UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Shakespeare’s polyphonic imagination Rowan, Stephen Charles


Shakespeare's plays do not dramatize a single point of view; rather, they enact the mind's playing with a concern. They are the dancing of several attitudes through time. As with the text in polyphonic music, Shakespeare's concern in each play is distributed among several voices, each of which expresses it in ways unique to itself while in relation to all the others. The concern emerges through the counterpointing of one voice with another - by the repetition of similar words and situations among the several parts. As a result, the play does not conclude with a point proven so much as it ends with attitudes celebrated. Renaissance aesthetics, by its emphasis on decorum and proportion, recognized the need for distinct voices in poetic expression. Renaissance cosmology recognized the principle of hierarchy on all levels of the cosmos, each level expressing the principle in a way proper to itself while corresponding with the others. Being attuned to polyphonic structuring was a habit of the Renaissance mind that was seeking understanding. The three comedies studied in this thesis – "Much Ado About Nothing", "Twelfth Night" and "As You Like It" - are analyzed with an eye and ear alerted to the polyphonic relations among several voices. It studies these plays as they move through time, notes the variety of attitudes counterpointed with one another, and accounts for the festive mood that holds in the end.

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