The deepest periodic division in English literary history is between the “medieval” and the “early modern,” not least because the cultural investments in maintaining that division are exceptionally powerful. Narratives of national and religious identity and freedom; of individual liberties; of the history of education and scholarship; of reading or the history of the book; of a national drama; of the very possibility of persuasive historical consciousness itself–each of these narratives (and many more) is motivated by positing a powerful break around 1530. Late medieval English studies are rapidly transforming in many directions, but one especially vigorous transformation well underway seeks to speak across that entrenched divide. A wide range of scholars, mostly medievalists but also early modernists, have begun to set late medieval textual and dramatic cultures into dialogue with their early modern counterparts. This special issue focuses the conversation at an especially rich point, that of Shakespearean theater. These essays explore “premodern Shakespeare”: how Shakespeare's drama addresses and expresses the cultural revolution of the relatively recent past, and how Shakespeare looks as seen from the perspective of late medieval texts.

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