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About this book

The plays of Shakespeare's contemporaries are increasingly popular thanks to a spate of recent stage and screen productions and to courses that set Shakespeare's plays in context. This Reader's Guide introduces students to the criticism and debates that are specific to the drama of playwrights such as Jonson, Middleton, Dekker and Webster. Pascale Aebischer explores recent critical developments in key areas including:

• how the plays were staged and printed
• innovative editions of plays
• how the plays represent and contest the dominant ideologies of the Jacobean period
• dramatic genres
• the representation of the human body and of social, gender and race relations
• modern productions on stage and screen.

Featuring suggestions for further research and reading, and a filmography of commercially available film versions of non-Shakespearean drama, this is an invaluable resource for anyone with an interest in the diverse plays of the Jacobean age.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Defining ‘Jacobean Drama’

Abstract
‘Jacobean Drama’ is a term which, in the past, has often been used synonymously with the term ‘Jacobean Tragedy’ to describe, in John E. Cunningham’s terms, ‘plays of a certain atmosphere or flavour’ that are ‘very closely concerned with death and dying, with the air of the graveyard and the thoughts of men as they reached their end’.1 In this, the plays of the Jacobean age are implicitly — and often explicitly — contrasted with ‘Elizabethan Drama’, the plays produced during the golden age of the English theatre closely identified with the leading figure of ‘gentle’ Shakespeare. In such uses of the period descriptors ‘Elizabethan’ and ‘Jacobean’,2 the latter becomes everything that the former is not: decadent, violent, satirical, derivative, and it is this sense of decadence which constitutes the drama’s appeal to many modern readers, who seek in the violence and transgression of the past a correspondence to the present.
Pascale Aebischer, Nicolas Tredell

Chapter One. The Critical Trail — Early Views to the Twentieth Century

Abstract
It is something of a commonplace to assert that the period 1603–25 produced some of the most extraordinary drama in English literature. This view is reflected in the currently widespread pedagogical and critical practice of studying Shakespeare within the context of the plays of his contemporaries. Such an attitude towards Jacobean drama, however, would have been almost unthinkable before 1808, the year which saw the hugely influential publication of Specimens of English Dramatic Poets Who Lived about the Time of Shakespeare by Charles Lamb (1775–1834). Before the appearance of Lamb’s annotated anthology, the plays of Chapman, Marston, Dekker, Heywood, Middleton, Rowley, Webster, Tourneur, Field, Massinger and Ford had disappeared almost entirely from stage, print and cultural awareness. Of the Jacobean dramatists other than Shakespeare, only Ben Jonson, Beaumont and Fletcher and, to a much lesser extent, Middleton, seem to have substantially survived the upheaval of the Civil War and found a new life on the Restoration stages, where the first play to have been performed after the return of Charles II was Jonson’s Epicoene.1 But even there, their survival often came at the cost of being rewritten to fit contemporary demands for decorum in style, for reserve in the portrayal of violent emotions and actions, and for sensitivity to altered political circumstances.
Pascale Aebischer, Nicolas Tredell

Chapter Two. Theatre History

Abstract
E. K. Chambers’s The Elizabethan Stage (1923) and G. E. Bentley’s The Jacobean and Caroline Stage (1941–68) remain the two most essential and influential reference works on the shelves of any historian of the Jacobean theatre, even if some of Chambers’s conclusions are increasingly coming under attack as ‘very much a product of his time’.1 Andrew Gurr, whose long and distinguished career has been entirely dedicated to writing about the theatre of the period, tellingly admits in his Preface to The Shakespearean Playing Companies (1996) that his history is essentially a revision of Chambers and Bentley. The main difference between their work and his book is that ‘besides supplying a longer historical perspective, some corrections of fact, and a large input of new material’ which has become available in the intervening years, Gurr intends to ‘[shift] the focus back to the plays and to their highly mobile social and political contexts’.2 The work of the theatre historian in the late twentieth century, it appears from this, was essentially a matter of updating the research of Chambers and Bentley both in terms of the new data that has been discovered and with respect to the new directions criticism of Jacobean drama in general has taken since the 1980s.
Pascale Aebischer, Nicolas Tredell

Chapter Three. Textual Transmission

Abstract
The study of the textual make-up of Jacobean drama is the most foundational of the approaches outlined in this Guide, in that every time we read a play by a Jacobean dramatist that play has been transmitted to us in a way that has inevitably altered its nature. It is therefore crucial that we understand at least in a rudimentary fashion the ways in which editorial work in the past century has shaped Jacobean drama for the present-day reader. It is also important that we understand some of the debates that have arisen since the 1980s from an investigation of early modern print culture.
Pascale Aebischer, Nicolas Tredell

Chapter Four. Historical Contexts

Abstract
The study of the extratheatrical historical contexts that had an impact on the creation and reception of Jacobean drama is not only one of the most well established of the critical approaches to the plays, but also one that has seen some of the fiercest debates in the past century. In the 1980s, the traditional way of reading literary texts as responding and alluding to specific historical events (for instance in the work of John Dover Wilson or Theodore Spencer) was attacked by the mainly North American ‘New Historicist’ movement and the ‘cultural materialist’ school of thought in Britain. They also took issue with the type of historical contextualisation offered by E. M. W. Tillyard’s influential The Elizabethan World Picture (1943), which saw literary texts as illustrative of state ideology (the world picture of Tillyard’s title, which he imagined as strictly hierarchical and ordered), with little scope allowed for the expression of alternative views. Tellingly, Tillyard proclaimed that ‘all the violence of Elizabethan drama [in which he includes Jacobean plays] has nothing to do with a dissolution of moral standards: on the contrary, it can afford to indulge itself just because those standards were so powerful’.1 Far from challenging the norms and the ‘universal order’ of ‘the chain of being’ that extended from God down to inanimate objects, literary texts were seen to reinforce that order, so that in King Lear, for example, Edmund’s scepticism about his father’s superstitions simply confirms that he is ‘one of those superlatively vicious men whom the stars and their own wills have joined to produce’.2
Pascale Aebischer, Nicolas Tredell

Chapter Five. The Genres of Jacobean Drama

Abstract
‘[C]omedies begin in trouble and end in peace; tragedies begin in calms and end in tempest’, Thomas Heywood (1573–1641) wrote in A Defence of Drama (c. 1608), clearly distinguishing between dramatic kinds in a way that Shakespeare’s Polonius, when losing himself in his listing of ‘tragedy, comedy, history, pastoral, pastoral-comical, historical-pastoral, tragical-historical, tragical-comical-historical-pastoral’, struggles to match.1 Both Heywood and Polonius have much to teach us about the genres of Jacobean drama: Heywood’s categorical distinction indicates the importance of generic divisions for playwrights and their audiences, while Polonius’s muddle reveals the extent to which dramatic genres were, by the end of the sixteenth century, already inflecting each other in ways that defied categorisation and audience expectations. Rosalie Colie explains this paradox: ‘the kinds can easily be seen as tiny subcultures with their own habits, habitats, and structures of ideas as well as their own forms. But as subcultures continually melt into or are absorbed by a neighboring culture, so did the kinds in our period melt into one another’.2 By using specific genres, playwrights could make a statement about previous writers; for Heather Dubrow, genre is a means of ‘communication from the writer to his readers’ in which he ‘is in effect telling us the name and rules of his code, rules that affect not only how he should write the work but also how we should read it’.3 By the same token, breaking or bridging generic conventions is a means of communicating something essential about how that play must be understood by its viewers. In fact, if we are to believe Alastair Fowler, there is no such thing as a stable genre, since it is ‘the character of genres […] that they change. Only variations or modifications of convention have literary significance’, but to grasp that significance, the ability to spot ‘family resemblances’ and conventions is essential.4
Pascale Aebischer, Nicolas Tredell

Chapter Six. Body and Race Scholarship

Abstract
‘Body scholarship’, an approach to texts that focuses on their representation of the human body, is a way of looking at the drama which has had a significant impact on the discipline and which originated in studies of the medieval body, medical discourses and anatomical treatises that did not, at their inception, have the analysis of Jacobean drama as their aim. The field is sometimes also referred to as ‘historical phenomenology’, which refers to a way of looking at representations of the body in early modern texts which ‘reconstruct[s] early modern thinking about self-experience, so that interpreters of literature can interpret representations of the interior life with greater sophistication’. The goal of this scholarship is not to create ‘rigid and static taxonomies for explaining human personhood’, but rather to bring an understanding of early modern conceptualisations of the body to literary analysis of texts that communicate the experience of embodiment, and the relationship between the corporeal grounding of the soul and the emotions, in the early modern period.1 The choice of specific scientific discourses to explicate the feeling of embodiment in the early modern period, as we will see, has a significant impact on the feelings and embodiment stipulated: whereas Thomas Laqueur’s study of Galenic medicine in the early modern period results in an understanding of the body that challenges the modern conception of sexual difference, the anatomies studied by Jonathan Sawday condition his notion of the body’s competition with the soul. Meanwhile, the Galen-influenced medical and midwifery texts Gail Kern Paster analyses underpin her understanding of the early modern body as governed by humours that determine the corporeal expression of emotions.
Pascale Aebischer, Nicolas Tredell

Chapter Seven. Gender and Sexuality

Abstract
If ‘body scholarship’ can still be described as an ‘emerging field’,1 this is no longer the case for work on gender and sexuality in the early modern period. In the 1980s feminist work on Shakespeare, whose focus, as in Juliet Dusinberre’s popular Shakespeare and the Nature of Women (1975), had often been to reclaim his female characters as inspirational proto-feminist figures and co-opt Shakespeare as a fellow combatant in the quest for gender equality, came into contact with New Historicism and cultural materialism. As a result, the representation of female characters and gender relations has been reappraised across the canon. In the 1980s and 1990s, these reappraisals often put the question of the cross-dressing of boy actors at the centre of their investigations. Three especially influential arguments will have to stand in here for a much larger, more complex, debate.
Pascale Aebischer, Nicolas Tredell

Chapter Eight. Performance Studies

Abstract
It is perhaps fitting, for a book which is partly designed to map out avenues for further research, that the last chapter should be dedicated to a field which is still in the process of consolidating. Although the study of Shakespeare in performance has now become part of the mainstream, with academic journals, conferences, edited collections and monographs dedicated to the subject, this is not true of the study of the plays of his contemporaries in performance. Indeed, as Sarah Werner remarks, ‘[o]ur knowledge and theories of performance are shaped nearly entirely by Shakespeare’s drama and not by those of his contemporaries’.1 This is so in spite of the inclusion of non-Shakespearean plays in the repertoire of Shakespeare’s Globe, the Royal Shakespeare Company’s (RSC) 2002 and 2005 seasons of mainly non-Shakespearean texts in the Swan theatre, the efforts of the Red Bull Theatre Company in New York, which stages plays by Shakespeare’s contemporaries and which hosts readings of lesser-known plays,2 and the release of three ‘Jacobean’ films around the turn of the millennium (Marcus Thompson’s Middleton’s Changeling (1997–8), Mike Figgis’s Hotel (2001) and Alex Cox’s Revengers Tragedy (2002)), which seemed to herald a renaissance of Jacobean drama.
Pascale Aebischer, Nicolas Tredell

Conclusion

Abstract
The study of Jacobean drama, as this book has shown, is as varied as it is vigorous. Drawing its inspiration and methodologies from diverse disciplines, the field is leaning ever less heavily on the pillar of Shakespeare as it finds its own foundations and stability. People often ask me whether there really is something new to say about Jacobean drama. The answer is a resolute ‘yes’. This is not only because resources such as Early English Books Online (EEBO) and Records of Early English Drama (REED) are making ever more documents available to researchers, with new search mechanisms that make, say, looking for references to miscarriages in Jacobean comedies and medical treatises, searching for performances by touring companies in Devon or analysing patterns of theatrical patronage easier than ever before. It is also because as new areas are explored, they inevitably reveal new lacunae in our knowledge of the drama and the period, and as our culture evolves, the questions we ask of the past change to reflect current interests and anxieties.
Pascale Aebischer, Nicolas Tredell
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