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This chapter explores how the conciliar and coercive discourses of Renaissance historiography and lyric poetry intersect in Shakespeare’s early history plays. It focuses on scenes of textual composition, and other engagements with the construction and interpretation of literary language, in plays including Edward III, Arden of Faversham, Richard III, The First Part of the Contention, and Titus Andronicus, to show how they illuminate the uneasy overlap between political advice and gendered, sexual coercion during Elizabeth I’s reign. The plays’ treatment of the coercive properties of poetry cast monarch and subject in fluid, shifting roles, and highlight the awkward ethical implications of mobile rhetorical authority, ultimately troubling the distinction between good and bad political advice. Moreover, the chapter considers the centrality of collaboration to the production of meaning, not just between actors, printers, and playwrights, but also of genres and discourses, within this intensely self-referential cluster of Shakespeare’s co-authored early works.
This is the first essay collection on A Mirror for Magistrates, the most popular work of English literature in the age of Shakespeare. The Mirror is here analysed by major scholars, who discuss its meaning and significance, and assess the extent of its influence as a series of tragic stories showing powerful princes and governors brought low by fate and enemy action. Scholars debate the challenging and radical nature of the Mirror's politics, its significance as a work of material culture, its relationship to oral culture as print was becoming ever more important, and the complicated evolution of its diverse texts. Other chapters discuss the importance of the book as the first major work that represented Roman history for a literary audience, the sly humour contained in the tragedies and their influence on major writers such as Spenser and Shakespeare.
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