Classicism on the English Stage During Shakespeare’s Youth and Maturity

Popularizing classical learning

Authored by: Jeanne H. McCarthy

The Routledge Research Companion to Shakespeare and Classical Literature

Print publication date:  April  2017
Online publication date:  March  2017

Print ISBN: 9781472417404
eBook ISBN: 9781315613550
Adobe ISBN: 9781317041689


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Though classicism had become a draw for popular audiences when Shakespeare began writing for the stage (likely) in the 1590s and its place in the theater was well established by the end of his career, this outcome was far from inevitable. Rather, as we shall see, classical influence on the public stage continued to be contested throughout Shakespeare’s career. Often, it was the learned who most strongly resisted such popularizing on the grounds that the professional theater could hardly be decorous or learned enough to handle such matter. Indeed, a number of university-educated critics believed that classicism in commercial playhouses was inevitably an offense against decorum, an incongruous mixing of high and low, learning and ignorance. Grammar school-educated authors thus struggled to avoid charges of pedantry or dilettantism while a number nonetheless promoted a more classically inflected drama.

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