In this original and compelling new study, Suzanne M. Tartamella casts new light on seemingly quite familiar material — Shakespeare’s Sonnets and a number of his plays, including Hamlet, The Taming of the Shrew, and Antony and Cleopatra. By placing the Sonnets within the context of the literary history of praise poetry, and exploring the underlying influence of early modern skepticism on Shakespeare’s writing, this book truly enhances our understanding of the subtleties and complexities in all of Shakespeare’s work.
In our own contemporary culture of doubt and anxiety, investigating the classical skepticism present in Shakespeare’s sonnets and plays deepens our sense of his relevance, suggesting that he could just as easily have traded ideas with Friedrich Nietzsche as with Ben Jonson or John Donne. To truly consider this Renaissance philosophy of doubt, Tartamella traces Shakespeare’s relations with his poetic precursors, including Petrarch, Dante, and Sidney. During the Reformation, then, an age of radical experimentation and reform, Shakespeare revised conventional methods of praise by doing more than simply mocking or challenging these literary precursors; rather, he transformed a poetics of praise into a poetics of appraisal. Tartamella’s approach here encompasses both new historicism and a wide-ranging history of ideas.
As a result, perhaps the most intriguing demonstration of this poetics and its manifestations are Tartamella’s cross-genre examinations of the Sonnets and some of Shakepeare’s best-known dramatic characters, drawing unique and original correlations. The sonnets to the young man, with their melancholy tenor, are linked to the ghost in Hamlet, while the more physical and combative sonnets to the dark lady are related to Katerina in The Taming of the Shrew. These complex relationships, further considered in her final discussion of Antony and Cleopatra and the ways in which it harmonizes the characteristic problems of both sonnet sequences, are truly at the heart of Shakespearean tragedy and comedy.
Students of both literature and philosophy will find this book important, as it offers a nuanced analysis of the intersections between literature and intellectual history, a comprehensive examination of Shakespeare’s poetry and plays, the history of epideictic poetry, and an exploration of the impact of skepticism on the whole of Renaissance literature.