Shakespeare's Networks

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2014-08-15

Authors

Andrews, Meghan Cordula

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Abstract

In its introduction and four chapters, “Shakespeare’s Networks” demonstrates that Shakespeare’s social relationships and institutional affiliations greatly affected the composition of his plays and poems. His social networks constituted a vitally important influence on his writing, it argues, because they were the means through which local cultural influences filtered into his works. Each network was embedded within and helped constitute an institution possessing a unique social atmosphere as well as particular cultural, intellectual, and literary investments, and these investments powerfully shaped Shakespeare’s plays, leading him to embrace modes of writing closely tied to each institution when his social engagement with its members was at its height. Moreover, Shakespeare’s social network in each institution included other leading writers of the Renaissance, writers—Michael Drayton, John Marston, and George Chapman—to whom Shakespeare is not necessarily often connected but with whom, this dissertation demonstrates, he engaged in extended dramatic and poetic dialogues. These dialogues were conditioned by the institution—the Inns of Court, the Sidney-Pembroke-Essex patronage network—through which Shakespeare was connected to his fellows, leading him to conceive of them as resources for that institution’s particular kind of writing and structuring their literary relationship in the mode of the social relationships that institution fostered. Thus, Shakespeare’s social networks and institutional affiliations affected his works in two ways, inclining him towards particular types of writing and directing his reading of and intertextual engagement with his peers. And, this dissertation argues, it is when we understand Shakespeare’s plays as utterances in particular local discourses—as responses to specific sets of ideological-literary pressures and as formed in a dialogue with the other texts produced in a given environment—that we begin to better understand some of his most puzzling plays as well as how they might have been understood by their earliest audiences. Ultimately, “Shakespeare’s Networks,” contending that we must study Shakespeare’s social and institutional influences when assessing his literary agenda, reads Shakespeare’s works against the backdrop of his social networks in order to achieve a fuller understanding of the works themselves, his writing practice, and his place in early modern literary culture.

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