Stewart Alan

in Shakespeare's Letters

Published in print November 2008 | ISBN: 9780199549276
Published online October 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780191701504 | DOI:

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The letters that this book has examined operate in a bewildering variety of ways, but a theme emerges. As Mary Poovey and Barbara Shapiro have argued, the culture in which and for which William Shakespeare wrote his plays had an increasing interest in and reliance on bureaucratic record-keeping, documentary evidence, and verifiable proofs. Letters were part of this trend, not merely a means to maintain communication across distances, but increasingly taken as documentary evidence of transactions, of responsibility, and ultimately of guilt. This impulse is registered repeatedly throughout Shakespeare's plays. Indeed, an account focused on the sheer incidence of these letters in the plays might well conclude that Shakespeare was admitting the priority of written documents. However this verdict ignores the fact that these are plays performed in a theatre in front of an audience: the audience does not read the letters, but instead sees the transactions they produce.

Keywords: letters; Mary Poovey; Barbara Shapiro; William Shakespeare; plays; documentary; evidence; proof; audience

Chapter.  2023 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Shakespeare Studies and Criticism

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