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Shakespeare and the idea of the book

By Charlotte Scott


Shakespeare and the Idea of the Book is about the book in Shakespeare's plays; the book as an object, wherein the article may disclose narratives, corroborate stories, expose versions of reality and perspectives of presence; and the semiotic of the book, wherein the language of the book, of holding, touching, turning leaves, opening pages, reading, revealing and closing may simulate an idea of the body or mind in motion. This thesis is about how the metaphorical and material book appears on Shakespeare's stage, and how the physical and figurative presence of the book challenges the imaginative and representational conditions of theatre. Having chosen seven plays for their particularly significant relationship to the book, I explore each play and its books for the demands they make of each other and what such demands reveal. The Introduction outlines the argument of the project and, drawing on a broad range of Shakespeare's plays, sets out the prevalence of the 'book' and an awareness of the potential discourses through which the object is beginning to move in the Elizabethan period. The thesis is then split into five chapters, the first two dealing with two plays each, Titus Andronicus and Cymbeline, and The Taming of The Shrew and Love's Labour's Lost. The following three chapters deal with individual plays, Richard II, Hamlet, and The Tempest. Although the thesis follows, with the exception of Cymbeline, a chronology of the drama, I make no attempt to suggest that Shakespeare forged a linear narrative in his evolving relationship with the book. Rather, my conclusion demonstrates how the book's extraordinary semantics cope resists a continuum or progressive evolution. The ever-changing capacity of the book, its materiality and language, supports the stage in a quest to define and expand the representational relationship between seeing and thinking, moving and being. Shakespeare's books are, I will argue, like Hamlet's players, 'the abstracts and brief chronicles of the time', and, to that end, 'let them be well used)

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