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A Theatre of Envy (Odéon) [Paperback]

Rene Girard

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Book Description

1 Jan 2000 Odéon
In this groundbreaking work a foremost literary and cultural critic turns to the major figure in English literature William Shakespeare and proposes a dramatic new way of reading and performing his works. The key to A Theatre of Envy is René Girards's original expression and application of what he calls Mimetic Theory. For Girard, people desire according to the desires of others. He sees this as fundamental to the human condition and works out its implications in a most convincing and ultimately, easily comprehensible way. Bringing his insights to bear on Shakespeare, Girard reveals the previously overlooked coherence of problem plays like Troilus and Cressida and makes a convincing argument for elevating A Midsummer Night's Dream from the status of entertaining chaotic comedy to a profound and original commentary on the human condition. Shakespeare transforms the crude literary form of revenge tragedy into a profound and prophetic unmasking of violence - even more relevant today than in his time. Throughout this impressively sustained reading of Shakespeare, Girard's prose is sophisticated enough for the academic as well as being accessible to the general reader. Anyone interested in literature, anthropology, psychology and particularly, theology as relevant to the overriding contemporary problems of violence in all its forms will want to read this challenging book. All those involved in theatrical productions and performance will find A Theatre of Envy full of exciting and practical ideas. 'In its enormous breathtaking scope, (René Girard's work) suggests...the projects of those 19th century intellectual giants (Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche and Freud) who still cast such long shadows today. By contrast, contemporary criticism seems paltry and fainthearted.' Comparative Literature René Girard was born in Avignon, read cultural history in Paris and in 1947 went to the USA where he has for the last 50 years held a number of prestigious academic posts. He has written more than half a dozen books, best known of which are, Violence and the Sacred, The Scapegoat, and Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World, he has also been featured in many interviews and magazine articles. His Martin D'Arcy Lecture - "Victims, Violence and Christianity" - delivered in Oxford in November 1997, aroused the enthusiastic interest of a wide variety of British experts in many fields as well as those involved in the wider and increasingly significant world of contemporary spirituality in all its popular and peremptory expressions. While not giving a naive answer René Girard does provide a profound and practical way to unmask violence not only in Shakespeare's world, but in our own.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Gracewing Publishing; New edition edition (1 Jan 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0852445105
  • ISBN-13: 978-0852445105
  • Product Dimensions: 16 x 23 x 2 cm
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 721,434 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An original reading of the usual subject 12 April 2001
By I. M. Sanchez Prado - Published on Amazon.com
Girar is a quite heterodox critic, and his trademark, mimetic desire (that is the fact that we desire something by imitating someone else who also desire it either directly (our best friend's girlfriend) or indirectly (social stereotypes that make desirable a certain type of woman or a specific product), provides a unique reading of the work of the bard. The book is based on the thesis that Shakespeare had conciousness of mimetic desire and that his plays show a representation of it as part of their plot. Girard focuses on many plays and on the sonnets and his reading is fascinating. Probably some will find his analysis repetitiva and determinist. However, the fact that mimetic desire is quite unlike any other theory applied to the bard creates very interesting readings of character development and plot in the plays, as well as one of the most convincing theories on the sonnets I have ever read. When combined with Bloom's Shakespeare and Greenblatt's Shakespearean Negotiations, the reading of Shakespeare becomes an excellent exercise of literary pleasure and a stimulating intellectual experience.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The most important book about Shakespeare 6 July 2011
By Fabio - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Do not fail to read this book if you love Shakespeare and want some understanding of what his work as a whole is about. Let me carefully explain why.

Girard has a few devoted followers and very few adversaries. His bold interpretation of western literature (lets put aside his entire mimetic theory for a moment) is so far away from everything else in literary theory that other scholars find it very difficult to elaborate a refutation - they would have to re-examine too much that is taken for granted and that is the basis for all literary criticism, old and contemporary. So most of the disagreement with Girard is short and dismissive, rather than a careful critique.

This is indeed a very regrettable situation. Girard`s study is too decisive to be treated as a footnote, and too persuasive to be dismissed. If he is correct, than he found the key to interpret all great western literature. We know that Shakespeare, Dostoyevsky and Cervantes, not to mention the Greek tragedians, are somehow set apart from other writers in that they provide a superior portrait of human condition, but little has been done to explain why. Why are Don Quixote and Hamlet so outstanding? I think only Girard elaborated an answer. And it is a very disturbing one. Scholars and non-scholars have a natural reaction to dislike the idea that the characters in great literature are so universal because they show how non-autonomous people are, rather than the opposite.

But one must take Girard`s ideas seriously. In the case of this book, how can one dismiss the mountain of evidence Girard presents to prove that Shakespearean characters are slaves to other people's desires? How can one read this book and not treat this hypothesis seriously? Because if you do, and if you end up agreeing with it, you may feel like a fool - all the literary critics you ever read, and their respective schools of thought, and the institutions to which they belong - become almost redundant and peripheral, and this relatively little-known dude from Stanford acquires an immense importance. Even the individual reader feels like silly because he missed something so ubiquitous. So in a way, Girard`s mimetic theory explains Rene Girard's relative obscurity.

So there is greater benefit in reading Theater of Envy if you are NOT an English major, and have read a lot more Shakespeare than commentary about Shakespeare. You will have a lot less prejudice, and you will be flabbergasted by Girard demonstrating over and over again what that body of work is about.

One other thing of interest is: if you are already acquainted with the mimetic theory (and I strongly recommend you read Deceit, Desire and the Novel before tackling this one), you already know a lot of what the author is going to say (assuming you are acquainted with the Bard`s plays). For example, much of what the Chapter on Hamlet contains I already knew would be there, just by applying Girard`s theory to a play I knew well. And I could probably write myself a couple of extra chapters to this book, tackling Henry VI parts II and III, two very "mimetic" plays Girard left out for some reason. Actually, it is interesting that there is only one chapter on Hamlet, a play that corroborates so much of Girard`s theory, and two on As You Like It, a play where the mimetic desire appears little. Girard wants to go for the difficult stuff, the elements in Shakespeare that apparently contradict him, so that we will be all the more persuaded. Why insist on Hamlet and Othello if the reader will easily be convinced himself?

One last reason to read this book. Girard is a great writer, period. His prose and his clear presentation make it a delightful read. The only obstacle to reading this book is complete unfamiliarity with Shakespeare - I skipped the chapter`s on Winter`s Tale because I know nothing about that play other than the title. Other than that, reading Deceit Desire and the Novel first is a very good idea, but not indispensable if you are a Shakespeare buff. I suspect you will probably jump to reading more Girard afterwards anyways.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Shakespeare Even Greater Than I Thought!!! 7 Jun 2010
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is one of my favorite books of all time, and changed my assessment of Shakespeare, actually increasing my opinion of his genius. This is the first of 3 Girard books I have read, and perhaps the best. His insightful analysis will make future Shakespearean reviews seem superficial. This book is exciting enough to get us to head over to the Stratford , Ontario summer theater to see The Winter's Tale live, which Girard says is Shakespeare's greatest achievement. ( I suggest the Folger Shakespeare Library edition. )
5.0 out of 5 stars Need an eBook version. Devastating critique of conventional Shakespeare "scholarship." 8 Dec 2013
By Sam Condon - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I've read a number of Girard's books but this was the most enlightening about a number of topics that his other writings leave a little obscure. It's comparable to his essay on Dostoevsky in that regard. The idea of seeing all of the works that adopt the mimetic perspective as a single work that deals with increasingly difficult elements of the mimetic cycle is very helpful. The only problem is that there isn't yet an eBook version, and the typeface on the hardback is pretty small. Hopefully they'll produce an eBook version soon, as well as one for *Deceit, Desire, and the Novel* and *Things Hidden*.
1 of 7 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars UNLEARNED LEARNED EMERITUS 25 April 2013
By As False as Cressid' - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
René Girard, bless him, has had one idea in his life, which he calls "mimetism", and has been preaching this Gospel - yes he does write that the Gospels,(which ones? Gnostic?) were indeed written at the time they are said to have been written, no doubt about it, hey, THE JERUSALEM BIBLE says so - for some 50 years. A lesson in longevity perhaps. However, when - the author admits the point - one knows nothing about the plays one is writing about...Somehow I have trouble taking this very seriously. Absolutely no historical perspective is injected into this masterly mental construct. Example, The Sonnets. Does the Professor know that the First part is addressed to the author's patron, as was common at he period? That he is confusing the Earl of Pembroke with some anonymous third party to fit his triangular scheme of desire? And, dear I am picky, the Sonnets were not "early Shakespeare", but probably written over a ten-year period. Sorry, check your sources. If it don't work, change it.
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