My title, borrowed from a comedy that makes much of problems of identity as well as of the interplay between actuality and our perception of it ( A Midsummer Night's Dream, V.i.25), is intended to raise a capacious umbrella over this miscellaneous collection of papers--papers written over a considerable span of time and conceived originally as discrete pieces for professional conferences and journals. All of them, except the discussion of Perdita's flower speech in The Winter's Tale, have been published in earlier versions. The opening chapter on theatrical symbolism in Hamlet goes back to my student days and, although subsequently printed in 1963 and then anthologized in 1970, was first made available in manuscript and desposited as a prize essay in the Widener Library at Harvard in 1955. The final chapter on the theme of incest in Tudor and Stuart plays (including Hamlet of course) was published as recently as 1989. The intervening chapters, although not arranged strictly in the order of their composition, fall, temporally speaking, somewhere between these termini. As a group, therefore, the essays may be taken as fairly representative of my interpretive study of Shakespeare over a teaching career that began some thirty-five years ago.
It would be misleading--not to say naïve--to claim for any such collection the kind of cohesiveness or unity one expects in a book planned and executed as a single entity. My view of Hamlet today, to take but a single example, is rather less neat than it was when the earliest of these pieces was conceived. Nevertheless, anyone who thinks and writes about Shakespeare over something like half a lifetime is bound to discover in his own mind--not infrequently to his own embarrassment--certain thematic patterns and centers of interest (an unsympathetic reader might call them idées fixes) that reveal themselves progressively and come into focus most clearly when re-examined from a distance. Accordingly, I have divided this book into three sections, grouping essays together that seem to me to reinforce, extend, or in some way comment upon each other if only by implication. Those that make up the first part, to which the visual clue is the often reproduced vignette from William Alabaster's Roxana Tragaedia (see fig. 1), are all linked in one way or another by their common concern with theatrical self-consciousness and the problem of dramatizing human identity on stages that promoted great intimacy, physical as well as psychological, between actors and their audiences. These essays explore some of the dramaturgical implications of Shakespeare's attempt to imitate