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1. Scholarly Sources
Knowles, Ronald, editor. Shakespeare and Carnival. Macmillan Press, 1998.
This collection of essays about Bakhtin’s theory that carnival elements inform our existence, creating a dual reality in which the surreal is celebrated and social hierarchies are abandoned, shows exactly how this mysterious shadowland appears in Shakespeare’s works.
In my paper, I am contending that Shakespeare’s works are memorable and appealing because he creates a carnival atmosphere, in which the normal hierarchies of social existence no longer apply. These essays will provide specific examples of plays in which this suspension of reality is most evident.
Bakhtin, M.M. Rabelais and His World. Translated by Hélène Iswolsky, Indiana University Press, 1984.
This book explores the history of laugher, especially in a carnival setting, in which performer and spectator are not differentiated, and the normalcies of life are suspended in order to form a collectivity.
In order to prove that Shakespeare does create a carnival atmosphere, I need to analyze how he goes about removing the boundaries between spectator and performer within his plays—how does he create “the carnival”? Bakhtin’s theories are the basis of my claim, and I will look most closely at this primary source.
Fiske, John. Understanding Popular Culture. Rouledge Press, 2010.
Fiske argues that popular culture exists both within and without mass culture; in other words, it exists within the structures created by marketers of mass culture, but defies the ready-made interpretations of these same marketers.
The tradition of carnival involved a temporary defiance of all societal organizations, even monarchial claims to the throne, in favor of a more collective approach to humanity. But it also supported social hierarchies by creating a means of “letting off steam,” enabling feudal society to exist far longer than it otherwise would have. And yet these same carnival traditions gave peasants many of the ideas they would later use to justify open rebellion against the system that oppressed them. In this way, carnivalization is connected with modern-day pop culture, which celebrates and rebels against social constructs.
Coronato, Rocco. Jonson Versus Bakhtin: Carnival and the Grotesque. Rodopi Press, 2003.
Coronato plays devil’s advocate as he argues that Shakespeare’s contemporary, Ben Jonson, was less erudite than modern critics claim he was, and that he often invoked the carnival spirit to form his own shadowland of interpretative dialogues between upper and lower classes. Basically, “Shakespeare was great, but Jonson was by no means his inferior.”
I may take a few paragraphs to argue against Coronato’s point to show that there was something distinctly different about Shakespeare’s works, even when he wrote them; namely, his ability to simultaneously exist within the system while subverting it through the inclusion of peasant dialogue and ascension of kings in his works.
Media or Informal Online Sources
Robinson, Andrew. “In Theory Bakhtin—Carnival Against Capital, Carnival Against Power.” Ceasefire, 9 Sept. 2011, https://ceasefiremagazine.co.uk/in-theory-bakhtin-2/. Accessed 14 Nov. 2016.
In this post, Robinson analyzes Bakhtin’s theories about carnival (especially folk humor and the grotesque) in relation to modern life, especially how subversion of authority continues today though we no longer throw the carnival celebrations that engendered the theory.
This post is going to be useful because Robinson restates a lot of Bakhtin’s points in language that’s far easier to digest, and he goes beyond the actual source to talk about The Global Carnival Against Capital and how modern critics respond to Bakhtin’s theories. I’ll probably quote him when I talk about modern-day resistance of authority.
Burce, Michelle. “Who Were These People? Audiences in Shakespeare’s Day.” Seattle Shakespeare Company, 18 Dec. 2014. http://www.seattleshakespeare.org/who-were-these-people/. Accessed 14 Nov. 2016.
In this informational article, Burce writes about the people that made up Shakespeare’s audience, the aristocrats and the “groundlings,” and the money differences that separated these two types of spectators. She also talks about how Shakespeare appealed to different people with “minor characters” and “clown characters.”
Burce is writing this article for students and kids, and I don’t think she understands the magnitude of what she’s saying. She says, “Shakespeare used clowns.” According to Burce, this was a form of comic relief that appealed to the “groundlings.” But what if it was more? What if these clowns, in the midst of a tragic plot, really symbolized the dual nature of authority and rebellion, upper and lower class? To appeal to the lower class, Shakespeare wasn’t just throwing in a few lewd jokes; no, he was emphasizing the carnival elements that existed even in his audience, the constant tension between society and entropy, and the fragility of the system that separated the rich from the poor.