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Questions of Identity in Renaissance Drama: New Historicism Meets Old Philology


The word identity is an Early Modern coinage, but it did not acquire its modern meaning of apperception until late in the seventeenth century. In this essay, the author looks at some earlier notions of self-definition as debated in scenes from Shakespeare and Webster and in extracts from a private family correspondence. Her lens is philological: the process of functional specialization in the interrogative pronoun, the grammatical instrument by which questions of identity are formally posed. Her intention is to make philology and historicist criticism mutually illuminating in a specific case study that shows how ambiguity, variation, and change in linguistic forms reflect and promote larger shifts in sociocultural awareness. She suggests that dialogue is the crucible for both language change and identity construction.

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