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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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.
brilliant ... dazzling ... capacious, generous ... this book will remain a resource for students and scholars for decades. * Rebecca Lemon, Shakespeare Quarterly * Shakespeare's Binding Language is a remarkably original, stimulating, and beautifully written book that showcases an astounding depth and breadth of knowledge. * Adele Lee, Journal of the English Association * [S]ome of the most enjoyable moments are found in the subtle, but suggestive, points made about the better known works, such as the onomastics of the tragedies ... New Historicism still has much to offer the field of Shakespeare studies. * Juliet Gordon, The Use of English * mighty and magisterial ... a timely and erudite book that will surely transform our understanding of the context in which Shakespeare worked and his achievement in producing works that reflect so intelligently on the complicated loyalties demanded by society ... Few works on Shakespeare written in the past 20 years contain so many insights. * Andrew Hadfield, Irish Times * shines new light on the vast array of characters in the canon ... Kerrigan's investigations go the very heart of Shakespeare's world ... * Stratford-on-Avon Observer * Kerrigan is a scholar of boundless critical energy [and] formidable scholarship ... spellbinding ... Hefty as a doorstop, Shakespeare's Binding Language is also edgy as a letter-opener ... It is the gage and measure of where we are with Shakespeare's verbal artistry, and critics will ponder its findings for years to come. * Willy Maley, Spenser Review * wide-ranging, remarkably original study, ... a monumental achievement. * Katharine Eisaman Maus, Review of English Studies * Scintillating ... brilliant ... both deeply learned and freshly attentive to the language of the plays. ... Criticism at its fighting weight and on the front foot, dancing, feinting, and then deftly deploying the knockout citation ... it is a great achievement. * Emma Smith, Times Literary Supplement * Shakespeare's Binding Language is among the most imaginative books on Shakespeare to be published this year. ... Kerrigan's view of Shakespeare's characters as bound in a tangle of conflicting promises is ... unique and refreshing. * Independent, Indybest * Given this year's 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death, there was always going to be a slew of new publications; few, I suspect, will have as long-lasting an effect as John Kerrigan's ... It comprises broad historical context ... and attentive readings of the plays ... The depth of subtlety which Kerrigan finds in the handling of ... specific rhetorical forms is compelling ... I read this with enthusiasm. * Stuart Kelly, Spectator * a massive, complicated and brilliant interpretation of the oaths, vows and promises that bind the characters in virtually every one of Shakespeare's plays ... Shakespeare will only endure if we continually reinvent and reinterpret him, and Kerrigan has done just that. We will still be digesting his masterly work on vows and oaths by 2023 and the next Shakespeare celebration, the 400th anniversary of the First Folio's publication. * Jerry Brotton, The Daily Telegraph * A monumental intervention. This elegant and elaborate examination of the intertwined languages of law and drama will have a lasting impact on the field. * Willy Maley, Times Higher Education Supplement * interesting general history...skilled exercise of literary criticism...the sheer intricacy of individual instances in Shakespeare is amazing...a convincing portrait of the artist as inquirer. * Michael Wood, London Review of Books * When you've spent most of your life teaching Shakespeare's plays, you don't expect to stumble upon a book that makes you feel you've failed to understand something essential about them. John Kerrigan's Shakespeare's Binding Language is just such a book ... a profoundly rewarding book. It will prove indispensable, not only for those who enjoy reading the plays, but also for those who direct and act in them. * James Shapiro, Books of the Year 2016, New Statesman * Shakespeare's Binding Language addresses just about every oath, vow, promise, bond, gage, and contract in the canon ... the significance of Kerrigan's work - not just in terms of scale, but also in terms of depth of knowledge - can't be denied. * Kevin Curran, Studies in English Literature 1500-1900 * [An] absorbing, beautifully written study ... This fine book offers an extensive set of close readings in a similar vein covering many but not all of Shakespeares plays. The readings are uniformly brilliant, learned, astutely argued, and insightful. * David Bevington, University of Chicago * John Kerrigan's focus in this absorbing, beautifully written study is on the oaths, vows, and pledges we hear uttered by Shakespeare's characters in his plays as they commit themselves to marriage, to legal obligations, and to religious observances, or as they express themselves in the casual profanity of day-to-day gossip ... This fine book offers an extensive set of close readings in a similar vein covering many but not all of Shakespeare's plays. The readings are
uniformly brilliant, learned, astutely argued, and insightful. * David Bevington, Renaissance Quarterly * This outstanding book brings a new level of sophistication to the analysis of promising in Shakespeare's drama. * James P. Bednarz, Modern Philology * Drawing on the bonds, and asseverations, of love, loyalty, debt, faith, promises and all sorts of other things that characters vow to keep or maintain, the book explores the many ways in which Shakespeares plays exploit the potential of the oath to bind as well as break the ties of kinship. Within this Kerrigan offers some compelling and intricate readings of oaths and their roles within the plays (and sometimes Sonnets) discussed. * Charlotte Scott, Shakespeare Survey *
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