Theatre and Humanism: English Drama in the Sixteenth Century

By Kent Cartwright | Go to book overview

2
Wit and Science
and the dramaturgy of learning

In the early sixteenth century, humanist pedagogues discovered in drama a useful vehicle to promote their educational ideals. While print helped humanist reformers to stimulate controversy and public interest, 1 drama served well for countering resistance to humanist education and for shaping students to humanist values. Plays, of course, were widely read and performed in schools in England and across Renaissance Europe: 2 Terence and Plautus were translated and morally explicated, and play-acting offered students practice in language, oratory, gesticulation, public presentation, and even boldness and discretion. Mid-century statutes at Eton, for example, memorialize the practice of teaching oratory and gesture through dramatic presentation, 3 and Richard Mulcaster's Merchant Taylor's School in the 1570s and 1580s was remembered for instilling “'good behaviour and audacitye”' through acting. 4 Besides being heuristic, school theatre revealed itself as apt for promoting the humanist educational vision. That vision shapes John Redford's Wit and Sciencec. 1530–47), and learning as a theme permeates numerous other plays, such as Henry Medwall's Naturec. 1495), Youthc. 1513), John Rastell's The Nature of the Four Elementsc. 1518), John Skelton's Magnificence (1519), Nice Wanton (1547–53), Lusty Juventusc. 1550), Thomas Ingelend's The Disobedient Childc. 1560), William Wager's The Longer Thou Livest the More Fool Thou Artc. 1568), and Misogonus (c. 1570). 5 What about early drama makes it so appealing to humanist learning? 6

For humanist reformers, drama promised to encourage the spectator' emotionalembrace of the transformative vision of education through their engagement with the protagonist's selfdiscovery. To suggest auditorial excitement for pedagogicalplays runs aslant of much recent criticism of Tudor drama, which honors

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