Shakespeare's Working Words
In my current book project, I investigate how Shakespeare used theatrical language to represent labor. Working at the intersection of Shakespeare studies, histories of capitalism, and aesthetic theory, and drawing on the entirety of Shakespeare’s dramatic canon, I trace how the plays articulate what we might think of as a poetics or philology of work.
In taking this approach, I seek to move beyond the methodology characteristic of previous scholarship: criticism on labor in Shakespeare has tended to privilege the mimetic over the non-mimetic, or the performed over the described, elements of drama, with the result that analysis has concentrated on a few key plays, such as 2 Henry VI and The Tempest. Shakespeare’s Working Words will expand our analytical focus by considering not only plays explicitly about labor or individual scenes of labor or characters who labor but also the ways in which a wide range of Shakespeare’s texts deploy what we might think of as the language of labor. I propose that we can gain a more comprehensive understanding of work in Shakespeare’s plays by attending to their non-mimetic elements, including details such as imagery, structure, speech patterns, or references to material objects (such as tools) that do not appear directly onstage. By focusing on labor, a category of analysis central to historicist and materialist scholarship, but shifting attention to the literary tropes and structures through which labor is invoked on the stage, my project provides a richer awareness of how the theater reflected and shaped emerging capitalist modes of production during this crucial period in England’s social and economic history.