Introduction
in Mothers and meaning on the early modern English stage
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The significance of motherhood in early modern drama resonates beyond the boundaries of any individual theatrical characterisation. Its influence is evident, for example, in a subtle reference to a wife and mother in William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice. If motherhood operates as a relatively unchanging idea, it is also especially subject, in terms of the interpretation and presentation of that idea, to the influences and constraints of culture, politics and religion. During the period covered by this book, dramatists chose to emphasise different aspects of motherhood according to the demands of genre and theatre, and in response to contextual pressures. Rather than consider the dramatised mother in terms of subjectivity, the book explores her dramatic function in terms of the effect that the complex of meanings she embodies brings to the dynamics of dramatic narrative and structure.

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