Did Shakespeare have a literary career?

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Among the authors addressed in this volume, William Shakespeare is something of a special case: he alone is thought to lack a ‘literary career’. Unlike Virgil and Horace, or Petrarch and Boccaccio, or Milton and Dryden, Shakespeare is thought to have a ‘professional career’: he is a man of the theatre, a jobbing playwright, a consummate actor and a savvy shareholder of an acting company, too preoccupied with the daily business of his new commercial enterprise to take an interest in the literary goals of English authorship. Only during the past few years, however, have we detached ourselves enough from this twentieth-century classification to recognize it as a classification, a critical construction of ‘Shakespeare’ born out of specific temporal origins, with its own location in history. That history, we shall see, is less Shakespeare's than our own. Even so, we need to begin with it because so many critics continue to subscribe to it. Indeed, during the past century many were intent to announce this classification as a seminal achievement, and we may single out two primary movements that coalesced to create it. The first is theatrical, which Harry Levin summarizes in an important 1986 essay: ‘Our century has restored our perception of him to his genre, the drama, enhanced by increasing historical knowledge alongside the live tradition of the performing arts.’ Levin is reacting to the Restoration, Augustan, Romantic and Victorian reduction of Shakespeare's theatrical art to what John Dryden called in 1668 ‘Dramatick Poesie’.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationClassical Literary Careers and Their Reception
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages19
ISBN (Electronic)9780511778872
ISBN (Print)9780521762977
StatePublished - Jan 1 2010

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Arts and Humanities(all)


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