Romancing the Sources: Framing Tales in Hamlet and King Lear
- Michael L. Hays (see profile)
- Renaissance / Early Modern Studies, Shakespeare, Shakespearean Dramatic Genres
- Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616, Literary form, Literary theory
- Item Type:
- Hamlet, King Lear, Romance, chivalric romance, Shakespeare, Genre theory
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- Romance as a group of, and label for, some of Shakespeare’s last plays presupposes the influence of later romance kinds, and Shakespeare studies presuppose their influence and preclude the influence of an earlier romance kind, namely, chivalric romance. This sub-genre includes romances like Bevis of Hampton and Guy of Warwick, both popular in Shakespeare’s day, which celebrate action to establish personal worth or restore rightful rule. They use motifs like single combat and exile-and-return important, but overlooked or transvalued, features which Shakespeare exploited in Hamlet and King Lear. In writing Hamlet and King Lear, Shakespeare reshaped his sources into both tragedy and romance. In his chronicle sources, the protagonists die years after recovering their thrones; in his plays, they die before recovering them. In these plays’ framing tales, Fortinbras and Edgar recover them; from unprepossessing beginnings, their progress prepares for their succession. Shakespeare thereby created tragic romance, in which the tragedy of the protagonist’s death is framed by the romance of a successor proving himself worthy before returning from exile to restore legitimate government. This structure expresses an age-old political idealism: the king is dead; long live the king.
- This paper is a revised version of a presentation at the 33rd Conference of the Shakespeare Association of America in 2005. The seminar topic was romance, with all presentations but this and one other concerned with Shakespeare’s last plays under that rubric.
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- 5 years ago
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