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Abstract

This essay examines the role of friendship in Shakespeare’s work. Friendship was a highly valued social relation in early modern England and constituted an important theme for humanist writers attempting to revive the virtues associated with classical antiquity. Recent scholarship has demonstrated how the terms of friendship helped legitimate and define social ties ranging from those between literary collaborators to those between political allies. Shakespeare’s work frequently depicts friendship’s complex relationship to rivalry and to marriage, as well as how same-sex relations offered a means to navigate group environs including the martial encampment, the marketplace, and the court. These depictions at times come into conflict with a major Renaissance humanist concept of friendship as a relationship characterized by parity and lack of self-interest. This essay focuses on recent critical approaches that have opened new lines of inquiry into the role of friendship in Shakespeare’s plays and poetry, especially with regards to how his work may attempt to reconcile friendship ideals with the increasing opportunities for advancement in England’s expanding economy and increasingly diverse social sphere.