Early Modern English Drama: A Critical Companion

Early Modern English Drama: A Critical Companion

Early Modern English Drama: A Critical Companion

Early Modern English Drama: A Critical Companion

Synopsis

Early Modern English Drama: A Critical Companionpresents twenty-seven analytical essays on individual plays from the early modern period. Each essay is written by a leading scholar and examines a play in terms of a cultural or literary topic, from London to the law, servants to sovereigns, and geography to religion. Incorporating current perspectives in critical studies, the essays address issues of race, class, gender, sexuality, and colonialism, as well as key aspects of intellectual and social history, including humanism, science, the law, and theology.
Featuring the authors and plays most often taught in college courses,Early Modern English Drama: A Critical Companionis an ideal supplement to both primary texts and anthologies of Renaissance drama. It offers extensive coverage of works by Ben Jonson, Christopher Marlowe, and William Shakespeare and also analyzes plays by Francis Beaumont, Elizabeth Cary, John Fletcher, John Ford, Thomas Kyd, Henry Medwall, Thomas Middleton, William Rowley, John Webster, and others. The book is structured around authors and their works, which are related to the issue or topic in question. The essays are organized chronologically according to the dates of composition, performance, or publication of the plays discussed. This design corresponds perfectly with courses in which students first read a primary text and then expand their understanding of the work with detailed critical commentary that provides historical and cultural context. Early Modern English Drama: A Critical Companionis enhanced by a general introduction that looks at the conditions of playgoing in early modern England, recommended reading lists at the end of each chapter, a chronology of Renaissance drama tailored to the book's contents, and brief biographies of the included authors.

Excerpt

The editors intend this volume to serve as a complementary text in a college or university course in Renaissance drama, undergraduate or graduate. Whereas most "companion" texts divide material according to topics, ours begins with a slightly different structural principle: authors and their works. In its broadest contour, we have designed the volume to address this classroom model: students will read plays, typically by known authors (sometimes by more than a single author); and students will benefit from reading informed commentary, geared to their needs and representing important topics of recent critical inquiry. For each work, an authoritative contributor addresses not only a play but also a specific cultural or literary topic, from London to the law, servants to sovereigns, geography to Jews. Through this design, we hope that students will read most of the great plays and authors of the period, at the same time that they acquire familiarity with various topics vital for understanding a special area of investigation.

The Introduction's brief discussion of the conditions of playgoing in early modern England is extended in the next two chapters, which also help to contextualize the rest of the volume. The first chapter (by Wendy Wall) addresses the question of authorship itself, especially the problematic relation between an author's (or authors') writing of a play for the stage and the fact that such a work might eventually find its way into print, with or without the author's (or authors') consent. The environment of dramatic authorship and publication in Elizabethan, Jacobean, and Caroline England differs from that in our time, and students will want to know something about this topic. As such, the overall purpose of this chapter is not to simplify authorship but to complicate it. The second chapter complements the first by looking further into the environment of the stage itself by focusing on theater companies and the conditions of play performance.

The remaining chapters examine as many works that we have space for in a single volume. We have organized this larger set of chapters according to a general chronology of dates for composition, performance, or publication. For twenty-three of the plays, the authors are known. (In the case of The Revenger's Tragedy, the play's authorship is contested, whereas Arden of Faversham remains anonymous.) One chapter (by Martin Butler) discusses the masque, an intermediary form between plays and the other major form of the period, poetry, in relation to Ben Jonson's Masque of Blackness. Three playwrights are featured with four chapters devoted to each because they invented and established the institution of English drama for the centuries to come: Christopher Marlowe, William Shakespeare, and Ben Jonson. Other dramatists who appear in more than a single chapter include Thomas Middleton and John Webster. Henry Medwall, Thomas Kyd, Francis Beaumont, John Fletcher, William Rowley, Elizabeth Cary, and John Ford round out the theatrical cast.

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