Imagining Spectatorship: From the Mysteries to the Shakespearean Stage

ISBN : 9780198768623

John J. McGavin; Greg Walker
224 Pages
135 x 203 mm
Pub date
Apr 2016
Oxford Textual Perspectives
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Oxford Textual Perspectives is a new series of informative and provocative studies focused upon literary texts (conceived of in the broadest sense of that term) and the technologies, cultures and communities that produce, inform, and receive them. It provides fresh interpretations of fundamental works and of the vital and challenging issues emerging in English literary studies. By engaging with the materiality of the literary text, its production, and reception history, and frequently testing and exploring the boundaries of the notion of text itself, the volumes in the series question familiar frameworks and provide innovative interpretations of both canonical and less well-known works. Imagining Spectatorship offers a new discussion of how spectators witnessed early drama in the various spaces and places in which those works were performed. It combines broad historical and theoretical reflection with closely analysed case studies to produce a comprehensive account of the ways in which individuals encountered early drama, how they were cued to respond to it, and how we might think about those issues today. It addresses the practical matters that conditioned spectatorship, principally those concerned with the location and configuration of the spaces in which a performance occurred, but also suggests how these factors intersected with social status, gender, religious commitment and affiliation, degrees of real or felt personal agency, and the operation of the cognitive processes themselves. It considers both real witnesses and those 'imagined' spectators which are seemingly figured by both dramatic and quasi-dramatic works, and whose assumed attitudes play-makers sought to second-guess. It also looks at the spectatorial experience itself as a subject of representation in a number of early texts. Finally, it examines the complex contract entered into by audiences and players for the duration of a performance, looking at how texts cued spectators to respond to specific dramaturgical tropes and gambits and how audience response was itself a cause of potential anxiety for writers. The book resists the conventional divide between 'medieval' and 'early-modern' drama, using its focus on the spectators' experience to point connections and continuities across a diverse range of genres, such as processions and tourneys as well as scripted plays, pageants, and interludes; a variety of different venues, such as city streets, great halls, and playhouses, and a period of about 150 years to the Shakespearean stage of the 1590s and 1600s. It seeks to offer routes by which inferences about early spectatorship can be made despite the relative absence of personal testimony from the period.


1 The Spectatorial Turn
2 Tudor Household Drama: Beyond the Cognitive Turn
3 Figuring the Spectator: The Entertainments at Carew Castle and Wisdom
4 Staging Revelation: Virtuous and Godly Susanna, John Bale, and the Chester Antichrist
5 Witnessing The Three Estates
6 Afterword: Cueing Spectatorship

About the author: 

Educated at the University of Edinburgh, John McGavin has spent his whole career in the University of Southampton, where he was recently appointed Emeritus Professor. He is a Fellow of the English Association, and is currently chair of the Executive Board of Records of Early English Drama, for which he is preparing a volume on South-East Scotland. He project-managed creation of the Early Modern London Theatres (EMLoT) database. He is a member of the English Association, the Southampton Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Culture, Medieval English Theatre, and the Scottish Text Society, and has held research fellowships in the universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow.; Greg Walker is Regius Professor of Rhetoric and English Literature at the University of Edinburgh. Prior to that he was Professor of early-modern literature and culture at the University of Leicester. He has written extensively on the drama, poetry, and prose, and the political and religious history of the late medieval period and the sixteenth century in England and Scotland. He has edited the Oxford Anthology of Tudor Drama, and, is co-editor with Thomas Betteridge of The Oxford Handbook of Tudor Drama, and with Elaine Treharne of The Oxford Handbook of Medieval Literature in English.

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