Beyond a Common Joy: An Introduction to Shakespearean Comedy

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    Overview

    “Soul of the age!” Ben Jonson eulogized Shakespeare, and in the next breath, “He was not of an age but for all time.” That he was both “of the age” and “for all time” is, this book suggests, the key to Shakespeare’s comic genius. In this engaging introduction to the First Folio comedies, Paul A. Olson gives a persuasive and thoroughly engrossing account of the playwright’s comic transcendence, showing how Shakespeare, by taking on the great themes of his time, elevated comedy from a mere mid-level literary form to its own form of greatness—on par with epic and tragedy.
    Like the best tragic or epic writers, Shakespeare in his comedies goes beyond private and domestic matters in order to draw on the whole of the commonwealth. He examines how a ruler’s or a court’s community at the household and local levels shapes the politics of empire—existing or nascent empires such as England, the Holy Roman Empire, Spain, Venice, and the Ottoman Empire or part empires such as Rome and Athens—where all their suffering and silliness play into how they govern. In Olson’s work we also see how Shakespeare’s appropriation of his age’s ideas about classical myth and biblical scriptures bring to his comic action a sort of sacral profundity in keeping with notions of poetry as “inspired” and comic endings as more than merely happy but as, in fact, uncommonly joyful.

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    Editorial Reviews

    Times Literary Supplement

    "This book provides a provocative, useful and direct invitation to students to read these plays just as seriously as they would Hamlet or Antony and Cleopatra."—Elizabeth Scott-Baumann, Times Literary Supplement

    — Elizabeth Scott-Baumann

    Darryl Gless

    “Powerfully eloquent. I have frequently stopped in my reading to savor the richness of individual sentences. Professor Olson’s wide and deep learning is strikingly apparent throughout his book, and it yields new perceptions about most of Shakespeare’s comedies.”

    —Darryl Gless, author of Interpretation and Theology in Spenser

    H. David Brumble

    “Paul Olson has managed to say a lot that is new and interesting about Shakespeare—quite a feat. I found much here that I will be able to use in my university classroom—and I have been teaching Shakespeare at the University of Pittsburgh for thirty-seven years. The ‘further reading’ sections in each chapter are astonishing for their range—and wonderfully useful for teachers. Beyond a Common Joy is well organized and clearly written—and blessedly free of postmodern theory jargon.”

    —H. David Brumble, author of Classical Myths and Legends in the Middle Ages and Renaissance

    Biblothque d'Humanisme et Renaissance

    "This book teaches delightfully and about the art of instruction and the art of living and growing quite as much as about the art of Shakespeare the commercial dramatist who always gives audiences more than they pay for."—Leonard R. N. Ashley, Biblothèque d’Humanisme et Renaissance

    — Leonard R. N. Ashley

    Sixteenth Century Journal

    "This book''s bibliographical apparatus makes it a valuable library addition and may lead some readers to the mapping of uncharted landscapes in the study of Shakespeare''s comedies."—F. Nicholas Clary, Sixteenth Century Journal

    — F. Nicholas Clary

    Biblothèque d'Humanisme et Renaissance

    "This book teaches delightfully and about the art of instruction and the art of living and growing quite as much as about the art of Shakespeare the commercial dramatist who always gives audiences more than they pay for."—Leonard R. N. Ashley, Biblothèque d’Humanisme et Renaissance

    — Leonard R. N. Ashley

    Times Literary Supplement - Elizabeth Scott-Baumann
    "This book provides a provocative, useful and direct invitation to students to read these plays just as seriously as they would Hamlet or Antony and Cleopatra."—Elizabeth Scott-Baumann, Times Literary Supplement
    Biblotheque d'Humanisme et Renaissance - Leonard R. N. Ashley
    "This book teaches delightfully and about the art of instruction and the art of living and growing quite as much as about the art of Shakespeare the commercial dramatist who always gives audiences more than they pay for."—Leonard R. N. Ashley, Biblothèque d’Humanisme et Renaissance
    Sixteenth Century Journal - F. Nicholas Clary
    "This book's bibliographical apparatus makes it a valuable library addition and may lead some readers to the mapping of uncharted landscapes in the study of Shakespeare's comedies."—F. Nicholas Clary, Sixteenth Century Journal
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    Product Details

    • ISBN-13: 9780803215740
    • Publisher: University of Nebraska Press
    • Publication date: 12/1/2008
    • Edition description: New Edition
    • Pages: 364
    • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.20 (d)

    Meet the Author

    Paul A. Olson is Kate Foster Professor of English Emeritus at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln and the author of several books, including The Kingdom of Science: Literary Utopianism and British Education, 1612–1870 (Nebraska 2003) and The Journey to Wisdom: Self-Education in Patristic and Medieval Literature (Nebraska 1995).

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    Table of Contents

    List of Illustrations

    1 On Historical Understandings of Shakespeare's Works 1

    2 Shakespeare and the Invention of Grand Comic Form 27

    3 Shakespearean Comedic Myths 67

    4 Biblical Story and Festival Enter Shakespearean Comedy 119

    5 Empire and Conquest in the Comedies 183

    6 Measure for Measure as Form, Myth, and Scripture 229

    And in Conclusion 263

    Notes 271

    Resources for Placing the Comedies in an Early Modern Frame 329

    Index 333

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