Oxford Wells Shakespeare Lecture 3: The Archive and its Discontents

degrazia wells

For almost two centuries, Shakespeare had no biography. Neither did he have the structure of a biography (a chronology), nor the materials for one (an archive). And his canon did not include the Sonnets (his only work written in the first person). In sum, the mainstays of modern Shakespeare criticism were simply not there. Does this mean that Shakespeare was not valued or understood until after 1800? Each of these four lectures will focus on one of those critical absences, not as an empty place holder for what eventually is to come, but as evidence that other viable priorities were once at work.

Lecture 3: The Archive and its Discontents

By the time scholars began to long for materials relating to Shakespeare, almost nothing had survived, at least not in his own hand: no autograph manuscripts, no personal papers, only a few signatures. But official written records did survive, and eighteenth-century scholars set about finding and scrutinizing them in various record books: of the parish, the Stationers company, the Master of Revels office, the College of Arms, the law courts. All these documents provided dates, points in time which when sequenced served as the basis for a continuous biographical narrative. Scholars also discovered two very different compilations with entries on Shakespeare, by John Aubrey and Gerard Langbaine. These two record books -- one of lives, the other of plays -- were full of dates, though scholars found them sadly unreliable. For those dates were not meant to be pressed into timelines. They worked to different purposes, more nodal than linear, more dispersive than exclusive.


24 October Lecture 1: Shakespeare without a Life

31 October Lecture 2: Shakespeare's Timeline

14 November Lecture 4: Shakespeare's Dateless Sonnets


Margreta de Grazia is the author of Shakespeare Verbatim (Oxford, 1991), on the emergence of the modern editorial tradition, and “Hamlet” without Hamlet (Cambridge, 2007), on how the modern psychologizing of Hamlet has effaced the play’s preoccupation with land and entitlement. She has also co-edited Subject and Object in Renaissance Culture (Cambridge, 1996) with Maureen Quilligan and Peter Stallybrass as well as the Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare (2001) and the New Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare (2010), both with Stanley Wells. She has received fellowship awards from the Folger Library, the American Council of Learned Societies, the National Humanities Center and the Guggenheim Foundation. She is the Sheli Z. and Burt X. Rosenberg Emerita Professor of the Humanities at the University of Pennsylvania.