Shakespeare And The Problem Of Meaning By Norman Rabkin Summary

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For my book review I read the book Shakespeare And The Problem Of Meaning written by Norman Rabkin. This book was published in 1981 by the University of Chicago Press. In this book Rabkin looks at several Shakespeare plays including The Merchant of Venice, Henry V, and The Tempest as well as many others. Rabkin uses these to support his argument that the plays do mean something more than can be conveyed by description alone. He shows that there are many complex paradoxical elements present in Shakespeare’s work. The first chapter is entitled “Meaning and The Merchant of Venice”. In this chapter Rabkin begins by explaining his perception of the changing climate for literary critics. He claims that “Only yesterday it was widely assumed that …show more content…
Here he compares Bassanio with Shylock in that Shylock loves only his gold and Bassanio, while interested in Portia’s gold, loves her as well as her gold. He mentioned the complications brought in by the characters Jessica and Lorenzo whom are both representations of loves wealth and yet their villainy is required to help push Shylock to revenge. He talks briefly about the many subplots and how they interact, contrast, and accent the more central plots at appropriate times to maintain ambiguity. Rabkin continues and argues that while many elements of the work may seem straightforward there is always enough ambiguity to argue in the other direction. This appears to be the accepted intention of the work as taken by Rabkin yet because it is so powerful we are tempted to formulate it thematically. We should acknowledge both extremes and the controlling patterns of the play as a whole instead of trying to reduce it to a more simple paradigm. Here Rabkin asserts his stance that The Merchant of Venice is intended to have conflict and ambiguity just as real life. He goes on to say that the experience “is one of process, and involves not just a final cadence or even the recapitulation of some main themes, but a whole sequence of contrasting but related …show more content…
In this chapter Rabkin focuses of the tragedies of Shakespeare as well as a couple of imitations of these including John Dryden’s All for Love, an imitation of Antony and Cleopatra. Another was Thomas Otway’s Venice Preserved which has not been acknowledged as related to Shakespeare but Rabkin believes that it was modelled on Shakespearean tragedy. He begins by looking at All for Love, as he feels this is the most direct route to understanding both this play and Antony and Cleopatra. Here he compares and contrasts many elements of these plays. One important difference is how Dryden chose to present his hero’s career as past events, which removes their drive to act and control that marks them in Shakespeare’s work. Both of these plays are yet very similar in that they are both about superheroes, and both recognize the power of historical characters “too large for the constraints of their obligations”. Both of these plays also have the hero consistently forced to decide between their commitments. The plays diverge as well at several points such as the reconcilable opposite views in Antony and Cleopatra of the hero. It is intended to be impossible to see either of the polar views as certain. However, in All for Love “Dryden insists that we sympathize with the plight of his protagonists”. In this context Dryden sees it as much simpler and clear cut. This is the biggest difference between the two plays,

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