Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
This dissertation argues that early modern playwrights used metadrama to construct the experience and concept of playgoing for their audiences. By staging playgoing in front of playgoers, playwrights sought to teach their audiences how to attend a play and how to react to a performance. This type of instruction was possible, and perhaps necessary, because in early modern London attending a professionally produced play with thousands of other playgoers was a genuinely new cultural activity, so no established tradition of playgoing existed. Thus, playwrights throughout the era from John Lyly to Richard Brome attempted to invent playgoing through their performances. The first chapter argues that this construction of playgoing was heavily influenced by the politics and economics of the London playhouses. Throughout the early modern era, London magistrates and puritan antitheatrical writers viewed performances as producing the immoral, unruly and often riotous actions of the audiences. And they used these reactions to performances as an excuse to close the playhouses and punish the playwrights. In order to keep the playhouses open and their livelihoods intact, playwrights had to keep their audiences from reacting to drama. Each subsequent chapter traces a method playwrights employed to limit audience reaction. The second chapter demonstrates that playwrights tried to limit the effect performances had on their audiences by dramatizing playgoers who were not affected by drama, thereby discouraging audiences from seeing themselves as the object of performance. The third chapter shows how playwrights often satirized playgoers who reacted to performances in order to stigmatize audience reaction. The final two chapters challenge the commonly held critical opinion that playwrights were working within a humanist interpretive tradition, which linked reading, imitation and praxis. Instead, I suggest that playwrights attempted to keep audiences from actively interpreting their performances in order to limit audience reaction. The study concludes by comparing (italic)Hamlet (/italic) with (italic)The Duchess of Malfi(/italic) and argues that Webster's play (and not as commonly thought (italic) Hamlet(/italic)) is a representative and comprehensive example of the early modern construction of playgoing.