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Article

Comedy  

Yi-hsin Hsu

So strong is the cultural desire for an independent and original theory of comedy that Aristotle is imagined to have penned, aside from his glancing treatments of comedy in the Poetics, a critical assessment of the genre, now lost. The symbolic absence of this presumed Aristotelian treatise speaks volumes for the near unattainability of such a critical endeavor. Comedy is at times conceptualized as a generative “umbrella” genre that subsumes other adjoining modes of literary figuration—satire, parody, romance, irony, joke, word play, farce, and stand-up—all while being routinely subject to cultural and theoretical conflation with humor, laughter, amusement, wit, and other physiological as well as intellectual triggers or responses to the comic. The generic contours of comedy are ever-expanding and helplessly slippery. Comedy embodies divergences and dualities. Its anthropological association with fertility rituals at its generic inception suggests privilege and respectability, but Plato’s prejudice against comedy as fit for slaves and outcasts, together with Aristotle’s identification of comedy with lowliness and ugliness, conditions the perception of the genre as relatively vulgar, inferior, and base when examined alongside its nobler counterpart, tragedy. Comedy’s capacity to channel expressions for behavioral deviation in the Feasts of Fools qualifies the genre as a social subversive, but that comedy is conducive to societal stability as a safety valve for discontentedness and insurgence proves that the genre wields the potential of a social fixative. Comedy is said to be grounded on malice and superiority, but playwrights throughout the ages have used it to advance virtue. It is in and between these seemingly irreconcilable contradictions that theoretical abstractions of this elusive genre may be attempted.

Article

Digital Shakespeare  

Toby Malone and Brett Greatley-Hirsch

Digital publishing, from early ventures in fixed media (diskette and CD-ROM) through to editions designed for the Web, tablets, and phones, radically transforms the creation, remediation, and dissemination of Shakespearean texts. Likewise, digital technologies reshape the performance of William Shakespeare’s plays through the introduction of new modes of capture and delivery, as well as the adaptation of social media, virtual reality, video gaming, and motion capture in stage and screen productions. With the aid of the computer, Shakespearean texts, places, and spaces can be “modeled” in new and sophisticated ways, including algorithmic approaches to questions of Shakespearean authorship and chronology, the virtual 3D reconstruction of now-lost playhouses, and historical geospatial mapping of Shakespeare’s London.

Article

Early Modern Literature and Food in Britain  

Joan Fitzpatrick

Early modern literature about food is found in a range of genres that have traditionally appealed to literary critics, such as drama and poetry, as well as writings that can be less neatly categorized as literary but that tend to have a literary dimension, such as religious sermons, cookery books, and dietary literature, also known as regimens. Food in early modern literature often signals a complex relationship between the body, a sense of self, and the sociopolitical structures that regulated food’s production and consumption in the period. Writers mentioning food may thereby convey details of narrative, characterization, and motivation but also signal broader social concerns such as the role of women, religious obligations, treatment of the poor, and the status of foreigners. Ordinary staple foods such as bread feature heavily, but so too do exotic foods newly imported into England such as apricots and other fruits that were hard to grow. There is also a fascination with perverse consumption, such as cannibalism (sometimes metaphorical and sometimes literal), which functions as an indication of various modes of alterity. The consumption of food in early modern literature is often grounded in the period in which it was written. A common recurrence is the way in which patterns of consumption signal social and moral responsibility, so that eating and drinking to excess, or taking too much pleasure in them, is considered sinful. Also evident is the shift from medieval communal dining and a sense of feudal obligation and hospitality to strangers to a growing early modern sense of privacy and individualism. Food functions as a complex marker of national, religious, and cultural identity whereby certain foods signify Catholicism or Englishness and other foods, or their preparation, will signify strangeness. Yet food can also be a shorthand way to address issues such as hunger, desire, and disgust.

Article

Early Modern Regional Drama  

Matthew Woodcock

Early modern regional drama produced in England between the Reformation and the closure of the public theaters in 1642 can be divided into three categories: provincial performances by touring playing companies; entertainments and masques staged by civic, ecclesiastical, and aristocratic hosts during Tudor and Stuart royal progresses; and drama produced by towns, cities, and communities themselves. There are also many instances of performances where these three categories overlap or interact. Touring companies under royal or noble patrons performed in a variety of locations upon visiting settlements in the provinces: in guildhalls, inn, churches and churchyards, open spaces, noble or gentry households, or, on a few occasions, purpose-built regional playhouses. There is extensive evidence of touring companies playing in the provinces across England and Wales until the 1620s, although there were fewer opportunities for patronized touring companies under the Stuarts and greater incentives and rewards for performing in London and (from 1608) in the new indoor theaters. Drama also came to the provinces during Tudor and Stuart royal progresses in the form of shows and masques staged in urban communities, elite domestic houses, and at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge. The heyday of such entertainments was during Elizabeth I’s reign; between 1559 and 1602 the queen visited over 400 individual and civic hosts. The reigns of James I and Charles I saw far fewer progresses into the provinces and the principal focus of Stuart royal spectacle was court masque and London’s Lord Mayor’s shows. Nevertheless, the monarch and royal family were entertained around the country from the 1620s until the 1630s, and Ben Jonson played a key role in scripting some of the provincial masques staged. Early modern regional drama also took the form of civic- and parish-based biblical plays and pageants that continued medieval guild-based performance traditions. Drama was also performed in provincial schools and in the universities, as well as in private households, throughout the period. Examining early modern drama from a regional perspective, and identifying how, where, and why drama was performed across the country, enables the construction of a broader and more complex understanding of theater and performance as a whole in the 16th and 17th centuries. When it comes to reflecting the wider social, geographical, and gender demographics of early modern England, regional drama is shown to offer a more truly representative, inclusive conception of national drama in this period than that which is predicated on London-based material alone.

Article

Literature and Disability in the English Renaissance  

Alice Equestri

Disability—whether physical, mental, or sensory—is widely represented in Early Modern literature, and as such it has been attracting attention from 21st-century literary scholars, who apply the theoretical and critical tools of disability studies to Renaissance narratives and literary characters. Literary disability in its various forms can be analyzed in the light of various models of disability, including medical, social, moral, or cultural. This helps in understanding early modern representations and experiences of disability in culture and history and making sense of reactions to disability in the period: including stigma, mockery, proud identification with the disabled identity, or also a desire for it. Physical disabilities in the Renaissance encompass anything from deformity to bodily mutilation to dwarfism or monstrosity, and they are especially prone to be emphasized, explained, or scrutinized in search of their meaning. Sensory disabilities, including blindness, deafness, and mutism, prompt interpretations that connect physical impairment with the character’s inability or surprising ability to understand reality—whether in a pragmatic or spiritual sense. Intellectual and mental disabilities have many ramifications in early modern literature, some of which, such as fools and madmen, are staple types of drama. Intellectual and mental disabilities are often described in medical terms, but literary texts tend to differentiate between them, whether in technical or narrative terms. Foolishness normally turns into comedy, whereas madness is often connected with tragic characters undergoing mental breakdowns. Renaissance disability studies are also concerned with less obvious types of disability: disabilities that were disabilities in the past but not in the 21st century, concealed disabilities, and disabilities that are not actually disabilities but do foster a conversation that excludes the character who does not embody what society regarded as the ideal physical shape. Finally, instances of counterfeited disability and disability attached to concepts rather than people help understand how Renaissance culture often viewed the nonstandard body not only as something to beware of or reject but also as an image of empowerment.

Article

Shakespeare and Music  

Joseph M. Ortiz

William Shakespeare entertained many ideas about music, some of them conflicting, and he frequently represented these ideas in his plays. Music was a multifaceted art and science in early modern England, and debates over the nature and interpretation of music played out in a variety of contexts: academic, religious, political, commercial, and aesthetic. At the same time, music was a vital part of Shakespeare’s theatrical practice. He made use of his company’s musical resources to include performed music in his plays, and his characters frequently sing and quote popular ballads and songs that would have been recognized by his audiences. The combination of words about music and musical performances gave Shakespeare the opportunity to test various theories of music in complex and original ways. His plays are especially demonstrative of the ways in which certain views of music were connected to other ideological perspectives. Shakespeare’s most modern idea about music is the notion that musical meaning derives from its contexts and conventions rather than from an inherent, universal nature. Taken together, his plays provoke skepticism about unified theories of music. At the same time, they demonstrate that the seeming universality of music makes it an extremely powerful tool for both the polemicist and the dramatist.