When William Shakespeare wrote his final plays both his life and England were changing. In 1607-08, social, political, environmental and personal factors such as a cold winter, plague outbreaks in London (which stopped public performances for extended periods) and countrywide grain shortages tormented both city and country. While London suffered, Shakespeare experienced some happy occasions, such as his daughter’s marriage and birth of a grandchild, as well as access to an indoor theatre called Blackfriars, but he also felt tragedy as he buried his nephew, brother, and mother.
Dr. Rory Loughnane, Associate Editor of the New Oxford Shakespeare Project in the IU School of Liberal Arts at IUPUI, and Andrew J. Power wanted to draw attention to the circumstances in which Shakespeare wrote those last plays. The events of 1607-08 seemed an appropriate place to mark the beginning of the end for Shakespeare. Together, the two scholars have co-edited Late Shakespeare, 1608-1613, published by Cambridge University Press, offering readers a summary of the most pertinent biographical details and contextual issues in the final years of Shakespeare’s career. The collection also examines of the state of late Shakespeare studies, and highlights how critics have failed to discuss the late works in their entirety.
"Traditionally ‘late Shakespeare’ has simply meant those four late plays labeled as romances: Pericles, Cymbeline, The Winter’s Tale and The Tempest," says Loughnane. "But such a skewed genre-driven appraisal of the late plays ignores the reality that Shakespeare wrote four other plays between 1608 and 1613." Included in the four other works Shakespeare wrote during this time period is The History of Cardenio, performed last spring by IUPUI’s Hoosier Bard Productions.
The book is divided into two sections-the first is a set of seven essays, each dedicated to a single extant play. While focusing on single plays, each contributor also sought to note points of comparison and contradiction with other plays in the late canon. The second set includes essays describing a single factor that might have impacted upon all or several of the late plays. For example, Power’s essay describes the changing face of the playing company, The King’s Men, in the late years.
Loughnane, born and raised in the west of Ireland, arrived in Indianapolis in 2012. He completed a Ph.D. in early modern studies at Trinity College Dublin in 2009. Late Shakespeare was first formulated during those days at Trinity College, starting as a conference in 2008 entitled "Late Shakespeare: Texts and Afterlives." The event was such a success that Loughnane and Power decided to put together an essay collection focused on Shakespeare’s late works. They invited leading Shakespeare scholars to contribute work to the project, and Loughnane and Power, alongside these individual essays, also co-authored an extended critical introduction that reconsidered the dating and order of Shakespeare’s plays.
"For Andrew and I, Late Shakespeare, 1608-1613 is only the start," Loughnane says. "This is a little confusing since we began with the final works, but we’re now turning our attention to the more difficult dating and contextual problems of the early works. In the spring of 2014, we will lead a seminar on ‘Early Shakespeare’ with 15 leading textual scholars and theatre historians at a conference in Paris. This week-long conference, organized by the Société Française Shakespeare, is a celebration of the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth. It promises to be an exciting event, and we hope to be able to produce groundbreaking new research on the content and order of Shakespeare’s earliest works."
Details about Late Shakespeare, 1608-1613
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