John O'Meara

Shakespearean, neo-Romantic critic

John O'Meara Shakespeare Shakespearean Romanticism Literary Critic Novalis

Remembering Shakespeare:

The Scope of his Achievement from 'Hamlet' through 'The Tempest'


The longstanding challenge and problem of living through tragedy, as opposed to living beyond it or simply carrying on in spite of it, is highlighted in this extensive and in-depth scholarly study. Shakespeare was able to live through tragedy and consequently could come into those higher evolutionary states of mind and being, until now so little known, that are so impressively represented in his last plays. To recognize and identify these states of being, and the “brave new world” they open up, may well be the last of our tasks as participants in Shakespeare’s work. In the meantime, many of our most cherished dramatic preferences, not to mention our usual notions of solutions to tragedy, will have had to be left behind as illusions of no final consequence. Here is that most far-reaching aspect of our relationship to his achievement that Shakespeare waits on us to act upon, bearing with us more or less patiently as his tragedy continues.

from the Preface

     In spite of our profession of complete open-mindedness today, we continue, as always, to favor a certain range of plays, if not quite to the exclusion of others, at least to their detriment, insofar as we fail to have any clear sense of the final significance these plays have in comparison with the more privileged groups. Among these groups, which we can reasonably say we understand very well, are the histories, the comedies, even the very early types of these, and—at least we think so— the tragedies. As for what we used to call the romances, by which I intend Pericles, The Winter’s Tale, and The Tempest, as well as Cymbeline: while we respect these plays for their unearthly charm and bewildering freedom from the generic conventions, we have to confess, in fact, no real understanding of them in the last analysis. There have been many historical-cultural reasons for this over the centuries, but one essential reason will explain it: our fundamental inability to live through tragedy the way Shakespeare did, who used the tragic characters of Hamlet, Othello, Lear, and Macbeth to deliberately give himself that experience. It is not a question here of passing beyond tragedy, not a question of anything like what would produce the catharsis that leads one back to one’s ‘place’ in society, nor of moving on ‘in spite of’ tragedy, but of fully passing through tragedy without any holding back or holding on to this or that consolation. And to what end? Shakespeare did not know at all at the time, except that he understood it was what he had to bear on behalf of our full humanity. To do with it what? To lead us where?—To lead us to a threshold where nothing more would happen, or else suddenly everything. The readiness was all: consciousness remained, and it would suddenly transmute further, though without Shakespeare’s in any way knowing that it would.—But it finally did, yielding with that those astonishing states of being that are symbolically reflected to us in the extraordinary developments offered to us in Shakespeare’s last plays. It is on the basis of these states of being that a brave new world would emerge and take shape, even if that world still lies in the far future of our human destiny. We cannot speak of the full scope of Shakespeare’s achievement, consequently, without our having come to terms also with all that Shakespeare was signifying as to where humanity would have to take itself further, beyond what he had previously given us by way of histories, comedies, and tragedies: taking us further through a form of initiation theater that literally enacts the processes of redemption and of resurrection of which we today only tend to speak.


“excellent Shakespearean explorations … The idea of Lutheran depravity without Lutheran grace or Lutheran-Calvinist justification is very strong and original …” {Anthony Gash, Drama Head, The University of East Anglia}

No other study on Hamlet has yet to consider the way in which the play in its four major aspects of Sorrow, Sexuality, Revenge, and Death, consistently reflects the otherworldly direction of Hamlet's thought and experience …  {Corona Sharp, English Studies in Canada,Volume 19, Number 4, December 1993}

O’Meara offers a thesis of evolution in which Shakespeare’s concern with the ego and libido ... is freed by the use of imagination and, in later stages, by inspiration and intuition …” {Arthur F. Kinney, English Language Notes, September, 1998}