Shakespearean Art

Shakespeare’s greatness and pre-eminence as a dramatist are universally recognized. Harold Bloom (1994) has sums up his literary genius as; “…Shakespeare is the Canon. He sets the standard and the limits of literature.” (p. 47) But wherein does this pre-eminence lies. Every element in Shakespeare’s drama might, in isolation, be matched by the best of his contemporaries. What is distinctive about Shakespeare is his characterization, his universality of themes and characters and his versification and above all a combination of all the gifts which were scattered in the works of other playwrights of his times.His characterization:Shakespeare’s characterization is superior of his plots. In nothing in Shakespeare so great and original as in the delineation of character. He takes a story as it comes to his hand, lets the plot take care of itself and devotes his best attention to characterization. Indeed, it is the heightened character-interest which smoothens the crudities, the absurdities and improbabilities of his plots and makes them acceptable. He is the creator of a larger number of immortals of literature than any other single individual. The most important feature of this characterization is its variety. His characters are varied as life itself. From the king to the clown, from a lunatic and semi-devil to the saint and the seer, from the lover to misanthrope, all are revealed with a hand of a master. Commenting on the variety of his character, Alexander Pope remarked: “But every single character of Shakespeare is as much an individual as those of life; it is impossible to find any two alike and such as from their relation or affinity in any respect most to be twins, will upon comparison be found remarkably distinct.”[1] (Smith, 15)Another characteristic of his characterization is that his characters are strongly humanized. (Webster, 2000. p. 194) They are neither gods, nor devils, but real human being with common human weaknesses and virtues, similar joys and sorrows, and are moved by similar passions. Furthermore, Shakespeare’s personages are not static; they are constantly changing and evolving. They are never exhibited in any fixed state or cast or formation. Although Shakespeare’s characters are essentially real yet they also idealized beings at the same time. They never appear to be anything but real, because the ideal is so equally diffused and so perfectly interfused with the real, that it does not disturb the balance and harmony of the whole.His Universality:It would be wrong to identify Shakespeare with any of his characters, His supremacy lies in this—that he could see and understand so much of life, could pierce the heart of so many passions, without falling a prey to ant aspect of life.; so that we says of him that he is universal. Every facet and phase of feeling lay within the scope of Shakespeare’s understanding and sympathy. There is no point of morals, of philosophy of the conduct of life that he has not touched upon; no mystery of human nature that he has not penetrated. Life and wealth, love, death, poverty and the prizes of life and the way we gain them;  the characters of men and the influences and forces which affect them; on all these questions Shakespeare has enriched the world with his thought.In his play, we find pure mirth, bright and tender fancy, airy satire, ardent passions, and questionings into deep and terrible mysteries of life. In almost every play we have the most diverse elements brought under the dominance of one dramatic purpose. In Johnson’s (1929) words, Shakespeare “was not of an age, but of all times”. So astonishingly widespread is his glory that it might also be said that “he was not of a land but of all lands”. Charles Lamb (1811) sums up his art in this way;”We talk of Shakespeare’s admirable observation of life, when we should feel, that not from a petty inquisition into those cheap and every-day characters which surrounded him, as they surround us, but from his own mind, which was, to borrow a phrase of Ben Jonson’s, the very ‘sphere of humanity’ he fetched those images of virtue and of knowledge, of which every one of us recognizing a part, think we comprehend in our natures the whole; and often mistake the powers which he positively creates in us, for nothing more than indigenous faculties of our own minds, which only waited the application of corresponding virtues in him to return a full and clear echo of the same.”Style and Versification: Poetized English DramaA word may now be said of Shakespeare’s style. He was not only the world’s immortal dramatist but also its immortal poet. He Poetized English drama and elevated it to its zenith. His blank verse and poetry remain the chief element of his dramas. This poetry is not only seen in the exquisite lyrics spread all over his works, it is also seen in his prolific use of poetic similes and metaphors and in his skillful manipulation of the music that is in words. Fusion of the dramatic and the lyric in the art of Shakespeare is perfect. Truth and beauty are perfectly blended in his works. Beauty comes from the perfection of the style and versification from the purity of images and accompanying music of words. Blank verse is skillfully varied by the use of rhymed lines and by cleverly modulated use of pose. The expression suits the speaker; its variety is as large as that of his characters. Bradley (1996) says that his writing technique is “more concentrated, rapid, varied, and, in construction, less regular, not seldom twisted or elliptical” (p.91) That’s the reason that more than any other writer, his lines have passed into everyday household proverbs, and which are frequently quoted. His style varies according to the requirements of thought and emotions. It is apt, quotable and packed with thoughts. Furthermore, his soliloquies are the strength of his plays that provide deep insight into the workings his characters’ minds. (Clemen, 1987, p.11)Above-mentioned arguments and supporting evidence clearly suggest that excelled characterization, his command over language and his universality were the chief elements that contributed toward making Shakespeare the greatest dramatist of all times.