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.
This chapter poses the question: ‘What did it mean to be a patron or collector of art in Shakespeare’s England?’ To that end, it seeks, first, to shed light on some of the challenges inherent in any attempt to reconstruct—at a remove of nearly 500 years—patterns of early modern art collecting and patronage; and second, to trace some of the principal shifts in the aesthetic and cultural landscape of England from c.1564 to c.1616. As this essay demonstrates, Shakespeare’s England was a world in flux, in which native, vernacular objects, ideas, and vocabulary sat cheek by jowl with foreign, imported artefacts, attitudes, and terminology. Moreover, Shakespeare’s writings, and those of some of his contemporaries, both reflect and help to illuminate the complex interaction between the traditional and the novel characteristic of Elizabethan and early Jacobean visual culture—enabling us, like Hamlet, to hold a ‘mirror up to nature’ (3.2.22).
This article examines how audiences in Shakespeare's time responded to the plays they saw, and how can one assess the impact, noting that early modern ideas about audiences' reactions to plays can illuminate both the plays themselves and playwrights' goals in composing them. More broadly, it reflects on the development of the theatre as a commercial institution, and its strategies for identifying, cultivating, and pleasing the paying customers who were necessary to its success.
Accepting that the controversy over Shakespeare’s possible revision of his tragedies has largely passed, this chapter explores the centuries-long speculation that the dramatist rewrote some of the works that are received as his greatest: Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Othello, and King Lear. Like today’s editors, their eighteenth- and nineteenth-century predecessors never found evidence persuasive enough to make the claim of authorial revision with certainty when there is variation between early printed texts of the tragedies, or even to tell the difference between such revision and possibly extra-authorial playhouse adaptation. Some recent editors’ decisions to edit the tragedies as if they could be known to have been rehandled by Shakespeare appear to arise principally from theory-driven motivations, in the absence of any evidence to support them and in the presence of documentary evidence that resists them.
This article examines the different kinds of authorship in relation to William Shakespeare; who wrote Shakespeare; what kind of author Shakespeare was; and the Shakespeare canon. It is hard to exaggerate the cultural prestige that is invested in Shakespeare as an author. His works are invoked to guarantee the richness of the resources of the English language, to anchor English national pride, and as a touchstones for the power of literature itself. They are read, performed, and studied to a degree that makes him outstanding, even among the select band of national poets. As a creator, Shakespeare is both exceptional and representative. Defining him either as an independent author, or as essentially a member of a theatrical collective, affects the picture of literary creation in general.
Lauren Eriks Cline
Caliban’s semantic slipperiness derives from page descriptions and stage performances that excessively mark Caliban’s bodies with vilifying language, while at the same time destabilizing the referential value of that language through their very excessiveness. ‘Fish’, ‘beast’, and ‘Hag-seed’ spawn the incoherent stage signs of fins, fur, scales, and skin disease. Following monstrous vectors of contagion along rhizomatic lines, my readings will concern themselves with the de- and re-territorializations of Caliban’s bodies on page and stage: first by focusing on the tracings of language that inscribe Caliban’s identity, and second by mapping the movements of ‘becoming-animal’ and ‘becoming-imperceptible’ that signal his lines of flight. I ultimately argue for the usefulness of Caliban’s monstrous becomings not as a finished analytical product but as a working critical model: an exercise in treating the fragmentation and opacity of the performing body not as a limitation but a possibility.
William Shakespeare’s thirty-nine plays contain numerous biblical references. Of the 151 English Psalms, for example, twenty-nine only receive no mention, while a total of about 350 phrases are quoted by Shakespeare from the remaining Psalms. The frequent mention of the Bible by a playwright such as Shakespeare was the outcome of four overlapping processes, explained in the chapter. First, there was the consolidation of the English biblical codex, largely in the context of the Reformation. Second, the Bible was propagated through church reading, widely prevalent catechisms and prayer books, as well as private and domestic reading—all of which rendered it widely familiar. Third, it is important to note the unprecedented scale of the dissemination, owing to mass print production. Finally, the chapter explains the processes of ‘Englishing’, whereby the biblical translations of the Tudor and early Stuart period rendered the ancient text in familiar terms, assisting its assimilation.
Adam G. Hooks
This article begins with the arguments of Thomas Wright and William Pyrene against the profitability of printed playbooks, but notes that, by promoting and selling these vendible vanities, the London book trade was willingly and willfully capitalizing on the calculated exchange of spiritual health for financial wealth. Shakespeare depended on the book trade in two senses. As a writer, he engaged with a fertile textual environment. As a published author, the various versions of Shakespeare were produced by commercial and textual networks that both fostered and took advantage of his success. Both the poems and the plays – and Shakespeare's career as a poet and a playwright – were produced collaboratively by the agents working in, and the economic conditions of, the early modern book trade.
Brexit Dreams: Comedy, Nostalgia, and Critique in Much Ado About Nothing and A Midsummer Night’s Dream
This essay considers some of the cultural and political drives underpinning the production of Shakespeare’s comedies, particularly Much Ado About Nothing and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. With a focus on configurations of the nostalgic and the critical in performance, I consider the purpose of performing 400-year-old comedies now, at a time when British and American Shakespeare production companies continue to be optimistic about the role of Shakespeare in culture and education, but when these cultures—at least as they feature in the mainstream media—appear never more divided. What kind of comedy is needed at this fraught or divisive time, in the second decade of the twenty-first century? As media-styled ‘liberal elites’ mourn for progressive politics whilst right-wing ‘populism’ indulges its nostalgia for an imagined migrant-free nationhood, Escolme examines the part that Shakespeare production plays in reflecting and constructing cultural nostalgia.
‘Bruis’d with Adversity: Reading Race in The Comedy of Errors’ examines the role of the body, and of the somatic mark in particular, in the social production of both individual subjects and racial groups. In The Comedy of Errors, two sets of twins experience the benefits as well as the pitfalls of mistaken identity, revealing the ease with which individuals may be grouped with others who merely share the same somatic markers, and the ease with which somatic markers may be stigmatized. The essay focuses on the treatment of the bruised bodies of the two servant/slaves, Dromio of Ephesus and Dromio of Syracuse, arguing that although the bruise is perceived as temporary, it is in fact experienced as an indelible somatic mark, endured from birth, and indicating both a moral and a social inferiority that is hereditary and insurmountable.
The brief appearance of a messenger named ‘Somerville’ in The Third Part of Henry VI has been interpreted as evidence for a radically subversive Catholic Shakespeare. However, although John Somerville’s arrest for plotting to kill Queen Elizabeth, and the subsequent harassment of Warwickshire Catholic families, were part of Shakespeare’s formative experiences, this chapter uses new evidence to argue that religion formed only part of the story. It shows that Somverville’s arrest contributed to efforts by Robert Dudley earl of Leicester to destroy his rivals in Warwickshire politics through partisan manipulation of judicial processes and accusations of treason. Shakespeare’s allusion to Somerville can be read as a gesture not to Catholicism but to Warwickshire and national factional politics, rivalries over ancient possessions and family honour, and government abuse of legal procedures. Somerville’s arrest therefore resonated with depictions of murderous conflicts over inheritance, power and honour in the history plays.