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Shakespearean Resurrection

The Art of Almost Raising the Dead

By Sean Benson

Publication Year: 2009

This engaging book demonstrates Shakespeare’s abiding interest in the theatrical potential of the Christian resurrection from the dead. In 14 of Shakespeare’s plays, characters who have been lost, sometimes for years, suddenly reappear—seemingly returning from the dead. In the classical recognition scene, such moments are explained away in naturalistic terms—a character was lost at sea but survived, or abducted and escaped, and so on. Shakespeare never invalidates such explanations, but in his manipulation of classical conventions he parallels these moments with the recognition scenes from the Gospels, repeatedly evoking Christ’s resurrection from the dead.

Benson’s close study of the plays, as well as the classical and biblical sources that Shakespeare fuses into his recognition scenes, clearly elucidates the ways in which the playwright explored his abiding interest in the human desire to transcend death and to live reunited and reconciled with others. In his manipulation of resurrection imagery, Shakespeare conflates the material with the immaterial, the religious with the secular, and the sacred with the profane.

Published by: Duquesne University Press


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Title page, copyright page

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pp. iii-iv


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p. vii

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pp. ix-x

It is a privilege to acknowledge the many debts I owe: to Albert Labriola, whose editorship has guided this project from its early stages; to Susan Wadsworth-Booth, Kathy McLaughlin, Lori Crosby, and the entire staff at Duquesne University Press for their work as well as their support in bringing the book to...

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INTRODUCTION: Shakespeare’s Art of Almost Raising the Dead

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pp. 1-34

The thesis of this book is that Shakespeare repeatedly evokes Christ’s resurrection from the dead when long-lost characters reunite; at those moments, he subtly superimposes the Resurrection on his “recognition scenes.” Shakespeare does so by using tropes and figurations of resurrection to suggest...

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ONE: The Comedies: Recognition and Quasi Resurrection

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pp. 35-76

Comedies in their movement from sadness to joy — from separation, loss, and death to reunion and reconciliation — offer Shakespeare the opportunity, which he seldom resists, to deepen the conventional recognition scenes of his sources by means of the quasi-resurrectionary figurations he employs. In each of the...

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TWO: Failed Resurrections in Romeo and Juliet and Othello

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pp. 77-97

One of the most rudimentary distinctions between comedy and tragedy is that the former ends with reconciliation, reunion, life: in its most congenial form, “happily ever after.” Tragedies, with their countervailing movements, end in division, dissolution, and death. In Shakespearean comedy and...

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THREE: Cordelia’s Quasi Resurrection and Shakespearean Revision

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pp. 98-121

In one version of Shakespeare’s King Lear, a dying Lear looks upon the dead Cordelia and declares, “Do you see this? Look on her. Look, her lips. / Look there, look there” (5.3.286–87).1 R. A. Foakes comments, “What he sees or thinks he sees has been much debated; to some it seems a final cruel delusion if...

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FOUR: The Limits of Stage Resurrection in Pericles and Cymbeline

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pp. 122-148

After the anti-romance of the tragedies, where expectations of a resurrection remain unfulfilled, it is scarcely surprising that in his turn to the romances Shakespeare fulfills those hopes insofar as he can without re-invoking the old miracle plays — though Pericles for one, with its deliberate...

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FIVE: Raising the Dead in The Winter’s Tale and The Tempest

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pp. 149-183

At the outset of his essay on this late play, the political philosopher Allan Bloom (1993) writes, “The Winter’s Tale takes place in Sicily and Bohemia at an uncertain date, and its characters seem to partake in equal measure of the religion and life of old Greece and Rome and of Christianity”...

APPENDIX: Mock Resurrections

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pp. 184-187


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pp. 188-200

Works Cited

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pp. 201-211


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pp. 212-219

E-ISBN-13: 9780820705071
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820704166

Page Count: 229
Publication Year: 2009

OCLC Number: 794700841
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Shakespearean Resurrection

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Dead in literature.
  • Resurrection in literature.
  • Shakespeare, William, -- 1564-1616 -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616 -- Technique.
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