The Arc of a New Elizabethan Play: From Conception to Performance

One of the hot debates among scholars concerns whether Shakespeare wrote his plays principally conceiving them to be literature or principally for the purpose of performance. It surely is no secret that although I count the first group among my good friends, I fall into the latter school. And if we think of Shakespeare’s plays as written principally for performance, I would add, we will understand them much better as literature. The plays’ shapes, their warps and their woofs, arise because they were written with performance in mind.

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Why Do We Do Scholarship?

The current issue of PMLA landed in my mailbox with a thud. It reminded me again why I worry about the future of language and literature scholarship. The study of languages and literatures is immensely important. But I fear that we scholars are unintentionally undermining the importance of our own work.

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Of Scholars and Narratives

At the Shakespeare Association of America’s recent annual meeting in Vancouver one of the most frequently repeated buzzwords was “narrative,” always with disapproval, as if “narrative” were a term of disparagement. I’m puzzled why the word has acquired this pejorative connotation. There are of course bad narratives, ones which are misleading or unsupported, or which unreasonably associate unrelated facts, but why would we classify all narratives as bad?

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Who Wrote The Revenger’s Tragedy?

Some years ago I ventured to Gary Taylor that I was not entirely convinced Cyril Tourneur didn’t write The Revenger’s Tragedy. That exercise in audacity earned me a lecture lasting well into the second half of an hour, a lecture interrupted only by an insistent tug at his elbow by Gary’s girlfriend, to whom I am most grateful, although, I suspect, she did not have my rescue foremost in mind.

My conversation with Gary recently came to mind when I was drafting an essay regarding Alcazar’s performance history. I needed in the essay to discuss The Revenger’s Tragedy. I ordinarily identify a play’s author when I first name it. What to do? “Tourneur” would require a footnote explanation when I had no words to spare. And I have not yet been called to the Middleton Rapture. So, heeding the lesson of my misadvised adventure in courage, I opted for supine. I named no author at all, even as I cited for the text MacDonald Jackson’s edition in Taylor and Lavagnino’s complete collection of Middleton’s works. Now I find myself somewhat contrite. If Mutius Scaevola could burn off his right hand for Rome, could I not at least have submitted myself to another lecture?

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