"OVIDIUS NASO WAS THE MAN:"
SHAKESPEARE'S DEBT TO OVID
by Jeremy McNamara
The 1992-93 Fox Classics Lecture
As I look back over the distinguished group of classicists who have preceded me as Fox lecturer, I am very much aware of my own amateur status in the field of classics. However, a person who has only a rudimentary knowledge of Latin knows that the root of amateur is the verb amare--to love. In a sense I have had a long-time love affair with the classics--sometimes intensely pursued, at other times overlooked or obscured--that has brought me to this talk tonight.
Perhaps it all began when I was an early grade-schooler and the more grown-up girl next door, already in first-year Latin in high school, taught me to count to ten in Latin, showing me the fascination of the linguistic "other." Certainly this fascination blossomed into love when I in turn entered high school and encountered in Latin I one of the finest teachers I have had in a life-long formal pursuit of knowledge, my most recent course having been taken in 1990. This teacher, a most inspiring woman, showed me the pleasures of intense study and of hard work to achieve an academic goal. Her influence probably led me in the scholarly direction my life has taken. Certainly her influence led me to take the next three years of Latin our high school offered and to study Latin literature for two of my four undergraduate years, accumulating something like a minor in the subject, though I don't remember that Kenyon had official minors in those days. Moving immediately into graduate school after college I offered Latin as one of my languages for the MA and wrote a thesis on classical allusions in Titus Andronicus, checking Shakespeare's uses against the Latin citations in Cooper's Thesaurus, a 16th century classical dictionary.
Then comes the great hiatus in my study of Latin--army service, beginning teaching and PhD study in English, a growing interest in Irish language and culture--so that it wasn't until the 1970's that I did any more formal work in the classics. I did it here in Monmouth and I did it with Bernice Fox--the second great classics teacher whom I encountered. I sat in on a number of her advanced classes, reading Horace, Livy, the Roman drama as well as beginning the study of Greek with her. Bernice, then, has been more than a colleague and friend--I have shared with her the most valued of all relationships, that of pupil and teacher. So I am particularly honored tonight to be giving the Fox Lecture in Classics. As a teacher Bernice impressed me with her extensive and exacting knowledge of Latin, but also with her ability to translate felicitously into English. From her classes I remember vividly her suggesting improvements to my often pedestrian and literal efforts at translation.
If I am an amateur in classics, I suppose I can claim to be a professional in English studies, having earned my living as a teacher of English since 1956. And the author who has been at the center of my study and teaching is Shakespeare. In fact, I could be said to have a lifelong love affair with Shakespeare, so that this pro-am talk tonight combines my sustained love with my intermittent passion.
Shakespeare certainly had a love affair with the classics, particularly Ovid. The connection between the two writers has been noticed from almost the beginning of Shakespeare's career. In 1598 Francis Meres in Palladis Tamiawrote: "the sweete wittie soule of Ovid lives in mellifluous and honey-tongued Shakespeare, witness his Venus and Adonis, his Lucrece, his sugred sonnets among his private friends, etc." The early 20th century delineator of classical mythology, R. K. Root, says that the whole character of Shakespeare's mythology is essentially Ovidian and that "Shakespeare himself has shown that he was proud to be Ovid's successful ape." From the same era, E. K. Rand, studying the influence of Ovid on later literature, says that Shakespeare hears in the Roman poet "the call of deep unto deep." Less colorfully than these two,the massive and magisterial study of Shakespeare's classical knowledge, T. W. Baldwin's Shakespeare's Small Latin and Less Greek states that Ovid was Shakespeare's master of poetry. Two recent studies, Leonard Barkan's The Gods Made Flesh: Metamorphosis and the Pursuit of Paganism (1986) and Charles and Michelle Martindale's Shakespeare and the Uses of Antiquity (1990) provide detailed analyses of the relationship of the two writers, reinforcing the claims of earlier scholars. In summary, Barkan states that "Ovid, metamorphosis, paganism and antiquity come as close as anything else does to occupying the heart of Shakespeare's imagination." In preparing this talk I have drawn heavily on the Barkan and Martindale books as well as the whole tradition of Shakespeare-Ovid scholarship.
Meres picked out the sonnets for special mention in commenting on this relationship, though later scholars have been more apt to follow his lead about the Ovidian narrative poems, Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece, and to emphasize that part of Shakespeare's output the 20th century values most--the plays. Indeed Ovidian influence has been found in the whole range of these dramas from the first to the last. Just to glance a moment at the sonnets, though, the pervasive theme in them of the passing of time, mutability, may owe something in general to a major concern in Ovid--a sense that everything changes and moves from one form to another. A typical formulation of this thought:
Like as the waves make toward the pebbled shore
So do our minutes hasten to their end
may even be related to specific passage in Ovid, though this sort of immediate influence is minimal because of the lyric, not narrative or dramatic, format of the sonnets.
Although we are more inclined now to value Shakespeare as a playwright, he wanted to be known as a poet. Acting, Shakespeare's daily profession, was, if not despised, at least considered socially demeaning; writing for the theatre was hardly any better. So when plague forced one of the periodic closings of the public theatres in 1593-94 Shakespeare took the opportunity to compose two narrative poems, both showing his awareness of Ovid. The first, Venus and Adonis, belongs to the genre of erotic-mythological narrative poetry or epyllionbest represented by and perhaps initiated by Marlowe's Hero and Leander. That Shakespeare dedicated the poem to the Earl of Southhampton, calling it "the first heir of his invention," though he had written several plays by this time and the epigraph he gave the poem from Ovid's Amores:
Vilia miretur vulgus; mihi flavus Apollo
Pocula Castalia plena ministret aqua
(Let the crowd wonder at cheap things; for me
let yellow-haired Apollo give cups full
of water of Castalia)
suggests the nature of Shakespeare's ambition here and his disdain for the ordinary folk who crowded into bear-baitings and the theatre. Castalia is a fountain sacred to Apollo, the Greek god of poetry among other things.
Shakespeare's poem takes its inspiration from two passages in Metamorphoses concerning Adonis: Bk X, 11.510-559 and 11.705-739, a total of 83 lines in the Latin original. In addition Shakespeare used hints from the story of Salmacis in Bk IV and Narcissus in Bk III. In fact Shakespeare may have prepared himself for this major literary undertaking by reading all of Golding's translation of the Metamorphoses as some details would attest. In other words there is more than just a versifying of a particular episode, a one-to-one correspondence between Ovidian and Shakespearean works.
One reason is that Shakespeare has amplified the story considerably--his version runs to 1194 lines, over 14 times the length of the original text. A good Renaissance poet was expected to exhibit copia, usually in the form of rhetorical additions rather than additional events. While Ovid's account of Venus and Adonis is rather lean, part of Ovid's legacy to the Renaissance was the art of rhetoric. In this sense, then, Shakespeare is, though not true to the structure of this particular Ovidian tale, certainly true to the spirit of Ovid as the Renaissance understood him. In Ovid Venus is smitten with the beauty of Adonis (there is a suggestion that Adonis is somehow avenging his mother's incestuous passion for her father) and uncharacteristically Venus becomes a huntress to be with him. She warns Adonis against tusked animals like boars. Lying together she tells him why these animals are dangerous. But Adonis ignores her warnings and hunts a boar; the tusks enter deep into his groin. Venus arrives too late, finding only the dead Adonis; she vows to give him a monument. Adonis becomes a flower, the anemone--the wind flower--crimson to reflect the blood shed by Adonis, doomed to lose its petals early to reflect his early death.
Shakespeare's major innovation in approach is to make Adonis the unwilling recipient of Venus' amorous advances, an idea found in the Salmacis-Hermaphroditus story in Ovid. Shakespeare's poem starts abruptly with Adonis hunting: "Hunting he loved, but love he laughed to scorn." By line 5 Venus is starting to woo him.
"Thrice fairer than myself," thus she began,
"The field's chief flower, sweet above compare,
Stain to all nymphs, more lovely than a man,
More white and red than doves or roses are,
Nature, that made thee with herself at strife,
Saith that the world hath ending with thy life."
Note how the red and white are introduced here to be recalled in the colors of the flower that memorializes Adonis in the end of the poem. Although Venus is strong enough to pull Adonis off his horse he is able to resist her until she says she wants but one kiss:
Upon this promise did he raise his chin,
Like a dive-dapper peering through a wave,
Who being looked on, ducks as quickly in;
So offers he to give what she did crave,
But when her lips were ready for his pay,
He winks, and turns his lips another way
leading to an 80-line harangue which basically repeats the theme of sonnets 1-17 in which a handsome young man is urged to marry and pass on his beauty to his children. In the process Venus compares Adonis to Narcissus, feeling that he is rejecting her because he loves himself. When Adonis continues to resist and attempts to get back to his hunting, Shakespeare uses two horses--a breeding jennet that attracts Adonis' own trampling courser--to suggest how natural sexual attraction and fulfillment is--another embellishment to the story. After more pleading, Venus faints--to be revived by the freely given kiss of Adonis that had been rather churlishly refused before. Somewhat reconciled, Venus now gives the warning about the boar and attempts to complete the seduction of Adonis; but he is having none of this and delivers a long lecture on the differences between love and lust, a kind of pedantic morality that seems rather out of place and character at this point in the poem. After a lonely night Venus goes in pursuit of Adonis the next morning but finds only his dead body:
And nuzzling in his flank, the loving swine
Sheathed unaware the tusk in his soft groin
Shakespeare ends the poem by prophesying that sorrow will hereafter attend on love, giving a long catalogue of the problems of love, an Ovidian-type etiology or account of causes, according to Barkan. Finally she sees a purple flower, checked with white--the colors referred to earlier in connection with Adonis (the Elizabethans did not distinguish between red and purple as we do). She picks the flower, puts it next to her heart in lieu of Adonis so that
There shall not be one minute in an hour
Wherein I will not kiss my sweet love's flower
Shakespeare's poem contains a variety of tones, ranging from jaunty rhymes:
For all my mind, my thought, my care,
Is how to get my palfrey from the mare
to sensuous lyricism
Full gently now she takes him by the hand,
A lily prisoned in a jail of snow,
Or ivory in an alabaster band
So white a friend engirts so white a foe
a quality characteristic of the Metamorphoses as a whole. There are even Ovidian shifts within a stanza:
Forced to content, but never to obey,
Panting he lies, and breatheth in her face,
She feedeth on the steam, as on a prey,
And calls it heavenly moisture, air of grace,
Wishing her cheeks were gardens full of flowers,
So they were dewed with such distilling showers.
so that stylistically Ovidian influence can be seen.
It has been suggested that the reversal of the normal sexual stereotype is entirely Ovidian in spirit, what one critic has called the libertine Ovid-sensuality and sly humor wrapped in literary self-consciousness--and modern critics generally agree that Ovid would have been pleased to acknowledge Shakespeare's poems as his literary offspring. Instead of technical copying or imitation this example of Shakespeare's indebtedness to Ovid does seem to suggest a temperamental, an artistic affinity.
The second and last of Shakespeare's narrative poems, The Rape of Lucrece(1594), has a number of Ovidian elements, but is not so successful an adaptation of Ovid as is Venus and Adonis. Some of its literary antecedents, the dreary moralizing of the Mirror for Magistrates and the complaint tradition, are definitely non-Ovidian. The tragic mode of the story does not blend well with an Ovidian tone which should be of the mixed, serio-comic variety. Nevertheless there are some aspects of the poem which show Ovidian influence. Both Livy and Ovid (Fasti, II, 685-852) provide source material for Shakespeare. The Livy account is briefer and begins with the military campaign against Ardea which precipitates the relevant action. Basically the Roman husbands in their military camp boast about the virtue of their wives; when tested, only Lucrece, Collatine's wife, is found at home at night spinning, that most wife-like of domestic chores. But Tarquin is inflamed with lust, returns the next night, rapes Lucrece who kills herself after revealing the episode to her husband and her father. Tarquin is banished and with him goes monarchy from Rome. Unlike Livy, Ovid begins with an episode showing Tarquin's essential cunning nature in his defeat of Gabii through the counsel of his father before the campaign against Ardea begins. Ovid generally gives more attention to the temptation of Tarquin and to Lucrece' reaction--expansions which provide the germ of long stretches of Shakespeare's poem--but both agree on the bluntness of Tarquin's approach to Lucrece in her bed:
Livy: stricto gladio ad dormientem Lucretiam venit
sinistraque manu mulieris pectore oppresso, "Tace,
Lucretia," inquit; "Sextus Tarquinus sum; ferrum in
manu est; moriere, si emiseris vocem."
Ovid: surgit et aurata vagina liberat ensem
et venit in thalamos, nupta pudica, tuos.
utque torum pressit, "ferrum, Lucretia, mecum est.
"natus," ait, "regis Tarquiniusque loquar."
and the ultimate threat in both versions is that if she refuses, Tarquin will kill her and put a dead male slave in her bed so that she will be shamed forever.
Shakespeare turned Ovid's 170 line account into a poem of 1855 lines. He begins abruptly with Tarquin on his way to the house of Lucrece, then shifts back to the night before and the scene in the military camp which precipitated the tragedy. While Shakespeare adds to the story--more in terms of rhetorical embellishment than in any increase in the action, which remains as it is essentially in Livy and Ovid, there are clearly aspects of his version which are Ovidian. The Martindales provide a comprehensive list. They suggest that the 272 line complaint of Lucrece--a complaint is a literary expression of grief or sorrow and this one is indicative of how Shakespeare amplifies the material of his poem from the bare plot found in Livy and Ovid--owes much of its mood to the complaints found in Ovid's Heroides, particularly that of Ariadne deserted on Naxos by Theseus. Tarquin's shifting thoughts, as he contemplates the rape of Lucrece, have an Ovidian analogue in the conflicting thoughts of Myrrha who sexually desires her father. There is Ovidian etiology pointing out that because a watery circle formed about Lucrece' self-inflicted death wound that
ever since, in pitying Lucrece' woes,
Corrupted blood some watery token shows
And blood untainted still doth red abide
Blushing at that which is so putrified.
The many paradoxes--e.g. Tarquin is "A captive victor that hath lost in gain" because he has a guilty mind after the rape--are injected into the narrative in the manner of Ovid's version of Narcissus in Metamorphoses. The one I have quoted may even verbally echo 1.811 of Fasti: "quid, victor gaudes? haec te victoria perdet" (Why, victor do you rejoice? This victory will ruin you). One of the major embellishments in the Rape of Lucrece is an ecphrasis, an extended description of a person, a place, a battle or a work of art, in this case a description of a tapestry of the seige of Troy which Lucrece encounters in her grief stricken wanderings after the rape. As a digression in the story the description is Ovidian; the material comes from the Aeneid and Metamorphoses, XIII. More significantly the whole idea of using the betrayal of Troy by Sinon, a war which began with the rape of Helen, may have come from Shakespeare's source, the Fasti, where Ovid makes a thematic link between Tarquin's treacherous sack of Gabii and the later rape. In Shakespeare's poem Tarquin is compared to Sinon and in the preliminary to the rape Lucrece is compared to a city under seige. Whereas Livy and Ovid clearly have Lucrece submitting to Tarquin under duress, Shakespeare has Tarquin using force throughout. Lucrece then interprets the tapestry as reflecting her own situation, so that the tapestry is an effective icon, an extended simile for the central episode of the narrative.
One final Ovidian feature--the comparison to Philomela--will provide links to other Shakespearean works. Incidentally, Barkan notes that in Fasti the Lucrece story is celebrated on February 24, that of Philomela on February 25. The narrator comments at the end of Lucrece' long complaint:
By this, lamenting Philomele had ended
The well-tuned warble of her nightly sorrow
and when Lucrece begins her lamentation again some 50 lines later, she says:
Come, Philomele, that singst of ravishment,
Make thy sad grove in my dishevelled hair
and for some 20 lines compares her lot to that of Philomela with such lines as
For burthen-wise I'll hum on Tarquin still,
While thou on Tereus descants better skill
Both burthen and descant are musical terms; in this case Lucrece will provide a low accompaniment to the high notes of Philomela.
In Cymbeline, one of the romances written at the end of Shakespeare's career, Iachimo, having secreted himself in Imogen's bed chamber, emerges at night to observe the sleeping woman. His purpose is to gather details of her person and surroundings to convince her husband that he has slept with her in order to win a wager, what one commentator has called a "symbolic rape." The men, in a scene reminiscent of the Livy and Ovid treatments of the Lucrece story, had been bragging about the chastity of their wives. Before going to sleep Imogen has been reading the Tale of Tereus in Ovid--she has turned down the page "where Philomele gave up." In another Ovidian touch Iachimo compares himself to Tarquin walking softly into the room "ere he wakened/The chastity he wounded." Because of the tragic-comic nature of this scene and other elements of Cymbeline the Martindales conclude that Shakespeare has matched the tonal complexities of the Metamorphoses.
Ovid's version of the Tereus, Philomela, Procne story lies behind the action of the early Titus Andronicus, one of the most extensively classical of all Shakespeare's plays. The story is a grisly one of rape and mutilation with the characters turned into birds in the end. In Ovid the tone is puzzling, though the Martindales think that Elizabethan audiences probably "saw nothing in Ovid's story but suffering, pathos and vengeance, merely intensified by Ovid's stylistic virtuosity and brilliant rhetoric" and would have found the same qualities--not a "sophisticated ambivalence"--in Shakespeare's play. In an extended analysis of the style of Titus Andronicus the Martindales find little that matches Ovid's "disconcerting precision and coolness" or "tone of detachment." However, they do find significance in Shakespeare's using the Philomela story as a model for the action of the plot of the play--Barkan suggests that Ovid offers Shakespeare a paradigm for the act of communication, not the least of which is the raped and mutilated Lavinia (her tongue cut out and her hands cut off) attempting to find a way to name her attackers and finally managing to convey what happened by pointing to the relevant passage in Metamorphoses. Knowing that Philomela has used her hands to weave a tapestry and implicate Tereus, Lavinia's rapists have gone another step only to be foiled by her determined efforts at communication.
In general the Martindales believe that "Shakespeare's most obvious debt to Ovid. . .is the whole system of Graeco-Roman mythology to which he had constant recourse throughout his career." They then proceed to analyze five passages in his plays to show how Shakespeare uses references to classical mythology.
1. Two Gentlemen of Verona, II,II, 77-80
For Orpheus' lute was strung with poets' sinews,
Whose golden touch could soften steel and stones,
Make tigers tame, and huge leviathans
Forsake unsounded deeps to dance on sands.
In this case Shakespeare's imagination is seen to be nourished by classical mythology of the gorgeous Ovidian type.
2. Merchant of Venice, III,ii, 53-60
Now he goes
With no less presence, but with much more love
Than young Alcides, when he did redeem
The virgin tribute, paid by howling Troy
To the sea monster; I stand for sacrifice,
The rest aloof are the Dardanian wives
With bleared visages come forth to view
The issue of the exploit: go Hercules!
This passage is based on Metamorphoses, XI, 199 ff and we have Bassanio in the play attempting a rescue of a damsel in distress parallel to that attempted by Hercules. This allusion requires additional knowledge--that is more than the passage itself gives--for full appreciation.
3. Twelfth Night, I,i,19-23
O, when mine eyes did see Olivia first,
Methought she purged the air of pestilence.
That instant was I turned into a hart,
And my desires, like fell and cruel hounds,
E'er since pursue me.
The Actaeon story is found in Metamorphoses, III, 138ff. Here the reference is elliptical and compressed. There is an intense expression of mood and psychology, a concern with the self scrutiny of the lover rather than moral evaluation.
4. Troilus and Cressida, III,ii, 7-12
I stalk about her door
Like a strange soul upon the Stygian banks
Staying for waftage. O be thou my Charon,
And give me swift transportance to those fields
Where I may wallow in the lily beds
Proposed for the deserver.
Troilus here depicts hoped-for success in terms of death. This allusion is one of many in which Shakespeare Ovidianizes material from Virgil--in this case by eroticizing it. The Martindales believe that Shakespeare shows that he has learned from Ovid in his modernization of legend, his skepticism and his nuanced attitude toward the heroic.
5. The Winter's Tale, IV,iv,112-125
Now, my fairest friend,
I would I had some flowers of the spring, that might
Become your time of day; and yours, and yours,
That wear upon your virgin branches yet
Your maidenheads growing; o Preserpina,
For the flowers now, that, frighted, thou letst fall
From Dis' waggon! Daffodils,
That come before the swallow dares, and take
The winds of March with beauty, violets dim
But sweeter than the lids of Juno's eye
Or Cytherea's breath, pale primroses
That die unmarried ere they can behold
Bright Phoebus in his strength--a malady
Most incident to maids.
The story of Prosperpina is found in Metamorphoses, V, 385ff and Fasti, IV, 417 ff. Shakespeare's whole play turns on death and rebirth. In Ovid, Prosperpina plucks a flower and prepares for the loss of virginity. Perdita's language in the speech quoted touches on female sexuality. The world of flowers is intertwined with human emotions and a divine world is seen as immanent in nature. The passage shows an exuberant, unpedantic classicism and shows to what extent Ovidian mythology could fire Shakespeare's imagination.
If one were to pick out one play which in its entirety and its imaginative conception reflects Shakespeare's debt to Ovid, one could do no better than to choose MSND. The Ovidian relationship has been much remarked and much studied. Wilkinson says that the whole atmosphere of the play is extraordinarily reminiscent of the Metamorphoses--citing magic, freedom, blend of charm and moral irresponsibility, interplay of various elements among other qualities. Leonard Barkan says that the world of the Metamorphoses is primary to the genesis of MSND which is "Shakespeare's fullest attempt to respond to the inspiration afforded by Ovidian materials and to translate them into his own mythical language." Niall Rudd calls MSND the "most magical tribute Ovid was ever paid."
Central to the play's action is the transformation of Bottom. Barkan comments that this transformation underlies the other metamorphoses of the play, with metamorphosis being the order of business of the play. The Bottom and Titania story is the model for all those Ovidian tales in which metamorphosis is linked with the unsettling confrontations of mortals and gods. Bottom, the only mortal to see the fairy goddess, enacts with her a love relationship which is only psychological drama for the other lovers. The affair between Bottom and Titania conflates body and spirit. Titania moves from the enchantment of her senses to a state of rapture. Bottom, pulled upward by his love for the divine, attains a sublime state--whereas the lovers call their experience a dream and prefer waking reality, Bottom knows his experience was a vision.
The Martindales approach transformation in MSND by an account of metamorphosis in Ovid: "Sometimes it is a reward, sometimes it confirms a person's fundamental character, sometimes it involves a more mysterious and genuine change of nature." They suggest that Bottom is far too rich a character to be a mere embodiment of asininity. The lovers and Titania undergo psychological change which ultimately proves a healing process for the lovers, "an exploration of their identity and sexuality as a preparation for marriage."
There is etiology in MSND--detailing the source of the pansy's (or love-in-idleness as the text has it) power to make a person love the next person seen. It has to do with a love shaft of Cupid missing its intended mark--"a fair damsel throned by the west"--Queen Elizabeth--and instead hitting the flower. Ovid had introduced the Pyramus/Thisbe story by saying that he will tell how the mulberry tree which once bore white fruit now has a red stain because of the blood of the lovers. In the Shakespearean etiology the tiny white pansy has been empurpled through passion. Although Shakespeare has transferred the metamorphosis from the end to the beginning of the story so that it becomes a cause for the love of living lovers rather than a memorial to dead ones, love is still conceived of as a transformation in true Ovidian fashion in the play.
There are also direct verbal echoes to Ovid in MSND:
cf Verque novum stabat cinctum florente corona
Stabat nuda Aestas et spicea serta gerebat
Stabat et Autumnus caleatis sordidus uvis
et glacialis Hiems canos hirsuta capillos
(Young spring was there, wreathed with a floral crown; Summer
unclad with garland of ripe grain; Autumn was there, stained with
the trodden grape, and icy Winter with white and bristly locks)
with MSND II,i,107-113:
Fall in the fresh lap of the crimson rose,
And on old Hiems' thin and icy crown
An odorous chaplet of sweet summer buds
Is, as in mockery, set; the spring, the summer,
The childing autumn, change
Their wonted liveries.
Even the fairies may owe something to Ovid as traditionally the classical gods were equated with the world of fairie and Shakespeare may simply be continuing in the process of modernizing Ovid's gods. "Like Ovid's gods, Shakespeare's fairies are menacing and powerful, with a control over nature and men, even if they are ultimately more benign."
Probably the most memorable aspect of MSND is the Pyramus/Thisbe play within the play. The source is Ovid, Metamorphoses, IV, 55-166. Niall Rudd, who has studied the two versions closely suggests that Ovid gives us a romantic love story but that also certain features of the style suggest that Ovid was not continuously involved with the lovers' feelings. If Pyramus and Thisbe are used in MSND to illustrate the silliness of love, then there is a hint of this concept in Ovid. Many details of Shakespeare's account suggest that Shakespeare had read Ovid directly--it is always a vexed question whether Shakespeare was going to the Latin or reading Golding's English translation. In spite of all the fooling around in Shakespeare's burlesque--the old-fashioned rhetoric, the physical properties enacted by human actors, the ridiculous actions like the wall making a chink--still Rudd feels some sense of the pathos of Ovid's story comes through. Structurally he sees the story as providing a parody of the Lysander-Hermia relationship and thematically he finds it reconfirms the rationality/irrationality concept of the play. Overall he is inclined to agree with Barkan and the Martindales about the centrality of metamorphosis in MSND. Shakespeare set out to show how love can transpose, how Bottom was translated, transformed and transported and how the minds of all the characters were transfigured. I think that account pretty well exhausts all the synonyms for metamorphosis in the English language.
My researches into Shakespeare's debt to Ovid occasionally proved serendipitous. While reading T. Macalindon's Shakespeare's Tragic Cosmos, part of my ongoing preparation for the Shakespeare courses I teach, I came across this specific reference to Ophelia in Hamlet:
In a decorative and lyrical set speech of a kind that he will never attempt again in his tragedies, Shakespeare draws upon his reading of Ovid's Metamorphoses to turn Ophelia's death by drowning into an emblem of pathos and painted purity; she becomes a nymph who seems at first to dissolve through sorrow and tears into the translucent water she haunts.
The Ovidian influence in Antony and Cleopatra is very strong according to Macalindon. Shakespeare's play reflects a manifestation of inevitable change in the cyclic order of history and nature, an almost serene conception of tragedy which can be compared with Metamorphoses. Ovid's poem is structured around a loose framework of world history. In Book XV the speech by Pythagoras on world change provides the poem's binding theme. There is an account of Roman history up to Octavius, the man who defeats Antony in Shakespeare's play, the man who was emperor during Ovid's lifetime, who is seen in the poem as bringing peace and stability to a violently changing world. The poem's attitude to change is complex as almost everything that is wonderful and glorious seems to presuppose the loss of something beautiful. Both works share a view of change; nature enters the symbolic structure of the play in Ovidian ways. The play takes the whole world as its setting, presents a remarkable interplay of elements in its language and makes water the most important element as well as blurring the distinction between the human and the divine.
The Martindales believe that the "resurrection" of Hermione--a statue which comes alive but really a woman who was presumed dead for 16 years presented as a statue--in Act V of The Winter's Tale is based on Ovid's story of Pygmalion in Metamorphoses, X, 243-297. In an attempt to achieve an effect similar to that of Ovid "Shakespeare contrives to make his audience share directly in the experience of the stage characters without the complications of superior knowledge." However, ultimately, the descent of Hermione from her pedestal has an elemental flavor of myth beyond Ovid's description of the metamorphosis of the statue that Pygmalion longs to become real flesh. Shakespeare is using Ovid's "sophisticated literariness as a gateway to a different and more elemental treatment of myth." To Barkan in this episode Shakespeare fuses the metamorphosis of art with the metamorphosis of life and concludes a series begun with the mechanicals in MSND.
Finally, let us turn to what M.C. Bradbrook calls Shakespeare's most important debt to Ovid, Prospero's abjuration of his magical powers in The Tempest. This play has the same shifting world of fantasy and magic that MSNDhas. Both are plays of transformation--the ultimate Ovidian theme. Prospero's speech is based on Medea's incantation in Metamorphoses, VII, 192 ff to gain magic powers to restore the youth of Jason's father in her efforts to win Jason's love, but Shakespeare also knew the version in Golding's translation, Bk VII, 11 265 ff. After the invocation of Hecate the Latin reads
auraeque et venti montesque amnesque lacusque
dique omnes nemorum dique omnes noctis adeste,
quorum ope, cum volui, ripis mirantibus amnes
in fontes rediere suos
Ye ayres and windes: ye elves of hills, of brooks,
of woods alone,
Of standing lakes, and of the night approach ye everyone
Through helpe of whom (the crooked banks much wondering
at the thing)
I have compelled streams to run clear backward to
Ye elves of hills, brooks, standing lakes and groves
And ye that on the sands with printless foot
Do chase the ebbing Neptune, and do fly him
When he comes back. . .
by whose aid
(Weak masters though ye be) I have bedimmed
The noontide sun, called forth the mutinous winds
And twixt the green sea and the angered vault
Set roaring war.
As everyone has pointed out in Ovid and Golding the purpose is to call forth magic powers to enable an unnatural deed to be done. In Shakespeare Prospero is giving up his magic powers--many commentators have seen a parallel in this speech to Shakespeare's abandonment of the theatre and retirement to Stratford. Barkan says that this speech--24 lines in its entirety--is the closest that Shakespeare comes to an extended quotation from Ovid and that it provides for Shakespeare a retrospective on the metamorphosis of life and art: the reference to protean powers, the changes of nature, miraculous transformation are in both and in Shakespeare by extension the transforming arts of the theatre. According to Barkan in this speech Prospero enacts the pagan mythology of change for the last time and closes the book; his text is Ovid. Once again Ovidius Naso is the man.