Puppets and "Popular" Culture

By Scott Cutler Shershow | Go to book overview
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Authorship and Culture
in Early Modern England

In the last few decades students of early modern literature have investigated its dynamic relation to a range of other social and cultural activities. In the rituals of kingship, in civic ceremonies and public executions, in carnivals and seasonal celebrations, even in the architecture and topography of London and its suburbs, critics have discovered patterns of meaning that shaped and were shaped by a wide range of early modern discourse—including, of course, the rich tradition of drama produced just before and just after 1600. Such work accords with the historical and cultural tendencies of recent literary theory, which have led many scholars to focus on the interactions of social practice and literary textuality and the interrelationship of canonical texts with relatively more popular modes of discourse.Yet scholarship of the early modern period has neglected an obvious target for such analysis: a whole alternative tradition of dramatic performance that thrived in the same years as the so-called literary drama. I refer, of course, to puppet theater, a mode of culture noted more frequently by early modern playwrights and pamphleteers than by modern students of the period. As I have suggested, the practical conditions of the puppet seem often to suggest or determine not just its abundant figural applications but also its reception. As an oral and ephemeral mode of performance puppet theater remains an elusive critical object, for one must consider the early modern puppet, as I do here, almost exclusively as reflected in texts whose own conditions both guarantee their availability for study and instantiate their "literary" status.More broadly, the

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