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Thinking About Shakespeare

Kay Stockholder,
revised and updated by Amy Scott

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I am grateful to Norman Epstein, my mother’s partner of many years, who in 2013 sent me the unpublished manuscript of A Thinking Person’s Guide to Shakespeare. With that manuscript in hand I was fortunate to be able to share it with David Bevington, my esteemed colleague here at the University of Chicago. David knew of Kay Stockholder’s previous work, and with great generosity volunteered to help steer this book towards publication. I would also like to thank Paul Yachnin for his careful reading of the text and for his scholarly introduction. And also Amy Scott who tended to updating the text so that it can gracefully enter the world of 2018. It gives me great pleasure to see this project come to completion; and I am sure that my mother would be thrilled. I am grateful to the many at Wiley‐Blackwell who contributed their time and attention.

Jessica Stockholder (Kay’s daughter)


Paul Yachnin

This book is about William Shakespeare. For some people, Shakespeare’s name itself is enough to arouse anxiety. The name of the man who lived his life as a commercial playwright, theatrical promoter, and popular entertainer now seems to stand for a profound understanding of universal human truths, a language poeticized, shadowy, and obscure, and something called “greatness” (and sometimes something called “genius,” which is worse). For many modems, Shakespeare is the ogre in the castle of highbrow Western culture.

This book, left completed by Kay Stockholder at her death, is an excellent introduction to Shakespeare because, while Kay loved the dramatist, she never idolized him, and she never feared him. You might say she lived with him for a lifetime, and of course there’s nothing like long‐term cohabitation to cure us of false idealizations and groundless fears. That’s not to say that her familiarity with Shakespeare bred contempt. In all matters, Kay was a very affectionate person and a good friend to her intimates. I knew her well. She was keen to understand me in a deep way—she was a probing analyst of human frailty and complexity—but she also liked to see the good rather than the bad in those she held dear.

This book offers the fruits of a long love and penetrating study of Shakespeare’s art. Along with its fearlessness, this book offers a series of detailed accounts of plays—from A Midsummer Night’s Dream to Hamlet to The Tempest—within a broad understanding of Shakespeare as a particular person living in a particular social situation.

Kay also brings forward a bold theory about what is central to Shakespeare’s dramatic art. By alternating between close‐up analyses of imagery, language, character, source material, and dramatic and thematic structure on the one side and a wide‐angle discussion of Shakespeare’s life and work on the other, this book provides something like a whole picture of one of the most enduring figures in Western culture.

What exactly is the source of this book’s overall understanding of Shakespeare? It’s important to know that Kay was a psychoanalytic critic, a literary analyst who read Shakespeare’s characters as embodiments of the patterns of feeling and behavior described by Freud and other psychoanalytic thinkers. Antony, the doomed Roman soldier and leader of Antony and Cleopatra, is caught between his fear of losing his individuality to an engulfing feminine or maternal principle (represented, of course, by Egypt’s queen) or losing it to the hypermasculinity of Roman “civilization.” The terrible irony is that, while Antony thinks of “Egypt” and “Rome” as external threats to his identity, which he must conquer on behalf of his own well‐being, they are in fact integral to his selfhood. That means that when he at last defeats them, he also destroys himself.

This book develops psychoanalytic interpretations of Shakespeare’s characters, from Bottom to Richard II to Hamlet to lago and Othello—each interpretation alert to the particular dramatic context of the individual character’s story. But the book’s understanding of the psychic, sexual, and emotional lives of Shakespeare’s characters is not limited to the dynamics of family life or the internal structure of the personality. Rather, the book combines the psychological with the social, integrating and indeed demonstrating the inseparability of the internal world of the person and the life of the person in society.

Here it is helpful to know that Kay was always involved in politics, an involvement that culminated with her becoming president of the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association in the years from her retirement from full‐time teaching up to her death. The integrated socio‐psychological understanding of characters like Antony (who, after all, is destroyed by a socially specific honor system as well as by an infantilizing relationship with Cleopatra) is thus of a piece with the integrity of Kay’s own activities as a scholar and social activist.

The coherence of the psychological and the social gives the book its overarching theme—the relationship between personal liberty and the various forms of authority that impinge upon individuals and individual freedom. The book develops a rich account of the forms that authority can take in Shakespeare’s playworlds and, by implication, in the real world where he and we are obliged to live. Authority, which is the offspring of human relations and by which people are measured, judged, and ruled, operates in the family (Romeo and Juliet is a good example of how it works between parents and children), in family‐like relationships (like Lear’s with his daughters), and in institutional structures such as the military (the context of the honour system that enables and then disables a character like Hotspur).

We find it also in the state, with its conflicting models of rule, and in the cosmos, where God and divine Providence function—ideally at any rate—as the final arbiters of human actions and intentions. Authority also circulates and gets inside people’s heads and hearts in certain kinds of language—in the discourse of honor (as I’ve suggested), but also in the discourses of monarchical rule, parenthood, romantic love, divine Providence, and so on.

In Kay’s view, all of these authoritative languages, along with the forms of authority they give expression to, are put in question in Shakespeare’s plays, which restlessly probe the bases of power in Renaissance culture, whether the authority in question belongs to a king, a father, a warrior, a magus (like Prospero), or even God. It is not, Kay says, that Shakespeare, for all his skepticism, is ever able to dispense with authority altogether. Rather, it is that what authority has to say to us about how we must or should live is always open to question and argument.

Against the background of this questioning of authority, Shakespeare develops a wonderfully robust version of personhood. Hamlet, with his intense and detailed inner life, is exemplary here, and Kay points out that the Danish prince can even contribute substantially to the lives of real‐life readers and theatre‐goers. “For many young people,” she says, “he functions as a literary liberator, because he seems so much like their secret selves—the person whom they feel themselves to be, unknown to their families and friends.” The complex lives of figures such as Hamlet are very much at the centre of things in this book, and we are invited to encounter them as we would real people, to attend to their aspirations and sufferings, to understand them clearly and analytically but also to acknowledge them as our equals.

To see eye to eye with Shakespeare’s characters is to begin to understand what they can teach us about our own lives, especially about the importance of an awareness of how individuals can achieve happiness only in relation to the structures of social authority. That, in an overarching way, is the story that the book tells about Shakespeare himself, whose plays represent his life‐long dealings with the Elizabethan system of authority and the attendant scale of social prestige. Although he was a lowly player and playwright, Shakespeare desired a measure of status and success, and he might even have fantasized that his authority as an imaginative artist outweighed the pomp and power of kings and queens. Of course, the centuries have proved that particular fantasy true: Shakespeare’s imagination has contributed far more to the shaping of individuals and societies than have all the earls and knights of the Elizabethan court (including Elizabeth herself). But the Shakespeare who emerges in this book is not the supremely confident artist who might bestride the whole history of humankind. Rather, he is a deeply unhappy man (and a great artist who can still speak to us). He was made that way by the split in his psyche between his serviceable loyalty to the system of authority and status and his illicit ambition for authority and prestige in his own right. In Kay’s view, the acuity of both Shakespeare’s representations of characters like Hamlet or Antony and his relentless questioning of the system of rule and rank is reflective of his own troubled relationship with the social order in which he lived.

* * *

I said that Kay left her book completed when she died. But those of us who valued her work and wanted to see it in print knew that it needed to be revised and updated. The manuscript had the good fortune to be placed in the care of an accomplished young scholar named Amy Scott. Amy’s PhD thesis was a prize‐winning study of how Shakespeare created an “ethical historiography.” In it, she describes how Shakespeare’s plays can help us attend critically, feelingly, and creatively to our connection with the dead. Amy brought her historical and literary learning and her philosophical understanding of the connections between the living and the dead to the tasks of editing and updating Kay’s manuscript. But beyond those important tasks, there developed between the two—the deceased author and the living reviser—a remarkable meeting of minds, a searching harmony you will hear clearly in the Introduction and a relationship that provides a deep bass line throughout the book.

* * *

The book itself contains twelve chapters and an epilogue. Although the range of discussion is broad, including forays into thinkers like Freud or Machiavelli or sidelights on the history of the Tudor court or the Jews in England, each chapter is devoted to a single play, from the early A Midsummer Night’s Dream to the late play, The Tempest. There are chapters on three comedies (including The Tempest), three History plays, six tragedies (all the major ones), and a chapter on the difficult‐to‐categorize Troilus and Cressida.

One very notable feature is that the discussion broadens and deepens as it progresses. Each chapter draws upon the previous ones, producing an overall account of Shakespeare that grows in complexity and fullness. While readers will learn a great deal if they open the book to, say, Chapter 10 (on King Lear), they will get even more benefit and pleasure by reading through from the beginning, and coming to the account of Lear with an understanding of how Shakespeare has used what Kay calls “a two‐world principle” in the construction of Dream and Merchant of Venice, and how he reworks it in the great tragedy. Readers will appreciate how detailed discussions of particular plays are coupled with an emerging picture of Shakespeare’s whole artistic undertaking. They will also appreciate the epilogue—a speculative socio‐psychological biography of William Shakespeare, which is based on an adventurous reading of his last great character, Prospero, the Renaissance magician, magus, and virtual dramatist. This imaginative, intimate portrait of Shakespeare makes a fitting conclusion for a work of literary criticism that might also be described as a life‐long correspondence between a great artist and his scholarly partner.

Introduction: True Minds

Amy Scott

Let me not to the marriage of true minds

Admit impediments. Love is not love

Which alters when it alteration finds,

Or bends with the remover to remove.

O, no, it is an ever‐fixèd mark

That looks on tempests and is never shaken;

It is the star to every wandering bark,

Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.

Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks

Within his bending sickle’s compass come;

Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,

But bears it out even to the edge of doom.

 If this be error and upon me proved,

 I never writ, nor no man ever loved. (Sonnet 116)1

I first received Kay Stockholder’s manuscript for this book as a kind of inheritance. I knew she had passed away after completing the manuscript, and I knew her children and her partner Norman Epstein wished it to be published. From the original author it had been, after some years, bequeathed to me, though I did not have the pleasure of knowing Kay personally. My task seemed monumental: I was to revise and edit the work of a woman I had never met in person. I felt the project invited in feelings, though, that were familiar to me in my own experience with mourning and inheriting. There is a sense of a great responsibility (which is also a great honor) to do justice to someone who can no longer speak for him/herself. There was always awareness that I should not put words in her mouth to which she might have objected. I have, therefore, tried to establish a connection with Kay, as if I were sitting in sincere and searching dialogue with her rather than trying to imitate her exactly.

I don’t expect that I have written and edited exactly as she might have done, but I do hope that what I have added has formed a respectful and coherent conversation with the words she has left us. This, I believe, is what she herself did with Shakespeare during her long career. The manuscript read very much as an extended dialogue with a lifelong companion with whom she was intensely familiar. Her own often‐poetic words bandy with Shakespeare’s to produce a moving, insightful account of not just his plays but also some of his most enigmatic characters. Each chapter discusses one play, from some of his earliest to some of his latest, and over the course of the twelve chapters, all genres in the Shakespeare canon are represented.

Kay Stockholder was a critic whose work was heavily informed by psychoanalyses. She was therefore interested in what happens in our minds. What things do we acknowledge about ourselves in our thoughts and what things do we repress? How do those thoughts translate to feelings and actions in the world around us? In her 1987 book Dream Works: Lovers and Families in Shakespeare’s Plays,2 Stockholder writes that when artists create their works, in addition to drawing from “options made available by the contemporary culture and institutions,” they will also be “guided by the emotional associations” of their inner life, their unconscious (ix). She goes on to say that in this way,

all components of a work, from the grand structures of thought and plot to the finest detail of rhetorical nuance, can be read as a grid of associations. Character and plot become images writ large, and each component of this grid, and its relative prominence, acquires meaning in terms of the others. (ix)

Thinking About Shakespeare also approaches the plays in this way, as products of a grid of associations that produce overall meaning. The book’s focus is indeed on the association between “thought and plot” – the characters’ thoughts and the ways in which the action in the play derives from or shapes characters’ inner lives. And those “emotional associations” mapped in the plays – how characters feel and what those feelings can tell us of how Shakespeare may have felt about his culture – convey the sense of a struggle to pursue intimate bonds and ideals despite how elusive they are.

The “Ever‐Fixèd Mark”: Sonnet 116 and Shakespeare’s Bonds

Stockholder’s work pairs well with the oft‐quoted Sonnet 116 because Thinking About Shakespeare focuses on the efforts of individuals to find an object, purpose, or person to bind herself to, to remain constant to in the face of countless forces of “alteration” both within the self and also in the broader social and political world with which the self must inevitably contend. Love is one of those bonds that Stockholder pursues in Shakespeare’s work so insightfully. But she follows many other kinds of unions: bonds that hold together friendships, political relationships, commercial agreements, and judicial order. While Sonnet 116 defends the idea that there is a version of love that is pure and authentic, instead of using the term “love” immediately, it calls a loving bond a “marriage of true minds” (1). To situate the engine of love in the mind is surely an unexpected maneuver. Juliet describes exactly where a loving union is traditionally imagined to originate, telling Friar Laurence “God joined my heart and Romeo’s” (4.1.55). A few lines later, she describes the strength of her union with Romeo by calling her heart “true” (4.1.58). When he must leave Egypt for Rome, Antony seeks to soften the blow of their separation by telling Cleopatra “my full heart / Remains in use with you” (1.3.43–4). What place does the mind have in the formation and sustenance of love then? The Sonnet suggests a conception of love that is more complex than what we might view as a straightforward engagement of the heart.

In his 1505 mediation on love, Gli Asolani, the Venetian scholar and cardinal Pietro Bembo offers a definition of “true” love as one that requires both the senses and the mind. First, a virtuous and thus sincere lover uses the eyes and ears to appreciate the “beauty of mind no less than body” of the beloved (97).3 Second, the lover’s mind itself is a crucial part of the keeping of love. He explains that when the lover is far away from the beloved, “the same nature which provided these two senses [seeing and hearing] has likewise given us the faculty of thought, with which we may enjoy both kinds of beauty” (97).4 Bembo’s theory of love‐at‐a‐distance highlights the importance of the imagination in the preservation of a loving connection. Imagination, the power of thought, offers the idea of presence in the reality of absence, the feeling of proximity in the context of distance. It acts in place of the eyes and ears. Antony and Cleopatra will turn to their imaginations to sustain their intimacy in the context of distance – spatial, but also crucially, emotional. Indeed, in Shakespeare’s plays, lovers are often at a distance from each other even when they are in the same place. Thus, the spatial difference evoked in Sonnet 116, through the images of the ship on the sea, and the star, could indicate other forms of distance between the lover and beloved that the poem attempts to close.

Stockholder points out that unpredictable forces from within the self – changeable emotions and personal idiosyncrasies – and inescapable influences from without the self (social, political, and even supernatural/divine powers) can open up distances between people. Even when unions withstand the vicissitudes that Shakespeare’s plotting brings about, it is not without significant challenges and changes. Although the ideal bond, the “true” marriage of two minds, is elusive and many bonds are destroyed entirely, the self‐knowledge and imaginative powers unleashed in the process offer some compensation to the characters within the play and impart even greater rewards to audiences who watch Shakespeare’s plays. Alteration, it seems, is impossible to avoid, but it is still possible for one person to maintain a meaningful connection with another in the midst of and in the aftermath of such changes. Sonnet 116’s discussion of the nature of an “ever‐fixèd” bond in the context of alteration and time’s passage, of the possibility of a union between “true minds,” offers a place to consider the twelve chapters and epilogue that comprise Stockholder’s work.

Sonnet 116 particularly suits Stockholder’s work because the speaker adheres to a belief that there are things we can know for certain and inalienable bonds that we can aspire to even while it contains an undeniable challenge: while the sonnet professes to describe what love is, it frames the discussion with a turn to negatives, words that express what love is not, words given particular emphasis with their line placement and prominence. The initial definition of love places the key negative phrase “[l]ove is not love…” at the end of the second line, forcing the reader’s eye to move to line three to complete the definition. What remains most prominent to the reader’s eye, then, is the complete collapse of a term in itself, the negation of love (“love is not love”) before the remaining definition salvages it and informs us that love is something, even if we don’t yet know what it is. Likewise, the final couplet affirms the poet’s deep knowledge of love, his right to inform us what love is, but the last line is entirely negative if read or seen alone (“I never writ nor no man ever loved”). The poem’s only positive assertion is that love is an “ever‐fixèd mark” and a “star” that “is never shaken.” The first definition is vague, a “mark” being a target of action but not a defined thing or place here. The second definition mystifies love further by using not just a metaphor but also one that implies distance. The speaker reveals that love is always available to guide our movements, but we cannot actually possess it. The implication is that love is a feeling, a force only of influence and direction, rather than an achievable state or available place.

Helen Vendler observes that “[t]he prevalence of negation” in Sonnet 116 indicates that the speaker of the poem is engaged in a “rebuttal” to an imagined previous statement from a lover who has admitted that he no longer loves the speaker.5 In this imagined context, there is no “marriage of true minds,” but a desperate attempt to argue for its possibility in the face of its dissolution. If we read as Vendler does, and I think there is ample evidence to do so, the sonnet is haunted by the transience of bonds. The sonnet is closely echoed in King Lear, when France tells Cordelia’s other suitors, who want her solely for her share in Lear’s kingdom rather than for her internal worth. “Love’s not love,” he says, “[w]hen it is mingled with regards that stands / Aloof from th’ entire point” (1.1.242–4). Shakespeare and Stockholder ultimately show us that while an authentic bond may be “th’ entire point,” it is nearly impossible to achieve it fully and permanently or to express it if indeed it is truly felt. The inevitable longing and search for a definition and attainment of something “true,” the values, ideals, and relationships that seem to make life meaningful are always “mingled” in some way, shaped by unpredictably shifting emotions and alliances.

We cannot ignore that, like Sonnet 116, Stockholder’s work is concerned with the particular characteristics and permutations of emotional bonds, most prominently love. Yet, Stockholder also effectively charts how non‐romantic interactions – of business, politics – seemingly distinct from romantic love, are imbued with its language. In turn, love relationships are shaped by and take on the language of commerce and politics. In his discussion of Shakespeare’s dramatization of love, David Schwalkwyk explains that Shakespeare’s plays are “concerned not just with the absences and inequities of desire but also with the pleasures of intimacy and demands of reciprocity” and that “the intimacy and reciprocity” are also crucial in other relationships, like those between “master and servant, that appear at first sight to be wholly unerotic.”6 Stockholder’s work looks at those pleasures of intimacy and the demands of reciprocity in a number of different relationships and contexts across the twelve plays – comedies, histories, tragedies, one “problem” play (so‐called because it doesn’t quite fit any one genre), and one romance – that make up each of her twelve chapters. In the course of unpacking these diverse plays, she suggests that the kind of intimacy that will lead to a lasting bond and full reciprocity is shadowed by uncertainty in the real world but is an achievable target in imagination.

“The Edge of Doom”

What of the “real” world in Shakespeare, as Stockholder sees it, the world within time’s “bending sickle’s compass”? Bodies, and the emotions of those within those bodies, inevitably change over time. Sonnet 116 asserts that even those who transform physically through the passage of time will remain emotionally constant if their love is sincere. True love will be borne out to the “edge of doom,” which is death or judgment day. It seems the only measure of “true” love or other kinds of ideals, like honor, can be made in their persistence over time to the point of the death of the body and its translation into something immortal and divine. Romeo and Juliet’s love is perfect because they bear it out to their death, as do Antony and Cleopatra. In 1 Henry IV, as Stockholder points out, Hotspur also adheres stubbornly to his notion of honor – referring to it even at the point of his death.

Sonnet 116’s mention, however, of the “brief hours and weeks” introduces a note of ephemerality that the poem cannot quite banish, just as the characters in the plays pursue unchangeable ideals despite changeable emotions and aging bodies. As Stockholder points out across the chapters, the body itself, the inevitability that it will change over time, has a way of undermining or, at the very least, haunting the ideals represented by Romeo and Juliet or espoused by Hotspur. Inescapable materiality consistently challenges us. Juliet herself is sensible of the horrific sight of the bones in the tomb, bones that seem to compress unique persons into a gross and alarmingly infinite materiality. Hamlet, too, struggles with this evidence in the Gravediggers scene. Macbeth becomes aware of his mortality, and he senses that his accomplishments will be meaningless after his death; this leads him to forgo a possible lamentation about the death of Lady Macbeth. He is not sure what the point of such a eulogy would be. Lear and Prospero both feel the discomforts the physical body must endure as it ages. Romeo and Juliet’s instant attraction is transformed into a perfect bond, as far as we can see it, not just because they may sincerely love each other but also because they are forced to choose death rather than reach it naturally and are thus never given the time to experience insidious alterations from within and without, like those experienced by Troilus and Cressida or Othello and Desdemona. As Phyllis Rackin observes, “[t]he absolute romantic involvement” explored in Romeo and Juliet would be “impossible if the hero were older or less impetuous, more involved in worldly affairs or less impractical” (19).7 The constancy of our bonds may depend on when our “edge of doom” comes and how much time we are given to contemplate our own aging.

Stockholder also includes mature lovers in this book: Antony and Cleopatra. They have seemed to withstand the alterations wrought by time and are certainly able to “bear” their love to the “edge of doom.” Cleopatra references her age – her tanned and wrinkled skin – but it is part of what makes her irresistible to Antony and to audiences. Though he seems to deny the effects of time on her when he says that “[a]ge cannot wither her,” what he then praises as her “infinite variety” (2.2.245–6) can only be achieved over time, and the play makes a point of looking back at her past relationships to testify to her enduring charm. Likewise, Antony’s Roman reservations about committing himself to her are not enough to draw him away from her over the course of many years. Their suicides come later in life than Romeo and Juliet’s and seem to make their bond immortal, but the meaning of their deaths is always disturbed by the specter of her performativity. How much of Cleopatra’s commitment to Antony unto death reflects their dedication to each other, and how much reflects her reluctance to be ridiculed by the Romans should she decide to live? Stockholder leaves this question delightfully open, as Shakespeare seems to, while at the same time conceding how powerful and natural is the connection between the two lovers.

The lovers that Stockholder discusses in this book are rendered natural – realistic – in that we can see their imperfections play out and we can see them either acknowledge or repress them. Unions that withstand tests, like Portia and Bassanio’s bond in The Merchant of Venice, are nonetheless complicated and, for readers and audiences, changed by those tests. Unions that falter under tests, like Troilus and Cressida’s and Othello and Desdemona’s, are powerfully depicted because such connections dissolve due to a realistic combination of failure of trust within the lovers and pressures exerted by forces in the world around them. Though Stockholder notes that Desdomona’s goodness makes her character seem unrealistic at times, that same goodness realistically inflames Othello’s jealousy. Even the lovers who are influenced by the artificial love juice in A Midsummer Night’s Dream experience entirely natural and realistic doubts and fears that predate their excursion into the forest while under its influence. Ferdinand and Miranda’s perfect union in The Tempest, a true portrayal of instant romantic reciprocity that seems implausible in any “real” world, is framed by Prospero’s enactment of the very tests of endurance that other lovers, in the tragedies and comedies, must endure, simulations of life’s real challenges. Shakespeare’s lovers, Stockholder reveals, are delightfully human, consistent only in their shifting emotions that give audiences a sense of the full range of human experience. They are capable of revealing to us the allure and the dangers of allowing oneself to enjoy the pleasures of intimacy.

In the history plays, Stockholder observes, bonds of loyalty between ruler and subject, fathers and sons, kings and kinsmen are also subject to alteration because kings like Richard II and Henry IV feel empowered by their notions of “divine right,” the idea that kingship is conferred by God and that the king is God’s representative on earth. This belief that they are superior to those around them inevitably leads kings to abuse their privilege, even as they become increasingly aware of their own mortality and audiences become aware of their personal flaws. Stockholder also refers to the notion that kings were thought to have “two bodies,” a line of thinking described by Ernst Kantorowicz in his influential work The King’s Two Bodies: A Study in Medieval Political Theology.8 Kantorowicz writes that the body “natural” is the mortal body that is subject to time as all are, that alters and ages. The body “politic” is one that will not age. It is passed from one king to another and encompasses the commonwealth over which the king presides. This conception of power leads to an inevitably fractured experience of kingship, failures of rule, and inevitable shifts of loyalty among those kinsmen and subjects who have sworn to be loyal to the rightful king. Bonds are formed, dissolved, and reformed quickly in the history plays, leading to an impression that pure authority, derived from the “divine right” of kings or the body “politic,” is an elusive ideal that the human body undermines. The king’s kinsmen and subjects must also face the failure of principles that seem like “ever‐fixèd mark[s].” Hotspur’s links to the earthy realist Falstaff and his own failure to fully repress evidence that his own body is suffering shadow his seemingly unerring commitment to honor. Prince Hal transforms from a pleasure‐seeking scoundrel to an ostensibly ideal king over the course of 1 and 2 Henry IV, but, as Stockholder observes, his relationship with Falstaff complicates his intimacy with father and vice versa. We are never certain where Hal’s loyalties lie.

The shifting alliances in plays like 1, 2 Henry IV and Troilus and Cressida, as Stockholder sees them, also challenge the traditional notion, originally suggested by E.M.W. Tillyard, that Elizabethans saw the world as a carefully constructed hierarchy, a “general conception of order”9 from the cosmos down to animals and plants. Stockholder notes that Ulysses’ “universal wolf” speech from Troilus and Cressida is often used (indeed, Tillyard uses it), to demonstrate that Shakespeare subscribed to this ordered view of the world, that all creatures should remain in their place in the “chain of being.” Stockholder, through her careful analysis of Ulysses’ overall motivations in making the speech, points out the flaw in this line of thinking. The constant wrangling within the Greek and Trojan factions in Troilus and Cressida and among the families and factions in the history plays challenge the idea that there is a “fixed location” for each person. While we may wish to see ourselves as inhabiting a “proper” place in an orderly social world, Shakespeare shows us the difficulty of maintaining this illusion.

In tragedies like King Lear and Hamlet, this sense of order has been violated, and one of the “fixed‐mark[s]” sought by titular characters is justice in the context of others’ perceived transgression of natural law. This search too is heavily shadowed by the grim realities of the physical body’s vulnerability and the characters’ sense that some hold power over others without deserving it. “Natural law” itself is a term that Stockholder frequently uses, a term used to describe “essential justice,”10 or eternal laws that do not change over time and apply to all. If men and women exercise their capacity for reason and follow natural law, they will choose virtue over vice, and if they do not, they will be punished. Both Lear and Hamlet struggle with the idea that those who have violated natural law have not been punished as they should. Ultimately, the imbalance of justice, a problem that tragedies never fully resolve, destroys bonds that cannot be fully recuperated.

In tragedies like Hamlet, Macbeth, and King Lear, characters cling to the notion that people can be known fully and dealt with because they fit cleanly into oppositional categories: natural or unnatural, masculine or feminine, good or evil. But as the messiness of the action unfolds, characters experience the collapse of these extremes as a kind of epistemological and ontological crisis, and tragedy ensues. The death of Hamlet’s father and his ensuing disgust of his mother dislocate him from his sense of being within time and place, leading him to question why people act as they do. Macbeth regards the murder of Duncan as a horrific act, but the unnatural energies of the witches and Lady Macbeth envelop him and stir his own dark desires. Lear can dismiss his daughters as “unnatural” early in the play as a way of avoiding his own contribution to his suffering. All three protagonists see clear categories dissolve as the illusions they are, and they emerge into a world stripped of suppositions about who people should ideally be and how they should ideally behave. What is called “unnatural” may well be a part of human nature, and thus people are difficult to evaluate, to fully “know.”

“Whose Worth’s Unknown, Although His Height Be Taken”

As a metaphor for a person, Sonnet 116 turns to the image of the ship, the “wandering bark / Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.” The speaker suggests that a ship’s external features can be measured, but there is no way of knowing how much it carries within it, what value one can attach to its cargo. People’s outward characteristics, the speaker implies, can be visibly assessed and measured like that ship, but their inner life cannot be known or assessed in the same way. That people can hide their thoughts and feelings from others or even from themselves makes establishing a “marriage of true minds” particularly challenging. Stockholder teases from Shakespeare’s plays the insight that a person’s “true” self may be unknowable or at least radically different from the socially visible or measurable persona they craft for others. Hamlet feels this difference acutely and struggles to reach the “true” self within those around him who seem so opaque. Cleopatra’s hyperbolic, intense love could be sincere, but in its flair for drama, the play makes it difficult for audiences to truly “know” who she is and how she feels about Antony.

Shakespeare’s overwhelming interest in the opacity of people leads to his association of the “real” world with the stage, the actions of “real” people with the performance of actors. This theme is most prominently unpacked in Stockholder’s chapters on A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Tempest – those chapters that begin and end her work. As Stockholder says in her chapter on the former play, Shakespeare seems to ask “whether the imagination or the evidence of sense provides the truest version of experience.” Indeed, desires that seem elusive in the real world can be satisfyingly addressed on the stage; even when desire is not fulfilled in the play, this failure can produce a satisfying theater‐going experience if the audience can relate to, sympathize with, or ridicule such heartache. These are “real” feelings even if the fiction that has stirred them is not.

Stockholder gestures to the rich literary, dramatic, and historical source material Shakespeare uses to produce his drama. Shakespeare’s additions to these sources lend his characters psychological depth and make the inherited stories uniquely his. Indeed, the literary heritage that leads to Shakespeare’s portrayal of Troilus and Cressida is part of the characters’ consciousness, a heritage of which the characters themselves seem sensible and with which Shakespeare then reminds us that they are also actors performing the roles in the theater. This echoing of past literary characters or past lives is also built in to characters who are also “real” historical figures. For Antony and Cleopatra, Shakespeare drew from Plutarch’s account of Mark Antony in his Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans,11 and to depict the events of the history plays and the tragedies Macbeth and King Lear, Shakespeare turned to Raphael Holinshed’s Chronicles among other works.12 While these sources provide plot points, themes, and some speeches, they alone are not responsible for the intimacy that the audience is likely to sense between characters or feel for characters. The bonds that Shakespeare creates between his lovers and between the characters and the audience are the result of his poetry and stagecraft. These characters are “real” not just because they come from previous sources or they really existed; they produce “real” feelings of attachment or horror on the part of the audience.

Stockholder sees Prospero as Shakespeare’s vehicle for making an argument for the power of theater. She writes that the late romances are “full of providential, magical, or quasi‐magical powers” and implies that, whatever the complexities of his relation to Caliban, Prospero is aligned with Providence in his ability to use supernatural powers to ensure that the wrongs of the past are corrected. At the time of Shakespeare’s writing, Divine Providence was believed to be God’s just government of human affairs. If one believed the universe was governed by Providence, then the good would be rewarded and the bad would be punished as part of God’s overarching plan. In many of his plays, Shakespeare is interested in how a belief in Providence will shape one’s experience of events.13 In The Tempest, Shakespeare certainly enfolds the traditional idea of Divine Providence, and the powers that it was understood to have, into Prospero’s powers, but he also uses Prospero’s powers to explore the powers of the imagination; in doing so, he lends weight to the idea that the feelings and reactions that the stage produces are more powerful than passing, ephemeral entertainment.

By linking the characters’ pursuit of lasting bonds in the plays to the power of the stage to stir very real feelings, Stockholder indicates that the bonds within the play are not the only ones that matter to the playwright. When Prospero requests applause at the end of The Tempest, he indicates that the audience and playwright are bound together in a reciprocal relationship. The playwright must give pleasure – the pleasures that come from feeling intimate with finely drawn and well‐acted characters – and the audience must appropriately respond to this offering with approval. Stockholder shows us that quite often and across all genres, bonds in Shakespeare meet with impediments and are subject to alterations. Only when the audience approves of, that is, feels for and with the characters on the stage, will an ephemeral performance become something more lasting. And this exchange of energies that signals the stirring of imagination and thought, is as close to a “marriage of true minds” as we are likely to get.