Bart van Es. Shakespeare in Company.

Bart van Es. Shakespeare in Company. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013. xiv, 370p., ill. ISBN 9780199569311. $45.95 (hardcover).

Bart van Es’s Shakespeare in Company is an ambitious study that innovatively combines literary analysis of Shakespeare’s plays over the span of his career with intricate theatrical history. Van Es maintains that Shakespeare’s “decision to become a stakeholder in the theatre industry transformed and would continue to affect the way that he wrote his plays” (3). The central goal of this book is to bring together the tensions between Shakespeare’s unique writing style and his simultaneous intimate immersion in the practical world of the early modern theatre.

Shakespeare in Company is divided into four chronological sections, each of which focuses jointly on theatrical conditions at the time and on Shakespeare’s literary output during that same period. Phase I, “Shakespeare as Conventional Poet-Playwright,” covers the period from 1592 to 1594, including Shakespeare’s development of his own identity as a writer, and the material conditions for playwriting in the 1590s.

Phase II, “Shakespeare as Company Man,” looks at the years between 1594 and 1599, covering topics such as Shakespeare’s interest in writing parts for particular actors and the fact that his “position as a sharer, performer, and dramatist was without parallel” (125) among his contemporaries. Van Es argues that once Shakespeare became a shareholder, the “common features of the life of the poet-playwright … dropped away” (109-110), such as concern with the printing of his playtexts, literary patronage, co-authorship, and writing for multiple companies. In this period, according to van Es, Shakespeare’s writing is influenced primarily by the “sustained relationship with the actors for whom he writes” (124).

Phase III, “Shakespeare as Playhouse Investor,” covers the years 1599-1608, when Shakespeare became a part owner of the Globe. The career of fellow shareholder Robert Armin during this period shaped the choices Shakespeare made as a dramatist and allowed him to “daringly [exploit] the sadistic quality that Armin brought to the depiction of fools” (179). Likewise, the influence of Richard Burbage on Shakespeare’s literary output was substantial, both in terms of dramatic roles and for patronage. Shakespeare’s relationship with Burbage allowed for “a new level of authorial adaptation,” where Shakespeare’s “leads age over the course of the canon” (248), ending with fathers such as Pericles, Leontes, Cymbeline, and Prospero. Van Es points out that since Shakespeare was a sharer in the Chamberlain’s Men and the Globe playhouse, he could not have written plays for the children’s companies, and thus his “financial and artistic investment may have turned into an ideological investment as well” (196).

The final section of the book, Phase IV (“Shakespeare in the Company of Playwrights Again, 1608-1614”), begins with an account of the change in Shakespeare’s style of writing around 1608, covering his late style and his collaborative writings. According to van Es, Shakespeare’s late style may be due to altered patterns in his work habits, perhaps caused by “a weakening of the link between the players and Shakespeare himself” (255), and a less personal connection with actors. Instead, van Es contends, Shakespeare’s previously close relationship with actors was replaced with more contact with his family and Stratford connections, as well as with other writers such as John Fletcher.

This is a book aimed at an academic readership, and will be of interest to scholars of Shakespeare studies but also to those concerned with the relationship between authorship, collaboration, and the material conditions of writing.

Katherine Scheil
University of Minnesota