Shakespeare's Courtly Mirror: Reflexivity and Prudence in All's Well that Ends Well
University of Delaware Press, 1993 - 314
"A leading premise of Haley's book is that modern psychological constructs are inadequate for understanding the courtly humanism dramatized by Shakespeare down to 1604. Renaissance culture knows nothing of the bourgeois subject of Locke, Freud, and Lacan. Shakespeare defines aristocratic identity in epic terms and presents not an autonomous individual but a hero whose persona is determined publicly in the "courtly mirror." That exemplary mirror, from Henry IV to Measure for Measure, reflects the heroic actions of rulers and courtiers. The historical self-awareness of Henry, Hal, and Brutus assumes a more contemporary aspect in the courtly self-consciousness of Hamlet, Duke Vincentio, and the three main characters of All's Well That Ends Well: Bertram, Helena, the King." "The "reflexivity" in the title does not indicate the self-referentiality of language, nor does it refer to the traditional paradigm of consciousness implying stable self-knowledge. Courtly reflexivity is oriented toward praxis rather than introspection. Before taking action, the courtier or cortigiana - Helena is a good example - knows only that (s)he is not what (s)he is. The courtier's deliberation is guided by a reflexive, self-regulating prudence that is usually identified with honor or love. In All's Well, Shakespeare contrasts this self-providence or heroic prudence with Divine Providence, but he does so obliquely. While focusing exclusively upon a court which prizes worldly action, he sustains his contrast through a series of ironical allusions to Scripture." "Beginning with a prologue on the problems raised by structural and theatrical interpretations of Bertram's role, Haley goes on to introduce his concept of reflexivity by way of an exchange with the new literary historicism. Chapters 1 to 3 follow the courtly debate over providence and honor, through Helena's triumph in act 2 to Bertram's deserting her. The collapse of her providential design coincides with the crisis of the sick King's honor - a crisis which Shakespeare describes alchemically, implying that alchemy, understood as reflexive chemistry, offers another mirror of the courtier's self-providence." "Chapter 4, the center of the book, brings together historical providence and Boccaccian prudence (avvedimento) in the figure of Ahab, with whom Shakespeare compares both Bertram and the Hal of Henry V. Chapters 5 to 7 pursue Shakespeare's ironic parallel between biblical Providence and courtly prudence, examining specific scenes of self-judgment and self-betrayal in the Henriad and Measure for Measure, as well as in All's Well."--BOOK JACKET.Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved
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action Ahab alchemical All's appears aristocratic audience becomes beginning Bertram biblical bring calls chapter characters Clown comedy compares Count Countess court courtier courtly courtly mirror critics death dialogue Diana Divine Duke effect experience fact father fear figure final follows give hand Helena hero heroic heroic prudence honor human husband ideal implies interpretation ironical irony Italy judgment King King's knowledge Lafew Lavatch leave Lord marriage means Measure melancholy metaphor mirror moral nature noble observes opening Parolles person play play's playwright present Press prince prophet providence providential prudence question quoted reading refers reflection reflexivity remarks Renaissance ring role Rossillion says scene seems sense Shakespeare shame society soliloquy Sonnets speak speech tells theme things thinks thou thought transcendence true University virgin virtue wife wisdom young
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