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Shakespeare's remedies of fortune: The fate of idealism in the late plays
The language of idealism and skepticism in Shakespearean moments of disillusionment provides terms for understanding features of the late plays—their self-conscious artificiality, their blend of wonder and irony, pathos and moral indignation. The psychology of disillusionment illuminates the relationship of tragedy to romance. ^ In Timon of Athens, perhaps the last tragedy, Shakespeare skeptically exposes the psychology of idealism but reveals the consequence of such skepticism, a world drained of wonder. Subsequent plays rejuvenate idealism, protecting it from its own tendencies toward punishment and revenge. Moving toward heroic assertion and death, tragedy often colludes with the idealist in his time-foreclosing and self-destructive acts of revenge, but the new genre gives him more time to return to reality without sacrificing the psychological benefits of idealism. Pericles escapes the anxiety brought by awareness of evil by flight and delay. The unifying principle of his play is not the tragic closure of heroic integrity, but a life extended in time. Cymbeline returns to the truth impulses of love-idealism. Posthumous' disillusioned misogyny carries these impulses into a punishing mode, but his reacceptance of Imogen represents an irrational but redeeming subordination of epistemological truth to interpersonal truth. The Winter's Tale rejuvenates idealism after displaying its destructive potentials in jealousy. Married love embodies idealism in an image of the good of life. In the statue scene, the wish for an atemporal ideal gives way to faith in the temporal world. In The Tempest wonder arises from seeing a world as if for the first time, and is thus exposed to the irony of perspectivism. Marriage returns as love at first sight, but shares the stage with tropes of ambition, usurpation, subjugation, murder. Prospero identifies with reason over fury but remains perplexed by irony and anxiety. ^ Taking bearings from within the Shakespearean ethos rather than from a specific theory of genre allows this study to register the distinctive tonalities of the individual plays. The development illuminated is not that of a sustained progression toward a preexisting genre but that of a vital intelligence probing a specific set of problems in an intellectually coherent way. ^
Philip W White,
"Shakespeare's remedies of fortune: The fate of idealism in the late plays"
(January 1, 1999).
Electronic Doctoral Dissertations for UMass Amherst.