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The Tortured Signifier

Satire, Censorship, and the Textual History of Troilus and Cressida

Roger Stritmatter

Why does the 1609 quarto of Troilus and Cressida exist in two states, each with a distinct title page (S1 and S2, Figure One)? Surely this textual doubling is the most conspicuous illustration of W.W. Greg’s admonition that Troilus is a ‘play of puzzles, in respect of its textual history no less than its interpretation’. Despite more than a century of speculation, contemporary criticism seems no closer to a satisfying solution. Traditionally, answers have focused on hypothetical market-driven preferences of the publishers, Richard Bonian and Henry Whalley: S1’s reference to performance at the Globe theatre is false because it was ‘unlikely that this play was ever performed to an audience at the Globe’ and the preface to S2 constitutes ‘an assurance that the play was designed for some private occasion or company’. Or the publishers supposed that having two different states of the title page would incite publicity and ‘stimulate sales’, or one publisher, for some unidentified reason, preferred one title page, and the other, another. Or ‘they decided to avoid a copyright dispute with His Majesty’s Servants by leaving them unnamed either in the title or the epistle’, or ‘they discovered after printing was under way that the play had held the stage only briefly but had attracted a sophisticated following’. No wonder that William Godshalk has recently chastised Troilus critics for substituting unverifiable speculation for sober interpretation of factual evidence, encouraging a disciplined return to a ‘facts first, then interpretation’ inquiry model.

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'O Brave New World'

The Tempest and Peter Martyr's De Orbe Novo

Roger Stritmatter and Lynne Kositsky

In recent years the concept of early modern ‘source studies’ has undergone a sea change, with profound but underestimated implications for Tempest scholarship: ‘Where once it was assumed the term[source] could apply only to those texts with demonstrable verbal connection, critics [now insist]…upon the dialogue that an individual text conducts both with its recognisable sources and analogues, and with the wider culture within which it functioned’. Coincident with this widening of critical focus to include the circulation of motifs and ideas throughout the wider culture of early modern Europe has been the emergence of a renewed emphasis on the Mediterranean contexts – both literary and historical – that have shaped the imaginative topography of Shakespeare’s play.After decades of the dominance of Americanist readings, there is now a renewed appreciation for the topographical complexity of Shakespeare’s imaginative landscape.

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Roger Stritmatter and Lynne Kositsky

Gary Taylor's 1982 Review of English Studies article, 'A New Source and an Old Date for King Lear', highlights numerous semantic, thematic and structural parallels between Shakespeare's King Lear, customarily assigned a composition date in late 1605 or spring 1606, and Eastward Ho (first published September 1605). Deconstructing Taylor's methodology for determining the order of influence between the two plays, we argue that the authors of Eastward Ho found the bard's cosmic tragedy of royal intrigue and intergenerational strife an irresistible target for rambunctious topical satire. In place of a Lear that without motive incorporates vague patches of Eastward Ho influence, we read an Eastward Ho that enacts an acerbically brilliant parody of several Shakespeare plays, among them King Lear.

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A Kingdom for a Mirth

Shakespeare’s ‘Fatal Cleopatra’ and the Worm’s Turn

Roger Stritmatter and Shelly Maycock

This article offers a reading of the famously problematic scene 5.2 of Antony and Cleopatra, in which Cleopatra prepares to meet her death by the bite of the ‘worm’ (5.2.233–290). In this scene, and this scene alone, the Egyptian asp is called by the Anglo-Saxon term ‘worm’ nine times. Repetition, suggests Frankie Rubinstein, may in Shakespeare be a sign of a pun. Samuel Johnson characterised the homophonic resonance of punning as ‘Shakespeare’s Fatal Cleopatra’, but Rubinstein insists that for Shakespeare ‘“reason, propriety, and truth” were not sacrificed by the Shakespearean “quibble” but emerge from it’. In Antony and Cleopatra, punning is one key linguistic expression of the play’s entwinement with the principles of alchemical transmutation and preference for ‘becoming’ in the ancient dichotomy between being and becoming. As Richard Whalen first proposed in 1991, the ninefold iteration of ‘worm’ in the scene may be a pun on an Aristocratic French name, since the word ‘worm’ in French is Ver.

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Rosalind Barber, Paul Bentley, Lynne Kositsky, William Leahy, Penny McCarthy, Aris Mousoutzanis, and Roger Stritmatter

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