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date: 28 February 2021

Abstract and Keywords

Shakespeare’s age witnessed the extension of letter-writing skills to an increasing range of social groups, including women. The letter as a cultural form encompassed a complex range of practices and writing technologies connected to the composition, folding, sealing, delivery, reading, and afterlife of correspondence. Shakespeare depicts women across the social spectrum from queens to illiterate servants, composing, reading, or delivering letters. An understanding of early modern epistolary culture, and women’s involvement in it, is thus fundamental to interpreting the social and cultural practices embedded in Shakespearean drama. This chapter focuses on the writing technologies connected with women’s letter-writing, from the acquisition of basic literacy and skills of penmanship (in relation to the gendered nature of early modern education), through models, templates and printed epistolographies, the mechanics of composition, and personal and collaborative forms of authorship, to the material practices of writing, archiving and circulating epistles and forms of secret writing.

Keywords: letters, letter-writing, gender, letter-writing manuals, literacy, material forms, ciphers and codes, bearers and delivery of letters, scribal circulation, networks and archives

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