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Chapter Five • Tragicomic Service The Winter’s Tale and The Tempest William Shakespeare was famously Ben Jonson’s target in Bartholomew Fair (1614) for his production of “Tales, Tempests, and such like drolleries ” (BF induction, 125). Jonson’s induction contractually stipulates that his play will not contain a “servant-monster,” nor will he “mix his head with other men’s heels” to give the audience the “jigs and dances” it so desires (BF 122–23, 126, 127). Jonson associates Shakespeare’s foray into tragicomedy with degrading combinations of character and form: the tragicomic servant is lowered—or displays his low status—in merging with the subhuman, while the tragicomic form debases authorial wit (the “head”) with entertainments that pander to audiences (“other men’s heels”). Jonson makes the monstrous servant the prototype for a dramatic form that fails to observe the boundaries between higher faculties and lower instincts. The irony of his criticism is that, as I discussed in chapter 4, Jonson was no stranger to servants who skirted the margins and lowest depths of the human in the attempt to elevate themselves. The “servantmonster ” could describe more broadly the servant rogues who populate The Alchemist and even the figure of Jonson, who in “Epistle to my Lady Covell” is “tardie, cold,/Unprofitable Chattell” (BJ 8:230.7–8). One can imagine Prospero speaking this phrase about Caliban. In fact, Jonson and Shakespeare shared a preoccupation with servants who were more than one thing at once, who could occupy roles both agentive and instrumental . Both playwrights wrote dramas in which capitalist forms of service generate a logic of constant circulation and substitution, creating new subject positions but also new forms of subjugation for servants. Jonson may have objected to the literal manifestation of the “servant-monster,” but he, like Shakespeare, used service as the basis for an aesthetic that generated and required public reception. 135 In chapter 1, I argued that Shakespeare’s early comedies The Comedy of Errors and The Two Gentlemen of Verona draw on Shakespeare’s relationship to the theatrical apprentice system to develop new aesthetic possibilities for drama. In this chapter, I suggest that Shakespeare’s late tragicomedies The Winter’s Tale (1610–11) and The Tempest (1610–11) reveal his continued investment in service at the end of his career. In the almost two decades between these two pairs of plays, Shakespeare had become the most prominent playwright on the theatrical scene. He had advanced his economic and social position and was by the close of his career “a man of considerable property and fame.”1 During the same span of time, the other authors I have discussed—Thomas Nashe, Thomas Deloney, Thomas Dekker, and Ben Jonson—made service the basis for their own innovations to dramatic and prose form. Although by 1610 Shakespeare occupied a masterful position, he nevertheless sustained his identification with service. In The Winter’s Tale and The Tempest, Shakespeare turned the resources of service toward what was for him a new genre: the tragicomedy. This chapter argues that Shakespeare uses service to represent the value of what Sidney called the “mongrel tragi-comedy” and Jonson the “servant-monster.”2 Shakespeare takes the implication that tragicomedy is a mismatched, disunified form and, as Deloney and Dekker did, turns it into an aesthetic that privileges the mixing of genres and servants. The Winter’s Tale and The Tempest demonstrate how distinct, even opposed categories of service circulate and engage in exchanges endemic to a capitalist economy. The rogue Autolycus, in The Winter’s Tale, and the slave Caliban, in The Tempest, mount effective performances of courtly service, while the courtiers in The Winter’s Tale are skilled at playing the rogue’s part. Capitalist discourses of service thereby infiltrate and alter the discourses of courtly service. The increased inequities of capitalism also feature in the two plays. Shakespeare portrays extreme disparities between his tragicomic servants: they are either elite and courtly or they are illicit, abject, and enslaved. There are no aspiring shoemakers in these plays. Yet just as taxonomies of service break down, so the servants develop subjectivities that derive from their aesthetic agency rather than from their social positions. Courtly and marginal servants collaborate to produce the “paradoxical unity” of tragicomedy.3 The imitative and transformational qualities of service are a model for tragicomic form. The Winter’s Tale and The Tempest consolidate Shakespeare’s claims for the public nature of the theater. The plays’ early performance histories indicate productions...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780810165632
Related ISBN
9780810127814
MARC Record
OCLC
867784759
Pages
220
Launched on MUSE
2013-05-20
Language
English
Open Access
No
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