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Grant number: FA-50622-04

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FA-50622-04

Russ F. McDonald
University of North Carolina, Greensboro (Greensboro, NC 27412-5068)

Shakespearean Poetics and the Culture of Symmetry

This project examines Shakespeare's dramatic poetry in the context of his culture's devotion to pattern, specifically the taste for symmetry that characterizes most areas of design in early modern England: architecture, painting, costume, gardening, and other arts and crafts. In virtually all artistic enterprises at the turn of the seventeenth century, writers, builders, painters, tailors, and other makers were impelled by an overriding commitment to visual balance, to the complementary delights of uniformity and multiplicity. The country-house fa├žade, the costumes worn by Elizabeth in her state portraits, the layout of Tudor knot gardens, fashions in interior decoration, furniture, jewelry--all these examples of visual symmetry and equivalence provide and expository frame for analyzing he mechanics of Shakespearean poetry: the extravagant repetition of letters and words, the complex regularity of the iambic pentameter line, the dualities of wordplay, the structural balances of scenes and plots. The value of looking at Shakespeare's dramatic verse in an interdisciplinary context is that such inquiry situates the writer historically, revealing him as a practicing craftsman responsive to the artistic tastes and demands of his contemporaries. Such re-contextualization not only amplifies our comprehension of Shakespeare's theatrical style but also illuminates the assumptions and practices of a culture that--especially in its unashamed embrace of artifice--is remote and vastly different from our own. This approach also helps to sharpen our critical instruments by linking the insights of cultural and formal analysis. Finally, concentration on surfaces augments our appreciation of the historical, visual, and poetic pleasure.

[Grant products]

Project fields:
British Literature

Program:
Fellowships for University Teachers

Division:
Research Programs

Total amounts:
$40,000 (approved)
$40,000 (awarded)

Grant period:
7/1/2004 – 6/30/2005