Quoting Shakespeare: Form and Culture in Early Modern Drama

Quoting Shakespeare: Form and Culture in Early Modern Drama

Quoting Shakespeare: Form and Culture in Early Modern Drama

Quoting Shakespeare: Form and Culture in Early Modern Drama

Synopsis

William Shakespeare is perhaps the most frequently quoted author of the English-speaking world. His plays, in turn, "quote" a wide variety of sources, from books and ballads to persons and events. In this dynamic study of Shakespeare's plays, Douglas Bruster demonstrates that such borrowing can illuminate the world in which Shakespeare and his contemporary playwrights lived and worked, while also shedding light on later cultures that quote his plays.

In contrast to the New Historicism's sometimes arbitrary linkage of literary works with elements drawn from the surrounding culture, Quoting Shakespeare focuses on the resources that writers used in making their works. Bruster shows how this borrowing can give us valuable insight into the cultural, historical, and political positions of writers and their works. Because Shakespeare's plays have often been quoted by other writers, this study also examines what subsequent uses of Shakespeare's plays reveal about the writers and cultures that use them. In this way, Quoting Shakespeare insists that literary production and reception are both integral to a historical approach to literature.

Excerpt

It is a commonplace observation that writers make their works out of borrowed materials, but apparently ordinary instances of borrowing can tell us extraordinary things about texts and authors. Focusing on the plays of Shakespeare and his dramatic contemporaries, this study seeks to enhance our current understanding of early modern England and its texts by proving that such bricolage can give us valuable insight into the cultural, historical, and political positions of writers and their works. I should say at the outset that I mean my title, Quoting Shakespeare, to be read two ways—a Shakespeare both quoting and quoted—for how a text is dispersed into later texts can often illuminate not only the work in question but also the authors, works, and cultures that borrow from it. So where the following pages advance a way of reading that stresses the "thickness" of intertextuality in early modern plays, intertextuality is also seen here as tethering works to the future as well as the past. By tracing such lines of appropriation, we can situate early modern texts and their elements in and after their time and culture.

Doing so, however, confronts us with several problems raised by recent trends in critical approaches to early modern literature. Among these approaches is the New Historicism, a critical methodology that examines literature in the context of social and cultural history. New historicist critics often accomplish this task by reading the relations among texts, broadly conceived. But these critics' "return" to History has just as often left out both the history of books themselves and the details of historical change. Ironically, New Historicism has left us less conscious of the fact that literature itself has a history, that it speaks with others' words, talks back to them, and manifests authors' own histories of reading and writing. Partly . . .

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