Shakespearean Tragedy and Its Double: The Rhythms of Audience Response

Pennsylvania State University Press, 1991

Shakespearean Tragedy and Its Double investigates the poetics of audience response. Approaching tragedy through the rhythms of spectatorial engagement and detachment ("aesthetic distance"), Kent Cartwright provides a performance-oriented and phenomenological perspective. Shakespearean Tragedy and Its Double analyzes the development of the tragic audience as it oscillates between engagement—an immersion in narrative, character, and physical action—and detachment—a consciousness of its own comparative judgments, its doubts, and of acting and theatricality. Cartwright contends that the spectator emerges as a character implied and acted upon by the play. He supports his theory with close readings of individual plays from the perspective of a particular element of spectatorial response: the carnivalesque qualities of Romeo and Juliet; the rhythm of similitude, displacement, and wonder in the audience's relationships to Hamlet; aesthetic distance as scenic structure in Othello; the influence of secondary characters and ensemble acting on the Quarto King Lear; and spectatorship as action itself in Antony and Cleopatra.