Drawing upon the work of anthropologists, psychologists, and sociologists, Marjorie Garber examines rites of passage and maturation patterns – “coming of age” – in Shakespeare’s plays. Citing examples from virtually the entire Shakespearean canon, she pays particular attention to the way his characters grow and change at points of personal crisis. She suggests a series of transitional or “threshold” moments in the lives of dramatic characters that mark or mirror their development in self-awareness and understanding of human nature.
Among the life crises she discusses are: separation from parent and sibling in preparation for sexual love and the choice of a husband, wife, or partner; the use of names and nicknames as a sign of individual exploits or status; the learning of a new language or a new way of speaking; virginity, sexual initiation and the acceptance of mature sexuality, childbearing and parenthood; comparing and contrasting oneself with parents and rivals; and, finally, attitudes to death and dying.
In this fascinating and original analysis, Garber explores the ways in which the Shakespearean protagonist is challenged to change as his or her circumstances change – to adapt to the world and to other people, and to come to terms with the nature and finitude of the human condition.