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Shakespeare and Popular Politics

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Abstract

This article defines popular politics as the tactics – ranging from grumbling to rioting – used by common people to articulate and redress economic and social injustice. Early modern popular politics were not, however, exclusively radical and were rarely antimonarchical. A study of popular politics thus pressures the conservative versus progressive binary through which most critics discuss Shakespeare’s politics. Furthermore, this article contests the widely held assumption that Shakespeare was hostile in his representations of ‘the people’ and toward his audience. An understanding of popular politics equips one to read Shakespeare’s crowds not as irrational lovers of violence but rather as stewards of the commonwealth or conscious agents of their own material interests. This article poses the theater itself as a space of popular politics, insofar as it was a space where popular politics were depicted onstage and where common people were invited to think through political issues.

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