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In the General Introduction, the editors of this collection explore court performance as a multimedia phenomenon. They address two crucial questions: how did early modern court shows shape dramatic writing, and what do they tell us of the aesthetics and politics of the Tudor and Stuart regimes? Chiari and Mucciolo remind the readers that Shakespeare himself was first and foremost a royal player – a status officially granted by James I. They also focus on the revision of plays for court as well as on the relationship between the commercial and court theatres. Royal patronage, they argue, ensured not only the best plays for the court revels, but also a viable commercial theatre. Finally, Chiari and Mucciolo underscore the fundamentally labile and hybrid nature of Tudor and Stuart drama which intertwined the textual and the visual on the one hand, the diplomatic and the aesthetic on the other. As they changed places, performances of early modern plays would acquire different meanings at different times in front of different audiences, and if they could become flattering spectacles, they were also likely to display a degree of impertinence which made them particularly appealing.
Even though Shakespeare openly dramatizes aristocratic shows in his own plays, the circumstances of early modern performance at court have received relatively little critical attention. With so much written on the playwright's wide and multi-layered audiences, the entertainment of the court itself has too long been dismissed as a secondary issue. This book aims to shed fresh light on the multiple aspects of Shakespearean performances at the Elizabethan and early Stuart courts, considering all forms of drama, music, dance and other entertainment. Taking the specific scenic environment and material conditions of early modern performance into account, the chapters examine both real and dramatized court shows in order to break ground for new avenues of thought. The volume considers how early modern court shows shaped dramatic writing and what they tell us of the aesthetics and politics of the Tudor and Stuart regimes.