Winter 1952 • Vol. XIV No. 1 Nonfiction |

Philosophy and Theatre in “Measure for Measure”

I suppose that in our efforts to understand Shakespeare, what we seek is a grasp of his plays as plays. We want his theatre to come fully alive before us; we wish to hear and to understand as fully as possible the complex harmonies which we now believe are there. Forty or fifty years ago a kind of "higher criticism" of Shakespeare was in vogue, which had the effect of disintegrating the plays and obscuring or denying their coherence. The corruption of the texts was emphasized, and Shakespeare's authorship was questioned in whole or in part. His dramaturgy was compared, to his disadvantage, with Ibsen's. His psychology, when it did not seem to agree with modern notions, was dismissed as faulty or irresponsible. When Shaw proclaimed that Shakespeare lacked his up-to-date enlightenment he merely confirmed a widespread prejudice. The spirit in which we now read Shakespeare seems to me much healthier. We are less in love with our own clichés; less sure of our psychological insight;

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