William Shakespeare Time

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(Shakespearean Criticism)


Commentators who address the issue of Shakespeare and time do so from a broad range of approaches. They may discuss time as a thematic device, as a structural principle, or as a means of delineating character. The notion of time itself has a variety of connotations in Shakespeare scholarship. It may represent, among other things, the personification of destructive or restorative forces, the medium through which action moves, or the pace at which a story line develops. Critics such as L. G. Salingar (see Further Reading) evaluate Shakespeare's treatment or use of time in terms of his reliance on, or innovative adaptations of, medieval and Renaissance conceptions of time. Others, including Harold E. Toliver (1965), trace what they perceive to be a growing complexity in Shakespeare's scrutiny of time, from the sonnets to the romances. Ricardo J. Quinones (1965) also surveys many of the poems and plays in his assessment of the multiple functions of time in Shakespeare's works. By contrast, Irwin Smith (1969) concentrates on the rhythm of dramatic time in a smaller number of plays, especially Richard III. Jonas Barish (1996) addresses the question of Shakespeare's anachronisms, particularly in Julius Caesar and Cymbeline. Whatever the approach, commentary on Shakespeare and time deals most often with As You Like It, Macbeth, the romances, and the sonnets.

The depiction of time in sonnets 1-126 is the chief focus of David Kaula (1963), Frederick Turner (1971), and Robert L. Montgomery (1999). Emphasizing Shakespeare's resourceful manipulation of different views of time in these verses, Kaula analyzes the ways in which the poet employs these to enhance and modify the relationship between the speaker and his friend. Turner pays particular attention to the thematic link between love and time in the sonnets, and to its expression through imagery. Montgomery stresses the intense emotionalism of the poems, arguing that the notion of time's destructive capability is underscored here by Shakespeare's persistent and urgent cultivation of the present.

The contrast between the corrupt present at the court of Duke Frederick and the pastoral timelessness of the Forest of Arden in As You Like It is the principal subject of Jay L. Halio's 1962 essay. He discusses the disparity between the materialistic, expedient world of court and city, on the one hand, and the meaningless of time in the forest, on the other, noting the discrepancies between individual characters' perceptions of time. Rawdon Wilson (1975) discerns a shift in the course of the play, rather than a disparity, between the temporal perspectives of the court and Arden. In his judgment, the play depicts an evolutionary change in attitude toward time, from the notion of it as an objective process to its conception as a relative one: an expression of private, individual worlds. Bart Westerweel (1993) explicates the chronological-spatial relationship in both As You Like It and Twelfth Night, emphasizing how this relationship highlights the contrast between pastoral and satiric modes in the latter play. Another Shakespearean comedy that has attracted a measure of critical attention to its treatment of time is Troilus and Cressida. Both Toliver and John Bayley (1975) note the sense of disordered time in the play, with Toliver stressing discontinuity and Bayley the lack of multiple dimensions.

In sharp contrast to that of Troilus and Cressida, the world of The Tempest is notably well-ordered. This romance deals integrally with the nature of time, as James E. Robinson (1964) and D. S. McGovern (1983) point out. Time is a central structural element in The Tempest, Robinson contends, but it is also Prospero's chief antagonist , limiting his attempts to reform others and compelling him to carry out his schemes with alacrity, before the critical present expires. McGovern argues that Prospero comes to terms with the notion that time represents both an occasion for human action and a limitation on that action; he also suggests...

(The entire section is 120,014 words.)