Plotting paratexts in Shirley’s The Politician
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Plotting paratexts in Shirley’s The Politician book
Customers who purchased copies of Shirley’s The Politician and The Gentleman of Venice (both published in 1655) were treated to unexpected paratexts. Instead of the formulaic character lists detailing names, social roles, and family links, they were offered psychological sketches woven into the conventional format of those lists. Somewhat paradoxically, before the figures deliver their first lines, these descriptions expose their ambitions, virtues, follies, and personal anxieties that would otherwise be revealed gradually through dramatic action. Such a piercing insight into the characters’ minds gives clues about the plot and pre-empts crucial moments in the plays. In a way, these extended character lists reframe Gérard Genette’s famous premise about a paratext being a ‘threshold [. . .] or a “vestibule” that offers the world at large the possibility of either stepping inside or turning back’.1 In Genette’s view, a paratext gives readers a clear choice between either entering or staying outside the main text. Extended character descriptions also give readers the opportunity of ‘turning back’, but never without first ‘stepping inside’ and confronting the characters’ innermost feelings and qualities.