Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

The Pursuit of Style in Shakespeare's Drama
by Hunter, Matthew, Ph.D., Yale University, 2016, 352; 10160863
Abstract (Summary)

When John Heminge and Henry Condell collected Shakespeare's plays into a single volume in 1623, they celebrated the playwright in terms that would hold a powerful sway over future assessments of his style. "[A] happie imitator of Nature," they write, "his mind and hand went together, and what he thought, he uttered with that easiness, that we have scarce received from him a blot in his papers." The voice of nature rather than art, Shakespeare's style was commendable for all the ways it exceeded the material, social, and historical conditions of its cultivation. Yet for Shakespeare's editors to so celebrate his style, they first had to detach it from the historical context in which it was enmeshed.

"The Pursuit of Style in Shakespeare's Drama" redresses this detachment. Drawing upon traditional methods of literary analysis, along with studies in the history of England's theaters, performance studies, and linguistic anthropology, this dissertation resists reading Shakespeare's style either as an idiolect or as the function of his plays' represented fictional worlds. Instead, "The Pursuit of Style" argues that Shakespeare calibrates the many styles of his plays to negotiate the myriad social, historical, and discursive transformations that were distinguishing London's burgeoning field of theatrical production. By reading Shakespeare's language as an on-going negotiation of his theatrical marketplace, "The Pursuit of Style" recuperates Shakespeare's language as a socially and historically situated practice—one that the playwright's canonization has hidden from view. This historical argument motivates the dissertation's theoretical one. By uncovering the historical engagements of Shakespeare's style, "The Pursuit of Style" seeks to theorize style itself. In the project's introduction, I argue for style as a socially situated practice of interaction that arranges language into distinctive, self-reflexive patterns of rhetoric, diction, and syntax. The effect of these patterns is performative: by directing attention- towards themselves and away from the verbal exchange they negotiate, these patterns project the illusion of autonomy from their interactive contexts, appearing, indeed, hardly to be interactive at all. This illusion enables style's detachment from its original context and its circulation into new ones. Style, I argue, is thus an apparatus fashioned from language that spurs the circulation of language. The fate of every style, therefore, is to be lifted from out of its original setting and moved into others— thereby projecting the illusion that style is autonomous from the context that produces it. Heminge and Condell—and the many critics who followed them in reading Shakespeare's style as the ahistorical function of the playwright's personality—were not so much wrong about Shakespeare's style. They were giving voice to its central fiction.

Chapter One draws together style, circulation, and fashion. From Marlowe's "mighty line" to Lyly's multiplying antitheses, England's theatrical fashions marshal conspicuous styles to encourage their quotation in contexts far beyond the stage where they were performed. In plays like Richard II and Midsummer Night's Dream, Shakespeare follows in these popular theatrical fashions, similarly orienting his style towards its widespread, public circulation. The project's second chapter proposes that Rosalind's loquacious style, in As You Like It, works to distinguish the recently constructed Globe Theater from the other playhouses emerging throughout London. Against the private, elite playhouses opening across the Thames River, Rosalind's style announced the Globe as the source of a coveted social prestige. Chapter Three invokes publicity as the lens through which to reconsider Measure for Measure's vexed relationship to the new genre of city comedy. Shakespeare's play subscribes to many of the defining conventions of city comedy, but where city comedies celebrate plain, colloquial styles of talk, Measure for Measure features an insistently clotted style instead. These opposed styles, I argue, represent alternative means of negotiating the public dimension of urban London life. The dissertation's final chapter invokes authorship itself as a condition for style to negotiate. I venture that Shakespeare came increasingly to be associated with a rhetorically elaborate style of impassioned theatrical expression. Shakespeare's late style, I argue, represents the playwright's self-conscious attempt to negotiate this association. Even as highly emotive and conspicuously rhetorical theatrical styles were coming to be parodied, Shakespeare's last plays exaggerate for audiences the style that authorship had equated with his name. In Shakespeare's last plays, we thus encounter the authorial style as a calculated effect of language, reflexively coordinated to produce the persona it seems merely to emanate from.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Kastan, David Scott
School: Yale University
School Location: United States -- Connecticut
Source: DAI-A 78/01(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: British and Irish literature
Keywords: Authorship, Circulation, Publicity, Renaissance, Shakespeare, Style
Publication Number: 10160863
ISBN: 978-1-369-15758-1
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