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Shakespeare's Festive ComedyA Study of Dramatic Form and Its Relation to Social Custom$
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Cesar Lombardi Barber

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780691149523

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: October 2017

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691149523.001.0001

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Introduction: The Saturnalian Pattern

Introduction: The Saturnalian Pattern

(p.1) One Introduction: The Saturnalian Pattern
Shakespeare's Festive Comedy

C. L. Barber

Princeton University Press

This chapter explores the connections between Shakespeare's comedies and Elizabethan holidays. It argues that the saturnalian pattern came to Shakespeare from many sources, both in social and artistic tradition. It appeared in the theatrical institution of clowning: the clown or Vice, when Shakespeare started to write, was a recognized anarchist who made aberration obvious by carrying release to absurd extremes. The cult of fools and folly, half social and half literary, embodied a similar polarization of experience. One could formulate the saturnalian pattern effectively by referring first to these traditions: Shakespeare's first completely masterful comic scenes were written for the clowns. But the festival occasion provides the clearest paradigm. It can illuminate not only those comedies where Shakespeare drew largely and directly on holiday motifs, like Love's Labour's Lost, A Midsummer Night's Dream, and Twelfth Night, but also plays where there is relatively little direct use of holiday, notably As You Like It and Henry IV.

Keywords:   Shakespeare, festive comedy, Elizabethan holidays, Elizabethan festivals, clowning, fools, folly

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