Academic journal article Philological Quarterly

Performing Places in Thomas Dekker's Old Fortunatus

Academic journal article Philological Quarterly

Performing Places in Thomas Dekker's Old Fortunatus

Article excerpt

PERFORMANCE" AND "PLACE" are difficult and ambiguous terms. To undertake the former both requires and establishes the latter. Places, or what Henri Lefebvre calls socially produced spaces, are informed and shaped by the effects of the social practices and performances that inhabit them. (1) Defining a place is a highly subjective act, and the word is a "slippery" concept used to invest space with meaning "in the context of power." (2) To separate a place from the space that surrounds it is to construct boundaries, to register ownership of it, or simply to admire or think about it. Such a process is, moreover, fraught with uncertainty in a late modern globalized context. As Jody Berland explains, "place has become one of the most anxiety-ridden concepts" in a world characterized by "the flow of people, cultures, and commodities across borders, and the rapidity of technological change." (3) Mobility and movement do not simply threaten places, they also animate them. According to Yi-Fu Tuan, space and place are characterized by their conceptual proximity to movement and inertia: "The ideas 'space' and 'place' require each other for definition. From the security and stability of place we are aware of the openness, freedom, and threat of space, and vice versa. Furthermore, if we think about space as that which allows movement, then place is pause; each pause in movement makes it possible for location to be transformed into place." (4) Where these transformations occur, places are constructed by social performances, or what Michel de Certeau has termed "practices." (5) Places are meaningless without these rudimentary social actions (walking, talking, reading, dwelling). But when power structures ascribe themes of deviant mobility to the social practices of particular places, it is often a sign that those places--and the ideological codes that define them--are being unsettled.

This has been more obvious in certain times and places than in others. In the spatial and social stratification of early modern England, which, Andrew McRae asserts, was "underpinned" by "a commitment to values of place" themes of movement and migration recurrently questioned the tangled boundaries of national stability and social order. (6) Hence Randal Cotgrave's 1611 definition of place delineates both spatial determinants ("a roome," "space" "ground" "soyle" "shore") and markers of social distinction (an "Office" "Function;' "Dignitie;' and "Charge"). (7) Thus the control of social and geographical mobility was of utmost concern to a period (and nation) that was experiencing the passage of bodies, information, and things on an unprecedented scale. Moreover, it seems particularly germane to question how places, spaces, and placelessness were thought and written about in an era that fashioned geometrical paradigms of space that continue to resonate in modern cartographies today.

In London, the hub of English literary production, social identity was determined through a matrix of interrelated semiotics, including gender, profession, education, and attire. (8) Economic placement was engrained as a stable center of dialogue that connected the layers and factional ties of civic community. As James I would state in 1616, "as every fish lives in his owne place, some in the fresh, some in the salt, some in the mud, so let every one live in his owne place." (9) A hierarchical ideology that branded mobility as deviant in many forms made social and geographical placement parallel concerns. As recent scholarship has emphasized, the early modern period experienced more social fluidity than any other in English history, deviating from the rigid social and geographical organization desired by the state. (10) A vast labor market dependent upon a casual and cyclical workforce produced a demographic core of increasingly mobile subjects. This "unsettled" city populace was, according to Patricia Fumerton, subject to daily "physical, economic, and psychological displacement. …

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