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Constructing a World

Shakespeare's England and the New Historical Fiction

Martha Tuck Rozett, Cynthia Ryan, Linda Flower

Publication Year: 2003

Taking its title from Umberto Eco’s postscript to The Name of the Rose, the novel that inaugurated the New Historical Fiction in the early 1980s, Constructing the World provides a guide to the genre’s defining characteristics. It also serves as a lively account of the way Shakespeare, Marlowe, Raleigh, Queen Elizabeth I, and their contemporaries have been depicted by such writers as Anthony Burgess, George Garrett, Patricia Finney, Barry Unsworth, and Rosalind Miles. Innovative historical novels written during the past two or three decades have transformed the genre, producing some extraordinary bestsellers as well as less widely read serious fiction. Shakespearean scholar Martha Tuck Rozett engages in an ongoing conversation about the genre of historical fiction, drawing attention to the metacommentary contained in “Afterwords” or “Historical Notes”; the imaginative reconstruction of the diction and mentality of the past; the way Shakespearean phrases, names, and themes are appropriated; and the counterfactual scenarios writers invent as they reinvent the past.

Published by: State University of New York Press


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p. vii

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p. ix

Parts of chapters 1 and 2 originally appeared as “Constructing a World: How the Postmodern Historical Fiction Reimagines the Past” in Clio: A Journal of Literature, History and the Philosophy of History (25.2, Winter 1996); part of chapter 7 originally appeared as “Creating a Context for Shakespeare with Historical Fiction” ...

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Chapter 1 Introduction: Historical Fiction Old and New

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pp. 1-26

In the early 1980s, just as the New Historicists, with their invocation of “the historicity of texts and the textuality of history” were transforming the way readers understood literature, Umberto Eco’s novel The Name of the Rose became both a critical success and a bestseller. Widely celebrated as a postmodern historical novel, ...

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Chapter 2 Of Narrators; or How the Teller Tells the Tale

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pp. 27-48

The title of this chapter is modeled on several recent historical novelists’ mimicry of the chapter headings or titles used by earlier writers. Bacon, Montaigne, and other sixteenth-century essayists used the “Of ____” formula to organize their essays around a topic or concept; eighteenth-century novelists used the ...

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Chapter 3 Historical Novelists at Work: George Garrett and Anthony Burgess

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pp. 49-82

In 1953, when graceful, belletristic essay-writing flourished and popular historical fiction and fiction-biographies provided ordinary readers with a window into the past, a writer for the Sewanee Review named Andrew Nelson Lytle compared the historian and the historical novelist: ...

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Chapter 4 Barry Unsworth’s Morality Play and the Origins of English Secular Drama

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pp. 83-102

Among the narratives about Shakespeare there is one that goes something like this: when Shakespeare was born in 1564 secular drama barely existed in England; then, in the 1580s and ’90s, with the help of a few contemporaries like Marlowe, Kyd, and Greene, Shakespeare virtually invented the forms ...

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Chapter 5 Fictional Queen Elizabeths and Women-Centered Historical Fiction

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pp. 103-142

Elizabeth I may well be the most written about monarch in Western culture. In an unlikely instance of the cross-fertilization among popular genres, her life has even served as a model in the advice book genre. The jacket blurb of Alan Axelrod’s Elizabeth I CEO: Strategic Lessons from the Leader Who Built an Empire ...

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Chapter 6 Rewriting Shakespeare: The Henriad with and without Falstaff

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pp. 143-164

Chapters four and five have addressed some of the counterfactual scenarios, the “what ifs” posed by historical fiction: what if secular drama evolved directly in response to acting companies’ interventions in local events? What if Queen Elizabeth bore a child, or was secretly married, or was vulnerable to blackmail ...

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Chapter 7 Teaching Shakespeare’s England through Historical Fiction

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pp. 165-176

The previous chapters have demonstrated, I hope, that writers of historical fiction are inspired to construct and furnish past worlds by a desire to participate in the ongoing revision of what we call “history.” Similarly, the reader’s desire to recover and learn about other times and other places has contributed ...


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pp. 177-184

Works Cited

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pp. 185-198


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pp. 199-206

E-ISBN-13: 9780791487730
Print-ISBN-13: 9780791455517
Print-ISBN-10: 0791455513

Page Count: 206
Publication Year: 2003

OCLC Number: 55896125
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Constructing a World

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Historical fiction, English -- History and criticism.
  • Great Britain -- History -- Elizabeth, 1558-1603 -- Historiography.
  • Elizabeth -- I, -- Queen of England, -- 1533-1603 -- In literature.
  • American fiction -- 20th century -- History and criticism.
  • English fiction -- 20th century -- History and criticism.
  • Historical fiction, American -- History and criticism.
  • Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616 -- In literature.
  • Shakespeare, William, -- 1564-1616 -- Adaptations.
  • Literature and history -- English-speaking countries.
  • England -- In literature.
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