Early Modern Literature Graduate Seminar, Trinity Term 2010

June 2, 2010

Gavin Alexander (University of Cambridge) introduced William Scott’s ‘The Model of Poesy’, an exciting recent discovery not just for its references to Shakespeare but as a systematic treatise developing Sidney’s arguments and bringing them to bear on a range of contemporary writers. His forthcoming edition is keenly awaited.

Peter McCullough’s ‘Text and Context: John Donne’s Sermon for the Funerals of Sir William Cokayne’ exemplified some of the priorities of the new Oxford Edition of the Sermons of John Donne, of which he is General Editor.  Using the exceptionally well-documented events of the former lord mayor’s life and death – including Middleton’s pageants and entertainments , the Cokayne family papers (Northamptonshire Record Office) and the survival in the British Library of the herald’s processional for the funeral (naming all those present at the sermon) – McCullough’s paper reconstructed in great detail both the occasion, place, and auditory for which Donne wrote.  Long recognised as one of Donne’s literary best, the additional contextual evidence when combined with a rigorously close formal analysis of the text, revealed the sermon as an even more sophisticated masterpiece of occasional rhetoric.  The full version of the essay will appear in The Oxford Handbook of the Early Modern Sermon (ed. McCullough, Adlington and Rhatigan, OUP 2011).

Is there a Shakespeare play waiting for readmission to the canon? The question has been revived in the media by the Arden Shakespeare edition of The Double Falsehood, the play Lewis Theobald published as adapted fron Shakespeare in 1728, and believed by some to be derived from Shakespeare’s lost Cardenio. In a stimulating session, Tiffany Stern, who will be contributing to a forthcoming book on the Cardenio question, pointed out that while scholars have been quick to look for analogues between The Double Falsehood and Shakespeare’s works, they have been markedly less willing to investigate parallels between the plays and other writings by Theobald – which, as she showed, throws the case for Shakespearean residue in the play into a new light. Bernard Richards discussed The Double Falsehood in the light of his own experience of adapting the play for performance. While both speakers agreed that the questions surrounding the play do not admit of a definitive answer, the controversy has raised fascinating issues. The Double Falsehood has challenged many critics, including Richards, Stephen Greenblatt and Gary Taylor, into dramatic composition, at times into emulation of Shakespeare’s style; if they could do it, why not Theobalds? but then, how unique is the Bard?

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