Time for James Shirley
DOI link for Time for James Shirley
Time for James Shirley book
James Shirley is the invisible man of the early modern dramatic canon. Most people are surprised to hear that he was the author of more than thirty plays for the commercial theatre, nearly all of which are still extant. Although Shirley was one of the most popular and successful playwrights before the Civil War, and although he is widely credited with anticipating the Restoration-drama aesthetic, those plays of his which were revived after 1660 did not hold the stage much past 1670, and there is no real tradition of either revival or adaptation from the eighteenth century on. Three of his plays, The Gamester, The Bird in a Cage, and The Constant Maid were printed in Robert Dodsley’s 1744 Collection of Old Plays;1 with their vividly ‘humorous’ characters, intricate plots of sexual rivalry, and ingenious theatrical devices (including, most memorably, a cage filled with live birds, and large enough to conceal a man), these plays perfectly expressed both Shirley’s neo-Elizabethan flair and the tastes of his Georgian editor. All of his works (bar his grammars) were collected in William Gifford’s edition (completed by Alexander Dyce in 1833)—a magnificently unfussy monument to Shirley which did not, however, precipitate a surge in the editing and criticism of the playwright. Just under half of the plays have been re-edited in the intervening 150 years. I can still remember the first time I came upon the Gifford-Dyce edition, long after I thought I had read about as much early modern drama as I needed to. Six volumes? I wondered with excitement and a vague sense of alarm: a Shakespeare-sized canon had been there on the shelves all along, hiding in plain sight.