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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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4 Conclusion


The year 1737 represents an end and a beginning. Indeed, it is not only the year of theater censorship laws, but also the year in which David Garrick arrived in London, and, in just a few years, established a new acting style. The new star of the stage is found responding to and mov- ing in a new theatrical environment, which is now rigidly prescribed. Perhaps partly as a result of the various and violent satirical and controversial attacks against him, Robert Walpole passed the Theatrical Licensing Act on June 21. From that day onwards, every play had to pass the strictures of censorship wielded by Lord Chamberlain, who approved, banished or imposed changes that he deemed appropriate before the play could be staged. An effect of the Licensing Act was that theaters were no longer the main place for cultural debate; thus, new ideas were no longer introduced on the stage, but on the printed page. Henry Fielding and Henry Brooke, for example, had to change their channel of communica- tion with the public, turning their energies from theater to novel, and thus contributing to the transition from the performance of the recited word to the reading of the printed word, which, as was demonstrated earlier, characterized bardolatry in the early eighteenth century. Jean Marsden underlines how the process of canonization of the Bard, the first literary saint of England, “the increasing idolization of Shake- speare and his works,” witnessed a movement from public to private, from theater to...

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