restricted access Shakespeare in the Eighteenth Century by Peter Sabor and Fiona Ritchie (eds.) (review)
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Shakespeare in the Eighteenth Century Peter Sabor and Fiona Ritchie (eds.) Cambridge University Press, 2012 £65 hb., 468 pp., 17 b/w ill. ISBN 9780521898607

By the eighteenth century, Shakespeare was popular not only on stage, but in print, music and the visual arts. The sixteen essays collected in this volume aim to uncover “how Shakespeare was available to eighteenth-century society, what he meant to the period, and what opportunities he offered the eighteenth century for self-expression” (1). In the first section this entails an exploration of the editing and publication of Shakespeare (both real and forged) which investigates: the increasing professionalization of Shakespearean scholarship and its indebtedness to the methods of biblical and classical studies; the figure of the genius as it came to be associated with Shakespeare; the ways in which contemporary reviews exemplified the enthusiasm for Shakespeare in the literary marketplace, and, concomitantly, how Vortigern and Double Falsehood could be seen as “creations of th[is] drive for literary monumentalization” (94). In the second section, on literature, Jack Lynch and Thomas Keymer probe the direct and more subtle allusions to Shakespeare found in eighteenth-century poems and novels, while Tiffany Stern illustrates how contemporary playwrights continued the process of Shakespearean ‘improvement’ initiated by their Restoration predecessors. The implications of this are further examined by the essays in the middle section on the performance practices of the London stages and Shakespearean adaptations, and opera. Engaging discussions of Shakespeare in the visual arts, the various “tellings and retellings” (273) of the Shakespearean Jubilee, and nationalist appropriations of Shakespeare then follow. The political uses of Shakespeare are subsequently taken up in the final section by Francis De Bruyn who writes on the meanings attached to the history plays during the French Revolution, and Roger Paulin who reflects upon Shakespeare’s reception in Germany. Their arguments are followed by Philip Smallwood’s essay on the often productive tensions between Shakespearean criticism and [End Page 62] eighteenth-century philosophy. It is, however, De Bruyn’s comprehensive “Reference Guide” which, by virtue of its alignment with the volume’s five main sections, provides an informal conclusion through thematically organised lists of the key published works (eighteenth-century and modern) and thumbnail biographies of the major editors, critics, actors, theatre managers and artists associated with the period’s involved process of bardolatry. While Shakespeare in the Eighteenth Century nuances, rather than rewrites, earlier essay collections – such as Peter Sabor and Paul Yachnin’s Shakespeare and the Eighteenth-Century (Ashgate, 2008) – its unique “Reference Guide”, sponsorship of different methodological approaches, and the easeful conversations that take place among its various contributors at once expand and brighten our critical horizons.