William Shakespeare


Today is traditionally regarded as Shakespeare‘s birthday (1564 -1616).

Frye didn’t live to see the discovery of the Sanders portrait, above, but did mischievously observe of the Droeshout engraving (by way of dismissing the significance of biography as any sort of key to interpretation) that it is the portrait of a man “who is clearly an idiot.”

Frye has so much to say about Shakespeare that just about any number of quotes would do here.  I was lucky enough to be among the last generation of students to take Frye’s undergraduate Shakespeare course, and I remember very well the thrill it gave me to hear him say things like this:

In every play Shakespeare wrote, the hero or central character is the theatre itself.  His characters are so vivid that we often think of them as detachable from the play, like real people.  So such questions as, “is Falstaff really a coward?” have been discussed since the eighteenth century.  But if we ask what Falstaff is, the answer is that he isn’t: he’s a character in a play, has no existence outside that play, and what is real about him is his function in the play.  He has a variety of such functions — vice, braggart parasite, jester — and one of the things he has to do is certainly to behave at times like a stage coward.  But Falstaff, like the actor who plays him, is only what he appears to be; and what he really really is, even if he could exist, wouldn’t exist. (On Shakespeare, 4)

A clip from Peter Brook‘s great film adaptation of King Lear after the jump.


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