Fine frenzies: Theseus, Shakespeare and the politics of their poets

2013. Shakespeare. DOI:10.1080/17450918.2013.766254

This article takes as its starting point Theseus’ well-known speech about “the lunatic, the lover and the poet” in Act 5 Scene 1 of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It provides a wider context for the character’s ambiguous pronouncements by considering both “the ancient quarrel between philosophy and poetry” and early modern poetic theories. More recent critical positions in the page-versus-stage debate are assessed and applied to the two “political” poets in Julius Caesar, as well as to the “patronized” poet in Timon of Athens. The focus on these latter characters – the only dramatis personae to whom Shakespeare gives the simple designation “Poet” – in turn brings new insights to bear on Theseus and the “political” implications of his comments on poetry.