Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

When a reader approaches a Shakespeare play, particularly one of the tragedies, it is useful to consider humankind as poised uneasily between the brute world of the animal and the blissful kingdom of the angel. Hamlet refers to man as “the paragon of animals” and “like an angel in apprehension,” a precarious position for this “quintessence of dust.” Burgess places his fictional Shakespeare into the thick of the human dilemma. Shakespeare can create like a god and people a stage world. His genius transcends that of many a mortal. Yet Shakespeare wallows in the sty of bestial passion; returning to his lodgings after an evening with Fatimah, he feels “truly in a wretched dim hell of mine own making, spent, used, shameless, shameful.” Or, to turn to the sonnets, “Th’ expense of spirit in a waste of shame/ Is lust in action.”

Where is a clean and uncorrupted world? Shakespeare struggles with the opposing forces of good and evil in his plays. Burgess has his character ponder whether man is poisoned at the source:

Oh, he [Shakespeare] created these great men powerless against evil. They were good men drawn into its web or weak men who beat their fists vainly at it. Or there were men who themselves embodied the disease, the breakers and corrupters of the State. Though it was not a]ways the State; sometimes it was Marriage.

What better way to summarize thematically...

(The entire section is 469 words.)