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Literary Criticism Shakespeare

Shakespearean Melancholy

Philosophy, Form and the Transformation of Comedy

by (author) J.F. Bernard

Edinburgh University Press
Initial publish date
Jun 2020
Shakespeare, Renaissance, Drama, Shakespeare, English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Jun 2020
    List Price
    $29.95 USD

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Argues that Shakespeare transforms philosophies of comedy and melancholy by revising them concomitantly


Iconic as Hamlet is, Shakespearean comedy showcases an extraordinary reliance on melancholy that ultimately reminds us of the porous demarcation between laughter and sorrow. This richly contextualized study of Shakespeare’s comic engagement with sadness contends that the playwright rethinks melancholy through comic theatre and conversely, re-theorizes comedy through melancholy. In fashioning his own comic interpretation of the humour, Shakespeare distils an impressive array of philosophical discourses on the matter, from Aristotle to Robert Burton and as a result, transforms the theoretical afterlife of both notions. The book suggests that the deceptively potent sorrow at the core of plays such as The Comedy of Errors, Twelfth Night, or The Winter’s Tale influences modern accounts of melancholia elaborated by Sigmund Freud, Judith Butler, and others. What’s so funny about melancholy in Shakespearean comedy? It might just be its reminder that, behind roaring laughter, one inevitably finds the subtle pangs of melancholy.


Key Features

  • Offers new readings of nine Shakespearean comedies centred on their extensive, interconnected treatments of melancholy
  • Underscores Shakespeare’s significant revisions of philosophical discourses on melancholy, both classical and early modern, while tailoring the concept to specific comic purposes
  • Argues that the particular sense of melancholy that Shakespeare develops throughout his comic canon informs later theorizations of melancholia and related concepts in psychoanalysis, performance studies and affect theory
  • Contributes to the ongoing interdisciplinary critical effort to deepen our understanding of the nature, history and impact of melancholy on Western culture by drawing particular attention to its conflation of emotional and artistic overtones

About the author

J.F. Bernard teaches in the English department at Champlain College, Canada. He specializes in Renaissance drama and its philosophical, cultural, and social points of intersection. He is also interested in ideas of cultural production, adaptions and storytelling, particularly at it relates to contemporary engagements with Shakespeare’s plays. He was the project coordinator for the city of Montreal’s commemoration of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death in 2016.

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