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16 Pages

PROLOGUE: SHAKESPEARE’S ENGLAND – AN OVERVIEW

I have tried to repeat as litde as possible, but inevitably there is some overlap - largely concerning factual information. The reference section at the end of the book has been revised, brought up-to-date, and re-focused so as to concentrate on mat­ ters more direcdy concerned with the comedies; nonetheless some of the bibliographical information, and the information about theatres and contemporaries, appeared first in the earlier volume, as did one or two of the details about theatre audiences in Chapter 3. Apart from this, I have tended to avoid any direct repetition of material which I have already covered in the Traged­ ies book. This means, inevitably, that some potentially relevant material has been excluded from this volume. Chapters which dealt broadly with religious and philosophical developments, Elizabethan and Jacobean society, the development of the lan­ guage, the printing of the plays, and playhouse practice have as much to do with comedy as they do with tragedy, and part of the brief of the Preface series has been to look at texts within their historical contexts. What now follows in the rest of this prologue, therefore, is a summary of many of the main ideas which are discussed at greater length in the early chapters of the Tragedies book. I include it because many of the arguments which were elaborated in that volume are implicit in this. In particular this book, like its predecessor, takes the view that Shakespeare wrote about a society quite different from our own, that we cannot always assume a continuity of meanings between his world and ours, and that apparent similarities often mask a gulf between the lived experience of these worlds. It also assumes that we cannot - and should not - ignore the cultural factors which condition our own responses to these texts. To read, see, stage or perform a Shakespeare play is thus to engage in a confrontation between past and present meanings, between the historical moment in which the text is produced and that in which it is received.