Shakespeare’s Festive Comedy

C. L. Barber, Shakespeare’s Festive Comedy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1959)

Summary from Publisher:

In this classic work, acclaimed Shakespeare critic C. L. Barber argues that Elizabethan seasonal festivals such as May Day and Twelfth Night are the key to understanding Shakespeare’s comedies. Brilliantly interweaving anthropology, social history, and literary criticism, Barber traces the inward journey–psychological, bodily, spiritual–of the comedies: from confusion, raucous laughter, aching desire, and aggression, to harmony. Revealing the interplay between social custom and dramatic form, the book shows how the Elizabethan antithesis between everyday and holiday comes to life in the comedies’ combination of seriousness and levity.

“I have been led into an exploration of the way the social form of Elizabethan holidays contributed to the dramatic form of festive comedy. To relate this drama to holiday has proved to be the most effective way to describe its character. And this historical interplay between social and artistic form has an interest of its own: we can see here, with more clarity of outline and detail than is usually possible, how art develops underlying configurations in the social life of a culture.”–C. L. Barber, in the Introduction

This new edition includes a foreword by Stephen Greenblatt, who discusses Barber’s influence on later scholars and the recent critical disagreements that Barber has inspired, showing that Shakespeare’s Festive Comedy is as vital today as when it was originally published.

Table of Contents:

Foreword / Stephen Greenblatt Preface

Chapter One: Introduction: The Saturnalian Pattern
Through Release to Clarification
Shakespeare’s Route to Festive Comedy

Chapter Two: Holiday Custom and Entertainment
The May Game
The Lord of Misrule
Aristocratic Entertainments

Chapter Three: Misrule as Comedy; Comedy as Misrule
License and Lese Majesty in Lincolnshire
The May Game of Martin Marprelate

Chapter Four: Prototypes of Festive Comedy in a Pageant Entertainment: Summer’s Last Will and Testament
“What can be made of Summer’s last will and testament?”
Presenting the Mirth of the Occasion
Praise of Folly: Bacchus and Falstaff
Festive Abuse
“Go not yet away, bright soul of the sad year”

Chapter Five: The Folly of Wit and Masquerade in Love’s Labour’s Lost
“lose our oaths to find ourselves”
“sport by sport o’erthrown”
“a great feast of languages”
Putting Witty Folly in Its Place
“When . . . Then . . .”–The Seasonal Songs

Chapter Six: May Games and Metamorphoses on a Midsummer Night
The Fond Pageant
Bringing in Summer to the Bridal
Magic as Imagination: The Ironic Wit
Moonlight and Moonshine: The Ironic Burlesque
The Sense of Reality

Chapter Seven: The Merchants and the Jew of Venice: Wealth’s Communion and an Intruder
Making Distinctions about the Use of Riches
Transcending Reckoning at Belmont
Comical/Menacing Mechanism in Shylock
The Community Setting Aside Its Machinery
Sharing in the Grace of Life

Chapter Eight: Rule and Misrule in Henry IV
Mingling Kings and Clowns
Getting Rid of Bad Luck by Comedy
The Trial of Carnival in Part Two

Chapter Nine: The Alliance of Seriousness and Levity in As You Like It
The Liberty of Arden
“all nature in love mortal in folly”

Chapter Ten: Testing Courtesy and Humanity in Twelfth Night
“A most extracting frenzy”
“You are betroth’d both to a maid and man”
Liberty Testing Courtesy
Outside the Garden Gate

Princeton University Press (excerpts)