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date: 16 June 2019

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter rereads the generic boundaries of Shakespeare’s writing by exploring two different, and potentially opposed, meanings of the word ‘comedy’ in the sixteenth century. On the one hand, comedy was a recognizable classical concept, representing a range of generic possibilities with implications for tone, prosody, character range and narrative expectation. On the other hand, comedy had also become a vernacular English word which might mean little more than play or story, with no implication about content or style. This chapter suggests that Shakespeare was much more active than previously recognized in creating a dramatic genre built around self-consciously classical principles. The subsequent canonization of Shakespeare’s idiosyncratic take on the genre has in turn inflected the way the much more fluid work of his contemporaries has been read and understood. This chapter explores the multiple meanings of comedy in this early period alongside Shakespeare’s active intervention within it.

Keywords: genre, Shakespeare’s contemporaries, reception, Roman comedy, composition and authorship—theory and practice, tragicomedy, Lyly, Sidney, play titles

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