Shakespeare and History Writing

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This article addresses recent developments in literary-critical studies of Shakespeare's status within the wider field of early modern historiography. Since the advent of new historicist criticism, Shakespeare's plays have been read with increasing regularity as contributing to a broader early modern historical culture, in which writers of traditionally “literary” and traditionally “historiographical” texts alike considered questions of politics, philosophy, and religion. Complementing this opening up of the category of historical writing is a similarly expanding sense of what it is that might be considered a “history play.” Along with the plays dramatizing medieval English history, scholars have begun to examine the Roman tragedies and the late plays addressing the legendary history of Britain for their contributions to cultural discourses of nationalism, sovereignty, citizenship, and identity. In addition, performance studies criticism has challenged the field to consider theatrical performance itself as a discrete and heretofore overlooked mode of historical representation, while attention to the historiographical status of material objects has shed light on the different ways in which non-textual artifacts can both shape and produce multiple aspects of cultural history. Further work with specifically early modern conceptions of material history and renewed and deliberate efforts to open the field of literary and theatrical studies to scholars in other fields promise to add a great deal to this newly emerging version of a historiographically engaged Shakespeare, who appears in many ways to exhibit more strikingly humanist sympathies than scholars have acknowledged during the last several decades.

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Literature Compass

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