Shakespeare's Festive Comedy: A Study of Dramatic Form and Its Relation to Social Custom

Princeton University Press
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In this classic work, acclaimed Shakespeare critic C. L. Barber argues that Elizabethan seasonal festivals such as May Day and Twelfth Night are the key to understanding Shakespeare's comedies. Brilliantly interweaving anthropology, social history, and literary criticism, Barber traces the inward journey--psychological, bodily, spiritual--of the comedies: from confusion, raucous laughter, aching desire, and aggression, to harmony. Revealing the interplay between social custom and dramatic form, the book shows how the Elizabethan antithesis between everyday and holiday comes to life in the comedies' combination of seriousness and levity.

"I have been led into an exploration of the way the social form of Elizabethan holidays contributed to the dramatic form of festive comedy. To relate this drama to holiday has proved to be the most effective way to describe its character. And this historical interplay between social and artistic form has an interest of its own: we can see here, with more clarity of outline and detail than is usually possible, how art develops underlying configurations in the social life of a culture."--C. L. Barber, in the Introduction

This new edition includes a foreword by Stephen Greenblatt, who discusses Barber's influence on later scholars and the recent critical disagreements that Barber has inspired, showing that Shakespeare's Festive Comedy is as vital today as when it was originally published.

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About the author

C. L. Barber was a fellow of the Folger Shakespeare Library and a world-renowned Shakespeare scholar. His books include The Whole Journey: Shakespeare's Power of Development and Creating Elizabethan Tragedy: The Theater of Marlowe and Kyd.
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Additional Information

Princeton University Press
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Published on
Oct 3, 2011
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Drama / Shakespeare
Literary Criticism / Drama
Literary Criticism / European / English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh
Literary Criticism / Renaissance
Literary Criticism / Semiotics & Theory
Literary Criticism / Shakespeare
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Eligible for Family Library

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In her long-awaited book, the legendary acting teacher Stella Adler gives us her extraordinary insights into the work of Henrik Ibsen ("The creation of the modern theater took a genius like Ibsen. . .Miller and Odets, Inge and O'Neill, Williams and Shaw, swallowed the whole of him"), August Strindberg ("He understood and predicted the forces that would break in our lives"), and Anton Chekhov ("Chekhov doesn't want a play, he wants what happens in life. In life, people don't usually kill each other. They talk").

Through the plays of these masters, Adler discusses the arts of playwriting and script interpretation ("There are two aspects of the theater. One belongs to the author and the other to the actor. The actor thinks it all belongs to the author. . .The curtain goes up and all he knows are the lines. . .It is not enough. . .Script interpretation is your profession").

She looks into aspects of society and class, and into our cultural past, as well as the evolution of the
modern spirit ("The actor learns from Ibsen what is modern in the modern theater. There are no villains, no heroes. Ibsen understands, more than anything, there is more than one truth").

Stella Adler--daughter of Jacob Adler, who was universally acknowledged to be the greatest actor
of the Yiddish theater, and herself a disciple of Stanislavsky--examines the role of the actor and brings to life the plays from which all modern theater derives: Ibsen's Hedda Gabler, The Master Builder, An Enemy of the People, and A Doll's House; Strindberg's Miss Julie and The Father; Chekhov's The Seagull, Uncle Vanya, The Cherry Orchard, and Three Sisters ("Masha is the sister who is the mystery. You cannot reach her. You cannot reach the artist. There is no logical way. Keep her in a special pocket of feelings that are complex and different").

Adler discusses the ideas behind these plays and explores the world of the playwrights and the
history--both familial and cultural--that informed their work. She illumines not only the dramatic essence of each play but its subtext as well, continually asking questions that deepen one's understanding of the work and of the human spirit.

Adler's book, brilliantly edited by Barry Paris, puts her famous lectures into print for the first time.

From the Hardcover edition.
For more than two hundred years after William Shakespeare's death, no one doubted that he had written his plays. Since then, however, dozens of candidates have been proposed for the authorship of what is generally agreed to be the finest body of work by a writer in the English language. In this remarkable book, Shakespeare scholar James Shapiro explains when and why so many people began to question whether Shakespeare wrote his plays. Among the doubters have been such writers and thinkers as Sigmund Freud, Henry James, Mark Twain, and Helen Keller. It is a fascinating story, replete with forgeries, deception, false claimants, ciphers and codes, conspiracy theories—and a stunning failure to grasp the power of the imagination.

As Contested Will makes clear, much more than proper attribution of Shakespeare’s plays is at stake in this authorship controversy. Underlying the arguments over whether Christopher Marlowe, Francis Bacon, or the Earl of Oxford wrote Shakespeare’s plays are fundamental questions about literary genius, specifically about the relationship of life and art. Are the plays (and poems) of Shakespeare a sort of hidden autobiography? Do Hamlet, Macbeth, and the other great plays somehow reveal who wrote them?

Shapiro is the first Shakespeare scholar to examine the authorship controversy and its history in this way, explaining what it means, why it matters, and how it has persisted despite abundant evidence that William Shakespeare of Stratford wrote the plays attributed to him. This is a brilliant historical investigation that will delight anyone interested in Shakespeare and the literary imagination.
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