A substantial rethinking of the field of Shakespeare’s ‘sources’ that re-evaluates the vocabulary initiated by Geoffrey Bullough in his monumental Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare. Beginning with a revaluation of Bullough, the book addresses issues such as the nature of con-text, influence versus confluence, intertextuality and the ways in which the term has been interpreted, and the manner in which Shakespeare returned to and developed earlier motifs, situations, memes and dramatic forms. This approach raises questions of how Shakespeare read, what was available to him and how this material may have circulated and filtered into the theatre; it also considers the ways in which a study of the materials available to the practising dramatist can be considered a vital part of theatrical activity, and something wholly different from what used to be regarded from the point of view of scholarly investigation as a relatively uninteresting activity.
Shakespeare’s refurbishment of Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde
William Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida occupies an intermediate position, in its belated appearance in the Folio between Henry VIII and Coriolanus: between 'history' and 'tragedy', and in its title between two 'tragedies', Romeo and Juliet and Antony and Cleopatra. In Geoffrey Chaucer's poem, one of the acknowledged 'sources' of Shakespeare's play, the 'interiority of the subjects' is preserved, with emphasis upon the lovers' 'feelings'. E. Talbot Donaldson's intelligent view of Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde is that of 'a portrait of a woman of almost mythological femininity, and readers respond to such a portrait by becoming their own mythmakers'. Criseyde's infidelity is a consequence of her inscription in a symbolic order that commits her to weakness in the face of masculine power. For Cressida, that 'madness of discourse' has always been a possibility, a protection against the power vested in patriarchy.
This chapter offers a survey of the language of source study in relation to Shakespeare that initiates the enquiry into the breadth of Shakespeare’s reading, what was available to him, and how these materials find their way into the discourse of source study and thence into the work of the practising early modern dramatist.
This chapter charts the history of the emergence of a critical vocabulary for dealing with source study as formulated initially by Bullough and developed by others. It initiates an examination of the conceptual framework that has underpinned the study of sources. This chapter also contains a review of some of the more recent critical attempts to break free from established methods of source enquiry.
This chapter examines the mythical nature of ‘origins’ and the extent to which certain types of source criticism depends upon a linear dimension that is designed to trace the process of composition back to the moment (usually mystified) of creation.
This chapter argues that texts deploy particular strategies that function to complicate the processes of borrowing. The early modern genealogies of texts problematised issues of what we now regard as ‘plagiarism’, and this chapter seeks to expose the specifically literary investments that critics have made in their attempts to trace specific textual links between the plays and antecedent literary texts.
This chapter seeks to rethink the various ways in which a term, ‘intertextuality’, given a specific dialogic meaning in the work of Julia Kristeva, has become domesticated to refer to the formal relation between texts. This domestication has also involved a certain sanitisation of the term, and the argument seeks to expose the limitations of the few critics who have attempted to deploy the term.
Building on the way in which intertextuality problematises the concept of linearity in relation to textual transmission, this chapter interrogates the tendency in Bullough-derived critical discourse to distinguish between text and ‘background’. The argument builds on Hulme and Barker’s conceptualisation of ‘con-text’ as part of a constellation of active textual components that are in constant dialogue with each other, rather than as texts that are hierarchically arranged.
This chapter explores the formulae available to the practising early modern dramatist, and the ways in which they were deployed. It takes the notion of the ‘meme’ – a recurrent formulation used to negotiate particular situations, both as phenomena to be repeated (and recognised by an audience) and as a starting point for theatrical and textual innovation.
Shakespeare, Jonson and the circulation of theatrical ideas
This chapter takes as its major premiss that Shakespeare persistently returned to his own earlier works, and reformulated them. It begins with Shakespeare’s role in Jonson’s Every Man in His Humour in which the figure of the jealous merchant Thorello appears. The recurrence of this meme is traced through exemplary comedies, tragedies and tragicomedies, exploring the ways in which the Jonsonian figure and his predicament were diffused throughout the Shakespeare oeuvre.