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date: 07 October 2022

Geography and Early Modern English Dramalocked

Geography and Early Modern English Dramalocked

  • Laurence PublicoverLaurence PublicoverDepartment of English, University of Bristol

Summary

The first purpose-built theater in England opened in 1576, the year before Francis Drake embarked on what was to become only the second circumnavigation of the globe (1577–1580). Early modern England’s most important theater was called the Globe, and English plays of this period consistently invoked the theatrum mundi (world-as-stage) motif. These basic facts indicate a strong relationship between geography and early modern English drama—that is, the plays performed in commercial theaters from the late-Elizabethan period until their closure at the outbreak of Civil War in 1642. English playwrights were alive to the far-reaching commercial and colonial projects contemporary with them, and they also engaged in various ways with developments in cartography at home and on the continent.

The geography of early modern drama was also, however, determined by the specific design and practices of the theaters in which it was presented. This was a theatrical culture that created location not through scenic backdrops but instead through actors’ movements, costumes, and speeches, and which brought into productive dialogue the fictional world performed and the site of performance. Other theatrical traditions also shaped these plays’ geographies: drama of the period was indebted to that of ancient Greece and Rome, as well as to the conventions of native religious theater, and early modern plays inherited, to some extent, these traditions’ place-making strategies and their wider geographical imaginaries.

While interested in real-world locations and in the realities of English geographical expansion in this period, then, early modern drama established a markedly fluid geography; and while geographical meanings often structured the action of these plays, those meanings derived from multiple (and often conflicting) sources. Early modern English drama asked its audiences to see in a variety of ways, and its combination of representational strategies enhanced its geographical scope.

Subjects

  • British and Irish Literatures
  • Enlightenment and Early Modern (1600-1800)
  • Theater and Drama

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