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  • Introduction to “Not Shakespeare”
  • Lars Engle (bio)

The title “Not Shakespearerequires some explanation. We intend it descriptively, not aggressively or dismissively; it should be analogized to taxonomic titles such as C. S. Lewis’s English Literature in the Sixteenth Century: Excluding Drama rather than polemical ones like Jean Baudrillard’s Forget Foucault or St. Jerome’s Adversus Jovinianum. At the same time, when juxtaposed with the title Shakespeare Quarterly, “Not Shakespeare” (henceforth, “~S”) jars, and is intended to jar, readers into reflection on relations between Shakespeare studies and study of other dramatists contemporary with him.

The works of these theater poets are often lumped together as “non-Shakespearean drama,” in rather the same spirit that Venus and Adonis, The Rape of Lucrece, Shakespeare’s sonnets, A Lover’s Complaint, “The Phoenix and the Turtle,” and (sometimes) other poems are grouped as “nondramatic poetry.” Colin Burrow, editing a volume entitled The Complete Sonnets and Poems for the Oxford Shakespeare, notes that in the history of Shakespeare criticism, a “string of institutional accidents effectively divided the poems (often unthinkingly stigmatized by the dire privative prefix of ‘the non-dramatic works’) from the plays.”1 “Non-Shakespearean” is a yet direr privative, and to the extent that it shapes our thoughts, it deserves interrogation.

For the majority of bardolators worldwide, S/~S = the Best / the Rest. It is an admirable professional deformation of literary study in the last half-century to question such binaries, and to reverse the relegation of “other” writers to the periphery of discussion. I suspect such a professional impulse lay behind David Schalkwyk’s suggestion to produce an issue of Shakespeare Quarterly that highlights non-Shakespearean drama. Certainly, a warm awareness of what is lost when Shakespeare entirely occludes his contemporaries has animated the pleasant discussions Gail Kern Paster and I have had while selecting the essays that follow.

I personally have felt engaged with S/~S issues for some time. After fielding years of graduate student complaints about the price and unwieldiness of the Fraser-Rabkin two-volume anthology, Drama of the English Renaissance,2 I suggested [End Page 105] to David Bevington during a walk by the Arkansas River in the mid-1990s that he edit a volume of ~S Renaissance plays similar to his standard Medieval Drama. With typical generosity, he counterproposed that we coedit. In time, conversations led to the Norton English Renaissance Drama anthology, in which we were joined as editors by Katharine Eisaman Maus and Eric Rasmussen. In conjunction with Arthur Kinney’s Blackwell Renaissance Drama anthology, the Arden Early Modern Drama series, a new series from the Folger Shakespeare Library, and other initiatives, a small twenty-first-century publishing boom in newly edited work by Shakespeare’s contemporaries seems to be well under way, even as the print medium itself comes to seem so very twentieth century.3 Eric Rasmussen and I just published Studying Shakespeare’s Contemporaries to join the ranks of books intended to complement this boom for new readers and students of these not-so-familiar plays.4 But our title has the word “Shakespeare” in it. Why?

In our view, Shakespeare’s preeminent importance has both sustained and deformed the study of the drama of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries in England. This relation can be expressed in terms of figure and ground—in something like the way Jeremy Lopez discusses it below as a matter of shapes and shadows. The other playwrights who wrote at the same time and for the same players and public as Shakespeare are always in danger of being relegated to the background: treated as part of a context in which Shakespeare is the figure of interest. While not exactly abandonment to all-oblivious enmity, this background sounds like a bad place to be. But as many readers of Shakespeare Quarterly know from their own intellectual lives, serious interest in Shakespeare leads to various kinds of contextual study, and one of the standard contexts is the drama of Kyd, Marlowe, Jonson, Webster, Middleton, and their many contemporaries and collaborators. In the process of contextualizing Shakespeare in this way, Shakespeare scholars often come to care deeply about these...


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