Published online by Cambridge University Press: 28 March 2007
The significance of festivity in Shakespeare’s work has always been recognized. Incidentally, or centrally, allusions to the ritual of the liturgical year and seasonal folk custom are found throughout the plays. Recently Francois Laroque’s study Shakespeare’s Festive World (1991) has examined in great detail the interrelationship between the patterned cycle of calendary festival, Elizabethan society and Shakespeare. In the 1950s Northrop Frye drew on Frazerian anthropology and fertility myth to suggest the regenerative ‘green world’, as he calls it, of Shakespeare’s comedy, which symbolizes the conflict between court and country, culture and nature. However, since 1959, the best-known study in this area has been C. L. Barber’s Shakespeare’s Festive Comedy, the sub-title of which stresses the fundamental concern, ‘A Study of Dramatic Form and its Relation to Social Custom’. In the concept of ‘clarification’ Barber suggests a kind of comic catharsis in festivity by which the individual experiences a heightened awareness between man and nature. In effect this hypostasis of nature depoliticizes the festive, displacing the social by something vaguely spiritual.