp. 73-78.
[In the following essay, Palmer examines Shakespeare's adaptation of Ovid's Echo and Narcissus myth in Twelfth Night.]
Orsino's attitude to love, particularly in the play's opening speech, has often provoked charges of self-indulgence and self-deception, and one critic is even driven to declare him ‘a narcissistic fool’.1 However, the association with Narcissus can be more precisely defined, since Orsino's luxuriant musing on the appetite that craves to die in its own too much, the music that cloys the sense so that it seems no longer sweet and the capacious spirit of love in which anything of value ‘falls into abatement and low price’ (I, i, 13)2 plays upon the motif ‘inopem me copia fecit’, the complaint of Ovid's Narcissus translated by Golding as ‘my plentie makes me poore’ (l. 587).3 In its original context, ‘inopem me copia fecit’ expresses the paradoxical realisation of Narcissus that he himself is the unattainable object of his insatiable desire, but the Elizabethan poets appropriated the tag as a paradigm of unrequited love.4 Spenser, for instance, constructs the thirty-fifth sonnet of Amoretti around it:
My hungry eyes through greedy covetize, still to behold the object of their...
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SOURCE: “Ovid's Metamorphoses and Shakespeare's Twelfth Night,” in Shakespearean Comedy, edited by Maurice Charney, New York Literary Forum, 1980, pp. 63-77.
[In the following essay, Lamb studies Shakespeare's use of internalized metamorphosis in his representation of Orsino and Olivia, as well as his application of “Ovidian” rhetoric in Twelfth Night.]
The contradictory attitudes held toward Ovid in the Renaissance complicate the relationship between Ovid's Metamorphoses and Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, or What You Will. According to one tradition-rooted in the Middle Ages and continuing vigorously into the seventeenth century, Ovid was a didactic teacher whose tales were really allegorical lessons about the human soul. Twelfth Night can be interpreted as a play about change within the souls of Orsino, Olivia, and Viola,1 and metamorphosis serves as a metaphor for an inner spiritual state revealing that love can lead to either stasis or transcendence. The second Ovid, the urbane Ovid of the epyllia or erotic narratives still in fashion at the time of Twelfth Night, is diametrically opposed to the first. Delighting in his own verbal gymnastics and narrative poses, he is reflected in the interpretation of Twelfth Night as a play about characters who only perform roles and lack absolute identity.2
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SOURCE: “Lavinia's Message: Shakespeare and Myth,” in Renaissance Papers, 1981, pp. 55-69.
[In the following essay, Mowat detects the presence of classical myths from Ovid's Metamorphoses as structuring principles in Shakespeare's plays Titus Andronicus and The Merchant of Venice.]
Act IV, Scene 1, of Titus Andronicus is surely one of the more remarkable scenes in Shakespeare. It opens with young Lucius running on-stage carrying an armload of books, pursued by his mutilated Aunt Lavinia, hands cut off, tongue cut out. In his panic, the boy throws down the books and calls for help. Lavinia rummages through the books with her stumps, heaves her arms in the air, and, as her father and uncle notice with astonishment, pulls “Ovid's Metamorphosis” from the pile. Perhaps, they suggest, the book has sentimental associations for her. Then they see her try to turn the pages; they watch as she “quotes the leaves”; they read the story to which she points:
Titus: Lavinia, wert thou thus surpris'd, sweet girl, Ravish'd and wrong'd, as Philomela was, Forc'd in the ruthless, vast, and gloomy woods? See, See! Ay, such a place there is, where we did hunt— .....Pattern'd by that the poet here describes. …(1)
Although the scene becomes increasingly bizarre as Lavinia, using a stick held in her mouth and guided by her stumps, writes the names of her...
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SOURCE: “From ‘Speechless Dialect’ to ‘Prosperous Art’: Shakespeare's Recasting of the Pygmalion Image,” in Huntington Library Quarterly, Vol. 43, No. 3, Summer, 1985, pp. 285-95.
[In the following essay, Rico follows Shakespeare's treatment of the Pygmalion myth in his dramas The Taming of the Shrew, Measure for Measure, and The Winter's Tale.]
Oh, she's warm! If this be magic, let it be an art Lawful as eating.
The Winter's Tale, V.iii, 109-1111
In The Winter's Tale, Hermione, long thought dead, comes down from her platform, a living woman walking among us. In presenting this scene, Shakespeare not only gives new life to Greene's pedestrian Pandosto; he also restores to greatness the Pygmalion myth itself. By Shakespeare's time, this myth was clearly in need of such restoration; for the narrative which might seem the perfect celebration of the artist's power to move an audience had itself become sullied, first by medieval commentators and then by the Elizabethans themselves.2 During much of the Renaissance the Pygmalion myth seemed to offer less a portrait of the artist than a warning about the power of women and of art. And if the Elizabethan John Marston made Pygmalion into a doting and foolish lover, the minor characters in Shakespeare's Measure for...
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SOURCE: “Shakespeare Rewriting Ovid: Olivia's Interview with Viola and the Narcissus Myth,” in Shakespeare Survey, Vol. 50, 1997, pp. 81-89.
[In the following essay, Taylor details Shakespeare's reshaping of the Narcissus myth from Ovid's Metamorphoses in the Olivia-Viola-Orsino relationship of Twelfth Night.]
The writer is always a rewriter, the problem then being to differentiate and authenticate the rewriting. This is executed not by the addition of something wholly new, but by the dismembering and reconstruction of what has already been written.
(Terence Cave on creative imitation of the classics in the sixteenth century)1
When Orsino sends her to Olivia with his latest message of love, Viola sees little hope of success for,
If she be so abandoned to her sorrow As it is spoke, she never will admit me.
Still grief stricken after nearly a year, the young Countess has only recently announced her intention to continue in mournful seclusion for a further seven years;2 and it is public knowledge that she has also solemnly forsworn any romantic attachment. And yet it takes only a brief display of obstinacy before Viola is admitted, Olivia explaining that hearing of her spirited responses to Malvolio, she has ‘allowed your approach rather to...
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Aguirre, Manuel. “Life, Crown, and Queen: Gertrude and the Theme of Sovereignty.” The Review of English Studies 47, No. 186 (May 1996): 163-75.
Discusses mythic symbolism associated with Gertrude's adultery, sexual desire, and transfer of sovereignty to Claudius in Hamlet.
Armitage, David. “The Dismemberment of Orpheus: Mythic Elements in Shakespeare's Romances.” Shakespeare Survey 39 (1987): 123-33.
Recounts Shakespeare's sometimes ironic reworking of the Orpheus myth from Ovid’s Metamorphosesin his later plays.
Bate, Jonathan. Shakespeare and Ovid. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993, 292 p.
Extensive study of Ovidian influence on Shakespeare's dramas and poetry.
Baumlin, Tita French. “The Birth of the Bard: Venus and Adonis and Poetic Apotheosis.” Papers on Language and Literature 26, No. 2 (Spring 1990): 191-211.
Contrasts treatments of the Venus and Adonis myth by Shakespeare and Ovid.
Cole, Douglas. “Myth and Anti-Myth: The Case of Troilus and Cressida.” Shakespeare Quarterly 31, No. 1 (Spring 1980): 76-84.
Examines Shakespeare's subversion of mythic/epic assumptions concerning love and war in Troilus and Cressida.
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