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Theatre and Testimony in Shakespeare's England
A Culture of Mediation

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About the Authors
  • Holger Syme presents a radically new explanation for the theater's importance in Shakespeare's time. He portrays early modern England as a culture of mediation, dominated by transactions in which one person stood in for another, giving voice to absent speakers or bringing past events to life. No art form related more immediately to this culture than the theater. Arguing against the influential view that the period underwent a crisis of representation, Syme draws upon extensive archival research in the fields of law, demonology, historiography and science to trace a pervasive conviction that testimony and report, delivered by properly authorized figures, provided access to truth. Through detailed close readings of plays by Ben Jonson and William Shakespeare – in particular Volpone, Richard II and The Winter's Tale – and analyses of criminal trial procedures, the book constructs a revisionist account of the nature of representation on the early modern stage.

    • Draws upon broad archival research, allowing readers to make connections between seemingly separate aspects of early modern culture, such as law, science and historiography
    • Contains in-depth treatments of legal history, avoiding technical jurisprudential language and topics, providing readers with an accessible account of common law practice
    • Provides a new model for the relationship between early modern theatre and its cultural context, highlighting the importance of readings of literary texts as perspectives on early modern culture at large
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    Reviews & endorsements

    “While Shakespeare critics debate the merits of text versus performance, page versus stage, Holger Schott Syme’s powerful new study argues for attending the relationship between the two. Early modern English law and theater both derive their lively oral evocations from written imitations of speech; in tracking this shared dependence on a scripted illusion of voice and presence, Syme offers original and unexpected insights into a broad range of dramatic and legal fictions, from comedies and romances to treason trials.”
    -Professor Lorna Hutson, University of St Andrews

    "Theatre and Testimony is a masterful survey of how, against prevailing historicist and theoretical arguments on the writing and culture of this period, the Elizabethan and Jacobean world established multiple forms of authority, in particular in the fields of law and theater, through strategies which relied on mediation, circulation, and the multiplication of sources. Syme’s analyses are profoundly revisionary, wonderfully original, even contrarian, and supported by a wealth of careful detail and intelligent and subtle readings. It is hard to overstate the extent to which his argument requires a revision of the way literary scholars since 1980 and the rise of New Historicism have seen Tudor and Stuart culture. This may be one of those rare books that makes scholars reconsider what has become received wisdom about early modern performance and its means of authorization."
    -William N. West, Northwestern University

    "Dense, erudite, complex, and compelling, this volume...does argue effectively for understanding the relationship between voice and text, and for 'conjuring reality through the denial of presence.'"
    -Choice

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    Product details

    • Date Published: February 2012
    • format: Adobe eBook Reader
    • isbn: 9781139200509
    • contains: 7 b/w illus.
    • availability: Adobe Reader ebooks available from eBooks.com
  • Table of Contents

    Introduction: the authenticity of mediation
    1. Trial representations: live and scripted testimony in criminal prosecutions
    2. Judicial digest: Edward Coke reads the Essex papers
    3. Performance anxiety: bringing scripts to life in court and on stage
    4. Royal depositions: Richard II, early modern historiography, and the authority of deferral
    5. The reporter's presence: narrative as theatre in The Winter's Tale
    Epilogue: the theatre of the twice-told tale
    Select bibliography.

  • Author

    Holger Schott Syme, University of Toronto
    Holger Schott Syme is Associate Professor of English at the University of Toronto. His essays have appeared in publications including English Literary Renaissance, Shakespeare Quarterly and Textual Cultures and he is the co-editor of Locating the Queen's Men, 1583–1603: Material Practices and Conditions of Playing (2009). For the third edition of the Norton Shakespeare he is editing Edward III and The Book of Sir Thomas More and is writing an extended essay on the theatre of Shakespeare's time.

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