In 1700, Shakespeare was viewed as one of the leading Renaissance playwrights, but not as supreme. By 1800, he was not only widely performed and read but celebrated as a universal genius and a national literary hero. What happened during the intervening years is the subject of this fascinating volume, which brings together Renaissance and eighteenth-century scholars who examine how Shakespeare gradually penetrated, and came to dominate, the culture and intellectual life of people in the English-speaking world. The contributors approach Shakespeare from a wide range of perspectives, to illuminate the way contemporary philosophy, science and medicine, textual practice, theatre studies, and literature both informed and were influenced by eighteenth-century interpretations of his works. Among the topics are Falstaff and eighteenth-century ideas of the sublime, David Garrick's 1756 adaptation of The Winter's Tale and its relationship to medical theories of femininity, the textual practices of George Steevens, Shakespeare's importance in furthering the careers of actors on the eighteenth-century stage, and the influence of Shakespeare on writers as diverse as Edmund Burke, Horace Walpole, and Ann Radcliff. Together, the essays paint a vivid picture of the relationship between eighteenth-century Shakespeare and ideas about shared nationhood, knowledge, morality, history, and the self.
'This fine collection of nuanced essays complements - and often challenges - the dominant late twentieth-century rhetoric of eighteenth-century appropriation, shifting the debate from a prescriptive reading of Shakespeare as ideological tool to a more sophisticated discussion of skill and influence that relocates text, performance and reception in the literary, aesthetic and cultural history of the period through a consideration of the relationship with the past. It deserves a wide readership.' Catherine M.S. Alexander, University of Birmingham, UK ’Peter Sabor and Paul Yachnin's excellent collection... this fascinating set of essays surpasses its remit... illuminating the diverse ways of talking about Shakespeare in the eighteenth century, this collection will open up new conversations about his reception in the future.’ Times Literary Supplement 'The cumulative weight and depth of this collection of essays underscore the ideological and social differences in the theatrical and literary environment of the Elizabethan age and the Enlightenment. This volume is a welcome addition to the spirit of enquiry so prevalent in its subject matter.' Restoration and Eighteenth-Century Theatre Research