Eighteenth Century Essays On Shakespeare

In the eighteenth century, Shakespeare became indisputably the most popular English dramatist. Published editions, dramatic performances and all kinds of adaptations of his works proliferated and his influence on authors and genres was extensive. By the second half of the century Shakespeare's status had been fully established, and since that time he has remained central to English culture. Shakespeare in the Eighteenth Century explores the impact he had on various aspects of culture and society: not only in literature and the theatre, but also in visual arts, music and even national identity. The eighteenth century's Shakespeare, however, was not our Shakespeare. In recovering the particular ways in which his works were read and used during this crucial period in his reception, this book, with its many illustrations and annotated bibliography, is the clearest way into understanding this key phase in the reception of the playwright.

  • Examines Shakespeare's rising popularity in the eighteenth century
  • Includes an extensive annotated bibliography of eighteenth-century adaptations and editions as well as secondary works
  • The essays make many interdisciplinary connections between theatre, visual arts, literature and culture
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Reviews & endorsements

"This volume of essays focuses on the critical interest in Shakespeare that has its roots in the 18th century, noting both performance traditions and literary influence."

"Perhaps the greatest triumph of this deeply pleasing volume, however, is the demonstration that Shakespeare in the eighteenth century came to mean something collective, too. The man and his works became a way for England, and to lesser extent Britons and English-speaking peoples generally, to forge an identity that was national in the former cases, and linguistic and cultural in the latter."
--Ian Kelly, huntington library quarterly | vol. 76, no. 2

"It is nonetheless the most comprehensive study available, including not only the scholarship mentioned above but also essays on eighteenth-century criticism and reviews of Shakespeare, Shakespearean forgeries, and Shakespeare in opera. Most impressive is that, besides occasional disagreements, this collection builds a remarkably consistent picture of Shakespeare’s status and identity in the eighteenth century."
-Nicholas Hudson, Comptes Rendus

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Product details

  • Date Published: May 2012
  • format: Hardback
  • isbn: 9780521898607
  • length: 470pages
  • dimensions: 229 x 152 x 25 mm
  • weight: 0.8kg
  • contains: 17 b/w illus.
  • availability: Available


Fiona Ritchie, McGill University, Montréal
Fiona Ritchie is Assistant Professor of English at McGill University, Canada.

Peter Sabor, McGill University, Montréal
Peter Sabor is Canada Research Chair and Professor of English at McGill University.


Fiona Ritchie, Peter Sabor, Marcus Walsh, Jack Lynch, Antonia Forster, Brean Hammond, David Fairer, Thomas Keymer, Tiffany Stern, Robert Shaughnessy, Jenny Davidson, Michael Burden, Shearer West, Kate Rumbold, Kathryn Prince, Frans De Bruyn, Roger Paulin, Philip Smallwood

By the eighteenth century, Shakespeare was popular not only on stage, but in print, music and the visual arts. The sixteen essays collected in this volume aim to uncover “how Shakespeare was available to eighteenth-century society, what he meant to the period, and what opportunities he offered the eighteenth century for self-expression” (1). In the first section this entails an exploration of the editing and publication of Shakespeare (both real and forged) which investigates: the increasing professionalization of Shakespearean scholarship and its indebtedness to the methods of biblical and classical studies; the figure of the genius as it came to be associated with Shakespeare; the ways in which contemporary reviews exemplified the enthusiasm for Shakespeare in the literary marketplace, and, concomitantly, how Vortigern and Double Falsehood could be seen as “creations of th[is] drive for literary monumentalization” (94). In the second section, on literature, Jack Lynch and Thomas Keymer probe the direct and more subtle allusions to Shakespeare found in eighteenth-century poems and novels, while Tiffany Stern illustrates how contemporary playwrights continued the process of Shakespearean ‘improvement’ initiated by their Restoration predecessors. The implications of this are further examined by the essays in the middle section on the performance practices of the London stages and Shakespearean adaptations, and opera. Engaging discussions of Shakespeare in the visual arts, the various “tellings and retellings” (273) of the Shakespearean Jubilee, and nationalist appropriations of Shakespeare then follow. The political uses of Shakespeare are subsequently taken up in the final section by Francis De Bruyn who writes on the meanings attached to the history plays during the French Revolution, and Roger Paulin who reflects upon Shakespeare’s reception in Germany. Their arguments are followed by Philip Smallwood’s essay on the often productive tensions between Shakespearean criticism and [End Page 62] eighteenth-century philosophy. It is, however, De Bruyn’s comprehensive “Reference Guide” which, by virtue of its alignment with the volume’s five main sections, provides an informal conclusion through thematically organised lists of the key published works (eighteenth-century and modern) and thumbnail biographies of the major editors, critics, actors, theatre managers and artists associated with the period’s involved process of bardolatry. While Shakespeare in the Eighteenth Century nuances, rather than rewrites, earlier essay collections – such as Peter Sabor and Paul Yachnin’s Shakespeare and the Eighteenth-Century (Ashgate, 2008) – its unique “Reference Guide”, sponsorship of different methodological approaches, and the easeful conversations that take place among its various contributors at once expand and brighten our critical horizons.


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