Theatre and Humanism: English Drama in the Sixteenth Century

By Kent Cartwright | Go to book overview
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Although this book is primarily about the drama of the sixteenth century, it is also about our contradictory perceptions of that drama in the twentieth century. Besides pondering the conflict between earlier humanist and later morality theories, present students of Tudor drama must face the problem of discussing literary history itself. While I have wanted to see sixteenth-century drama as exploring some characteristic dramaturgical problems throughout the era, I have also viewed drama, for certain purposes, as changing in the course of the century from one attitude to another. Thus, for example, while these chapters pursue recurring interests in enigma, doubt, and confusion, the discussion of female characters argues that a possibility in representation emerged by the end of the century that existed only inchoately at the beginning. I find myself wanting to claim that both perspectives–a certain repetition and a certain newness–are true. This paradox, I believe, can be defended logically–it may even be a way of making sense in the present intellectual climate–but it will really be plausible only as the chapters that advance it have been convincing.

At the outset of this project, I thought that I was simply writing about plays that seemed fascinating, but I now recognize that the “present intellectual climate” has affected the book far more than I first suspected. Somewhere along the line, challenging the thesis that the popular tradition was separate from, even superior to, the learned tradition came to possess a certain urgency. Teaching in a university adjacent to the capital of the United States makes it impossible to ignore the assault upon national funding for the arts and humanities, upon élite culture, and upon higher education in general and humanities professors in particular. Simultaneously, Western societies have witnessed an unprecedented celebration of


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