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Title: Shakespeare's materialist drama : text as history in 1 Henry VI and Coriolanus
Author: Garner, Lee
ISNI:       0000 0001 3491 1521
Awarding Body: University of East Anglia
Current Institution: University of East Anglia
Date of Award: 1984
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The relationship between literature and history forms the central problematic of this thesis. Specifically, I address the question: How can Shakespeare's plays be best understood today when they are read and performed in circumstances which differ in so many important respects from those for which they were written. The audiences which, in the expectations of the dramatist, and in performance, formed an integral part of the work, no longer exist; while the audiences which do exist are structured in their relation to, and their perception of, the plays by economic and ideological forces which are substantially different. It is my contention that a dialectical approach within the perspective of historical materialism offers the best available solution to this problem. To this end, the initial focal point of my analysis is Pierre Macherey's notion of the historical unconscious. Within this theoretical space, I will analyse the labour of elaboration undertaken by Shakespeare in transforming his source material into plays. These transformations will be shown to produce specific historical effects within the work which relate to particular elements of late Elizabethan and early Stuart class society. These effects within the work, which constitute the historical unconscious of the plays, will Simultaneously form the basis of a reconstruction from and for the present. The appropriate theorist here is Bertolt Brecht, who, in his work as adaptor of classical plays, sought to understand the works in their period prior to adapting them tor re-presentation before a modern audience. I have chosen to concentrate on two of Shakespeare's plays: 1 Henry VI and Coriolanus which are most probably his first and last history plays. In the case of 1 Henry VI, I will straightforwardly analyse the dramatist's source transformations in context, at the same time comparing Shakespeare's reconstruction with the chronicle accounts. My approach to Shakespeare's Coriolanus, however, is more wideranging, involving as it does three distinct historical periods. First, I will consider the original version of the historical legend of Caius Martius Coriolanus in The Roman Antiguities of Dionysius of Halicarnassus. Despite the substantial re-writing of Dionysius' account by Plutarch this is basically the same narrative structure which became available to the Elizabethans through the translations of Jacques Amyot and Thomas North. Second, I will analyse Shakespeare's transformations of North in their socio-historical context, and compare them with the original version and its context. Finally, Shakespeare's play, reconstructed for his early Stuart audiences, compared with Dionysius' account, will be contrasted with the theory and practice of Brecht in his adaptation of Shakespeare's Coriolanus. This work will then in its turn provide a basis for evaluating the question of the historicity of the present study.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Literature