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Four Shakespearean Period Pieces

University of Chicago Press


In the study of Shakespeare since the eighteenth century, four key concepts have served to situate Shakespeare in history: chronology, periodization, secularization, and anachronism.

Yet recent theoretical work has called for their reappraisal. Anachronisms, previously condemned as errors in the order of time, are being hailed as alternatives to that order. Conversely chronology and periods, its mainstays, are now charged with having distorted the past they have been entrusted to represent, and secularization, once considered the driving force of the modern era, no longer holds sway over the past or the present.

In light of this reappraisal, can Shakespeare studies continue unshaken? This is the question Four Shakespearean Period Pieces takes up, devoting a chapter to each term: on the rise of anachronism, the chronologizing of the canon, the staging of plays “in period,” and the use of Shakespeare in modernity’s secularizing project.

To read these chapters is to come away newly alert to how these fraught concepts have served to regulate the canon’s afterlife. Margreta de Grazia does not entirely abandon them but deftly works around and against them to offer fresh insights on the reading, editing, and staging of the author at the heart of our literary canon.