Theatre and Testimony in Shakespeare's England

Theatre and Testimony in Shakespeare's England : A Culture of Mediation

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Holger Syme presents a radically new explanation for the theatre's importance in Shakespeare's time. He portrays early modern England as a culture of mediation, dominated by transactions in which one person stood in for another, giving voice to absent speakers or bringing past events to life. No art form related more immediately to this culture than the theatre. Arguing against the influential view that the period underwent a crisis of representation, Syme draws upon extensive archival research in the fields of law, demonology, historiography and science to trace a pervasive conviction that testimony and report, delivered by properly authorised figures, provided access to truth. Through detailed close readings of plays by Ben Jonson and William Shakespeare - in particular Volpone, Richard II and The Winter's Tale - and analyses of criminal trial procedures, the book constructs a revisionist account of the nature of representation on the early modern stage.
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Product details

  • Electronic book text | 304 pages
  • Cambridge University Press (Virtual Publishing)
  • Cambridge, United Kingdom
  • English
  • 7 b/w illus.
  • 113920050X
  • 9781139200509

Table of contents

Introduction: the authenticity of mediation; 1. Trial representations: live and scripted testimony in criminal prosecutions; 2. Judicial digest: Edward Coke reads the Essex papers; 3. Performance anxiety: bringing scripts to life in court and on stage; 4. Royal depositions: Richard II, early modern historiography, and the authority of deferral; 5. The reporter's presence: narrative as theatre in The Winter's Tale; Epilogue: the theatre of the twice-told tale; Select bibliography.
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Review quote

'While Shakespeare critics debate the merits of text versus performance, page versus stage, Holger Schott Syme's powerful new study argues for attending the relationship between the two ... Syme offers original and unexpected insights into a broad range of dramatic and legal fictions, from comedies and romances to treason trials.' Professor Lorna Hutson, University of St Andrews 'Syme's analyses are profoundly revisionary, wonderfully original, even contrarian, and supported by a wealth of careful detail and intelligent and subtle readings. This may be one of those rare books that makes scholars reconsider what has become received wisdom about early modern performance and its means of authorization.' William N. West, Northwestern University
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About Holger Schott Syme

Holger Schott Syme is Associate Professor of English at the University of Toronto. His essays have appeared in publications including English Literary Renaissance, Shakespeare Quarterly and Textual Cultures and he is the co-editor of Locating the Queen's Men, 1583-1603: Material Practices and Conditions of Playing (2009). For the third edition of the Norton Shakespeare he is editing Edward III and The Book of Sir Thomas More and is writing an extended essay on the theatre of Shakespeare's time.
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