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It has long been a critical commonplace to say that Shakespeare’s audience went to hear rather than see a play. Rhetorical virtuosity was the draw, and performed on a relatively bare stage. Recent scholarship has begun to complicate this view by excavating – quite literally, aided by recent archaeological finds on the sites of early theaters and figuratively, using digital data-mining techniques – new evidence regarding stage spectacle and spectatorship, from fashionable costumes and eye-catching properties to sophisticated stage-machinery and fireworks. In casting early modern theatre as a contest between the ears and eyes, or words and “stage-pictures,” however, scholarly attention has largely been confined to the head, ignoring the bodies-in-motion that defined theatrical experience. Although studies of theatrical gesture have introduced a modicum of movement into this relatively static “picture,” the tendency has been to focus on talking heads / facial expressions and posing hands (often depicted as a frozen series of stills), which seem to hover magically above 2 invisible feet and legs. This chapter reconsiders the ways in which meaning and emotion were conveyed between players and playgoers in the public amphitheaters from head to toe – or rather, from the ground up. Drawing on a variety of evidence, including stage directions, rhetorical and aesthetic treatises, documents of theater history, and material artifacts, such as MoLA’s shoe-finds at the Rose and Globe, we will consider the “two-hour’s traffic” of the stage as propelled and perceived through the feet.
If the study of early modern theatre and performance takes as its object the study of “play,” this epilogue asks: What are the rules of the game? How does conceptualizing early modern theatre and performance as gamelike shift the field in which we work and the turf upon which we play? Where are the parameters that delimit the field drawn, and how do they determine what is considered to be in or out of bounds? Surveying how these essays variously work with and play upon disciplinary rules and boundaries, I suggest how other models and modalities of early modern play might open the field to new modes of inquiry.
The cry of the croupier in roulette as the wheel is set in motion announces, like an epilogue, that play is done: rien ne va plus, a point of no return has been reached as the bets are placed, the stakes set. Yet this end also marks a beginning, an opportunity to survey where the chips lie and anticipate the upshot of the game, a task to which this epilogue now turns.
The rules of the game
Let us begin with a pivotal question prompted by this prescient collection of essays: if the field of early modern theatre and performance takes as its object the study of “play,” what are the rules of the game? At stake in this question, and in the essays collected here, which variously model its implications, is not only the scope of what counts as “play” in the historical past (i.e. the resemblance of stageplays to other sports, games, entertainments, and pastimes), but the gamification of the field's archives and methods of study in the present, and the disciplinary future this gambit portends: how does conceptualizing early modern theatre and performance as gamelike shift the field in which we work and the turf upon which we play? Where are the disciplinary parameters that delimit the field drawn, and how do they determine what is considered to be in or out of bounds?