Shakespeare's Binding Language

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Oxford University Press, Mar 11, 2016 - Literary Criticism - 592 pages
This remarkable, innovative book explores the significance in Shakespeare's plays of oaths, vows, contracts, pledges, and the other utterances and acts by which characters commit themselves to the truth of things past, present, and to come. In early modern England, such binding language was everywhere. Oaths of office, marriage vows, legal bonds, and casual, everyday profanity gave shape and texture to life. The proper use of such language, and the extent of its power to bind, was argued over by lawyers, religious writers, and satirists, and these debates inform literature and drama. Shakespeare's Binding Language gives a freshly researched account of these contexts, but it is focused on Shakespeare's plays. What motives should we look for when characters asseverate or promise? How far is binding language self-persuasive or deceptive? When is it allowable to break a vow? How do oaths and promises structure an audience's expectations? Across the sweep of Shakespeare's career, from the early histories to the late romances, this book opens new perspectives on key dramatic moments and illuminates language and action. Each chapter gives an account of a play or group of plays, yet the study builds to a sustained investigation of some of the most important systems, institutions, and controversies in early modern England, and of the wiring of Shakespearean dramaturgy. Scholarly but accessible, and offering startling insights, this is a major contribution to Shakespeare studies by one of the leading figures in the field.
 

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Contents

Introduction
1
Early Revenge 3 Henry VI to Titus Andronicus
43
Swearing in Jest Loves Labours Lost
67
A WorldWithoutEnd Bargain Loves Labours Lost
97
Group Revenge Titus Andronicus to Othello
125
Time and Money The Comedy of Errors and The Merchant of Venice
146
Shylock and Wedlock Carnal Bonds
174
Mighty Opposites 2 Henry VI to Hamlet
209
Knots Charms Riddles Macbeth and Alls Well That Ends Well
313
Benefits and Bonds King Lear and Timon of Athens
336
Reformation I King James King Johan and King John
367
Reformation II Sir Thomas More and Henry VIII
395
Coriolanus Fidiussed
419
Oath and Counsel Cymbeline and The Winters Tale
443
Epilogue
470
Notes
477

Oaths Threats and Henry V
237
Troilus Cressida and Constancy
256
Binding Language in Measure for Measure
290

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About the author (2016)

John Kerrigan is Professor of English 2000 at the University of Cambridge. Among his books are an edition of Shakespeare's Sonnets and A Lover's Complaint (1986), Revenge Tragedy: Aeschylus to Armageddon (1996), and Archipelagic English: Literature, History, and Politics 1603-1707 (2008). He has lectured in many parts of the world and writes for the TLS and the London Review of Books.

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