Shakespeare's Sublime Ethos : Matter, Stage, Form book cover
1st Edition

Shakespeare's Sublime Ethos
Matter, Stage, Form

ISBN 9781032018140
Published July 30, 2021 by Routledge
278 Pages

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USD $160.00

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Book Description

Shakespeare’s Sublime Ethos: Matter, Stage, Form breaks new ground in providing a sustained, demystifying treatment of its subject and looking for answers to basic questions regarding the creation, experience, aesthetics and philosophy of Shakespearean sublimity. More specifically, it explores how Shakespeare generates a sublime mood or ethos which predisposes audiences intellectually and emotionally for the full experience of sublime pathos, explored in the companion volume, Shakespeare’s Sublime Pathos. To do so, it examines Shakespeare’s invention of sublime matter, his exploitation of the special characteristics of the Elizabethan stage, and his dramaturgical and formal simulacra of absolute space and time. In the process, it considers Shakespeare’s conception of the universe and man’s place in it and uncovers the epistemological and existential implications of key aspects of his art. As the argument unfolds, a case is made for a transhistorically baroque Shakespeare whose "bastard art" enables the dramatic restoration of an original innocence where ignorance really is bliss. Taken together, Shakespeare’s Sublime Ethos and Shakespeare’s Sublime Pathos show how Shakespearean drama integrates matter and spirit on hierarchical planes of cognition and argue that, ultimately, his is an immanent sublimity of the here-and-now enfolding a transcendence which may be imagined, simulated or evoked, but never achieved.

Table of Contents



"With reason to admire"

Plan of the work

Chapter 1. On the Sublime

Quod erat demonstrandum

Replotting the sublime

The early modern sublime

Plato, Longinus, and the Christian sublime

Some notes on the sublime

Chapter 2. "Brightest heaven of invention": Sublime Topics

Ethos and the sublime gestalt

Sublime cues and "strong expressions"

Sublime phenomena

"Outstretched heroes"

Counterfeit metaphysics

Chapter 3. "The fairy way of writing": Sublime Matter

"The hateful incredible"

The sublime and the wonderful

The tyranny of knowledge

Chapter 4. "’Twixt heaven and earth": Sublime Scenography

The sublime stage


The dangerous edge

The art of intermediacy

Chapter 5. Divine Mechanisms: Sublime Form and Shape

"Irregularities of genius"

Poems unlimited

Divinity bursts forth

No clocks in Rome [Entre’acte]

"Awful parenthesis"

"The very body of the time"

"Fissures of sublimity"

Chapter 6. Bastard Art, Innocent Experience

Wood clearing

The art of the blemish

Atomism, atheism, aesthetics

Sublimity and beauty

"Damned custom", primal nescience

"Fairing the foul"

Child father

Conclusions: Shakespeare’s Sublime Ethos

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Jonathan P. A. Sell is Professor of English Literature at the Universidad de Alcalá, Spain. He holds degrees from the universities of Oxford, London and Alcalá, and his main fields of research are early modern and contemporary literature. He has written numerous articles and several books, including Rhetoric and Wonder in English Travel Writing, 1560–1613 (2006), Allusion, Identity and Community (2012) and Conocer a Shakespeare [Getting to Know Shakespeare] (2012).


"Complex, far-ranging, at times dazzling, there is nothing really comparable to the sweep of this work"

--Clark Hulse, University of Illinois at Chicago

"This is a magnum opus in every sense of the word […] A thorough, indeed breath-takingly thorough knowledge of Shakespearean writing is everywhere in evidence"

--Andrew Hiscock, Bangor University

"Taken together, then, these two works on Shakespeare’s sublime [Shakespeare’s Sublime Ethos and Shakespeare’s Sublime Pathos] represent an outstanding contribution not only to Shakespeare studies, but more broadly to intellectual history. In seeking to make intelligible the seemingly inexplicable, Sell has succeeded in revealing the secrets of the apparent magic of the sublime."

--Rocío G. Sumillera, Universidad de Granada