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Chapter 12 - ‘All Their Minds Transfigured So Together’: The Imagination at the Elizabethan Playhouse

from Part III - Playhouses

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  10 March 2022

Simon Smith
Affiliation:
Shakespeare Institute, University of Birmingham
Emma Whipday
Affiliation:
University of Newcastle
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Summary

Numerous Elizabethan philosophical and theological treatises deplored the duplicity, waywardness, and treachery of the imagination. Even Spenser participated in this, filling the chamber of Phantastes with freaks, monsters, and dangerous deceptions. Yet in the new commercial playhouses, from the late 1580s onwards, audiences were increasingly exhorted to ‘imagine’ or ‘suppose’, in a type of speech that we can dub the ‘imagine’ chorus. Originally a device to cover time and space in history plays and travel plays, the ‘imagine’ chorus began to be used not only to conjure unseen spectacles in the mind, but also to celebrate the powers of the imagination. This essay argues that it arose from the unprecedented experience of collective imagining in the new playhouses, and produced new thinking about the imagination as a magical and exhilarating creative force, as explored with particular sophistication by Shakespeare in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Henry V.

Type
Chapter
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Playing and Playgoing in Early Modern England
Actor, Audience and Performance
, pp. 242 - 261
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2022

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