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2014-15 Long-term Fellows' Project Abstracts



(Folger) Claire M. L. Bourne, Assistant Professor of English, Virginia Commonwealth University

“Set Forth as It Hath Been Played”: Printing the Performance in Early Modern England

 

Using the typographical arrangements of the dramatic page as a rich site of inquiry, Printing the Performance challenges the long-standing division between “the theatrical” and “the literary” in studies of early modern drama. Building on two decades of work by book historians who have insisted that printed plays should be taken seriously as reading matter, this project seeks to demonstrate that plays initially written with the theater in mind developed into intelligible reading matter not only through their acquisition of bookish features, such as authorial attributions and dedicatory epistles, but also through print’s deliberate negotiations with stage dramaturgy and the effects of early modern plays in performance. In particular, Printing the Performance argues that sixteenth- and seventeenth-century experiments in playbook typography and page design show early modern English playwrights and stationers attempting to make the printed texts of plays legible to readers as drama. These experiments—with symbolic type, punctuation, scene division, and illustration—were designed to encourage reading experiences around genre-specific theatrical innovations by answering for the effects that these innovations produced in performance: for example, the didacticism of the excessive physicality central to Ben Jonson’s comical satires; the cumulative, frightful, and relentlessly violent stage tableaux of Christopher Marlowe’s Tamburlaine; and the suspenseful plotting of Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher’s tragicomedy. The conventions of dramatic typography that seem mundane to us today were by no means settled in these first two centuries of printing plays in England. By studying how these typographic conventions came into being, this project claims the intersection of dramaturgy and book design as fertile ground for understanding the literary formation of early modern English plays between the Tudor moralities and Rowe’s edition of Shakespeare’s Works in 1709.

 

(NEH) Gail McMurray Gibson, William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of English and Humanities, Davidson College

Medieval Drama in Afterlife

 

Tudor and Stuart collectors of late-medieval drama manuscripts routinely bequeathed their names to the play texts they preserved; the titles of The Towneley Cycle, The Digby Plays,and the Folger’s own Macro Plays attest to the importance of early modern bookish intermediaries in saving the texts of medieval religious theater from the destruction of reforming zeal and annihilation by neglect and time. What has been little explored, however, is the way that these same early modern collectors inscribed new cultural uses and histories on the pages of medieval drama texts, uses and histories that raise crucial questions about the porous borders between medieval and early modern, about these manuscripts as sites of on-going contests about past and present religious devotion and orthodoxy, and about the afterlives of drama manuscripts as material objects.

Most historical medieval drama scholarship has been preoccupied for several decades with reconstructing cultural performance of the late-medieval time and place for which the manuscripts provide laconic registers of dialogue—but it is now time to explore some important ways in which those extant inscriptions of plays once performed in late-medieval parish and urban space continued to be “performed,” in an extended sense of that word, in the communities, households, and libraries of collectors and readers whose cultures of reformations, recusancy, and antiquarianism offer other sorts of drama for our understanding.

 

(Mellon) Erika T. Lin, Associate Professor of English, George Mason University

Seasonal Festivity and Commercial Performance in Early Modern England

 

This book-length project reconstructs the performance dynamics of May games, Robin Hood  gatherings, morris dances, and other early modern seasonal practices and analyzes their impact on the drama of Shakespeare and his contemporaries. In sixteenth- and seventeenth-century England, holidays were often celebrated with dancing, music, athletic combat, informal roleplaying, and scripted drama. In the professional theatres, however, these same activities functioned not as communal rituals but as commodified entertainments. Drawing on early modern pamphlet literature, broadside ballads, churchwarden accounts, household records, diaries, letters, and many other archival sources, this project will trace how the commercialization of festive practices transformed performance from a ubiquitous mode of sociality that permeated communal life into the institutionalized representational mode that we think of today as “theatre.” The project is thus a kind of ur-history of the English stage as well as a broad-scale attempt to rethink how diverse cultural practices coalesce into seemingly unified aesthetic objects. Because festivity constituted a mode of embodied popular knowledge, physically enacting holiday customs onstage had important social and cultural consequences that derived not simply from drama as literary text but also from live performance. Building on—but also moving beyond—the concept of “performativity,” this project examines how cultural norms and beliefs come to be (re)produced through bodily acts and affective experiences. It thus serves not only as a detailed study of a historically-specific set of performance practices but also as a wider theoretical contribution to the humanities as a whole.

 

(NEH) Craig Martin, Associate Professor of History, Oakland University

Global Science before Global Networks: the Background and Aftermath of

Francis Bacon’s History of Winds

 

My project is for research for a monograph that analyzes understandings of the wind from 1500 to 1700 by examining Francis Bacon’s History of Winds, its sixteenth-century background, and the influence of his ideas on later seventeenth-century conceptions of anemology. The book will give an account of one of the earliest emergences of natural knowledge on a global scale by showing how early modern scholars used observations, consulted ancient texts, and conducted experiments to resolve sixteenth-century debates over the nature and classification of the winds. At the end of the 1500s, there were broad disagreements over the taxonomies of winds, the cause of winds, and its matter. Voyages beyond Europe increased the discord by showing the inadequacy of traditional explanations. Bacon proposed systematic collecting observations, conducting experiments, and making artificial winds in order to resolve these debates and create knowledge of the winds that would aid mariners and improve human health. Later naturalists and navigators followed Bacon’s suggestions, taking empirical evidence from artisans, ancient texts, and travelers’ reports. Additionally, they performed experiments designed to replicate winds and their underlying matter. This study will offer a test case for examining the relation between learned and artisanal methods, showing how scholars and sailors combined observational, textual, philosophical, and experimental techniques to form new theories about nature. The study of early modern conceptions of the wind traces the creation of a global knowledge tied to political and economic power but still concerned with creating causal knowledge.

 

 

(Mellon) David Norbrook, Merton Professor of English Literature, University of Oxford

Lucy Hutchinson’s Memoirs: Life-Writing, History, and Revolution

 

If awarded a Fellowship, I would work on a study of Lucy Hutchinson (1620-81) as autobiographer and historian, centred on her Memoirs of the Life of Colonel Hutchinson. This work has long been accepted as a classic of seventeenth-century historical writing, yet its author has remained in the work’s shadows. I propose to relate the Memoirs to new information about her life and to an extensive but neglected canon of other writings, from a translation of Lucretius to religious verse and prose, demonstrating the sometimes surprising combination of strongly secular analysis with Protestant millennialism. I shall consider the Memoirs not just as a work of transcription and familial reminiscence but as the product of a woman intellectual who shaped her experiences in the light of her own combination of literary ambition, religious commitment, political ideology, and family loyalty. I shall explore the ways she negotiated the particular pressures that came from being a woman writing on controversial subjects, a republican with close royalist relatives, and a Puritan deeply interested in an atheistical poet. Study of the Folger’s exceptionally rich primary and secondary sources in seventeenth-century literature and history and of its manuscripts by contemporary women will help to define more closely what was distinctive about her own profile as a writer.

 



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