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فصل 10

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Chapter ten

Return to Stratford

Many years earlier, in 1596, James Burbage had rented a hall in London. Although the actors continued to act at the Globe Theatre, they preferred to work indoors. Shakespeare was again one of the partners when they opened the Blackfriars theatre in 1608. The other great advantage of a second theatre for the company was that in future they could act in London in winter as well as in summer. Until then, they had only acted at court at Christmas time or in special performances for the law students.

At this time, a new kind of play was coming into fashion. The rival company to Shakespeare’s had performed an old play called Mucedoms with great success in 1607.Two years later, two young dramatists, Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher, wrote Philaster, a play that Fletcher described as mixing tragedy and comedy. These plays were taken from popular stories, like Shakespeare’s romantic comedies, but the stories were more serious at first; they began like a tragedy but had a happy ending.

Shakespeare, as always, noticed changes in fashion. Early in 1608, he worked on a play called Pericles. He never wrote anything as bad as the scenes at the beginning. But suddenly, almost halfway through, the style changes. The rest of the play is typical of Shakespeare at this time. It seems that a man called George Wilkins wrote the early scenes and Shakespeare finished the play. It was not included in his collected works in 1623, so it is clear that his friends, who acted with him, knew that he had not written all of it.

In Pericles the hero is separated from his wife and daughter; he believes that they are dead, but meets them again. Their meeting is one of Shakespeare’s finest scenes, but the play is difficult because the first half is so different from the second.

Shakespeare’s next play of this type, Cymbeline, is also rather confused. He was probably not completely satisfied with it, and as usual when he had not succeeded, he returned to the same subject. In the third play, The Winter’s Tale, written in 1610, he manages to solve the problem of a play that begins like a tragedy but has a happy ending.

The title of this play means a fairy story, the kind of story that people tell in winter to pass the time. The play is about forgiveness for the past, and there are a number of things in it that seem to be connected with Shakespeare’s own life. The source is an old story by Robert Greene, the man who had attacked Shakespeare when he first succeeded as a dramatist. Greene’s story ends sadly, but Shakespeare changed the ending to write the kind of play that Beaumont and Fletcher had described.

Leontes, the King of Sicily, has always been friendly with the King of Bohemia, Polixenes. Leontes is Shakespeare’s idea of a jealous man. Othello only becomes jealous when Iago tricks him. But Leontes imagines a relationship between his wife, Hermione, and Polixenes for no reason.

After Polixenes has been staying at his court for some time, Leontes suddenly decides that Hermione’s unborn child is Polixenes’s, not his. Polixenes escapes, but when the baby girl is born Leontes orders one of his lords, Antigonus, to take it to another country and leave it for wild animals to eat. He puts Hermione on trial, acting as the judge himself, and says that she is guilty. He has sent two men to ask the god Apollo for advice, but he does not wait for them to return. When they do, they bring the message that Hermione is innocent. At this point another messenger comes in to say that the young prince, Mamillius, has died, afraid of what will happen to his mother. Hermione falls to the ground and is carried out of the court. Paulina, Antigonus’s wife, comes back to tell Leontes that she is dead, too.

We see Antigonus with the baby in Bohemia, Polixenes’s country, and there is an amusing moment when an animal comes on the stage and Antigonus runs away. An old man finds the baby and tells the audience that the animal has eaten Antigonus.

Before the next scene, an actor tells the audience that sixteen years have passed. The baby has grown up into a beautiful young girl called Perdita (which means ‘lost’) and the young prince, Polixenes’s son, is in love with her. His father is very angry but the young couple escape to Sicily. There Leontes helps them and, in the end, the old man brings some letters that he kept. These prove that she is Leontes’s daughter. The young couple are married, and finally, we learn that Hermione did not die. Paulina looked after her. So Leontes finds his wife and daughter again after many years.

When he wrote this play, Shakespeare was living in Stratford again for most of the year. If it tells us something about his own life, we may suppose that he became jealous of his wife while he was absent in London many years earlier. But Susanna’s marriage to Dr Hall had helped him to discover happiness again with his family. We cannot prove that this is true but it is interesting that at the end of The Winter’s Tale, when everyone is happy, no one says anything about the young prince, Mamillius. In the play, he died sixteen years earlier, almost the same length of time in 1610 since the death of Shakespeare’s own son, Hamnet.

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