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Shakespeare and the Idea of Late Writing


  • Page extent: 414 pages
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 (ISBN-13: 9780521863049)

Shakespeare and the Idea of Late Writing

Cambridge University Press
9780521863049 - Shakespeare and the Idea of Late Writing - Authorship in the Proximity of Death - by Gordon McMullan


According to the idea of ‘late style’, in their last few years, certain great artists, writers or composers enter a rejuvenated phase of serene, abstract, archaic or childlike creativity, a phenomenon held to result from the proximity of death. Gordon McMullan reads late style, however, not as a transhistorical phenomenon but as a critical construct, taking Shakespeare as his exemplar. He maps the development of the idea of ‘late Shakespeare’ from the later eighteenth century to the present, showing the mismatch between what he calls the ‘discourse of lateness’ and the actual conditions of production and of authorship in early modern theatre and suggesting the generativity of the idea of late Shakespeare for late work by subsequent writers (notably, James and Conrad). In the course of his analysis, he addresses subjects from gerontology to anti-Stratfordianism and from art history to eschatology, highlighting the negotiations required to sustain the discourse of lateness and demonstrating the ongoing productivity of ‘late Shakespeare’ for the self-fashioning of actors, directors and critics. In the process, he offers the first full critique of the idea of late style, which will be of interest not only to literature specialists but also to art historians and musicologists and to anyone curious about the relationship of creativity to old age and death.

GORDON MCMULLAN is Professor of Shakespeare and Early Modern Drama at King’s College London. He taught at the University of Newcastle from 1989, moving to King’s in 1995. He has been a Leverhulme Fellow (2002–3) and has held visiting fellowships at the Huntington Library, the University of Newcastle NSW, and the Humanities Research Centre of the Australian National University. His books include The Politics of Unease in the Plays of John Fletcher (1994), the Arden Shakespeare edition of Henry VIII and Reading the Medieval in Early Modern England (co-edited with David Matthews, Cambridge, 2007). A founding general editor of Arden Early Modern Drama, he has acted as textual consultant to RSC productions and has spoken about Shakespeare and theatre on BBC radio.


Authorship in the Proximity of Death


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© Gordon McMullan 2007

This publication is in copyright. Subject to statutory exception
and to the provisions of relevant collective licensing agreements,
no reproduction of any part may take place without
the written permission of Cambridge University Press.

First published 2007

Printed in the United Kingdom at the University Press, Cambridge

A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

ISBN 978-0-521-86304-9 hardback

Cambridge University Press has no responsibility for
the persistence or accuracy of URLs for external or
third-party internet websites referred to in this book,
and does not guarantee that any content on such
websites is, or will remain, accurate or appropriate.

In memory of Sasha Roberts (1966–2006), Shakespearean and salsa dancer


Acknowledgementspage ix
1Shakespeare and the idea of late writing: authorship in the proximity of death24
1.1La dernière période24
1.2Late style in the wake of war: Neumann, Broch, Adorno32
1.3The shapes of lateness42
1.4Late Shakespeare50
1.5Shakespeare and the idea of late writing60
2The Shakespearean caesura: genre, chronology, style65
2.1A question of genre66
2.2A question of chronology78
2.3A question of style104
3The invention of late Shakespeare: subjectivism and its discontents127
3.1‘Dramatick perfection’: Malone and the establishment of a chronology128
3.2Inventing late Shakespeare from Coleridge to Dowden136
3.3The backlash: (post)subjectivism from Strachey to Bond160
3.4‘A certain mastery’: Henry James and the elusive late Shakespeare168
4Last words/late plays: the possibility and impossibility of late Shakespeare in early modern culture and theatre190
4.1Premodern endings193
4.2The Shakespearean swan song202
4.3Last words215
4.4Late style and the conditions of theatrical production in early modern London225
5How old is ‘late’? Late Shakespeare, old age, King Lear259
5.1Old-age style260
5.2Old-age style without old age271
5.3Shakespeare’s middle years284
5.4‘I have a journey, sir, shortly to go’: King Lear as a late play294
5.5Kings and desperate men314
6The Tempest and the uses of late Shakespeare in the theatre: Gielgud, Rylance, Prospero318
6.1Theatre of complicity320
6.2Lateness and the mid-life crisis327
6.3Performing late selfhood: Gielgud, Prospero, Shakespeare331
6.4Authorship and authenticity: Rylance, Prospero, Shakespeare337
6.5Postscript: late style in Australia: Bell, Prospero, Shakespeare350


I have been fortunate, writing this book, both in the friends who encouraged me and in the institutions that supported me. Successive heads of the Department of English at King’s College London – John Stokes, Ann Thompson and Clare Lees – have endorsed my requests for research leave, thereby prompting the generosity of four institutions: King’s itself; the Leverhulme Trust, which gave me an invaluable period of sustained library time at the outset; the Arts and Humanities Research Council, which funded a crucial semester’s leave at the end; and the Humanities Research Centre at the Australian National University in Canberra, which offered the perfect writing environment. I’d like also to thank librarians in three places: the National Library of Australia in Canberra; the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC, where in a visit of a few days I benefited from the advice of Georgianna Ziegler and Erin Blake; and the incomparable British Library in St Pancras, especially Barbara Ryglowska and the staff in Rare Books, the venue for the bulk of my work on this project.

My individual debts are substantial and I hope the reader will forgive a lengthy set of acknowledgements. First of all, I’d like to thank Sarah Stanton at Cambridge University Press, who has been magnificently supportive throughout, coping calmly with RAE-induced angst. I want too to thank the anonymous readers for the Press for their support and also Rosemary Williams for her precise and generous copy-editing. I’d also like to thank colleagues both at King’s – Clare Brant, Richard Kirkland, Alan Marshall, Clare Pettitt, Max Saunders, Ishtla Singh, Anna Snaith, Mark Turner, Shamoon Zamir and, above all, Sonia Massai – and at other University of London colleges – Tim Armstrong, Rachael Gilmour, Helen Hackett, Tom Healy and Sue Wiseman – for their patience in face of my tendency to turn all conversations into seminars on late style. And I’d like especially to thank Richard Proudfoot, who poured out valuable suggestions. I also wish to thank colleagues elsewhere who listened to versions of chapters, especially at Keele University (where I spoke on Julie Sanders’s invitation) and also at the Universities of Cambridge, Melbourne, Nevada at Reno, Newcastle, Newcastle NSW, Oxford, Queensland, St Andrews, Sussex, Sydney and Tasmania. Ceri Sullivan e-mailed regularly with ideas and moral support. Juliane Wünsch provided translations of German material on late style. Bettina Schergaut, Clare McManus, Howard Marchitello, Sam Smiles and Jim Shapiro read chunks of the final draft and gave advice: naturally, I blame them for every error that remains. I’m grateful, too, to the following: Katherine Baxter, A. R. Braunmuller, Martin Butler, Tom Cain, Kate Chedgzoy, Warren Chernaik, Chris Clark, Marilyn Corrie, Line Cottegnies, Nicky Cotton, Anisha Dasgupta, Allison Deutermann, Tim Dolin, Gareth Edwards, Keir Elam, Markman Ellis, Ruth Evans, Jennifer Forsyth, Michael Gamer, Anne Goldgar, Susan Green, Paul Hamilton, Judith Hawley, Philip Horne, Alice Hunt, J. Paul Hunter, Annie Janowitz, David Johnson, John Jowett, Margaret Kean, M. J. Kidnie, James Knowles, Courtney Lehmann, Sara Lodge, Raphael Lyne, Gail Marshall, Sermin Meskill, Glenn Most, Subha Mukherji, Irene Musumeci, Kate Newey, Ladan Niayesh, Michelle O’Callaghan, Francis O’Gorman, Kevin de Ornellas, Simon Palfrey, Mike Pincombe, Adrian Poole, Bryony Randall, Sophie Ratcliffe, Kellie Robertson, Miri Rubin, Lacy Rumsey, Marie Rutkoski, Jim Shapiro, Cathy Shrank, Catherine Silverstone, Boika Sokolova, Patrick Spottiswoode, Adam Steinhouse, Alison Stenton, Emma Sutton, Gary Taylor, Suzanne Trill, John Watkins, Valerie Wayne and George Younge. Peter Holland and Stephen Orgel kindly invited me to speak at one of their Huntington theatre-history conferences, where Roy Ritchie was his usual vastly hospitable self. Russ McDonald generously let me read Shakespeare’s Late Style in typescript. Margreta de Grazia went out of her way to help me secure funding for the last months of writing. In 2003, I examined a PhD thesis on the late plays by Jonathan Hartwell of the Shakespeare Institute and I would like to record my debt to his extraordinary endnotes and bibliography. And if it hadn’t been for David Bergeron’s superb teaching on the ‘Late Shakespeare’ course I took when on a graduate exchange programme at the University of Kansas in 1984–5, I would surely never have written this book.

I would like to offer warm thanks too to Ian Donaldson and his colleagues in Canberra, especially Caroline Turner and also Leena Messina and Judy Buchanan, for their hospitality during my time as a Visiting Research Fellow at the HRC in winter 2006. I hugely appreciated conversations there with my fellow fellows and especially with Tim Duff

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