Inside Shakespeare: Essays on the Blackfriars Stage

Inside Shakespeare: Essays on the Blackfriars Stage

Inside Shakespeare: Essays on the Blackfriars Stage

Inside Shakespeare: Essays on the Blackfriars Stage


The recently built Blackfriars Playhouse in Staunton, VA, has renewed interest among Shakespeareans and theater historians alike in the playhouse to which Shakespeare's company moved late in his career. Inside Shakespeare: Essays on the Blackfriars Stage represents the first scholarly collection to address questions peculiar to the Blackfriars and indoor playing: Did the Blackfriars have its own repertory? What was the place of the Blackfriars in the urban economy? What qualities did the Blackfriars share with the long tradition of great-hall performances? Featuring essays by Andrew Gurr, Tiffany Stern, Stephen Booth, Roslyn Knutson, A. R. Braunmuller, Michael Shapiro, Alan Somerset, Virginia Mason Vaughn and others, the essays span a range of approaches from performative to historical to textual. Some focus quite specifically on the Blackfriars, while others use the theater as a springboard to related concerns. Culled from the first two Blackfriars Conferences in 2001 and 2003, all the essays help resituate the place of the Shakespearean stage.


Paul Menzer and Ralph Alan Cohen

John MADDEN’S delightful shakespeare in love (1998) spins fables transparent to any student of early modern drama: the appearance of a woman on stage, the composition of Twelfth Night hard upon Romeo and Juliet, Elizabeth I’s visit to the Rose Playhouse, and so on. Less transparent but equally fabulous, Shakespeare in Love sketches a narrative that moves Shakespeare from inside out, from the shadows of coterie drama to the sunlight of popular fame. the film opens with a performance of Two Gentleman of Verona, presented at court for an impassive Queen, and climaxes with Romeo and Juliet, played at the Rose to a roaring throng. the “character arc” of young Will Shakespeare is evident: from courtly maker of conceited verse drama to the full-throated Bard of the popular boards, unleashed by the passion of forbidden love. When, in the film’s climatic moments, Elizabeth I slips her mask and reveals her presence in the Rose galleries, the upshot is unmistakable: even the Queen prefers her Shakespeare alfresco.

Facts don’t always do what we want them to. the current of Shakespeare’s career ran in the other direction, outside in, from suburbs whose names inscribed their marginality—Shoreditch, Southwark—to the center of the city proper. For in 1608, after years of legal wrangling, the King’s Men finally gained access to the playhouse James Burbage bought and fitted out in 1596. While William Shakespeare had but scant years to enjoy the luxury of indoor playing, the centripetal move to the middle reflected his cultural evolution from an upstart crow to a full-fledged swan.

As Andrew Gurr argues in his contribution to this collection, the Blackfriars was clearly the playhouse in which the Chamberlain’s Men wanted to play. the Globe was a desperate stopgap, though a wildly successful one. Nevertheless, the Globe—and the Elizabethan amphitheater in general—looms as Shakespeare’s home in the popular imagination. “Shakespeare’s Globe,” after all, is the name of . . .

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