The Medieval & Renaissance Drama piece provided new insight into the foundation of Shakespeare’s plays.
At first glance, I, along with many aspiring scholars of Shakespeare, believed his plays to be the work of pure imagination— stories that he had developed as one might develop a bedtime story for a child— and performed for the sole purpose of entertainment. And yet, with the tumultuous social, political, and even religious change that Shakespeare’s era saw, it is only fitting that, upon further analysis, his plays take on a deeper, more profound meaning as they reveal social commentary, political jabs, and much, much more.
The idea of Anachronism as it was presented in the article was the first thing that presented itself towards the idea of plays of the era being more than simple entertainment; in providing the audience with a contemporary viewpoint (such as those of the soldiers in the play following Christ’s death) the audience received a telling of the biblical story far different than what they had been presented in the sermons of their priests. A peasant could be told the story of the Crucifixion and Resurrection and instructed to weep, but when he saw his Christ being bullied and empathized with His torment, he could find a new perspective, as well as appreciation for, His sacrifice.
The same goes for the presentation of slavery and servitude in Acts I and II in The Tempest with a modern audience— a student of say, St. Joseph’s, likely knows the history of slavery and can sympathize with the struggle of a Civil-War-Era slave, but the visible struggle of Caliban, who has well-founded anger over the loss of his position as well as freedom and solemnity, versus the carefree attitude of Ariel who blindly accepts every order, provides a new, more human perspective of bondage that is accessible to an audience.

 

Joe Abitanta

Reading Response 1

   When reading about the contrast between medieval and renaissance theater, it is easy to see the glaring differences between the two. What I found most surprising, however, was the large amount of similarity. As discussed in the reading, Shakespeare used the format of cycle drama and morality drama in his works after the medieval period. Surprisingly the medieval period, in which theater was controlled by the church, still exhibited themes about morality. Clearly the image we have of medieval European life being that of ignoring and suppressing “evil” urges and thoughts isn’t entirely accurate, as this was a large part of the theater of the era. Of course, these themes are not explored in the depth of Shakespeare’s plays.

    With the Renaissance era being one of change and questioning the old ways of life, the subject matter of drama at the time also changed. Even though good and evil were topics explored during medieval times, we can see just through reading “The Tempest” that Shakespeare has engaged with the topics of power and revenge, among many others. Throughout all of his works, he is able to dive into the psyche of his characters and reveal to the audience what their true thoughts are, as opposed to just painting them as good or evil. It’s clear to see why his plays were so popular, as this subject matter spoke to the people of the time in a more accurate way than that of a morality drama put on by the Church.

    With this context of change throughout subject matter over time, it is impossible not to consider how this has changed in recent years. Between Shakespeare’s time and now many features of theater have been consistent, as this can be attributed to the influence Shakespeare has had on the world of drama. We can notice a significant shift in the themes that are frequently covered though. Just as good and evil changed to a far more nuanced discussion of values, this has occurred again. Now people are infatuated with the “anti-hero”, one who is a villain on paper but when examined more closely has a backstory that can explain, and sometimes justify, these villainous behaviors. There is a great amount of depth to Shakespeare’s characters, most notably Macbeth, who is tormented by the horrible things he did to gain power, but this sort of examination into human behavior has become commonplace, which may be an underappreciated effect that Shakespeare’s legacy has had on modern day entertainment.

The chapter discussing Medieval and Renaissance drama in England makes some clear ties to liturgical theatre and theatre in the time of Shakespeare. With the formation of cycle plays intended to depict certain stories from the Bible, craft guilds formed as precursors to guilds like Shakespeare’s company, Lord Chamberlain’s Men. As political and religious turmoil took over the better part of the 16th and 17th century, theatre became secularized to include histories and social problems relevant to Elizabethan society. Though morality plays were much more common in the 15th and early 16th century, they paved the way for more secular stories which represented the moral struggles of all modern classes. As theatre moved away from Bible stories and into more modern representations of moral dramas, plays like Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus and Shakespeare’s The Tempest depicted moral reckonings, though with more modern contexts.

In a secularized fashion, both plays deal with the moral repercussions of using magic, but with very different moral implications. Faustus sells his soul to a devil for magical powers and is dragged down to Hell in the end of the play, displaying magic as a clearly immoral act. Prospero, however, finds different repercussions for his use of magic, as he is exiled for choosing magic over his duties as Duke of Milan. Both plays interrogate the morality of magic, though Shakespeare takes a more modern (and less conservative) perspective. Besides Prospero’s own struggle with the morality of magic, other characters in the play must struggle with their own morality and conscience as well. In order to stop Antonio and Sebastian’s plot to kill Gonzalo in Act 2, Ariel acts as an external conscience and prevents the two from succeeding, even though Antonio sees his conscience as an impediment to his success. As Prospero and Ariel continue to orchestrate the nobles’ experience on the island, they again test the nobles’ morality and consciences through confusing spells and madness. Even Gonzalo notes at the end of Act 3 that “their great guilt, Like poison given to work a great time after, Now ‘gins to bite the spirits.” Finally, we can see that the external conscience, provided by Ariel’s magical meddling, has kick started the nobles’ journey to reckon with their sins. With clear influences from the morality plays from the 15th and 16th century, Shakespearean drama continues to question the morals of his audience, both past and present, in a secular context, making The Tempest more relatable in its quest for moral answers.