Revisiting Shakespeare's Problem Plays: The Merchant of Venice, Hamlet and Measure for Measure
Çağlayan Mazanoğlu, Emine Seda
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The features which make Julius Caesar (1599), Hamlet (1599-1601), All’s Well That Ends Well (1601-1602), Troilus and Cressida (1603), Measure for Measure (1603), Antony and Cleopatra (1607) and Timon of Athens (1607-1608) were called “problem plays”, “dark comedies”, “tragi-comedies” and “problem comedies”. Shakespeare’s problem plays have been discussed by critics and scholars from different perspectives since the seventeenth century. Each critic and scholar brought a new dimension to the field of Shakespeare’s problem plays in terms of naming, categorisation and types of questions which are raised. Various aspects of these plays such as generic ambiguity, uncertain endings which did not satisfy the audience/readers, character issues and the presentation of particularly moral issues that have been left to the interpretation of the audience/readers were emphasised. In addition, whether Shakespeare suffered similar problems in his personal life or whether the historical background of the time was influential on the gloomy atmosphere of these plays were discussed by the critics and scholars. This dissertation aims at studying The Merchant of Venice (1596-1598), Hamlet and Measure for Measure as Shakespeare’s problem plays. In this regard, in Chapter I, The Merchant of Venice is analysed in terms of the problems with reference to character and genre. In Chapter II, Hamlet is discussed with regard to the problem in character. Lastly, in Chapter III, Measure for Measure is studied in relation to the problems regarding the abuse of justice, and genre. Furthermore, this dissertation aims at analysing The Merchant of Venice, Hamlet and Measure for Measure respectively within the religious, political and legal contexts of the periods in which they were written. It is argued that the problems in religious, political and legal affairs, particularly, in the last years of Elizabeth I’s reign and at the beginning of James I’s rule influenced the bleak tone of these three plays. These problems related to the context also establish the ground for the emergence and/or the development of the particular problem dealt with in each chapter. In this sense, the history of the Jewish people in England is dealt with within the religious context of The Merchant of Venice. In Hamlet the succession problem and the Essex Rebellion are studied as the political context. Lastly, in Measure for Measure, the authoritarian rule which results in the abuse of justice and the problems in the enforcement of law in the early years of James I’s rule are analysed within the political and legal context.
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