Article Title

Iconography and Characterization in English Tragedy 1585-1642


In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:

Even though the characters of Renaissance drama are more highly individualized than their medieval predecessors in the morality plays. and are more closely "drawn to nature," they have not altogether lost their symbolic function. With a new psychological complexity. these characters present an illusion of reality, but at the same time they often function as symbols of higher moral reality. Because of the psychological orientation of our own post-Freudian culture, however. readers of Tudor and Stuart plays today tend to emphasize either the psychological or the symbolic aspects of Renaisance characters; there is a tendency, in other words, to see these characters either as modern and naturalistic or as medieval and allegorical, but not to see them as both. Critics who argue that the characters of the English Renaissance stage resemble real individuals usually focus on the playwrights' desire to "imitate nature" and the actors' desire to bring their roles to life on the stage. Andrew Gurr, for instance, argues that "Street reality obscured nature's ideal forms, so far as the theatre was concerned, to the extent that the players actually intensified the individuality of the characters they were impersonating." On the other hand, critics who argue that the characters of the English Renaissance stage are primarily symbolic reject the assumption that these characters are either psychologically consistent or even particularly verisimilar. Irving Rihner, for example, emphasizes the characters' symbolic function: "These dramatists are always more interested in mankind than in individual men . . . they rarely hesitate to sacrifice the consistency of character portraiture to the needs of the larger symbolic statement."1

Comparative Drama is carried by JSTOR and Project MUSE.