Shakespeare’s Strange Conventionality

  • Brett Gamboa
Part of the Palgrave Shakespeare Studies book series (PASHST)


This chapter explores how Shakespeare’s plays facilitate engagement by exploiting the audience’s reliance on stage conventions. It proposes that like mimesis, conventions pertaining to genre, the stage’s representative capacity, or the players’ ontological status are manipulated by the dramatist to valuable ends. Plays like Richard III, Cymbeline, and 2 Henry IV introduce ghosts and ‘dead’ bodies, then generate suspense, surprise, or disorientation by undercutting the conventions relied on for the representations. Elsewhere, the non-theatrical identities of a production’s constituent parts reassert themselves to confront spectators with problems similar to those encountered by the fictional characters; or else the plays restrict their elements’ capacities to function mimetically, our resulting awareness of the ‘real’ ontologies and uses of bodies, props, or the stage then disrupting the illusion in ways that simultaneously work to enrich it.

Works Cited

  1. Barish, Jonas. 1991. “Soft, Here Follows Prose”: Shakespeare’s Stage Documents. In The Arts of Performance in Elizabethan and Early Stuart Drama, ed. Murray Biggs, et al. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Boas, F.S. 1908. Shakespeare and His Predecessors. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.Google Scholar
  3. Craik, T.W. 1979. ‘I Know When One Is Dead and When One Lives’. Annual Shakespeare Lecture 1979. In The Proceedings of the British Academy, vol. lxv. London: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  4. Cressy, David. 1997. Birth, Marriage and Death: Ritual, Religion and Life Cycle in Tudor and Stuart England. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Danson, Lawrence. 2000. Shakespeare’s Dramatic Genres. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  6. Dessen, Alan C. 1975. Two Falls and a Trap. English Literary Renaissance 5: 291–307.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Dessen, Alan C., and Leslie Thompson. 1999. A Dictionary of Stage Directions in English Drama, 1580–1642. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  8. Drakakis, John. 2013. Shakespeare Against Genre. Pólemos 7 (1): 83–97.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Foakes, R.A. 2005. “Armed at Point Exactly”: The Ghost in Hamlet. Shakespeare Survey 58: 34–47.Google Scholar
  10. Gamboa, Brett. 2012. Letting Unpleasantness Lie: Counter-Intuition and Character in The Merchant of Venice. In Shakespeare’s Sense of Character—On the Page and From the Stage, ed. Yu Jin Ko and Michael Shurgot. Aldershot: Ashgate.Google Scholar
  11. Gamboa, Brett. 2013. “Is’t Real That I See?”: Staged Realism and the Paradox of Shakespeare’s Audience. Shakespeare Bulletin 31 (4): 669–688.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Gamboa, Brett. 2018. Shakespeare’s Double Plays: Dramatic Economy on the Early Modern Stage. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Greenblatt, Stephen. 2001. Hamlet in Purgatory. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  14. Hackel, Heidi Brayman. 2005. Reading Material in Early Modern England: Print, Gender, and Literacy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  15. Harris, Jonathan Gil, and Natasha Korda. 2002. Staged Properties in Early Modern Drama. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  16. Jones, Rosalind, and Peter Stallbrass. 2000. Renaissance Clothing and the Materials of Memory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  17. Kott, Jan. 1964. Shakespeare Our Contemporary. Garden City: Doubleday.Google Scholar
  18. Matchett, William. 1979. Some Dramatic Techniques in King Lear. In Shakespeare and the Theatrical Dimension, ed. Philip C. McGuire and David A. Samuelson. New York: AMS Press.Google Scholar
  19. Porter, Chloe. 2014. Making and Unmaking in Early Modern English Drama: Spectators, Aesthetics, and Incompletion. Manchester: Manchester University Press.Google Scholar
  20. Rocklin, Edward L. 2000. Measured Endings: How Productions from 1720 to 1929 Close Shakespeare’s Open Silences in Measure for Measure. Shakespeare Survey 53: 213–232.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Rosenberg, Marvin. 1978. The Masks of Macbeth. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  22. Shakespeare, William. 1997. King Lear, Arden Third Series, ed. R.A. Foakes. London: Bloomsbury.Google Scholar
  23. Shakespeare, William. 2016. The Norton Shakespeare, 3rd ed., ed. Stephen Greenblatt, et al. New York: Norton.Google Scholar
  24. Zimmerman, Susan. 2005. The Early Modern Corpse and Shakespeare’s Theatre. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Brett Gamboa
    • 1
  1. 1.Dartmouth CollegeHanoverUSA

Personalised recommendations