This afternoon, I finished the eighth chapter of C. L. Barber‘s Shakespeare’s Festive Comedy, titled “Rule and Misrule in Henry IV“. The chapter is polished off with a splendid paragraph which crackles with insights that both sum up and point beyond the discussion just concluded.
“Historically, Shakespeare’s drama can be seen as part of the process by which our culture has moved from absolutist modes of thought towards a historical and psychological view of man. But though the Renaissance moment made the tension between a magical and an empirical view of man particularly acute, this pull is of course always present: it is the tension between the heart and the world. By incarnating ritual as plot and character, the dramatist finds an embodiment for the heart’s drastic gestures while recognizing how the world keeps comically and tragically giving them the lie.”