- Re-viewing Shakespeare in the Long Eighteenth Century
Marketing the Bard and Painting Shakespeare offer very different readings of the proliferation of eighteenth-century Shakespeare: Dugas has a commercial [End Page 426] focus, and his work is characterized by a mechanistic, reductive—and perhaps inevitable—concern with quantity rather than quality; Sillars offers nuanced aesthetic judgments that make for a more sophisticated discourse. Surprisingly, however, there are moments when they inform each other. Dugas writes of a publisher's ability to transform a work through its packaging and equates the process of a playwright adapting a Shakespeare play with a publisher presenting it for sale (76–77). Sillars identifies a different relationship and tellingly equates Hogarth's "Henry VIII and Ann Boleyn" (1728–29) with Cibber's adaptation: "The direct result is that Shakespeare's play moves to the centre of national debate: in the process a narrow, mimetic historicism has been rejected and a critical interpretation made by iconographic illusion" (45–46). Taken together, these readings reveal a network of cultural and commercial associations that create "Shakespeare" in the period.
Don-John Dugas's written style is characterized by questions beginning with what he calls the "basic" ones, which he raises in his preface and which form the organizing principle of the volume: "How popular were Shakespeare's plays in the late seventeenth century? Why were they published the ways they were in the late seventeenth century? Why were Shakespeare's collected dramatic works produced in a radically new way in 1709? And what caused the tremendous increase in the number of performances of Shakespeare's plays after 1735?" (xi). The reader's engagement with what follows is then partly determined by tolerance for such repetition, but more importantly by the extent to which the assumptions that generate the interrogative style are shared or regarded as pertinent. Thus the question "Why did the greatest outpouring of Shakespearean texts yet seen have such a modest impact on the playwright's theatrical popularity?" (178) assumes a relationship between page and stage that many would argue did not become explicit until the mid-twentieth century, and so it seems inappropriate here.
The whole book has a strong personal voice that is sometimes too colloquial (for example, the reader is asked to imagine the young man first going to a performance of The Tempest and then purchasing the play) and that in its rhetorical, conversational style and its use of numbered points seems closer to lecture notes than to the thesis from which, as Dugas acknowledges, it derives. If one can put the didactic style aside (and many undergraduates who will find this book useful may not wish to do so), then there is much to be said for it. Dugas answers his own questions thoroughly with a dense mass of details and charts and draws valuable distinctions between the effects of print, criticism, and performance in determining Shakespeare's cultural capital, reputation, and popularity. With a great deal of carefully presented evidence, he argues convincingly that performance had the greatest influence in the late seventeenth century: audiences were more interested in actors than authors (57). (Although I have to say that a chart [Table 4.2 on p. 231] headed with the oddly capitalized "Unaltered Shakespeare Plays Published 1734–1735, Neither Published 1653–1734 nor Performed 1642–1736" and including a column headed "Revived 1736–1741?" is quite incomprehensible.)
Indeed, the first section of the book, "Shakespeare as Performance Commodity, 1660–1705," has the strongest narrative thread and, in its focus on the stage, offers the most interesting reading of the period. The discussion of Davenant's acquisition of part of the canon, his understanding of his audience, and his staging innovations (achievements that gave him the edge over Killigrew) is particularly informative, and it is in this section too that Dugas challenges the orthodoxies of Gary Taylor (Reinventing Shakespeare: A Cultural History from...