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  • Shakespeare’s Stage Traffic: Imitation, Borrowing and Competition in Renaissance Theatre by Janet Clare
  • Elizabeth E. Tavares
Shakespeare’s Stage Traffic: Imitation, Borrowing and Competition in Renaissance Theatre. By Janet Clare. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014. Cloth $99.00. 318 pages.

At the center of Clare’s study are the allusive networks linked with William Shakespeare’s plays, offering a theoretical framework to the processes of adaptation on early modern stages. Updating source-study methodologies that account for performance conditions and dating, she locates the commerce of theatre as a function of genre rather than authorship or playing company. In challenging critical norms that valorize his originality, Clare argues that Shakespeare systemically drew on materials that were already established in the dramatic tradition, molding them in the spirit of Renaissance aesthetic theories of appropriation.

The monograph opens with a detailed analysis of the competing theories of appropriation in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries: imitatio, extemporary, and patching. Imitatio, a Humanist principle, privileged the selection and replication of pre-existing rhetorical models. Extemporary writing denoted unpremeditated thinking, while patching suggested servile borrowing rather than an accomplished act of weaving. In tracing the adaptation practices of the period, Clare demonstrates that intertextuality was an essential condition for “good” writing in Renaissance drama. By prioritizing thematic conventions over dramaturgical ones as well as the singular authorial voice of Shakespeare, the efficacy of Clare’s arguments is limited by an outmoded organization of research.

Troubling the textual hierarchies put in place by source studies, chapters three and seven take up debates around Shakespeare texts key to genre scholars. Echoing Leah Marcus, chapter three considers the editorial history of The Taming of The Shrew and The Taming of A Shrew, which together intervened in the popular troping of shrewish women. In a similar vein, The Comedy of Errors assimilates Plautus and the carnivalesque to mimic the experience of festive misrule. Chapter seven argues King Lear and Measure for Measure are emblematic of the changing method of Jacobean playwriting, appropriating royal festivity to underscore ideologies of political morality and civic responsibility latent in their hypotexts. While these readings put significant emphasis on the circularity rather than the linearity of adaptation, their conclusions (like the book’s title) imply a privileged position in the marketplace of Shakespeare’s versions without financial data, and so confusingly suggest he was both the norm and exception.

Chapters two, five, and eight orient the forces of intertextuality and borrowing. Engaging with the growing Queen’s Men scholarship, chapter five indicates the continued presence of pre-Marlovian medley dramaturgy in Shakespeare’s Henriad. Unfortunately, Clare mislabels generic elements and performative ones when demonstrating how the company’s comedies depended upon the “disparate idioms” of “popular comedy and ‘courtly’ speech patterns” (155). Chapter two [End Page 143] assesses the matrix of print and performance texts of Woodstock and Edward II, from which Shakespeare presumably adopted a tragic inflection for his Richard II. Chapter eight looks forward to the “skeptical, ironic style” of the indoor Jacobean theatres with the political tragicomedies Cymbeline, Philaster, Henry VIII, and When You See Me, You Know Me.

Competition and methods for plot conversions are the center of chapters four and six. The former traces the influence of John Lyly, Christopher Marlowe, and Ben Jonson, with specific attention to metatheatric claims, in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Twelfth Night. These plays are exemplum of “later comedy” in the Elizabethan playhouses, which eventually lost marketplace ground to the burgeoning boy companies. Competition from the boy companies, other revenge tragedies, and the complex bibliographic life of Q1 and Q2 suggest that for Hamlet “performance and publication were coordinated to an unusual degree” (194). In these two chapters Clare’s aim to link playtext formation with “the creative narratives of Shakespeare’s plays in relations to their theatrical dissemination” comes most clearly to the fore rather than examples from contemporaneous, noncanonical plays (267).

In her ability to speak in several registers of Shakespeare scholarship, Clare provides a productive summation of core source debates that have informed editorial praxis. A few terminological slippages reveal a lack of engagement, however, with theatre history and the recent uptick in company studies...


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pp. 143-145
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