Four Shakespearean Period Pieces by Margreta de Grazia

Four Shakespearean Period Pieces by Margreta de Grazia

Author:Margreta de Grazia [de Grazia, Margreta]
Language: eng
Format: epub
Tags: LIT000000 Literary Criticism / General, LIT015000 Literary Criticism / Shakespeare, HIS037020 History / Renaissance
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Published: 2021-04-29T00:00:00+00:00

The “spirit of the age” is in some measure a novel expression. I do not believe that it is to be met with in any work exceeding fifty years in antiquity. The idea of comparing one’s own age with former ages, or with our notion of those which are yet to come, had occurred to philosophers; but it never before was itself the dominant idea of any age.97

William Hazlitt also uses that “dominant idea” as the title and organizing rubric of his collection of twenty-five portraits of his own contemporaries, The Spirit of the Age (1825), repeating the phrase throughout the essays.98 It is now so familiar that it is used quite casually, as by Stephen Orgel, who attributes Boydell’s idea for historicizing Shakespeare not only to Boydell’s colleagues but to the times: “the idea was doubtless somewhere in the air,” “an idea whose time had come.”99 Planché, in the first sentence of his preface to The Costume of Shakespeare’s Historical Tragedy of King John, identifies the pictorial aesthetic and the scholarly research informing Kemble’s King John production with the spirit of the age: “The true spirit of the times is the desire for beauty and accuracy.” His costume book, consisting of elegantly executed and carefully researched costume designs, embodied the same spirit. The same current was sweeping through the Continent as well as England: “The taste for correct conception of the arms and habits of our ancestors has of late years rapidly diffused itself throughout Europe.”

And in England, its force is not exclusive to the stage: “The historian, the poet, the novelist, the painter and the actor, have discovered in attention to costume a new spring of information, and a fresh source of effect.”100 Douce praises Thomas Stothard’s recently exhibited (and much reproduced) painting of Chaucer’s pilgrims, The Pilgrimage to Canterbury, for its scrupulous attention to the historical detail that illustrators had been neglecting for centuries.101 Planché finds the same attention to keenly observed period details in the novels of Walter Scott; their popularity is due to his genius, he grants, but also “as much to the learning.”102

Yet Planché finds fault in Scott’s “antiquarian details,” detecting an inaccuracy of some four centuries: “his descriptions of ancient costume are not always to be relied upon. The armour of Richard Coeur de Lion in Ivanhoe is of the sixteenth rather than the twelfth century.” He also reproves the artist Benjamin West, president of the Royal Academy, for his paintings of the Trojan War that depict Paris in Roman dress when he should, Planché insists, have been in Phrygian.103 As in period theater, any breach of period accuracy damaged the integrity of the whole: “works of greatest intrinsic worth . . . [were] depreciated by the most absurd violations of historical accuracy and a want of adherence to the manners of the times they refer to.”104

Such anachronisms are seen as lapses back into what, in the light of the historically conscious present, appears an oblivious “previous age.” Douce identified evidence of earlier performances of Shakespeare in the engravings to Nicholas Rowe’s 1709 The Works of Mr.


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