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‘Enter Will Kemp’: the role of the stage clown in the composition and revision of Shakespeare’s plays, 1592-1599

Ford, Elizabeth 2013. ‘Enter Will Kemp’: the role of the stage clown in the composition and revision of Shakespeare’s plays, 1592-1599. PhD Thesis, Cardiff University.
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This thesis examines the actor-clown Will Kemp and his working relationship with Shakespeare. In particular, the thesis explores the theatrical and literary influence Kemp had on his roles for Shakespeare. In the chapters which follow, I investigate the traces of Kemp in some of the early editions of the plays in which he first appeared, before looking at more solid evidence of his continuing rapport with Shakespeare in the two plays which name Kemp in a role. In each case the focus is on the first entry of his clown figure in the plays examined and the interplay of performance and authorial script. The study reveals Kemp not only as an agent of performance for Shakespeare, but also as a catalyst of textual and eventually thematic change in the composition of his plays. Their professional association thus maps the cultural shift identified by a number of critics from a players’ to an authors’ theatre in the late sixteenth century. Over the last three decades, there have been two major revisionist theories about how Shakespeare wrote and disseminated his dramatic works and which acknowledge the dynamic and pragmatic processes leading to the eventual posthumous publication of the First Folio in 1623. One is the hypothesis, embedded most tangibly in The Oxford Shakespeare (1986), that the dramatist revised and reworked his plays primarily for performance. In the second, related but distinct theory laid out in Shakespeare as Literary Dramatist (2003), Lukas Erne argued that Shakespeare also reworked certain plays specifically for publication. Both theories uphold the notion of authorial revision and both raise questions about how we are to understand the creative and commercial processes which lie behind the surface of Shakespeare’s printed plays. Neither of these overarching theories, however, perhaps pays sufficient attention to the daily realities of the Elizabethan stage, or to the relationship between the plays and the actors who performed them. In the thesis, I contend that Shakespeare’s plays emerged from a vibrant and collaborative theatrical context, articulated in the extant early printed editions, captured in their myriad textual variances and proved in a multitude of details. By scrutinizing these details, I argue, it is possible to see how the conditions of performance made for a dispersal of authorship in playwriting. Actors were not merely the vehicles for the play-texts they performed, but also a root source of written variation. Kemp’s presence undermines the simple binary view of Shakespeare as a theatrical or literary author around which most revisionary scholarship still tends to revolve and points, rather, to far more fluid processes of composition and adaptation in the plays on which he worked with Shakespeare. Indeed, in the stage direction ‘Enter Will Kemp’, where writing meets performance, a whole world of possible change to Shakespeare’s protean art is thus opened up.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Status: Unpublished
Schools: English, Communication and Philosophy
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PR English literature
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 30 March 2016
Last Modified: 19 Mar 2016 23:20

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