- Cartwright, Kent. Shakespearean Tragedy and Its Double:
- The Rhythms of Audience Response. University Park, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State UP, 1991.
Thesis: Cartwright states and restates his thesis. Here are some of the statements:
- From the chapter entitled "Introduction: Spectatorial Distance in Shakespearean Tragedy" (1-42):
From the chapter entitled "Theater and Narrative in Romeo and Juliet" (43-87):
That Romeo and Juliet succeeds somehow derives from the fact that it ought not to. The wet blanket of malign fate, particularly in the claustrophobia of the play's second half, ought to douse the audience's good humor and sympathy. Yet Shakespeare manipulates the playgoer's distance to create the spectacular effectiveness of Romeo and Juliet: The audience's sense of the play's artificiality, our very sense of attending a theatrical event, comes to serve the play itself. (44)
Romeo and Juliet engages spectators with theatrical play and comic perspectives that fall outside the narrative parabola. Dissonances of tone and texture offer the audience an experience alternate to that of the dead hand of fate: an open-endedness or freedom inherent in the bleakest moments of the tragedy -- even Romeo's suicide. Romeo and Juliet is a play about star-crossed lovers that refuses, in the end, to claim the tyranny of its own laws. For the audience, the undertone of carnivalesque engagement can dispute the fatal necessity of the play's official voice. Spectatorial distance -- engagement with the theatrical event detaching the audience from the narrative -- creates the rebellious good humor by which we approve of the play's romantic passion. (44-45)
Romeo and Juliet swims in allegorizing, didacticism, prediction, analogy, repetition, and other poetic devices publicizing doom. The theatrical dissonance of such devices ultimately calls the spectator's attention to them, so that we come to see them as art, not fate. Theatrical electricity, then, flickering beyond narrative logic, activates the playgoers' creative participation (their subtle detachment from the story) and ultimately their sense of freedom as a tragic response. (65-66)
The carnivalesque of Romeo and Juliet will never quite go away. . . . The possibility of a set of meanings radically different from those of the play's official fatalists persists through all the action: in Sampson and Gregory's bravado, Mercutio's laughter, the musician's banter, Juliet's heroism, Balthazar's sleep. This second life is immediate, sensual, regenerative, and ultimately theatrical. The play calls attention to the contextual gratuitousness of many of its forebodings, undermining them, creating in the spectator a narrative detachment (or extranarrative engagement) even as characters march toward the disasters they have imagined. The hilarious and the sentimental live in particular symbiosis in this play, one whereby the spectator becomes complicitous in the dramatic illusion. In the spirit of the dialogic, the play parodies the very romance it endorses. Romeo and Juliet works structurally through contrasts of presence and dissonance, contrasts that the spectator often recognizes, and whose recognition becomes even further ground for the moving figure of the play. (87)
With Romeo and Juliet we can see the creative power of detachment, through structural and stylistic dissonances -- including moments when theatrical spectacle undermines narrative argument -- in a play that has deeply touched its audiences. Romeo and Juliet points to its own artificiality enough that it creates for the spectator a carnivalesque second life against official tragic necessity. (40)
Bottom Line: It's the kind of thing that you always think you're just about to understand.