Shakespeare - Meaning and Interpretation

Shakespeare (Brice Stratford)
Credit: Brice Stratford
(Wikimedia Commons)

Shakespeare: Meaning and Interpretation

“Shakespeare and the Renaissance Concept of Honor” is based on a thesis presented to Harvard University in 1950. Curtis Brown Watson divides his work into two parts. The first discusses the Renaissance idea of honor, the second addresses William Shakespeare’s use of this concept.

A good source that presents original analysis, this study is essential for students of history and English literature. Published by Princeton University Press in 1960, the text is important to understand the definition of honor in Shakespeare’s time and encourages the scholar to develop an independent interpretation of the playwright’s work.

Watson provides a list of seven critical approaches in “Foreword to Part II: Does Drama Have a Moral Function?” He invites us to judge which position has the greatest relevance.

5. “The ‘meaning’ of Shakespeare’s plays changes in accordance with the preconceptions and bias of each new generation of readers. The ‘meaning’ is subjective, not objective.”

Every academic since the English Renaissance has sought meaning in Shakespeare’s work. All find it, and all are right, from a limited standpoint. When a critic searches for a message, a moral, or a purpose in a piece of literature, the quest will lead to a treasure. This treasure may be self-created, but it has value to those who respect literary analysis.

A new generation brings a fresh outlook on life, applied to everything from food to Shakespeare. A so-called objective reader is filled with ideas and attitudes that color the material, and when this work is filtered through a selected lens, distortions, both good and bad, result.

This process is comparable to a cameraman regarding a scene he wants to film for a specific reason. He will choose an angle, add or remove light, and often apply a filter to create the desired effect. In the end, this scenario will be the cinematographer’s work of art, not a naked view of what he captured with his camera.

All criticism of Shakespeare is subjective, based on cultural, religious, and educational background.