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Faith in Shakespearedeparts from the historical criticism that has dominated discussions of the Bard and religion over the past two decades. Rather than exploring faith as it relates to various political and historical controversies of the early modern period, Richard McCoy argues that "faith" in Shakespearean drama is best viewed as secular and poetic instead of an exclusively religious phenomenon. The study returns to Romantic era perceptions, most notably Coleridge's "suspension of disbelief" and his conception of "poetic faith." Enlarging on these conceptions and considering recent criticism on Shakespeare and religion, McCoy begins with a reading ofThe Comedy of Errors. The play serves as an example of how Shakespeare's early comedies disarmed audiences' possible skepticism and of the theater itself by acknowledging their illusory qualities while emphasizing the power of those illusions. Subsequent chapters explore how the religious language deployed inAs You Like It,Othello, andThe Winter's Taleis secularized to emphasize the potency of the individual imagination and theatrical illusion in general. An epilogue onThe Tempestexamines the ways Propsero secularizes religious phenomena throughout the romance, capturing the charisma of religion for the theater.
Richard C. McCoy is Profesor of English at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. His previous books include The Rites of Knighthood: The Literature and Politics of Elizabethan Chivalry and Alterations of State: Sacred Kingship in the English Reformation.