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The Rise of Bardolatry in the Restoration

Paratexts of Shakespearean Adaptations and other Texts 1660–1737

Enrico Scaravelli

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.


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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 Diction- ary (OED), bardolatry is the “Worship of the ‘Bard of Avon’, i.e. Shake- speare.” 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 em- ployed the term in a negative sense (“So much for Bardolatry!”)4 to criti- cize 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...

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