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Shakespeare’s Problem Plays: Some Solutions (1999)

“In analysing the Problem Plays of Shakespeare the book addresses itself to several critical issues. A significant issue that it highlights in implicit terms is that, in the twenty-first Century, criticism cannot remain an exclusively Western affair. The West should not, and indeed cannot, remain isolated in its approaches to literature just as the East must learn to accept that it can no longer rest secure on its ancient resources. The contemporary world, if anything, has brought the East and West together. We have crossed cultural and racial barriers, substantially, due to the media and, due to the wide use and popularity of the English language. To remain satisfied with a merely Western or simply Orientalist approach to literature can only deprive the world of much intellectual richness. We are no longer wholly ‘we’, and they are no longer entirely ‘they’. It should never be forgotten that the other could always have something to tell us about. If an Indian can win the Booker, and that from a selection board comprising Western readers, it is quite evident that the human race has moved ahead. This volume brings the twain to a meeting point, at least in literary criticism. It puts together critical analyses of both categories for the benefit of both.

We have lived with the idea of Shakespeare’s Problem Plays for a century now. It is time we decided whether this categorisation has any real justification and whether the label, ‘The Problem Plays of Shakespeare’, deserves to continue. There have been more in opposition to the term than in its support. Some Western scholars, however, seem to suggest that in the plays which are normally studied under this heading Shakespeare was not quite himself. It is generally felt that in these plays he was cynical, moralistic, enigmatic, satirical, feministic, bawdy, contrived, unconventional and whatnot. The plays are therefore more difficult to interpret and are less readily brought onto the neat graph of Shakespeare’s artistic progress….

This volume brings together five essays that are somewhat more positive in their treatment of Shakespeare’s Problem Plays. They are by diverse hands but there is a significant difference between these pieces and other critiques, and this is what makes these five essays of a piece. Each of the five takes some line of argument where the problem of the play in question tends to lose itself into something which, for the lack of a better name, I call a ‘solution’.”

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