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By the commercial theater’s closure in 1642, frequent playgoers commanded a vast trove of knowledge regarding the devices, tropes, character types, and genres of the commercial theater. But those conventions were as exploitable as they were familiar, and Chapter 5 shows how theater practitioners managed to surprise those spectators with especially long horizons of dramatic expectation. The chapter examines the striking durability of revenge tragedy in the commercial theater by juxtaposing two plays that nearly bookend its heyday: Thomas Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy and Philip Massinger’s The Roman Actor. In revealing the ways that The Roman Actor exploits spectators’ knowledge of Kyd’s play, as well as the tropes of revenge tragedy more broadly, the chapter outlines the techniques by which Caroline theater practitioners made the eminently familiar newly strange.
Celebrated as one of the foundational stylistic achievements of early modernity, plain talk is characterized primarily in terms of what it is not: not conspicuous, not decorated, not Latinate, not complicated. Plain talk is the most unmarked style imaginable. Scholars have generally consulted written works like Bacon’s essays for examples of this paradoxically styleless style, but this chapter turns to drama because drama stages the effects that the plain style has – or was hoped to have – on others. In city comedies like Ben Jonson’s Every Man in His Humour, Thomas Middleton’s A Chaste Maid at Cheapside, and John Marston’s Dutch Courtesan, plain talk projects a speaker who is, or seems to be, in public exactly as they are in private. But there is also a palpable anxiety that swirls around dramatic depictions of plain talk. It is a style that gains its full meaning and force from its relation to other styles. But it is also the result of plain talk’s distinguishing lack of distinguishing features. Brimming beneath any iteration of this unmarked style is the dread that it will go unremarked, lost in the anonymity of public life.
Hunger and appetite permeate Renaissance theatre, with servants, soldiers, courtiers and misers all defined with striking regularity through their relation to food. Demonstrating the profound ongoing relevance of Marxist literary theory, Hunger, Appetite and the Politics of the Renaissance Stage highlights the decisive role of these drives in the complex politics of early modern drama. Plenty and excess were thematically inseparable from scarcity and want for contemporary audiences, such that hunger and appetite together acquired a unique significance as both subject and medium of political debate. Focusing critical attention on the relationship between cultural texts and the material base of society, Matthew Williamson reveals the close connections between how these drives were represented and the underlying socioeconomic changes of the period. At the same time, he shows how hunger and appetite provided the theatres with a means of conceptualising these changes and interrogating the forces that motivated them.
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