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Four Shakespearean Period Pieces

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. 

224 pages | 22 halftones | 5-1/2 x 8-1/2 | © 2021

Literature and Literary Criticism: British and Irish Literature, Dramatic Works, General Criticism and Critical Theory

Reviews

"There is a great deal to appreciate and to enjoy in this theory-rich book, which moves as freely as a willful anachronism through material across its four central essays. . . . de Grazia’s work in particular offers so much of promise to scholars as well as lay readers of Shakespeare that it practically ensures that the next generation of Shakespeareans will have plenty in the way of bardological thinking to do.”

Chris Townsend | Times Literary Supplement

"One takes one’s leave of Four Shakespearean Period Pieces, as I have now done twice, with the feeling of being smarter—more critically sophisticated—than was previously the case."

Los Angeles Review of Books

“Perhaps de Grazia’s most accessible book to date… A brilliant bit of writing with important implications for the practices at the core of Shakespeare studies.”
 

Come to the Pedlar

“The originality and importance of Four Shakespearean Period Pieces excites my enormous interest and admiration. Teasing out the origin and intention of terms that have been central to discussions of Shakespeare, de Grazia discloses a tangle of problems, misleading assumptions, blind confidence, and distortion.  An exercise of scholarly demolition, at once relentless, resourceful, and cunning, this book will shake the grand house of literary criticism.”

Stephen Greenblatt, Harvard University

Four Shakespearean Period Pieces is wonderful. Lucid, original, learned, and readable, it forms a pendant to de Grazia’s foundational work. She returns to the penetratingly smart intellectual and disciplinary history that she has made her own, surveying centuries of scholarship with powerful clarity. The scholarship is deep, authoritative, and approachable, moving from Augustine to Heidegger with brilliant accessibility. Her critical readings are revelatory, zinging with insight and larger intellectual context, and reverberating with ongoing challenges for humanistic scholarship in our own times.”

Emma Smith, University of Oxford

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