“So common-hackneyed in the eyes of men”: Banal Shakespeare and the Eighteenth-Century Novel

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Colleges, School and Institutes


Scholars of Shakespeare's reception still conclude that he was elevated in the eighteenth century from provincial playwright to ‘secular scripture’, his words reverently spoken ‘everywhere’. This article proposes that there was a negative side to this omnipresence. Through the lens of the eighteenth-century novel, it examines the hitherto unstudied phenomenon of ‘banal Shakespeare’: a Shakespeare whose phrases are overused by polite society. It focuses on those instances in the fiction of Samuel Richardson, Henry Fielding, Sarah Fielding and Laurence Sterne when the novelists deliberately have their characters quote Shakespeare in ways that are trite, clichéd or compelled by society. Asking whether ‘banal Shakespeare’ is a threat, or an aid, to the ‘rise of bardolatry’, this article contributes a new sense of the multiple, ambiguous meanings of ‘Shakespeare’ in the eighteenth century, and develops the study of novelistic quotation.

Bibliographic note

Literature Compass Graduate Essay Prize (runner-up)


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)610-621
Number of pages12
JournalLiterature Compass
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - May 2007


  • Shakespeare, eighteenth century, prose fiction, novel, reception, Samuel Richardson, Henry Fielding, Sarah Fielding, Laurence Sterne