French Shakespeare, and a Different Historicism

Alan Stewart
French Shakespeare, and a Different Historicism
My current project is entitled French Shakespeare.  It seeks to show how in the late 1580s and 1590s, England was particularly obsessed with all things French—French politics, French history, the French language, French literature, French culture.   This was a period when France was in turmoil; when Anglo-French relations were particularly crucial; when England was watching events in France with great interest; when England got militarily involved on French soil; and when England played host to a vast number of French immigrants and refugees.    Shakespeare, I argue, along with many other writers, responds, in repeated and varied ways, to this obsession.
The project, like most of my work, is historicist in orientation.  But with French Shakespeare, I wish to put pressure on the nature of that historicism.  Much historicist work of the past two decades has been scrupulously concerned to put Shakespeare back in historical context—but the contexts that have been explored have been quite prescriptive.  Historicist Shakespeare exists in the context of his life trajectory, his theatre, his printing and publication, local geographies (London, Warwickshire), and national concerns (England).  I’m interested in exploring what it means to put Shakespeare in geographical contexts that are not traditionally seen as Shakespearean (France, Paris, Rouen). And, as I’m increasingly discovering, by changing the geographical context, I’m beginning to apprehend a different historicity—that when Shakespeare plays with France in his plays, he is also playing with historical time in presentist ways, and ultimately challenging our current notions of “historicism.”