It may seem strange at first that the lovable Falstaff should find himself in the company of cold-hearted murderers like Claudius and Iago. But Shakespeare learned something else essential to his art form the morality plays; he learned that the boundary between comedy and tragedy is surprisingly porous. In figures such as Aaron the Moor (the black villain in Titus Andronicus), Richard III, and the bastard Edmund in King Lear, Shakespeare conjures up a particular kind of thrill he must have first had a child watching Vice in plays like The Cradle of Security and The Interlude of Youth: the thrill of fear braided together with transgressive pleasure. The Vice, wickedness personified, is appropriately punished at the end of the play, but for much of the performance he manages to captivate the audience, and the imagination takes a perverse holiday.
- Stephen Greenblatt
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