The Rise of Bardolatry in the Restoration

Paratexts of Shakespearean Adaptations and other Texts 1660–1737

by Enrico Scaravelli (Author)
©2016 Thesis 261 Pages


This book explores from a new perspective the adaptations of Shakespeare in the Restoration, and how they contributed to the rise of the cult of the National Poet in an age where his reputation was not yet consolidated. Adaptations are fully independent cultural items, whose paratexts play a crucial role in the development of Bardolatry; their study initially follows seminal works of Bakhtin and Genette, but the main theoretical background is anthropology, with the groundbreaking theories of Mary Douglas.
The many voices that feature the paratexts of the adaptations and the other texts, such as those of John Dryden, Thomas Betterton, William Davenant, Nahum Tate, John Dennis, and many others, create a composite choir where the emerging sacrality of the cult of the Bard was just one of the tunes, in an age when Shakespeare has not yet become Shakespeare.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Preface
  • 1 The Theoretical Background
  • 1.1 Bardolatry
  • 1.1.1 George Bernard Shaw and the coinage of the term
  • 1.1.2 Early Attestations, Dryden, 1769 Shakespeare Jubilee
  • 1.1.3 Victorian Age, Twentieth Century, and Beyond
  • 1.2 Paratext
  • 1.2.1 Origin and Relevance of the Term
  • 1.2.2 Definition
  • 1.2.3 Parts of the Paratext: Peritext and Epitext
  • 1.2.4 Key Peritextual Categories
  • 1.2.5 Prologues, Epilogues, Curtain Raisers, and Afterpieces
  • 1.2.6 Prologues and Epilogues of Restoration Theater
  • 1.3 Adaptation
  • 1.3.1 Alteration and Adaptation: OED and Patrice Pavis
  • 1.3.2 Martha Tuck Rozett
  • 1.3.3 Ruby Cohn
  • 1.3.4 Linda Hutcheon
  • 1.3.5 Daniel Fischlin and Mark Fortier
  • 1.3.6 Margaret Jane Kidnie
  • 1.4 Linguistics and Anthropology: Mikhail Bakhtin and Mary Douglas
  • 1.4.1 Introduction
  • 1.4.2 Mikhail Bakhtin: “The Discourse in the Novel”
  • 1.4.3 Mary Douglas, Purity and Danger
  • 2 Paratext I: The Peritext
  • 2.1 Publisher’s Peritext: Title Pages and Titles
  • 2.1.1 Introductory Remarks
  • 2.1.2 Title Pages and Titles
  • 2.2 Prefatorial Peritext: Dedicatory Epistles, Prefaces, Reader’s Advisory, Theoretical Essays
  • 2.2.1 Introductory Remarks
  • 2.2.2 1670–1687: From Davenant and Dryden’s The Tempest to Ravenscroft’s Titus Andronicus
  • 2.2.3 1700–1703: An Historical Play and Three Comedies
  • 2.2.4 1720–1723: Historical Plays and Roman Plays
  • 2.2.5 Conclusions
  • 2.3 Dramatic Peritext: Prologues and Epilogues
  • 2.3.1 Introductory Remarks
  • 2.3.2 The Tempest ; Troilus and Cressida ; The History and Fall of Caius Marius ; The Misery of Civil War
  • 2.3.3 2 Henry VI; King Richard the Second; King Lear; The Ingratitude of a Common-Wealth
  • 2.3.4 The Jew of Venice ; The Comical Gallant ; The Sequel of Henry IV ; The Invader of his Country
  • 2.3.5 The Tragedy of King Richard the II ; Love in a Forest ; Henry V ; The Universal Passion
  • 2.3.6 Conclusion
  • 3 Paratext II: The Epitext
  • 3.1 Introductory Remarks
  • 3.2 Pre-Restoration (1598–1647): Palladis Tamia, the First Folio, and other texts
  • 3.3 From Fuller to Langbaine (1662–1699)
  • 3.4 The Rymer Controversy
  • 3.5 Jeremy Collier and the Two Disputes
  • 3.6 From Wright to Felton, Traversing Roscius Anglicanus and The Tatler
  • 3.7 The First Editors of the Shakespeare Canon
  • 3.8 Bardolatry and Barbarous Language
  • 3.9 Voices before the Censorship Law
  • 3.10 Concluding Remarks
  • 4 Conclusion
  • Appendix
  • Bibliography
  • Primary Texts
  • Secondary Texts

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I want to express my deepest and sincerest gratitude to Fernando Cioni (University of Florence) for his steady support and the invaluable help he has always offered me throughout my postdoctoral years, and to Alessandro Serpieri (also from the University of Florence) whose early lesson will always be relevant. I am also indebted to the staff of the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, the Biblioteca Marucelliana, and the various libraries of Humanities of the University of Florence.

I wish to thank Ann Thompson (King’s College London) for a splendid seminar on the afterlife of Hamlet, and Sonia Massai (also from the King’s College London) for the insightful observations she offered me when this study was still in its infancy. I am also indebted to the staff of the British Library, the King’s College Library, and the Senate House Library.

I would like to thank Kent Cartwright (University of Maryland) for the insightful suggestions he so kindly gave me some time ago, Virgina Vaughan (Clark University) for her observations on The Tempest, and Walter Cannon for his information on John Milton. I am also indebted to the staff of the Folger Shakespeare Library, and the Library of Congress.

Finally, I thank with all my heart all those who, during my postdoctoral years, were close to me personally and professionally. This book is the fruit of those hard years, and is dedicated to them.

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This study is an examination of bardolatry in the “preliminaries” of the Shakespearean texts, placing particular emphasis on the adaptations of the Bard’s plays from the Restoration period. By preliminaries, I am referring to what Genette calls paratext – the sum of the peritext and epitext.1 In the analysis of the many voices that have contributed on bardolatry (some from before 1660), I have deemed it useful to refer to studies that were not exclusively literary: for example, I have used concepts such as those articulated by Mary Douglas in her anthropological studies from the second half of the twentieth century.2

The first chapter provides the theoretical framework for the key concepts of the book, such as bardolatry, paratext, and adaptation. The second chapter is the analysis of the paratexts of the Shakespearean adaptations themselves, while the third chapter completes the general picture with the discussion of texts that were relevant for the cultural milieu of the period. Finally, the appendix is a catalogue of the Shakespearean adaptations that I have analyzed previously, mainly in their paratextual aspect. In it, I have recorded the main information regarding staging, printed editions, and plot (for which I provide a detailed act-by-act account).

It is always necessary to apply certain limits to the material under consideration, in order to have a field of study that is as homogenous as ← 11 | 12 → possible. The material examined in the present study does not include farces, drolls, or other brief compositions taken from Shakespeare’s plays, especially if they were originally composed in the age preceding the Restoration and published after 1660. Nor have I included closet drama, as its public impact is obviously very small.

Finally, a remark concerning chronological restrictions, as these are necessarily arbitrary and must be justified. The period examined here is from 1660 to 1737, although in some cases earlier events and texts are mentioned. The start date can be easily recognized, as it represents the Restoration of Charles II and the reopening of theaters, but the end date does not correspond with any similarly important historical and cultural event. The year chosen is that of the Stage Licensing Act, commissioned by Robert Walpole, which imposed strict censorship on drama and therefore heavily influenced theatrical life.

1 This is Genette’s definition of paratext, outlining its constituent parts and function: “a title, a subtitle, intertitles; prefaces, postfaces, notices, forewords, etc.; marginal, infrapaginal, terminal notes; epigraphs; illustrations; blurbs, book covers, dust jackets, and many other kinds of secondary signals, whether allographic or authographic. These provide the text with a (variable) setting and sometimes a commentary, official or not, which even the purists among readers, those least inclined to external erudition, cannot always disregard as easily as they would like and as they claim to do.” Gérard Genette, Palimpsests: Literature in the Second Degree, trans. Channa Newman and Claude Doubinsky (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1997). Originally published as Palimpsestes. La littérature au second degré. (Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1982), 3.

2 Mary Douglas, Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo (London: Routledge, 1966 [2006]).

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1 The Theoretical Background

1.1 Bardolatry

1.1.1 George Bernard Shaw and the coinage of the term

In 2015, according to the online edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), bardolatry is the “Worship of the ‘Bard of Avon’, i.e. Shakespeare.” A combination of the words “bard” and “idolatry,” it is the term used to define the worship of William Shakespeare, who, at least since the nineteenth century, has been called the “Bard of Avon.” Curiously enough, the word was born in a paratext where the author blames Shakespeare: it was, in fact, George Bernard Shaw who coined the term in 1901, when he used it in the preface to his Three Plays for Puritans.3 Here, Shaw employed the term in a negative sense (“So much for Bardolatry!”)4 to criticize Shakespeare for creating works that, unlike his, did not deal properly with social themes. Likewise for adaptation, the use that will be made here of the word Bard is neutral, bearing neither the negative meaning applied by Shaw, nor the positive one attached by bardolators.

1.1.2 Early Attestations, Dryden, 1769 Shakespeare Jubilee

Although the term was coined at the very beginning of the twentieth century, the mental attitude defined as bardolatry began to develop a few years after Shakespeare’s death, if not earlier, as Francis Meres attests as early as 1598. Since 1610, when the newly founded Bodleian Library “entered into an agreement which entitled it to a copy of every book registered with the Stationers’ Company, … the intervening 200 years ← 13 | 14 → mark a steady but incomplete evolution of Shakespeare’s reputation towards the preeminence we now take for granted.”5 In fact, Samuel Holt Monk’s opening statement of his essay on “Dryden and the Beginnings of Shakespeare Criticism in the Augustan Age”6 is probably true: the main line, or rather lines, of critical thought about Shakespeare had been formulated before 1660.

In the middle of the first half of the seventeenth century Shakespeare’s supremacy had not yet been consolidated. According to Graham Holderness, Beaumont, who died a month and a half before the Bard, was thought to deserve a place in Westminster; Jonson, who died in 1637, had crowds following his corpse to the Abbey; on the other hand, “Shakespeare had been laid to rest in 1616 in a relatively little, obscure grave in the chancel of Stratford church.”7

Despite this, soon after the Bard’s death, the tide had started to change. In the paratext of the 1623 First Folio, in the poem in memory of Shakespeare, Ben Jonson writes “He was not of an age, but for all time!”8 paving the way for those in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries (and beyond) to praise the eternity of the Elizabethan playwright. He also fosters the link between the Bard and nature, thus beginning to qualify his genius as natural and eternal; finally he also raises the vexed question of Shakespeare’s learning, another crucial point that scholars have much debated. Leaving aside Milton, and Dryden’s ambivalence towards Shakespeare, which did not prevent him from conveying the idea that the Bard was a universal and foundational figure in the English culture, the ratification of bardolatry is set at the end of the second decade of the second half of the eighteenth century with David Garrick’s 1769 Shakespeare Jubilee, during whose celebrations he composed an ode to commemorate the great playwright, proclaiming him “the god of ← 14 | 15 → our idolatry.”9 The year 1769 is the great formal inauguration of bardolatry as a national religion, which “marks the point at which Shakespeare stopped being regarded as an increasingly popular and admirable dramatist, and became a god.”10 And before the end of the century, another critical landmark was set by Samuel Johnson’s pronouncement that Shakespeare is a “mighty genius”11 and that “his works may be considered a map of life.”12

Before reaching these peaks of adoration, during the course of the eighteenth century, the Bard’s reputation had steadily improved, mainly due to Dryden’s influence as critics “were to see Shakespeare pretty much as [he] had taught them to do.”13 In fact, “although still attacked occasionally, Shakespeare’s work was [now] used as a standard of excellence by … critics”:14 Joseph Addison in the Spectator, and Richard Steele in the Tatler quite frequently praised and recommended the Bard to their readers, which had a direct and positive effect on the popularity of, and the attendance at, theaters, as Colley Cibber remarks in his Apology (1740).

Before Garrick’s Jubilee, however, there was another relevant step in the path of bardolatry. It happened in 1709, when Nicholas Rowe published the first critical edition of the works of Shakespeare. This was the first seed of three centuries of Shakespeare studies, still ongoing. Graham Holderness observes that, in the Restoration, “both the unassailable Shakespearean reputation, and the stable Shakespearean text, were yet to be consolidated (the first edition of Shakespeare’s works – other than simple reprints of the 1623 Folio – that of Nicholas Rowe, was not published until 1709).”15 As decades passed, “with the consolidation ← 15 | 16 → of Shakespeare’s prominence as Britain’s national dramatist, the Shakespearean text became accepted as the only fictionalized version of the ‘Lear’ story to retain any enduring artistic value”;16 what happened to the story of King Lear, also happened to many other stories adapted by Shakespeare from previous sources.

When dealing with Shakespearean adaptations there is a point that is often underestimated, if not forgotten: Shakespeare himself was an adaptor. He adapted both within the same literary genre (drama to drama) and from one genre to another (prose or poetry to drama), as the numerous and detailed studies on his sources have shown. He drew from the Classics, from the Italians, from the English, Ovid, Bandello, Holinshed, and many more. With the rise of bardolatry, his plots, his versions of the stories, have eclipsed all other plots, all other versions to become a master narrative; but it has not always been so. In the early decades of the Restoration, when Shakespeare had not yet achieved the status of National Poet, his works had not yet become detached from the continuity of the tradition, so others still drew upon this material with relative freedom. Today, when we judge the adaptations inferior to the “original” we are looking at them under the influence of bardolatry; it is very easy to do so, as the cult of Shakespeare is a strong cultural process that started centuries ago.

1.1.3 Victorian Age, Twentieth Century, and Beyond

As Robert Sawyer has recently argued,17 in the Victorian Age the excitement surrounding the Bard reached a point where his work was put in close connection with the Bible. Mary Cowden Clark and Henry Morley, churchmen like William Rolfe and Dean Frederic Farrar, and atheists like Robert Ingersoll, all united in praising the Bard. Many writers spoke of the work of Shakespeare as a secular equivalent of the Bible; but the such worship was obviously the fruit of seeds planted in previous centuries. One of these seeds produced buds in 1841 when, in On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and the Heroic in History, Thomas Carlyle ← 16 | 17 → posed a rhetorical question, “This King Shakspeare, does not he shine, in crowned sovereignty, over us all, as the noblest, gentlest, yet strongest of rallying-signs; indestructible …?”18 before fearlessly plunging into adulation of the Bard:

Of this Shakspeare of ours, perhaps the opinion one sometimes hears a little idolatrously expressed is, in fact, the right one; I think the best judgment not of this country only, but of Europe at large, is slowly pointing to the conclusion, that Shakspeare is the chief of all Poets hitherto; the greatest intellect who, in our recorded world, has left record of himself in the way of Literature. On the whole, I know not such a power of vision, such a faculty of thought, if we take all the characters of it, in any other man. Such a calmness of depth; placid joyous strength; all things imaged in that great soul of his so true and clear, as in a tranquil unfathomable sea!19

One of the defining points of bardolatry is that Shakespeare is presented not only as the greatest author, but also as the absolute genius, the supreme intellect, the finest psychologist, and as the one who describes the human condition most faithfully. In other words, bardolatry views Shakespeare as the master of all human experience and of its intellectual inquiry. It also embraces the concept of realism of the characters of the Bard, pushing it as far as to regard them as “real people,” for they have changed the consciousness and ways of perceiving human nature on a large scale in Western culture.

An authoritative mouthpiece of the above idea is Harold Bloom, whose bardolatry finds its highest expression in the paratext of his Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human (1998), which analyzes thirty-five plays by the Bard. In the preface addressed to the reader, Bloom’s cult of Shakespeare impels him to assert, “He wrote the best poetry and the best prose in English, or perhaps in any Western language.”20

The characters of the plays are also the subject of praise. In 1725 Alexander Pope asserted that Shakespeare had “look’d thro human nature at one glance,”21 and from this had created the characters of his plays: “every single character in Shakespear is as much an individual, ← 17 | 18 → as those in life itself.”22 Bloom occupies a position that loudly echoes Pope, despite the passage of more than two-and-a-half centuries: in his view the greatest characters of the Bard’s plays are not simple but rather human modes of consciousness and awareness tout-court:


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2015 (December)
Shakespeare Bardolatry Paratext Restoration
Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2016. 261 pp.

Biographical notes

Enrico Scaravelli (Author)

Enrico Scaravelli is an independent scholar from the University of Florence in Italy, where he graduated in Foreign Languages and Literaures in 2004 and achieved a PhD in English and American Literatures in 2009. His main topics of interest are Shakespeare, the Anglo-Italian cultural exchange, and the paratexts of the Early Modern English drama.


Title: The Rise of Bardolatry in the Restoration
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