Shakespeare - Point of View

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

Shakespeare: Point of View

“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.

1. “Shakespeare was an objective dramatist who tried to describe every aspect of the human scene without committing himself to the point of view of any of his dramatic creations.”

Although Shakespeare may have written objectively, it would have been impossible to portray a character without committing himself to a point of view. Understanding the motivation behind a protagonist’s actions is essential to a playwright’s success. This does not mean that a writer must empathize with a villain, but lifelike presentation involves the ability to understand the reasons behind immoral behavior.

Shakespeare portrayed historical and tragic figures with realism. He desired to make these remote individuals accessible for the duration of a play. The average theater patron of the Renaissance went to see his productions for the entertainment alone. If Shakespeare had not committed himself to the viewpoints of his notable characters, his fame would have been short-lived.