ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

The Formalistic Approach to Shakespeare

Updated on May 18, 2012
Source

An Important Approach to Shakespeare's works


This is one of the most important lines of approach which has been especially developed in recent years under the impetus provided by what is known as New Criticism. Here the whole attention is concentrated upon the play as an autonomous unit, consisting of certain component parts such as plot-structure, imagery and symbols and significant words and metaphors which can be analyzed and studied in order to discover their relevance and significance in the scheme of the play as a whole. In a way the study of the structure of the play was definitely initiated by Moultan in Shakespeare, the Dramatic Artist and has continued sporadically till this day. But in recent years the attention has shifted definitely to the analysis of the texture of the play- its verbal and imagistic patterns. The first systematic approach to Shakespeare’s imagery in the various plays was made by Caroline Spurgeon in her monumental work, Shakespeare’s Imagery and What it Tells Us (1935). The analysis of the key images is finally related to the theme and atmosphere of the play and their later classification and categorization serves to reveal the nature and the favorite fields of Shakespeare’s own observation. Thus in Macbeth the recurrent images create the atmosphere of darkness with lurid flashes of light, and a definite sense of color, the color of blood especially. Then there is the imagery of clothes, loose-hanging garments, symbolic of the usurpation of the crown by Macbeth, which does not rightly belong to him and serves only to enhance his uneasiness. In Hamlet the dominant imagery is related to disease and disintegration, sometimes disease of an invisible insidious type covered with apparently sound skin but actively eating into the vitals and spreading the inner corruption. In Lear the key images, as Bradley had already noted, are related to physical torture and violence, of things being torn out and mutilated. Then there is the recurrent animal imagery to indicate the relapse of humanity to the brute creation, as if human animals were ready to prey upon each other. Miss Spurgeon has laid great emphasis upon Shakespeare’s practice of confining his attention to familiar and well-known spheres for the stock of images. The images are drawn from domestic articles and operations, from war and peace, games and recreations, mythology and the art of acting on the stages. Most of his images are derived from books, the Bible and other moral works, where his whole art aims at vivifying, illuminating and energizing the borrowed images through addition, alteration and beauty and effectiveness of fresh expression.

A new approach to the images is embodied in W.H. Clemen’s The Development of Shakespeare’s Imagery, where the analysis of imagery is directed to the demonstration of Shakespeare’s continuous progress towards the integration of the various images to the structure and the character of the play. The success of the dramatist in this sort of integration is a measure of the maturity if his art, which is best, demonstrated by his great tragedies: “Each tragedy has its own unmistakable individual nature, its own nature, its own color; its own landscape, atmosphere and diction. . . and the imagery of a tragedy plays an important part, not only in creating a dramatic unity if atmosphere, but also in binding the separate element of a play into a real organic structure.” This line has been further developed and the full significance of the organic nature of Shakespeare’s imagery clearly and strikingly brought out. For example by a careful analysis of the well-known final soliloquy of Macbeth which is occasioned by the intimation about his wife’ death; “Tomorrow and to-morrow and to-morrow” etc. it is shown how one image breeds another in a proliferating process. The image sequence is ‘all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death’, which produces ‘out, out brief candle’ and from candle comes the image- ‘life is a walking shadow’ and this leads to the ‘poor player’ and his struts and frets in two hours’ traffic; and this, in turn, culminates in a ‘tale told by an idiot full of sound and fury signifying nothing.’ This is a fine illustration of Coleridge’s remark that you cannot remove a single stone from the edifice of Shakespeare, and we have shown that the stone, in fact, is organically bound with another stone like a living limb so that the removal will mean tearing, with a gaping wound left behind.

Allied with this preoccupation with the key or dominant images scattered throughout the whole play is an intensive and scrupulous study and analysis of crucial passages in the great plays which, in a general way, has always formed part of Shakespearean explanatory and interpretative criticism, but its most scientific and penetrating exercise is seen only in the criticism of the present century. Shakespearean scholars connected with the Scrutiny, F.R. Leavis, L.C. Knights and others have specialized in this method and it is also apparent in Cleath Brooks’ fine analysis of Macbeth’s famous lines ‘And Pity like a naked new-born baby’ etc. and in an equally illuminating analysis of Hamlet’s famous soliloquy- ‘to be or not to be’ etc. in an issue of PMLA. This verbal scrutiny reaches the height of its complexity it Empson’s analysis of quite innocent looking passages in Shakespeare’s sonnets, but its inherent danger is revealed when the ingenious, but its inherent danger is revealed when the ingenious detective of ambiguities attempts to interpret a whole play with the help of single iterative words. This is murdering to dissect indeed!

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • profile image

      IntegrityYes 

      6 years ago

      I voted up too. She is so powerful. Keep writing forever!

    • archana srivastav profile image

      archana srivastav 

      6 years ago

      Very well written

    • ytsenoh profile image

      Cathy 

      6 years ago from Louisiana, Idaho, Kauai, Nebraska, South Dakota, Missouri

      Definitely voted up. Wow. This was really good material and it was so well-written. Thank you! Keep up the good work and shared material and viewpoints. Shakespeare is such a good subject.

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://hubpages.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)