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date: 18 February 2020

Abstract and Keywords

The elusive centrality of The Spanish Tragedy within our understanding of early modern English dramatic history is most evidenced by the persistent criticism in surrounding it within a relatively small range of (intersecting) orbits. Proportionately, the volume of commentary is nearly Shakespearean, yet the recurrent topics are relatively few, and the approaches to them tend to fall into well-worn grooves. This article explores the play's rich complexity as a dramatic composition, as well as its resistance to reductive readings. Indeed, for a text that, in superficial ways, appears straightforward, even primitive, The Spanish Tragedy proves surprisingly unstable. That instability entails consequences larger than the text itself. For the critical difficulty goes beyond engaging an enticingly ambiguous work — one that offers conspicuous points of entry to analysis but limits its reach and conclusiveness. The greater challenge consists in assessing a major phenomenon for the development of the early modern English theatre.

Keywords: English dramatic history, Tudor drama, reductive readings, early modern English theatre

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