Shakespeare's late romances

Shakespeare's late romances

The late romances, often simply called the romances, are a grouping of what many scholars believe to be William Shakespeare's later plays, including "Pericles, Prince of Tyre"; "Cymbeline"; "The Winter's Tale"; and "The Tempest". "The Two Noble Kinsmen" is sometimes included in this grouping. The term was first used in regard to these works in Edward Dowden's "Shakespeare: A Critical Study of His Mind and Art" (1875).

The category of Shakespearean romance arise from a hesitation among critics to categorize them as comedies (though all but "Cymbeline", which was listed among the tragedies, were considered so by John Heminges and Henry Condell when they edited the First Folio), because they bear similarities with medieval romance literature and are different from comedies in many ways. Shakespeare's romances share the following features:

*A redemptive plotline with a happy ending involving the re-uniting of long-separated family members;
*Magic and other fantastical elements;
*A "deus ex machina", often manifesting as a Roman god (such as Jupiter in "Cymbeline" or Diana in "Pericles");
*A mixture of "civilized" and "pastoral" scenes (such as the gentry and the island residents in "The Tempest");
*"...and the poetry is a return to the lyrical style of the early plays, though more mellow and profound." [F. E. Halliday, "A Shakespeare Companion 1564-1964," Baltimore, Penguin, 1964; p. 419.]

Shakespeare's romances were also influenced by two major developments in theatre in the early years of the seventeenth century. One was the innovation in tragicomedy initiated by John Fletcher and developed in the early Beaumont and Fletcher collaborations. The other was the extreme elaboration of the courtly masque being conducted at the same time by Ben Jonson and Inigo Jones. [See: "The Masque of Blackness;" "The Masque of Queens."]

The distinctiveness of the late romances has been questioned – the plays certainly share commonalities with earlier Shakespearean works like "Twelfth Night", with earlier romances by other authors back to the ancient world, and with works in genres like pastoral. Yet Shakespeare's late plays have a distinctive aura to them, with elements of tragicomedy and masque blended with elements of comedy and romance and pastoral – not into a chaos as might be expected, but into coherent, dramatically effective and appealing plays.

[ Literary Romance] in a larger context is a genre related to Comedy.

List of plays

Shakespeare's late romances include:
*"Pericles, Prince of Tyre," ca. 1603-1608
*"Cymbeline," ca. 1608-1609
*"The Winter's Tale," ca. 1604-1610
*"The Tempest," ca. 1611
*"The Two Noble Kinsmen," ca. 1612-13 [F. E. Halliday, "Shakespeare Companion," pp. 419, 507-8. See also Hallett Smith on the "many links between this and the previous plays...," in: "The Riverside Shakespeare," G. Blakemore Evans, textual editor; Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1974; p. 1640.]

The Norton Shakespeare describes "Henry VIII" (ca. 1612-13) as being characteristic of the late romances, but still considers it one of the histories.


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