Exploring Shakespeare's intellectual interest in placing both characters and audiences in a state of uncertainty, mystery, and doubt, this book interrogates the use of paradox in Shakespeare's plays and in performance. By adopting this discourse-one in which opposites can co-exist and perspectives can be altered, and one that asks accepted opinions, beliefs, and truths to be reconsidered-Shakespeare used paradox to question love, gender, knowledge, and truth from multiple perspectives. Committed to situating literature within the larger culture, Peter Platt begins by examining the Renaissance culture of paradox in both the classical and Christian traditions. He then looks at selected plays in terms of paradox, including the geographical site of Venice in Othello and The Merchant of Venice, and equity law in The Comedy of Errors, Merchant, and Measure for Measure. Platt also considers the paradoxes of theater and live performance that were central to Shakespearean drama, such as the duality of the player, the boy-actor and gender, and the play/audience relationship in the Henriad, Hamlet, As You Like It, Twelfth Night, Antony and Cleopatra, The Winter's Tale, and The Tempest. In showing that Shakespeare's plays create and are created by a culture of paradox, Platt offers an exciting and innovative investigation of Shakespeare's cognitive and affective power over his audience.
Peter G. Platt is a Professor of English at Barnard College. He is the author of Reason Diminished: Shakespeare and Marvelous and the editor of Wonders, Marvels, and Monsters in Early Modern Culture.
'Readers and audiences have often sensed, with mingled pleasure and uneasiness, that all of Shakespeare’s plays, and not merely a designated few, are what have been called problem plays, plays that do not endorse settled positions, embrace firm resolutions, or decisively clarify ambiguities. In this rich and thoughtful book, Peter Platt explores the intellectual, moral, and aesthetic culture that reveled in paradox and dwelt in the uncertainties, contradictions, and doubleness of the world. Writing in the wake of deconstruction and new historicism, Platt is the worthy successor of the pioneering work of Rosalie Colie.' Stephen Greenblatt, Harvard University, USA 'This is a very stimulating, wide-ranging account of the fascination that paradox held for an age increasingly alert to the discovery of the unexpected - from both old and new cultures - and of the ways in which paradox - verbal, visual, conceptual, performative, and intersubjective - informs Shakespeare's drama and his theater. Among its many virtues, it offers not only historical and theoretical purchase on the phenomenon of paradox, but also sustains a lively engagement with ongoing scholarly debate about the meaning of paradox and its functions in Shakespeare, thereby provoking the reader to participate in the critical discourse. The book will interest everyone who seeks to understand the often puzzling antithetical character of much Renaissance literature - and, a fortiori, of Shakespeare's work for the theater.' Joel B. Altman, University of California, Berkeley, USA ’Reading Peter Platt's Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox, I find it hard to imagine a more sure-handed and thorough treatment of the figure of the paradox, not to mention one paired with intelligent and fascinating criticism of Shakespeare's plays. The reader will certainly learn much about paradox in this volume; she will learn quite a bit about Shakespearean drama, too.’ Doug Eskew, Appositions ’As Pl