Shakespeare and the Urgency of Now: Criticism and Theory in by Cary Dipietro

By Cary Dipietro

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The alternative, we will argue, is to acknowledge that we read the past through the lens of our own ideological positions and articulate it from within contemporary discursive paradigms; a conscious, critical anachronism allows us to dialogue pragmatically with a past that we can only reconstruct incompletely and never impartially, but, more importantly, it is through such critical and creative contexts that we can come to understand what is aesthetically powerful about Shakespeare’s plays for us now.

In the seventeenth-century baroque Trauerspiele from which Benjamin derived much of his theory of allegory, the plays are always set in a specific historical time, different from the historical era in which they were being written. ”5 They disclose a world in decay, but they show how the elements of decay can be reborn as new art in a new and different era. Our own readings of the texts of the past share in this allegorical quality. They are ruins for us, fragments of history surviving into our own time.

What Presentism would add to that insight, however, 9 10 Shakespeare and the Urgency of Now is the equally crucial truth that we encounter these historical works outside of their moment of origin, and they have meaning for us because their very otherness is a challenge to our own thinking, feeling, and values—which, however, constitute the only ground from which we can contemplate them. Any reading of works of the past has to work within this dialectic. There is never a moment of “timelessness”; there is instead a complex negotiation between then and now, and one that has to be continually renegotiated as our “now” changes in the wake of developing history.

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