This chapter focuses on the ways that Shakespeare’s comedies have been reshaped over the last 400 years, in response to various cultural, historical, and social changes, and in reaction to various aesthetic concerns, including theatre personnel, literary fashions, and stage features. The topic of adaptation raises a number of theoretical questions. First, what is ‘Shakespeare’? Is ‘Shakespeare’ a set of plots, characters, stories, or poetry? If one of these items is removed or drastically changed, can the work still be called ‘Shakespeare’s play’? If a work has the same characters as Shakespeare’s original text, but in a modern setting, is it an adaptation? What if the language is modernized, but the plot and characters remain exactly the same? What if some characters are omitted, and others are added? These are some of the questions that this chapter will address as it chronicles more than three centuries of reshaping the comedies.
Critiquing the amount of scholarly attention paid to the body and to intense, overwhelming feelings, this chapter examines how individuals, mainly the landed ranks, experienced and dealt with affect in daily life and relationships. While scholarship emphasizes suppression and disapproval of passion, this chapter views the management of affect as not only the repression of feelings but also as the encouragement and elicitation of them. It examines the available coping strategies for dealing with strong feelings such as anger or grief. It stresses the interconnections between affect and morality. Affect, judgment and conduct constituted a dynamic interchange in Shakespearean England. Feelings involve judgement and evaluation and are intimately connected to thoughts, norms, and culture. Finally, it points to the importance of the performative nature of affect in this period, concluding that culturally mandated or sanctioned emotions were not necessarily less authentic than spontaneous feelings.
This essay reinterprets the social, sexual, and gendered meanings of Helena’s climactic moment of healing in All’s Well That Ends Well by situating the play within the early modern recipe world of letters. Just as importantly, it positions All’s Well so as to illuminate the intellectual and cultural stakes of recipe writing in the period. Shakespeare’s story of a woman’s powerful recipe, I argue, emerges within the discourse of seasoning, an intellectual matrix that entailed reflection on the human management of organic matter in and through time. In its articulation of seasoning, the recipe archive allows us to explore domestic determinations in the play’s critically noted features: its probing of eroticism and gender ideology, its construction of proof, and its concern with the conundrums of temporality.
This essay pursues the multiple and contradictory meanings of the signifier ‘Tartar’ in Elizabethan drama by parsing how its classical and historical referents were mapped onto the ‘trouble’ associated with gendered and racialized embodiment in the period, which was further mapped onto the early Anglo–Islamic encounter. It focuses on the imbricated series of cultural performances that constituted the 1594–5 Christmas revels at Gray’s Inn, subsequently published as the Gesta Grayorum: the semi-parodic allegory of the Prince of Purpoole and ‘an Ambassador from the mighty Emperor of Russia and Moscovy’; the madcap premier of Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors; and the Masque of Proteus, with Queen Elizabeth in the audience. In assessing the patriarchal web of empire indexed by the Gesta Grayorum, this essay foregrounds the fraught historical embodiment of subaltern women from the Islamic world in Elizabethan England and their neglected, albeit constitutive role in its literature, including Shakespeare’s plays.
This chapter considers the interplay among the meanings of forests in Shakespeare’s plays and poems, the broader cultural meanings of forests in early modern England, and the significance of forests as an important domain of the English dynastic state during Shakespeare’s lifetime. Although Shakespeare’s forests did not directly reflect changing economic and social conditions, they did express his interest in the nature of political societies and allowed him to engage ideas about the traditional politics of social estates in late Tudor and early Stuart forests. Shakespeare’s forests thus came to reflect a particular historical moment in the political dynamics of these territories, defined by the interplay and negotiation of diverse interests in forest commonwealths that possessed a high degree of political consciousness.
This chapter surveys a range of key topics in Antony and Cleopatra, including space, rhetoric, love, politics, ethnicity and gender. It considers the dichotomy between Egypt and Rome, the contrast between linguistic hyperbole and onstage action, and the variety of source materials available to Shakespeare. The central characters are introduced as both historical agents and fictional creations. The chapter finally suggests the importance of the sea in the play’s spatial and political imaginary.
Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire claims several distinctions: it was built by a woman, Bess of Hardwick, who married four times, accumulating the vast fortune that financed her home; it was designed by the most accomplished architect in Elizabethan England, Robert Smythson; and it is among the most perfectly preserved of Elizabethan homes. No evidence exists that Shakespeare ever visited Hardwick Hall, situated in the north of England, far from London. This article looks closely at the building and explores what is admittedly a speculation: that aesthetic principles guiding Elizabethan architecture and interior design have implications for drama. In particular, it looks at the relationship between the plastic arts and the elaborate plots that characterize plays by Shakespeare and his contemporaries.
Anne M. Myers
This essay argues that Shakespearean comedies evoke and confound associations between female interiority and domestic space. Drawing on The Merry Wives of Windsor, Much Ado about Nothing, The Comedy of Errors, and The Taming of the Shrew, I show how characters expect access to domestic space to reveal incontrovertible truths about female bodies and minds. These assumptions, however, are foiled, as architecture is more often associated with confusion and obfuscation than with the acquisition of knowledge. Moreover, Shakespeare presents the domestic scene as a scene, a site for the mastery and performance of roles, rather than the expression of genuine human desires. In this way, the presentation of domestic architecture undercuts the conventions of the comic marriage plot. At the same time, though, these plays reveal that within the strictures of a particular social world, the successful domestic performance is a matter of life and death.
Aristotle’s Poetics has been thought to be inaccessible or misunderstood in sixteenth-century England, but this inherited assumption has drifted far from the primary evidence and lagged behind advances in contiguous fields. As a member of the corpus Aristotelicum, the shared foundation of Western education until the late seventeenth century, the Poetics enjoyed wide circulation, ownership, and interest in Latin and Italian as well as the original Greek. Placing the Poetics in its intellectual context suggests a very different narrative for its reception in English criticism, one that accounts for a multiplicity of readings and uses on both sides of the academic divide. Some of those readings—in Cheke, Ascham, Rainolds, Sidney, and others—are considered in this article, and directions are proposed for future research in what remains a rich and mostly unworked vein of literary history.
This chapter considers the contrasting visual and architectural elements which Shakespeare will have experienced both in his native Stratford and in his frequent travels elsewhere throughout the realm. Two important corrections must be made to the canonical and time-honoured assumption that Shakeapeare’s London was the centre for artistic and architectural production, the hub from which ideas about visual culture entered England and then radiated outwards to the rest of the realm. First, our notions of English ‘art’ and ‘architecture’ must be adjusted in this era to accommodate the role of vernacular painting and building carried out throughout the realm by native-English craftsmen working in traditional modes of design and production. And second, we must acknowledge that, far from being the arid cultural wastelands, provincial towns and cities throughout the realm served as active centres of both painting and building.