"All my plots and purposes": Staged Diegesis in Shakespearean Drama
The relevance of narrative as a fundamental, although long undervalued aspect of Shakespearean plays has been increasingly explored by scholars in the last few decades (Rees 1978; Richardson 1988; Wilson 1995; Hardy 1997; Holland 2000). Further inquiries into the playwright’s assorted repertoire of diegetic elements (Nünning and Sommer 2011) have also been encouraged by the most recent contributions of post-Genettian, cognitive and trans-medial narratology (Fludernik 1996; Hermann 1999; Ryan 2004) that have re-conceptualized narrativity as an all-embracing human construct crossing literary genres and media. In the light of the ongoing academic debate, this article explores the dynamic interplay of diegesis and mimesis in The Merchant of Venice. A fascinating contamination of the two competitive but complementary modes pervades indeed the whole play, from Bassanio’s long narration in the opening scene (1.1.120-75) to the micro-narratives embedded in Lorenzo and Jessica’s moonlight dialogue in act five (5.1.1-24), that ironically insert the play’s supposedly happy ending within a disturbing parade of stories of unhappy lovers. Along with the numerous instances of narration in the whole Shakespearean corpus, The Merchant of Venice offers a remarkable standpoint, as this article argues, to explore the potential applications to drama of the narrative categories of perspective focalization and point of view. Shylock’s peculiar report of the Biblical story of Jacob and Laban (1.3) or Solanio and Salarino’s mocking account of the Jew’s despair after Jessica’s escape (2.8) particularly illustrate how ‘performed narrations’ may become powerful dramatic instruments for contrasting perspectives or directing sympathies. Going far beyond the mere purpose of providing off-stage information and connecting actions, the play’s several instances of staged diegesis perform a variety of dramatic functions that deserve particular attention in relation to the socio-cultural, economic, and ethical conflicts underlying the play.
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