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This chapter considers two plays which draw explicitly on the broadside ballad tradition of merry world fiction: Thomas Heywood’s The First Part of Edward IV (c. 1599); and Henry Chettle and Anthony Munday’s The Downfall of Robert, Earl of Huntington (c. 1598). While these play-texts quote from, allude to, and overlap with the ballad stories they dramatise in various ways, it is also possible to see a distinctively theatrical vocabulary emerging which adapts the merry world topos to the stage. As such, they presuppose a high degree of audience familiarity with the visual and verbal conventions of the genre on page, stage, and in performance. The theatrical literacy of this assumed audience allows both plays to be constructed around moments of recognition and repetition. This degree of stylistic self-consciousness is playfully knowing in Heywood’s Edward IV and a source of frustration in the Downfall, where it is the impetus for an elaborate meta-theatrical framework exploring audience desire and response.
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