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Shakespeare as Literary Dramatist


  • 12 b/w illus.
  • Page extent: 300 pages
  • Size: 228 x 152 mm
  • Weight: 0.456 kg


 (ISBN-13: 9780521045667)

In this 2003 study, Lukas Erne argues that Shakespeare, apart from being a playwright who wrote theatrical texts for the stage, was also a literary dramatist who produced reading texts for the page. The usual distinction that has been set up between Ben Jonson on the one hand, carefully preparing his manuscripts for publication, and Shakespeare the man of the theatre, writing for his actors and audience, indifferent to his plays as literature, is questioned in this book. Examining the evidence from early published playbooks, Erne argues that Shakespeare wrote many of his plays with a readership in mind and that these 'literary' texts would have been abridged for the stage because they were too long for performance. The variant early texts of Romeo and Juliet, Henry V and Hamlet are shown to reveal important insights into the different media for which Shakespeare designed his plays.

• This study counters the centuries old myth according to which Shakespeare was indifferent or opposed to the publication of his plays • It questions the premises of Shakespearean performance criticism which today rules supreme • It contains important interpretations of the different early versions of Romeo and Juliet, Henry V and Hamlet


List of illustrations; Acknowledgements; Introduction; Part I. Publication: 1. The legitimation of printed playbooks in Shakespeare's time; 2. The making of 'Shakespeare'; 3. Shakespeare and the publication of his plays (I): the late sixteenth century; 4. Shakespeare and the publication of his plays (II): the early seventeenth century; 5. The players' alleged opposition to print; Part II. Texts: 6. Why size matters: 'the two hours' traffic of our stage' and the length of Shakespeare's plays; 7. Editorial policy and the length of Shakespeare's plays; 8. 'Bad' quartos and their origins: Romeo and Juliet, Henry V, and Hamlet; 9. Theatricality, literariness and the texts of Romeo and Juliet, Henry V, and Hamlet; Appendix A: the plays of Shakespeare and his contemporaries in print, 1584–1623; Appendix B: Heminge and Condell's 'Stolne, and surreptitious copies' and the Pavier quartos; Appendix C: Shakespeare and the circulation of dramatic manuscripts; Select bibliography; Index.


'Shakespeare as Literary Dramatist is an unusually lively and provocative book exploring the status of printed drama in Shakespeare's England. Erne forces a welcome rethinking of many of the most confidently held assumptions about early modern literary culture, as he powerfully re-examines the interests of theatre companies, the operations of the book trade, the activities of early readers, and, perhaps most consequentially, Shakespeare's own literary understanding and ambitions.' David Scott Kastan, Columbia University

'Anyone who has suspected that Shakespeare wrote for the page as well as the stage will want to read this eloquent and convincing book. Lukas Erne has worked through a mountain of evidence, thoughtfully and thoroughly, to reconsider the received idea that Shakespeare was indifferent to the survival of his work.' Ruth Morse, Université Paris 7

'This is an ambitious book which convincingly rewrites theatre history, textual criticism, and the relation between the two. Of interest to all scholars of Shakespeare and Renaissance drama, the argument shows Erne to be as fine a literary critic as he is a textual scholar and theatre historian. This is essential reading for all Renaissance graduate courses, for those who care about the workings of the Elizabethan theatre and the book trade, and for those who are interested in the evolution of literary status and authorship.' Laurie Maguire, University of Oxford

'Lukas Erne's Shakespeare as Literary Dramatist is a book for the new century. Boldly arguing that Shakespeare became a dramatic author during his own lifetime, the book constitutes a third phase of modern bibliography. If in the early twentieth century W. W. Greg longed to produce a text he thought Shakespeare had written, and at the end of the century the Oxford editors produced a text they thought Shakespeare had performed, Erne shows decisively that Shakespeare and his acting companies produced playtexts for both performance and publication, on stage and on page, for the playhouse and the printing house. Thus, Erne's Shakespeare is precisely a man of the theatre who became a literary dramatist, at once concerned with the next performance and his own literary reputation. Lucidly cast, and carefully researched, Shakespeare as Literary Dramatist will be an important study in the ongoing attempt to recover the original historical conditions under which Shakespeare's plays were written, performed, and printed.' Patrick Cheney, Pennsylvania State University

'A most accomplished study.' Cahiers Elisabethains

'It may seem crazy that a man has to sit down and write an exceedingly learned book to prove that Shakespeare is literature. But I must say I found this mustered evidence and these arguments completely gripping.' James Fenton, New York Review of Books

'The notion is familiar. Shakespeare - actor, playwright, man of the theatre - was a producer of scripts, devoted to their production in the playhouse, but indifferent to their appearance in print. Lukas Erne challenges this notion, with a persuasive picture of a Shakespeare conscious of having been read and reread, excerpted and anthologized; a writer writing with a readership in mind. Erne's book, which draws together the recent isolated conclusions of a number of scholars, builds on their foundations a more radical thesis, and makes it difficult to see how so many of us could have been taken in for so long by the unlikely image of a jobbing playwright.' Nicholas Robins, The Times Literary Supplement

'Lukas Erne's new book is certainly one of the most fascinating, thought-provoking, and lucid studies of Shakespeare I can remember reading.' Robert C. Evans, Ben Jonson Journal

'Marvellously researched, meticulously annotated, sensitively illustrated and delivered in clear, refulgent prose. Every reader will be stimulated and provoked.' New Theatre Quarterly

'One of the best books this year … Erne achieves nothing less than the complete undoing of our understanding of Shakespeare as author.' Studies in English Literature

'… lively and erudite book …' Theatre Notebook

'Lukas Erne's Shakespeare as Literary Dramatist has already made something of an impact and has received praise from significant quarters … Shakespeare as Literary Dramatist is lively, erudite, often persuasive and always thought provoking. Erne's polemic against the dominance of performance studies in Shakespeare criticism is well make and extremely timely.' The Journal of the English Association

' … a long-overdue demonstration that Shakespeare wrote both both the stage and the page … a highly creditable performance which ought to have a beneficial influence on Shakespeare scholarship and criticism.' Modern Language Review

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