The first purpose of this book is to provide new readings of many of Shakespeare's major plays, unhampered by bardolatry and, so far as possible, by critical preconceptions. Among the interpretations is an argument that contradictions found in Othello emerge ultimately from Shakespeare's inability to portray a developing heterosexual relationship in any of his plays; that King Lear operates by a technique of psychological and spiritual discontinuity that forces the audience beyond rational or common-sense awareness to the deeper levels of the play; that in Macbeth the hero is portrayed as killing his king not so much for any positive motive as out of an inability to find a reason not to do so; that in Timon of Athens and Coriolanus Shakespeare's judgement is fatally divided; and that in the late romances evil is too lightly treated for the plays to be seen as serious accounts of life.
At the same time throughout the book the central theme is Shakespeare's preoccupation with dichotomy and division, a preoccupation that cannot be explained away by reference to his Renaissance or Jacobean milieu, but emerges from himself. It is the subject of many of his plays; it is at the heart of the means by which he produces his greatest dramatic work; and it is equally the source of his blind spots and failures. The changing forms in which it manifests itself throughout his dramas resolve into a coherent pattern of psychological development.