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  • Print publication year: 2019
  • Online publication date: June 2019

Chapter 6 - Shakespeare’s Ballads, 1598–1610

Summary

Chapter Six looks at three plays by William Shakespeare which explores the merry world broadside ballad as a mode of consumption, probing the nature of audience complicity that it invites. It begins with The Winter’s Tale (c. 1610), which interrogates the status of old tales and of happy endings, and the idea – explicitly articulated in Cymbeline (c. 1610–11) – that to be ‘put into rhyme’ is to suffer aesthetic and emotional impoverishment. It then contrasts As You Like It (c. 1598–99) with King Lear (c. 1605–06) as rival disguised-king stories, in which the failure of ballad tropes to reflect reality is played first as farce and then as tragedy.