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The Conversational Turn in Shakespeare

Gillies, JD (2018) 'The Conversational Turn in Shakespeare.' Etudes Epistémè, 33. ISSN 1634-0450

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Abstract

The OED distinguishes two principal meanings of the word “conversation”: “the action of living or having one’s being in a place or among persons”, and “interchange of words, thoughts”. The first sense (indicating a kind of moral habitus) presumes more about a conversant than the second. Hence in Pericles Gower speaks of the hero as “the good in conversation”. While there is some overlap, there is a significant gap in meaning and a kind of cultural struggle waged between the two. In the early modern period the first sense (deriving from Augustine and the Theatrum Mundi) might be thought of as dominant and the second sense emergent. Both were the focus of theoretical elaboration: the first principally by puritans (resulting in a register of “Christian conversation”), the second in two principle ways, by Steffano Guazzo and Montaigne. Guazzo’s Civile Conversation (tr.1581, 1586) takes an Augustinian understanding as its point of departure, but redefines the word in its pragmatic and essentially modern sense. Montaigne’s understanding of conversation is informed by Guazzo’s but adds a sophisticated understanding of conversation as dialectic. What I propose is to sketch each of these meanings of the word “conversation”, speak to the “turn” from one end of its spectrum of meanings to the other, and then identify traces of this whole spectrum of meanings in Shakespeare. That Shakespeare understands conversation in its pragmatic sense should come as no surprise, but that he should habitually understand it in the sense of a moral habitus and yet in the sense of dialectic is rather more surprising.

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: conversation, Christian, holy, Shakespeare, sensus commuis
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General)
Divisions: Faculty of Humanities > Literature, Film, and Theatre Studies, Department of
Depositing User: Elements
Date Deposited: 18 Jan 2019 17:03
Last Modified: 18 Jan 2019 17:03
URI: http://repository.essex.ac.uk/id/eprint/21481

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