Theatre of the Book, 1480-1880: Print, Text, and Performance in Europe

Theatre of the Book, 1480-1880: Print, Text, and Performance in Europe

Theatre of the Book, 1480-1880: Print, Text, and Performance in Europe

Theatre of the Book, 1480-1880: Print, Text, and Performance in Europe

Synopsis

'Magnificent... a magnum opus in more ways than one... this is a big book and an important one, that merits applause for both the scope of its intellectual ambition and the scholarly integrity and enthusiasm of its execution.' -Years Work in English Studies'Peters' work has a solid foundation in primary sources and detailed documentation... offers a viable and thoughtful investigation of an important topic. Theatre of the Book is thought-provoking and dense. It is beautifully illustrated with 60 reproductions of various types of literature associated with drama, each one of them a reminder of the durability of print in contrast with the evanescence of performance in the pre-electronic era.' -History of European Ideas'Deft handling of a great number and variety of sources... The author has thankfully brought a sense of order to the material, without dulling the complexity with overanalysis... The notes are clear and helpful in guiding the reader to a wide range of primary sources and scholarly works that bring an added level of authority to the work as a whole.' -Sixteenth Century Journal'This book is an example of some of the exciting work being undertaken in the growing field of book history, a field which has of late lived up to its promise to be truly multidisciplinary. It is an important contribution to the understanding of the impact and legacy of the printing press.' -Sixteenth Century Journal'Eminently scholarly and subtly argued... Scholars in a variety of fields, especially those who work outside traditional discipline boundaries, will welcome this book as an engaging starting point for research at the intersection of historical bibliography, the history of communication, theatre history, and dramatic theory.' -Sixteenth Century Journal'Remarkable and wide-ranging.' -Peter Holland, Times Literary SupplementTheatre of the Book explores the impact of printing on the European theatre, 1480-1880. Far from being marginal to Renaissance dramatists, the printing press played an essential role in the birth of the modern theatre. Looking at playtexts, engravings, actor portraits, notation systems, and theatrical ephemera as part of the broader history of theatrical ideas, this illustrated book offers both a history of European dramatic publication and an examination of the European theatre's continual refashioning of itself in the world of print.

Excerpt

In the late fifteenth century, half-improvised farce, costumed civic festivals, biblical stories enacted on platforms, the songs of court poets, and the dancing of mummers were confronted by print—by a drama conceived in the fixed and silent forms of the text. Commentaries on Aristotle and Terence, solemn Latin dramas, learned architectural disquisitions found themselves in the hands of princes with a taste for fireworks and singing shepherds. Performance had to reconceive its relation to the text. In disseminating volumes of Terence and Plautus and Seneca and identifying them with gesticulating actors on stages, with painted streets and trees, in promoting standards against which the multitude of local performance genres could measure themselves, in textualizing the singing of the jongleurs, the dance of acrobats, the playing of histriones, in circulating images of “scenes” and “theatres,” in supplying performers with playbooks, in identifying “comedy” and “tragedy” as the paradigmatic performance genres, print was at the heart of the Renaissance theatrical revival. It is not mere coincidence that theatre and printing emerged as central forms of cultural communication during the same period, that someone like John Foxe could see “players” and “printers” (along with “preachers”) as joining forces in the struggle against the antichrist (a “triple bulwark against the triple crown of the pope”). The printing press had an essential role to play in the birth of the modern theatre at the turn of the fifteenth century As institutions they grew up together.

The new theatres were to provide spaces in which the books of Terence, Plautus, and Seneca could be brought to life. The new books were to enshrine the ancient theatre reborn, to offer it up to princes as models for their own, to interpret it for readers, and (perhaps most important) deliberately to misinterpret it, overlooking the precisions of Horace and Donatus and Vitruvius to serve the needs of the new scenic art. The frontispiece to Johann Grüninger’s illustrated edition of Terence, for instance (published in the cosmopolitan city of Strasbourg in 1496) (Fig. 1), offers a version of Vitruvius’ amphitheatre, with the audience gathered in the circular risers and elevated above the scene. But the theatre is inside out, with the performers at the margins and the spectators at the centre, crowded on ringed balconies wrapped around a tower rising towards the sky (recalling the medieval iconography of the Tower of Babel and the City of Heaven). The spare fifteenth-century domestic space (the shabby peaked roofs, with their few gawky inhabitants dressed in old-fashioned cap and bonnet, crouching where hell-mouth would once have been) seems suddenly to have burst forth into a great cornucopia of spectacle. The “houses” of the medieval mansion setting are transformed into the rounded classical balconies spilling forth their fruits, filled with fashionable and richly robed onlookers, reigned over by a pot-bellied cherub waving his wand from the theatrical heavens, directing . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.