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Untimely Matter in the Time of Shakespeare
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Untimely Matter in the Time of Shakespeare

Jonathan Gil Harris

288 pages | 6 x 9 | 8 illus.
Paper 2011 | ISBN 9780812221466 | $26.50s | Outside the Americas £19.99
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"A stylish, readable, and important intervention in early modern studies. In recalling a past that never was, it invites us to a future that might not be the same."—Jonathan Goldberg, Emory University
"It is difficult to do justice here to the extraordinarily wide range of critical and theoretical models that Harris draws on, or the ease with which he brings them together. . . . Harris's book is important . . . not only for its fine discussions of individual works but also for setting a yardstick for the work that early modernists might do in this area, and for the form that a 'turn to time' might take."—TLS

"Excitingly—and excitedly—written, energetic and widely suggestive. In restoring to the discussion of historical objects their resistance to temporal fixities, Harris's book does cultural historians a service."—Renaissance Quarterly

"A deep, intelligent, thought-provoking book on the ways in which physical objects both inhabit and transcend time. . . . This exciting book takes familiar texts and presents them in a new way."—Choice

"One of the most intellectually profound interventions into the field of Renaissance studies to appear in the last five to ten years. In challenging conventional understandings of historical time, Harris's book offers nothing less than a complete overhaul of current critical practice and persuades us to glimpse a scholarly future that is genuinely and excitingly new."—Renaissance Studies

"Untimely Matter in the Time of Shakespeare is rigorously researched, well argued and skillfully written, and follows its own argument by using the past to suggest alternative ways of imaging both present and future. . . . Harris's book impresses with the depth and breadth of his knowledge, and the skill with which he brings together multiple branches of theoretical discourse to inform and advance his argument. . . . One of the more significant works of literary scholarship of recent years."—Parergon

Selected by Choice magazine as an Outstanding Academic Title

The New Historicism of the 1980s and early 1990s was preoccupied with the fashioning of early modern subjects. But, Jonathan Gil Harris notes, the pronounced tendency now is to engage with objects. From textiles to stage beards to furniture, objects are read by literary critics as closely as literature used to be. For a growing number of Renaissance and Shakespeare scholars, the play is no longer the thing: the thing is the thing. Curiously, the current wave of "thing studies" has largely avoided posing questions of time. How do we understand time through a thing? What is the time of a thing?

In Untimely Matter in the Time of Shakespeare, Harris challenges the ways we conventionally understand physical objects and their relation to history. Turning to Renaissance theories of matter, Harris considers the profound untimeliness of things, focusing particularly on Shakespeare's stage materials. He reveals that many "Renaissance" objects were actually survivals from an older time—the medieval monastic properties that, post-Reformation, were recycled as stage props in the public playhouses, or the old Roman walls of London, still visible in Shakespeare's time. Then, as now, old objects were inherited, recycled, repurposed; they were polytemporal or palimpsested.

By treating matter as dynamic and temporally hybrid, Harris addresses objects in their futurity, not just in their encapsulation of the past. Untimely Matter in the Time of Shakespeare is a bold study that puts the matériel—the explosive, world-changing potential—back into a "material culture" that has been too often understood as inert stuff.

Jonathan Gil Harris is Professor of English at George Washington University and the author of Sick Economies: Drama, Mercantilism, and Disease in Shakespeare's England, also available from the University of Pennsylvania Press.

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