Plays of Shakespeare: A Thematic Guide

Overview

Touching viewers and readers with his presentation of social, moral, and political issues, Shakespeare holds ageless and unequaled appeal primarily because of the universal themes at the heart of his dramatic works. Shakespeare scholar Victor Cahn takes a unique approach to exploring the plays by identifying and explicating the themes that recur throughout the canon. Written in lively language, each of the 35 essays explores a core theme or topic and discusses its implications in several key plays in which it ...

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Overview

Touching viewers and readers with his presentation of social, moral, and political issues, Shakespeare holds ageless and unequaled appeal primarily because of the universal themes at the heart of his dramatic works. Shakespeare scholar Victor Cahn takes a unique approach to exploring the plays by identifying and explicating the themes that recur throughout the canon. Written in lively language, each of the 35 essays explores a core theme or topic and discusses its implications in several key plays in which it figures prominently. This user-friendly guide not only allows readers to better understand the significance of concepts such as power, politics, marriage or money; the organization by theme also helps users to compare and contrast these important topics across relevant plays. Cahn draws vivid connections between related works of Shakespeare, but just as importantly, enlightens readers as to the pertinence of these themes in contemporary life.

While this thematic guide examines all of Shakespeare's plays, particular attention is devoted to those works most often read by students; the tragedies such as Romeo and Juliet, Julius Caesar, Hamlet, and Macbeth, the comedies including A Midsummer Night's Dream and Merchant of Venice, as well as the historical plays like Richard II, and the romantic works such as The Tempest. Students who wish to investigate a particular play in greater depth can refer to this book's title index to identify all citations of that work. This valuable literary resource serves myriad uses, enabling students to trace the thread of a theme, to compare its treatment in several plays, and to understand better a play, its characters, plot and language, by examining Shakespeare's central themes.

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Editorial Reviews

VOYA
The essays in Cahn's book are designed to be read either consecutively, looking at themes in Shakespeare's plays as a whole, or independently, focusing on individual themes or plays. Cahn has written all of the essays, and he covers the standard literary themes such as gender, money, and power, plus some unique ones including acting, cynicism, and intoxication. In general, Cahn feels more warmly toward Shakespeare's female characters than male, pointing out that the women in the plays tend to be superior to the men in understanding and loyalty. There is little cross-referencing from essay to essay, but as is pointed out in the introduction, readers can work backward from the index to find all references to a certain play and then read the appropriate essays. Cahn includes lines from the plays and follows them with an interpretation of their meaning. Because this collection is by a single author and not the work of several scholars, only one interpretation of a scene is normally given. The subject matter is dense, but Cahn's style is readable and inviting. Most essays are less than ten pages, and white space around the quoted material breaks up the text on the page. Despite a few minor typographical errors, this work provides a solid starting point for study by would-be Shakespearean scholars. Index. Further Reading. 2000, Greenwood, 376p. PLB $49.95. Ages 16 to Adult. Reviewer: Karen Herc SOURCE: VOYA, August 2001 (Vol. 24, No. 3)
Library Journal
Cahn (English, Skidmore Coll.; Shakespeare the Playwright) discusses 35 recurring motifs in Shakespeare's plays, each in a different chapter and illustrated by examples from eight to ten plays, including Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, Hamlet, The Tempest, Richard II, The Merchant of Venice, Antony and Cleopatra, King Lear, and A Midsummer Night's Dream. Instead of a detailed study, the resulting "sound bites" provide a tantalizing introduction to Shakespeare's use of an idea. The motifs explored include acting, clerics, father/daughter relationships, fools, gender, intoxication, Machiavels, nature, politics, and revenge. As no other text currently provides as complete a treatment of the many themes that Shakespeare included in his works, this book will be useful as a reference or introduction. Upper-level or advanced students will need to read additional materials to flesh out the topics Cahn introduces. Recommended for public and academic libraries.--Shana C. Fair, Ohio Univ., Zanesville Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Booknews
Cahn (affiliation not cited) identifies and explicates the themes that recur throughout Shakespeare's canon of 37 plays. Each of the 35 essays explores a core theme or topic and discusses its implications in several key plays in which it figures prominently. Attention is focused on the characters and how they reveal themselves through language and action. Some of the topics examined are: acting, clerics, divine right, fidelity, fools, gender, honor, language, love, male friendship, marriage, mortality, politics, reason vs. passion, revenge, the tragic flaw, and war. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780313309816
  • Publisher: Greenwood Publishing Group, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 10/30/2000
  • Pages: 376
  • Age range: 14 years
  • Lexile: 1220L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

VICTOR L. CAHN is Professor of English at Skidmore College, where he teaches courses in the history of drama, Shakespeare, and modern drama.

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Table of Contents

Introduction xi
Acting 1
Appearance versus Reality 9
Clerics 23
Commoners 35
Cynicism 45
Divine Right 53
Fate 63
Fathers and Daughters 71
Fidelity 81
Fools 89
Forgiveness 99
Gender 107
Generations 117
Honor 127
Innocence 135
Intoxication 143
Justice 151
Language 161
Love and Romance 171
Machiavels 187
Madness 199
Male Friendship 211
Marriage 219
Money 229
Mortality 237
Nationalistic Pride and Prejudice 245
Nature 255
Order 263
Politics 273
Power 285
Reason versus Passion 295
Revenge 305
Supernatural Phenomena 315
The Tragic Flaw 325
War 335
Conclusion 345
Further Reading 347
Index 349
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