Stillness in Motion in the Seventeenth Century Theatre

By P. A. Skantze | Go to book overview

1

Permanently moving

Ben Jonson and the design of a lasting performance

THE ARGUMENT

Ben Jonson articulates his pursuit of literary renown made in and through print. In his careful attention to the publication of his writing, Jonson demonstrates the tensions at work near the beginning of the seventeenth century between renown in print and renown in playing. Jonson looks both backwards and forwards, using his poetry and his plays to revere (and amend) the ancients as well as to collect and scrutinize new ideas in circulation among his contemporaries. As a collector, Jonson pursues his craft with an attention to distinguishing those things worthy of display on stage, while he uses delay to manipulate the power of the author as an expert showman. In Epicoene; or, the Silent Woman the allied practices of collecting/showing and devising/performing are represented through a controlled demonstration of motion and stillness communicated through the signs of gender. In this play, the “secret” for Jonson operates as a correction for an audience too wedded to theatrical illusion as well as a gift offered to a reading audience not participating in the temporal unfolding of the theatrical performance. In The Gypsies Metamorphosed, Jonson is again at work as collector, but this time within a form, the masque, whose very nature is to combine stillness and motion in performance. Yet, here in this masque, as to a lesser extent in Jonson’s plays for public theatre, the text for performance bears traces of Jonson’s wistful desire to lay claim to both the power of the performed piece and the longevity of the printed poetry and to have that claim last, embedded somehow in the very language left in print.


Collecting, timing, and display

The culture of collecting exhibits instances of the interchange between the permanent and the performed: a group of objects collected, enumerated and shelved, remain unknown unless shown, demonstrated, or paraded before an admiring public. While power and recognition depend upon display, the efficacy of display depends upon timing. The collector must

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Stillness in Motion in the Seventeenth Century Theatre
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments viii
  • Introduction 1
  • Prologue 21
  • 1 - Permanently Moving 30
  • 2 - Predominantly Still 59
  • 3 - Theatrically Pressed 82
  • 4 - Decidedly Moving 106
  • 5 - Perpetually Stilled 132
  • Epilogue 154
  • Notes 162
  • Bibliography 187
  • Index 202
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