I am by no means the first to suggest that literary criticism is in a transitional period – or perhaps at the end of one; only time will tell. In the short term, though, it is evident that the innovative, unorthodox and sometimes contentious critical approaches of the 1980s and early nineties have been, after a period of evaluation leading to something like general acceptance, gradually assimilated into the methods and language of much mainstream criticism. Possibly the most significant effect on early modern studies has been a renewed appreciation of the relationship between text and context. The revisionary end-of-the-century critical emphasis on the contexts within which Shakespeare wrote – social, cultural, economic, sexual – has apparently either influenced or determined the directions taken by many of the writers whose books are considered here. The most successful have in common innovation in the best sense: they cover new ground, open new doors, or look through a new lens – to use metaphors implying how the results also reveal the genuinely new or make us look again at what we have not really seen.
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