Impressive Shakespeare : Identity, Authority and the Imprint in Shakespearean Drama book cover
1st Edition

Impressive Shakespeare
Identity, Authority and the Imprint in Shakespearean Drama

ISBN 9781472465320
Published February 5, 2019 by Routledge
200 Pages

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Book Description

Impressive Shakespeare reassesses Shakespeare’s relationship with "print culture" in light of his plays’ engagement with the language and material culture of three interrelated "impressing technologies": wax sealing, coining, and typographic printing. It analyses the material and rhetorical forms through which drama was thought to "imprint" early modern audiences and readers with ideas, morals and memories, and—looking to our own cultural moment—shows how Shakespeare has been historically constructed as an "impressive" dramatist. Through material readings of four plays—Coriolanus, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Measure for Measure and The Winter’s Tale—Harry Newman argues that Shakespeare deploys the imprint as a self-reflexive trope in order to advertise the value of his plays to audiences and readers, and that in turn the language of impression has shaped, and continues to shape, Shakespeare’s critical afterlife. The book pushes the boundaries of what we understand by "print culture", and challenges assumptions about the emergence of concepts now central to Shakespeare’s perceived canonical value, such as penetrating characterisation, poetic transformation, and literary fatherhood.


Harry Newman’s suggestive analysis of techniques and tropes of sealing, coining and printing produces a revelatory account of Shakespearean creative poetics. It’s sustainedly startling in its rereading of familiar lines - but the chapter I found most original is on Measure for Measure: Newman is the first critic to attempt to interpret the play’s authorial status as part of its own thematic and linguistic interrogation of illegitimacy and counterfeiting. He makes authorship matter in a literary and creative, rather than a quantitative and statistical, sense. Impressive Shakespeare is a brilliant scholarly debut.

- Emma Smith

Editor, Shakespeare Survey

Professor of Shakespeare Studies, Hertford College, Oxford


Table of Contents

List of Figures


A Note on the Text

List of Abbreviations

Introduction: The Stamp of the Bard

‘My dear Keats’: Impressions of ‘WS’

Metaphors and Material Readings

The Structure of this Book

1. Technology, Language, Physiology

Sealing, Coining, Printing: Interrelated Technologies

The Language of Impression and Early Modern Metaphor Theory

Early Modern Physiology: Imprinting and Imprinted Subjects

2. ‘[T]he stamp of Martius’: Commoditised Character and the Technology of Theatrical Impression in Coriolanus

Valuing the Imprint of ‘Character’: Theatre, Charactery, Criticism

Translating Plutarch, Coining Coriolanus

Metatheatrical Impressions: Burbage’s ‘Painting’ and the Technology of Wounds

Sealing Knowledge: The Theatrical Contract and the Imprint of Silence

3. ‘[A] form in wax, / By him imprinted’: Sealing and Poetics in A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Shakespeare’s ‘special impress’: Materialising and Gendering Dream’s Poetry

Seals in Early Modern Material Culture, Rhetoric and Drama

The ‘transfigured’ Audience: Signs and Seals of Poetic Transformation in Dream

4. ‘[S]tamps that are forbid’: Measure for Measure, Counterfeit Coinage, and the Politics of Value

Counterfeiting in the Name of the King: Jacobean Coinage and the King’s Men

Metatheatrical Counterfeiting: The Duke’s Economy of Value

Adapting ‘old-coined gold’: Canonical Value and the Stamp of Thomas Middleton

5. The Printer’s Tale: Books, Children, and the Prefatory Construction of Shakespearean Authorship

The Infant-Text and the Prefatory ‘Shake-scene’

Dramatic Paratexts, Theatricality and the ‘paper stage’

[T]he fathers face’: Prefacing Shakespeare’s Book, 1623

The Printer’s Tale Retold: Paternal Likeness in The Winter’s Tale and the Preliminaries of the First Folio


Impressions Past, Present and Future: Shakespearean Drama in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

Shakespeare and the ‘print of goodness’: The Ethics of the Imprint

Works Cited


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Harry Newman is Lecturer in Shakespeare and Early Modern Literature at Royal Holloway, University of London.