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The Re-Imagined Text

The Re-Imagined Text: Shakespeare, Adaptation, and Eighteenth-Century Literary Theory

Jean I. Marsden
Copyright Date: 1995
Pages: 208
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt130jgzt
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  • Book Info
    The Re-Imagined Text
    Book Description:

    Shakespeare's plays were not always the inviolable texts they are almost universally considered to be today. The Restoration and eighteenth century committed what many critics view as one of the most subversive acts in literary history -- the rewriting and restructuring of Shakespeare's plays.

    Many of us are familiar with Nahum Tate's "audacious" adaptation of King Lear with its resoundingly happy ending, but Tate was only one of a score of playwrights who adapted Shakespeare's plays. Between 1660 and 1777, more than fifty adaptations appeared in print and on the stage, works in which playwrights augmented, substantially cut, or completely rewrote the original plays. The plays were staged with new characters, new scenes, new endings, and, underlying all this novelty, new words.

    Why did this happen? And why, in the later eighteenth century, did it stop? These questions have serious implications regarding both the aesthetics of the literary text and its treatment, for the adaptations manifest the period's perceptions of Shakespeare. As such, they demonstrate an important evolution in the definition of poetic language, and in the idea of what constitutes a literary work.

    InThe Re-Imagined Text, Jean I. Marsden examines both the adaptations and the network of literary theory that surrounds them, thereby exploring the problems of textual sanctity and of the author's relationship to the text. As she demonstrates, Shakespeare's works, and English literature in general, came to be defined by their words rather than by the plots and morality on which the older aesthetic theory focused -- a clear step toward our modern concern for the word and its varying levels of signification.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-6143-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. iii-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    The Restoration and eighteenth century produced one of the most subversive acts in literary history—the rewriting and restructuring of Shakespeare’s plays. We have all heard of Nahum Tate’s “audacious” adaptation ofKing Learwith its resoundingly happy ending, but Tate was only one of a score of playwrights who adapted Shakespeare’s plays. Between 1660 and 1777, more than fifty adaptations appeared in print and on the stage, works in which playwrights augmented, substantially cut, or completely rewrote the original plays. The plays were staged with new characters, new scenes, new endings, and, underlying all this novelty, new words.¹

    Early...

  5. Part I: The Re-Imagined Text

    • 1 Radical Adaptation
      (pp. 13-46)

      In 1660, theaters opened in London after an eighteen-year hiatus. The repertoire of these fledgling companies depended heavily on available Renaissance drama, in particular on Shakespeare and Beaumont and Fletcher.¹ Their plays, written at least two generations before, were readily at hand, although somewhat out of date for the new audiences which soon flocked to the theaters. No one denied that these plays had merit,² but they were decidedly old-fashioned, lacking, for example, the female roles made popular by the introduction of actresses. Not surprisingly, the elements which made Restoration plays successful began to appear in the adaptations of Shakespeare,...

    • 2 The Beginnings of Shakespeare Criticism
      (pp. 47-72)

      Literary criticism focused upon Shakespeare appeared during the same period in which the most radical adaptations flourished. Occasional critical commentary of Shakespeare had existed during the first half of the seventeenth century, but discussion of native English literature was rare before the Restoration.¹ Loosely defined as “neoclassicism,” this early period of literary criticism includes the decades between the Restoration and the Licensing Act and ends with the rush of new editions of Shakespeare in the 1730s and 1740s. During the later seventeenth century, literary criticism was infrequent and occasional, generally taking the form of dedicatory essays or prefaces. Critics directed...

  6. Part II: Refined from the Dross

    • 3 Adaptation in Decline
      (pp. 75-102)

      Several decades elapsed between the Restoration adaptations and the next major cluster of Shakespeare adaptations. In the first forty years of the eighteenth century, the adaptation of Shakespeare’s plays lost popularity. After Cibber’sRichard III(1700) and Granville’sJew of Venice(1701), new alterations of Shakespeare appeared only sporadically and rarely achieved any lasting success. It was not until after 1740 that the adaptation of Shakespeare’s plays again became common in the theater. But this later group of adaptations, written largely during the course of David Garrick’s career, took forms that reflected major changes in attitudes toward Shakespeare and the...

    • 4 Criticism at Mid-Century
      (pp. 103-126)

      In the period between 1740 and the publication of Samuel Johnson’s edition in 1765, literary critics began to establish a new iconography of Shakespeare. To them, Shakespeare was a model of liberty, a sublime figure whose works were the result of powerful feeling. Ties with earlier criticism frayed and broke as critics formulated theories to accommodate a new national literature with Shakespeare as its figurehead. “With us islanders,” wrote Arthur Murphy in 1753, “Shakespeare is a sort of established religion in poetry.”¹ Murphy’s statement, with its national identification and evocation of divinity, encapsulates a critical re-evaluation of Shakespeare as far-reaching...

    • 5 The Search for a Genuine Text
      (pp. 127-149)

      This final chapter begins with the response to—and rejection of—johnson’s appreciation of Shakespeare. The content of the attacks on johnson and his unromanticized approach to Shakespeare can be linked to that other great Shakespearean phenomenon of the 1760s, Garrick’s 1769 Shakespeare jubilee. The jubilee, with its laudatory Ode and collection of appreciatory prose and verse¹ capped by a pilgrimage to Stratford-upon-Avon, is notable for its intense idolatry of Shakespeare and all things Shakespearean. Garrick’s public adoration of Shakespeare as the “God of our idolatry” (JubileeOde, 1.14) and the subsequent brisk market in Shakespeariana epitomize the extent to...

  7. Conclusion
    (pp. 150-154)

    The disappearance of the adaptations returns me to the two central questions with which I began this investigation: why the adaptations were written, and why, less than one hundred years later, they vanished. As the body of this study indicates, there are no simple answers to these questions, for the adaptations themselves are but symptoms of much larger issues. Their existence does not imply a different perception of the quality of Shakespeare’s genius, for the Restoration, like the twentieth century, perceived his works as the pinnacle of English poetry, but rather a different perception of where this genius is located....

  8. Appendix
    (pp. 155-156)
  9. Notes
    (pp. 157-186)
  10. Index
    (pp. 187-193)