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By Michael Hattaway (auth.)

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Sample text

Coleridge noted that the Shakespearean drama grew out of the religious drama of the Middle Ages, and went on, If the tragedies of Sophocles are in the strict sense of the word tragedies, and the comedies of Aristophanes comedies, we must emancipate ourselves from a false association arising from misapplied names, and find a new word for the plays of Shakespeare. For they are, in the ancient sense, neither tragedies nor comedies, nor both in one, - but a different genus, diverse in kind, and not merely different in degree.

Romantic perspectives The romantic critics, whose writings constitute a reaction to the positions I have just travestied in summary form, made three main contributions. The first was a new defence of the forms of Shakespeare's individual plays. Coleridge, thinking possibly of Voltaire's notorious disparagement of Hamlet as 'the fruit of the imagination of a drunken savage' (1749), sought to demonstrate that the judgement of Shakespeare was commensurate with his genius, that his plays did display art, and that they had a particular form of their own, an 'organic' form: 36 THE CRITICS DEBATE: 'HAMLET' The form is mechanic, when on any given material we impress a predetermined form, not necessarily arising out of the properties of the material.

Now, if we interpret these texts as meaning that vengeance is the sole prerogative of God (and not as a promise that retribution is inevitable), then we have a maxim that is of great use to any prince plagued by feuds, duels, and political insurrections. He can deploy the biblical injunction as a means of social control, and declare any act of violence an act of rebellion against his authority. We find an example of this in 'The Homily against Disobedience and Willful Rebellion', one of the official sermons that was read regularly during the Tudor period in every church in the land.

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