Facts and Ghosts: Historicism, Anachronism, and Empiricism in Shakespearean Textual Studies

Zachary Lesser
Facts and Ghosts: Historicism, Anachronism, and Empiricism in Shakespearean Textual Studies
In this talk, I discuss two book projects I am currently completing or trying to complete and reflect on my own approach to Shakespeare as a textual scholar and historian of the book. The two books differ in their primary methodologies (quantitative and qualitative), in the historical periods they engage (early modern and the longue duree from 1603 to the present), and in their attitude towards historicism itself. One is a large-scale study of popularity in the book trade, Print, Plays, and Popularity in Shakespeare’s England (co-written with Alan Farmer), which relies on statistical analysis of the STC in an attempt to discover certain facts about book publication in early modern England. The other is Hamlet after Q1: An Uncanny History of the Shakespearean Text, which deals with the aftermath of the discovery of the only copy of Q1 them known in 1823 and which challenges certain “facts” that we think we know about HamletHamlet after Q1 suggests that our dominant models of historicism and periodization have failed to account for “uncanny” texts like Q1—a text that exists simultaneously in two different historical moments (1603 and 1823) and that is anachronistic or out of time by traditional historicist standards. By meditating on how I came to write these two books, and the unexpected turns they took, I hope to suggest some productive ways we might think about current historicist work in our field, book historical work in particular, as it intersects with other fields that have attempted to transform our models of history, queer theory especially, and with digital humanities and what we might call the “new empiricism.”