Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Shakespeare's License

Via A&L Daily, a review of a book on Shakespeare's relationship with his 'players,' and the official authorization he had from both Queen Elizabeth and King James I. The reviewer reads Andrew Gurr's The Shakespeare Company as yet another twist in New Historicism:

Gurr has become the chief chronicler of the playhouse culture of Shakespeare’s age—and a key arbiter of the way Shakespeare is played today. His groundbreaking research on Shakespeare’s two playhouses, the open-air Globe and the indoor Blackfriars, has shaped the present-day reproductions of those theaters and the way the plays are staged there and elsewhere. Here he considers not the physical structures or the audiences (topics of his classic 1987 study Playgoing in Shake­speare’s London) but the team: the company who built the audiences, acted the plays, and helped create the phenomenon of Shakespeare.

Gurr explains the crafty deal that gave birth to what he calls “duopoly,” the domination of London playgoing by two companies for nearly half a century. In 1594, seeking to keep public performances out of the inns, where they’d been a source of disorder, the Lord Chamberlain gave just two companies licenses to put on plays; one, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men (later, under James I, the King’s Men), featured William Shakespeare as actor, writer, and partner. The stability of this arrangement (the company kept going for a quarter-century after his death in 1616) seems to have given Shakespeare the ability to develop his art, and it gave his plays the continuing production that helped entrench them in the canon.

This might be an example of the influence of "material culture" on the creation of "Shakespeare"; at least that is how the reviewer characterizes Gurr's argument.

Or, much more simply, it could just be a twist on what Indians call "Licence Raj": Shakespeare is Shakespeare because a queen and a king liked him, and gave him money and authority to do what he wanted to do.


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