This is a bold and original reinterpretation of almost all of Shakespeare's major plays, in the light of the Marxist, feminist and semiotic ideas of our own time. Through a set of tenaciously detailed readings, the book illuminates a number of persistent problems or conflicts in Shakespearean drama - in particular a contradiction between words and things, body and language, which is also explored in terms of law, sexuality and Nature.
Language and desire, Terry Eagleton argues, are seen by Shakespeare as a kind of 'surplus' over and above the body, stable and social roles and a fixed human nature. But the attitude of the plays to such a 'surplus' is profoundly ambivalent; if they admire it as the very source of human creativity, they also fear its anarchic, trangressive force. Underlying such ambiguities, the book convincingly shows, is a deeper ideological struggle, between feudalist traditionalism on the one hand, and the emergence of new forms of bourgeois individualism on the other. This book revels how, in the light of our own contemporary theories of language, sexuality and society, we can understand the issues present in Shakespeare's drama which previously have remained obscure.