Stephen Greenblatt in the chapter Bewitching the King of his well-known book Will in the World presented a technique that had made a breakthrough in playwriting. It is referred to as “strategic opacity”. It is not related to “developing new themes” or constructing a more intriguing plot (Greenblatt 323). Therefore, such a technique provoked great interest in the audience, deepened the effect of the play and “released an enormous energy” usually blocked with explanations. The characters deprived of clear motives of their behavior are more compelling and complex from the psychological point of view. To sum up, strategic opacity is “radical excision” or taking out “a key explanatory element”, eliminating the interpretations, creating ambiguity or omitting essential information in a play aimed at encouraging the viewers to make conclusions based on the actions of the characters or twists of the plot (323). The project is going to provide profound analysis of both the literary works and life of the greatest English playwright and poet William Shakespeare in order to illustrate the introduced concept.
Strategic opacity is introduced by the literary critic as a “discovery by means of which he relaunched his entire career” (323). According to Greenblatt, love as well as other feelings is “inexplicable and irrational” (324). Therefore, strategic opacity is the proper technique for outstanding plays A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Romeo and Juliet. Immeasurable depth was given to Hamlet due to the absence of “comforting rationale”. The latter did not result in incoherence; on the contrary, it led to the development of “inward logic”, brilliant sequence of scenes, outstanding unfolding of sophisticated ideas, and revelation of feelings and “psychological obsessions”. The “enigma of the prince’s melancholy” or his madness do not get explanations. The critic claims that Shakespeare wanted to leave some things “untidy, damaged, and unresolved” (324). Well-made and settled scenes, conflicts which find foreseeable resolutions and characters whose actions can be figured out in advance are not typical of Shakespeare’s works.
According to Greenblatt, Othello, King Lear and Macbeth are other distinct examples of plays that cannot be referred to as coherent and traditionally made. The opacity in Macbeth implies the emotional state of the main character who is baffled with his own fantasies and “bound up with the power of implication” (355). For example, Greenblatt noted that Shakespeare “cut out the motive” (328). King Lear deprived of “a coherent rationale” of his behavior gains in his psychological influence on the audience (328). Greenblatt writes, “opacity extends to crucial elements” in the astonishing tragedy about jealousy, Othello (327). Shakespeare probably aims at confounding motivation, mysterious rendering of the plot and characters, breaking the mold and introducing irrationality so characteristic of life itself. Action in the plays gets more arbitrary if it cannot be explained merely by outward events. It is “intense representation of inwardness” or taking out the rationale and explanation (Greenblatt 323). An epochal breakthrough with the help of strategic opacity enabled Shakespeare to take to new heights representation of inwardness and conveying the inner life of his characters.
Such an attitude can be explained through the prism of life of the English playwright itself. Shakespeare’s pain and skepticism reveal themselves in his plays, demonstrating his own “root perception of existence” (324). Any conventional explanations are inappropriate but Greenblatt attempts to find at least some putative answers to numerous questions regarding Shakespeare’s life. However, all of them are to be considered merely conjectural guesses. The assumptions are based both on the research and imagination since the facts are insufficient to compose a complete biography. There is a psychological insight behind every notion which enters in contact with the perception of every reader and results in an absolutely new interpretation of scarce biographical facts. The critic attempts to tell his readers what might have happened, thus providing the readers with another illustration of the strategic opacity method applied to Shakespeare’s “understanding of what could be said and what should remain unspoken” (324). Deliberately applied strategic opacity turned Shakespeare into a myth along with the immortal characters of his plays.
Stephen Greenblatt clearly proposes that the most considerable innovation of Shakespeare was the use of soliloquy and the elimination of motivation. It will be realized that the author removes motivation in Othello making Shakespeare to take his plays out of the realm that is essentially dramatic in storytelling. His plays as a result are pinpointed in the realm of religious and psychological study. The author further denotes that Shakespeare shaped characters that in reality corresponded to the individual psyche. Stephen Greenblatt clearly describes strategic opacity as the exclusion of the crucial facts in a play that typically to pave way for the conclusions that are depicted by the actions of the characters, audience and the play happenings.
Greenblatt argues that strategic opacity occurs in some notable plays such as Macbeth, Othello, King Lear and Hamlet because Shakespeare deliberately left out the fundamental elements that made the plays to unfold in a way that confronts rational clarification (Shaw, 2004 pp 30). It is realized that after Hamlet, Shakespeare constantly took his source and skillfully excluded the crucial information that would make a play to be coherent and well made. This as a result made Othelloto be built on a pitiless desire because Shakespeare fails to provide the scoundrel with a clear and persuasive behavioral explanation (Robinson, 2009, pp 90).Stephen Greenblatt argues that the death of Hamlet undoubtedly articulated the Shakespeare’s core view of existence and his preference for unresolved, spoiled and untidy things over the things that are well made, settled and arranged. His world’s experience and inner life such as his pain, skepticism and refusal of easy comforts helped shape the opacity.
Strategic opacity is clearly depicted in the Shakespeare’s actions which makes other writers to feel tempted to explain. From this play one asks why Iago is geared at ruining the life of Othello. This question makes the audience or readers to wonder about because they are unable to identify the attached reasons. From the play Othello appears to be confident man, poetical and a silent warrior but he rarely appears to be naive. Othello’s misfortune might be due to the fact that he believes that no one can wield his poetical power for whatever thing. This truly inspires him in giving out his speech to the senators and Dukes and also in Desdemona’s courtship. The traits of Othello, readers and audience actually wonder why Iago is aimed at devastating his life. Here Shakespeare fails to provide the crucial facts that lie between the two characters making the audience not reach at affirmative conclusions. In summary Stephen Greenblatt establishes strategic opacity in the characters within the play particularly Iago.
It will be realized that this description of technique that Greenblatt refers to strategic opacity that he clearly establishes in Othello is an indication of his superiority as a close booklover of texts and further demonstrates his understanding of how drama works especially in Shakespeare’s work. Readers have actually established gaps in most of the plays done by Shakespeare an indication that he was a bit sloppy because of the rise of numerous critics. This is because he was not concerned in the Why he was instead focused to get to the How and What. This can be clearly shown in the play when Iago elucidates his abhorrence for Othello. He considers it true that Othello has in fact cuckolded him. The rejection of Cordelia to spurt about her father is also underdeveloped the audience cannot establish the reason behind this. It is evident that the writer’s eagerness to embark on his main story may be sufficient although the ordinary rationale is undoubtedly omitted.
The lack of motivation in Othello can be seen in Iago who was the most atrocious villain in the play. His awful characteristics lack credible motivation for his actions that are prevalent in the play. In scene one Iago asserts to be irritated at Othello for the reason that he had actually passed him over the lieutenant position. (Shakespeare, I. i. 5-9). Iago also claims that Othello might have slept with Emilia who was his wife (Shakespeare, I.iii.14-22). All these claims do not adequately explain the lack of motivation of Iago or his aptitude to articulate his factual motivation. This technique that Shakespeare adopts excludes the important information that can support the claims of Iago. In general, strategic opacity in Othello is specifically the deficiency of motive for the hatred and scheming of Iago. He does not disclose his motive and decides to stay silent until his death.
Through the use of strategic opacity where Shakespeare leaves out rationales conducts of the characters and explicit motivation, Stephen Greenblatt develops the techniques that Shakespeare essentially used in playwriting. The exclusion of the important information in the plays makes the behavior of the characters to be undeniable and psychologically complex.