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The Early Manuscript Reception of Shakespeare: The Formation of Shakespearean Literary Taste


Shakespeare’s early modern readers—those who annotated his first printed works and commented on them in their manuscripts—are often overlooked. Yet they help us understand how Shakespeare was read and appraised before the rise of printed Shakespearean literary criticism in the second half of the seventeenth century and during the Augustan age. This chapter will focus on the early days of the dramatist’s reception. Indeed, well before the evaluation of plays according to neo-classical standards from the Restoration onwards and prior to the elevation of literary taste as one of the foremost public virtues in the eighteenth century, readers were making crucial critical statements during Shakespeare’s lifetime, or in the decades immediately following his death. What the empirical evidence of manuscript inscriptions reveals is that some preconceived ideas need to be revised. As early as the first part of the seventeenth century, readers were sensitive to well-constructed plots, they were interested in characters, in the expression of emotions, and they formulated critical and aesthetic comments on Shakespeare’s works. Moreover, and beyond continuities between early and later periods, this chapter will demonstrate that Shakespeare’s literary and cultural fortunes were subject from the start to ebbs and flows and so his reputation was never the result of an inevitable linear and teleological process. In fact, the notion of taste itself is unstable and dependent on personal as well as external factors. The manuscripts and annotated books studied in this chapter include: William Scott’s The Model of Poesy (c. 1599), a newly discovered manuscript treatise which contains several references to Shakespeare’s Richard II and The Rape of Lucrece; Gabriel Harvey’s comments in two of his books on Venus and Adonis, The Rape of Lucrece, Hamlet and Richard III (1590-1601); a First Folio annotated c. 1630 (University of Glasgow, Sp Coll BD8-b.1); a Second Folio annotated by Charles I; Abraham Wright’s notes (1640-50) on Othello and Hamlet (British Library MS. Add 22608); the most annotated First Folio in the world (Meisei University’s MR774, mid-17th cent.) and a few other relevant manuscripts and Shakespeare editions containing marginalia.


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hal-03762450 , version 1 (27-08-2022)


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Jean-Christophe Mayer. The Early Manuscript Reception of Shakespeare: The Formation of Shakespearean Literary Taste. Tamara Atkin; Laura Estill. Early British Drama in Manuscript, 1, Brepols Publishers, 2019, British Manuscripts, 978-2-503-57546-9. ⟨10.1484/M.BM-EB.5.116456⟩. ⟨hal-03762450⟩
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