Experiencing Freedom from the Past in Shakespeare and Fletcher’s All Is True

  • Anita Gilman Sherman


In recent years, it has become de rigueur to call All Is True a skeptical play, meaning by skeptical a disenchanted stance that is self-reflexive and open to freethinking.1 The play’s skepticism, however, is more rigorous than is usually recognized. By inciting different modalities of experience in viewers, the play explores the phenomenology of a skeptical epistemology. The challenges of sense perception and interpretation are made fresh by thrusting viewers into a world they think they know and then defamiliarizing it. The play also produces skeptical viewers by deploying various aesthetic strategies, some of which—framing, disnarration, exemplarity, and pastoral—I have broached in earlier pages; to these, I add the principle of equipollence that structures the play’s design, evident in the recurring juxtaposition of incompatible vignettes. By interrogating the experiential and aesthetic processes through which we presume to arrive at historical knowledge, the play questions the truth of widely shared public memories. Why might the play want to unsettle received views of the past? Why might the King’s Men have felt compelled in 1613 to revisit the collective understanding of historical turning points? One answer is that All Is True stages a thought-experiment designed to prompt inquiry about how history might have turned out differently.


Collective Memory Skeptical Viewer Henry VIII Public Memory Stage Direction 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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© Anita Gilman Sherman 2007

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  • Anita Gilman Sherman

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