Dramatic Difference: Gender, Class, and Genre in the Early Modern Closet Drama

Dramatic Difference: Gender, Class, and Genre in the Early Modern Closet Drama

Dramatic Difference: Gender, Class, and Genre in the Early Modern Closet Drama

Dramatic Difference: Gender, Class, and Genre in the Early Modern Closet Drama

Synopsis

'Dramatic Difference' argues that early modern women writers manipulated the class-based exclusivity of closet drama to justify their own contributions to this highly political genre. The book situates women writers' work in the context of their male peers' use of the genre and looks at how the genre's social and political orientation changed from the late sixteenth century through the Restoration.

Excerpt

Early modern closet drama encompasses a wide variety of plays. Mary Sidney’s and Thomas Kyd’s late-sixteenth-century translations of the French Senecans, the original dramas of Fulke Greville, Samuel Daniel, and Elizabeth Cary, seventeenth-century translations of classical Greek and Latin plays, and the complex, almost novelistic romances of Thomas Killigrew or Margaret Cavendish, are all compositions intended for reading or private recitation rather than for theatrical performance. Such plays have puzzled critics for decades. In an era that is, for many scholars of the period, defined by the development of the public theater as an institution and a dynamic literarycultural force, the restricted and apparently antitheatrical nature of closet drama stands out as a perverse rejection of the very values that make early modern literature fascinating to late modern writers. Useful to illustrate reactionary instincts among aristocratic practitioners, interesting as a foil to the rich tapestry of the Shakespearean stage, more recently cited in discussion of drama’s political influence or lack thereof, closet drama nevertheless has not accrued the layers of complex social and literary analysis that have marked the last three decades of drama criticism in general.

However, the unusual number of women writers who adopt this dramatic genre—and their total absence as writers of drama for the public stage—has recently attracted the attention of feminist scholars and critics. My study here is provoked by their preliminary investigations, and informed by their caveats. The foundational premise of this project is that closet drama offered early modern writers of both sexes the opportunity to interrogate their culture’s investment in drama and performance. For women writers, closet drama offered more: a form of dramatic writing that allowed their participation in the discourses of dramatic representation, but a form that also, through its dis-

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