Theatrical Convention and Audience Response in Early Modern Drama

Theatrical Convention and Audience Response in Early Modern Drama

Theatrical Convention and Audience Response in Early Modern Drama

Theatrical Convention and Audience Response in Early Modern Drama

Synopsis

This book provides a detailed and comprehensive survey of the diverse, formal conventions of the drama of Shakespeare and his contemporaries. Focusing on the relationship between the repertory system and the conventions and content of the plays, Jeremy Lopez proposes that understanding the potential for theatrical failure (the way playwrights anticipated it and audiences responded to it) is crucial for understanding the way in which the drama succeeded on the stage.

Excerpt

The purpose of this book is to explain how Elizabethan and Jacobean drama works: what it assumes of its audience and how its audience experiences it and responds to it. If this project is to be successful, a working notion must be developed of what is meant by the term “audience, ” and in particular of that term as it applies to a group of playgoers for whom the plays under discussion can be imagined to have been written. That is the aim of this chapter. But the purpose of this book is also to invigorate analytical and theatrical discourse around a body of largely forgotten drama, and if that project is to be successful, the notion of “audience” must be expanded to include modern and even future audiences. The argument thus becomes more a phenomenological than a historical one. That must, for the most part, be the aim of the subsequent seven chapters.

My own audience may wonder then why I begin with a historical approach only to seem to discard it. The reason is this: significant distinctions between a Renaissance audience and a modern audience are, like distinctions between different kinds of audience members in any audience, more frequently made than necessary. Modern audiences can understand and appreciate even the most bizarre conventions of Renaissance drama; this is attested to by the enduring popularity of, and the enduring willingness of directors to work with plays like The Winter's Tale, The Tempest, and Love's Labors Lost. The work of the seven chapters that follow this one must be to show that these and the rest of Shakespeare's plays are for the most part simply of a piece with the majority of extant Renaissance drama: if the phenomenology I argue for in those chapters is convincing, it will be because the claims it makes seem plausibly pertinent to hypothetical audiences of Shakespeare and his contemporaries at any time. For now I will make certain claims about Elizabethan and Jacobean audiences, and these claims will absolutely pertain to the word “audience” as it is used throughout. But the claims I make about Elizabethan and Jacobean audiences should at no time be . . .

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