Authorial intent: a historical survey

Westh, Sara Marie (2020). Authorial intent: a historical survey. University of Birmingham. Ph.D.

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In Authorial Intent: A Historical Survey I set out to document the history of authorial intent, tracing its path through philosophy, history, and literary theory, from ancient Greece up to the present day. My aim in doing so is to create a comprehensive account of the term’s development and use that will provide a broad historical context for understanding authorial intent, and reconsider its place in the current academic debate, specifically in Shakespeare studies.
In embarking on a historical survey of authorial intent I make a number of a priori assertions, among them that the author’s intentions have historically been considered significant, that they continue to hold significance to present readers, and that by attempting to dismiss them we risk impoverishing the text itself, the reading experience, and the scope of our criticism. The parallel I see between the authorial intent of times past and that of current criticism springs in part from these assertions, in part from the perspective my survey adopts. The period a historical study chooses to focus on will always to some degree dictate the outcome of that study. In reaching back to the Pre-Socratic thinkers my survey implies firstly that similarities between current and ancient thought on this subject exist, and secondly that these similarities are fundamental to a full understanding of authorial intent. While I believe this to be a provable hypothesis, it is also a stance born of the survey’s goal: its final purpose is to enter into dialogue with the editorial treatment of William Shakespeare’s texts. Therefore, the period ranging from the Renaissance to the recent past of High French Theory is considered the most significant to my study.
Although the scope I adopt is broad, the subject at the core of my survey is narrow. It involves philosophy, literary theory, and criticism, as these contribute to the definition and use of authorial intent. As the study progresses through history to the present day, its historical scope will therefore gradually narrow, moving from general stimuli to settle on specific, direct influences, from Classical philosophy to Jacques Derrida and Roland Barthes, and onward to the present day.

Type of Work: Thesis (Doctorates > Ph.D.)
Award Type: Doctorates > Ph.D.
Licence: All rights reserved
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Arts & Law
School or Department: School of English, Drama and Creative Studies, The Shakespeare Institute
Funders: None/not applicable
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > B Philosophy (General)
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN0080 Criticism
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN0441 Literary History
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN2000 Dramatic representation. The Theater
P Language and Literature > PR English literature


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