Shakespeare and the Composite Text

The New Formalism
  • Douglas Bruster
Part of the Early Modern Cultural Series book series


Earlier I maintained that a thin description of early modern literature could well begin by pointing out the intensively personal nature of that era’s texts. In addition to this emphasis on the personal, literary works of the early modern period in England tend to be unusually copious—thick, that is, with “stuff,” including quotations of other texts, as well as descriptions of and references to material from the world outside their pages.1 Such copia often has attracted the attention of critics interested in the cultural contexts of early modern literature. As was observed in chapter 2, however, the literary and social materials of various texts are typically important, in these critical modes, not as sources of the texts in question but rather as potential sources for critical thick descriptions thereof I maintained there that these descriptions have become almost a separate literary genre in their own right. Obviously, the field has benefited a great deal from the cultural turn in literary study and from the thick descriptions that have accompanied this turn. But one of the things that get left out by thick description’s interest in literary contexts is the relationship between newer forms of criticism—criticism usefully gathered by the coinage “cultural historicism”2—and an older kind of formalist criticism that served as an unspoken, and perhaps unconscious, model for it: source study.


Literary Criticism Literary Work Literary Text Thick Description Source Study 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    On what I am calling the “thickness” of early modern texts, see Linda Woodbridge, “Patchwork: Piecing the Early Modern Mind in England’s First Century of Print Culture,” English Literary Renaissance 23 (1993): 5–45. I have discussed this phenomenon at more length in Quoting Shakespeare: Form and Culture in Early Modern Drama (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2000); see, esp., 13–51, 203–12.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    On “cultural historicism,” see Albert H. Tricomi, Reading Tudor-Stuart Texts Through Cultural Historicism (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1996).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Heather Dubrow, A Happier Eden: The Politics of Marriage in the Stuart Epithalamium (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1990), 266.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Robert S. Miola, “Othello Furens,” Shakespeare Quarterly 41 (1990): 49–64; 49. On the changing face of source study,CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. see also Miola’s “Shakespeare and His Sources: Observations on the Critical History of Julius Caesar,” Shakespeare Survey 40 (1988): 69–76.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 5.
    See Andrew Gurr, “Intertextuality at Windsor,” Shakespeare Quarterly 38 (1987): 189–200;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Claire McEachern, “Fathering Himself: A Source Study of Shakespeare’s Feminism,” Shakespeare Quarterly 39 (1988): 269–90;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. G. Harold Metz, ed., Sources of Four Plays Ascribed to Shakespeare: The Reign of King Edward III, Sir Thomas More, The History of Cardenio, The Two Noble Kinsmen (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1989);Google Scholar
  9. Robert S. Miola, Shakespeare and Classical Tragedy: The Influence of Seneca (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992) and Shakespeare and Classical Comedy: The Influence of Plau-tus and Terence (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994);CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Eric S. Mallin, Inscribing the Time: Shakespeare and the End of Elizabethan England (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995);Google Scholar
  11. Frank Whigham, Seizures of the Will in Early Modern English Drama (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), esp. 67–74;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Heather James, Shakespeare’s Troy: Drama, Politics, and the Translation of Empire (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997);CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Stephen J. Lynch, Shakespearean Intertextuality: Studies in Selected Sources and Plays (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1998);Google Scholar
  14. Richard Knowles, “Cordelia’s Return,” Shakespeare Quarterly 50 (1999): 33–50;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Grace Tiffany, “Shakespeare’s Dionysian Prince: Drama, Politics, and the ‘Athenian’ History Play,” Renaissance Quarterly 52 (1999): 366–83;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. John Klause, “New Sources for King John: The Writings of Robert Southwell,” Studies in Philology 98 (2001): 401–27.Google Scholar
  17. 7.
    See Raymond Williams, Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society, rev. ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985), 11–13.Google Scholar
  18. 12.
    G. W. Pigman III , “Neo-Latin Imitation of the Latin Classics,” in Latin Poetry and the Classical Tradition: Essays in Medieval and Renaissance Literature, ed. Peter Goodman and Oswyn Murray, Oxford-Warburg Studies (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990), 199–210; 199, 200.Google Scholar
  19. 13.
    For a cogent articulation of this position, see the anonymous reader cited in Annabel Patterson, Hermogenes and the Renaissance: Seven Ideas of Style (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1970), xi.Google Scholar
  20. 14.
    Laurence Lerner, “Ovid and the Elizabethans,” in Ovid Renewed: Ovidian Influences on Literature and Art from the Middle Ages to the Twentieth Century, ed. Charles Martindale (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), 121–35; 122.Google Scholar
  21. 15.
    On these structures, see A. Kent Hieatt, Short Time’s Endless Monument: The Symbolism of the Numbers in Spenser’s “Epithalamion” (New York: Columbia University Press, 1960);Google Scholar
  22. and Alastair Fowler, Triumphal Forms: Structural Patterns in Elizabethan Poetry (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970).Google Scholar
  23. 16.
    See, for example, J. J. M. Tobin, “Texture as Well as Structure: More Sources for The Riverside Shakespeare,” in In the Company of Shakespeare: Essays on English Renaissance Literature in Honor of G. Blake-more Evans, ed. Thomas Moisan and Douglas Bruster (Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2002), 97–110; “Hamlet and Christ’s Teares over Jerusalem,” The Aligarh Journal of English Studies 6 (1981): 158–67; “Nashe and The Two Gentlemen of Verona” Notes and Queries 28 (1981): 122–23; “Macbeth and Christ’s Teares over Jerusalem,” The Alißarh Journal of English Studies 7 (1982): 72–78; “Nashe and Richard II” American Notes & Queries 24 (1985): 5–7; and “Nashe and Shakespeare: Some Further Borrowings,” Notes and Queries 39 (1992): 309–20.Google Scholar
  24. 20.
    Anthony Brennan, “That Within Which Passes Show: The Function of the Chorus in Henry V.Philological Quarterly 58 (1979): 40–52; 42. The opposite point of view was taken by Peter Alexander, who in Shakespeare’s Life and Art (London: James Nisbit and Co., 1939) called the play “a thing of rags and patches, held together by the Choruses” (128).Google Scholar
  25. 21.
    See Douglas Bruster, “Teaching the Tragicomedy of Romeo and Juliet” in Approaches to Teaching Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet/” ed. Maurice Hunt (New York: MLA, 2000), 59–68; at 60.Google Scholar
  26. 24.
    Andrew Gurr, ed., King Henry V (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 6–16; 15.Google Scholar
  27. 25.
    On the epic tenor of the play—and, especially, of the Chorus— see Albert H. Tolman, “The Epic Character of Henry V.,” Modern Language Notes 34 (1919): 7–16;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. John Dover Wilson, ed., King Henry V, The New Cambridge Shakespeare (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1947);Google Scholar
  29. and Edward I. Berry, “‘True Things and Mock-’ries’: Epic and History in Henry V.,” JEGP 78 (1979): 1–16.Google Scholar
  30. 26.
    See, for example, Alwin Thaler, Shakespeare and Sir Philip Sidney: The Influence of “The Defense of Poesy” (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1947),CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. and J. H. Walter, ed., Henry V., The Arden Shakespeare (London: Methuen, 1954), xv–xvi.Google Scholar
  32. 27.
    See Gary Taylor, ed., Henry V (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994), 52–58.Google Scholar
  33. 30.
    Here I am thinking about a tradition of scholarship best evidenced, perhaps, by Thomas Greene’s The Light in Troy: Imitation and Discovery in Renaissance Poetry (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1982). Greene’s influential book concentrates too exclusively, I believe, on prestigious authors and texts and fails to take into account the enormous range of reading and borrowing in the early modern period. Greene, for instance, mentions Nashe once in The Lißht in Troy, but only in a list of authors who inherited a mundus of “semi-otic reserves” (20).Google Scholar
  34. 31.
    For the locus classicus of “conflict” theories of literary relations, see Harold Bloom’s The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry (New York: Oxford University Press, 1973); for criticism of early modern drama based on such a model, see Bruster, Quoting Shakespeare, 38–40, 221–22 n. 60.Google Scholar
  35. 32.
    Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method (New York: Crossroad Publishing, 1991), 383.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Douglas Bruster 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • Douglas Bruster

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations