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Burckhardt in Love: A Response to Lionel Gossman


John Madden's recent film, Shakespeare in Love, accrues its historical and indeed historiographical interest not from any antiquarian impulse, but rather from the way it links Shakespeare's artistic achievement to his engagement with the life and work of another dramatist, Christopher Marlowe. In the film, Marlowe's flamboyant farcicalness, grandiloquent poetry, and short, violent life lay the groundwork for the mimetic achievements of Shakespeare, who took both his inspiration and his negative example from the extremes mapped by Marlovian virtuosity. The film even introduces a third term: the Artaudian excess of the young John Webster, who confesses in the film to having "played the head in Titus Andronicus," and who is thus given the historical task of enunciating within Shakespeare's early work a theatre of cruelty at odds with the representational canons of the high Shakespearean tradition. Moreover, through its very liberties with history, the film manages to replicate some of the definitive moves of that most creative of historians, William Shakespeare. By applying the plot of Romeo and Juliet to the war of the theatres, the film reproduces not Shakespeare the man but rather that battery of playful revisionary and allusive techniques, of incessant double-plotting, that characterizes Shakespeare's relation to his own historical and literary sources.

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