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Publicity and the Early Modern Stage: People Made Public
 3030523314, 9783030523312

Table of contents :
Notes on Contributors
List of Figures
Early Modern Celebrity
Publics, the Public Sphere, and Celebrity Studies
People Made Public
Part I: Knowing Audiences and Theatrical Publics
Othello’s Strange Celebrity: Race and Publicity in Early Modern Drama
Strange Othello
Local Characters
Celebrity, Crowds, and Theatrical Audiences in Shakespeare’s Coriolanus
Fame, Celebrity, and the Crowd
Playing to the Crowd
Acts of Condescension
Coriolanus Among the Volscians
“Bootless are your thoughts”: Audience Expectation and Surprise in the Caroline Commercial Theater
Part II: Affective Persons, Public Theatricalities
Local Celebrities Onstage and Off
Creatures of the Theater Scene
Topical Plays About Ordinary People: Private Disputes in Public Places
Multimedia Personhood and the Publicist John Taylor
Politics in the Street
Robert Armin’s “Blue John,” Early Modern Disability, and the Public Punchline
Disability Jokes and Theatrical Memes
Everybody’s Fool
Doubling and Resurrection Across the Henriad
Celebrity No-Show: The Great Eater of Kent
Making Monstrous Celebrity
Writing the Maw
Part III: Bodies Public and Imaginary
Bodies Public: The Roaring Girl and the Rise of Celebrity
Any Body, Some Body, Every Body, No Body
Two Prostheses
Fictive Presence
Desiring Moll
Taste-Maker of the Market
“There Present”
Nobody’s Business
Letters to No One
Purchasing a Name
Celebrity, Publicity, and Negation
Jonson’s Ridicule of Shakespeare: Commodifying Drama in “To the Reader” of The Alchemist
Jonson’s Reformation of Commerical Drama
Shakespeare’s Audience of “Pretenders”
Shakespeare the Witty Ignoramus
Time’s Overthrow of Law in The Winter’ Tale
Shakespeare as Autolycus
Why Jonson Mocked Shakespeare in 1612
Author Index
Subject Index

Citation preview


Publicity and the Early Modern Stage People Made Public Edited by

a l l i son k . de u t e r m a n n m at t h e w h u n t e r m us a gu r n i s

Early Modern Cultural Studies 1500–1700 Series Editors Jean Howard Department of English Columbia University New York, NY, USA Holly Dugan English Department George Washington University Washington D. C., WA, USA

In the twenty first century, literary criticism, literary theory, historiography and cultural studies have become intimately interwoven, and the formerly distinct fields of literature, society, history, and culture no longer seem so discrete. The Early Modern Cultural Studies series encourages scholarship that crosses boundaries between disciplines, time periods, nations, and theoretical orientations. The series assumes that the early modern period was marked by incipient processes of transculturation brought about through exploration, trade, colonization, and the migration of texts and people. These phenomena set in motion the processes of globalization and racialization that remain in force today. The purpose of this series is to publish innovative scholarship that is attentive to the complexity of this early modern world and bold in the methods it employs for studying it. More information about this series at

Allison K. Deutermann Matthew Hunter  •  Musa Gurnis Editors

Publicity and the Early Modern Stage People Made Public

Editors Allison K. Deutermann Baruch College City University of New York New York, NY, USA

Matthew Hunter Texas Tech University Lubbock, TX, USA

Musa Gurnis Independent Scholar New York, NY, USA

ISSN 2634-5897        ISSN 2634-5900 (electronic) Early Modern Cultural Studies 1500–1700 ISBN 978-3-030-52331-2    ISBN 978-3-030-52332-9 (eBook) © The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s) 2021 This work is subject to copyright. All rights are solely and exclusively licensed by the Publisher, whether the whole or part of the material is concerned, specifically the rights of translation, reprinting, reuse of illustrations, recitation, broadcasting, reproduction on microfilms or in any other physical way, and transmission or information storage and retrieval, electronic adaptation, computer software, or by similar or dissimilar methodology now known or hereafter developed. The use of general descriptive names, registered names, trademarks, service marks, etc. in this publication does not imply, even in the absence of a specific statement, that such names are exempt from the relevant protective laws and regulations and therefore free for general use. The publisher, the authors and the editors are safe to assume that the advice and information in this book are believed to be true and accurate at the date of publication. Neither the publisher nor the authors or the editors give a warranty, expressed or implied, with respect to the material contained herein or for any errors or omissions that may have been made. The publisher remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations. This Palgrave Macmillan imprint is published by the registered company Springer Nature Switzerland AG. The registered company address is: Gewerbestrasse 11, 6330 Cham, Switzerland


This book began as a seminar hosted by the Shakespeare Association of America (SAA), and so our first thank you must be to the SAA. Without that organization, this book—like so many others—would never have existed. We are grateful to the seminar’s participants for their contributions on that day and in the months since. Many of them are featured here. A few whose work is not included in this volume, but who were nonetheless instrumental in its production, include Sheila Coursey, Jennifer Holl, András Kiséry, Victor Lenthe, Melissa Rohrer, Chantelle Thauvette, and Paul Yachnin. Jean Howard has our deepest gratitude. She was present as an auditor that day, asking questions that (as always with Jean) have continued to echo in our heads ever since, and she has been central to this book’s progress from start to finish. We also want to thank our anonymous readers, whose feedback was indispensable. And finally, we owe a great debt to our editors at Palgrave, who shepherded this book to completion in the midst of a pandemic (no small feat) with patience and good humor: Eileen Srebernik, Allie Troyanos, and Jack Heeney.



Introduction  1 Allison K. Deutermann and Matthew Hunter with Musa Gurnis

Part I Knowing Audiences and Theatrical Publics  23  Othello’s Strange Celebrity: Race and Publicity in Early Modern Drama 25 Allison K. Deutermann  Celebrity, Crowds, and Theatrical Audiences in Shakespeare’s Coriolanus 45 Piers Brown  “Bootless are your thoughts”: Audience Expectation and Surprise in the Caroline Commercial Theater 67 Lauren Robertson




Part II Affective Persons, Public Theatricalities  97  Local Celebrities Onstage and Off 99 Jeffrey S. Doty and Musa Gurnis  Robert Armin’s “Blue John,” Early Modern Disability, and the Public Punchline119 Adhaar Noor Desai  Doubling and Resurrection Across the Henriad149 Rob Carson  Celebrity No-Show: The Great Eater of Kent171 Karen Raber

Part III Bodies Public and Imaginary 185 Bodies Public: The Roaring Girl and the Rise of Celebrity187 Matthew Hunter Nobody’s Business217 Samuel Fallon  Jonson’s Ridicule of Shakespeare: Commodifying Drama in “To the Reader” of The Alchemist245 James P. Bednarz Afterword279 Joseph Roach Author Index285 Subject Index289

Notes on Contributors

James P. Bednarz  is Professor of English at Long Island University. His first book, Shakespeare and the Poets’ War, was selected as an “International Book of the Year” by TLS. His second book, Shakespeare and the Truth of Love, won the Krasnoff Award for Scholarship. Piers Brown  is Assistant Professor of English at Kenyon College. He is a two-time winner of the John Donne Society’s distinguished publication award. The essay for this collection is part of a new project on affect, crowds, and the environment in the early modern playhouse. Rob  Carson  is Associate Professor of English at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. He has published articles on Shakespeare and early modern skepticism, Shakespeare and early modern resistance theory, and the linguistic turn in philosophy and Shakespeare studies, as well as overseeing the Marlowe Census project. His current book project is called Every Third Thought: Shakespeare and the Early Modern Play of Ideas. Adhaar Noor Desai  is Assistant Professor of Literature at Bard College. His current book project, Shakespeare, the Literature Classroom, and the Scene of Writing, considers the pedagogy of contemporary literary studies in light of authorial confessions of writerly hesitation, error, and shame. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in English Literary Renaissance, Configurations, Studies in Philology, and The Shakespeare Newsletter. Allison  K.  Deutermann is Associate Professor of English at Baruch College, City University of New York. She is the author of Listening for ix



Theatrical Form in Early Modern England (2016) and, with András Kiséry, co-editor of Formal Matters: Reading the Materials of English Renaissance Literature (2013). Jeffrey  S.  Doty  is the author of Shakespeare, Popularity and the Public Sphere (2017) and Associate Professor of English at the University of North Texas. Samuel Fallon  is Assistant Professor of English at SUNY Geneseo and the author of Paper Monsters: Persona and Literary Culture in Elizabethan England (2019). Musa Gurnis  is the author of Mixed Faith and Shared Feeling: Theater in Post-Reformation London (2018). Her articles have appeared in the journals Shakespeare and Shakespeare Studies, as well as in the edited collection Religion and Drama in Early Modern England (2011). Matthew  Hunter is Assistant Professor of English at Texas Tech University, where he is completing his first book, The Pursuit of Style in Early Modern Drama. His articles have appeared in Representations, ELH, and English Literary Renaissance. Karen Raber  is Professor of English at the University of Mississippi and Executive Director of The Shakespeare Association of America (SAA). She is the author of Shakespeare and Posthumanist Theory (2018), Animal Bodies, Renaissance Culture (2013, a finalist for the 2015 ASLE Book Award), and Dramatic Difference: Gender, Class and Genre in the Early Modern Closet Drama (2001); she is the coeditor of Performing Animals: History, Agency, Theater (2017); Early Modern Ecostudies: From Shakespeare to the Florentine Codex (2009); The Culture of the Horse: Status, Discipline and Identity in the Early Modern World (2005); and William Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure: Texts and Contexts (2004). Joseph Roach  is Sterling Professor Emeritus of Theater and English at Yale University. His most recent book is It (2007), a study of charismatic celebrity. His other books and articles include Cities of the Dead: Circum-Atlantic Performance (1996), which won the James Russell Lowell Prize from MLA and the Calloway Prize from NYU; The Player’s Passion: Studies in the Science of Acting (1993), which won the Barnard Hewitt Award in Theatre History; and essays in Theatre Journal, Theatre



Survey, The Drama Review, Theatre History Studies, Discourse, Theater, Text and Performance Quarterly, and others. Lauren  Robertson  is Assistant Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, where she is currently at work on her first book, Entertaining Uncertainty: The Phenomenology of the Early Modern English Commercial Theater. Her articles have appeared or are forthcoming in Shakespeare Studies, Renaissance Drama, and Shakespeare Quarterly.

List of Figures

Robert Armin’s “Blue John,” Early Modern Disability, and the Public Punchline Fig. 1

Title page of The History of the Two Maids of More-clacke. Image from Robert Armin, The History of the Two Maids of More-clacke (London: Nicholas Okes, 1609), ¶1r, STC 773. Used by permission of the Folger Shakespeare Library. 


Nobody’s Business Fig. 1 Fig. 2

“The Welspoken Nobody” (c. 1550). RB 18323. The Huntington Library, San Marino, California Title page of No-body and Some-body (London, 1606). RB 62750. The Huntington Library, San Marino, California

220 221


Introduction Allison K. Deutermann and Matthew Hunter with Musa Gurnis

In the aftermath of the Earl of Essex’s ill-fated uprising in 1601, Elizabethan authorities chose to repair the damage where it had almost begun. Essex had planned to begin his rebellion by going to St. Paul’s Cathedral, where he would meet with the Lord Mayor and the Aldermen of the City of London to publicly request their support against the Queen.1 The Earl never got his meeting. On a day “when everything that could go wrong

1  Mary Morrissey, Politics and the Paul’s Cross Sermons, 1558-1642 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 87–88.

A. K. Deutermann (*) Baruch College, City University of New York, New York, NY, USA M. Hunter (*) Texas Tech University, Lubbock, TX, USA e-mail: [email protected] M. Gurnis Independent Scholar, New York, NY, USA © The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2021 A. K. Deutermann et al. (eds.), Publicity and the Early Modern Stage, Early Modern Cultural Studies 1500–1700,




did,” he arrived upon a cathedral empty of Aldermen.2 Essex was apprehended by Elizabethan authorities and subsequently executed. But his specter continued to haunt the streets of the city, where rumors of the beloved noblemen ran wild. To put them to rest, the preacher William Barlow was commissioned to deliver a sermon on the subject of the Earl—on his uprising, his impenitence, his confession, and his execution. Written with the help of Robert Cecil, Barlow’s sermon struck a tone of pious regret: although Essex bore a fatal resemblance to Coriolanus—the “gallant,” “young,” but “discontented Romane,” who would drive Shakespeare’s last tragedy to its smoldering conclusion—“who grieves not,” Barlow lamented, “that a man so noble by birth, so honorable in office, so gratious with his prince, so witty by nature, so learned by conference and study, so religious in warre, so beloved of the commons, so followed and honoured by men of all sortes, should not use those great favours of God and his soveraigne to Gods glory and his countries good?”3 In this catalog of noble bona fides, we may hear a hint of the Earl’s notorious popularity, of the outsized standing he held in the imagination of all those to whom Barlow’s sermon was addressed: “no other nobleman,” Alexandra Gajda observes, “was so rapturously acclaimed in his lifetime for his great qualities.”4 Where previous sermons on the subject of Essex had sought, with limited success, to combat the Earl’s popularity, Barlow’s gave it its due.5 The sermon is about nothing so much as the renown that kept Essex alive even after he had died. But like a flame that catches on the cloth that comes near it, Essex’s popularity had also become, by a magical transference, Barlow’s own. In his printed preface to the sermon, Barlow laments that despite all the “care and paines” he took to abstain “from all bitternesse against the person and action of the late Earle, least thereby I should exasperate minds not resolved,” he nevertheless found himself the target of false rumors: “it was giuen out that I was stroken, if not with madnesse, yet with a dreadfull sicknesse; or, as if I had spoken treason, that I was, the next day,  Paul E. J. Hammer, “Shakespeare’s Richard II, the Play of 7 February 1601, and the Essex Rising,” Shakespeare Quarterly 59 (2008): 1–35, 14. 3  William Barlow, A Sermon preached at Paules Crosse, on the first Sunday in Lent (London, 1601), sig. C3v. 4  Alexandra Gajda, The Earl of Essex and Late Elizabethan Culture (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 3. 5  On Essex’s remarkable popularity, see Paul E. J. Hammer, “‘The Smiling Crocodile’: the Earl of Essex and late Elizabethan ‘Popularity,’” in The Politics of the Public Sphere in Early Modern England, ed. Peter Lake and Steven Pincus (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2007), 95–115; and Jeffrey S.  Doty, Shakespeare, Popularity, and the Public Sphere (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017), 29–64. 2



committed close prisoner to the Tower; or at least, I had highly offended her maiestie, and receiued a great check from the Councell” (A3v, A4r). Barlow’s protestation did little to squelch the gossip. Arnold Hunt observes that “as late as 1602,” John Manningham had noted in his diary that Barlow had been reprimanded by the Queen “‘because he presumed to come in hir presence when shee had given speciall charge to the contrary, because shee would not have the memory of the late Earl of Essex renewed by him, who had preached against him at Paul’s.’”6 The Earl might have died, but in the body of Barlow, his charisma lived on. It makes sense that Queen Elizabeth, patron of a company of players, should read Essex into the face of Barlow. She herself may never have set foot in a commercial playhouse, but reactions such as hers were its stock in trade. Early modern theaters daily invited audiences to sympathize with, to see themselves in, and to otherwise attach themselves to the persons it held up for their pleasure. Like Barlow, its figures—meaning its actors, the characters they played, and even the playgoers themselves—were conspicuously and seductively public. Indeed, it was their very publicity which made them such entrancing objects of identification in the first place. On stage no less than in print, the most powerful effect of publication—in the sense of making something public—was to command attention. That attention could take any number of forms among the audiences assembled at the early modern playhouse; it could be sympathy or revulsion or boredom or amusement or distracted delight. Whatever form it took, however, this attention was the means through which the early modern theater secured the “uptake” that, as Michael Warner has argued, is essential to turning any collective into a public.7 There was no shortage of spectacles, stories, jokes, and special effects on the stage that could compel the attention of early modern audiences. But the contention of this collection is that it was the special power, above all, of persons made public at the playhouse to seize the attention of the audiences who had gathered there together. Placed before the view of all, these persons became more than persons. Their publicity—by which we mean the fact or condition of their being public to others, available and in some cases made vulnerable as objects of appropriation, criticism, 6  Hunt, “Tuning the Pulpits: The Religious Context of the Essex Revolt,” in The English Sermon Revised: Religion, Literature, and History, 1600-1750, ed. Lori Anne Ferrell and Peter McCullough (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2000), 86–114. Manningham, John, The Diary of John Manningham of the Middle Temple, 1602-1603, ed. Robert Parker Sorlien (Hanover, NH: The University Press of New England, 1976), 87. 7  Michael Warner, Publics and Counterpublics (New York: Zone Books, 2002), 87.



discussion, engagement—turned them into lightning rods for identification or disidentification, for investment, for interest, for the misreading of self-­projection. These attachments were more than early modern instances of absorption or fandom or enthusiasm for the stage. Instead, the argument we put forward here is that it was through identification with persons made public through performance that popular audiences accessed early modern England’s burgeoning public culture. This is an essay collection about public culture as it is conducted through figures of publicity—actors, authors, characters, local celebrities, and figments of the imagination who promise audiences access to an early modern public sphere by means of vicarious engagement. By “figures of publicity,” we mean something different and more capacious than “public figures,” a term which connotes government officials, like Essex and Elizabeth, who conducted the business of the state and whose actions became, through shared report and on-going debate, the stuff out of which early modern publics formed. We mean something different and more expansive, too, than individuals, such as Richard Tarlton or Will Kemp, who were far removed from the court but nevertheless became the focus of public attention and popular interest. The essays gathered together here attend to such historical figures, but they are no less interested in the virtual persons, the imaginary, fictitious figures, who themselves achieved outsized fame or notoriety. If this distinction—between fictional and actual, virtual and corporeal—seems over-fine to modern eyes accustomed to identifying vicariously with the flesh and blood of real-life persons, it is only too appropriate to the early modern period, when characters no less than actors, personas no less than authors, compelled forms of identification that coordinated relations between strangers. Playgoers celebrated Richard Burbage and Will Kemp, but they no less powerfully fantasized about the characters they played. Tamburlaine, as much as Edward Alleyn, was a figure of publicity in his own right. A guiding aim of this collection, then, is to emphasize how publicity and performance in early modern England intersect in such a way as to collapse distinctions between the real and the imagined, turning both fictive persons and actual ones into figures who are distinguished—as all public personalities are—by the most curious combinations of the solid and the diaphanous, the concrete and the abstract. By treating fictional figures alongside factual, historical ones, we aim to draw out a fruitful homology between early modern performance and the public culture it helped to shape. Just as publics are “essentially imaginary



projections from local exchanges,” so are the persons made public by the early modern stage defined by the overlay of the actual and the virtual, the actor and the role.8 We begin with Barlow because his sermon about Essex, along with Elizabeth’s imagined projection of Essex onto him, vividly illustrates this dynamic. The Earl of Essex’s thwarted machinations have long been taken to herald a brave new world of early modern politics—a world in which a nobleman could leverage his popularity against the monarch in order to spur debates about the “personality, policy, and the legitimacy of the crown’s lofty new pretensions.”9 But as the figure in whom the Earl’s charisma lived on, Barlow suggests that both politics and public culture in early modern England were about far more than ratiocinative debate. Rather, the preacher who channeled the spirit of a rebel was such a compelling figure for his moment because it was in him—or through him— that popular audiences could access a world of political operations that was otherwise out of reach. What he promised was not policy but access; he was a vessel not for the rational-critical debate of political matters but for affective proximity to them. In early modern England, figures of publicity were avatars through whom audiences could access, however imaginatively or briefly, the public culture that was forming around them. Queen Elizabeth knew this only too well. Before reading Essex in Barlow, she had—we are told—read herself into a character of the stage: “I am Richard 2d,” she is said to have complained, “Know yee not that?”10 Whether apocryphal or not, the outburst provides us, in one and the same breath, with a gloss on Barlow’s sermon, an example of the resonances our contributors seek to trace, and a cross-section of the relationship between theater and public culture that this collection as a whole aims to uncover. Elizabeth’s notorious complaint has long been read as confirmation of the early modern theater’s imbrication in high politics—of the role it could be enlisted to play, deliberately or not, in shaping factional loyalties among the elite as well as the populace at large. But the important thing for us is that the queen’s relationship to public culture is mediated in this story by her relationship to the stage; indeed, it is as if her relationship to public culture can only become legible  Warner, Publics and Counterpublics, 84.  Hammer, “‘The Smiling Crocodile,’” 110. 10  Quoted in Hammer, ‘“The Smiling Crocodile,’” 24. 8 9



through the persons the stage makes public. Present and absent at once, the figure of Richard II was the figure through whom Elizabeth is said to have accessed, assessed, experienced, and felt the public sphere that could never quite be subsumed under political rule. It was through this figure that she—with so many of her subjects—is imagined to have considered herself from the perspective of the public. It is only too fitting that this infamous figure of publicity was not a creature of flesh and blood but, as a part played on the stage, as ethereal and abstract as every person made public in early modern England.

Early Modern Celebrity Another word for people made public—including Essex, Barlow, and whoever may have played Richard II in that ill-fated performance of Shakespeare’s play—might be “celebrity.” In its contemporary sense, the term “celebrity” does not appear until the mid-nineteenth century, and while few now would agree with the once widely held assumption that “there was no such thing as celebrity prior to the twentieth century,” it has remained largely the concern of later historical moments, used to capture the on- and off-stage lives of figures like Sarah Bernhardt, David Garrick, and Clara Bow.11 We bring it to bear upon the early modern period in order to capture the uncanny circulation of certain persons apart from their persons—the unpredictable explosions of popularity, fascination, identification, resentment, and what Joseph Roach has memorably called “public intimacy”—that figures of publicity could kindle between themselves and the strangers they did not know and never would.12 Then as now, celebrities coordinate relations between strangers. They are—they were—used as shared referents, solidifying affiliations between people, marking out social and political collectives, and announcing one’s membership within such collectives. Celebrities are an essential component of early modern public culture because they inhabit what we might think of as publicity’s central contradiction: a celebrity is a stranger who is also known, an individual with whom we are not personally familiar and yet

11  Richard Schickel, Intimate Strangers: The Culture of Celebrity in America (Chicago, IL: Gideon Productions, 1985), 21. 12  Joseph Roach, It (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2007).



feel as though we are, because of how the celebrity’s embodied presence projects a sense of intimacy which invites vicarious identification. Part of what is to be gained by theorizing celebrity from within the vantage of publicity is that it allows us to see how the energies and effects with which celebrity has been associated—be it in eighteenth-century theater or in the Golden Age of Hollywood—cohere around virtual as much as actual persons. We tend to think of celebrity as a quality that attaches to historically verifiable and vividly embodied subjects from whom all sorts of more abstract and ethereal forms of sociability are then able to form. But the figures of publicity who populate the early modern period force us to reverse this account: the abstract and ethereal forms of sociability which orbit around luminaries of later periods are arguably not the effects of celebrity, but its cause. Celebrities may be actual people, like Edward Alleyn or Moll Frith, or they may be virtual products of the stage, like Tamburlaine; or they may be some unnerving combination of the two, as with authors like Christopher Marlowe or John Taylor. But however “real” or tangible they are (or aren’t), celebrities are always the product of something ethereal and abstract: attention. It is attention that conjures celebrities into being, rendering Tamburlaine into as public a figure as the flesh-and-blood actor who played him. There are great differences in the quality of attention and of public notice attached to a figure like Essex, whose fame (however popular) is rooted in the political action and intrigue of court, as opposed to, say, a local celebrity like the cross-dressing Mary Frith; just as there are vivid distinctions in how a star performer like Burbage, Kemp, or Alleyn circulated within early modern culture and how their best-known fictional personae did. Yet there is much to be gained by thinking about these various persons together, as a pantheon of types that can collectively be called figures of publicity. Whether fictional or historical, each was a figure through whom people convened as publics. Scholars of early modernity have hardly been oblivious to the outsized popularity persons from the period could enjoy. They have generally captured it through terms like rumor, fame, and notoriety.13 Thinking about 13  Kenneth Gross, Shakespeare’s Noise (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2001); S.P. Cerasano, “Edward Alleyn, the New Model Actor, and the Rise of the Celebrity in the 1590s,” Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England 18 (2006): 47–58; Philip Hardie, Rumour and Renown: Representations of Fama in Western Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012).



celebrity in early modern England would seem almost inevitably to lead to thinking about these concepts, as many of the essays in this collection will demonstrate. But we train our sights on figures of publicity because they prompt us to recognize that celebrity, both within the early modern period and beyond it, entails more than matters of reputation. Rather, celebrities are so essential to thinking about public culture because they represent its most affectively overladen form of “stranger-sociability.” By this, we mean the modes of interaction that flourish under the horizon of anonymity, between people who are anonymous to one another and yet become legible to each other anyway. One way to think about the contradictory stances embodied by the celebrity is that they result from the curious fact that the celebrity, as a figure of publicity, is a stranger we know because she is known by other strangers. In this recursive formulation, we encounter a version of the “chicken-and-egg circularity” that is, for Michael Warner, a constitutive feature of any public, whose “reality lies in just this reflexivity by which an addressable object is conjured into being in order to enable the very discourse that gives it existence.”14 We understand celebrities as symptoms of publics—as creatures that could not exist in the absence of the forms of stranger sociability that publics organize—and also as their alluring synecdoches. Absent and present, known and not, celebrities play back to us, by seeming to resolve in a single fleshly form the contradictions that publicity daily entails. Despite the long shadows cast by screen stars like Bow, celebrity is a term that has always enjoyed a para-theatrical relation to the stage. On the one hand, celebrities flourish in performances, dramatic or otherwise, which depend on interactive and mutually productive audiences and which eventually get circulated through more durable media like print. But celebrities do not only do this. Indeed, they cannot. Even as “celebrity” names something constituted through performance, it also names a life beyond the performance that produces it, since it is the circulation of the actor’s image, name, and reputation—by anonymous strangers, by that actor herself—that turns her into a celebrity in the first place. Celebrities cross media and discourses because they are figures for the anonymous, reflexive circulation of discourse that constitutes the publics through which they move. They are figures of publicity, actual and virtual persons made available for public view and use.

 Warner, Publics and Counterpublics, 67.




Publics, the Public Sphere, and Celebrity Studies The essays in this volume engage two separate but related fields of critical inquiry: post-Habermasian scholarship on publics and public-making and celebrity studies. The model of a public sphere first introduced by Habermas, in which individuals come together to discuss and ultimately to shape political events through rational-critical debate, has been modified to be less positivist, less idealistically egalitarian. Scholars like Nancy Fraser, Craig Calhoun, and Michael Warner have shown, first, the extent to which no public can be understood to be truly “open and accessible to all,” and second, that publics are multiple, overlapping and at times in conflict with one another.15 The familiar topos of the eighteenth-century coffeeshop as the birthplace of a public sphere has similarly been revised to consider earlier scenes of public interaction. It is no longer news, then, to claim that Habermas’s Enlightenment public sphere had early modern forebears; if anything, the history of this celebrated social space has been progressively “moving backward in time.”16 Following Peter Lake and Stephen Pincus, we might point to the “pitches,” conducted by noblemen like Essex, “in which appeals to a general audience were made through a variety of media, appealing to a notion of the public good (or religious truth).”17 Following Alexandra Halasz, we might point to the many printed pamphlets whose dissemination “calls a public sphere into being.”18 And in keeping with Joanna Picciotto’s magisterial study of contemplation-as-labor, we might point to the emergence of Baconian knowledge as the essential engine to the Enlightenment public sphere.19

15  Fraser, “Rethinking the Public Sphere: A Contribution to the Critique of Actually Existing Democracy,” Social Text 25/26 (1990): 56–80, 59. In addition to Fraser and Warner (cited above), see also Lauren Berlant, The Female Complaint: The Unfinished Business of Sentimentally in American Culture (Durhan, NC: Duke University Press, 2008); Laurent Berlant and Michael Warner, “Sex in Public,” Critical Inquiry 24 (1998): 547–66 and Craig Calhoun, ed., Habermas and the Public Sphere (Boston, MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, 1990). 16  Peter Lake and Steven Pincus, “Rethinking the Public Sphere in Early Modern England,” Journal of British Studies 45 (2006): 270–292, 270. 17  Lake and Pincus, “Rethinking the Public Sphere in Early Modern England,” 277. 18  Halasz, The Marketplace of Print: Pamphlets and the Public Sphere in Early Modern England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 167. 19  Picciotto, Labors of Innocence in Early Modern England (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010).



Many of the accounts which make a case for a pre-Enlightenment public sphere share Habermas’s commitment to print as the medium that makes publics happen. And with good reason: as Warner makes clear when he writes that publics are created by the “reflexive circulation of discourse,” it is not possible to talk about publics without talking about the material forms that disseminate them.20 Publics require what Habermas calls “communicative action,” and communication requires a medium.21 For scholars of early modernity as well as of later periods, print has tended to play that role; the many insights of book history have provided scholars with invaluable tools for tracking the circulation of texts, the cultural regimes that emerge in response to the circulation of texts, and the publics that such circulating texts help to form.22 We might even go so far as to hail print as the medium par excellence of publicity, not simply because the material circulation of print-artifacts (novels, newspapers, reviews, plays, pamphlets, poems) consolidates the Habermasian primal scene of rational-­ critical debate, but also because print is a medium that forcibly brackets the author, effacing social status (or so it would seem) in just the way that coffeeshops, chocolate houses, and other spaces of strange sociability efface it. It makes only too much sense that the word for sending print out into the world is “publish.” But when we turn our attention away from Enlightenment to early modern publics, it becomes clear that the “reflexive circulation of discourse” takes forms that spill over the boundaries of print. Harold Love, for one, has documented the economies of scribal publication in early modern England, and Steven Mullaney has extended his trenchant critiques of the “hegemony of print” to the English stage.23 Revising a  Warner, Publics and Counterpublics, 90.  Habermas, The Theory of Communicative Action: Reason and the Rationalization of Society, trans. Thomas McCarthy (Cambridge, MA: Polity Press, 1984). 22  In addition to Halasz and Bruster, see Warner, Letters of the Republic: Publication and the Public Sphere in Eighteenth-Century America (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1990); Zachary Lesser, Renaissance Drama and the Politics of Publication: Readings in the English Book Trade (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004); Jesse Lander, Inventing Polemic: Religion, Print, and Literary Culture in Early Modern England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006); and Samuel Fallon, Paper Monsters: Persona and Literary Culture in Elizabethan England (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2019). 23  Harold Love, The Culture and Commerce of Texts: Scribal Publication in SeventeenthCentury England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993); Steven Mullaney, The Reformation of the Emotions in the Age of Shakespeare (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2015), 145. 20 21



longstanding conflation of publishing and print, Mullaney recovers theater as “another, quite different, and highly influential form of publication,” indeed as “one of the primary ways in which thoughts and feelings and beliefs could be made public in sixteenth-century England.”24 One of the most important and still-necessary critiques of Habermas’s work has been to rethink this relationship between performance and publicity. Early modern theater might have been, in Ellen MacKay’s words, an “ever-­ disappearing event,” but even the disappearance of the early modern theater was not enough to keep it from working as a public—and public-making—form of discourse.25 Not only does the single performance of a play reach thousands of playgoers.26 It also generates subsequent performances, parodies, citations, and off-stage conversations that draw audiences, actors, censors, and playwrights into what Paul Yachnin has called “a self-reflexive field of public discourse about the artistry and social politics of the drama itself.”27 If Lake and Pincus’s project is to “place a depiction of communication… at the center of our period,” then Mullaney and Yachnin’s is to place theater at the center of depictions of communication.28 Given Habermas’s central interest in the discussion of news, it is not surprising that scholars have focused on the relationship between theater, high politics, and the public sphere. Tracing the Elizabethan revaluation of “popularity” from a term of contempt into a tool of realpolitick, Jeffrey S. Doty has analyzed the theatrical representation of historical figures who dared to pair the scepter of political power with the magnetizing orb of popular appeal.29 Doty’s study is also a recovery of early modern per Mullaney, The Reformation of Emotions, 146. Italics original.  MacKay, Persecution, Plague, and Fire: Fugitive Histories of the Stage in Early Modern England (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2011), 6. MacKay’s resonant formulation, no less than the study in which it is made, is undergirded by Peggy Phelan’s infamous assertion that performance “becomes itself through disappearance.” Phelan, Unmarked: The Politics of Performance (New York: Routledge, 1993), 146. 26  Mullaney, The Reformation of Emotions, 170–171. 27  Yachnin, “Hamlet and the Social Thing in Early Modern England,” in Making Publics in Early Modern Europe: People, Things, Forms of Knowledge (New York: Routledge, 2010), 81–95, 93. 28  Lake and Pincus, “Rethinking the Public Sphere in Early Modern England,” 273. 29  In keeping with the best iterations of public sphere theory, Doty’s study is not solely focused on what theater represents. Rather, the upshot of Doty’s argument is that early modern theater changes the people who watch the politics that it stages before them: “when Shakespeare dramatized the tactics for winning the love of the people, he subjected the 24 25



formance as a politically potent form of communication, which moves theater from the margins to the center of stories of early modern public-­ formation. To “publish” a play through performance is not simply to make it public. It is to conjure, in the manner of Marlowe’s ill-fated magus, a public to respond to it in kind. But as András Kiséry has shown, to speak of publics is not only to speak of the measured and rational discussion of politics between strangers.30 Plays distributed political news from abroad and codified “maxims of state” for playgoers to use in their day-to-day conversations. The result was not necessarily the sage discussion of politics by a play-going public. Instead, in taverns and alehouses—loci of stranger sociability, forebears to Habermas’s coffeeshops and chocolate houses— playgoers used the language of politics to present themselves as courtly insiders to one another. Hardly (or not only) spurring rational-critical debate, the early modern stage generates forms of competitive sociability and social distinction. Kiséry’s work consolidates a growing line of early modern studies that has turned its attention away from high politics to focus instead on the relationship between publicity and social life as it is mediated by the early modern stage.31 It makes sense that drama should be the genre to underpin such studies. Not only were early modern theaters from the Globe and the Red Bull to the Whitefriars and Blackfriars themselves scenes of stranger sociability where one went to see and be seen by people one did not know. But in unfolding through the embodied interaction of actors on a stage, theater makes itself the quintessential art of social relations. What theater tends to foreground about those relations is also what strictly Habermasian theories of the public sphere tend to withhold: their affective charge. The idealized scene of private citizens coming together to use their reason might suggest a world that has been blessedly stripped of Elizabethan controversy of ‘popularity’—and the real figures associated with it—to playgoer scrutiny,” and thus “treated his audiences like they were part of a public sphere.” Jeffrey S. Doty, Shakespeare, Popularity, and the Public Sphere (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016), 19. 30  Indeed, one of the central contributions of Warner’s Publics and Counterpublics has been to illuminate the diverse ways that publics—particularly queer and subaltern publics—organize forms of stranger sociability that flourish apart from the “rational” discussion of politics. András Kiséry, Hamlet’s Moment: Drama and Political Knowledge in Early Modern England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016), 33. 31  See Yachnin, “Performing Publicity”; Yachnin, “Hamlet and the Social Thing”; and Allison K. Deutermann, “Taverns, Theaters, Publics: The Intertheatrical Politics of Caroline Drama,” Renaissance Drama 45 (2017): 237–256.



emotional larding, but post-Habermasian criticism has made clear that there is an affective underpinning to any public, which lends a “repertoire of highly temporalized affects and interests” to the experience of circulating among strangers.32 For studies of early modernity, Yachnin’s work has been essential in this respect, returning to the discussion of early modern publics what so much public sphere theory explicitly excludes: participants’ “private selves, their playfulness, their emotions, and their production and consumption of most forms of artistic expression.”33 As Musa Gurnis has recently put it elsewhere, “[e]arly modern commercial plays do not usually advance propositions.” Instead, she argues, theater’s “first and most fluent language” is the language of emotions.34 To speak of publics during this period is to speak of the affects that they impart upon the experience of interacting with strangers. If work on publics has undergone a major revision in the decades since Habermas’s Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere first appeared, so too has thinking about celebrity and celebrity culture. The earliest critical work on the subject, written from within the fields of film and cultural studies, focused exclusively on the twentieth- and twenty-first centuries and specifically on the star performers of the silver screen.35 Shaped largely by the Frankfurt school and its deep suspicion of popular culture and mass entertainment (what Theodor Adorno termed “the culture industry”), this work took a grim view of celebrity as a kind of conspiracy foisted on an unsophisticated public. Fame is eternal, a form of popular acclaim achieved only after death by the truly deserving, while celebrity is fleeting and embarrassingly of-the-moment, the result not of great deeds but of just about anything else. The best-known expression of this line of thinking is Daniel Boorstin’s definition of the celebrity as someone “who is  Warner, Publics and Counterpublics, 99.  Yachnin, “Performing Publicity,” 203. 34  Musa Gurnis, Mixed Faith and Shared Feeling: Theater in Post-Reformation London (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018), 152. Examining the affective experience of the Reformation as it is refracted through the experience of play-going, Gurnis’s book recovers religion and performance as the elementary forms of social life in early modern England. 35  See especially Daniel Boorstin, The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America (1961; rpt. New York: Knopf, 2012); Richard Dyer, Stars (London: British Film Institute, 1979); and Chris Rojek, Celebrity (London: Reaktion Books, 2001). Leo Braudy’s The Frenzy of Renown: Fame and Its History (New York: Vintage, 1997) makes an early and influential case for the phenomenon’s pre-modern history. 32 33



well-known for their well-knownness”—an adage that has itself become so famous, it has its own Wikipedia page.36 Less pejorative studies of twentieth- and twenty-first century celebrity have tended to see it as a phenomenon produced by and for the media and publicity industries, although more recently scholars have taken up the role of the consumer, or the audience, in the star’s production.37 Written from within a variety of disciplines and fields, this scholarship understands celebrity as something that, as Joseph A.  Boone and Nancy J.  Vickers argue, “thrives in, and is negotiated through, a middle ground that is brought into being between producers and consumers of culture”; these agents “create and define one another” while simultaneously “negotiating this space.”38 In pointing out, first, that celebrity is produced within an interactive field or “middle ground” that impacts all those who participate in its cultivation and consumption, and second, that it has a history, or rather histories, these scholars have offered an important corrective to the claim that celebrity is a strictly modern phenomenon.39 Celebrities and celebrity culture, however (with a few exceptions), still tend to be pinned to later historical and cultural moments than the one considered here. There have always been famous people, but it is only “in the eighteenth century” writes Sharon Marcus, that “publics begin to take 36  Boorstin, The Image, 61. On the fame of the formulation itself, see Sharrona Pearl and Dana Polan, “Bodies of Digital Celebrity,” Public Culture 27 (2015): 185–192. See Julia H. Fawcett’s recent reimagining of this approach, which defines celebrity as “a new sort of fame…that recognized individuals not for what they had done but simply for who they were (or for what they represented) and that transformed ordinary men and women into media sensations.” Fawcett, Spectacular Disappearances: Celebrity and Privacy 1696–1801 (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2016), 8. 37  Graeme Turner, for example, writes that celebrity is a “genre of representation and a discursive effect; it is a commodity traded by the promotions, publicity, and media industries that produce these representations and their effects; and it is a cultural formation that has a social function we can better understand.” Turner, Understanding Celebrity (London: SAGE Publications, 2004), 9. 38  See Boone and Vickers, “Introduction: Celebrity Rites,” PMLA 126 (2011): 900–911; Joshua Gamson, Claims to Fame: Celebrity in Contemporary America (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1994); and Graeme Turner, Understanding Celebrity, cited above. Literary scholars, especially those working within theater and performance studies, have been especially influential in adjusting the critical frame in this way. 39  As Sharon Marcus puts it, “Modern celebrity culture began not with Hollywood, nor with the Internet, but in the eighteenth century, when the modern meanings of the words ‘celebrity’ and ‘star’ first became widespread.” See Marcus, The Drama of Celebrity (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2019), 9.



a strong interest in a large number of living authors, artists, performers, scientists, and politicians” (9). Stella Tillyard has called eighteenth-­century theater “the crucible of celebrity.”40 Although individual performers from the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century stage have received thoughtful treatment in general, early modern theater culture has tended to be the thing against which later dramatic stars’ celebrity has been defined.41 According to Joseph Roach, while the “limited evidence suggests that the most popular actors in Shakespeare’s time enjoyed robust celebrity status,” they did not do so “under anything like the monarchical mantle that protected the playhouse of Pepys.”42 Felicity Nussbaum, similarly, writes that “the celebrity of actors that had begun in the Renaissance” with players like Kemp, Alleyn, and Burbage “awaited the explosion of print culture to reach its fuller realization.”43 The material, technological, and political conditions under which Shakespeare’s performers played their parts were fundamentally different from those in which Thomas Betterton or Kitty Clive enacted theirs, just as the culture that developed in and around the early modern playhouse differed from that which attached to Drury Lane. But as our own present age teaches us, celebrity does not require a totalizing institutional media or an industry built expressly to support it as a condition of its existence. If we assume that celebrity cannot exist apart from celebrity culture, then we misconstrue much of what celebrity itself is and does. Celebrities serve an organizing function for the forms of interaction that define public life. They are vessels for sociability among strangers, avatars who serve as flashpoints for identification, affiliation, and disidentification. The figures of publicity associated with the early modern stage demonstrate how actual and virtual, real and imagined men and women organized these social and political energies—not as persons who excite electric currents of fandom, or not only as this, but as people whose publicness, whose availability to those who filled the playhouse and its environs, enabled discussion and 40  She bases this claim on the simultaneous introduction of three factors: “a limited monarchy, the lapse in 1695 of the Licensing Act which had controlled the numbers of printing presses and to some extent printing, and a public interested in new ways of thinking about other people and themselves.” See Stella Tillyard, “Celebrity in 18th-century London,” History Today 55 (2005): 20–27, 23. 41  Cf. Braudy: “Shakespeare in the sixteenth century was still suspicious enough about immediate fame to consider only fame after death as truly substantial” (13). 42  Roach, It, 30. 43  Nussbaum, Rival Queens, 6–7.



debate. These two functions are not opposed, but linked, since the emotions early modern celebrities inspired in play-going publics—longing, desire, repulsion, envy, and more—were not bracketed off from such thought but vital to it. It is one of the central claims of this book that celebrities were nothing less than constitutive of early modern public life. If the eighteenth century is “the age of celebrity,” the moment when celebrity culture was first truly “made” in London, “with its dozens of newspaper and print shops, its crowds and coffee-houses, theatres, exhibitions, spectacles, pleasure gardens and teeming pavements,” then the essays in this collection ask what it was made from.44 Answering this question means more than elaborating the ways in which the conditions of early modern culture differ from later periods; it means recognizing that the figures of publicity who haunt early modern England tell us something about the celebrities whose rise they foretell. Be they authors, actors, local luminaries, or fictional characters, the figures who are the subject of this study reveal that different forms of publicity engender different forms of thought. The figures of publicity associated with the early modern stage thus speak back to celebrity studies by demonstrating how the actual and virtual, real and imagined persons organized social and political energies through their publicness.

People Made Public Our contributors approach the subject of people made public from a variety of angles, but their essays share an attentiveness to the specific material-­ historical conditions that make celebrity possible in the period. Early modern England famously witnessed the rise of two separate but overlapping media markets. Commercial performances were produced in anticipation of large crowds who could be drawn repeatedly, again and again, to the same theaters; books and pamphlets were printed and sold to an increasingly literate population. Both of these forms, print and commercial theatrical performances, were reaching consumers on a larger scale than ever had been possible before, and we see them as early forms of mass media—produced by and for a population that was expanding exponentially in size.45 As London’s population swelled from 55,000 in 1550 to  Tillyard, “Celebrity in 18th-Century London,” 20.  As Lena Cowen Orlin writes, “By 1600 London had overtaken all European centers except Naples and Paris demographically; by 1700 it would eclipse these two cities, as well, 44 45



200,000 just fifty years later, the social meaning and uses of its public spaces changed. Not only bookstalls and public amphitheaters, but taverns, alehouses, and public parks proliferated as novel spaces where strangers could congregate as strangers. Covent Garden, which Adam Zucker terms London’s “first purposefully planned public square,” was joined by pleasure gardens like Hyde Park and Spring Garden in the seventeenth century as sites where men and women could go to see and be seen, as well as to escape scrutiny by slipping into their more private walks; commercial thoroughfares like the Strand became staging areas for conspicuous consumption; Paul’s Walk, “the great Exchange of all discourse,” was a place where Londoners could learn (and display their knowledge of) the latest news.46 These social spaces and media markets help us to recognize that publicity was a constitutive part of early modern life in which celebrities played an important, if under-acknowledged, part. These publicly available people and the energies attached to their particularly early modern forms of publication are the subject of our collection. The figures of publicity considered here include players, authors, local persons of renown, and imaginary personae. Our analysis therefore draws on and contributes to a growing body of work on some of the luminaries of the early modern period. As Samuel Fallon has recently demonstrated, authors in early modern England were never just authors; they were personas who circulated, like ghosts, through a burgeoning print marketplace, and their spectral movements made a literary public visible to itself as such.47 We might say that authorial personas—endlessly appropriable, tantalizingly vivid, but essentially abstract—are the period’s consummate figures of publicity. But it is not only in print that we encounter them. Richard Burbage, Edward Alleyn, Will Kemp, and Richard Tarlton have been central to studies that decentralize the author as the primary creative force behind the production of early modern drama and emphasized the generative, improvisatory role of clowns and audiences alike in performance.48 Writing well before many of the more recent accounts of achieving parity with the great metropolis of Constantinople.” Orlin, “Introduction,” Material London, ca. 1600, ed. Orlin (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000), 3. 46  Zucker, The Places of Wit in Early Modern English Comedy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 21; John Earle, Microcosmographia (London, 1628), sig. Kv. 47  Samuel Fallon, Paper Monsters, cited above. 48  See Nora Johnson, Actor as Playwright in Early Modern Drama (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003); Richard Preiss, Clowning and Authorship in Early Modern Theatre



the celebrity’s participation in his or her own construction, Alexandra Halasz observes of Richard Tarlton, “the layering of meanings onto his reputation suggests that celebrity, rather than being created by the media, actually participates in the development of the media and the (proto)capitalist organization of both daily life and national identity.”49 As Shakespeare’s personification of Rumour reminds us (like Virgil’s Fama before it), to take up the subject of fame is also, by necessity, to consider the means of its cultivation, including the media through which it is circulated and produced; the places in which such information is exchanged and the conditions of its transmission; and the effects, whatever they may be, on those who trade and consume it. It is to these processes, people, and energies that our contributors turn. By different means and towards different ends, the essays gathered here all follow figures of publicity as they move onto and off—and in some cases back onto—the stage. They draw together the different media of print, performance, and conversations in order to track the circulation of discourse that makes celebrities into celebrities in the first place. But even as the essays collected here range past the boundaries of the early modern playhouse, they also treat it as a privileged point of origin, a crucible of discourses and media whose peculiar power was to turn people associated with the stage (actors, clowns, even certain characters) into figures of publicity who could be recognized, talked about, and circulated off of it. The essays gathered here approach these questions from a variety of angles: for example, by talking about the accretion of theatrical knowledge over decades of performance history, about the extra-dramatic circulation of characters, about authorship, and about the cultivation and function of what Jeffrey S. Doty and Musa Gurnis call “local celebrities.” The first section, “Knowing Audiences and Theatrical Publics,” turns our attention to the publicity that attaches to dramatic characters, both within the plays themselves and the broader culture. These essays track the role played by specific characters in shaping Caroline theatrical culture; in helping to make visible new forms of public knowledge and publicity; and in theorizing celebrity’s affective charge. Our second section, “Affective Persons, Public Theatricalities,” shifts from virtual to actual figures of publicity—men and (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014); and S.P. Cerasano, “Edward Alleyn, the New Model Actor, and the Rise of the Celebrity in the 1590s,” cited above. 49  Halasz, “‘So Beloved that Men Use His Picture for Their Signs’: Richard Tarlton and the Uses of 16th-Century Celebrity,” Shakespeare Studies 23 (1995): 19–38, 20.



women associated with the stage and its environs who become celebrated or notorious in their own right. Our third and final section, “Bodies Public and Imaginary,” takes up figures that occupy a middle ground between these two categories: the real-life Mary Frith and her fictionalized avatar in Dekker and Middleton’s play; “Nobody,” a convenient literary device and a persona brought to life in performance and in print; and William Shakespeare and Ben Jonson, flesh-and-blood authors who also became, for one another, useful embodiments of specific dramatic styles that could be deployed for strategic commercial and artistic ends. In “Knowing Audiences,” Allison Deutermann traces the relationship between racial identity and what she calls the more “disquieting” aspects of publicity. Her essay on Othello’s “strange celebrity” highlights the ways in which bodies marked as racially distinct, or “strange,” make vivid the pressures to which more local people-made-public are exposed. One of the early modern stage’s most celebrated characters, Hieronimo, becomes the flashpoint for Lauren Robertson’s investigation of how theatrical culture can be activated in a “late” play like The Roman Actor. In her analysis, the play-within—one of the most familiar of early modern dramatic devices—helps to track the often surprising ways in which playwrights drew upon and upended decades’ worth of theatrical tradition and experience for specific dramatic ends. Piers Brown’s “Celebrity, Crowds, and Theatrical Audiences in Shakespeare’s Coriolanus” reads Shakespeare’s play as an experiment in celebrity staging. His essay draws on the early modern sense of celebrity as “celebration,” the moment of contact between famous individuals and the crowds that amass around them, arguing that Coriolanus deliberately recreates and explores the political potential of this affective charge. “Affective Persons, Public Theatricalities” opens with Doty and Gurnis’s investigation of “Local Characters Onstage and Off.” Examining the theater scene that developed in and around early modern playhouses, their essay argues that the multidirectional exchanges between stage and local characters generated a rich vocabulary of urban selfhood, one that helped to make ordinary Londoners visible as public figures. Adhaar Noor Desai’s study of the circulation and cultural meaning of Blue John—one of the fictional personae in the famous clown Robert Armin’s repertoire— argues for a new early modern cultural type, the “public punchline.” Blue John, Armin’s impression or “translation” of the historical personage John in the Hospital, demonstrates how theatrical media’s porous boundaries can publicize individuals—in Desai’s memorable formulation, “making



celebrities by making jokes.” Rob Carson’s essay in this section explores theatrical doubling in the more traditional sense, the taking on of multiple roles by a single actor. Turning to the Henriad, he asks how doubling might work across not just one play but several, in serial productions, to shape audience expectations about characterization and plot through the thoughtful and sometimes playful use of a company’s star performers. Finally, Karen Raber’s contribution to this section moves away from Shakespeare’s stage altogether to the temporal and geographical environs of London’s theaters. Her essay on Nicholas Wood, promoted by John Taylor as the “great eater of Kent,” argues that Taylor stages Wood’s gluttonous anti-commensality as a form of anti-theatricality. Our third and final section, “Bodies Public and Imaginary,” opens with Matthew Hunter’s “Bodies Public: The Roaring Girl and the Rise of Celebrity.” Hunter turns to Middleton and Dekker’s comedy about the notorious Moll Frith in order to argue that celebrities like her remedy the abstraction that being part of a public—any public—entails. By a vicarious relation, celebrities are the bodies their publics can never have. Samuel Fallon’s essay focuses on the figure of Nobody—a long-running literary joke that gains new currency in seventeenth-century print and theater culture. For Fallon, Nobody expresses the contradictions of an emergent public culture, disclosing something essential about publicity itself: its simultaneously opposed and conjoined drives to both anonymity and singularity. It is to two of the best-known figures of the early modern English stage that James Bednarz turns in this section’s final essay, Shakespeare and Jonson. Part of Bednarz’s project is to expose as fiction some of the stories we continue to tell ourselves about these playwrights: specifically, the idea that they never responded directly to one another’s work, apart from in the occasional reference. Instead, Bednarz sees the two joined in ongoing, competitive publicity campaigns for their preferred artistic style and the commercial works written in accordance with those principles. However, the point is not simply Shakespeare and Jonson’s creative relationship in itself, but the way their interpersonal conversation enabled a public one. Through their reputations and their plays, these playwrights offered competing experiential theories of theater, while the tension between their alternative, staged “rules of art” created a living discursive field inhabited by a theater public. Joseph Roach fittingly offers this collection’s “last word.” His work plays a star turn in nearly every essay in the collection and has been fundamental to our thinking about the



relationship between celebrity and theatrical publicity. Roach recognizes the theater as a hub of circulation between abnormally interesting people and the public that imagines them. In his words, “publicity…is the coordination of relationships among strangers by focusing their attention on something or someone extraordinary.” It is to these relationships—to the networks of affiliation and communication established within and through early modern publics, and to the central role that celebrities played in their formation in and around the early modern playhouse—that we turn in the following pages.


Knowing Audiences and Theatrical Publics

Othello’s Strange Celebrity: Race and Publicity in Early Modern Drama Allison K. Deutermann

In 1576, the Cathay Company’s governor and treasurer, Michael Lok, described Londoners’ response to the Inuit man who had been captured and brought to England by the explorer Martin Frobisher: he was “such a wonder onto the whole city and to the rest of the realm that heard of yt,” Lok explains, “as seemed never to have happened…to any man’s knowledge.”1 We know that New World inhabitants were brought back to England “as marvels,” displayed either for a fee to curious gawkers or, perhaps even more often, deployed by media-savvy promoters like Lok to attract investment and royal patronage.2 Unlike the earliest New World captives who were brought to England, who seem to have been kept exclusively at court, many of these late-sixteenth- and seventeenth-century 1  BL Cotton MS, fol. 53v. Qtd. in Nicole Blackwood, “Meta Incognita: Some Hypotheses on Cornelis Ketel’s Lost English and Inuit Portraits,” in Netherlandish Art in Its Global Context, ed. Thijs Weststeijn, Eric Jorink and Frits Scholten (Boston, MA: Brill, 2016), 28–53. 2  See Blackwood, “Meta Incognita,” and Gavin Hollis, The Absence of America: The London Stage, 1576-1642 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015).

A. K. Deutermann (*) Baruch College, City University of New York, New York, NY, USA © The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2021 A. K. Deutermann et al. (eds.), Publicity and the Early Modern Stage, Early Modern Cultural Studies 1500–1700,




figures were “promenaded and displayed” in public.3 As such, they were subjected to widespread popular attention that the earlier captives were not. Alden T. Vaughan calls Epenow, an Algonquin who was brought back to England by Captain Harlow, a “celebrity”—a claim which John Smith’s description of him as having been “shewed up and downe London for money as a wonder” would seem to support.4 Decades of work on race and national identity have taught us how the discursive production of Englishness and of whiteness were bound up in performances like these.5 Epistemologies of ethnic, racial, and national identity were being forged in this period largely—though by no means exclusively—through attention to embodied difference.6 This essay focuses on the publicity to which racialized “strangers” were subjected as part of this process. Strangeness, in the early modern sense of belonging to another country (“a foreigner”; “an alien”), excites redoubled attention, a kind of scrutiny to which more local figures are not usually exposed.7 I argue that the attention brought to bear on strangers’ persons in theatricalized displays such as those Smith and Lok describe or in more formal civic pageants and court masques, as well as in the course of everyday life, represents a particularly disquieting form of early modern celebrity. Differences in the degree and scope of this attention matter enormously, but all strangers in the period would have shared the condition of being noticed and scrutinized more than others, since differences in language,  Hollis, Absence of America, 122.  Vaughan, Transatlantic Encounters: American Indians in Britain, 1500-1776 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 49. 5  Some of the most important work on the subject includes Kim F. Hall, Things of Darkness: Economies of Race and Gender in Early Modern England (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1995); Ania Loomba, Gender, Race, and Renaissance Drama (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1989) and Shakespeare, Race, and Colonialism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002); and Margo Hendricks and Patricia Parker, eds., Women, ‘Race,’ and Writing in the Early Modern Period (New York: Routledge, 1994). 6  On similitude and racial and national identity, see Marjorie Rubright’s Doppelgänger Dilemmas: Anglo-Dutch Relations in Early Modern English Literature and Culture (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014) and Urvashi Chakravarty, “More Than Kin, Less Than Kind: Similitude, Strangeness, and Early Modern English Homonationalisms,” Shakespeare Quarterly 67.1 (Spring 2016): 14–29. 7  OED, “stranger,” n. 1a. For Georg Simmel, the stranger is someone whose “mobility” within and beyond the community to which he both does and does not belong produces a “synthesis of closeness and distance.” See “The Stranger,” transl. Ramona Mosse, The Baffler 30 (2016): 176–79. 3 4



custom, and skin color were so fascinating to early modern Europeans.8 This fascination was, of course, anything but disinterested or benign. The celebrity-stranger therefore helps to point out what Sianne Ngai might call the “ugly feelings” associated with publicity—the derision, scorn, and disgust that are just as much a part of the attention publicly available figures attract as are more admiring or politically enabling responses.9 Smith’s use of the term “wonder”—the ambivalent “cognitive passion” described by Park and Daston—points out the decidedly mixed quality of this attention, as does the fate of so many of these captured men and women themselves, for whom celebrity proved to be a lethal condition.10 There is something fundamentally different in these two terms: to be displayed as a wonder is to be treated as an object, however celebrated (in the early modern sense of “known or talked about by many people”); whereas a celebrity is vividly, luminously a subject.11 In what follows, I try to recover the ways in which the early modern theater allowed its audiences to imagine the lived, felt experience of being subjected to such publicity, something it is all but impossible to piece together from Smith’s and Lok’s accounts. If spectacularized displays of strangers as wondrous objects remove any sense of agency or personhood, then the theater’s presentation of celebrity strangers as dramatic subjects creates the possibility, however constrained, for the same. With its “affective architectonics” that condition and direct sympathetic and empathetic responses, drama has a unique capacity to represent publicity as a devastatingly felt condition.12 There are obvious limits to this claim. Commercial drama can hardly be said to offer firsthand accounts of strangers’ experience of publicity; at best, plays offer imaginative representations of what (white, male, English) people conceived of these experiences. As Gavin Hollis points out, moreover, no commercial plays from the period featuring Native American 8  “Fascination” is a term often used in work on race in early modern England. See for example Loomba, Shakespeare, Race, and Colonialism, 4 and Emily C. Bartels, Spectacles of Strangeness: Imperialism, Alienation, and Marlowe (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennyslvania Press, 1993), xiii. 9  Sianne Ngai, Ugly Feelings (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005). 10  According to Lorraine Daston and Katharine Park, the term “wonder” refers both to the subjective experience excited by an object and to the object itself. See Wonders and the Order of Nature, 1150-1750 (New York: Zone Books, 1998). On the deaths of New World captives, see Vaughan, Transatlantic Encounters, cited above. 11  OED, “celebrated,” adj. 1. 12  The phrase is Steven Mullaney’s, The Reformation of the Emotions in the Age of Shakespeare (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2015), 142.



characters survive.13 Figures from the Americas appear in these plays only as Englishmen in disguise or conversationally, as shared short-hand referents (as, for example, when LaFoole says that Jack Daw “draw[s] maps of every place and person where he comes” including “of Nomentack, when he was here” in Jonson’s Epicoene).14 And yet, the celebrity-stranger is a familiar character on the early modern stage. We see this type embodied in the complexly racialized characters who, like Othello and Cleopatra, excite a giddy, ultimately destructive kind of popular attention among those who see them as alien or strange (the white Christian Venetians, the Romans). Without flattening out the enormous differences in how these characters’ “strangeness” registers in performance, I want to focus on the celebrity they often share, and specifically on its felt effects. While I see the celebrity stranger as a broadly available early modern dramatic type, I turn here specifically to Othello, the “extravagant and wheeling stranger” whose peculiar status within Venice marks him as widely known and yet also somehow unknowable, endlessly talked of and watched, as well as desired, loathed, and feared.15 Othello’s strange celebrity helps to uncover the close and troubling relationship between publicity and race in the period. It also points out, as though through an exaggerated, phantasmagoric mirror, new forms of public attention to which other, more privileged and more “local” bodies were being subjected in the period.

Strange Othello Othello is never described as a wonder. Unlike the captured men and women mentioned above, many of whom are given no voice in the historical record (or are even, in some cases, said to have remained mute), he can and does speak for himself. He is an observer of wonders, more a reporter of travel narratives than an object of such description; it is these very tales Desdemona finds so “wondrous pitiful” (1.3.162). Still, the effect he has  Hollis, The Absence of America, cited above.  Ben Jonson, Epicoene, ed. R.V.  Holdsworth (New York: New Mermaids, 1996), 5.1.17–20; the line is a reference to the Virginian Namontack, who was brought to London in 1608. On Englishmen cross-dressed as Native Americans, see Hollis, “‘He would not goe naked like the Indians, but cloathed just as one of our selves’: Disguise and ‘the Naked Indian’ in Massinger’s The City Madam,” Renaissance Drama 39 (2011): 129–62. 15  1.1.134. All citations to Othello are from Othello, ed. E.A.J. Honigmann and Ayanna Thompson, revised edn. (London: Bloomsbury Arden, 2016). 13 14



on those around him can recall Lok’s and Smith’s accounts. It has even seeped into the play’s critical literature. A.C. Bradley writes that Othello “does not belong to our world, and he seems to enter it we know not whence—almost as if from wonderland.”16 Bradley’s reference to Othello’s uncertain origins reflects a central, and by now well-known, feature of Shakespeare’s play. It points out the fluidity, the unfixedness, of Othello’s national and racial identities as well as the central fact of his difference— what Michael Neill calls the “notorious indeterminacy” of the term “Moor” itself.17 But Bradley’s phrase also suggests a kind of dazzled admiration tied to Othello’s seeming placelessness which is just as present in the play. When Roderigo dismisses Othello as “an extravagant and wheeling stranger / of here and everywhere,” it is not just Othello’s otherness as non-Venetian, non-white, and possibly non-Christian that is being invoked, but his outsized-ness, his seeming omnipresence as well as his conspicuously indiscriminate origins (1.1.134–35). We get the sense from the start of the play that Othello is someone whom everyone, the audience included, should already know. For the first 100 lines or so, he is referred to only in pronouns (“he,” “him,” “his”), then through a series of generalized, racist epithets that the characters nonetheless recognize as referring to Othello in particular. He is not a moor but “the Moor,” an oddly singular designation in such a cosmopolitan city as Venice (where, as Emily Bartels puts it, “the idea that a Moor once lived in Venice was less an oddity than a fact of life”).18 He is, and apparently has long been, a subject of conversation, fascination, and of both desire and repulsion throughout Venice. This is partly a function of the service he has done the state as a general who, eventually, will be made acting governor of Cyprus, but it is also a function of his person—of who he is as much as what he has done.19 His singular qualities inspire not just widespread popular notice of his person but a longing for it, making him the subject of attention that differs in  Bradley, Shakespearean Tragedy (New York: Penguin, 1991), 177.  Neill, “‘Mulattos,’ ‘Blacks,’ and ‘Indian Moors’: Othello and Early Modern Constructions of Human Difference,” Shakespeare Quarterly 49 (1998): 361–74, 364. 18  Bartels, Speaking of the Moor: From Alcazar to Othello (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008), 158. 19  This is a defining feature of modern celebrity for many critics, even though (as Joseph A. Boone and Nancy J. Vickers point out) “what one ‘is’ is often indistinguishable from what one ‘does’ when it comes to famous people and celebrity-mediated events.” See “Introduction: Celebrity Rites,” PMLA 126 (2011): 900–911, 902. 16 17



scope and kind from that which is given, say, to the Duke in this play. The Venetians are hungry for information about him and for access to him, as we see in Brabantio’s having “oft invited” him to his home to tell his story, and in Desdemona’s devouring up his discourse with a “greedy ear,” as well as in the senators’ rapt and apparently admiring (if also highly self-­ interested) attention to his account of their courtship: “I think this tale would win my daughter too” (1.3.129, 151, 150, 172). When Montano and other men rush to the Cyprian shore to “throw out our eyes for brave Othello,” they give uncanny expression to a longing for his person that recalls Desdemona’s desirous ear (2.1.38). This longing for access and intimate knowledge is deeply fraught: it is Brabantio, after all, who not only seeks Othello’s companionship so assiduously but also uses some of the play’s most nakedly racist language. A man whose charisma and gift for storytelling can subdue the senators to silence is also a Moor whose “gross clasps” with his white, Venetian wife are seemingly on everyone’s minds throughout the play, “persever[ing] like an itch throughout the action.”20 His bodily habits, his appetites and longings—as well as those of his wife— are the matter of lurid speculation for virtually all the white Venetians and for the audience in ways that the play explicitly cultivates. Othello is not only a public figure, then, but something else entirely, a dazzling person seemingly come from “wonderland” whose strangeness excites giddy interest among the Venetian populace. Othello is not only aware of this barbed fascination in his person but, at least at the beginning of the play, astonishingly adept at managing it. Consider his careful rhetorical performance before the Duke and Senators. From its halting, complimentary opening lines (“Most potent, grave, and reverend signiors, / My very noble and approved good masters”) to its strategically self-dismissive promise to deliver “a round unvarnish’d tale” (“Rude am I in my speech/ And little blest with the soft phrase of peace”), Othello’s speech shows how conscious he is of the precarity of his own position and how skillful he has become at feeding the Venetians’ appetite for exoticism (1.3.77–78, 91, 82–83). And yet he also seems to sense that there is something all-consuming in this interest, like a monster that cannot be fed. The desire for intimate knowledge of him participates in the play’s overarching interest in monstrosity, meaning not just the “greeneyed monster” of sexual jealousy or the imagined fruits of what, in Iago’s 20  Michael Neill, “Unproper Beds: Race, Adultery, and the Hideous in Othello,” Shakespeare Quarterly 40 (1989): 383–411, 397.



rhetoric, is a necessarily monstrous copulation, but the numerous sights in this play that, because they must “be hid,” are left to the only too-richly generative powers of the imagination (3.3.167, 5.2.363). Brabantio “Still questioned me the story of my life” not once, Othello explains, but over and over again, asking him to run “it through, even from my boyish days / To the very moment that he bade me tell it,” perhaps at each and every visit (1.3.130, 133–34, emphasis added). The relentless repetition of this command performance suggests it is being staged for a listener whose desire to know is never satisfied—is in fact unsatisfiable. Like seemingly all of Venice in this play, Brabantio’s desire for the exotic is itself extravagant, greedy. This insatiable longing, and the menace with which it is tinged, suggests some of the more disquieting aspects of what Joseph Roach calls “public intimacy”—the illusion of availability central to the celebrity’s possession of “it.”21 As Roach, Felicity Nussbaum, and others have argued, celebrity depends upon imagined closeness—the sense that the public knows the “real,” private person; but as this is an impossibility, celebrity also always frustrates the public’s desire for the very thing it promises.22 Othello, whose extravagant-seeming omnipresence is coupled, paradoxically, with a kind of unknowability (even Desdemona, who “saw Othello’s visage in his mind,” also believes him climatologically incapable of jealousy), and who inspires a kind of ache for access, is the closest thing Venice has to a celebrity (1.253). Othello vividly depicts the destructiveness inherent in such amplified attention. According to Graeme Turner, the difference between a public figure and a celebrity exists at “the point at which media interest in their activities is transferred from reporting on their public role…to investigating the details of their private lives.”23 His reference to “media” as an institution of almost monolithic interest underscores that Turner is talking about an entirely different social and historical moment (from Othello’s and from our own). But the “discursive regime of celebrity” he describes, with its emphasis on the personal and private “as the privileged object of  Roach, It (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2007).  Richard Schickel calls this the “illusion of intimacy” between the “unfamous and the famous” in Intimate Strangers: The Culture of Celebrity (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1985), 4, 3. Nussbaum describes the “interiority effects” actresses cultivate in Rival Queens: Actresses, Performance, and the Eighteenth-Century British Theater (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010). 23  Turner, Understanding Celebrity (Los Angeles: Sage Publications, 2004; rpt. 2014), 8. 21 22



revelation,” seems very much to be embedded in the Venetians’ prurient and unceasing interest in Othello.24 The longstanding critical interest in the question of whether or not Desdemona and Othello have had sex suggests the play affects audiences in much the same way. According to Michael Neill and Patricia Parker, this response is cultivated by the play’s habits of “obsessive speculation,” “its obsessive reference to this offstage, hidden scene” of the consummation.25 Othello dramatizes the shift in attention from public deeds to private life Turner describes by repeatedly drawing our attention to the imagined, unseen activity of the marriage bed and then finally hauling the bed itself onstage in a violently materialized revelation of the intimate. My point here is not that Othello meets the definition of a celebrity as contemporary scholars have come to define it (at least not exactly), but that the attention he attracts shares crucial aspects with what we now call celebrity, and that this attention is a function of his strangeness. Through his outsized presence in Venice, a presence which is predicated on the fact that he is a stranger and therefore marked as being from someplace else, the one thing Othello is not and indeed cannot be is an unknown person—even if, as E.A.J. Honigmann puts it, in Venice, “perhaps no one properly ‘knows’ him” at all.26 Iago’s plot depends largely on undermining Othello’s ability to manage this interest by convincing him that, precisely because he is a stranger, he cannot possibly do so effectively. The process has already begun in Act Two, when Othello fears his role as a public figure (one whose “nuptial[s]” are as much a matter of civic celebration as the defeat of the Turkish fleet,) has been jeopardized by the disorder of a drunken brawl (2.2.7). He begins his reprimand with a “we” that emphasizes his shared national and religious identity with the white Christian Venetians while ironically underscoring the precarity of his inclusion within that pronoun: “Are we turned Turks? and to ourselves do that / Which heaven hath forbid the Ottomites? / For Christian shame, put by this barbarous brawl” (2.3.166–68). He then turns to “Honest Iago” as a source of information, a role that Iago waits to satisfy until he sees that Othello’s carefully maintained composure is at risk (“Now, by heaven, / My blood begins my safer guides to rule”) (ll. 173, 200–201). Othello’s usual measuredness is a  Ibid.  Neill, “Unproper Beds,” 396; Parker, Shakespeare from the Margins: Language, Culture, Context (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1996), 247. 26  Honigmann, E.A.J., “Introduction,” in Honigmann, ed. Othello, Arden Shakespeare (London: Arden Shakespeare, 2003), 25. 24 25



feature vital to the performance of his official function and a central component of the high regard in which he is held by the Venetian public: he is reputed a man “Whom passion could not shake,” whose “solid virtue” has never yet been “graze[d]” or “pierce[d]” “by shot of accident”; and now, before his soldiers and the citizens he has been appointed to protect, he begins to lose his cool (4.1.266–68). It is not long after this that we will see Othello receive letters from Venice announcing his removal from office. Much has changed in the interim: Othello has been made by Iago to “see” his wife and Cassio differently, as well as himself (“Haply for I am black”) (3.3.267). Above all, he has been made to feel that he will always inevitably be seen in a certain way by the Venetians, that he cannot finesse their response to his person. Unlike in his appearance before the senate, or before the brawling soldiers in Act Two, Othello no longer seems capable of mustering the tremendous energy needed to manage the Venetians’ busy interest in his person, since any such efforts have been made to seem futile. Instead, he cedes this power to Iago.27 When Lodovico asks, disbelievingly, “Is this the noble Moor whom our full senate / Call all in all sufficient? This the nature / Whom passion could not shake?” Iago is able to say, “He is much changed” (4.1.264–68). The evolution (or devolution) of Othello’s celebrity over the course of the play demonstrates, in contradistinction to the more idealized representations of a Habermasean public sphere, how publicity can be coopted in the service of enforcing racial stigma; that is, how it can be deployed to mark out collectives that are united not in the work of becoming politically influential actors through talk and feeling, but in the effort to exclude, to scrutinize, to humiliate and to punish other bodies. As both the source of news that gives shape to the Venetian public and the non-member through whom criteria of belonging are established, Othello makes vivid the extent to which this is not a public “open and accessible to all”—whatever its sometime-celebration of his rhetorical, martial, and political talents may have faintly promised.28 The political energies activated through and around his person are dependent not just on admiration or identification but also on the uglier feelings of envy and disgust that are cultivated 27  Cf. Ian Smith’s claim about Othello’s use of “narrative as a counteroffensive” in “We are Othello: Speaking of Race in Early Modern Studies,” Shakespeare Quarterly 67 (2016): 104–24, 110. 28  The phrase is taken from Nancy Fraser’s influential “Rethinking the Public Sphere: A Contribution to the Critique of Actually Existing Democracy,” Social Text 25/26 (1990): 56–80, 59.



through racist attitudes and habits of thought. Othello may be a public figure, a man of state who is fluent in the language of diplomacy (“I kiss the instrument of their pleasures”), but he cannot, as Desdemona does twice in this same scene, call Lodovico “cousin,” since according to the play’s most vituperatively racist language his cousins are not Venetians or even human but “coursers” and horses (4.1.218–19, 224, 1.1.110–112). That he cannot do so is part of what gives shape to the collective formed by those who can. As Patricia Akhimie has shown, blackness as a somatic mark is itself “the product of marking, a form of scrutiny or social judgment”—in Akhimie’s analysis, a way of marking certain bodies as insufficiently malleable to the conduct of self-improvement.29 The attention brought to bear on Othello’s body and the feelings he excites in others, as much as the specific somatic features of that body, are what mark him out from the white Venetians. Put differently, the quality, scope, and affective quality of the scrutiny to which he as a stranger is subjected is partly what defines his difference. Othello’s every look and deed are not only noted but publicized, communicated to others to be talked over, analyzed, debated by a collective that defines itself in part through shared thoughts and feelings about Othello. When Lodovico, having seen Othello strike his wife, declares, “My lord, this would not be believed in Venice / Though I should swear I saw’t,” he aligns his response not just with the senators’ but with a whole community of individuals whose prior understanding will not square with what he himself has just seen (4.1.241–42). This is a public swollen in its proportions, but in its shared knowledge and use of that knowledge, as well as in its shared felt response to that knowledge (“sorry” to have been “deceived in him”), it differs from a crowd (l. 282). Its members would include the same people who already know of the service Othello has done the state as well as, presumably, about the marriage announced and celebrated in Act Two, but it would not include Othello himself, in ways Iago’s tutelage has made him increasingly to feel. As a celebrity stranger who excites both monstrous longing and repulsion— who has caused Desdemona and much of Venice, in Brabantio’s formulation, “To fall in love with what she feared to look on”—Othello has been subject from the beginning to ways of looking, to spectacularized forms of attention, that differ from those attached to any other public person in the

29  Akhimie, Shakespeare and the Cultivation of Difference: Race and Conduct in the Early Modern World (New York: Routledge, 2018), 49.



play (1.3.99). Othello shows that this exaggerated, spectacularized publicity has the capacity to all but annihilate the self.

Local Characters Othello is not unique in this. Characters are often made “spectacle[s] of strangeness” in early modern drama precisely because they are “strangers” to begin with and are consequently forced to bear a disproportionate share of publicity’s pressures.30 Their presence underscores something of what it must have felt like to be subject to such scrutiny, even as the plays themselves work to form theatrical publics built partly upon their exclusion. Not all complexly racialized characters are subject to such attention, nor are all figures of exaggerated public interest “strangers”; but the fact of their perceived strangeness exposes these characters to the public gaze in ways that are both particularly marked and dramatically remarkable.31 Like Cleopatra, whose appearance “Hop[ping] forty paces through the public street” is something Enobarbus can still breathlessly recollect years later, or like Tamburlaine, whose “barbarous arms” frighten and amaze the Persians in part because he is a “paltry Scythian,” these characters excite ambivalent fascination fundamentally rooted in their perceived difference.32 Like Othello for at least part of the play, Cleopatra and Tamburlaine are public figures in the traditional sense, embodiments of political 30  The phrase appears in Ben Jonson’s description of the antimasque of The Masque of Queens, in which twelve women of the court are said to have appeared “in the habit of Hags, or Witches, sustaining the Persons of Ignorance, Suspicion, Credulity, &c. the Opposites of good Fame”; the “Argument” of the main masque was to be “A celebration of honourable and true Frame, bred out of Virtue.” Jonson, in other words, is juxtaposing two different kinds of fame, two different kinds of “celebration,” an honorable and virtuous mode (embodied in the royal person of Queen Anne) and its opposite. Both senses are contained in the single term, fama. The phrase gives Bartels the title for her Spectacles of Strangeness: Imperialism, Alienation, and Marlowe (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993). 31  It is Aaron’s ability to move about seemingly unnoticed, often, that enables him to enact deeds of near-superhuman villainy in Titus Andronicus; while in The Merchant of Venice, the Prince of Morocco excites only Portia’s bored contempt, and the Moor who is said to be carrying Lancelot’s child draws barely any mention at all. The field of representation is vast and varied. 32  Antony and Cleopatra, ed. John Wilders (London: Arden Shakespeare, 2018), 2.2.239. Tamburlaine, Part One, in Christopher Marlowe, Four Plays: Tamburlaine Parts I and II, The Jew of Malto, Edward II, Doctor Faustus, ed. Brian Gibbons (New York: Methuen Drama, 2019), 1.1.42, 53. Subsequent citations are to these editions.



authority variously imagined, but (again like Othello) they also excite a kind of electric, frantic interest tinged with something darker, more ambivalent: “Well hast thou portray’d in thy terms of life / The face and personage of a wondrous man,” Cosroe says in reply to Menaphon’s dazzling blazon of the conqueror (2.1.31–32). Enobarbus insists to Antony (who, in a moment of disgust with both the object of his longing and his own desire, wishes he “had never seen” Cleopatra), “O, sir, you had then left unseen a wonderful piece of work, which not to have been blest withal would have discredited your travel” (1.2.159–62). The early modern stage’s “fascination with the strange,” as Bartels puts it, its obsessive return to characters whose racial, religious, and national identity differed from those of most of the men and women in the audience, can be seen as a preoccupation not just with embodied difference or the discursive production of Englishness, but with the phenomenon of such fascination itself— with how it works, and with what it feels like to come within its scope.33 I want to close by asking why the experience of being subjected to such barbed attention might have mattered to early modern audiences, and to suggest that the celebrity stranger’s singular experience is nonetheless synecdochic of a more broadly shared phenomenon. Local bodies, meaning not just white, Christian, and English, but otherwise unmarked as different or aberrant, would not have been subject to anything like the forms of scrutiny brought to bear on bodies variously identified as “strange.” The vast majority of playgoers would never, like Cleopatra, be made the subject of “scald rhymers” who “Ballad us out o’ tune” (although the numerous ballads and plays written about local scandals suggest that plenty of Londoners were) (5.2.214–15).34 But being noticed, being known, by people one does not necessarily know oneself is an experience that would have been much more widely available in seventeenth-century London than ever before. Publics, as Michael Warner writes, “mediate the intimate theater of stranger relationality” by creating “co-membership with indefinite persons in a context of routine action.”35 We have tended to focus on the problems associated with being unknown, of being anonymous, in a  Bartels, Spectacles of Strangeness, xiii.  See Doty and Gurnis, “Local Celebrities,” in this volume; see also András Kiséry, “Scandals: Essex, Cobham, and Others,” in The Cambridge Guide to the Worlds of Shakespeare, Vol. I: Shakespeare’s World, ed. Bruce Smith (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016), 1015–21. 35  Warner, Publics and Counterpublics (New York: Zone Books, 2002), 76. 33 34



rapidly expanding urban center like early modern London.36 But “strangerhood,” to use Matthew Hunter’s term, is not the only “problem to be solved” in this period; recognition is another.37 If the celebrity stranger attracts publicity that local figures do not, local Londoners, too, were being exposed to a newly anonymous gaze that might entail their being put to public use in surprising, unpredictable ways. In these newly busy London spaces, how could someone know if she is being noticed and known, talked of, discussed by others? How are we to account for the problem of surface knowledge produced through routine behaviors, through the habitual practices constitutive of urban publics? These questions seem to me to animate an entirely different form of writing popularized around the time Othello was first performed. Character books, collections of short descriptions (a good wife, a Puritan, an “Unthrift”), were modeled on classical texts but repurposed for a seventeenth-­century English audience by Joseph Hall, Thomas Overbury, and others. They present themselves both as tools for moral instruction and as witty nothings that, as Richard Brathwaite puts it, like “Squibbs or Crackers” “give a Cracke and a Flash, and so dye.”38 Whether framed as manuals for spiritual instruction or as sport, these books promise readers training in characterological competence: the ability to recognize and classify others according to type (this is what a pedant is; this is how to spot a “gamester”).39 Mastery of this skill can be seen as a moral imperative or an essential social practice, and often as both.40 We see this also in Othello, where it is not just Othello’s but everyone’s failure to read Iago as the consummate hypocrite that leads to disaster, just as it is Othello’s willingness to see Desdemona as an example of an immutable type (the “super-­subtle Venetian” woman) that blinds him to her individual honesty (1.3.357). These are the kinds of social and ethical failures of 36  On London’s population growth between 1550 and 1600, see David Harris Sacks and Michael Lynch, “Ports 1540–1700,” in The Cambridge Urban History of Britain, vol. 2, ed. Peter Clark (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 377–424. 37  Hunter, “Measure for Measure and the Problem of Style,” ELH 23 (2016): 457–88. 38  Brathwaite, Whimzies or a New Cast of Characters (London, 1631), sig. A9r. 39  The gamester appears in Brathwaite, Whimzies, 48–56. 40  Cf. Brathwaite’s description with Joseph Hall’s: through these “speaking pictures,” Hall writes, classical authors taught “the ruder multitude” how to “learne to know virtue, and discerne what to detest”; “Loe herere then Vertue and Vice strip’t naked to the open view, and despoiled, one of her rags, the other of her ornaments.” Characters of vertues and vices (London, 1608), sigs. A5r-A5v.



characterological study that character books purport to correct.41 What I want to ­emphasize is less the interpretative practices these books train readers to perform, however, than the queasily liminal space they occupy between known and unknown, stranger and familiar. Consider Joseph Hall’s “Hypocrite”: “Walking early up into the city,” he “turns into the great Church, and salutes one of the pillars on one knee, worshipping that God which at home hee cares not for; while his eye is fixed on some window, on some passenger, and his heart knows not whither his lips go.”42 What stands out in this description is, first, the performative aspects of the hypocrite’s religious devotion and the opportunities for creative self-display being imagined (“in the midst of the Sermon” he “pulles out his Tables in haste, as if he feared to loose that note”) and second, the omnipresence of an audience. Hall’s Hypocrite knows that he is being watched as he walks through the city into “the great Church,” listens to the sermon, and “asks aloud the name of the Preacher, and repeats it, whom hee publikelie salutes, thanks, praises” in others’ hearing.43 Being watched is the whole point. But even more than this, he knows that he is being watched habitually, by people who recognize him but will not necessarily know him by name. “Walking early up into the city” is something Hall’s Hyprocite does often, over and over again, predictably. “At Church hee will ever sit” where he will be seen best by the most people—not just on occasion but regularly, reliably, in ways the reader is assumed to have noticed.44 In other words, the types described in these books are people the readers are imagined as seeing and interacting with regularly without necessarily knowing who they are. I suggest that the celebrity stranger’s spectacular knownness is best understood within this context, as it also is in Shakespeare’s play. Othello’s celebrity is horrifically singular, a condition to which he alone is subjected, but it also participates in the play’s well-remarked interest in who and what everyone is known to be. As Iago reminds Othello with characteristic disingenuousness, reputation is of paramount concern to every Venetian:  John Boyer’s Characters of the Virtues and Vices of the Age, a late-seventeenth-century collection, promises to contribute to its dedicatee’s practical “Education” by offering for his “care and study, the following Characters,” which will help him “avoid those Rocks and Sands, against which so many suffer daily Shipwrack both in their Fortunes and Reputation.” Boyer, Characters of the Virtues and Vices of the Age (London, 1695), sigs. A2v, A3r-v. Boyer’s collection features short descriptions of qualities, such as “obstinacy,” and figures, including “servants.” 42  Hall, Characters of Vertues and Vices: In Two Books (London, 1608), 72. 43  Ibid., 73. 44  Ibid., 72, emphasis added. 41



Good name in man and woman, dear my lord, Is the immediate jewel of their souls: Who steals my purse steals trash—‘tis something—nothing, ‘Twas mine, ‘tis his, and has been slave to thousands— But he that filches from me my good name Robs me of that which not enriches him And makes me poor indeed. (3.3.158–64)

This is “reputation” of a more local sort, built within the networks of interpersonal relationship that structure credit within economic exchange, which Iago’s plot depends upon successfully manipulating (by persuading Othello, for example, that Cassio, known for his smooth “courtesy,” is Desdemona’s lover) (2.1.254).45 But the speech’s gnomically aphoristic structure also gestures beyond such networks. Although Iago is speaking here of Cassio, touching Desdemona and Othello by insinuation, the lines’ sententiousness extends his point of reference ever outward to include the audience, man in general. That the passage appears in John Cotgrave’s 1655 English Treasury of Wit and Language along with other commonplaces under the heading “Of Credit, Reputation” only solidifies this sense: Iago is speaking with authority from a place of belonging, of membership within a collective to which Othello is being made to feel he does not belong, by sharing “common” knowledge.46 Iago’s earlier moralizing speech on “reputation” is very different. As Cassio bemoans the loss of his good name through drunkenness, Iago scoffs, “Reputation is an idle and most false imposition, oft got without merit and lost without deserving. You have lost no reputation at all, unless you repute yourself such a loser” (2.3.264–67). The message here seems clear: merit and reputation don’t necessarily align, and so, who cares? But Iago’s terms are again contradictory. The word “imposition” suggests reputation is something that is done to you, that you have little or no control over no matter your actions, while “repute” suggests the opposite: no one will consider your reputation lost unless you yourself decide you have lost it. The paradox gets at a changing sense in the period of how widespread a reputation can 45  Laura Kolb points out that Iago’s speech “makes two contradictory claims at once: first, that good name is above the marketplace where value derives from exchange and second that good name is constructed in that marketplace, by processes of social circulation.” Kolb, “Jewel, Purse, Trash: Reckoning and Reputation in Othello,” Shakespeare Studies 44 (2016): 230–62, 241. 46  Cotgrave, English Treasury of Wit and Language (London, 1655), 59 and 61.



be, what it might consist of, and how (and whether) it can be managed.47 This is not just reflective of a philosophical debate over honor, or changing understandings of credit (although it is undoubtedly both), but of a new sense that the field in which the self is known is growing rapidly. To return to Iago’s more aphoristic speech on good name: as his point of reference broadens out in an ever-widening circle from the particular (Cassio) to the universal, his lines mimic the way reputation itself seems to spread, but they also gesture to the unnerving expansiveness of that circle of public, watching, judging crowds. In such a limitlessly expanding field, how is one to know what others think, let alone seek to direct it? What does it mean to be recognizable in the broadest, most anonymous sense? These are urgent questions within the totalizing sphere of performance where Warner’s theater of stranger relationality is staged. Othello’s very personal tragedy—the scrutiny to which he alone in the play is exposed—could be used, then, to think through what for many in the audience might have been a much more familiar experience, something proximate and not at all “strange.” The revelation in Othello’s final scene of the sight that must “be hid,” the exposure of Othello and Desdemona’s bedchamber to the gaze of Lodovico, Montano, and all of us offstage, and the promise to reveal all that has transpired in letters and in speeches to an ever-expectant Venetian public, are juxtaposed against Iago’s absolute refusal in this moment to be plumbed (5.2.363). That Iago can resist such efforts at publication, even under the threat of torture, offers what looks to us now like a fantasy of privileged privacy—of being able to thwart the public’s desire to know and talk about the grisly “work” he has done (l. 362). The play seems to stage two possible responses to publicization, in other words, only one of which is possible for a body that is not local and white. But perhaps only one of these responses is possible, period. Iago’s resistance to being publicized is something the play promises he will not be allowed to sustain (“Torments will ope your lips”), and it is taken as yet further proof of his monstrosity, his inhumanity (“O Spartan dog”), that he succeeds in denying Othello, the  By 1696, John Boyer could write in his Characters of the Virtues and Vices of the Age: Or Moral Reflections, Maxims, and Thoughts upon Men and Manners, “Reputation is a Noise which strikes nothing but the Ear, and which cannot make a sensible Impression upon a Noble Soul; it depends less upon our selves than Fortune: But as it is impossible to acquire a general one; so the possession of it would be absolutely unserviceable” (sig. M3v). The tension here between a “general” reputation, which is impossible to acquire and, if somehow gotten anyway, is “unserviceable” seems to get at this sense of the endlessly expanding circle of knowledge. 47



Venetians, and the audience that access (5.2.302, 359). Instead, it is Othello’s violent overexposure with which audiences seem invited most to sympathize and possibly even identify with through felt response. Many of the character books discussed above include portraits of figures who are so public, so widely recognizable and ever-present in the city’s public spaces, that they seem to be everywhere at once—and, consequently, to be coming apart at the seams. John Stephens’s “The Ubiquitary” is a “journey-man of all Trades” who “every houre, almost, giues him a new Being, or, at least, the purpose to be an other thing then he is.”48 He prefers “to run about the world daily, [than to] travel seriously; to see a multitude, before society,” and Stephens tracks his movements (and the discursive shifts they prompt) to academies, the court, playhouses, and private studies and libraries.49 The Ubiquitary is patchily assembled through a network of points of contact, conversation, and exchange with a “multitude” of others.50 This is not just a style of speaking, or even a way of moving through the city and partaking of its pleasures; it is a mode of identity, a form of “Beeing” that is clearly being offered as a negative model.51 Moving through the streets, spending breath and conversation indiscriminately on friends and strangers alike, he is a disconcertingly public, 48  John Stephens’s Satryical Essayes, Characters, and Others; or Accurate and quick Descriptions, fitted to the life of their Subjects (London, 1615), 189. According to the OED, Stephens’s is a nonce-usage of a term used to describe someone who is everywhere at once (cf. Jonson’s description of the nymph who is “all motion, an Vbiquitary, she is euery where”), but Stephens’s description includes this sense as well. 49  Ibid., 192. 50  “His very conversation is infectious, but never frustrate…No object, no society, season, thought, or language, comes amisse, or unexpected, his policy therefore seekes to be rather frequent then effectual” (Ibid., 191–92). 51  Ibid., 193. This type is found in other character books as well, under different names: John Earle’s Microcosmographia (London, 1628) describes a “Vulgar Spritied Man” as “one of the heard of the World. One that follows merely the common crye, and makes it louder by one. A man that loves none but who are publikely affected, and he will not be wiser than the rest of the Towne” (sig. I8r). And Joseph Hall’s “Busybody” is a gossip, a collector of news, who similarly shifts about: he “make[s] himself roome in others affaires,” and “No newes can stir but by his doore.” Like the Ubiquitary, the Busybody’s greatest sin seems to be his superficiality, which is represented in his mobility, the way he flits about inconstantly between places and people: “Hee hates constancie as an earthen dullnesse, unfit for men of spirit: and loues to change his worke and his place; neither can hee bee so soone wearie of any place, as euery place is wearie of him.” Hall traces him to “The Market,” and to his neighbor’s “boord,” but he also tracks him into the streets, where he accosts men he does not know in conversation: “If he see but two men talke and reade a letter in the street, he runnes to them. And asks if he may not be partner of that secret relation; and if they denie it, hee offers to tell, since he may not heare, wonders.” Hall, Characters of Vertues and Vices, 79, 84, 81.



publicized, figure. And yet this too-public self is something it seems many in London are on the verge of becoming. The Ubiquitary’s haunts are the very same places a playgoer or a purchaser of character books would be likely to go (Paul’s, the playhouse), the topics of conversation potentially the same: “Court-newes,” or “what new booke is extant,” as well as what others are saying (“all his proofe depends upon I thinke so; Every man saith so; All dislike it”). The kind of public life, or life in public, described by Stephens and other character book authors depends on an ever-swelling cast of characters performing constantly for and with one another in the theater of everyday life, an effect that is heightened by the number of times these books link the lives of these figures to the matter of the stage. It is not just that so many of the characters are hypocrites (with all the actorly etymological baggage of the term), or that so many of them, like the Ubiquitary, can be relied upon to frequent “some play.”52 It is that their lives are at times made grist for the commercial theater’s mill: the “Ranke Observer,” another of Stephens’s characters, “sel[l]s the vices of his deerest friends to discoverie, by playes or pamphlets.”53 If the theater and printing house were “factories” in “the early modern market in representation,” as Douglas Bruster writes, then character books suggest Londoners were often at risk of being pulled into the machinery.54 This threat of publication, of characterization, is what the celebrity stranger’s experience of publicity helps to make vivid. Celebrity becomes a condition that is both excruciatingly felt and lethally destructive, a disintegrative state of being that cannot be sustained or survived. Othello’s suicide is undoubtedly, as Ian Smith writes, an act intended “to punish a racialized self” according to “the brutal cultural logic of a racist hegemony.”55 I think we can also understand it as the all but inevitable result of the actual and imagined pressure of so much endlessly reduplicating attention—of being scrutinized, wondered at, and “set down” over and over again as both a Christian hero and “circumcised dog,” a man “great of heart” and a “cruel Moor,” a “Dear General” “that were’t once so good” and now has “marred” all (5.2.341, 353, 359, 247, 296, 288, 355). As he turns, in his final moments, to the same narratological strategies that served him so well at the beginning of the play, Othello struggles  Stephens, Satyrical Essayes, 192.  Ibid., 177. 54  Douglas Bruster, “The Representation Market of Early Modern England,” Renaissance Drama 41 (2013): 1–23, 8. 55  Smith, “We Are Othello,” 111. 52 53



to regain control over his public-making function, a task that now seems all but impossible—or, rather, that now seems to have been impossible all along. Again, as in the speech before the Senate, Othello captures his audience’s attention by feeding its insatiable appetite for wondrous otherness (“base Indian,” weeping “Arabian trees”), then tries to shape how he is perceived as a man among them (“Speak of me as I am”) (ll. 345, 348, 340). But the interplay of race and publicity in this play has made that impossible. Like Cleopatra’s fear of being all but dissolved into a crowd of gawking Romans (in whose “thick breaths, / Rank of gross diet,” she and her followers will be “enclouded / And forced to drink their vapour”), Othello’s suicide stages the disintegration of the spectacularized, contradictory selves that the public’s monstrously amplified attention has produced (5.2.210–212). If we understand subjectivity as ever-developing, ever forming and re-forming in response to present conditions and interactions—as having an “event-­ness,” rather than as being the fixed product of an intersecting set of static attributes (race, sex, gender)—then this vast distribution of the self presents a fundamental challenge to the integrity of the stranger’s lived identity.56 To be the focus of such attention is to invite obliteration, because a public self is necessarily a distributed self, one that is made acutely vulnerable to dissolution. In this, too, the stranger’s experience—however distant and unique—may have tapped into something felt in common with the audience, albeit in tragically exaggerated form. The publicity to which Othello, and Othello alone, is subjected in Shakespeare’s play becomes a reflection of something much more broadly experienced, a sense of being scrutinized, known, in a public populated with strangers who may collectively identify with one another in part by talking about your person. If, then, Othello points out the nastier feelings and effects associated with publicity, the ways in which it subjects “strange” bodies to a disproportionate share of its pressures, it also underscores the extent to which these effects themselves might have seemed more familiar, more local—less “strange”—than we might otherwise imagine. This, too, is part of the story of these “unlucky deeds,” the tale the play invites its audiences to tell about the dazzling stranger at its center (5.2.339).

 See Jasbir Puar, “‘I would rather be a cyborg than a goddess’: Becoming-Intersectional in Assemblage Theory,” philoSOPHIA 2 (2012): 49–65 and Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2007). 56

Celebrity, Crowds, and Theatrical Audiences in Shakespeare’s Coriolanus Piers Brown

Shakespeare’s Coriolanus is a play much concerned with the relationship between valor, fame, and public persona. While Caius Martius (as Coriolanus is known at the beginning of the play) is famous for his martial feats, he is not well loved by the Roman multitude: when the play opens, the plebeians have risen in revolt because of a lack of food and have turned against Martius in particular. They complain that despite the “services he has done for his country,” he “pays himself by being proud,” claiming that “what he hath done famously, he did it to that end” (1.1.25–6, 30–1, 34).1 As these moments suggest, Martius has a public reputation even if he is little known in person. Here lies one of the central paradoxes of fame: in Shakespeare’s imagined Rome—no less than in early modern London where it was performed—report and reputation extended far beyond the bounds of acquaintance.  All quotations are drawn from Peter Holland, ed., Coriolanus (London: Bloomsbury, 2013).


P. Brown (*) Kenyon College, Gambier, OH, USA e-mail: [email protected] © The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2021 A. K. Deutermann et al. (eds.), Publicity and the Early Modern Stage, Early Modern Cultural Studies 1500–1700,




Celebrity, by contrast, is understood to be predicated on contact—real or imagined, direct or mediated—with the famous individual. This might seem a slightly strange way to define the phenomenon, given that Daniel J. Boorstin’s classic account of modern celebrity, The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America, emphasizes the problems of mediation: celebrity is being “well-known for his well-knownness” or “famous for being famous.”2 Recent accounts of modern celebrity and its early modern roots have noted the conflict between the public’s desire to know a celebrity and the inability of the celebrity to fulfill those desires. Chris Rojek observes that “Celebrity culture is […] overwhelmingly a culture of surface relations” in which “celebrities […] hide the veridical self from the public face.”3 Joseph Roach, whose work connects restoration monarchy to modern celebrity culture, emphasizes the “oxymoronic” phenomenon of “public intimacy (the illusion of availability)” which complements “synthetic experience (vicariousness), and the It-Effect (personality-­driven mass attraction).”4 In this essay, I explore an early modern version of celebrity which emphasizes the act of “celebration,” a practice already much more vexed than this happy term suggests to our modern ears. Central to this version of celebrity are the heightened interactions of royal entries and pageants. These moments share something of contemporary celebrity’s emphasis on the relationship between the famous individual and the crowd—that is, on contact, whether real, imagined, or withheld. This problem is particularly acute on the public stage, where the playing complicates an already fraught situation. In the theatre, contact between actors and audience is framed by dramatic staging that Jean Howard calls the play’s “orchestration”: the ways in which plays “are carefully crafted to control and shape what an audience hears, sees, and experiences moment by moment in the theater.”5 As I hope to show, reading Coriolanus as an experiment in the staging of celebrity reveals the play’s interest in the intersubjective relationship of actors and audience.6 2  Boorstin, The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America (New York: Atheneum, 1987), 57, 89, 127. 3  Rojek, Celebrity (London: Reaktion, 2001), 46. 4  See Roach, It (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2007), 16, 3. 5  Howard, Shakespeare’s Art of Orchestration: Stage Technique and Audience Response (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press,  1984), 2. As Kent Cartwright points out, Shakespeare’s plays “shape meaning by orchestrating spectatorial engagement and detachment,” Shakespearean Tragedy and Its Double: The Rhythms of Audience Response. State College, PA: Penn State University Press, 1991), 3. 6  This essay focuses on what and Nova Myhill and Jennifer A. Low call the abstract “audience” implied by the texts of a play, in contrast to the actual “audiences” that we might



There are two particular phenomena that are especially useful to this investigation. First, the modes of affective intimacy and distance available to actor on the stage—whether via the revelation of interiority or via the production of what Sharon Marcus calls “exteriority effects.”7 Second the identification between audience and crowd in the early modern theatre, where the staging of crowd scenes allows the audience to contemplate its own double in public. In early modern plays—and in city comedies and Roman plays in particular—on stage crowds act as a double for the audience and the populace of London more generally. My reading draws attention to how Coriolanus plays with the interaction between actor and audience in order to reveal the modes of influence—as well as the slippages and misunderstandings—that shape the relationship between celebrity and crowd. In doing so, I focus on how Shakespeare’s play creates the affective experience of public intimacy, allowing the audience to feel how a celebrity might react to the competing demands of public and private. As I hope to show, this incredibly pessimistic play about popularity is also one that is shaped so as to allow a popular audience the opportunity to feel—as well as think—its way through dilemmas posed by celebrity.

Fame, Celebrity, and the Crowd Let me begin by thinking through the relationship between fame, celebrity, and celebration as they were understood in early modern England. While the terms fame and celebrity are often used interchangeably, they have different—albeit complementary—meanings. As I noted above, Daniel Boorstin defines celebrity as being “well-known for his well-knownness” attempt to reconstruct from contemporary records. See Myhill and Low “Introduction: Audience and Audiences,” Imagining the Audience in Early Modern Drama, 1558–1642 (New York: Palgrave, 2011) 1–18. On audiences in the early modern theatre, see Paul Yachnin and Anthony Dawson, The Culture of Playgoing in Shakespeare’s England: A Collaborative Debate (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001); Jeremy Lopez, Theatrical Convention and Audience Response in Early Modern England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003); Charles Whitney, Early Responses to Renaissance Drama (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006). 7  On interiority in Coriolanus, see especially Cynthia Marshall, “Wound-man: Coriolanus, gender, and the theatrical construction of interiority,” in Feminist Readings of Early Modern Culture: Emerging Subjects, ed. Valerie Traub, M. Lindsay Kaplan, Dympna Callaghan (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 93–118; Eve Rachele Sanders, “The Body of the Actor in Coriolanus,” Shakespeare Quarterly 57.4 (2006): 387–412; and Harry Newman, “‘The Stamp of Martius’: Commoditized Character and the Technology of Theatrical Impression in Coriolanus,” Renaissance Drama 45.1 (2017): 51–80. See Sharon Marcus, “Sarah Bernhardt’s Exteriority Effects,” Modern Drama 60.3, (2017): 296–321, for a contrasting account of the use of “exteriority effects.”



or “famous for being famous.” Celebrity was, as he puts it, “not a person but a condition” and we might go further and say that it indicated a specific situation.8 Celebrity is part of the vocabulary of early modern England, both its familiar meaning, “The state or fact of being well known, widely discussed, or publicly esteemed” or “personal fame or renown as manifested in (and determined by) public interest and media attention” (OED, “Celebrity” 1a), and in two obsolete meanings: “Observance of ritual or special formality on an important occasion; pomp, ceremony” and “An act of celebrating something; a rite, a ceremony; a celebration” (OED 2. and 3.). Celebrity’s etymology, from the “classical Latin celebritāt-, celebritās” gives us a sense of how it acquired these distinctive meanings. Its Latin root suggests a “state of being busy or crowded, festival, games or other celebration characterized by crowded conditions, reputation, renown, fame, frequency or commonness” (OED). Or, as Chris Rojek puts it, celebrity has “connotations [of] both ‘fame’ and ‘being thronged.’”9 This etymology emphasizes the communal, crowded nature of the act of celebration, one that brings people together—literally en masse—to praise the recipient. Thus, while fame might travel far beyond the person or action that begins it via report or rumor, celebrity arises from the insistent demand for “public intimacy” with the famous individual, either one-on-one or in the form of shows or triumphs. It is this version of celebrity, which focuses our attention on the encounter of the famous individual with the crowd, that I attend to in this essay. There are no celebrities—at least under that name—in Shakespeare. There is, however, a fair amount of “celebration”—often of nuptials, but also of victories and battles, of Egyptian Bacchanals, and of the Savior’s birth.10 Neither term appears in Coriolanus because in the play celebrity and celebration are nothing to celebrate—at least according to its eponymous protagonist. Caius Martius is famous for his martial feats and seeks honor in battle, but it is other characters who worry about his fame. His  Boorstin, The Image, 57.  Rojek, Celebrity, 9. 10  “Dolphin, command the citizens make bonfires / And feast and banquet in the open streets, / To celebrate the joy that God hath given us.” (1 Henry VI 1.6.51–3); “Shall we dance now the Egyptian Bacchanals, / And celebrate our drink?” (Anthony and Cleopatra, 2.7.104–5); “Come, temperate nymphs, and help to celebrate / A contract of true love” (Tempest 4.1.132–3); “the citizens, / I am sure, have shown at full their royal minds / […] / In celebration of this day with shows, / Pageants and sights of honour” (Henry VIII, 4.1.7–8, 10–11). 8 9



mother, Volumnia claims that she is “pleased to let him seek danger where he was like to find fame” (1.3.9–13); his political opponents, Brutus and Scicinius, speak of the “Fame, at which [Martius] aims” (1.1, 258); and, his Volscian foe, Aufidius, asserts to him, “We hate alike: / Not Afric owns a serpent I abhor / More than thy fame and envy” (1.8.2–4). But even when Martius “comes the third time home / with the oaken garland” (2.1.11–12), he emphatically doesn’t want to be a celebrity—whether that’s the imposition of acting out his fame and his exploits for the common man or the humiliation (as he sees it) of being celebrated by those people. Martius’ choleric reactions in the play are as unrestrained and ungovernable as his own conception of the people of Rome, and his refusal to play to the crowd, to speak to them in friendly condescension, obstructs his route to the consulship, sees him forced out of the city, and leads directly to the play’s tragic denouement. In doing so, the play alerts us to the ways that fame and publicity can run contrary to each other as well as together. Fame can run (rumor-like) ahead of the individual or event, and thus act separately from presence in public—at least until the public demand for that presence becomes overwhelming. But, when the famous individual and crowd come into contact, there is an insistent demand by the crowd for attention. The play does present several celebrations in the form of military triumphs, both formal and informal. First, amongst the soldiers after the battle with the Volscians at Corioli, when Caius Martius is borne aloft by his soldiers (1.6.76–7). This scene offers a template for what a public celebration might look like, but also confirms his reluctance. As with later in the play, he sees any sort of praise as false flattery. Martius “cannot make [his] heart consent / To take a bribe to pay [his] sword” (1.9.37–8). His commander, Cominius, tells him he is “too modest” (52) and gives him both his steed and the epithet Coriolanus. Second, when Martius returns to Rome and greeted in a sort of informal triumphal entry into Rome. But, while these moments are again stage managed by Cominius, Coriolanus objects to the act of public presentation. The Herald who accompanies the entrance announces: Know, Rome, that all alone Coriolanus did fight Within Corioli gates: where he hath won, With fame, a name to Martius Caius; these In honour follows Coriolanus. Welcome to Rome, renowned Coriolanus! (2.1.148–52)



Coriolanus tells them, “No more of this; it does offend my heart: / Pray now, no more” (2.1.155). Later, when Cominius speaks on his behalf before the Capitol, Coriolanus leaves rather “then idly sit / To heare [his] Nothings monster’d” (2.2.72–3). Despite these refusals, Coriolanus makes it clear that it is not praise or thanks that he rejects, but public praise before the people, acknowledging to his wife and his mother that, although, “Ere in our own house I do shade my head, / The good patricians must be visited” (2.1.81–2), he will not display himself to the people. Coriolanus’ patrician disdain can be understood in two ways: positively, as honest in comparison to the flattery of the tribunes and negatively as contempt for the people. The conflicts of the play arise out the ambiguous meaning of public speech and Coriolanus’ sense that it is necessarily false. In Shakespeare, Popularity and the Public Sphere (2017), Jeff Doty approaches a similar set of questions via the idea of “popularity.”11 As he demonstrates, this term had a range of meanings in early modern England: it was used as an index of publicness; as a description of the relations between elite and commons; and to delineate certain tactics of political influence. As he puts it, “‘Popularity’ registers the tactical value of winning popular favor while simultaneously mistrusting the people, their irrationality, and their impertinent discussions of matters of state” (158). In Coriolanus, in particular, he claims that Shakespeare “expands” concerns about popularity such that it “become[s] the monstrous totality of politics” (160). My argument diverges from Doty’s in not focusing on popularity as a term, but instead turning attention to celebrity and celebration. Shakespeare is not merely making an argument about popularity, his play is intent on creating an affective experience of popular encounter—the act of celebration itself. These moments of popular enthusiasm and disturbance worry the two new consuls, Junius Brutus and Scicinius Velutus, appointed by the Roman senate in an attempt to mollify the people following the play’s opening revolt. They see the people’s feelings for Martius as the primary threat to their influence. Brutus offers this disdainful description of Martius’ triumphal entry as an example of the sorts of affective trouble that he provokes: All tongues speak of him, and the bleared sights  Jeffrey S. Doty, Shakespeare, Popularity and the Public Sphere (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017), esp. 157–188. On early modern public sphere more generally, see Bronwen Wilson and Paul Yachnin, eds., Making Publics in Early Modern Europe (New York: Routledge, 2010). 11



Are spectacled to see him: your prattling nurse Into a rapture lets her baby cry While she chats him: the kitchen malkin pins Her richest lockram ‘bout her reechy neck, Clambering the walls to eye him: stalls, bulks, windows, Are smother‘d up, leads fill‘d, and ridges horsed With variable complexions, all agreeing In earnestness to see him: seld-shown flamens Do press among the popular throngs and puff To win a vulgar station: or veil‘d dames Commit the war of white and damask in Their nicely-gawded cheeks to the wanton spoil Of Phoebus‘ burning kisses: such a pother As if that whatsoever god who leads him Were slily crept into his human powers And gave him graceful posture. (2.1.193–207)

These disdainful images of almost ecstatic attention to the person of Coriolanus suggest the problematic nature of celebrity—especially for those, like Brutus, whose own influence is liable to be eclipsed. For these new representatives of the people, it is unnerving to think of the populace responding to Martius’ presence by bursting out of its proper order: “[c]lambering the walls …; stalls, bulk, windows / smother’d up, leads fill’d, and ridges horsed,” with “seld-shown flamens” and “veil’d dames” “press[ing] among the popular throngs.” Brutus diminishes the public frenzy describing it as “a pother,” but his worries are confirmed by a messenger who arrives to report a similar adulation in response to Coriolanus’ entrance into the city: I have seen the dumb men throng to see him and The blind to hear him speak: matrons flung gloves, Ladies and maids their scarfs and handkerchers, Upon him as he pass‘d: the nobles bended, As to Jove‘s statue, and the commons made A shower and thunder with their caps and shouts: I never saw the like. (2.1.247–54)

Doty points out how the shouts and thrown caps replicate Jove’s powers, turning their shouts into his attribute of thunder, an effect that fits with Brutus’ sarcastic comment that Coriolanus is acting as if possessed by a god—“As if that whatsoever god who leads him / Were slily crept into his



human powers.” Together, they suggest the early modern association between celebrity and idolatry, echoing Roach’s account of the “deifying reception” of the It-effect.12 The effect of these descriptions is magnified because they remind the audience of moments of Durkheimian collective “effervescence” that they themselves had experienced, whether it was crowd behavior at public entries into London.13 Perhaps the crucial aspect of this episode in the play is that these are reports of triumphal entries rather than stagings of those events. While Doty treats these moments as part of a continuum, the enargeia produced by the details of the description cannot match that produced by the actual encounter. These descriptions appear between the two staged celebrations of Coriolanus on the battlefield and at his re-entry into Rome. They thus both stand in for entries that it would be difficult to present on stage and enhance the staged versions of celebration, building up to Coriolanus’ deflating rejection of public praise. The contrast between these two modes of depicting affective contact between celebrity and crowd is especially important because it closely resembles the relationship between actors and audience in the theatre— hanging off the balconies and pressing up against the stage in their eagerness to observe the action of the play. Robert Shaughnessy’s research into performances in the modern reconstructed Globe suggests that these overwhelming reactions are a response to modes of acting, the physical space, and Shakespeare’s orchestration of his plays.14 These collective responses are an example of what Musa Gurnis calls the shared feeling: the affective experience that both smooths out and complicates differing public opinion. As she points out, “Actors and audiences share always-­ changing oscillations of feeling and attention. But while the rhythms of performance move the playhouse, actors also experience their audiences as too vast and protean to control.”15 It is this sense of the audience as a crowd, one that can be swayed by performance or mishandled and set  Roach, It (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2007), 44.  Émile Durkheim, The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, trans. Carol Cosman (Oxford: Oxford World’s Classics, 2001), 158. See Rojek, Celebrity, 56–8. These descriptions are particularly pointed because they could be read as references to King James’ entry into London in 1604. See Doty, Shakespeare, Popularity and the Public Sphere 5–11 for a comparison of Elizabeth I and James I’s staging of themselves in public. 14  Shaunessy, “Connecting the Globe: Actors, Audience and Entrainment,” Shakespeare Survey 68 (2015): 294–305. 15  Musa Gurnis, Mixed Faith and Shared Feeling: Theater in Post-Reformation London (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018), 52. 12 13



against the performers, which makes the unruly crowds and unstable dynamics of the Roman political culture a particularly apt topic for theatrical representation in early modern England. In this context, focusing on celebration rebalances our understanding of celebrity, shifting it from an emphasis on the unknowability of the famous individual to a consideration of affective interaction with the early modern public.

Playing to the Crowd These questions of contact between celebrities and crowds are especially fraught on the stage, which uses varying forms of actorly address, of blocking and staging, to toy with the audience and their access to the characters in performance. By this, I am referring to those modes of acting that bring the audience into the play by acknowledging their presence and addressing them directly. Much of the discussion on this topic has been framed by Robert Weimann’s terms locus and platea.16 Weimann distinguishes between the locus as “a fairly specific imaginary locale or self-contained space in the world of the play” and platea, “an opening in mise-en-scene” in which the actors play “with rather than for an audience.”17 In the Elizabethan and Jacobean theatre the locus was up-stage, authoritative, and mimetic—a site for dialogue between characters or, perhaps, open address to both characters on stage and the audience. The platea was down-stage, familiar, meta-theatrical, playing with direct address to the audience, including soliloquies, asides, and back-and-forth dialogue. Erika T. Lin, in reconsidering Weimann’s terms, notes that this distinction is more useful as a conceptual formation than a simple dichotomy between upstage and downstage action: “Rather than seeing locus and platea as functions of stage geography, social legitimacy, or actor-audience interactivity, it seems most useful to reconceptualize them in terms of the way presentational elements in performance come to signify within the represented fiction.”18 I think that Lin is largely right on this count. However, I would add that we should also consider the meta-theatrical effects of the play’s presentation. 16  See Weimann, Shakespeare and the Popular Tradition in the Theater (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978); “Bi-fold authority in Shakespeare’s Theatre.” Shakespeare Quarterly 39 (1988): 401–17; and, “Space (in)dividable: locus and platea revisited,” in Author’s Pen and Actor’s Voice (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 181–215. 17  Weimann, “Space (in)dividable,” 181; “Bi-fold authority,” 414. 18  Lin, Shakespeare and the Materiality of Performance (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), 294.



Of course, all good acting moves back and forth between these modes. But I want to draw attention to how Shakespeare plays with these conventions in Coriolanus, in particular the interaction of audience and actors to reflect meta-theatrically on the corresponding interactions between individual and public. As Ian Munro has pointed out, in Shakespeare’s plays there is an implicit likeness between the crowds of England or of ancient Rome and the audiences watching in the play-house.19 This situation is heightened during moments when the audience takes on the same subject position of the crowd on stage. Take as an example, Anthony’s funeral speech in Julius Caesar: when called on to address the crowd, instead of speaking from a place of authority, Anthony descends into the crowd to stand by Caesar’s bier and address the people. (In some modern stagings, the barrier between stage and pit is deliberately crossed, with crowd scenes taking place among the audience.) This choice draws meta-theatrical attention to the parallels between the relationship of orator and crowd in ancient Rome and of actor and audience in the playhouse. Moreover, while the play-going public made up primarily of commoners, the theatre can be understood as a stratified public space: both in the arrangement of various sorts of audience (the groundlings, those in the stalls, and in some theatres those on the stage), but also in the hierarchical relationship between those on stage and those off it. Exactly where we might draw the boundary between crowd and actors in the theatre is not straightforward: maybe the crowd is everyone in the audience, maybe it is the actors and the groundlings who the well-off audience in the stalls regard as the crowd.20 Better, even, to think of the playhouse as a space in which social stratification was contested or managed by all those in attendance. The question of the relationship between actors and audience is especially important in plays like Hamlet, or 1 Henry IV, and Richard III which build intimacy—to varying levels of comfort or discomfort— between their protagonists and the audience by emphasizing the platea: talking to the crowd in asides, soliloquies, and via direct address.21 In these 19  See Munro, The Figure of the Crowd in Early Modern London: The City and its Double (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005). On the representation of crowds more generally, see Elias Canetti, Crowds and Power, trans. Carol Stewart (New York: Farrar, Strauss, Giroux, 1984 [1960]); and Crowds, ed. Jeffrey T.  Schnapp and Matthew Tiews (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2006). 20  See Kai Wiegandt, Crowd and Rumour in Shakespeare (Farnham: Ashgate, 2012). 21  These forms of interaction (the soliloquy, the aside, open address) are often given to characters who are adept rhetorical manipulators, allowing them to discuss the practices of deception in which they are engaging and giving them at the same time an opportunity to



forms of speech, the actor discloses or discovers (in the early modern sense) thoughts and motivations to the audience, giving them a sense not just of the character’s interiority, but of his or her own perceptions of self or of the events of the play. By contrast, Coriolanus is neither intimate, nor open and direct. As Stanley Cavell puts it, “its language, like its hero, keeps aloof from our attention, as withdrawn, austere, as its rage and its contempt permit.”22 This aloofness is also structural: the play concentrates its action in the locus and deliberately eschews forms of speech and interaction associated with the platea. We hear Coriolanus in dialogue with his confidants and in argument with his adversaries, and he is the repeated subject of conversation by other characters. This difference between disclosure and the overheard is crucial to the play’s effect, and it is perhaps significant that the most intimate and informal scenes in the play’s first half are those between Coriolanus’ enemies Brutus and Scicinius, who—as Peter Holland points out—repeatedly “remain” on stage, closing the play’s scenes with discussions of their plots against Coriolanus.23 This arrangement of Coriolanus’ dialogue distances of the main character from the audience, an effect that mirrors and reinforces Coriolanus’ disdain for the Roman populace. This problem is deeply built into the orchestration of the play’s action. Let me draw your attention to three early scenes in the play: first, Act One, Scene One, the opening scene of the crowd in revolt, in which careful staging might allow the speeches delivered by the citizens, by Menenius, and the furious condemnation of Coriolanus to be understood as also addressing the audience. This problem is particularly pressing on the Jacobean stage, which presents intimately the acts and counsels of the nobility before a public audience, albeit in this case in the form of Roman history. Coriolanus objects to public discussion of political knowledge that he thinks should be restricted to the nobility. Menenius Agrippa replies, “For corn at their own rates; whereof, they say, /The city is well stored” (1.1.178–9), to which Coriolanus furiously replies, discover their true motivations to the audience. Coriolanus, by contrast, is one of those characters whose interior motivations and attitudes repeatedly bubble to the surface in his speech. On asides, see especially Jeremy Lopez, Theatrical Conventions in Early Modern Drama (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 56–77. 22  Stanley Cavell, “Who Does the Wolf Love: Reading Coriolanus,” Representations 3 (1983): 1–20, 2. 23  See Holland, ed., Coriolanus, 114, for a discussion of this structural feature in the context of the use of “remain” in the play.



               Hang ‘em! They say! They‘ll sit by the fire, and presume to know What‘s done i‘ the Capitol; who‘s like to rise, Who thrives and who declines; side factions and give out Conjectural marriages; making parties strong And feebling such as stand not in their liking Below their cobbled shoes. (1.1.179–85)

Their knowledge of and conversation about political matters infuriate Coriolanus, and his response gives the audience an opportunity to see his hostility to the people of Rome and, perhaps, to feel that they are included as targets of his criticism. The claim that “they’ll sit by the fire” suggests the inappropriate conjunction of plebian domesticity and political conjecture.24 Second, the scenes of battle against the Volscians (1.4–10), during which Coirolanus berates his own troops in the process of rallying them. There is a particularly significant moment in the middle of the battle, just before Coriolanus enters the city and the gates are shut behind him. This scene could be played across the stage, with Coriolanus entering from one wing and leaving from the other. But, more dramatically—and in a way that is consistent with the stage directions and his speech—it could instead locate the gates of the city at the rear of the stage, such that the actor playing Coriolanus would begin down-stage and turn back to the audience, urging them on as if they were part of the army, before he exits via the ‘gates’ up-stage:                     Mend and charge home,       Or, by the fires of heaven, I‘ll leave the foe       And make my wars on you: look to‘t: come on;       If you‘ll stand fast, we‘ll beat them to their wives,       As they us to our trenches followed. Another Alarum, and Martius followes them to gates, and is shut in.       So, now the gates are ope: now prove good seconds:       ‘Tis for the followers fortune widens them,       Not for the fliers: mark me, and do the like. (1.5.9–16)

24  As András Kiseéry points out in Hamlet’s Moment: Drama and Political Knowledge in Early Modern England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016), this sort of interest in political discourse was the subject of elite condemnation throughout the period.



In doing so, the play would place the audience in the same subject position as the commoners enlisted into the Roman army, whom Coriolanus urges on and then outruns to enter the city alone. Doing so would conflate stage crowd with theatre audience, so that Coriolanus’ exit leaves behind an audience whom he has cursed as cowards for not following him. Third, Cominius gives a speech in praise of Coriolanus before the Capitol, telling the assembled senators that, though he “shall lack voice: the deeds of Coriolanus / Should not be utter’d feebly” (2.2.78–9). This is the play’s clearest example of open address, in which the audience takes on the same subject position as the elite of Rome, listening as they do to Cominius’ encomium and judging with them his worthiness for the office of consul. This speech, however, is framed by a conversation between two officers preparing the chamber, who debate between themselves both Coriolanus’ merits and his relationship with the people. The contrast between the two positions leaves the question of Coriolanus’ deserts open. These three cases, together, suggest the complicated work the play does to bring the action to the audience, but at the same time to create a distance between audience and Coriolanus. Seen in this way, the play primarily takes advantage of one sort of locus-platea contrast: the difference between scenes of authoritative speech and those of intimate dialogue. These staging choices reinforce the effect of the one moment in the play’s first three acts that is an exception to this scheme. This change occurs at a moment which Cynthia Marshall identified as pivotal to the play: Act 2, Scene 3, the scene in which Coriolanus refuses to display his wounds in public. Earlier in the scene, the citizens prepare to receive Coriolanus, one of them telling the others, I say, if he would incline to the people, there was never a worthier man.… Here he comes, and in the gown of humility: mark his behavior. We are not to stay all together, but to come by him where he stands, by ones, by twos, and by threes. He’s to make his requests by particulars; wherein every one of us has a single honour, in giving him our own voices with our own tongues (2.3.34–40)

Here, as many critics have pointed out, Coriolanus’ requests for their “voices” (i.e., their acclamation for the position of consul) is confrontational rather than solicitous, and his tone-deafness—his concern for his own pride matched with an inability to consider the feelings of the commonality—is strikingly alienating.



However, directly after meeting with these of groups, the play leaves Coriolanus alone on the stage to speak his inward thoughts about the citizens he has just encountered. After he bids farewell to these “Most sweet voices!” (102), he switches to a soliloquy in which he claims that it is, Better it is to die, better to starve, Than crave the hire which first we do deserve. Why in this woolvish toge should I stand here, To beg of Hob and Dick, that do appear, Their needless vouches? Custom calls me to’'t: What custom wills, in all things should we do’t, The dust on antique time would lie unswept, And mountainous error be too highly heapt For truth to o’er-peer. Rather than fool it so, Let the high office and the honour go To one that would do thus. I am half through; The one part suffer’d, the other will I do. Here come more voices. (2.3.103–15)

This soliloquy is not only notable for the closeness it produces with the audience, but for the contrast with the lack of intimacy in the play to this point. In meetings with the common people, Coriolanus never displays the wounds he has suffered as he has promised. But for the audience in the theatre this speech offers an equivalent moment, displaying to them the wounds to his pride that he suffers for truckling for the “voices” in seeking election to the consulate. The actor playing Coriolanus is given a chance to show a contrasting side to the proud combative one he puts on even when begging in the humiliating “woolvish toge,” a side that is torn between his desires and unable to reconcile them: the decision to “Let the high office and the honour go / to one that would do thus”—that is, display their wounds—is followed directly by the resolution to go on, “I am half through, / The one part suffer’d, the other will I do.” This moment of self-revelation is charged by the play’s refusal to allow Coriolanus—or indeed any other character—to be alone on stage or to speak to the audience prior to this moment. Yet Coriolanus does so with a speech that also expresses his contempt for the “Hob and Dick” of the Roman people to the Hob and Dick of the audience. Are they intended to be sympathetic? Or antagonistic? Or torn like Coriolanus himself? Whatever approach the individual actor playing the part chooses in



making this speech, this moment shifts the relationship the play has created between its main character and the audience. And as a result, they know that when Brutus and Scicinius conspire to encourage the commons to withhold their votes from Coriolanus, this choice will drive the play toward a crisis, when Coriolanus is encouraged to go before the people once more.

Acts of Condescension So far in this essay I have been emphasizing the locus/platea distinction and forms of address as the primary index of actor-audience interaction. The play, however, is also concerned by bodily motion as both rhetorical choice and involuntary response in these situations. Driven off by a crowd and the Aediles and furious at having been forestalled, Coriolanus returns home and once there is confronted by Menenius Agrippa and Volumnia who counsel him to make peace with the people. Menenius tells Volumnia that, Before he should thus stoop to the herd, but that The violent fit o’ the time craves it as physic For the whole state, I would put mine armour on, Which I can scarcely bear. (3.2.31–4)

But, like much else that Menenius says in the play, he speaks not for meaning, but for rhetorical effect. Very quickly, Volumnia and Menenius “force” Coriolanus to “[r]eturn to the tribunes” and “[r]epent what [he] ha[s] spoke” (3.2.36, 38). Volumnia and Menenius’ attempts to persuade Coriolanus to go before the people and ask for the position of consul are framed as an acting lesson. Volumnia offers him two possible approaches: Go to them, with this bonnet in thy hand; And thus far having stretch’d   it—here be with them— Thy knee bussing the stones—for in such business Action is eloquence, and the eyes of the ignorant More learned than the ears—waving thy head, Which often, thus, correcting thy stout heart, Now humble as the ripest mulberry That will not hold the handling: or say to them, Thou art their soldier, and being bred in broils Hast not the soft way which, thou dost confess,



Were fit for thee to use as they do claim, In asking their good loves, but thou wilt frame Thyself, forsooth, hereafter theirs, so far As thou hast power and person. (3.2.72–86)

The two methods that Volumnia offers are different but complementary to each other: one the action of courtier or lover, with “knee bussing the stones” in a literal act of condescension; the other, that of the soldier, is a false modesty of rhetoric, where the roughness of speech acts as an eloquent stand-in for honesty. As this moment suggests, it is not the polish of performance that is persuasive, but the display of openness. The contrast between the supple courtier, first offered as a model, and the rough soldier is one of outward form, not of rhetorical positioning. Coriolanus replies, “You have put me now to such a part which never / I shall discharge to the life” (3.2.105–6), to which Cominius tells him, “Come, come, we’ll prompt you” and Volumnia insists, “My praises made thee first a soldier, so, / To have my praise for this, perform a part / Thou hast not done before” (107–9). In doing so, all three suggest the parallel between the feigning of equality and playing on a stage.25 Coriolanus goes one step further, bringing in a series of other frequenters of the marketplace as models for his acting. Successively, condescension becomes not just acting, but “[s]ome harlot’s spirit,” or that of a eunuch, a virgin, a knave, a schoolboy, and finally a beggar, all who “[m]ake motion through his lips” or “bend like his / That hath received an alms” (111–120). In doing so, Coriolanus briefly talks himself out of his intention, before eventually conceding, Mother, I am going to the market-place; Chide me no more. I’ll mountebank their loves, Cog their hearts from them, and come home beloved Of all the trades in Rome. (3.2.131–4)

It’s perhaps that last group—the trades of Rome—who most fully embody everything that Coriolanus disdains, as if the binary of his life is not the opposition between war and peace, but that between otium and negotium, between leisure and business, and to him that is the final sullying of his 25  Compare Clark Lunberry, “In the Name of ‘Coriolanus’: The Prompter (Prompted)” Comparative Literature 54.3 (2002): 229–41.



martial spirit. Indeed, Volumnia and Menenius persuade him to do exactly what Menenius says that he would resist: to “stoop to the herd.” This is a concern that returns at the end of the play, when one of the conspirators who Aufidius persuades to murder Coriolanus attests to “his stoutness / When he did stand for consul, which he lost / By lack of stooping” (5.6.26–8). That verb, “stoop,” is telling: the clear problem with Coriolanus’ interactions with the crowd is not his pride, but his lack of condescension. But where bowing can be understood as deference to a higher authority or politeness to an equal, stooping figures the same practices as a lowering oneself to meet those of another status. This act is vital to being a celebrity, as condescension is what allows the famous individual to be subsumed into the collective event of celebration. Crucially, condescension does not erase rank, but instead reinscribes it by putting off the distance of dignity and allowing more intimate sorts of interaction. The strategies recommended to Coriolanus are, moreover, recognizable as those adopted by early modern celebrities. Both Elizabeth I and her favourite Essex were famous in the period for their ability to condescend in a manner that enhanced their popularity. Doty notes how Elizabeth was praised by a courtier for her supple responsiveness to the crowd: she “was so great a Courtier of the people, yea, of the Commons, and that stooped and declined lowe in presenting her person to the publique view as she passed in her Progresse and perambulations, and in her ejaculations of her prayers on the people,” where James I, by contrast, was stand-off-ish and reluctant to demean himself by lowering himself to public contact.26 Given the regal and noble impulses to control public access to their persons, this distinction and the importance of the act of condescension to bridge that gap become more apparent. Stooping has a theatrical meaning, as well as a hierarchical one: it is the natural effect of moving from the center to the edge of the stage.27 To “incline” to the people comes at both a political and theatrical cost. Considered from this point of view, the locus is the site for address to the audience as a whole; whereas the platea instead addresses to specific section of the audience, the crowd of groundlings before the stage—an  As cited in Doty, Popularity, 8–11, 16–17.  See Bruce R. Smith, The Acoustic World of Early Modern England: Attending to the O-Factor (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1999), where he notes that the place of maximum acoustic power is a central one: not right up against the stage, but further back, between the pillars. 26 27



a­ ttitude, moreover, that is observable to the rest of the audience. To stoop then is to be threatened with absorption, with the speaker being subsumed into the crowd. Early in the play, Coriolanus rejects his mother’s desire to see him consul, telling her, “I had rather be their servant in my way, / Than sway with them in theirs” (2.1.188–9). To sway has a double meaning in early modern England: it is both attribute of regal authority and the affective movement of the crowd under that influence.28 Crucially, in Coriolanus only this later sense is put to use and in a form that separates the swaying movement from the authority that impels it. This subjection to the affective collectivity of the crowd is a price that Coriolanus is unwilling to pay until he is banished from the city. His denial is implicitly linked to the discourses of inclining and stooping that he refuses before his banishment, a point made clear by one of the conspirators who remarks to Aufidius that in seducing the Volscians to help him pursue his revenge against Rome, Coriolanus has “bow’d his nature, never known before / But to be rough, unswayable and free” (5.6.24–5).

Coriolanus Among the Volscians The interactions between Coriolanus and the crowd and between actor and audience in the first half of the play turn on the moments when Coriolanus fails to reveal himself or subsume himself in the crowd’s movements. This sets up the second half of the play, which emphasizes his fictive interiority by first revealing him to the audience and then denying access. As Eve Rachele Sanders puts it, his “trajectory […] from anti-theatrical ideologue to shape-shifting actor” demands a “surprising aboutface in the play’s middle,” as he takes up the strategies of popular, actorly attention that he had previously rejected.29 No sooner is he muffled by a disguise than becomes more available to and intimate with the audience: he gives a pair of soliloquies of the play outside Antium, in which he 28  Richard II in his deposition speech, for instance, says “I give this heavy weight from of my head / And this unwieldy sceptre from my hand, / The pride of kingly sway from out my heart” (4.1.194–6). 29  See Sanders, “The Body of the Actor in Coriolanus,” Shakespeare Quarterly 57 (2006): 387–412. Compare the account of Coriolanus’ railing speech in the context of poetomachia in Maria Teresa Micaela Prendergast, Railing, Reviling, and Invective in English Literary Culture, 1588–1617: The Anti-Poetics of Theater and Print (Farnham: Ashgate, 2012), 145–173. Antitheatrical tracts have proved to be a useful source for accounts of early modern theatrical practice and audience response, as the work of Sanders has shown.



declares his intention to pledge allegiance to the Volscian cause if Aufidius will take him in: My birth-place hate I, and my love’s upon This enemy town. I’ll enter: if he slay me, He does fair justice; if he give me way, I’ll do his country service. (4.4.23–6)

When Coriolanus arrives at Aufidius’ house, he is unrecognized and has to force the servants to bring Aufidius to him. Here too, the play works to put Coriolanus center stage: the entrances and exits of the servants emphasize the presence of Aufidius and his guests in the spaces beyond the entryway where Coriolanus is temporarily detained. This interaction with the servants, moreover, contains one of the few lines in the play that can be understood as an aside, when Coriolanus admits in response to the brusque treatment of the servants, “I have deserved no better entertainment / In being Coriolanus” (4.5.9–10). All these interactions work to make Coriolanus’ interior struggles more apparent to the audience—but, once Coriolanus reveals himself to Aufidius, he leaves the stage to meet the Volscian leaders. (Indeed, we might expect that Coriolanus’ exit to be via the same tiring-house doors that were probably used earlier in the play for the fight at the gates of Corioli, creating a parallel between the two moments for the audience.) This moment marks a second shift in audience access to Coriolanus— one that Sanders does not notice in her account of the play. The exit leaves the audience behind and somewhat deflated, as Coriolanus’ seduction of the Volscians takes place off stage. For Shakespeare this is not just a method of concision, by which he avoids repeating those actions, but also a way of structuring these scenes to enhance their effect. The play stretches out Coriolanus’ absence, extending it over 400 lines across four scenes, from his exit in the middle of 4.5 to his return part-way through 5.2. Instead of witnessing his negotiations with the Volscians and seeing of their march on Rome, we hear of the advance of their army via a number of intermediaries: Aufidius’ servants, who report the agreement made between Coriolanus and Volscians; and the series of reports and arguments among Roman dignitaries—Menenius, Cominius, Brutus and Sicinius—that close out Act Four. Act Five begins with three carefully orchestrated scenes in which the Romans beg for mercy for their city, each of which reframes the audience’s relationship with Coriolanus. Shakespeare avoids



repetitiousness and heightens the sense of Coriolanus’ absence by staging each scene differently. In 5.1 Cominius reports his off-stage failure to persuade Coriolanus to hold off. 5.2 stages Menenius attempt to do the same, but it opens with Menenius held back and refused a hearing by the Volscian watchmen before Coriolanus enters and dismisses him from a distance. It is in this context that 5.3 begins—with another overheard conversation, this time between Coriolanus and Aufidius. In it, Coriolanus swears not to heed petitions from Rome, disclosing how, although “This last old man, / Whom with a crack’d heart I have sent to Rome, / Loved me above the measure of a father” he has “show’d sourly to him” (8–10, 13). He promises Aufidius that he will not “lend ear to” any “fresh embassies and suits, / Nor from the state nor private friends.” But as he talks with Aufidius, his family arrives to beg his mercy for the city. In response, speaks aside to the audience from his throne, narrating the entry of Virgillia, Volumnia, and young Martius: “My wife comes foremost; then the honour’d mould / Wherein this trunk was framed, and in her hand / The grandchild to her blood” (5.3.22–24). As the moment of confrontation approaches, his speech becomes increasingly interior and conflicted:           But, out, affection! All bond and privilege of nature break! Let it be virtuous to be obstinate. What is that curt’sy worth? or those doves’ eyes, Which can make gods forsworn? I melt, and am not Of stronger earth than others. My mother bows; As if Olympus to a molehill should In supplication nod: and my young boy Hath an aspect of intercession, which Great nature cries ‘Deny not.’ Let the Volsces Plough Rome and harrow Italy: I’ll never Be such a gosling to obey instinct, but stand, As if a man were author of himself And knew no other kin. (24–37)

The speech not only draws the audience’s attention to the acts of bowing and curtsying that Virgillia and Volumnia make. It also presents a moment when Coriolanus addresses his thoughts about the immediate events on stage to the audience. As Sanders points out in her discussion of this scene, the coordinated bowing, kneeling, and supplication by his mother, wife, and son is an extension of the earlier acting lesson (407). But the subject



position of the audience is significantly different from before, having been shaped by Coriolanus’ narration of his own reactions to his family’s arrival and his sense this is an “unnatural scene” (5.3.184). It is noteworthy that in this scene Coriolanus completely inverts locus-­platea conventions, directing his speech toward the audience at the same time that he occupies a throne, a position of authority characteristic of the locus. This staging is in marked contrast to the preceding scenes, in which the audience is first engaged by the conversation between characters seeking audience with Coriolanus—a set up that emphasizes the connection between the suitors seeking Coriolanus’ mercy and the audience who have been denied intimate access to him for several scenes in a row. Despite his resolution to resist, Coriolanus is moved by his family’s pleas to grant mercy to Rome—a decision that contrasts with his previous refusal to bare his wounds to the public. Putting domestic allegiance before public policy is exactly the sort of abuse of authority that the public has accused the senate of Rome for engaging in. Finally, Coriolanus’ collapse of resolve provides Aufidius with an excuse for his betrayal Coriolanus during the play’s climactic triumphal entry.

Conclusion One way to understand Coriolanus, then, is as a staging of the affective experience of celebrity—and of public intimacy in particular. Shakespeare’s choice to make the heroic but unlikeable Coriolanus the central character of his play, to bring him on stage railing at the commonality before revealing his discomfort and vulnerability, works not only to make clear the parallels between celebrity and theatricality, but allows the audience feel them as a group. Although Shakespeare cannot control the audience directly, he can structure the interaction between actor and crowd in a way that foregrounds the play’s expectations and puts pressure on the crowd’s responses. In play’s final scene, Coriolanus is carried on-stage in triumph and then murdered by the very crowd that carried him forth. Despite the earlier scenes of triumph in the play, this is the first time that Coriolanus is seen accepting rather than rejecting the crowd’s embrace. Combining the closeness between Coriolanus and the audience that the previous scenes in Act 5  developed with their knowledge of Aufidius’ assassination plot heightens the tragic moment when the crowd turns on him. Shakespeare’s doubling of crowd and audience in the play and the changes in Coriolanus’



position implicate the audience in this rejection of the play’s central character. Drawn to, repulsed by, and estranged from Coriolanus, the audience cannot be mere bystanders to these events. The play depicts how individuality and domesticity are eroded by the demands of the public, and it reveals the discomfort that results from the audience’s desire for closeness with actors on the stage. Reading Coriolanus in this way reveals Shakespeare’s precise control of dramatic orchestration to produce audience affect, but also how he thinks about the problems of early modern celebrity and popularity. One way to understand these terms might be as complements that define the relationship between authority and public, individual and crowd, actor and audience. But, perhaps paradoxically, popularity is defined as much by actions of the powerful as by the people, and celebrity as much by the reactions of the crowd as by the famous individual. It is during moments of contact between the two in a public space like the theatre that the energy built up by that separation is released, either in celebration or in conflict.

“Bootless are your thoughts”: Audience Expectation and Surprise in the Caroline Commercial Theater Lauren Robertson

The consequences of too frequent indulgence in the pleasures of theatrical fiction, Richard Braithwaite believed, were nothing short of deadly. In his 1630 conduct manual The English Gentleman, Braithwaite cautions that “as I approve of the moderate use and recourse which our Gentlemen make to Playes, so I wholly condemne the daily frequenting of them: as some there be (especially in this Citie) who, for want of better imployment, make it their Vocation.”1 Letting the reader infer causation from correlation, he goes on to tell the story of a young woman who, “being accustomed in her health every day to see one Play or other, was at last strucke with a grievous sicknesse even unto death.”2 Braithwaite reports that the 1  Richard Brathwaite, The English Gentleman (London: Robert Bostock, 1630), 195 (emphasis in original). 2  Ibid.

L. Robertson (*) Columbia University, New York, NY, USA e-mail: [email protected] © The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2021 A. K. Deutermann et al. (eds.), Publicity and the Early Modern Stage, Early Modern Cultural Studies 1500–1700,




woman, apparently a fan of The Spanish Tragedy, cried out, “Oh Hieronimo, Hieronimo, methinks I see thee brave Hieronimo!” before she “fixed her eyes attentively, as if she had seene Hieronimo acted,” sighed deeply, and died.3 The woman’s voracious appetite for the theater culminates in her own overblown deathbed performance, a display of an embarrassing lack of taste that Braithwaite figures as a literal lack of discernment. Like the revenger’s victims in the dramatic object of her obsession, she dies perceiving fiction where it does not exist.4 Yet in the very process of portraying this spectator’s fatal overconsumption of drama, Braithwaite is careful to drop a dramatic name his readers will surely recognize: Hieronimo. First printed in 1592, the year Philip Henslowe recorded fourteen performances of it, and written as early as 1585, Thomas Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy was one of the most performed, printed, and referenced plays of the commercial theater until its closure in 1642.5 To condemn daily  playgoing in 1630, Braithwaite targets the reader who, like the woman during her deathbed oration, can picture  Ibid.  As James Shapiro notes, the story is also constructed to make the woman a victim of Hieronimo’s deliberate, and deadly, blurring of life and art within The Spanish Tragedy; as he puts it, “the anonymous (and probably fictitious) Englishwoman’s obsessive attendance at the theater has so stripped her of reason that she dies confusing life with theater.” Shapiro, “‘Tragedies naturally performed’: Kyd’s Representation of Violence,” in Staging the Renaissance: Reinterpretations of Elizabethan and Jacobean Drama, ed. David Scott Kastan and Peter Stallybrass (New York: Routledge, 1991), 99–113, esp. 108. 5  The Spanish Tragedy has been described by theater scholars as “the first commercial blockbuster of the early modern stage” as well as its “most influential play.” See Richard Preiss, “Interiority,” in Early Modern Theatricality, ed. Henry S. Turner (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013),  47–70, esp. 62; and Emma Smith, “Author v. Character in Early Modern Dramatic Authorship: The Example of Thomas Kyd and The Spanish Tragedy,” Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England 11 (1998): 129–42, esp. 129. William N. West summarizes that “diligent scholarship has counted about 120 clear verbal references to the play across nearly 70 different works.” See West, “Intertheatricality,” in Early Modern Theatricality,  151–72, esp. 162. For more references to The Spanish Tragedy, see Emma Smith, “Hieronimo’s Afterlives,” in The Spanish Tragedie with the First Part of Jeronimo, ed. Emma Smith (London: Penguin, 1998), 133–59. The remarkable influence of Kyd’s play was not confined to England: on adaptations of The Spanish Tragedy on the Continent, see Lukas Erne, Beyond The Spanish Tragedy: A Study of the Works of Thomas Kyd (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2001), 119–30. I follow Martin Wiggins’s conjectures about The Spanish Tragedy’s date; he suggests a date range for composition of 1585–91, with a best guess of 1587. The play was entered in the Stationer’s Register on 6 October 1592. See Wiggins, in association with Catherine Richardson, British Drama 1533–1642: A Catalogue, vol. 2, 1568–1589 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 369. 3 4



Hieronimo in her mind’s eye; the rhetorical effectiveness of the moral censure requires a readership that recognizes the reference. In the very act of skewering an individual playgoer’s theatrical excessiveness, Braithwaite’s castigation reveals the contours of a theatergoing culture that the extratheatrical circulation of Kyd’s play helped to create.6 A reference to The Spanish Tragedy in 1630 tells us something about Kyd’s play itself—namely, that it was enduringly popular—but it also tells us something about the theatrical expertise of those who would have recognized it. In order to understand the lived experience of Caroline theatrical culture—which in some cases meant, if we believe Braithwaite, attending the theater as if it were one’s job—we must take account of how the continued reportorial, print, and memorial presence of older, popular drama impinged upon the phenomenological experience of encountering new plays in the theater, especially for seasoned playgoers. Over its several decades of operation in London, the commercial theater continually created and relied on conventions to convey information and meaning to its spectators: the repeated devices, as Jeremy Lopez defines them, that are deployed onstage “in similar circumstances and accompanied with informational and ideational baggage similar to those other moments of [their] kind.”7 The conventional repetition of theatrical devices works, over time, to inculcate spectatorial competencies. By the fifth decade of the commercial theater’s operation, as many scholars have argued, Caroline theatergoers regarded the commercial theater as an institution defined by an accumulating history and set of conventions, and they were thereby conscious of the numerous resources they possessed to interpret and judge what they saw and heard on the stage.8 Yet, as thinkers across the ­disciplines 6  Adam Zucker touches on this point in his discussion of the “knowing audience[s]” that made distinctions among themselves in the playhouse. As he suggests, “regardless of their approval or disapproval of the ethics of gallantry, and regardless of whether or not they aspired to be gallants themselves,” the description of the kinds of behavior that characterized those frequent theatergoers required the ability to pinpoint them as a group. See Zucker, The Places of Wit in Early Modern English Comedy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 16. 7  Jeremy Lopez, Theatrical Convention and Audience Response in Early Modern Drama (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 98. 8  As Allison Deutermann has shown, Caroline drama, in particular, self-consciously depicts itself as saturated with convention. See Deutermann, Listening for Theatrical Form in Early Modern England (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2016), 140–72. For more on Caroline connoisseurship as an awareness of theatrical history, see Adam Zucker and Alan B. Farmer, “Introduction,” in Localizing Caroline Drama: Politics and Economics of the Early



of the theater and artistic representation more broadly have long recognized, the actions, language, gestures, and images that eventually coalesce into identifiable conventions often first emerge into view as surprising departures from the established conveyance of meaning on the canvas, the page, or the stage. The formation of new conventions and the competencies they concomitantly bring into being, then, also produce the possibility for further unexpected disturbance.9 The established sets of semiotic signs and systems that governed the phenomenological operation of the Caroline theater were a highly volatile collection of incipient theatrical possibilities: every known convention was simultaneously an opportunity for any number of surprising departures from it.10 The “reverberant constellation” of early modern drama, as William N. West terms it, allowed knowing spectators an opportunity to experience a single moment in the theater as inextricably intertwined with many others—that is, as deeply and multifariously familiar.11 But it also allowed them the opportunity, I will argue, to experience the new more potently as such. It was precisely the expertise of frequent playgoers that attuned them to the unexpected delight of the conventional break: the uncertainty and surprise produced by the phenomenological turn into the unknown. Elizabethan spectators who first saw The Spanish Tragedy when it debuted not long after the opening of the first commercial theaters in London, then, likely neither experienced the play as their Caroline counterparts did nor understood the activity in which they were engaged in the Modern English Stage, 1625-1642, ed. Zucker and Farmer (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006), 1–16; and Michael Neill, “‘Wits most accomplished Senate’: The Audience of the Caroline Private Theaters,” Studies in English Literature 18 (1978): 341–60. For more on Caroline audiences, see Martin Butler, Theatre and Crisis, 1632-1642 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), 100–40. 9  See, in addition to Lopez, E. H. Gombrich, Art and Illusion: A Study in the Psychology of Pictorial Representation (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1960), 24–5; Bernard Beckerman, Dynamics of Drama: Theory and Method of Analysis (New York: Drama Book Specialists, 1979), 24–27; and Bert O.  States, Great Reckonings in Little Rooms: On the Phenomenology of Theater (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985), 1–47. 10  T. S. Eliot famously complained of the early modern theater’s semiotic instability at an early moment in its history: “What is fundamentally objectionable is that in Elizabethan drama there has been no firm principle of what is to be postulated as a convention and what is not.” Such conventional instability, I am arguing, did not disappear in the seventeenth century, but accumulated more theatrical potential for surprising rupture. See Eliot, “Four Elizabethan Dramatists,” in Selected Essays 1917–1932 (New York: Harcourt, Brace, and Company, 1932), 91-99, esp. 97. 11  West, “Intertheatricality,” 152.



same way. While some audience members may have treated playgoing as their vocation by 1630, Michael West has convincingly shown that fifty years earlier there existed no identity category, including “playgoer,” by which to describe a person who regularly attended plays.12 But later in the period, examples abound of theatergoers who forged a collective identity by consciously taking ownership, through commonplacing in the theater and amateur performances in alehouses and inns, of the material they consumed in the playhouse.13 As Edmund Gayton described these practices in 1654, the “expressions and passages” that theatergoers heard in the playhouse “with care insinuate[d] themselves into their capacities,” so that a frequent theatergoer might herself be able to try out some of Hieronimo’s best lines in the alehouse, or, as in Braithwaite’s anecdote, on her deathbed.14 Nor did dramatic material simply originate in the theater and make its way out of the playhouse in a single direction; as Musa Gurnis and Jeffrey S.  Doty have shown, by depicting amateur performances within its own fictional representations, the theater made the  dramatic consumption of its audiences legible to them in return.15 The cumulative effect of this theatrical and extra-theatrical circulation of dramatic material, as Allison Deutermann puts it, “calls into being a community that recognizes itself as such and ascribes value to its critical acumen.”16 Having arrived on the commercial theater scene at a moment when playgoing had not yet been codified as an activity and the playgoer had not yet been recognized as a collective identity, The Spanish Tragedy’s lingering presence in the Caroline commercial theater helps reveal these theatrical publics as they emerged and made sense of themselves in early modern London. When it originally appeared in the commercial theater, The Spanish Tragedy likely packed its narrative punch through a surprise twist. Hieronimo’s “solicit[ations] for justice” having gone unfulfilled (3.7.14), the dutiful public servant takes the matter of revenge into his own hands, 12  Michael West, “Were There Playgoers During the 1580s?” Shakespeare Studies 45 (2017): 68–76. 13  As Charles Whitney puts it, “early modern audiences ventriloquize commercial performances for their own uses.” See Whitney, Early Responses to Renaissance Drama (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 82. 14  Edmund Gayton, Pleasant notes upon Don Quixot (London: William Hunt, 1654), 271. 15  See Jeffrey S.  Doty and Musa Gurnis, “Theatre Scene and Theatre Public in Early Modern London,” Shakespeare 14.1 (2018): 12–25. 16  Deutermann, “Taverns, Theaters, Publics: The Intertheatrical Politics of Caroline Drama,” Renaissance Drama 45.2 (2017): 237–56, esp. 256.



murdering his son’s killers during a play he has staged for the King and his followers.17 Yet the King’s unsuspecting exclamation of adulation in response to the deadly denouement—“This was bravely done” (4.4.67)— misinterprets the stage spectacle for the playhouse audience: his reaction suggests that Lorenzo, Balthazar, and Bel-Imperia, lying motionless on the ground, are merely playing dead. The fundamental fiction that governs all theatrical representation appears to apply to the device of the play-­ within-­the-play, as well. But at precisely the moment that a set of ideational conventions around this particular theatrical device might seem to be nascently coalescing in The Spanish Tragedy, Hieronimo interrupts to explain that the King has interpreted the spectacle incorrectly. What the audience has just seen, Hieronimo explains, is no mere imitation of deadly violence, but murder itself: Haply you think, but bootless are your thoughts, That this is fabulously counterfeit And that we do as all tragedians do, To die today – for fashioning our scene – The death of Ajax, or some Roman peer, And, in a minute starting up again, Revive to please tomorrow’s audience. No, princes, know I am Hieronimo, The hopeless father of a hapless son, Whose tongue is tuned to tell his latest tale, Not to excuse gross errors in the play. (4.4.75–85)

Hieronimo’s play-within brilliantly exploits the conventional practice of using live actors to imitate dead bodies to murderous ends, presumably keeping first-time spectators of The Spanish Tragedy, along with the onstage audience, ignorant about the deadly conflation of a theatrical falsehood with a fictional truth until the moment of Hieronimo’s clarification.18 The Spanish Tragedy arguably sparked what would eventually become, for the English theatergoing public, a decades-long obsession with revenge 17  Citations refer to Thomas Kyd, The Spanish Tragedy, ed. Clara Calvo and Jesús Tronch (London: Arden, 2017). 18  For more on the theatrical effect of this stage moment on Elizabethan audiences, see William N. West, “‘But this will be a mere confusion’: Real and Represented Confusions on the Elizabethan Stage,” Theatre Journal 60.2 (2008): 217–33.



as the dramatization of political resistance.19 Theater itself becomes the source of Hieronimo’s extra-judicial power in a world in which his cries for justice go unanswered; the government official well-versed in both the meting out of justice and displays of political authority wields, as Ellen MacKay puts it, the “misconceived harmlessness” of the theater—the presumption that actors playing dead bodies are, of course, not really dead— to his own violent ends.20 And Hieronimo’s upending of the play’s political power structure through the upsetting of spectators’ most basic assumptions about theatrical illusion continues beyond the surprise of the twist, as the King demands more information from Hieronimo that he refuses to give: “Speak, traitor! Damned, bloody murderer, speak! / For now I have thee, I will make thee speak: / Why hast thou done this undeserving deed?” (4.4.161–63). As Richard Preiss has pointed out, the King’s frenzied questioning follows directly on the heels of Hieronimo’s exhaustive explanation of precisely why he has “done this undeserving deed.”21 What more could there possibly be left to say? But the force of his silence in the face of the King’s demands suggests that, somehow, something has—an ambiguity that Hieronimo holds in permanent abeyance by biting out his tongue and stabbing himself with a penknife before The Spanish Tragedy’s close. If Hieronimo’s vengeance works as an unexpected act of resistance to an unjust judicial authority within the world of the play, in the playhouse it correspondingly unsettles spectators’ conjectural authority by repeatedly—thrillingly—inviting them to confront the limits of their own theatrical acuity. It would be tempting to pinpoint The Spanish Tragedy’s twist as a crucial source of the play’s enduring popularity into the seventeenth century, 19  Linda Woodbridge argues that early modern revenge tragedy staged the dramatic search for fairness as a cultural response to economic inequality in the period, though the genre has long been understood to dramatize the extra-judicial redress of wrongs in the absence of justice itself. See Woodbridge, English Revenge Drama: Money, Resistance, Equality (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010). For recent accounts of The Spanish Tragedy’s more broadly formative depiction of extra-judicial redress on the early modern commercial stage, see Derek Dunne, Shakespeare, Revenge Tragedy, and Early Modern Law: Vindictive Justice (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016), 33–48; John Kerrigan, Revenge Tragedy: Aeschylus to Armageddon (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996); and Katherine Eisaman Maus, “Introduction,” Four Revenge Tragedies (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), ix-xxxi. 20  MacKay, Persecution, Plague, and Fire: Fugitive Histories of the Stage in Early Modern England (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011), 17. 21  Preiss, “Interiority,” 65.



then, if not for the complication that very endurance introduces: while first-time spectators of Kyd’s play are presumably surprised along with Hieronimo’s onstage audience, repeat viewers and readers of The Spanish Tragedy leave the King and his followers behind. For those in the know, in the play’s final act the prone bodies are dead bodies, and Hieronimo’s tongue will soon be bitten out: the roil of revelation ceases to surprise. Why, then, did a play so heavily dependent on pulling the interpretive rug out from under its audiences remain popular long after it could reliably produce those confusions? Or, to put the question slightly differently: what happens to a play when its surprise ending no longer remains a surprise? Several of the seventeenth-century references to The Spanish Tragedy, including Braithwaite’s anecdote, suggest one possible explanation: that the thrill of confusion and the surprising revision of judgment in the theater during the play’s first performances came gradually to be replaced by the knowing delight of recognizing references or allusions to the play. Indeed, for those in the know, Hieronimo rapidly becomes a metonym for The Spanish Tragedy itself, as indicated by Christopher Sly’s angry cry of “Go by, Saint Jeronimy” while being kicked out of a tavern (where spectators might have imagined he had been engaged in his own amateur performance of The Spanish Tragedy) during Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew (Ind.1.8), or the assertion in Cynthia’s Revels, by a playgoer with “more beard than brain,” that “‘the old Hieronimo’, as it was first acted, ‘was the only, best, and judiciously penned play of Europe’” (Praeludium.164,  166–67).22 These references would have invited moments of collective recognition in the playhouse, creating the opportunity not only to display one’s own knowledge of The Spanish Tragedy but to discover who else in the audience was likewise in the know. The pointed looks and laughter these metynomic mentions of Hieronimo prompt make a theatrical in-crowd manifest to itself in the midst of performance; their effect is to distinguish, in real time, the  bonafide playgoers from those in the audience merely attending a play.23 If The Spanish Tragedy’s 22  Citations refer to William Shakespeare, The Taming of the Shrew, ed. Barbara Hodgdon (London: Arden, 2010); and Ben Jonson, Cynthia’s Revels, in The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Ben Jonson, ed. David Bevington, Martin Butler, and Ian Donaldson, vol. 1, 1597–1601 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012). 23  In his work on the social relations of early modern city comedy, Adam Zucker helpfully characterizes the material manifestation of the in-crowd as those actions that allow particular people “to exist in a privileged relation to the spaces and materials of a given environment.” I would add to this explication that references to The Spanish Tragedy not only allowed spec-



status as a blockbuster ruined its initial theatrical effect, in other words, that destructive popularity simultaneously worked to produce the very collectives that found new ways to react and respond to Kyd’s revenge tragedy. Theatrical surprise cross-fades into a theatrical public. In what follows, I move forward several decades from The Spanish Tragedy’s debut, using Philip Massinger’s The Roman Actor as a case study to explore both the affordances and the limits of the theatrical knowledge made collectively visible through membership in these publics. First performed in 1626, The Roman Actor takes the pleasures of theatrical familiarity and recognition that The Spanish Tragedy made possible at the end of the sixteenth century to their Caroline extreme; described by Jonathan Goldberg as “an anthology of best-loved moments of Jacobean drama,” Massinger’s play seems designed to cater to a discerning theatrical public at every possible plot twist and turn.24 The dominant device of The Roman Actor, Massinger’s most self-conscious rumination on the powers and limitations of theater itself, is a set of three inset plays; the final one culminates in an actual murder, a blurring of the boundary between art and life that The Spanish Tragedy made popular and that many other plays had adopted and adapted by 1626.25 But The Roman Actor is more than just an intertheatrical anthology. In the same moments that it rewards frequent playgoing through recognizable references to older drama, it also does precisely the opposite, deliberately upending the audience’s expectations, grounded in their theatrical experience and expertise, of what they are about to see. The intertheatrical web of drama—its set of accumulated conventions among the various filaments that linked individual plays to each other—created horizons of expectation for playgoers, suppositional bounds that varied in extension depending on the frequency with which one attended plays.26 But along with the general theatrical acumen and tators to inhabit a privileged position with regard to their fellow audience members in the playhouse, but also actively to recognize each other as collective members of such an incrowd. See Zucker, The Places of Wit, 3. 24  Goldberg, James I and the Politics of Literature: Jonson, Shakespeare, Donne, and Their Contemporaries (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983), 203. 25  The Roman Actor’s deadly inset performance may have put spectators in mind of any number of fatal plays-within, including Titus’s revenge play in Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, Vindice’s masque in Middleton’s The Revenger’s Tragedy, or  the concluding bloodbath of Middleton’s recently staged Women Beware Women. 26  For more on the concept of intertheatricality, see West, “Intertheatricality”; and Gina Bloom, Anton Bosman, and William N.  West, “Ophelia’s Intertheatricality, or, How Performance is History,” Theatre Journal 65.2 (2013): 165–82. As a theoretical concept that



specific spectatorial expertise frequent playgoing afforded, The Roman Actor demonstrates that the pleasure of playgoing in the early modern commercial theater inhered just as crucially in the moments that exceeded those horizons. If The Roman Actor uses the pleasure of familiarity to appeal to a Caroline theatrical public, it also appropriates the shock of Kyd’s play through new and unexpected dramatic action. The Spanish Tragedy provokes its first-time spectators into confusion and surprise by upending dramatic irony; The Roman Actor does so by upending intertheatrical irony—a discerning audience’s long horizon of expectation established by frequent attendance at the playhouse.27 Massinger’s play, that is, is designed to surprise a Caroline audience deeply in the know. Even as The Roman Actor displays theatrical publics to themselves by rewarding them with recognizable references to older plays, it works simultaneously on its audiences by catching them off guard. As if picking up from The Spanish Tragedy’s confusingly ambiguous final scene, The Roman Actor plunges its spectators into uncertainty from its very first lines. The opening has long been recognized to exploit the induction, a dramatic device that frames and directly comments upon the main action of the play. “What do we act today?” Aesopus asks; “Agave’s frenzy, / With Pentheus’ bloody end” (1.1.1–2), Latinus answers.28 The exchange apparently identifies both men as players with the King’s Men who, likely attired in sandals and robes, are about to personate Euripides’s ancient characters anew.29 But Paris’s rejoinder to his companions demands seeks to explain how distinct plays create allusive constellations of significance and meaning beyond direct verbal reference, intertheatricality is indebted to Louise Clubb’s explication of the “theatergram,” which she defines as those “interchangeable structural units… (characters, situations, actions, speeches, thematic patterns) which could be combined in dialogue and visual encounters to act out the fiction with verisimilitude.” See Clubb, “Italian Stories on the Stage,” in The Cambridge Companion to Shakespearean Comedy, ed. Alexander Leggatt (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 32–46, esp. 35. See also Clubb, Italian Drama in Shakespeare’s Time (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989). 27  I borrow the term “horizon of expectation” from Hans Robert Jauss, Toward an Aesthetic of Reception, trans. Timothy Bahti (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1982), 23. 28  Citations refer to Philip Massinger, The Roman Actor, ed. Martin White (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2007). 29  The sole surviving contemporary illustration of an early modern play in performance is Henry Peacham’s 1595 pen-and-ink drawing of a scene from Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, which includes actors in Renaissance as well as Roman dress. For more on the illustration, see R. A. Foakes, Illustrations of the English Stage 1580-1642 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1985), 48–51. A small piece of textual evidence from The Roman Actor also lends



a more complex set of responses from the Blackfriars audience, for it eventually reveals, without warning, that the action of the play itself is not actually being framed, but has already begun: The times are dull, and all that we receive Will hardly satisfy the day’s expense. The Greeks (to whom we owe the first invention Both of the buskined scene and humble sock), That reign in every noble family Declaim against us; and our amphitheatre, Great Pompey’s work, that hath giv’n full delight Both to the eye and ear of fifty thousand Spectators in one day, as if it were Some unknown desert, or great Rome unpeopled, Is quite forsaken. (1.1.3–13)

At the close of 1626, the London theater scene was just beginning to pick up again after a long period of dull times; James’s death on March 27, 1625, as well as a plague outbreak that would claim the lives of nearly enough Londoners to fill Pompey’s empty amphitheater, resulted in the closure of the theaters for several months. In just the way a beleaguered player with the King’s Men might, Paris’s speech comments directly on the extra-theatrical world beyond the walls of the playhouse. But the walls he does evoke—those of Pompey’s amphitheater—reveal, by jarring surprise, that the actor onstage does not metatheatrically personate a King’s Men player at all, but the Roman actor Paris, and that the action of the play itself, rather than being framed by an induction, is already underway. Yet despite the wide gulf of time and place now distinguishing its own world from the represented one onstage, the Caroline audience may still have found itself invoked: “our amphitheatre” establishes the fictional place of the play deictically, much as Rosalind’s designation that “This is the Forest of Arden” does (2.4.13, emphasis mine).30 The gesture outward from the stage—one can imagine Joseph Taylor, the actor playing Paris, stretching his arms toward the spectators as he seems to locate them support to the supposition that the actors would have worn robes when the play was first performed: when Caesar changes into costume to personate a scorned lover in the inset drama The False Servant, he orders, “Off with my robe and wreath” (4.2.224). 30  Citation refers to William Shakespeare, As You Like It, ed. Juliet Dusinberre (London: Arden, 2006).



within Pompey’s amphitheater—appears to collapse the location of the fictional representation with the site of the theatrical presentation. If the audience first believed itself to share with the players onstage the time and place of an induction—the here and now of the Blackfriars playhouse— Paris’s deictic gesture newly incorporates playgoers into the fictional location of the representation itself. In a span of fewer than ten lines, Massinger establishes, unsettles, and resettles the audience’s position in relation to the unfolding representation, in the process apparently metamorphosing the contemporary Blackfriars into an ancient Roman amphitheater.31 “Our amphitheatre” designates the theatrical presentation as collectively constituted; it makes the audience of Blackfriars, sitting around and on the stage, consciously aware of its own public role in the enactment of the fictional representation. It is precisely by means of the metatheatrical gesture to 1626 London, that is, that Massinger establishes the place of the play as ancient Rome. But almost as soon as the play invites audience members to settle into the locational conflation of representation and presentation—to recognize themselves as part of the theatrical public that constitutes Paris’s “our”—it unsettles their position in relation to the unfolding fiction once more. For while the Caroline spectators may have crowded together in Blackfriars to watch The Roman Actor, the theater Paris invokes is empty. As Joanne Rochester puts it, “The Blackfriars spectators are the audience for a complaint that there is no audience; they are troped as simultaneously there and not there.”32 Yet I would stress that the complaint is not quite simultaneous. A line and a half separate Paris’s evocation of Pompey’s theater and the lament that it is “quite forsaken.” But that delay matters: if ever so briefly, the line deliberately withholds the clarity of Paris’s conclusion, squeezing a doubled simile between “one day” and “forsaken”; spectators learn that the theater in which they imagine themselves to sit reminds Paris of “some unknown desert” or “great Rome unpeopled” before they learn definitively that it is empty. The 31  In my reading of Paris’s opening speech, then, Massinger does more than simply prevent the audience, as Bill Angus argues, from “plac[ing] the opening statements in any authoritative, interpretive framework.” It is precisely by inviting spectators apparently to recognize their own position in relationship to the unfolding action that Massinger is then able to unsettle not only that position, but the audience’s sense of familiarity regarding the use of the dramatic device at hand. See Angus, “The Roman Actor, Metadrama, Authority, and the Audience,” Studies in English Literature, 1500–1900 50.2 (2010): 445–64, esp. 448. 32  Joanne Rochester, Staging Spectatorship in the Plays of Philip Massinger (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2010), 22.



similes draw attention not just to the occasion of the performance itself, but also to the yet further sundering, in real time, of the fictional representation from its moment and location of theatrical presentation. In the ambiguous middle ground of Paris’s similes, spectators find themselves no longer in a conflation of Blackfriars and Pompey’s theater, but in the uncertain theatrical overlap of fiction and performance, hovering somewhere between ancient Rome and Caroline London. Wherever spectators find themselves—and lose, and find themselves again—during this opening, they are far removed from The Spanish Tragedy. Yet the spectatorial confusion that both plays invite belies their phenomenological and affective affinity: what Massinger captures by repeatedly unsettling spectators’ positions in relation to the fictional world unfolding before them is precisely that familiar metatheatrical awareness of uncertainty itself. Just as Kyd reveals his spectators as mutually unknowing by prompting the unsuspecting Elizabethan audience to observe an equally unsuspecting audience watching a play, Massinger directs his audience’s collective attention to itself by deliberately marshaling their involvement in the exploitation of the induction; the play’s twist on a common theatrical device, that is, self-consciously draws on the interpretive acuity of a sophisticated Caroline theatrical public in order to push beyond it. Both playwrights marshal the shared self-awareness prompted by the metatheatrical gesture as a means of unsettling spectators’ expectations. But while Kyd waits until the shocking conclusion of his play to jolt his Elizabethan spectators into confusion, Massinger plunges his audiences into unsettled ambiguity immediately, and he does so precisely by seeming to cater to the pleasure of theatrical recognition that was eminently familiar to frequent playgoers by 1626. Yet The Roman Actor’s exploitation of the blurry border separating art and life is more than just a formal experiment. It is at once a primer in the play’s central concern: the relationship of theatrical performance to the political world outside the playhouse walls. New historical debates about the political force of the theater in early modern London—and its ability (or lack thereof) to subvert or reinforce dominant power structures and ideologies—attuned critics to  the urgent relevance of The Roman Actor’s  corrupt, tyrannical emperor to the political world of 1626, as rumors flew that the newly crowned, increasingly absolutist Charles I



sought to abolish Parliament.33 But what exactly Massinger means to ­suggest about the theater itself as a source of political authority—especially in the face of rising fears about theatrical censorship in the 1620s—is less clear, perhaps because the play itself seems divided on the issue.34 While Paris makes an impassioned speech defending drama as a tool for judicial and moral reformation, Massinger also stages, through The Roman Actor’s inset performances, the inherent unpredictability and troubling ineffectuality of stage show: the miser made to watch The Cure of Avarice refuses to reform; the senators on Caesar’s public scaffold decline to react in the way he wishes; the tyrant’s wife, confusing art with life in much the same manner as Braithwaite’s undiscerning fan of Hieronimo, falls in love with Paris while watching him onstage in Iphis and Anaxarete.35 But The Spanish Tragedy’s continued presence in the London theater scene sets in relief, I want to suggest, what readings of The Roman Actor’s politics so far have missed: Massinger’s play is less about the political efficacy of drama writ large and more precisely about the tyrannical appropriation of performance—specifically, the dramatic logic of revenge tragedy—as the 33  For a detailed account of Charles I’s almost immediately contested relationship with Parliament after assuming the throne, see Kevin Sharpe, The Personal Rule of Charles I (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992), 1–62. See also L. J. Reeve, Charles I and the Road to Personal Rule (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 11–17. 34  David A. Reinheimer, for example, calls The Roman Actor Massinger’s “condemnation of the practice and politics of censorship from the practical concerns of the performer.” See  Reinheimer, “The Roman Actor, Censorship, and Dramatic Autonomy,” Studies in English Literature, 1500–1900 38.2 (1998): 317–32, esp. 317. See also Annabel Patterson, Censorship and Interpretation: The Conditions of Writing and Reading in Early Modern England (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1984); and Janet Clare, “‘Greater Themes for Insurrection’s Arguing’: Political Censorship of the Elizabethan and Jacobean Stage,” Review of English Studies 38.150 (1987): 169–83. 35  Patricia Thompson, for example, has argued that with The Roman Actor, Massinger depicts “an actor as hero,” and Jonathan Goldberg asserts that “the power of plays is affirmed throughout The Roman Actor.” Others, however, have pointed to the theater’s decided ineffectuality as represented by the play. As Andrew James Hartley argues, “Theater’s power to instruct, though alive and well in Paris’s defense rhetoric…is pointedly absent from the actuality of the stage.” Anne Barton similarly argues that “there is a sense in which The Roman Actor is more pessimistic about the power of art to correct and inform its audience than any other play written between 1580 and 1642.” See Thompson, “World Stage and Stage in Massinger’s Roman Actor,” Neophilologus 54 (1970): 409–26, esp. 411; Goldberg, James I and the Politics of Literature, 207; Hartley, “Philip Massinger’s The Roman Actor and the Semiotics of Censored Theater,” English Literary History 68.2 (2001): 359–76, esp. 362; and Barton, “The Distinctive Voice of Massinger,” Times Literary Supplement, May 20, 1977, 623–24, esp. 623.



extra-judicial means to right a wrong. With his inset plays, Massinger notably flips the conventional script of revenge tragedy, staging dramatic action orchestrated not by a loyal political subject against whom the doors of justice have been shut, but by the tyrant whose hand, akin to Jupiter’s, “holds thunder” itself (1.4.55). Made in response to the accusation that he and his fellow actors are “libellers against the state and Caesar” (1.3.34), Paris’s passionate defense of the stage recalls Jacobean rejoinders, most clearly Thomas Heywood’s Apology for Actors (1612), to antitheatricalist discourse that had largely quieted by the opening of the seventeenth century; with his assertion that depicting “vice upon the stage” works as both a moral and judicial force for good  (1.3.98), the Roman actor anachronistically anticipates Elizabethan warnings about theater’s corrupting power.36 But any Caroline spectator familiar with Hamlet—which Paris calls to mind when he claims to have seen the “guilty hearer” of a tragedy “forced by the terror of a wounded conscience / To make discovery” of his crimes (2.1.92–94)— already had ample theatrical evidence of the theater’s spectacular failure to move the hearts and minds of its audiences: to “catch the conscience” as Hamlet famously puts it (2.2.540), or, as Paris does, to force those guilty audience members to “Cry out, 'Tis writ by me’” (1.3.122).37 Massinger wastes no time in proving Paris wrong, staging the miserly Philargus’s refusal to reform in response to The Cure of Avarice, the play’s first inset performance and his intended theatrical remedy. But if The Roman Actor conspicuously revives a decades-old theatrical debate about the broader social efficacy of the theater, it does so only to render it moot, for where Paris’s play fails, Domitian himself succeeds, ordering Philargus’s execution just a few lines after the inset performance’s conclusion. Ellen MacKay’s claim that the scene depicts the “fail[ure] to ignite any spark of conscience from audiences in need of rebuke” and Jonathan Goldberg’s assertion that “Caesar makes sure that The Cure of Avarice works” are 36  For more on the connection of The Roman Actor to these antitheatrical tracts, see Stephen Orgel, “The Play of Conscience,” in Performativity and Performance, ed. Andrew Parker, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick (New York: Routledge, 1995), 133–51. 37  Citation refers to William Shakespeare, Hamlet, ed. Ann Thompson and Neil Taylor (London: Arden, 2006). For more on the links between The Roman Actor and Hamlet, see T. A. Dunn, Philip Massinger: The Man and the Playwright (London: Thomas Nelson, for The University College of Ghana, 1957), 243–45. Ellen MacKay reads parallels between Hamlet and The Roman Actor as the tyranny of the theater’s own ambitions to apprehend the consciences of its spectators. See MacKay, Persecution, Plague, and Fire, 72–73.



countervailing arguments about what performance can or cannot do in The Roman Actor.38 But I would redirect our attention to Domitian himself: when the audience of a play includes a tyrant, Massinger’s play suggests, both the powers and failures of performance are beside the despotic point. Wielding a “whirlwind of…will and power” (3.2.28), the emperor who reaches toward divine authority has no need at all for the theater as a tool to get the results he wants. And yet, Caesar is, as MacKay aptly describes him, the theater’s “most notorious fan.”39 Even as he displays his own absolute power against the ineffectual theater in this early scene, Domitian simultaneously betrays a taste for the kind of action reserved for those without recourse either to justice or to tyranny: revenge. With the subplot about the miser Philargus, Massinger imbricates Caesar’s own plan to retaliate against Lamia, whose wife Caesar has decided to take as his own: Revenge, when it is unexpected, falling With greater violence. And hate clothed in smiles Strikes, and with horror, dead the wretch that comes not Prepared to meet it. (2.1.176–79)

In nearly the same moment that he sentences a miser to death in full public view, Caesar expresses the need to cloak his vengeful designs in an amiable exterior. The plan places him within a long line of theatrical revengers—Titus, Hamlet, Middleton’s Vindice, Marston’s Antonio, even Beaumont and Fletcher’s Philaster—inaugurated by Hieronimo himself, who promises to “dissembl[e] quiet in unquietness” by committing             thy tongue To milder speeches than thy spirit affords, Thy heart to patience and thy hands to rest, Thy cap to courtesy and thy knee to bow. (3.13.30, 40–43)

For Hieronimo, the extra-judicial success of his revenge depends upon his convincing performance as a satisfied subject in a corrupt court. As the embodiment of the state itself, no such performance should be required for Caesar. Yet despite his unwavering assurance in his own power, Caesar’s 38  MacKay, Persecution, Plague, and Fire, 73; Goldberg, James I and the Politics of Literature, 207. 39  MacKay, Persecution, Plague, and Fire, 74.



attraction to the conventions of revenge tragedy vividly betrays his unstable hold on his own absolute authority to the play’s Caroline spectators. To adopt the position of a revenger, in Caesar’s case, is to exchange his quasi-divine status for the powerless subject wronged by the state. As James J. Condon has pointed out, the revenger’s gradual interchange with the villain against whom he plots conventionally entails the appropriation of “various facets of political power through permutations of those modes considered exclusively the prerogative of royalty.”40 By starting in the tyrant’s place, Caesar can only trade down. Caesar’s proclivity for revenge first begins to threaten his grasp on absolute power when the emperor attempts publicly to torture two senators already sentenced to death for betraying him. His advisors are alert to the unwieldy effects of performance, whether judicial or theatrical: “'Tis doubted,” Parthenius warns, “That the sad object may beget compassion / In the giddy rout, and cause some sudden uproar / That may disturb you” (3.2.21–24). Yet Caesar persists in the punishment that he imagines will extend even beyond death, promising the senators to “afflict [their] souls, / And force them groaning to the Stygian lake” (3.2.54–55). The senators’ Stoic refusal to display a response—prompting Caesar to plead with them to “for my sake roar a little / And show you are corporeal” (3.2.84–85)—is the first exposure of a crack in the tyrant’s absolute authority; Domitian discovers that the senators’ souls are beyond his reach. And while it is certainly possible to read this scene as Massinger’s dramatization of performance as “unfriendly to instrumentalization,” I want to emphasize that the unwieldy effects of staged spectacle simultaneously dramatize Caesar’s confrontation with the limits of his own absolute power.41 After Paris’s disastrously failed attempt to reform Philargus, the inability of theatrical show to enact an outward shift in feeling should not be a surprise, but it is an unwelcome discovery for Caesar who, despite embodying in his own person the state’s power over torture itself, grasps instead at the vengeful logic of the powerless private subject. In a shift that narrows the scope of Domitian’s own purview yet further, it is a personal rather than a political wrong that ultimately signals 40  James J. Condon, “Setting the Stage for Revenge: Space, Performance, and Power in Early Modern Revenge Tragedy,” Medieval & Renaissance Drama in England 25 (2012): 62–82, esp. 62. Condon follows John Kerrigan’s wide-ranging account of the “ethical exchanges” that define the plots of revenge tragedy. See Kerrigan, Revenge Tragedy. 41  MacKay, Persecution, Plague, and Fire, 74.



Caesar’s wholehearted adoption of the status of revenger. Caesar suffers, as Hieronimo and Hamlet and Vindice all do, a familial loss over which he has no control. When his advisors report that his conscripted wife Domitia has begun an affair with Paris, the news further exposes the limits of the emperor’s reach by transforming him into a cuckolded husband.42 Domitian, incredulous at the possibility of his wife’s infidelity, nevertheless decides to hear more, agreeing with his advisors to                 put off The deity you labour to take from me, And argue out of probabilities with you, As if I were a man. (4.1.132–35)

But unlike Othello or Leontes, Domitian moves quickly from probabilities to ocular proof, spying Domitia kissing Paris before confronting them both. In revenge for an offense so wicked that even Paris admits “if a private man should sit down with it, / Cowards would baffle him” (4.2.196–97), Caesar secretly plans to kill the Roman actor during a performance of The False Servant, in which Caesar himself will play a "lord suspecting his wife’s constancy” (4.2.213). Such a plan, including Caesar’s silence about it until after he murders Paris, is conventionally familiar; the violence that explodes beyond the borders separating art from life in The False Servant is perhaps Massinger’s most direct appropriation of The Spanish Tragedy. Yet rather than appropriating the power of a corrupt state that has refused his calls for justice, as Hieronimo does, the Roman emperor changes places with the latest villain against whom he seeks revenge and takes on the role of Roman actor. The broad arc of Massinger’s play thus brings Domitian down from his cosmic heights by degrees, winnowing in scale not only the scope of Caesar’s power but his problems; the tyrant turned cuckold ultimately chooses to redress the sexual wrong against him through means reserved for those who have no recourse to justice at all. Jupiter’s equal finally loses his grasp on absolute power by taking the stage as a revenger. Nor is Paris’s death a surprise: those Caroline spectators familiar with the conventions surrounding the play-within-the-play would have known 42  The paradigmatic explication of the theater’s preoccupation with the male fear of cuckoldry and the surveillance of women in the attempt to combat it is Katharine Eisaman Maus, “Horns of Dilemma: Jealousy, Gender, and Spectatorship in English Renaissance Drama,” English Literary History 54.3 (1987): 561–83.



Caesar’s surprise revenge plot was coming well before it occurred. Indeed, in the action leading up to Paris’s murder, The Roman Actor rewards that theatrical familiarity by repeatedly hinting at the deadly events to come. Massinger gives spectators a backstage glimpse at Caesar’s preparations for his performance in The False Servant, as he removes his robes and dons a cloak and hat in costume; Rebecca Bushnell notes that the switch “effect[s] a change from Roman trappings to ‘realistic’ contemporary dress.”43 After all of the careful phenomenological work that the opening does to measure out the distance from contemporary London to ancient Rome, this sartorial switch brings the violent immediacy of the coming action back up close. But despite changing his clothing, Caesar refuses to substitute his sword for a prop foil, one with its “point and edge rebated” (4.2.229); “In jest or earnest this parts never from me” (4.2.232), he protests. The extended attention to his sword narrows spectators’ focus on the prop’s status as a prop in Blackfriars in order to give it newly menacing meaning within the world of The Roman Actor, as if sharpening the dull point of the prop sword to a deadly one before spectators’ eyes. Massinger alerts his audience to the inevitability of Paris’s death during the upcoming inset play by offering a straightforward instruction in the paradoxical semiotics of theatrical seeing: the prop sword held by the actor playing Domitian is not a prop. Domitian further drives home that murder is on his mind by acknowledging his amateur status as an actor just before The False Servant begins: “Though but a new actor,” he admits, “When I come to execution you shall find / No cause to laugh at me” (4.2.237–39). The pun on “execution,” combined with the extended attention to Domitian’s sword, one could reasonably say, rewards the theatrical acuity of all spectators; there is no need to have seen The Spanish Tragedy or any other revenge tragedy to understand the implication of Caesar’s double meaning. But the line is also a company joke, one designed precisely to appeal to those theatergoers who regularly frequented the Blackfriars. In 1626, the pun would have been uttered by John Lowin, by that year the longest-serving member of the King’s Men. Caesar’s admission of his lack of skill thus self-consciously assigns amateur status to the company’s most expert player during his very personation of a character type that regular spectators would have been used to seeing him play onstage. Some may have recognized Lowin from 43  Rebecca Bushnell, Tragedies of Tyrants: Political Thought and Theater in the English Renaissance (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1990), 182.



his performance as Bosola in The Duchess of Malfi or the eponymous role in Shakespeare’s Henry VIII—the “commanding and authoritative roles” for which he was known.44 Still others may have recalled when Lowin, much earlier in his career, had played himself during the induction of Marston’s The Malcontent, and could have layered that metatheatrical moment on top of the self-consciousness of Domitian referring to himself as an actor before The False Servant begins. Caesar again highlights his amateur status at the moment he fatally wounds Paris with the sword he earlier refused to give up: “I have forgot my part. But I can do: / Thus, thus, and thus” (4.2.282–3). But where Caesar’s memory fails, experienced Caroline spectators are again invited to fill in the gaps: in 1626 Lowin would have struck his prop sword at Joseph Taylor's  Paris, the gesture replicating Lowin-as-Bosola murdering Taylor-as-Ferdinand in Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi a decade earlier (and likely many other plays for which casting lists do not survive). I want to suggest, then, that the repeated, self-conscious attention to Domitian’s lack of skill does more than alert the audience to a crucial plot point: it simultaneously makes the Caroline theatrical public visible to itself by deliberately opening out beyond the fictional representation to the history of the commercial theater, thereby inviting the play’s spectators to share in their own knowledge of that accumulated theatrical past. Caesar’s stage murder, encapsulating a constellation of past King’s Men plays and John Lowin parts, culminates in a confession that sounds out an intertheatrical echo of Hieronimo’s. Whether or not spectators recognized Hieronimo in Caesar’s oration, spoken as Paris lies dying on the ground before him, its deep familiarity would have emerged from its diffuse reverberation with Hieronimo’s lengthy speech admitting to his own murders. Caesar speaks like a revenger because he speaks like Hieronimo. Though Domitian’s speech stretches on for just twenty-four lines, rather than Hieronimo’s sixty-three, he too manages to take credit for the murder more than once. “See here my show, look on this spectacle,” Hieronimo demands (4.4.88, emphasis mine); “’Twas my plot that thou / Shoulds’t die in action,” Caesar states in a direct address to Paris (4.2.297–98, emphasis mine). Massinger’s Paris becomes the “Roman peer” who will not “revive to please tomorrow’s audience,” as Hieronimo puts it during 44  Martin Butler, “Lowin, John (bap. 1576, d. 1653), actor.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 13 Jan. 2019. ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-17096



his own confession (4.4.79, 81). The False Servant’s bloody conclusion, in other words, spectacularly realizes lines from The Spanish Tragedy that audience members may well have been able to recall from past performances of the play, whether in the playhouse or the tavern, as they sat in Blackfriars. Through both his murder of Paris and his bombastic confession to it, the emperor turned amateur revenger self-consciously dredges up a theater with a long history. Of course, these theatrical calls back to The Spanish Tragedy and other earlier plays are not determinative of the collective Caroline playgoing experience; avid theatergoers in Blackfriars could surely have experienced the moment of Paris’s murder beyond the singular frame of The Roman Actor in any number of distinctively overlapping or divergent ways. But what I want to emphasize is that The Roman Actor seems most consciously to gesture beyond itself and toward the very history of the commercial theater at precisely the moment that Caesar admits he has forgotten his part. Into the discursive vacuum Caesar produces onstage as he stabs Paris, The Roman Actor’s Caroline spectators are encouraged to place the various theatrical memories, allusions, and references they necessarily always brought with them into the playhouse.45 The emphasis on Domitian’s amateur acting ability is not simply ironically juxtaposed with Lowin’s professional skill, in other words, but is at once countered by spectators’ own theatrical expertise that extends beyond the dramatic frame of The Roman Actor entirely. The staged moment is, in and of itself, an anthology of past performances made legible by the Caroline theatrical public’s spectatorial participation in the fictional representation unfolding before them. In constructing the moment in this fashion, Massinger places the conventional logic of revenge tragedy partly in the hands of spectators: if, as John Kerrigan has shown, revenge is tethered to memory in The Spanish Tragedy, The Roman Actor rewrites Hieronimo’s remembrance of his son, nearly forty years later, as the collective theatrical memory of the Caroline

45  Joseph Roach describes such a process as “surrogation,” or the collective cultural attempt to fill “actual or perceived vacancies…in the network of relations that constitutes the social fabric.” His emphasis on the messiness of such a process—“the intended substitute either cannot fulfill expectations, creating a deficit, or actually exceeds them, creating a surplus”— helps explicate, in a theatrical context, the diverse phenomenological experiences that would have characterized this particular moment, as spectators with various and competing theatrical associations supplied what Domitian himself lacked. See Roach, Cities of the Dead: Circum-Atlantic Performance (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996), 2.



playgoers in the audience.46 The remembrance that spurs and contextualizes revenge becomes an attribute of neither the fictional revenger nor the play, but the property of the playhouse public watching the action unfold; their spectatorial acumen and expertise imbue the stage spectacle with the collective memorial texture of a shared theatrical history when Domitian forgets his lines. Yet the thick legibility of Paris’s murder would not have been made visible to spectators merely through their time spent in the playhouse. Imbricated with the history of the commercial theater that contextualizes the violence of Caesar’s gesture and the self-assumed grandeur of his confession afterward is the extra-theatrical circulation of those dramatic sources themselves. One form that circulation took was amateur performance in public gathering places outside the playhouse, as Edmund Gayton details in his mid-seventeenth century recollection of the commercial theater’s heyday: Humours are sodainly imitated, especially if there be any life and fancy in 'um. Many have by representation of strong paisions been so transported, that they have gone weeping, some from Tragedies, some from Comedies; so merry, lightsome and free, that they have not been sober in a week after, and have so courted the Players to re-act the same matters in the Tavernes, that they came home, as able Actors as themselves.47

As a locus for the display of cultural competence more broadly, the tavern becomes in Gayton’s story a site beyond the playhouse for the professional re-action of beloved dramatic material. The extra-theatrical lessons in personation supplied by the actors then become an opportunity for playgoers to try out their own acting skills.48 The early modern theater was itself full of depictions of these amateur performers—from Christopher Sly’s calls to 46  Kerrigan, Revenge Tragedy, 170–92. The theater and memory are yoked together beyond Hieronimo and revenge tragedy: Marvin Carlson has shown that the theater at its most basic level “is as a cultural activity deeply involved with memory and haunted by repetition.” While I agree completely with this broader assessment of the theater, I mean to draw attention here to the specific self-consciousness the Caroline period brought to the theater as an institution with an accumulated history—precisely the history, that is, that made Caroline theatrical publics recognizable as a community. See Carlson, The Haunted Stage: The Theatre as Memory Machine (Ann Arbor, MI: The University of Michigan Press, 2003), 11. 47  Gayton, Pleasant notes upon Don Quixot, 140–41. 48  See András Kiséry, Hamlet’s Moment: Drama and Political Knowledge in Early Modern England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016).



Hieronimo, to Pistol’s corrupted delivery of Tamburlaine, to Rafe’s personation of a picaresque hero in Knight of the Burning Pestle—that hew into dramatic personations the diffuse set of practices that constituted early modern theatrical publics beyond the walls of the playhouse.49 Domitian, I want to suggest, belongs in this group of onstage amateur actors. If, at the moment he reveals his act of deadly violence against Paris, Caesar struck spectators as familiar, that recognition was not born merely out of a directly allusive connection to Hieronimo, or Hamlet, or other parts John Lowin played, but the theatrical public’s practice of assimilating material from theater into the wider world of London. In other words, Caesar—the self-professed amateur actor in conspicuous contemporary dress—is akin to a spectator who, “sodainly” immersed in the performance he has just seen, does his best imitation of a dramatic revenger even as he forgets his lines. In a play that stages the emperor’s downfall by revengeful exchange of place with the villains he targets, as they watched Domitian take the stage as an actor—a simultaneously blundering and skillful one, at that—audience members may have, above all, been reminded of themselves. Caesar’s dramatic adoption of revenge cuts the tyrant down to size by aligning him with the playhouse audience who takes account of his actions, at once making manifest the extra-theatrical social circulation of dramatic material that constituted the Caroline theatrical public. Such a conception of what makes Domitian not just recognizable but both theatrically and extra-theatrically legible at this crucial moment of The Roman Actor at once displays the complex imbrication of direct reference and intertheatrical circulation in the Caroline theater. To understand Domitian as an amateur performer doing his best Hieronimo overlays a linear concept of authorial influence with the circulatory dissemination and appropriation of dramatic material through early modern theatrical publics, as Kyd’s play bleeds into London’s sites of performance beyond the playhouse before being reintegrated into the formal confines of commercial drama and newly displayed to the audience. At the same time, it also complicates the theoretical binary that posits the theater as either all-­ powerful or totally ineffectual. Massinger’s portrait of Domitian suggests, 49  For more on the evidence of amateur performance practices that escape the historical record, see Whitney, Early Responses to Renaissance Drama, 82–91. See also Doty and Gurnis’s contention that “instead of thinking of embedded examples of reception in plays as removed from what they indirectly record, we might instead think of these theatrical imitations of amateur imitations as rich evidence of recursive exchange” in “Theatre Scene and Theatre Public,” 17.



rather, that performance is circuitously efficacious. Theatrical performance seeps into the world beyond the playhouse, gathers together audiences into publics, and returns to the stage—and in so doing adapts and shifts the established conventions governing that performance to newly unexpected ends. In his 1633 antitheatrical screed—which exaggerates Braithwaite’s story about the overzealous theatergoer’s deathbed performance to include, akin to playgoers at the alehouse pleading for actors to repeat their stage performances, her direct demand for Hieronimo’s appearance: “Hieronimo, Hieronimo; O let mee see Hieronimo acted”— William Prynne provides a map of this social circumlocution:50 For who more luxurious, ebrious, riotous or deboist, then our assiduous Actors and Play-haunters? Who greater Taverne, Ale-house, Tobacco-shop, Hot-water house haunters, &c? who greater, stouter drinkers, health-­ quaffers, Epicures, or good-fellowes, then they? What walke more usuall then from a Play-house to a Taverne, to an Ale-house, a Tobacco-shop, or Hot-water Brothel-house; or from these unto a Play-house? where the Pot, the Can, the Tobacco-pipe are alwayes walking till the Play be ended; from whence they returne to these their former haunts.51

Prynne’s depiction of the actors and playgoers who, “alwayes walking,” perambulate from the theater, to the tavern, to the brothel and back, offers a literal model of the more diffuse cultural circulation of dramatic material that makes its way out of the playhouse and into the social haunts of the city before eventually being returned to the playhouse where it originated. The theatrical history that makes Caesar’s murder of Paris legible, that is, is not so much linear as triangulated, jutting outward from the 1587 Rose and the 1626 Blackfriars to include London’s theatrical publics. This model of circulation that includes the extra-theatrical reception and transformation of dramatic material offers an alternative to the theories about performance that The Roman Actor has so far been suggested to endorse. If the play echoes outmoded ideas about the moral force of the theater only to reject them, what it enacts, when Caesar performs his Hieronimo impersonation, is the diffusion of theatrical material into the social world beyond the playhouse walls. Rather than coming down on either side of the debate about theater’s power to reform, with The False Servant Massinger instead stages the final step in the perambulatory  William Prynne, Histrio-Mastix (London: Michael Sparke, 1633), 556.  Ibid., 511.

50 51



circulation of theatrical material out of the playhouse, into the wider world of London, and back to the stage where it began. Performance works, The Roman Actor allows, but not by direct means; the argument that a spectator might see a representation of her crimes and immediately admit her guilt, as Thomas Heywood and Paris have it, is just as inadequately reductive a model of theatrical effectiveness as Caesar’s own assumption that he exercises authoritarian control over the thoughts and feelings of his subjects. The effect of the commercial theater on the bodies and minds of its spectators was indirect, manifested through the circuitous reworking of theatrical material outside the playhouse entirely. By displaying the social circulation of theatrical material in The Roman Actor, Massinger offers a distinctly Caroline perspective on what the commercial theater could do: itself a dramatic anthology, the play closes the loop of extra-theatrical social circulation through the deadly immediacy of an amateur murder that explicitly recalls the climactic action of a blockbuster from a bygone theatrical era. And yet, Massinger’s play does not end on this recognizably emulative note. The Roman Actor departs from its evocation of Kyd’s runaway hit after Paris’s murder, concluding not with the death of the Roman actor, but with that of Caesar himself. By the final act of the play, the tyrant turned actor scrambles desperately for control over his own fate, going so far as to keep a list of his potential murderers whom he plans to have killed before they can commit the act—in order, as he puts it, to “free [him] of [his] doubts and fears” (5.1.98). He finds certainty only at the moment of his own murder, when his former allies, including his wife, stab him to death in the final scene of the play. The exact nature of their machinations remains unclear until the moment of the ambush. Caesar’s advisor Parthenius cryptically assures the other conspirators, “I have conceived a way, and with the hazard / Of my life I’ll practise it” (5.2.16–17), before, in the familiar style of the revenger, adopting the false persona of the loyal subject at the sight of Caesar’s final entrance: “All happiness, / Security, long life, attend upon / The monarch of the world!” (5.2.43–45). But if Massinger hints to spectators through these series of actions that Domitian is in danger, the culminating effect of his assassination remains one of both violent excess and brutal surprise: STEPHANOS.      Make the door fast. – Here;       A messenger of horror. CAESAR.         How! Betrayed?



DOMITIA. No; taken, tyrant. CAESAR.       My Domitia,       In the conspiracy! (5.2.66–69)

The shared lines suggest the speed at which the seizure occurs, as well as Caesar’s own unpreparedness for the attack; he lags, fatally, half a line behind the conspirators. Together his advisors stab him to death, and then stab his dead body in turn, as if competing for the title of revenger even beyond the villain’s own murder. But how, we might ask, would Caroline spectators themselves have experienced this culminating spectacle that brazenly leaps beyond the final moments of The Spanish Tragedy, as if taking seriously the suggestion that there is more left to say even after Hieronimo bites out his own tongue? What, in other words, is the effect of a stage action that continues after the climactic moment of its emulative, expected end? From a theatrical standpoint, it is worth noting that this surprise turn of events could not possibly be more conventional. The very ritualistic excess of Caesar’s assassination paradoxically emphasizes for the audience the spectacle’s status as fictional, and thus harmless, imitation; it contains none of the danger marking the apparently inset murders of both The Roman Actor and The Spanish Tragedy, in which representation pushes violently, and without warning, beyond its borders. On the commercial stage, Caesar’s murder is wholly unremarkable; it would have been a display of violence no different than those avid theatergoers could have seen on their regular sojourns to the playhouse any other afternoon that week. But the theatrical force of Massinger’s ending only comes into focus when considered in relation to what has come before it: set against three plays-­ within that blur the boundary between imitation and action, it is precisely the representational containment of Caesar’s murder that unexpectedly stands out. By following the indeterminate inset performances that ultimately culminate in deadly violence with Caesar’s assassination, Massinger makes an action that would otherwise be dramatically familiar newly surprising. What I mean to suggest, in other words, is that The Roman Actor does not simply exploit its audience’s expectations by breaking established theatrical conventions and pushing forward into unexplored dramatic territory; rather, it does essentially the opposite, upending those expectations by strategically deploying an otherwise mundanely familiar kind of stage action. After the accumulation of nearly fifty years of dramatic convention and nearly five acts of direct references and allusions to a whole host of



familiar plays, The Roman Actor throws its most experienced spectators off course by making the utterly conventional newly unexpected. Massinger’s play, in other words, imparts to spectators the confusion and surprise of The Spanish Tragedy at just the moment the Caroline play seems to push past its Elizabethan counterpart entirely, thwarting the expectations of its most in-the-know spectators with precisely what they are most familiar. The accumulated theatrical history of the Caroline era allows ruptures in the conventional deployment of theatrical information to come full circle; it is, paradoxically, the extensive theatrical acumen of these spectators that allows a deeply recognizable stage action to metamorphose, without warning, into its inverse. The dramatic arc of The Roman Actor thus encourages spectators to make sense of the world of the play with the interpretive tools so crucially withheld from them in The Spanish Tragedy, only to thwart, ultimately, precisely that attempt. This appearance of a spectacle on the stage that would have looked very much like Kyd’s play, though crucially deviating from it, is just one example of how The Spanish Tragedy itself, much like its play-within, bled into the broader world of early modern drama, appearing again and again in the theater, as it was repeatedly staged, parodied, and referenced. To be alert to these reappearances of plays one had already seen on the stage, as they merged and blurred with other performances, was to experience the boundaries between distinct theatrical frames as porous—to allow past performances to seep into and complicate new ones. In this sense, the unpredictable effects of The Spanish Tragedy are not limited to Hieronimo’s famous act of revenge that collapses the boundary between play and play-within; understood intertheatrically, the effect of The Spanish Tragedy’s fame is its permeation of the very world of early modern drama. Intertheatricality breaks apart the clear link between prediction and repetition; the reappearance of a familiar line, costume, or gesture on the stage is, rather than a guarantee, or even indication, about what will follow, the radical opening up of unknown possibility. The power of the early modern theater lay in its ability to thicken a current performance with “remembrance of things past” (1.3.139), to borrow a phrase from The Roman Actor, while simultaneously opening up new, unthought-of possibilities for the future.52 In part, The Roman Actor realizes those 52  The phrase itself may have conjured the very act of remembering on the part of audience members; it originates in Wisdom of Solomon 11:12, appearing in the King James version as



­ ossibilities suggested though not staged in The Spanish Tragedy, calling p back to that play while at once departing from it, and in so doing inviting the audience’s surprise at a spectacle of violent action that is unambiguously contained within the world of the play. What was shockingly unexpected in 1587 had coalesced into a cluster of dramatic convention by 1626, and The Roman Actor exploits the very commonplace—the blurring of the boundary between play and play-within—that had once itself been a surprising deviation from the norm. The unpredictable effects of performance in The Roman Actor’s plays-within are a microcosm of the broader power of the early modern theatrical universe: the effects of performance as they reverberated from the stage and, through the memories and embodied experiences of theatergoers, back again, were recognizable, though unpredictable and ever-expanding. The simultaneous reliance on and exploitation of dramatic convention opened up possibilities recognizable—and, crucially, unrecognizable—to the experienced theatergoer in early modern London. The Caroline theatrical publics that The Spanish Tragedy’s popularity helped bring into being possessed a specialized set of knowledge that encompassed expertise as well as ignorance, amateur skill along with attention to the surprise born of unknowing. To know a play as a theatergoer in this period was to be at once familiar with it and open to its next unpredictable, transformed appearance on the stage—to recognize, in other words, familiar elements of The Spanish Tragedy during The Roman Actor while simultaneously remaining attuned to Massinger’s transformations and deformations of Kyd’s play. This openness to possibility was thus an openness to uncertainty—the awareness that intertheatricality depended on not knowing what would happen next. And that openness, I want finally to suggest, was not an interpretive shortcoming, but indeed may have been a crucial social and political resource in the years leading up to the Civil War. Martin Butler has described the Caroline era before 1642 as continually wrenching people “in many opposing directions, between attachment to the status quo, alienation from it, anxiety for the effects of change and perhaps eventually conviction of necessity.”53 In the theater, where even the competencies and expectations of the most adept ­playgoers “For a double grief came upon them, and a groaning for the remembrance of things past.” But the phrase also appears widely in texts of the period, from Cornelius Agrippa’s Vanity of the Arts and Sciences (1530) to Shakespeare’s Sonnet 30 (1609). 53  Butler, Theatre and Crisis, 24.



could be exploited and thwarted, the pleasure brought about by intimate familiarity with dramatic convention was at once the uncertainty of not knowing exactly how that convention would be transformed the next time one walked into the theater, where the old could be made new again. And yet the sounding out of one’s own interpretive limits could simultaneously be a cultural investment in the fractured and uncertain world beyond the playhouse walls. At a politically unstable moment in England’s history, The Roman Actor staged anxieties about tyranny and its admixture with theatrical power, but in its deep intertheatrical entanglement with the long history of commercial drama, the play at once enacted for its spectators nothing less than  the entertainment of unknowing that such instability demanded.


Affective Persons, Public Theatricalities

Local Celebrities Onstage and Off Jeffrey S. Doty and Musa Gurnis

Celebrity, the experts say, is a twentieth-century phenomenon.1 Known more for their distinctive personalities or styles than for particular skills or achievements, the famous-for-being-famous emerge through “the spread of mass media” and are nurtured through the “growth of the promotions and publicity industries.”2 It would be hyperbole to describe early modern London as an arena for this sense of celebrity. Yet the term is useful for describing those familiar strangers whose fame was not a direct and inevitable consequence of their lineage, political duties, or work. And it is useful because unlike “fame” or “notoriety,” “celebrity” refers back to its hollow but reverberate origins in media itself. In early modern London,  Chris Rojek, Celebrity (London: Reaktion Books, 2001), 16.  The phrase on fame is adapted from Daniel Boorstein’s 1971 comment that “the celebrity is a person who is well-known for their well-knownness,” quoted, along with two other phrases in this sentence, from Graeme Turner, Understanding Celebrity, 2nd ed. (Los Angeles: Sage, 2014), 4, 11. 1 2

J. S. Doty (*) University of North Texas, Denton, TX, USA M. Gurnis Independent Scholar, New York, NY, USA © The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2021 A. K. Deutermann et al. (eds.), Publicity and the Early Modern Stage, Early Modern Cultural Studies 1500–1700,




the convergence of a rapidly growing theatrical industry and cheap print fostered a media environment in which the unique personage could not only shoot into wide dissemination but also rebound through the pinballing organs of publication (in the broadest sense of that word). It is easy to overlook the sheer novelty of these overlapping, mutually generative spheres of publicity—and the ludic creativity of those exploring their possibilities for self-expression, pleasure, and profit. In this essay, we argue that the commercial theater and adjacent popular media produced and capitalized on “local celebrities”—non-elite but far from ordinary individuals known to strangers by sight or reputation in the city. As in present-day use, the adjective “local” scales “celebrity” down to a particular place, creating a productive tension between the borders of the local and boundlessness of fame. Though the fame of the local celebrity often disseminates well beyond its place of origin, what distinguishes the local celebrity from celebrity is not just scale but the degree to which the figure stands in for, is strongly associated with, or is produced by local spaces and practices. Early seventeenth century London’s print and theatrical cultures enabled the advent of the local celebrity. But just as important were less recognized forms of publication—the performative medium of self-display in public spaces and the oral media of gossip and lore. Through these overlapping modes of publicity, the deeds, personae, or styles of local celebrities circulated beyond their immediate networks and neighborhoods. The excavation of these personages reveals the interplay of site-specific London knowledge and the innovative development of a dense network of overlapping media rooted in the city but also reaching outward through the provincial consumption of London-based ballads, cheap print, and gossip. Local celebrities exercised varying degrees of agency over the circulation of their personae. Some, such as John Taylor, were gifted self-publicists whose public performances came to take on a distinctly political character. Other individuals were adopted by Londoners as figures who personified particular aspects of a shared urban culture, personalities whose extension across multiple media consolidated general attention around matters of common interest, people around whom publics gathered. Overall, the embodied and culturally mediated presence of local celebrities illuminates convergences of identity, place, and public in early modern London.



Creatures of the Theater Scene This essay builds on previous work in which we described London’s “theater scene”—the recursive, mutually creative interchange between the stage and its urban fan base.3 In alehouses, taverns, and inns associated with the entertainment business, playwrights and actors and fans mingled, trading performances, imitations, and stories. The traffic between playhouses and drinking houses created a local publicity space in which audience members processed and re-performed what they saw in the theatres, playwrights worked and observed styles of self-fashioning they could stage back to their patrons, and theatre buffs and theatre artists socialized and circulated gossip. Everyday tavern entertainments, such as trading theatre stories and imitating actors, fostered an extended network of cultural recognition and experimentation. Forms of early modern media were created and rebounded through the theater scene. Steven Mullaney writes that media are “signifying or semiotic technologies” as well as “forms of publication.” By publication, he means “a social event”: “a way of making something public . . . for the purposes of communication and the creation of social networks that are populated by actors, things, and knowledges.”4 In other words, making something public is an act of creativity, an assay into the shared world that vies for and calls forth the attention of others. Such are the acts that publics are made on. Publics are lived, recursive circuits of cultural expression and possibility produced by exchanges among ordinary people. An “ongoing space of encounter,” London’s “theatre scene” made a theatre public visible to itself as a new and not at all inevitable dimension of social life.5 Separate from the official institutions of church and state, a public forges itself out of the measureless social totality, creating a new space for sociability, self-disclosure, and expressive embodiment. As a hub of connected media circuits whereby it absorbed and recirculated other forms of popular culture, the commercial theater was central to the early modern public sphere. And it played a special role in the creation of local celebrities. With identities formed partly through some association with commercial playing, many of the local celebrities we examine below are creatures 3  Jeffrey S. Doty and Musa Gurnis, “Theatre Scene and Theatre Public in Early Modern London,” Shakespeare 14.1 (2018): 12–25. 4  Steven Mullaney, The Reformation of Emotions in the Age of Shakespeare (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2015), 167. 5  Michael Warner, Publics and Counterpublics (New York: Zone Books, 2002), 90.



of this theater scene. Local celebrities are living urban legends.6 Mary Frith, a.k.a. Moll Cutpurse or the Roaring Girl, is the most familiar example of a broad exchange between urban and dramatic characters.7 Like Moll, what these figures share is a kind of “extension of personality” or “distributed personhood” across multiple popular media. Moll’s visible street presence inspired John Day’s lost chapbook (or play) The Madde Pranckes of Mery Mall of the Bankside (1610) and Thomas Dekker and Thomas Middleton’s famous play (c. 1611). She pops up at Whitefriars in Nathan Field’s Amends for Ladies (1611) and is alluded to in Dekker’s Red Bull play If it not be good, the Divel is in it as well as in Dekker, John Ford, and Thomas Rowley’s Cock-Pit play The Witch of Edmonton (1621).8 Thomas Freeman and John Taylor mention her in poems.9 A posthumous biography, The life and death of Mrs. Mary Frith: commonly called Moll Cutpurse, was printed in 1662.10 Flouting stage regulations, she appeared onstage in men’s garments with a sword at the end of a play, probably The Roaring Girl, at the Fortune in 1611. The next year, she was sentenced to do public penance, though the details of the case are lost. Diarist John Chamberlain wrote that “she wept bitterly and seemed very penitent, but yt is since doubted she was maudelin druncke, beeing discovered to have tipled of three-quarters of sacke before she came to her penaunce.”11 In 6  Roughly analogous contemporary examples of “local celebrities” may include: street performers such as Brother Blue in Cambridge, Sidewalk Sam in Boston, or the Naked Cowboy in Time Square; business owners such as George Whitman of Shakespeare and Company in Paris, or Elaine Kaufman of Elaine’s in New York, as well as mythologized neighborhood criminals such as Whitey Bolger in Southie. 7  A dramatic character, Tripes, metatheatrically brags that “The Players brought me oth’ stage once I thank them in a Play call’d the Roaring Girle, or The Catchpole, he was a pretty fellow that acted me, but he came short of the rogueries I have done,” Thomas Jordan, Walks of Islington and Hogsdon (London, 1663), E3r. While this fictional person is lifted from The Roaring Girl (an example of what William West calls “intertheatricality”), the illusion of a real-world urban character is thickened by Captain Tripes’ reappearance in Jordan’s pamphlet on London, A Diurnall of Dangers (London, 1642), sig. A2v, as well as through his association with the real-life Moll. 8  Nathan Field, Amends for Ladies (London, 1618); Thomas Dekker, If it be not good, the Divel is in it (London, 1612); William Rowley, Thomas Dekker, and John Ford, The Witch of Edmonton: A Known True Story (London, 1658). 9  Thomas Freeman, Rubbe, and a Great Cast (London, 1614) sig. E4r; John Taylor, The water-cormorant his complaint against a brood of land-cormorants (London, 1622), sig. C3r. 10  Griffiths, Paul, “Frith [married name Markham], Mary [known as Moll Cutpurse] (1584x9–1659), thief.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 23 Sep. 2004; Accessed 15 Nov. 2019. 11  The Letters of John Chamberlain, vol. 1, ed. N.E. McLure (Philadelphia, PA: Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, 1939), 334.



other words, she turned up drunk in a white sheet, and through her overwrought weeping, turned the ecclesiastical court’s public punishment of her into comic street theater. Frith’s recurrence across multiple media underlines how local celebrities were not simply “public figures” through renown and visibility. Rather, because she gathered attention and activity around particular matters of interest—namely, gender performance and crime in present-moment London—she was a locus of public formation. Moll Frith the real person and urban legend also accrued cultural traction through the family resemblance she bore to the quasi-historical Long Meg, heavily fictionalized in popular culture, who embodied a similar style of genre rebellion mobilized in defense of unprotected London women.12 Moll was an adoptable or transferable persona: “Mall Frith” was the moniker of a white bear used in bear-baitings.13 Open for appropriation in yet another popular urban entertainment, “Mall Frith” the bear was a kind of early modern equivalent to a roller derby avatar.14 Both insisting on control of her own public presentation (flipping the script of state punishment into a parodic street performance) and a persona remediated by others for profit, Frith’s case raises the question of the degrees of agency local celebrities exerted in the production of their own personae.

Topical Plays About Ordinary People: Private Disputes in Public Places Scholars have detailed how the commercial theater latched into and then broadened the early modern public sphere through its fictionalized dramatization of political figures.15 Less attention, however, has been paid to  Anon, The life of Long Meg of Westminster (London, 1635).  John Taylor, Bears, Bulls, Horses (London, 1638), sig. D4v. 14  We are grateful to Adhaar Desai for this observation. 15  For select examples of scholarship devoted to dramatic representations of recognizable participants in high politics, see Jane Sherman, “The Pawns’ Allegory in Middleton’s A Game at Chess,” Review of English Studies 29.144 (1978): 147–159; Jerzy Limon, Dangerous Matter: English Drama and Politics 1623-1624 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986); Peter Lake, How Shakespeare Put Politics on The Stage: Power and Succession in the History Plays (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2017); Jeffrey S.  Doty, Shakespeare, Popularity and the Public Sphere (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018); and Jacqueline Vanhoutte, Age in Love: Shakespeare and the Elizabethan Court (Omaha, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2019). 12 13



how plays traded in the visibility of exceptional but non-elite individuals. Although there were informal prohibitions against the personation of living figures onstage, early modern plays regularly trafficked in barely screened versions of real people. In allusive, fragmentary, and sometimes kaleidoscopic ways, playwrights brought versions of court figures such as Elizabeth I, Robert Dudley, Robert Devereux, and Francis Carr, among others, onstage. Couched in Ovidian allegory, Roman or English history, or Italian power politics, this creative shadow-play infused public drama with a sense of exigence. For these figures, veiled theatrical representation was a consequence of the inherent publicity or “ascribed celebrity” of their high status.16 However, other plays staged and name-checked real, notorious but ordinary people. Plays circulating local celebrities abutt and sometimes overlap with the subgenre of “true crime” plays such as Arden of Faversham, The Witch of Edmonton, and The Late Lancashire Witches, as well as with plays celebrating London worthies such as If You Know Not Me You Know Nobody, Part 2 and The Shoemaker’s Holiday. The difference, sometimes a subtle one, is a sense that the character continues to exert an active presence in London life. This feeling of extended extra-­ theatrical life is, for obvious reasons, less readily available to executed criminals or dead historical figures—although, as we will see in the case of Doctor John Lambe, urban characters sometimes haunt the city and playhouses after their actual deaths. Dramatic representations of local celebrities could mock, celebrate, or demonize their subjects, but these Londoners were not simply the passive subjects of plays. Private people could also use the public stages for their own ends. Critics have assumed that the use of the drama for “pitch making” on matters of controversy was the reserve of political elites—as in the case of the Essex faction hiring the Chamberlain’s Men to perform Richard II shortly before the failed uprising or the Duke of Buckingham calling attention to himself in a Globe performance of Henry VIII in 1625.17 But drama could also be mobilized to advance the personal agendas of private  “Ascribed celebrity” through bloodline is a phrase from Rojek, Celebrity, 17.  See Paul E. J. Hammer, “Shakespeare’s Richard II, the Play of 7 February 1601, and the Essex Rising,” Shakespeare Quarterly 59 (2008): 1–35 and Thomas Cogswell and Peter Lake, “Buckingham Does the Globe: Henry VIII and the Politics of Popularity in the 1620s,” Shakespeare Quarterly 60 (2009): 253–78. For a discussion of “pitch-making,” see Peter Lake and Steven Pincus, “Rethinking the Public Sphere in Early Modern England,” in The Politics of the Public Sphere in Early Modern England (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2007), 1–30, 6–7. 16 17



citizens. For example, George Chapman’s 1603 lost play “The Old Joiner of Aldgate” was allegedly commissioned by John Flaskett to publicly shame Alice Howe into honoring their engagement during his legal case against her father for breach of contract.18 The Howes countersued, accusing Flaskett and Chapman of conspiring to defame them. Though Chapman denied the charge, the evidence suggests that Flaskett did pay him to write “The Old Joiner” with the goal of making his marriage negotiations with the Howes notorious and influencing public opinion against them. It was alleged in court that “fflaskett made the Plott of the … playe [and] delivered [it] unto Chapman.”19 Despite the fact that “The Old Joiner” uses what court records refer to as “by-names” (Snipper Snapper for John Howe, Ursula for Agnes Howe, and Touchbox for John Flaskett), local audiences recognized the real-world characters in their dramatic counterparts. One witness declares, “it is a common report in the towne that it is so.”20 John Howe testifies that when he saw the play performed, “he heard manie [around him] say that the Play was made [about himself] & his daughter & also of others.”21Moreover, Howe reports that he was “unawares unto him brought to sitt by fflaskett to see the Play.”22 The cunning orchestration of this awkward seating arrangement suggests that audiences in the playhouse may have recognized Howe by sight as well as by reputation and may have enjoyed the metatheatrical spectacle of the main characters in the scandal watching themselves onstage.23 Such pleasure was all the more available to playgoers because this was a local drama. Though Chapman usually wrote for the Children of Blackfriars, he sold “The Old Joiner” to the Children of Pauls, a playhouse located near the homes of the combatants in the lawsuit.24 Underscoring the multiple 18  For a full discussion of Chapman’s lost play and the surrounding legal dispute, see C. J. Sisson, The Lost Plays of Shakespeare’s Age (New York: Macmillan, 1936), 12–79. For a concise summary, see “The Old Joiner of Aldgate,” Lost Plays Database:,_The 19  Quoted in Sisson, Lost Plays, 68. 20  Ibid, 67–8. 21  Ibid, 77. 22  Ibid. 23  Alternatively, Flaskett may have arranged this configuration simply to give himself the pleasure of watching his enemy squirm, without the expectation that they would be personally recognized in the playhouse. 24  Sisson, Lost Plays, 69. For a discussion of theatrical engagements with the particular neighborhoods in which playhouses stood, see Mark Bayer, Theatre, Community, and Civic Engagement in Jacobean London (Iowa City, IA: University of Iowa Press, 2011).



public venues in which ordinary people might air private grievances, another of Agnes’ suitors posted a legal notice on the door of her parish church, standing conspicuously at the back while his rival Dr. Milward delivered a sermon before the congregation. Itself the subject of further kerfuffle between Flaskett and the Howes, “The Old Joiner” both publicized and fueled neighborhood gossip. Preserved through transcribed testimony in legal depositions rather than a printed playbook, “The Old Joiner of Aldgate” lingers, if at all, in the scholarly imagination as a curiosity of the theatrical culture—a “lost” play even more lost than others in the ephemeral medium of performance. So too Milward’s sermon and the notice nailed to the door of the church. But we fundamentally misunderstand the workings of publicity in early modern London if we imagine the convergence of these necessarily “local” media—rumor, sermon, lawsuit, and a play—as a momentary blip. As Mullaney argues, our critical bias toward print, which is reinforced through its archival durability, leads to egregious underestimation of the reach and impact of performative forms of publication. This is especially true for theatrical publication. Even a single performance in half-full amphitheater might include an audience of 1500, which alone would almost double the number of books printed in a standard run.25 Moreover, “The Old Joiner” must have shot the notoriety of its real-world antecedents into a long orbit of local memory that was tied to particular people in particular spaces. The publicity to which Agnes Howe was subjected made her a different kind of local celebrity than the agential Mary Frith with her flair for self-­ performance. However, because “transgression . . . is intrinsic to celebrity, since to be a celebrity is to live outside conventional, ordinary life,” notoriety and celebrity share the border of the extraordinary.26 Similar dynamics of notoriety and performative publication recur in the lost 1624 play “Keep the Widow Waking” by Thomas Dekker, John Ford, William Rowley, and John Webster.27 The play dramatized a recent ­confidence trick played on 62-year old Anne Elsdon, in which an unscrupulous pseudo-suitor named Tobias Audley and his confederates forcibly 25  Mullaney, The Reformation of Emotions, 145–147; see also Erika T. Lin, Shakespeare and the Materiality of Performance (New York: Palgrave, 2012), 11–12. 26  Rojek, Celebrity, 148. 27  For a full discussion, see Sisson, Lost Plays, 80–124. For a concise summary, see “Late Murder in White Chapel, or Keep the Widow Waking,” The Lost Plays Database, accessed 15 November 2019. Chapel,_or_Keep_the_Widow_Waking



detained the rich widow, denying her sleep and plying her with alcohol to coerce her into marriage allowing the thieves to ransack her fortune. As in the case of “The Old Joiner,” this topical play was commissioned by a participant in the events. An unresolved lawsuit alleged that: Tobias Audley and the… other Confederates did… draw into their practice one William Rowley…deckers …and others being Common enterlude players, and contrivors of libelous plays and ballets which should contrive and make a play of the …pretended marriage …and the ryfeling [of] Anne Elsden’s estate…[which play did] scandalize and disgrace … Ann Elsdon & make her ridiculous to the world.28

Dekker acknowledged under oath “some passage acted in the said play about the getting of a lycense for the mariage of the widow there personated.”29 As with “The Old Joiner,” “Keep the Widow Waking” profited from local curiosity about the case, capitalizing on the visibility of the real-world participants in the neighborhood. Elsdon lived in West Smithfield near the Red Bull theater where the play was performed.30 Her house was identifiable: court documents record “that 2 play boyes of the … Red Bull passing by [Elsdon’s] house … [one] pointing theaeat to his fellow saide there dwelt the widdowe waking.”31 She was enticed to and detained at local taverns: the Greyhound, the Nag’s Head, and the Bell.32 Carried out in public drinking houses and restaged in the neighborhood playhouse, the private affairs of Elsdon and Audley were of local interest. Aaron Holland, who built and managed the Red Bull, recognized that neighborhood gossip put bums on seats. A ballad based on “Keep the Widow Waking” was not only (as was usual practice) sung and sold on streets around the playhouse, but also in front of Elsdon’s own residence. Court testimony alleges that the ballad-monger “was purposely sent thither to sing the said ballad by one Holland.33 Ann Elsdon and Tobias Audley, as well as John Flaskett and Agnes Howe, all exerted vastly different degrees of control over the public circulation of their private reputations. By commissioning the plays that staged  Quoted in Sisson, Lost Plays, 98.  “Keep the Widow Waking,” Lost Plays Database. 30  Sisson, Lost Plays, 84. 31  Ibid., 117–8. 32  “Keep the Widow Waking,” Lost Plays Database. 33  Ibid. 28 29



their private affairs, Audley and Flaskett were about to present a narrative for public consumption that vindicated themselves and damaged the reputations of the women staged before a general audience. Yet even these men had limited control over the way their personalities and stories circulated across multiple media. The lives of all four were commodified for profit by players and ballad makers, and also republished through the varying opinions of many as a topic of general discussion. Nevertheless, the fact that these ordinary individuals with notorious lives occupied the attention of strangers itself demonstrates the work of theater in enabling self-articulation and public recognition among everyday people.

Multimedia Personhood and the Publicist John Taylor As in the cases above, the reputations of local celebrities circulated through multiple media—not only in plays but also through extra-theatrical performances in public spaces, gossip, ballads, and print. The ability to travel across multiple platforms of urban publication was crucial to creating the larger than life persona of the local celebrity. Nathaniel Butter’s notoriety stemmed from his own newsletter office as well as from his dramatization in Ben Jonson’s 1625 Staple of News, a play that in both the performed script and its print annotations gives tongue-in-cheek prohibitions against identifying real-world people in stage characters. Such manifestations of local characters across multiple media made ordinary Londoners visible as public figures. Thomas Parr, the London man “one hundred and twelve that stood in a white sheet for getting a wench with child,” was already infamous though his public punishment for remarkably late life lechery. His notoriety was recirculated in the 1624 lost Ford play “The Fairy Knight.”34 Parr’s story was further publicized in print in the year of his death, suggesting there may have been a marketing advantage in feeding pre-existing public interest in “The Very Old Man’s” passing. Taylor’s pamphlet uses Parr’s life as a vehicle for narrating the proximate past of England from the Wars of the Roses to the present. Notably, Taylor 34  See G.E. Bentley, The Jacobean and Caroline Stage (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1941), vol. 3, 442; John Taylor, The Old, Old, Very Old Man: or the Age and long Life of Thomas Parr (London, 1635). See also Keith Thomas, “Parr, Thomas,” in The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography: ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-21403



chronicles English history through the lives of commoners rather than kings or churchmen. Religious developments are marked by the actions of individual heretics. Taylor’s recap of royal dynasties devotes most space to the lives of common-born pretenders to the throne (several of whom, such as Perkin Warbeck, were also familiar through popular plays). In Taylor’s characterization, Parr embodies a homespun English past of good fellowship and good housekeeping lost in the contemporary culture of consumption. The remediation of Parr’s notoriety opens a discursive space for Taylor to articulate an alternative history of ordinary people for a general readership connected by a chain of interest in the dirty old man. “Distributed personhood” could expand beyond the boundaries of the biological person recirculated, exerting an outsized presence in urban life, sometimes lingering after the real person’s death. Hovering on the threshold of real woman and fictionalized character, “Mad Besse” reappears in multiple popular entertainments. Ostensibly a young woman on display to visitors at Bedlam asylum, the life of “Mad Besse” appears in the 1638 ballad Love’s Lunacy.35 In the same year, a pamphlet records a white bear performing in the bear-baiting ring with the same name.36 “Mad Besse” reappears in plays into the late seventeenth century. She is name-checked in John Fletcher’s 1621 play for the King’s Men, The Pilgrim. Here, as in the two seventeenth-century revisions of the play—Neglected Virtue, or The Unhappy Conqueror in 1696 and a revised Pilgrim with additions by John Dryden in 1700, both of which  recycle the line verbatim—Mad Besse is referenced as an offstage presence in the beginning of the scene as a means of establishing the imagined space of the madhouse. The keeper’s first line, “Carry mad Bess some meat, she roars like Thunder,” suggests that Bess was a familiar enough figure to a general audience that the name of the wronged woman alone conjured the asylum.37 In this way local ­celebrities, reverberating across multiple media and urban performances, helped inscribe narratives, emotional texture, and social meaning into the places of the city. In John Tatham’s Restoration play Knavery in All Trades, or The Coffeehouse, strangers in a coffeehouse discuss theater culture before the  Richard Crimsall, Love’s Lunacy (London, 1638).  Taylor, Bulls, Bears, Horses, sig. D4v. 37  The consonance between Mad Bess’ bear avatar and the keeper’s description of her roaring and hungry for meat suggests the real confined woman may have exhibited some kind of animalistic behavior witnessed by visitors to the asylum. However, no such suggestion appears in the ballad. 35 36



war. The scene gives a sense of the pre-war peri-theatrical milieu and the notable characters that it fostered. Alongside stories of real actors, characters reminisce about notable performers in, and proprietors of, ancillary urban entertainments. In the coffeehouse—Jürgen Habermas’ privileged locus for public formation—the men do not engage in rational-critical debate about politics; rather, they share fond personal memories of lost characters that defined a popular urban culture. This is public formation rooted in emotional sociability and oriented around the activities of ordinary people who inhabited the entertainment businesses adjacent (geographically and culturally) to the commercial theaters: You talk of Players, I am for the Fencers, there are none living now like old Bradshaw, old Batty, Chatterton and Ned Gibs. Fifth: I, and the Miller, I remember them too. Fourth: What Swan the wrestler? know him? I think I did. First: And so did I, then there was Will the Laborer, and Will the Pewterer, who was hanged—O, they were nimble men. Fourth: And Jack the Butcher, a stout rogue, and the Gentleman Wrestler; they were brave men indeed, there’s none left like ‘em….did you not know little Dick that kept the Ring? First: What the old fellow? He and I crack’t many a cup together.38 First:

Such individuals as Swan the wrestler, little Dick that kept the Ring, and the man renowned by his moniker alone, “The Gentleman Wrestler,” do not appear in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. However, their specificity and their proximity to documented stage performers suggest they identify actual people (or, even if invented, evoke some continuum between real-world London characters and their dramatic avatars). The scene models the kind of redoubling of representation that was crucial to the production of local celebrities—these are public entertainers themselves, whose reputations are expanded in gossip, and recirculated in a play, both performed and printed. Individuals at the fringes of commercial theater promoted their own creative acts through their connections to the stage. John Taylor’s public persona as “Water Poet” developed in a symbiotic relationship with the theater scene. An amazingly media-savvy self-publicist, Taylor self-­ consciously positioned himself as a working person publicly laying claim to  John Tatham, Knavery in All Trades, or The Coffeehouse (London, 1664), sig. E1r.




a right to enter a literary and theatrical sphere. His celebrity is not just Taylor “announcing himself” but also the extent and interconnectedness of the network in which he embeds himself. The personality Taylor projects is created by its distribution through the theater scene and related forms of popular publication. His dependence on the playhouses was both financial and discursive; playgoers crossing the river to Southwark constituted a core clientele, and Taylor leveraged his entry into the public eye through his associations with theater. Taylor promoted his personal friendship with Ben Jonson by printing commendatory verses Jonson supplied him in his Works, a volume that was modeled on the playwright’s.39 Taylor also helped solidify the personal mythology surrounding Jonson through a detailed and moving verse biography marking his death: A Funerall Elegie, in Memory of the Rare, Famous, and Admired Poet, Mr. Benjamin Jonson.40 Taylor defended Jonson’s right to claim a place in literary culture despite his humble social origins: A lying rumour up and downe doth run Reporting that he was a Bricklayers sonne, Which if ‘twere true were no disgrace or scorne, For famous Virgil in a ditch was borne.41

Reciprocally, Taylor’s celebration of Jonson as a bricklayer-playwright legitimized his own persona as the Water Poet. Taylor’s first print publication features a title woodcut of himself ferrying passengers across the Thames “in a Boate laden with...Sonnets, Satyres, and Epigrams,” folding together in one image his working class and artistic identities.42 In the most practical sense, Taylor was a creature of the theater scene in that his livelihood depended on ferrying passengers to the Southbank playhouses. In a pamphlet describing the financial hardship inflicted on the Watermen through the opening of theaters north of the Thames, Taylor insists that his grievance is not with the players themselves. He declares his personal friendship with actors: “The Players are men that I generally love, and

 See Taylor, Works (London, 1630).  Taylor, A funerall elegie (London, 1637), sigs. B3v-C1r. 41  Ibid, sig. B3v. Taylor clarifies that Jonson’s biological father was a learned minister, though his stepfather was a bricklayer who denied Jonson an education. 42  Taylor, The Sculler (London, 1612), sig. A1r. 39 40



wish well unto and to their quality, and I doe not know any of them but are my friends.”43 Taylor organized several extra-theatrical or quasi-theatrical urban performances. He undertook travels modeled on the clown Will Kemp’s jig.44 As Karen Raber describes elsewhere in this collection, in 1630, he developed a scheme to bring Nicholas Wood, “The Great Eater of Kent” (whom he also promoted in print), to London for public displays of his prodigious appetite in a bear garden.45 In a daring stunt visible to a broad audience of passersby along the river, Taylor sailed the Thames in a paper boat.46 In 1614 he organized a kind of impersonation contest or trial of wit at the Hope theater against another London writer and showman, William Fennor, “The Rhyming Poet,” whose failure to appear almost incited a riot and prompted an exchange of personal insults in print that gave both men further publicity.47 The kind of performance the rivals planned is itself exemplary of the way the playhouse entertainments that accompanied plays themselves bled out into a broader urban performance culture. Neither Taylor nor Fennor was a professional actor or clown. Both insist that their material is produced extemporaneously, but their theatrical performances seem extensions of their personae as writers. The scheduled  exchange of wit seems not to have been a one-off. Fennor defends himself from Taylor’s complaint that his failure to appear led to a disastrous solo performance, saying that he himself had been in the same situation but was able to adlib successfully. Fennor’s competitor on that occasion was Richard Kendall, an occasional player working primarily as the wardrobe master at Salisbury Court Theatre, another contemporary with one foot on the stage and another in a related part of the entertainment business. Like Taylor, Fennor was keen to position himself as an  Taylor, The Water-man’s suite concerning Players in Works, 175.  Bernard Capp, “John Taylor,” Oxford Dictionary National Biography: http://www. odnb-9780198614128-e-27044?rskey=9uwLhU&result=1#odnb-9780198614128e-27044-div1-d796025e1087; Sisson, Lost Plays, 78. 45  See Taylor, The Great Eater of Kent (London, 1630). For a similar cheap print biography of a London character (complete with a detailed woodcut portrait), see Taylor, The Great O’Toole (London, 1622). 46  Taylor, The Praise of Hemp-seed (London, 1623). 47  See William Fennor, Fennor’s Defence (London, 1615); Taylor, Taylor’s Revenge, or the Rymer William Fennor Firkt (London, 1615); and Taylor, A Cast Over the Water (London, 1615). 43 44



intimate of the actors, privy to backstage talk, relating that the players were “all asham’d” of Taylor’s act.48 In his public beef with Fennor and elsewhere, Taylor treats gossip, theater, and print as interlocking media. He responds to Fennor’s oral slanders in print, declaring that his pamphlet is written in repudiation of the version of events Fennor was circulating in his “Taverne and Alehouse prate.”49 Taylor clarifies: “I have written this invective against him…[because] he rayless and abuses me with his calumnius tongue, and scandalizeth me in all Companies wher he heares me nominated.”50 Taylor presents his public persona as formed by and vulnerable to attack in multiple forms of publication: tavern trash-talk, stage performance, playbills posted on the street, and cheap pamphlets. He complains not only of the “thousands of criticall Censurers” in the playhouse audience, but also that he “caused 1000 bills to be printed, and divulged my name 1000 wayes,” putting his reputation at risk. In his pamphlet war with Thomas Coryiat, Taylor insults his rival by recirculating in print Ben Jonson’s disparaging “Table-Talk.”51 Taylor was an extraordinary self-publicist, but he also had on ongoing investment in elevating the public visibility of other everyday people who (like himself) helped define the city. He dedicates his Praise of Cleane Linnen not to the law students but the laundress of the Middle Temple, a woman named Martha Legge.52 He dedicates Bulls, Bears, Horses to the bearkeeper himself, Mr. Thomas Godfrey53; he devotes The Scourge of Baseness to the tavern keeper “Mr. Andrew Hilton at the signe of the Horse-Shoo” whose reputation he apologizes for smearing in another publication.54 Taylor’s short pamphlet biography The Great O’Toole, complete with a woodcut portrait of the subject on the title-page, recounts the life of the eponymous ex-soldier and raconteur. O’Toole was apparently a self-chronicler of his own deeds: “Were all tongues mute, thy own tongue would commend thee.”55 Taylor’s print pamphlet presents the portrait of  William Fennor, Fennors Defence, in Taylor, Works, 152.  Taylor, Taylor’s Revenge, in Works, sig. Nn2v. 50  Ibid, sig. Nn2r. 51  Taylor, Motto, in Works, sig. Gg1r. 52  Taylor, The Praise of Cleane Linnen, in Works, 155. 53  Taylor, Bulls, Bears, Horses, sig. A3r. 54  Taylor, The Scourge of Baseness, in Works, sig. Cc4r. 55  Taylor, The Great O’Toole (London, 1638), sig. B1r. O’Toole was born into a noble family, but seems visible in London in a way that complicates his elite status. In Wit and Mirth, it seems that O’Toole enjoyed a reputation in the city as a public personality. 48 49



someone who has already made himself famous through his own gift for informal oral performance. Taylor name-checks O’Toole in other pamphlets, thickening his media presence.56 Taylor even pens a pamphlet biography to A Dog of War, or the Travels of Drunkard, the famous Curre of the Round Woolstaple in Westminster, recounting the exploits of Drunkard the dog who would not leave his master’s body on the battlefield but returned to England following the dead soldier’s coat carried by one of his comrades. Drunkard was allegedly a fixture at a tavern called The Dog in Westminster, a canine pilier de bar whose remediation helped inscribe the neighborhood with social meaning. Taylor was a working person who managed to create a public space of self-expression—to invent himself as a local celebrity—through his savvy negotiation of London’s circumtheatrical media hub; ultimately, he was able to turn his cultural presence into a voice in matters of policy. At the end of his life, Taylor ran a pub called “The Poet’s Head”; like the clown and publican Richard Tarlton, the “Water Poet” was famous enough in the city to use his own image for a tavern sign.57 The multimedia public sphere that produced local celebrities did not operate in isolation from the world of high politics. Taylor’s pamphlets make several references to the court clown and cheap print comic author Archibald Armstrong, who also published a pamphlet on ecclesiastical politics.58 Taylor himself leveraged his visibility in the city to advocate for the interests of the Watermen as their official representative in negotiations with city and court officials.59 In other words, Taylor’s multimedia presence enabled him to move from popular culture to politics. Taylor’s role as a local celebrity gave him political influence. Moreover, Taylor circulated these official deliberations before a popular audience. He made his case for regulations protecting the livelihood of the ferrymen not simply before the Privy Council, but also before a general readership in a cheap pamphlet.60 Taylor’s transition from  Cf. Taylor, Wit and Mirth, sig. Ee3r.  For a summary of Taylor’s official roles in the affairs of the Watermen, see Bernard Capp, The World of John Taylor (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994), 15, 31. 58  Archibald Armstrong, Archie’s Dream, Sometimes Jester to His Majestie, but exiled the court by Canterburies malice (London, 1641); cf. Taylor, Wit and Mirth, sig. Ee3r. 59  Capp, The World of John Taylor, 31. 60  For Taylor’s public justification to a general readership, see The True Cause of the Watermens Suit, in Works, 171; for the printed version of the official petition to Parliament, see To the Right Honorable Assembly (London, 1642). 56 57



cultural participant to political agent is in some ways similar to Habermas’ account of the eighteenth-century evolution from exchanging literary opinions to taking political positions.  The public that gathered around early modern theater culture and other urban media, however, was crucially different in its openness to emotion, embodiment, and ordinary people.

Politics in the Street The cultural work of common individuals articulating themselves publicly is itself political. But it is also true that, as seen above, the popular media public sphere that produced local celebrities impinged on the world of high politics. Yet while some local celebrities such as Taylor exerted individual agency in publicly expressing political views, others entered the political sphere as topics of public interest. The circulation of the reputation of Doctor John Lambe and his murder by playgoers who spotted him at the Fortune theater in 1628 demonstrates how a public sphere rooted in urban popular culture could articulate and mobilize thought, feeling, and action regarding matters of state. Our interest in John Lambe has less to do with his participation in the creation of his own celebrity as with Taylor, but rather the ways in which Lambe was available for public use—a public person, not in the sense of a Habermasian liberal subject but rather a figure around whom a public forms. Lambe was a quack physician and fortune-teller employed by Buckingham, for whom, it was widely believed, he practiced black magic. Shortly before Lambe’s death he was accused of raping an eleven-year-old girl.61 Lambe, then, was not only affiliated with the Duke through patronage, but as someone considered wicked in terms of both sex and religion, he made a particularly resonant stand-in for aggression against Buckingham (who was suspected of sexual immorality as well as secret Catholicism). In turn, the fact that Buckingham maintained Lambe as part of his entourage confirmed contemporary suspicions that the duke had poisoned James I

61  Anita McConnell, “Lambe, John (1545/6–1628),” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, (accessed 19 June 2011). For a contemporary description of Lambe’s alleged activities as a sorcerer and rapist, as well as an account of his violent death, see Anon., A briefe description of the notorious life of Iohn Lambe otherwise called Doctor Lambe. Together with his Ignominious Death (Amsterdam, 1628).



and used black magic to maintain his influence over Charles I.62 In other words, the Duke and his sorcerer made each other politically legible. Lambe was a recognizable public figure both on stage and in the playhouse. By 1626, Lambe was notorious enough to be name-checked in a catalogue of Mistress Tattle’s local gossip in Ben Jonson’s Staple of News: “[she knew] which boy rode upon Doctor Lambe, in the likeness of a roaring lion, that run away with him in his teeth and has not devoured him yet.”63 He was referenced again in the topically-related 1634 play The Late Lancashire Witches and was the subject of the lost play “Doctor Lamb and the Witches,” performed after his death.64 In June 1628, after the king rejected Parliament’s Petition of Right, Buckingham was so widely reviled in London that his safety was considered at risk.65 On June 13, the duke’s sorcerer attended a play at the Fortune, “where the boyes of the towne, and other unruly people having observed him present, after the Play was ended [and] began in a confused manner to assault him, and offer violence.”66 The playgoers tore out Lambe’s eye and stoned him to death in the street outside the theater. According to one contemporary account, some of Lambe’s assailants shouted during the attack that “if his Master were there, they would give him as much.”67 Ominous verses circulated in London after Lambe’s death that threatened Buckingham with similar violence. One ran, “Let Charles and George do what they can, / The Duke shall die like Doctor Lambe.”68 An anonymous publicly posted libel declared that “they intend shortly to use [Buckingham] worse than they did his doctor.”69 In fact, John Felton was seen reading one of these verses

62  Cogswell, “John Felton,” 367. For a contemporary sensational account of King James’s death that implicated Buckingham as his murderer, see George Eglisham, The Forerunner of Revenge (Strasburgh, 1626). 63  Ben Jonson, The Staple of News, ed. Anthony Parr (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1988),–32. 64  Thomas Heywood and Richard Brome, The Late Lancashire Witches (London, 1634); “Doctor Lamb and the Witches,” Lost Plays Database, accessed 15 November 2019, https:// 65  Cogswell, “John Felton,” 371. 66  Anon., The notorious life of Iohn Lambe, 20. 67  Quoted in Cogswell, “John Felton,” 372. 68  Roger Lockyer, “Villiers, George, first duke of Buckingham (1592–1628),” in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, May 2011 online ed., ed. Lawrence Goldman, http:// (accessed 26 July 2011). 69  Quoted in Cogswell, “John Felton,” 376.



just days before stabbing Buckingham later that summer.70 Subsequently, drinking toasts to Buckingham’s assassin was considered enough of a seditious act to be prosecuted in the court of the Star Chamber. Just as this pub talk was considered political speech, so too ad hominem poems and print pamphlets attacking Lambe constitute a public forum that mobilized religious and political opposition.71 In the case of Lambe, the production of the local celebrity exceeds more customary interest in unique personalities or gawking outrage at transgressions of the rich, powerful, or well-placed. The violence of the “boyes of the town”—and the alehouse tippers who would celebrate their deeds and, later, Fenton’s—was undoubtedly political. It is an extreme case that draws into focus how the convergence of media, especially theater, activated forms of collective feeling through particular people. For those in the provinces, it must also have seemed a uniquely London event, and not just because the attack happened outside of one of its famous theaters.

 Cogswell, “John Felton,” 378.  A week after Buckingham’s assassination, Alexander Gil drank to Felton’s health in an Oxford tavern. The incident was reported. Gil was examined by Laud and on November 6, 1628, “the court of Star Chamber sentenced him to be degraded from the ministry, dismissed from his ushership at St Paul’s, deprived of his university degrees, fined £2000, to lose one ear in the pillory at Westminster and the other in Oxford, and to be imprisoned in the Fleet prison at the king’s pleasure.” Gordon Campbell, “Gil, Alexander, the younger (1596/7–1642?),” in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, January 2008 online ed., ed. Lawrence Goldman, (accessed 26 July 2011). 70 71

Robert Armin’s “Blue John,” Early Modern Disability, and the Public Punchline Adhaar Noor Desai

The woodcut on the title-page of The History of the Two Maids of More-­ Clacke (1609) is thought to depict Robert Armin, the play’s author and renowned Shakespearean clown, enacting the role of the play’s apparent star: “Iohn in the Hospitall.”1 In his prefatory epistle to the reader, Armin recounts how the play was “acted by the boyes of the Reuels” and laments how he “would haue againe inacted Iohn” himself if he had been able. John, Armin reveals, was his “old acquaintance, Iack, whose life I knew, and whose remembrance I presume by appearance likely.”2 Sandra L. Dahlberg and Peter H. Greenfield report that John in the Hospital might have been 1  Robert Armin, “The History of the two Maids of More-clacke [London: Printed by N(icholas) O(kes), 1609],” The Collected Works of Robert Armin, vol. 2, ed. J. P. Feather (New York: Johnson Reprint Corporation, 1972). All citations to Armin’s works will be to page signatures. 2  Armin, Maids, sig. ¶2r.

A. N. Desai (*) Bard College, Annandale-On-Hudson, NY, USA e-mail: [email protected] © The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2021 A. K. Deutermann et al. (eds.), Publicity and the Early Modern Stage, Early Modern Cultural Studies 1500–1700,




a certain John Smith admitted to Christ’s Hospital in 1570 and who lived thereabouts until 1593, and they suggest that Armin may have encountered him while serving as an apprentice goldsmith in the early 1580s.3 Armin likely began doing his impression of his “old acquaintance” for some time before The Two Maids was published, for he reports that he was often “requested both of Court and Citty, to shew him in priuate” and consequently decided to “haue therfore printed him in publike.” Before The Two Maids, Armin had already “printed him in publike” among the six “fools” he documented in the anonymously authored Foole vpon Foole (1600). This collection of brief representative anecdotes about different styles of fool was reprinted in 1605 and subsequently expanded upon and given Armin’s authorial imprimatur in 1608 as A Nest of Ninnies. In these books, John in the Hospital exemplifies a “very fool,” and Armin begins his verse portrait of John in Foole vpon Foole by undermining the need for one: “What need description in so plaine a creature / Knowne to all London since he liu’d so late.” The verses add that “euery boy knew him in his estate” and that “Iohn was a very foole that all men knowes,” signaling both how John lives not just in Armin’s “remembrance” but in everyone’s, and that John’s most distinguishing feature was his cognitive disability. Despite stressing this universal familiarity, Armin then proceeds to itemize John’s identifying features: “Flat cap, blew coate, and I[n]ckorne by his side,” “blacke beard,” “his head / Lay on his shoulder still, as sicke and sad.”4 How John Smith, or John in the Hospital, became Armin’s “Blue John” was thus a consequence of his “blew coate,” a costume derived from the school uniform of the “blue coat boys” at Christ’s Hospital, and the stigmatizing quality distinguishing him from the other boys: his reputation as a “very fool.” (Fig. 1). In both his foolsbooks and his play, Armin appears intent on consolidating Blue John’s local fame in order to augment his own.5 He concludes 3  Sandra L. Dahlberg and Peter H. Greenfield, “‘To stirre vp liuing mens minds to the like good’: Robert Armin, John in the Hospital, and the Representation of Poverty,” Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England 29 (2016): 46–67. 4  Robert Armin, “Foole vpon Foole [London, 1600],” The Collected Works of Robert Armin, vol. 1, ed. J. P. Feather (New York: Johnson Reprint Corporation, 1972). All citations will be to page signatures; sig. Fr. 5  Nora Johnson argues that in the process of translating John in the Hospital’s behaviors into theatrical and textual performances, Armin’s authorial individuation consists “almost entirely of the dazzling ability to bridge, as a single author-performer, the gap between local pleasures, in a particularly naive form, and professional, institutionalized skill.” Nora Johnson, The Actor as Playwright in Early Modern Drama (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 45. Richard Preiss similarly argues that Armin’s goal in his foolsbooks “is not



Fig. 1  Title page of The History of the Two Maids of More-clacke. Image from Robert Armin, The History of the Two Maids of More-clacke (London: Nicholas Okes, 1609), ¶1r,  STC 773.  Used by permission of the Folger Shakespeare Library.



his stories about Blue John in Foole vpon Foole by noting that “his beard was full of white hayres, as his picture in Christes Hospitall (nowe to bee séene) can witnesse,” and complains that since his friend “is but with no Epitaph” he will provide one: Heere vnder sleeps blew Iohn, that giues Foode to feede wormes, yet he not liues: You that passe by, looke at his graue, And say your selues the like must haue. Wise men and fooles, all one end makes, Gods will be done, who giues and takes.6

Presenting John as a consumable object for worms and passersby alike, Armin makes him portable, digestible, and appropriable—“the Citties charge” redeposited into the local fund. Richard Preiss pointedly notes that Armin renders John’s epitaph “on a printed page rather than stone,” while Dahlberg and Greenfield see the portrait as “complement[ing] the picture of John Smith that hung in Christ’s Hospital, thus preserving visual and verbal memory of the innocent, natural fool.”7 Armin’s epitaph foreshadows this project of dispersal by invoking Erasmian notions of universal folly, instructing that all who look upon John’s grave “the like must haue” and that “Wise men and fooles” compound into the same final substance. A crucial distinction, however, is that Armin does not affiliate folly with human nature, but rather locates it within individuals. The “universal fool” now claims a familiar name and a set of traits that could be imitated by “artificial clowns” or even just idle boys playing in the street. As Patrick McDonagh argues, Armin participated in stamping folly “directly upon the natural fools living in the towns and villages of England,” thereby directly participating in the processes by which the “natural fool” would become commodified, objectified, and consigned to to channel these historical figures, but to amalgamate them, to refine their collective personae into a textual mode of being.” Preiss, “Robert Armin Do the Police in Different Voices,” From Performance to Print in Shakespeare’s England, ed. Peter Holland and Stephen Orgel (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006): 208–227, 201. Dahlberg and Greenfield claim that Armin developed “a recurring and beloved character” that could “disarm early modern stereotypes of poverty,” but also observe that what Armin “most wanted to preserve was John’s powerful presence as an emblem” (emphasis mine). Dahlberg and Greenfield, “‘To stirre vp liuing mens minds to the like good,’” 47, 58, 63. 6  Armin, Foole vpon Foole, sig. F4r. 7  Preiss, “Robert Armin Do the Police,” 201; Dahlberg and Greenfield, “‘To stirre vp liuing mens minds to the like good,’” 62.



institutional regimes of rehabilitation and sequestration.8 “Blue John” thus emerges as Robert Armin’s instrument for creating communal fun out of the early modern public’s spectatorship of disability. Perceiving Blue John—as opposed to the historical personage known as John in the Hospital—as an element of Armin’s repertoire, I argue that Armin put a construction of disability to work as a communally constituted entertainment whereby anxieties about cognitive precarity could be processed and defused. This entertainment, “Blue John,” might consequently be best understood as what I will call a public punchline. I define the public punchline as a memetic representation emerging at the intersection of character, celebrity, and joke. The components of this definition collectively endeavor to capture the idea of someone who stands in as the object of a whole community’s ongoing ridicule. Perhaps the most sneakily famous public punchline in European history is the medieval Scottish scholastic philosopher, John Duns Scotus, whose name slid into our vocabulary, by way of other philosophers’ disdain, as the word “dunce” and as a literal costume prop, the dunce cap.9 This literal characterization—a reduction of a person to the status of a derogatory word and image—indexes an extreme case of how public punchlines make individuals idiomatic and memetic. According to Limor Shifman, memes are “(a) a group of items sharing common characteristics of content, form, and/or stance; (b) that were created with awareness of each other; and (c) were circulated, imitated, and/or transformed via the Internet by many users.”10 In place of the Internet, my analysis substitutes early modern theatrical culture, which engaged intertheatrical associations, transmedia resonances, and textual fluidity to both reflect and promote a culture of appropriation in early modern London.11 Within this culture, Blue John is recognizable 8  Patrick McDonagh, Idiocy: A Cultural History (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2008), 148–149. 9  For more on dunce caps, see Heather A. Weaver, “Object lessons: a cultural genealogy of the dunce cap and the apple as visual tropes of American education,” Paedagogica Historica, 48.2 (2012): 215–241. 10  Limor Shifman, Memes in Digital Culture (Boston, MA: The MIT Press, 2014), 7–8. 11  For more on intertheatricality, see William N. West, “Intertheatricality,” in Early Modern Theatricality, ed. Henry S. Turner (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), 151–172. For the intersections of theatrical speech and printed woodcuts, see Holger Schott Syme, “The Look of Speech,” Textual Cultures 2.2 (2007): 34–60. For more on memes and early modern literature, see Katie Sisneros, “Early Modern Memes: The Reuse and Recycling of Woodcut in 17th Century English Popular Print,” The Public Domain Review, 6 June 2018,



as an “impression,” a character pressed into reproducible and intelligible collection of traits.12 Unlike Theophrastic characters based on social types, however, public punchlines are appropriations and embellishments of real, identifiable source material. They are thus like characters in a history play or like The Roaring Girl’s Moll Frith, but their familiarity operates through the mechanisms by which, according to Fred Inglis, “celebrity has largely replaced the archaic concept of renown.” As fame became “a much more transitory reward” in early modernity due to increasing democratization, individualism, and media communication, “public acclaim” changed “from an expression of devotion into one of celebrity.”13 Unlike both historical figures and celebrities, however, public punchlines only have one function: eliciting laughter. While Richard Dyer notes that stars and celebrities are usually “involved in making themselves into commodities” and “made for profit,” the public punchline is made by others at its object’s expense. For Joseph Roach, celebrity is akin to a “public trust or utility, like the statuary on courthouses and city halls” as well as to “a mobile and dynamic” force, “like electricity.”14 The public punchline similarly articulates the values of a community, but it does so not from the city hall but from outside its walls. Punchlines typically function by jarring listeners out of their prevailing assumptions by enacting a reversal or surprise, such that “the recipient [of a joke] has to cancel one interpretation and substitute the ‘correct’ one.”15 A personified punchline, then, might be understood as someone who has already been branded incongruous. In accordance cling-of-woodcuts-in-17th-century-english-popular-print/ I find Blue John akin to the “how-de-do man” Christopher Marsh tracks traversing numerous woodcuts of broadside ballad title-pages, arguing that “repeated exposure to the same characters in different settings seems to have enabled the gradual emergence of picture-personalities that were surprisingly complex and rounded.” Marsh, “A Woodcut and Its Wanderings in Seventeenth-Century England,” Huntington Library Quarterly 79.2 (2016): 245–262, 262. 12  Character in the early modern theater functioned as a multimodal cultural composite, as something audiences participated in making and re-making along with actors and playwrights. Harry Newman reads Caius Martius as such a composite creature in Coriolanus “marked by his cultural production, an artificial entity crafted to make an impression on audiences.” Newman, “‘The Stamp of Martius’: Commoditized Character and the Technology of Theatrical Impression in Coriolanus,” Renaissance Drama 45.1 (2017): 51–80, 53. 13  Fred Inglis, A Short History of Celebrity (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010), 4–5. 14  Joseph Roach, “It,” Theatre Journal 56.4 (2004): 555–568, 561–562. 15  Michael Billig, Laughter and Ridicule: Towards a Social Critique of Humour (London: Sage Publications Ltd., 2005), 66.



with the “superiority thesis” of laughter, it becomes a mechanism for naming specific modes of otherness.16 In the communities around Christ’s Hospital, the celebrity-character known as Blue John circulated as a very specific sort of memetic joke, and through it we might apprehend how intellectual disability was rendered interpretable in early modern England. My analysis thus builds on Katherine Schaap William’s claim that Shakespeare’s Richard III “relies upon the multiple significations of his deformities as a technology of performance.”17 Just as Richard III stages “a frenzy of interpretive fervor about what Richard’s body really means,” I propose that Armin’s rendering of Blue John as a public punchline treats intellectual disability as an ambiguous spectacle through which early modern London rehearsed the limits of cognitive normativity.18 Performed within the play both by Armin and by another character, Tutch (also likely performed by Armin), Blue John superimposes the confusion intellectual disability provoked in early modern Londoners with the confusions sometimes promoted by theater itself.19 Armin’s The Two Maids involves metatheatrical performance in multiple registers: Blue John is an “entertainment” within the world of the play in the same manner that he serves as entertainment for Armin’s London audiences, and some scenes in which he appears are blatantly reproductions of comic scenarios the audience might have already seen

16  F. H. Buckley, advancing an argument for the “superiority thesis,” diagrams the scene of laughter as coordinating the wit, the listener, and the butt in a contest of domination. We use laughter to “demonstrate durable preferences of loyalty or disloyalty to others” because “[j]oke telling is a means of sniffing out friends.” Buckley, The Morality of Laughter (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2003), 5, 183–184. Billig similarly concludes that “ridicule lies at the core of social life, for the possibility of ridicule ensures that members of society routinely comply with the customs and habits of their social milieu” (Billig, Laughter and Ridicule, 2). Jure Gantar, searching mostly in vain for “a perfectly ethical laughter” that cannot be mistaken for cruelty, observes that ridicule emerges from “one’s ability to detect difference” and also “perform its alterity to everyone else.” Gantar, The Pleasure of Fools: Essays in the Ethics of Laughter (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2005), 71. 17  Katherine Schaap Williams, “Enabling Richard: The Rhetoric of Disability in Richard III,” Disability Studies Quarterly 29.4 (2009), view/997/1181. Williams builds off of Lennard J. Davis’s “The End of Identity Politics: On Disability as an Unstable Category,” The Disability Studies Reader, 4th ed., ed. Lennard J. Davis (New York: Routledge, 2013), 263–278. 18  Williams, “Enabling Richard,” para. 1. 19  See William N.  West, “‘But this will be a mere confusion’: Real and Represented Confusions on the Elizabethan Stage,” Theatre Journal 60.2 (2008): 217–233.



Armin, or John himself, perform.20 Armin, sensing in the confusions of theater fodder for clowning, “deployed” Blue John, to borrow Michael Bérubé’s term, as a device both incidental to the plot and essential to the comic structure of the play.21 Bérubé sensitively elucidates how metafictional experiments—Don Quixote’s infamous textual self-reflexivity, for example—“open onto stunning spatiotemporal vistas that exceed ordinary human comprehension (and can be accessed only by extraordinary human comprehension).” By examining “the very nature and purpose of selfconsciousness,” such texts may encourage audiences to “think about our social relations with humans of all varieties and capacities.”22 A generous reading of Armin’s use of Blue John in this vein might perceive him reveling in the various humiliations early modern Londoners could feel in encounters with the cognitively disabled, making a joke on their assumptions rather than on Blue John. More realistically, however, Blue John’s existence as a punchline depended not upon provoking self-reflexive metacognition but upon the “creative reappropriation of multiple modes of communication” Ryan M. Milner identifies as central to memetic transmission.23 Propagating a meme means claiming parts of it for your own novel purposes, and Armin evidently saw value, in the form of publicity, in audiences redistributing intellectual disability in the shape of a character they could contribute to constructing. Each person who invoked Blue John consequently advanced a mixed imitation both of Armin and of John in the Hospital’s intellectual disability. As with most memes, this representation of John became part of an ongoing social conversation that inevitably abandoned its point of origin. In what follows, I retrace how Armin exploited the memetic potential of the public punchline as a character, celebrity, and a joke. The first section below, “Disability Jokes and Theatrical Memes,” contextualizes 20  For discussion of the ways theatrical space both re-created and diverged from scenes of everyday life, see Lauren Coker, “Boy Actors and Early Modern Disability Comedy in The Knight of the Burning Pestle and Epicoene,” Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism 31.1 (2016): 5–21. 21  Michael Bérubé, The Secret Life of Stories (New York: New York University Press, 2016). 22  Ibid., 159–160. 23  Memetic media “are unique for their multimodality (their expression in multiple modes of communication), their reappropriation (their ‘poaching’ of existing texts), their resonance (their connections to individual participants), their collectivism (their social creation and transformation), and their spread (their circulation through mass networks).” Milner, The World Made Meme: Public Conversations and Participatory Media (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2016), 5.



Armin’s representations of “natural fools” like Jack Miller and John in the Hospital in his foolsbooks and in The Two Maids of More-clacke. To become a public punchline, Blue John had to grow larger than life, so to speak, or at least larger than the contours of character understood, to borrow Theodor Adorno’s phrase reflecting on Henri Bergson’s theory of laughter, as a “rigidified personality pattern.”24 The creation of Blue John consequently entailed not just the media that typically undergird theatricality—scripts, props, costuming, gestures—but also media environments that we do not usually consider alongside drama, such as woodcuts, portraits, landmarks, and local anecdotes. Apprehending Blue John less as a character than as a shared resource, I argue that his popularity as a “fool” rested upon an early modern construction of disabled persons as recipients of public largess who nevertheless repay the public as personified civic spectacles. In his apparent imitability, he reveals how disabled people were at once objects of keen fascination—what Pamela Allen Brown describes as Tudor “Bad Fun”—but were also held in suspicion for being “sturdy beggars.”25 As Lindsey Row-Heyveld observes, “[p]hysical impairment became the primary attribute deserving of charity and, simultaneously, the primary characteristic to invite suspicion about the need for such charity.”26 Examining how Armin’s foolsbooks folded “natural fools” into theatrical culture, conflating their ambiguous spectacularity with that of metatheater, I suggest that Blue John stretches intertheatricality into the horizon of expectations that attend celebrities who take on new roles as well as into the “enormous reservoir” of extant materials and patterns that mark jokes as “social events” that are “not thought up by any one person, but…told again and again and continuously redesigned in the interaction.”27 What Armin makes of Blue John indicates that theatrical characters did not necessarily need to be delimited by parts, actors’ bodies, or even the  Theodor W. Adorno, The Stars Down to Earth (New York: Routledge, 1994), 106.  Pamela Allen Brown, “Bad Fun and Tudor Laughter,” in A Companion to Tudor Literature, ed. Kent Cartwright (Malden, MA: Wile-Blackwell, 2010), 324–338, 328, 335. For more on the sturdy beggar, see Dahlberg and Greenfield, “‘To stirre vp liuing mens minds to the like good,’” 57–58 and William C.  Carroll, Fat King, Lean Beggar: Representations of Poverty in the Age of Shakespeare (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1996), 39–47. 26  Lindsey Row-Heyveld, Dissembling Disability in Early Modern English Drama (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018), 9. 27  Giselinde Kuipers, Good Humor, Bad Taste: A Sociology of the Joke (New York: Mouton de Gruyter, 2006), 6. 24 25



duration of a “play.” The boundaries of such characters could be continually reshaped within a public imaginary through even the most rudimentary forms of “popular” theater.28 Attending to the sprawling reach of such a character thus requires looking beyond an individual artifact and, indeed, making some educated guesses about how an idea propagated and modulated between its iterations (in the same way we might make guesses when puzzled by an unfamiliar image macro emblazoned with slang we do not recognize). In light of this, the chapter’s concluding section, “Everybody’s Fool,” returns to The Two Maids of More-clacke to examine how the play itself represents the thinly dispersed nature of Blue John. In Armin’s terminology, Blue John appears on stage both as a “natural” fool performed by an “artificial” fool (Armin), and, by the play’s end, as a natural fool performed by an artificial fool (Tutch) who is himself being performed by an artificial fool (Armin). By recirculating Blue John as a role, disability becomes something Armin participates in assigning to people who may be laughed at, making it something imitable and so self-­ consciously never fully possessed. Moreover, by making cognitive disability the butt of the play’s joke, Armin makes Blue John, a character largely irrelevant to the incoherent plot, the play’s organizing conceit. His ambiguous reproducibility makes Blue John available to everyone who is “in” on the joke, allowing a donut-shaped community to coalesce around him despite simultaneously excluding him.

Disability Jokes and Theatrical Memes Classical theories of laughter regarded “deformity” and “error” as its catalyst, paving the way for disability to become a conventional subject of ridicule. As disability theorist Tom Shakespeare observes, Freud’s Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious “itself opens with a disability joke.”29 Shakespeare finds continuity between disability and racist and xenophobic humor, noting that the “the disabled fool or clown is part of a pattern of cultural representation which always maintains physically different people as other, as alien, as the object of curiosity or hostility or pity, rather than 28  As Stephen Purcell observes, “[v]irtually every popular theatre form draws attention to the concrete elements of its own production: masks, puppets, audience interaction, spectacle, technique, physical risk.” Purcell, Popular Shakespeare: Simulation and Subversion on the Modern Stage (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), 13. 29  Tom Shakespeare, “Joking a Part,” Body & Society 5.4 (1999): 47–52, 48.



as part of the group.”30 An example of a public punchline explicitly centered on disability is the regrettable proliferation of “Helen Keller Jokes” since the 1980s in America.31 Students in mid-century America read Keller’s autobiography in school, and the normalization of Helen Keller Jokes apparently spiked after the Education for All Handicapped Children Act impelled the introduction of disabled children into schools nationwide in 1975. In 1979, a presentation of William Gibson’s The Miracle Worker on NBC apparently enabled many schoolchildren and puerile adults to take up specific details for improvisational use: as Mac Barrick points out, “the garden-house scene in the play is an obvious source” for a string of jokes involving Keller’s presumed difficulty navigating rearranged furniture.32 The public’s willingness to laugh at Keller might be understood, at least in part, through Henri Bergson’s theory of laughter, which itself crudely appraised “hunchbacks” as comic for possessing “a deformity that a normally built person could successfully imitate.”33 For Bergson, the comic derives from “inelasticity,” and so he claims that laughter may be regarded as a “social gesture” that “restrains eccentricity” by inspiring fear and so “pursues a utilitarian aim of general improvement.”34 Bergson also recognized the evacuation of serious emotions from laughter, a point John Morreall extends by observing that when we laugh, we “are not serious, not concerned about dangers and opportunities, and not prepared to act.”35 This disengagement makes laughter a “play signal”: a way to signal communal movement away from earnest deliberation. It is in this light that Shakespeare recommends humor as a means for disabled people to build “a rapport which enables communication to overcome stigma” while also recognizing that “[t]he radical disability comedian makes jokes about disabling encounters and environments, not disabled people.”36 We  Shakespeare, “Joking a Part,” 49.  Mac E.  Barrick, “The Helen Keller Joke Cycle,” The Journal of American Folklore 93.370 (1980): 441–449, 447. Disclaimer: Barrick’s article includes many examples of these (e.g., “Q: How did Helen Keller burn her face? / A: Answering the iron”) and other offensive jokes, often without critical contextualization. 32  Ibid., 445. 33  Henri Bergson, Laughter: An Essay on the Meaning of the Comic, trans. Cloudesley Brereton and Fred Rothwell (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1914), 23. 34  Ibid., 20. 35  Ibid., 4; see also John Morreall, Comic Relief: A Comprehensive Philosophy of Humor (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), 28–39, esp. 32. 36  Shakespeare, “Joking a Part,” 50, 52. 30 31



know this today as a matter of “punching up”; a joke about the circumstances that impeded or underestimated Helen Keller functions differently than one that mocks her impairments.37 The latter case rests upon identifying and amplifying difference. In this section, I explain how for those who knew, or knew of, John in the Hospital, Armin’s impression translated him into a joke with which they could all affiliate through imitation. Through the distancing inherent to the act of imitation, they could thereby affirm their disidentification with what they perceived as his disability. But what did it even mean to joke about disability prior to the existence of disability as a category of identity? Lennard J. Davis notes that disability as an identity category did not fully emerge until the eighteenth century, perceiving instead in early modern England discourses of deformity, monstrosity, and folly.38 Row-Heyveld shows, however, that with the Poor Laws instituted in the 1530s, “the government legally defined the parameters of disability in order to distinguish between people who were willing but unable to work—the deserving poor—and people who were able but unwilling to work—the undeserving poor.” These reforms “linked the definition of disability to social welfare, rather than a specific physical condition.”39 The origin of Blue John’s name thus reflects an affiliation between disability and civic charity. John Stow tells us that the school at Christ’s Hospital was founded in 1552 by Henry VIII so that “poor fatherless children be there brought up and nourished at the charges of the citizens.” The children apparently wore a livery of “russett cotton” at first, but by 1553 wore a blue uniform and continued to do so in perpetuity.40 Thus, the first thing any Londoner encountering Blue John would have noted was that he was a beneficiary of their collective charity. A Nest of Ninnies, Armin’s reissuing of Foole upon Foole, replaces the verse introduction with a framing device wherein the fools appear to a “Cinnick” in a 37  Peter C.  Kunze notes that the “simplistic representation” we have come to know as “Helen Keller,” both as the subject of jokes and as an inspirational icon, reaffirms a dehumanized understanding of disability and affirms the “hegemony of normalcy.” Kunze, “What We Talk about When We Talk about Helen Keller: Disabilities in Children’s Biographies,” Children’s Literature Association Quarterly 38.3 (2013): 304–318, 315, 316. 38  Lennard J. Davis, Bending over Backwards: Disability, Dismodernism, and other Difficult Positions (New York: New York University Press, 2002), 52. 39  Lindsey Row-Heyveld, Dissembling Disability, 7, 9, 16. 40  John Stow, A Survey of London, written in the year 1598, ed. William J.  Thoms, esq. (London: Whittaker & Co., 1842), 184, 119.



looking glass; Blue John appears once more with his distinguishing features as “one all in blew, carrying his neck on the one side, looking sharply, drawing the leg after him in a strange manner.” He also reaffirms Blue John’s civic embeddedness: “Flat capt still in view, The Citties charge many knew.”41 While disability was “constituted partly by the practical need for care that some kinds of impairment suggested,” as Anu Korhonen notes, it was also constituted “by the discursive work performed within the various genres of text and speech that discussed disability.”42 Though laughing at the disabled was frowned upon in etiquette guides and by moral authorities throughout the Renaissance, jest-books and literature from the period appear to rely on such joke-work to vent socially unacceptable behavior.43 These texts, Korhonen suggests, afford a “grass-roots level of understanding disability.”44 The “natural” fool—traditionally an entertainment for wealthy elites— was reconstructed for the early modern public through media appropriation, as most people could not afford to subsidize their own cruel diversions. The sense of humor informing works like Armin’s can be traced back to texts like the Narrenschiff, a collection of woodcuts and moral instruction translated into English by Alexander Barclay in 1509 and reissued in England in 1570. As Brown notes, “while the texts are full of stern finger-wagging relieved by earthy humor and authorial humility, most of the woodcuts are engagingly comic and crudely violent.”45 Tim Stainton also points to these texts in finding the fool emerging as a class of people reserved for ridicule in the sixteenth century: “While the artificial fool was a common feature in medieval art and literature, the actual representation of people with intellectual and other disabilities was rare… In the sixteenth 41  Robert Armin, “A Nest of Ninnies [London, 1608],” The Collected Works of Robert Armin, vol. 1, ed. J. P. Feather (New York: Johnson Reprint Corporation, 1972). All citations will be to page signatures; sig. Gr. 42  Anu Korhonen, “Disability Humor in English Jestbooks of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries,” Cultural History 3.1 (2014): 27–53. 43  Sidney’s Defence of Poesy notably cites Aristotle in this respect, regarding the “scornful tickling” of laughter: “And the great fault even in that point of laughter, and forbidden plainly by Aristotle, is that they stir laughter in sinful things, which are rather execrable, or miserable, which are rather to be pitied than scorned. For what is it to make folks gape at a wretched beggar and a beggarly clown […]?” Sidney, “The Defence of Poesy,” in Sir Philip Sidney: The Major Works, ed. Katherine Duncan-Jones (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002): 212–251, 245. 44  Korhonen, “Disability Humor,” 46. 45  Brown, “Bad Fun and Tudor Laughter,” 335.



century, however, we begin to see an increase in ‘realistic’ representations of natural folly and other disabilities, often as the physical embodiment of human depravity.”46 Armin’s own categorization of “natural” and “artificial” fools in his jestbooks suggests that the former, like Blue John, were “simply simple” and the latter, like Will Summers (and himself), wielded wit in the production of entertainment. Yet like woodcuts, fools of both sorts were appropriable by a public predisposed to see them as commodities. Armin’s revival of Blue John as a useful “natural” fool had its own precedents in the treatment of artificial ones: Will Summers was resurrected by Thomas Nashe in Summers Last Will and Testament (1600), for example, and Richard Tarlton returned in the anonymously authored Tarltons News out of Purgatory (1590). If artificial fools could be reawakened through an imitation of their art, Armin apparently supposed that natural fools, too, could find new life as spectacles—if they could be rendered legible, formalized, and reduced to tropes. Unlike artificial fools, whose trade was improvisation, Armin found in the natural fool an extreme case of comic inelasticity that he could counterpose with his own talents. We might view Armin’s relationship to his “natural fools” alongside Sianne Ngai’s theorization of “zaniness,” a “ludic yet noticeably stressful style” rooted in rapid improvisation. Ngai tracks this aesthetic category’s origins in commedia dell’arte’s stock characters, the zanni, who were “temporary and itinerant workers,” and in Renaissance England’s “zany,” who was a comic performer “working in the marketplace as the assistant of a more skilled or experienced clown, buffoon, or mountebank.”47 While early modern zanies were imitators of other mimes, Armin’s imitation of a “natural fool” complicates this dynamic. The “distinctive mix of displeasure and pleasure” inherent to zaniness, Ngai argues, “stems not only from its projection of a character exerting herself to extreme lengths to perform a job, but also from the way in which it immediately confronts us with our aversion to that character.”48 As an example of zaniness as conflating “occupational” and “cultural” performance, Ngai reads I Love Lucy as dialectically negotiating between the “job incompetence” of its titular character, Lucy Ricardo, and Lucille Ball’s “star image” as a “virtuosic 46  Tim Stainton, “Reason’s Other: the emergence of the disabled subject in the Northern Renaissance,” Disability & Society 19.3 (2004): 225–243, 229. 47  Sianne Ngai, Our Aesthetic Categories: Zany, Cute, Interesting (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012), 8, 192–195. 48  Ibid., 11.



performer utterly expert at quickly learning and adapting to new roles.”49 While Ball emerges as a consummate professional through playing Ricardo, the zaniness of the incompetent character signals post-Fordist conditions of exhausting and dangerous work conditions. Armin’s Blue John is explicitly not zany because, unlike the complex and ill-fated improvisations of Lucy Ricardo, Blue John remains resolutely “simple.” Nevertheless, we can see in Armin’s use of him an amplification of early modern views of cognitive disability’s threat to assumptions about productivity and civic participation. While Armin’s accounts of “natural fools” routinely depict them taking up different jobs—delivery boy, bell ringer, priest—he also makes their stories primarily accounts of foolery. This makes it apparent that we are meant to understand their livelihood as coming not from labor but from an ambivalently administered and transactional form of charity. Like Ngai’s zany, Armin’s disability punchline relied primarily upon the “putting of affect, subjectivity, and sociability to work.”50 Throughout his foolsbooks, Armin relishes the distinction between “natural” and “artificial” fools by thrusting the former into scenarios where they come into close proximity with, or even serve the function of, the latter. In his account of Jack Miller—the only one of the six fools still ostensibly alive at the time of writing Fool vpon Foole—Armin depicts Jack as a theater aficionado whose enthusiasm actually makes him more entertaining to those who would laugh at him: Sing he would much, and speake a Players part, But fire and brimstone was all the words he vs’d: Stut he would much, which made the saddest heart, To laugh out-right they neither will or choos’d. This is Iacke Miller borne in Wostershire, And knowne in London of a number there.”51

In two out of four anecdotes about Jack, Armin underscores his embeddedness in a culture of playing and performance. In the most-cited anecdote from the book, Armin even appears to insert himself as the mysterious “Grumball,” a clown connected, as Armin was, with Lord Chandos’s Men. Apparently, part of Jack’s appeal as a “natural” fool was his aspiration to be more like an “artificial” one, more like Grumball, a “clowne  Ibid., 178–179.  Ibid., 203. 51  Armin, Foole, sig. D3r. 49 50



whome he would imbrace with a ioyfull spirit.” An itinerant spectacle akin to a self-contained playing company, Jack provided pleasure to neighbors by “stutting” through his speeches. When called into noble houses, Armin tells us, “he would imitate playes dooing all himselfe, King, Clowne, Gentleman and all hauing spoke for one, he would sodainly goe in, and againe return for the other, and stambring, so beastly as he did, made mighty mirth.”52 In another anecdote, Jack burns his hair and face attempting to grab a pie out of the oven, and his appearance became “so vgly” that, later on when visiting players were about to begin their performance for the noble house, “the Lady of the Play… no sooner began, but remembring Iacke, laught out, & could goe no further.” Jack was then brought out, singed and smarting, “like balde Time to tel them time was past of his hayre.” His appearance was so remarkable that “his countenance was better then the Play,” suggesting how Jack’s ability to provide entertainment made him unexpectedly valuable to his neighbors by inadvertently replacing the professionals.53 When Lord Chandos’ Men visited and Jack announced that “he would goe all the world with Grumball,” Armin reports that the “gentleman that kept the Hart (an Inne in the towne)…lockt vp Iacke in a chamber… where he might sée the players passe by” because those of the town “loath to loose his company, desired to haue it so.”54 Jack broke free of his locked prison to seek out Grumball, but after he found out that he was to be punished for this behavior, he “entreated Grumball the clowne whom he so deerely loved to whip him but with rosemary, for that he thought wold not smart.” Armin reports that the players did not heed his request; instead, they “breecht him till the bloud came, which he tooke laughing: for it was his manner ever to weepe in kindnes, and laugh in extreames.”55 He concludes the anecdote by placing himself within the action: “that this is true, my eyes were witnesses being then by.” The town of Esom in Worcestershire claimed ownership over their fool and enforced that ownership upon his body. Something between a mascot and a local legend, Jack Miller was both literally and physically conscripted by his neighborhood. While Jack Miller and John in the Hospital were distinct personages, Armin’s treatment of Blue John in The Two Maids of More-clacke  Ibid., sig. D4r.  Ibid. 54  Ibid. 55  Armin, Foole, sig. D4v-Er. 52 53



appears to conflate aspects of both of them in order to render a character that would trigger feelings of familiarity.56 Blue John, too, is regarded as something of a public spectacle and itinerant worker: Armin’s first anecdote about him in the foolsbook involves a wealthy merchant’s son inviting John home to dinner “to make his Father merry.” In The Two Maids, Blue John similarly floats in the background as a promised attraction. Long before he appears on stage, he is asked after: “But say wheres Iohn i’th hospitall, and’s nurse?” inquires Humil, making arrangements for the celebration of his widowed mother’s marriage to Sir William Verger.57 Humil’s premature request makes it seem as if the play knows that audiences, like the attendees at Sir William’s feast, were promised Blue John and might be growing restless. When he finally does arrive, his lateness is playfully remarked upon by Sir William: “How now Iohn? / Tardi venientis Iohn, you must be whip’t.”58 The threat is jocular, but it darkly recalls the fate of Jack Miller after he broke free of his locked prison. The subsequent scene then involves Blue John taking questions from an accompanying blue-coat boy from Christ’s Hospital. Like Jack prompted to “stamber” through players’ speeches, he is pressed to rehearse his greatest hits. The initial stage business featuring Blue John cribs directly from the pages of Foole vpon Foole, wherein his brief stint working for a cobbler is recounted. Armin explains that “Iohn was of this humour: aske him what his coate cost him, he would say a groate: what his cap, hand or shirt cost, all was a groate, aske what his beard cost, and still a groate.”59 The anecdote that follows: a cobbler having completed work mending a pair of boots for a payment of twelve pounds gave his product to John to deliver. John, encountering “a country fellow that knew him not” in the street, who asked him how much the boots cost, predictably answered a groat. Armin then explains that “Iohn who vsed to take a groate of M. Deane. [Dean Nowell of St. Paul’s Cathedral] and would carry it to his Nurse, did so now with his money”—both signaling that John’s livelihood came not from cobbling but from the church, and also that John essentially and inadvertently robbed the cobbler, and not for as much as he likely could have. In The Two Maids, Armin takes this story, popularized either because 56  Felver notes, for example, how “Armin fused the singing fool Jack Miller with Blue John in the Two Maids, for in Foole Upon Foole there is no mention of Blue John’s ability to sing” (36). 57  Armin, Maids, sig. A2v. 58  Ibid., sig. B4r. 59  Armin, Foole, sig. F2v.



the audience already knew it well or because Foole upon Foole saw reprintings, and makes it into a bland gag: Boy.   Where ha you been Iacke? Ioh.   At Powles friend. Boy.   Who saw you there? Ioh.  Mr. Deane Nowel, O hee’s a good man truly. Boy.   What did a giue thee Iack? Ioh.   A groat, looke here else. Boy.    What wil’t do with it? [Ioh.]    Carri’t home to my Nurse.60

In order to laugh at this exchange, which both Armin’s theatrical audience and the guests at Sir William Verger’s wedding presumably did, we must already have familiarity with Blue John. So far, the joke is merely that the character on stage is recognizably Blue John, not that he is doing anything particularly comic. The allusion to Nowell, a prominent Londoner, further tethers Blue John to familiar times and places; Armin’s details check all the boxes. As Blue John’s introductory scene continues, Armin again returns to the well of well-tested antics and affirms John’s reverberation throughout London. In Foole vpon Foole, he tells of John’s fascination with ringing the bell at Christ’s Church: Gaffer Homes being Sexton of Christes church, would often let Iohn a work to towle the bel to Prayers or burials, wherin he delighted much: it chaunced so that comming through the church, and hauing nothing to do, séeing the bell so easie to be come by, towles it: the people (as the custome is) repayres to church (as they vsed) to knowe for whome it was: Iohn he answers them stil for his Nurses Chicken: in this manner, wherefore towles the Bell Iohn? I knowe not: when dyed he? euen now. Who Iohn who? my Nurses chickin quoth hee and laughes: this iest was knowne to euery neighbor there abouts, who sent to bid him leaue towling, but it was his custome not till Goodman Homes tooke the rope from him, that gaue the rope to him, though Goodman Homes gaue him on rope, he had forgotten that Iackes witte was not so good to remember any thing.

 Armin, Maids, sig. B4r-v.




Well there stood Iacke towling from foure a clock to six, Goodman Homes being from home, who was not a little vext at Iohns dilligence, but he layde the rope euer after where Iohn could not reach it.61

The setup of this story follows the pattern of one of Armin’s fools arriving to create unexpected and absurd outcomes. Here, Blue John’s proclivity to repeat actions that he perceives as giving delight are a source of amusement and the provocation for a ludicrous public ritual. In the play, the adventure with the church-bell is merely invoked, and Blue John is portrayed less as an enthusiastic child and more as a caricature of himself: Boy.  Who toles the bell for Iohn? Ioh.  I know not, Iohn toles the bell, a[s] if a pul’d the rope. Boy.  When dide a? Ioh.  Ene now, Boy. Hoo Iacke hoo, Ioh.  My Nurses chickin. Ha, ha, ha.62

Blue John does not even have to ring an actual bell for the joke to land; he merely makes the sign, reinforcing the repetitiousness for which he was known. We might in Blue John’s behavior read a material metaphor for the radius of the public within which he became a punchline: Blue John resounds as a presence across town. John’s ringing brings the people of the town to the church to discover who had died, but in deflating their expectations by reporting that it was his “Nurses chickin,” Blue John exposes himself as a nuisance—a spam email sent to an entire listserv. If we read the ringing of a bell as equating Blue John with the “impression” model of broadcasting, which is rooted in “how many people see a particular bit of media,” what actually happens as a consequence of these impressions translates Blue John from a unidirectional signal into a piece of spreadable, sharable content. That is, he becomes content that “audiences may circulate for different purposes, inviting people to shape the context of the material as they share it within their social circles.”63 He does not actually become a social irritant, as it turns out; his messages are  Armin, Foole, sig. F2v.  Armin, Maids, sig. B4v. 63  Henry Jenkins, Sam Ford, and Joshua Green, Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture (New York: New York University Press, 2013), 4, 6. 61 62



neither blocked nor automatically deleted. His behavior becomes a “iest” that “was knowne to euery neighbor there abouts,” and while he is mildly resented, his mistakes are excused and even translated into popular anecdotes. Armin, obviously, went on to make use of them in both his foolsbook and his play. Milner points out that memes propagate by way of a “multimodal grammar” that takes up and jettisons certain constitutive elements while balancing novelty with recognizability; they “may be stronger when transformative practices allow individual variations on collective premises, even at the cost of fidelity.”64 Audiences familiar with the punchline would thus be able to tell what a Blue John would or would not be capable of, and how he might react in certain situations, granted merely the glimmer of some touchstone traits. In this way, the figure functions in a manner similar to how Nora  Johnson describes celebrity clowns like “Tarlton” or “Kemp” or “Will Summers” functioning: “the theatrical clown becomes himself a kind of communal possession, a name invoked for other purposes and other meanings.”65 A clown, Johnson observes, convenes a peculiar kind of entertainment; his “name becomes attached to a whole cultural construction, an agreement to make comedy together and to find that comedy funny in part because it bears the name attributed to prior performances.”66 Crucially, Blue John is not in himself a clown, but an element of a clown’s repertoire. Just as audiences are enabled to take one of the clown’s jokes and rehearse it in private, away from the stage, they are also implicitly encouraged to take Blue John out for a spin. The fool’s subsequent appearances  in the play even envision what this could look like—what it would mean for others to take Armin’s punchline and run with it. In order to understand how this happens, however, it will be necessary to situate Blue John within the dizzying ambages of The History of the Two Maids of More-clacke.

Everybody’s Fool Blue John’s next appearance, which marks the point when he and his accompanying nurse take their leave of Sir William Verger, reduces him to little more than a sideshow. The blue-coat boy who accompanied him to  Milner, The World Made Meme, 65.  Johnson, The Actor as Playwright, 26. 66  Ibid., 25. 64 65



the feast now greets him by pointing out his snot by way of an analogy locals would recognize: “Now my Iohn iuggler, your nose is like Lothbery conduit, that alwaies runs waste.”67 He then persuades Blue John into playing a game of “counter-hole i’th cloister.” When the fool laments that he has no counters, the boy offers to trade him one for one of the “points” holding up his stockings. After he loses the first round, the boy offers another trade for the other, and the result, somewhat opaque in the printed text, is nevertheless predictable: John’s pants fall down. While this story does not draw on anything recognizable in Fool vpon Foole, Armin does establish there that he had “A nurse to tend to him, and put on his cloathes.”68 The events, moreover, are recognizable within the flexible pattern Armin has set for Blue John’s behavior, or which has already been socially inscribed within a collection of communally shared reminiscences. This flexible pattern points to a desire to please and play—and laugh— along with his audience, a penchant for repetition, and a misunderstanding of cause and effect when applied across situations that are not obviously and concretely linked to one another. Blue John needed “points” to play “counter-hole,” which makes him forget that his points are necessary to hold up his hose. In order to complete one task, he torpedoes others he might already be undertaking; his failure to deliver the cobbler’s shoes fits the same logic. By sketching out a loose pattern of behavior, Armin transformed Blue John into a platform for ridicule, navigating the fine line between accuracy in representation and radical appropriation. Here we might borrow Jean Burgess’s description of viral videos as “carriers for ideas that are taken up in practice within social networks, not as discrete ‘texts’ that are ‘consumed’ by isolated individuals or unwitting masses,” but as a set of tacit instructions. The propagation of viral videos thus entails a “‘copy the instructions’, rather than ‘copy the product’ model of replication and variation.”69 Armin’s Blue John, then, might be understood as “instructions” that elicit novel contexts for humor, in the same way that Helen Keller jokes situate their subject in novel contexts wherein her impairments can be exploited. Like a piece of narrowly circumscribed fan fiction,  Armin, Maids, sig. C3r.  Armin, Foole, sig. Fr. 69  Jean Burgess, “‘All Your Chocolate Rain Are Belong to Us’?: Viral Video, YouTube and the Dynamics of Participatory Culture,” in Video Vortex Reader: Responses to Youtube, INC reader #4, ed. Geert Lovink and Sabine Niederer (Amsterdam: Institute of Network Cultures, 2008), 101–109, 108. 67 68



Blue John becomes a pre-built punchline to an infinite horizion of new set-ups. Armin, too, riffs on Blue John in a way that stretches his behavior into new contexts, but the punchline rests on a set of instructions that can be reapplied with a remarkable degree of flexibility. Whenever you need someone ridiculous, Blue John becomes available. As such, the “instructions” of Blue John’s comic nature shape the comic logic of The Two Maids of More-clacke as a whole, effectively centering the play’s comic conceit on Blue John’s own limitations. The History of the Two Maids of More-clacke loosely follows the family of Sir William Verger, who has two daughters, Mary and Tabitha, the eponymous maids. Sir William has recently married the unnamed “Lady,” the supposedly widowed wife of James Humil. James’s son, Humil, is excited about the pairing because he anticipates Mary Verger’s hand in marriage will be easier to secure through filial ties. Mary does not want to marry Humil, however, and instead prefers the city gallant Robert Toures, just as her sister Tabitha prefers Toures’s friend, Filbon. As the play proceeds, it becomes harder to follow, but for our purposes, it is most important to attend to the storyline of the two young couples. After rejecting Humil’s suit of Mary, Sir William, arrogantly hoping for even better matches for his daughters, also disallows them from marrying Toures and Filbon. He tells Toures that Mary will be his only when “when shees dead and liues again” and tells Filbon that “when you are from your selfe a woman, she is yours in marriage.”70 Toures attempts to abscond with Mary by disguising himself as a tinker, a plan which leads to Mary being lost at sea and presumed dead. When she is recovered alive, we and Sir William are led to interpret her as functionally resurrected. In pursuit of Tabitha, Filbon enlists the aid of Tutch, an artificial fool and Sir William’s servant, in order to elope. He does so by presenting himself as a rich Welsh suitor, Sir Robert Morgan. Even after this (mostly) works, Tutch and Filbon dress themselves as Blue John and his Nurse—Filbon playing the woman’s part—and so circuitously also meet Sir William’s terms. The Two Maids, as one critic remarks, “degenerates into episodes which defy credulity,” but our view of the play might change if we read it not for narrative but instead as a vehicle for Armin to exhibit his talents through a cavalcade of roles.71 For example, though Filbon and Tutch disguise  Armin, Maids, sig. C2r.  Harold Newcomb Hillebrand, “The Children of the King’s Revels at Whitefriars,” The Journal of English and Germanic Philology, 21.2 (1922): 318–334, 329. 70 71



themselves as Sir Robert Morgan and his servant in order to persuade Sir William to let Tabitha get married, their execution of this tactic is fundamentally zany. At first, they come in with Tutch pretending to be Morgan: “Enter Tutch like a welch knight, and Filbon as a seruant waiting.”72 When Tabitha worries that she is to be matched to Sir Robert, Tutch and Filbon reveal their deception. She resolves, “A tricke now on my maidenhead, I did mistrust it, Come leaue the rest to me, this Priest shall marry vs incontinent.” The only problem, which Filbon notes, is that Tutch, and not he, was playing the role of Morgan: “I, if I were the Welchman. / Because your father gaue him light thereto. / Therefore come sirha, weele shift clothes.”73 In the next scene, in which they return for the marriage ceremony, the two arrive in each other’s disguises, as reported by a telling stage direction: “Enter in Filbon in welch attire, and Tutch in seruingmans, like one another.”74 This confusing bit of disguising seems excessive, and also somewhat immaterial to the actual conclusion, for Filbon was predicated to win Tabitha, as Sir William demanded, once he was “from [himself] a woman.” Even as narrative padding, why stage the costume swap between Filbon and Tutch at all, other than to allow Tutch (and Armin peeking out from underneath the character) the opportunity to demonstrate his best Welsh accent?75 The episode recalls Jack Miller’s own zany routine, in which “he would sodainly goe in, and againe return” as different characters, again suggesting that “fooling” was a source for mirth regardless of the sense it made. In fact, the senselessness was perhaps the core of the attraction.76 The events of Two Maids might thus be regarded like sketches on a variety show, a clowning showcase threaded together into a loose narrative. As with most jokes, the point of the performance is less its premise than whether most of the punchlines land. In exercising its own license to create fictional people with the slightest of wardrobe or  Armin, Foole, sig. Fr.  Ibid., sig. F3v. 74  Ibid., sig. G2v. 75  As Alexander Liddie concludes, “[b]y this device Armin managed, among other things, to write a play in which there were four different parts for himself, quite a showcase for his versatility.” Armin probably did play John, Tutch, Tutch as Morgan, and, finally, Tutch as John. Liddie, An Old-Spelling, Critical Edition of The History of the Two Maids of MoreClacke (New York: Garland Publishing, 1979), 59. 76  Armin’s transparent self-promotion thus affirms Richard Preiss’s observation that for many playgoers, “the play was what interrupted [the clown]; it was an afterthought, and the clown, the ringmaster who transcended it, was the main attraction.” Richard Preiss, Clowning and Authorship in Early Modern Theatre (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 9. 72 73



gestural tweaks, the play takes advantage of the audience’s willingness to extrapolate personality from a few material loci. It does so in order to use that willingness against them in the generation of surprise and laughter. In this light, the most important costume change in the play—both for this analysis and for the plot—is the one undertaken by Tutch and Filbon when they sneak into Sir William’s feast at the end of the play as Blue John and his nurse. Tutch, as noted, plays Blue John, and so the latter’s final appearance in The Two Maids is not technically an appearance of Armin’s Blue John but of Tutch’s rough mirroring. Armin’s “real” Blue John, we’ll recall, departed shortly after his pants fell down. When the play culminates with another feast at Sir William’s house, Filbon and Tutch gain admittance by relying on Blue John’s unhindered navigation through London’s social life. “Knowing how you affect this ignorant,” Filbon, as the nurse, explains, “I brought him to giue welcome to your guests, / Hearing at London of this preparation.”77 The events are believable, because the figure “knowne to all” in London was welcome into their homes if only for a quick and easy laugh. Sir William, unquestioningly embracing this opportunity, prompts Tutch’s Blue John to relay gossip: “now my suck-egge tell me, what’s the newes at London, you heare all.” The bell-ringer, it turns out, is also a newscaster, but it is quickly apparent that no one expected Blue John to be a reliable source. In his response, Tutch makes Blue John into something of a witty fool: “That honest men want, and knaues get money, I ha nothing, nurse has some, dogs are let loose, and the beares vndone, ha, ha, ha.”78 Imitating Blue John’s earlier self-directed laughter, Tutch stretches the representation by granting him insight about the disparities between the poor and wealthy. Imagine Armin, as Tutch, limping out onstage, head askew, drooling, and costumed precisely as Armin’s Blue John had been earlier. The same actor who had played Blue John now plays him through Tutch’s interpretation of him, and Tutch the “artificial” fool who has been cast aside by his master cannot help but leave his own marks on the representation. The text, moreover, does not make clear to the audience that Filbon and Tutch had been masquerading in these costumes; the deceivers are only unmasked when Tutch confesses afterward, “I plaid but Iohn come kisse me now saies she, I am Tutch your quondam seruant sir.”  Armin, Maids, sig. H3v.  Ibid., sig. H4r.

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Tutch’s quip about his own lack of possessions ends in a bout of defusing and mocking laughter—“ha, ha, ha”—diminishing the seriousness of Blue John’s poverty, and, indirectly, awakening anxieties about the deceptions of sturdy beggars. As the scene progresses, Tutch greets the feast’s guests as “beggers,” prompting Sir William to demand an explanation. He responds, again echoing Blue John’s laugh, that “All the world is so, ha, ha, ha,” prompting an Earl at the feast to affirm, “He sais true, chide him not, we are no lesse.” Like a conventional “artificial fool” exposing everyone else’s folly, Tutch posits that all roles are interchangeable where categories of judgment—“honest men” versus “knaues”— are inconsistent with respect to social treatment. Yet the audience already knows that these words are not coming from Blue John, even if they have not guessed that it is Armin dressed as Tutch. Dahlberg and Greenfield hesitate during this scene, because it “problematizes Armin’s positioning of John’s ‘honest… want’ in contrast to the deceptive motives of sturdy beggars.” They resolve that what “Armin wants to show his audiences is that the existence of counterfeits like Tutch, and himself, should not blind people to the genuine need of the less fortunate among their neighbors.”79 This reading recognizes fundamental ambiguities of dealing with costumed characters that Armin would have recognized, but it does not explain how Armin enables his audience to appreciate “genuine need.” If counterfeits, to use their language, “blind” people to “genuine need,” they also create experiences that collapse distinctions between those who may see through deceptions but fail to do so and those who are in fact incapable of such insight. By reducing a person to an accent and a posture, Armin’s stage discloses— and makes mirth out of—the fact that all that one needs to “pass” for another person are basic props, and it uses the audience’s suspension of disbelief to render the tacit cognitive labor of sociability more immediately legible. In showing that anyone might be identified as Blue John—both via a costume but also because of everyone’s potential for proving foolish—creating Blue John as a stand-in for such folly allowed audiences to distance themselves from him. Even if Armin’s intentions were genuinely oriented toward charity, his approach consequently served mainly to consolidate a notion of intellectual disability that relegated a certain class of people, in this case “very fools,” as de facto civic property disallowed full civic participation.

 Dahlberg and Greenfield, “‘To stirre vp liuing mens minds to the like good,’” 58.




While Armin was flexing his comic muscle by nesting disguises and performances, this approach to characterization amounts to one actor (Armin) demonstrating how the “character” of Blue John’s disability could be made available to others (i.e., Tutch)—because of course any character on stage is merely a costume one might put on. In the same way that Armin would famously take on roles held by Will Kemp, stealing his Dogberry and making it anew, he takes up Blue John’s perceived routines, and then shows that someone else—in this case, another version of himself—could take them up, too.80 Blue John’s public familiarity and rootedness in historical London, then, make him as flatly imitable within the play as the wholly imaginary Sir Robert Morgan, a hollow fiction tossed back and forth as circumstances demanded. Tony D. Sampson’s reevaluation of memetic “virality” underscores that the way memes spread is unlike the propagation of genes, the biological origin undergirding the meme as a metaphor for reproduction. What makes a meme different from a gene, Sampson insists, is that the core of any meme is always absent: “what spreads cannot, beyond analogy, become unitized like a gene or, for that matter, be made concrete. What spreads has no organized unit or molar body. It is independent of a singular mechanism.”81 It is precisely by making Blue John into a memetic joke that Armin evacuates him from the propagation of that joke; after a certain level of iteration and abstraction, in his own “spread” as an idea, the punchline Blue John could even lose his name. When someone is called a “dunce,” a barb is still inadvertently cast at John Duns Scotus, but the target is also marked by the invented category of “dunce” that, in the process, changes its contours to suit the present application. Two Maids concludes by implying just this sort of memetic afterlife for Blue John. At the end of his feast, after all of the plots have been sorted out, Sir William acknowledges his own interpretive limitations in a world founded upon ridicule: Methinkes I haue a tickling in my blood crosses all anger, malediction hence, hence, thou ill temper’d Feare, this comicall euent seasons the true applause; 80  See more on Armin’s relationship to Kemp’s roles in Bart Van Es, “His fellow actors Will Kemp, Robert Armin and other members of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men and the King’s Men,” in The Shakespeare Circle: An Alternative Biography, ed. Paul Edmondson and Stanley Wells (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015), 261–274. 81  Tony D. Sampson, Virality: Contagion Theory in the Age of Networks (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2012), 62.



since welcome is the word, y’faith, I know not what to say, faine I would, & yet a lazy lagging apprehends with doubt, but well I know not what, in me, it lyes to punish or to pardon. I wil be generally laught at, once insooth I will. I am a widdower, gallants, and you meete at marriages, and funerals, so thinke it pray ye, I abridge all complement, barre all opponents, & resolue to fauour you, you, you, and challenge from your loue, perswasion to this purpose, since our fate makes vs the worlds fond Idiot, be it so youth, and your fortune was prodigious to it, and my best of spirit, binds vp in this, all is but thanklesse merit.82

Armin’s prose is characteristically garbled here, but Sir William seems to be resigning himself to the play’s “comicall” conclusion.83 Pointing to his still “lazy lagging” apprehension, he cannot even come to decide “what, in me, it lyes to punish or to pardon.” Regardless of his choice, he realizes that he “wil be generally laught at.” Any action he might take, it seems, would translate him into joke, much like his favorite dinnertime entertainment, “the worlds fond Idiot.” The error Sir William admits in himself is one of thoughtless superficiality, of being unable to perceive and react to more than what is immediately before him. Throughout Armin’s representation of Blue John he similarly presented a degree of circumstantial inflexibility; he is a character who will reliably behave according to set habits, and one who will be unable to grasp multiple threads of attention simultaneously. Ironically, this inflexibility made his comic potential more malleable. If the way theater audiences apprehend character is as a woodblock that can be re-stamped onto different bodies—the slightest of verbal cues, a name, a costume—then the play revels in how anyone might have the costume of the punchline thrust upon them. The “counterfeit-­ disability tradition” in England identified by Row-Heyveld thus “shaped a notion of spectatorship bound between the poles of charity and suspicion.”84 By invoking “folly” as a trait continuous among “natural” fools and those who mistake or misjudge them, but localizing that folly under the name Blue John, Armin affirms a pattern Row-Heyveld identifies in plays from the period: “Characters who respond to counterfeit disability with credulity and charity receive punishment, ranging from  Armin, Foole, sig. I2r.  Johnson perceives that in this moment, Blue John remains on stage, marking the “conversion and communal reconciliation” at the end of the comedy as attached to both the character and to Armin. See The Actor as Playwright, 49. 84  Row-Heyveld, Dissembling Disability, 16. 82 83



mockery to serious public shaming to outright physical harm. Characters that respond to counterfeit disability with suspicion are rewarded socially and often financially and relationally as well.”85 What Sir William describes as a “lazy lagging” apprehension, then, might be unpacked as a remark about impaired interpretive faculties being reliant on prior assumptions to render present circumstances intelligible. Tutch and Filbon’s trespass into his feast only works because Sir William is capable of reading only semblances rather than substance; he fell prey to the same problem when he agreed to let Tabitha marry the fictional Sir Robert Morgan, who might have been either Tutch or Filbon. His concluding remark, “all is but thanklesse merit,” reflects the same worldview Tutch espoused as Blue John, which recognizes that signs of virtue are not collapsible into substance, that the “impression” one gives off is not identical with one’s “merit.” Blue John’s disability—one represented by Armin as leading him to misread situations and trust overmuch in perceptions— has always been what this play is about; his disability was the only joke that Armin was telling. Theater audiences’ vulnerability to misreading and projection, to the routinized habits of suspending disbelief while engaging in playing, are thus also made a target. Sir William, recognizing that he has been duped by costuming, finds that he has the mark of Blue John upon him. For Armin, Blue John and his other fools had consistently been useful not just for eliciting a cheap laugh but also for branding others as being foolish. The conclusion to the story of the cobbler, which is premised on Blue John being unfailingly reliable in his habits, is the cobbler’s recognition that he made an error in trusting John to make the delivery: “but the next bootes Ile make a page of my own age, and carry home my selfe, for I see fooles will afforde good penny-worthes.”86 The final punchline of the anecdote about the church-bell, similarly, is not Armin’s star fool but rather Goodman Homes for not accounting for John’s unique habits. Goodman Homes “had forgotten” that John’s “witte was not so good to remember any thing,” and so Homes and John are thus conflated in their forgetful absentmindedness. Even Jack Miller’s theatrical “stambring” translates into the actor playing the “Lady of the Play” finding himself incapable of reciting his lines. As Armin axiomatically reflects in his final anecdote about Blue John—in which he goes missing by falling drunkenly  Ibid., 18.  Armin, Foole, sig. F3r.

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asleep in a wine cellar, prompting people to search in vain for him—“he was more foole that sought the foole.”87 Like those figures, Sir William feels himself nearly resembling a fool because he forgot the habits and characteristics of a fool; he also forgot that he, too, could earn the title. Staging this comic structure repeatedly alongside his mocking impressions of Blue John, Armin clearly did not really aspire to make folly something to which all humans were innately vulnerable. Instead, he made it the domain of a certain class of people with whom one might find oneself compared. His epitaph for John in the Hospital effectively announces as much, localizing a universal limitation within an individual, giving it a habitation and a name by making “Blue John” a punchline by which disability could be wielded as a corrective insult. His decision to construct a facile joke marks a continually missed opportunity in representations of disability, one noted by Bérubé in recognizing the “capacity for literature to estrange, make objects unfamiliar, to render people imaginable, and to displace the ‘normate’ in every aspect of life.”88 Instead of seeing in Blue John a potential for revivifying attention to social codes, Armin relied on him becoming a means to affirm normative modes of interaction that exclude the cognitively disabled and, along with them, alternative modes of sociability wherein charity might be possible without bearing the freight of transaction costs. When Sir William Verger jokes that “our fate makes vs the worlds fond Idiot,” it is difficult to imagine that he did not gesture in some fashion toward Armin, who at that moment was playing the role of Tutch, who was playing a caricature of John in the Hospital. Blue John’s disability was thus made increasingly visible as a proliferating joke held in everyone’s “remembrance,” just as Armin had wished. While Blue John animates every scene of this play, then, the fact that only an imitation of an imitation—Tutch’s version of Blue John—appears at the close reflects the extent to which the construction of public punchlines can evacuate individuals from the very publics to which they give rise.

 Ibid., sig. F3v.  Bérubé, The Secret Life of Stories, 165.

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Doubling and Resurrection Across the Henriad Rob Carson

Critical discussions of early modern doubling practices often rest upon the dodgy assumption that Elizabethan and Jacobean acting companies doubled roles primarily out of necessity, due to the limitations of their resources. Parallel to this assumption is the fuzzy idea that an acting company would have approached the process of casting principally as a hurdle to be overcome rather than as an artistic opportunity to be embraced. To pick up a thread that Stephen Booth started decades ago, we might well ask: what reason do we have to think that when early modern actors set foot on stage, they would have wanted to downplay the point that they were, in fact, actors engaged in the business of acting?1 Whenever we assume that doubling was something that acting companies would have 1  Stephen Booth, “Speculations on Doubling in Shakespeare’s Plays,” in Shakespeare: The Theatrical Dimension, ed. Philip C.  McGuire and David A.  Samuelson (New York: AMS Press, 1979), 103–31.

R. Carson (*) Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Geneva, NY, USA e-mail: [email protected] © The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2021 A. K. Deutermann et al. (eds.), Publicity and the Early Modern Stage, Early Modern Cultural Studies 1500–1700,




wanted to minimize or conceal, we are retrospectively projecting a modernist aesthetic of Ibsenian realism onto early modern theatrical practices, and we have no particular reason to imagine that this is an aesthetic that early modern companies themselves would have shared. Brett Gamboa’s recent book, Shakespeare’s Double Plays, makes an exuberant case that Shakespeare’s plays were carefully designed to be playable by a much smaller company than theatre historians have typically imagined, a company whose performances, in turn, would have been characterized by extensive and overt acts of doubling. Audiences, of course, are always aware of the inherent duplicity of the actor, who we recognize to be at one and the same time a character within an imaginary fiction and also a living and breathing public figure, someone we might conceivably run into after the show down the pub. Thus, as Gamboa argues, whenever we observe actors taking on more than one role in a play, the paradox that we encounter at the heart of every acted performance is enlivened for us even further.2 Bertolt Brecht characterized the effect of overtly metatheatrical moments such as these as “alienating,” “distancing,” or “estranging” for the audience because they shatter the illusion of dramatic realism.3 However, these moments undoubtedly perform another function for us as well: whenever an already familiar face returns to the stage in a new role and the play’s theatricality lays itself bare before us, with a wink, for a moment, we are prompted to acknowledge both the artifice and the artistry that is unfolding before us alongside our fellow playgoers. It is through shared experiences of this sort that a playgoing community coalesces into something we might call a theatrical public.4 In this collection of essays, as we set out to reassess the role that early modern theatre played in helping to give birth to the public sphere, the most valuable—but also the most elusive—thing for us to consider is the phenomenology of audience response. The questions that we wish we could answer above all else are: how did early modern audiences experience the performances of these plays in the theatre? How did the practice 2  Brett Gamboa, Shakespeare’s Double Plays: Dramatic Economy on the Early Modern Stage (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018), 1. 3  All are translations of Brecht’s Verfremdungseffekt, a term introduced in his 1949 “Short Organum for the Theatre,” trans. Eric Bentley, in Playwrights on Playwriting, ed. Tony Cole (New York: Hill and Wang, 1960), pp. 72–105. 4  Current work on early modern publics owes its greatest debt to the Making Publics project (2005–2010) and especially Bronwen Wilson and Paul Yachnin’s Making Publics in Early Modern Europe: People, Things, Forms of Knowledge (New York: Routledge, 2010). But see also Jeffrey S. Doty’s outstanding Shakespeare, Popularity and the Public Sphere (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017).



of playgoing bring them together as a community? And how did it affect their collective outlook on the world around them? My suggestion in this paper is that the doubling of roles was a feature of early modern drama that audiences would have experienced vividly. Modern editions of these plays typically relegate discussions of casting and doubling to a speculative appendix at the end of the volume, but for early modern playgoers, casting and doubling choices surely would have been front and center. Critics tend to describe our response to the layering of multiple identities that doubling creates by turning to a variety of metaphors: Ralph Berry, for example, describes its effect as an “italicization” of the relationship between two characters in a play that would otherwise be left implicit; Booth uses the term “adjectival” to emphasize that the doubled roles inevitably comment upon and inform one another; and Gamboa proposes that doubling functions as an embodied “pun,” underscoring the fundamentally polysemous energy that we find at play here.5 These “italics,” “adjectives,” and “puns” are understandably difficult to discern when we approach these plays on the page, but for early modern playgoers these performance choices were surely immediate, overt, and significant. The challenge we face here, however, is that we have very little in the way of concrete data to establish how early modern theatre companies actually doubled roles in practice. Anyone who has ever attempted to construct a doubling chart for an early modern play will recognize that we can only begin the process by guessing at a dozen unknowable things. We do not know, for example, whether or not the leading actors in early modern theatre companies also doubled in smaller roles (and if they did, as a matter of course or only when necessary?). We do not know how many hired men were typically used to augment the company of sharers, or how large the parts that were assigned to them might have been. We do not know how many other company personnel (musicians, stagekeepers, bookholders, tiremen, gatherers) could be called on when needed to swell a scene, carry a spear, or perhaps even deliver a few lines as a Messenger. We do not know if boy actors regularly took on the roles of young men as well as women, nor do we know if adult actors regularly undertook women’s parts. We do not know how much time was necessary to allow for an actor to exit and return to the stage transformed into a new role, nor do we know how common it was for a short musical interlude or song to be incorporated into a performance in order to help cover a costume change. 5  Ralph Berry, Shakespeare in Performance: Castings and Metamorphoses (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1993), 8; Booth, “Speculations on Doubling,” 108; Gamboa, Shakespeare’s Double Plays, 1.



We do not know if it was typical for doubling actors to alternate back and forth between roles, or if actors typically transformed once and for all when they switched parts. We do not know the extent to which particular actors were type-cast into particular kinds of roles, following what T. W. Baldwin imagines to be the “acting lines” within a company—and here we might pause to wonder about clowns in particular, and how the audience’s horizon of expectations might have limited a comic actor’s participation in serious scenes.6 Nor do we know how these doubled roles might have existed materially in the form of an actor’s written part (or would they have been given multiple “parts”?); nor are we clear when in the dramaturgical process the decisions about allocating specific combinations of roles to particular actors might have been made, or by whom. Above all, we do not know how consistent any of these practices might have been over time, or even how consistent they might have been between different acting companies performing at the same time. And so even when we do have a reliable data point that gives us an answer to one of these questions in one particular context, we cannot be confident that it holds true for other contexts as well. The upshot of all this is that whenever editors attempt to construct a doubling chart for a play, they have no choice but to engage in circular reasoning. They first must make a series of assumptions about how early modern acting companies might have functioned with little to draw on other than their own preconceptions and personal preferences, and it is these preliminary assumptions more than anything else that shape the results they generate in their doubling chart. If we consider the case of Henry IV Part One, for example, T.  J. King calculates that twenty-two actors are needed to perform the play, while David Bradley comes up with a figure of sixteen, David Scott Kastan proposes a way to do it with thirteen, and most recently, Gamboa has argued that the Chamberlain’s Men could have performed it with as few as ten actors.7 Crucially, no one has made any miscalculations in their work; in all four cases, the math is spot­on. It is simply the case that an editor who assumes that early modern acting companies were extravagant and lush operations will adopt a set of 6   Thomas Whitfield Baldwin, The Organization and Personnel of the Shakespearean Company (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1927). 7  T.  J. King, Casting Shakespeare’s Plays: London Actors and Their Roles, 1590–1642 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992); David Bradley, From Text to Performance in the Elizabethan Theatre: Preparing the Play for the Stage (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992); David Scott Kastan, ed. King Henry IV, Part 1 (London: The Arden Shakespeare, 2002); Gamboa, Shakespeare’s Double Plays, 249.



parameters that in turn generates maximalist doubling charts, whereas an editor who imagines them instead to have been lean and agile enterprises will find ingenious ways to accommodate their demands with a minimalist cast. And thus it has long seemed to me that the doubling charts that editors dutifully generate for their appendices don’t so much open a window into early modern theatrical practices as they hold up a mirror to their own critical assumptions.8 With this caveat in place, I would nevertheless like to turn our attentions toward an idea that I have not seen explored elsewhere, by asking if there is anything to be learned by thinking about doubling in connection with the multi-part serial play. Roslyn Lander Knutson argues that serialization was one of the most significant commercial tactics that Elizabethan theatre companies drew upon, and Tara L. Lyons offers strong support for this claim, calculating that in the periods for which Henslowe’s Diary records daily receipts, close to one-quarter of the Admiral’s Men’s income came from serial plays even though these plays made up just one-sixth of their repertory.9 Clearly, these multi-part plays were money-makers. The vogue for serial drama on the public stage seems to have taken root in the previous decade with the runaway success of the two parts of Tamburlaine (although, as Mary Thomas Crane observes, there are significant precedents for serial plays to be found in academic drama and in court drama from the 1560s and 1570s as well).10 The format of the two-part play seems to have become so popular in the wake of Tamburlaine’s success, however, that when Sampson Clarke came to print the Queen’s Men’s play The Troublesome Reign of King John in 1591, he published it in two parts despite the fact that the text shows every appearance of having been 8  Here I would like to draw attention to Andrew J. Power’s fine work in the New Oxford Shakespeare. Rather than offering the usual sprawling chart that shows one possible strategy for doubling roles in a play, Power instead lays out the doubling combinations that are and are not possible for each character, turning the tradition on its head by outlining the wide range of options that are available to a company instead of imposing a single “solution” upon a text. See The New Oxford Shakespeare: Critical Reference Edition, Vol. 1, ed. Gary Taylor, John Jowett, Terri Bourus, and Gabriel Egan (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017). Gary Taylor and John Lavagnino had explored this idea previously in their Oxford edition of Thomas Middleton: The Collected Works (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2007). 9  Roslyn Lander Knutson, The Repertory of Shakespeare’s Company 1594–1613 (Fayetteville, AR: University of Arkansas Press, 1991), 50ff; and Tara L. Lyons, “Playing the Part: The ‘Success’ of Serial Plays on the London Stage,” (paper presented at Shakespeare Association of America, Toronto, March 28–30, 2013). 10  Mary Thomas Crane, “The Shakespearean Tetralogy,” Shakespeare Quarterly 36 (1985): 282–99, esp. 287–90; and see also John Astington, Actors and Acting in Shakespeare’s Time (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 62–65.



originally written and staged as a single play. Sometimes serial plays were written in order to capitalize on the commercial success of an otherwise standalone play—which is to say, a sequel was commissioned because the market called out for one rather than because of anything internal to the dramatic logic of the original play itself. In other cases, however, plays were designed from the outset to present only one piece of a larger narrative, as we might see in the case of Robert Greene’s 1 Selimus, which tells the first half of a story that, it seems, was abandoned altogether after the first part flopped. By the mid-1590s, however, serial drama was so central to the Admiral’s Men’s business model that Henslowe began commissioning two-part plays as two-part plays, referring in his records to the first installment of serials like Hercules, Black Bateman of the North, and Sir John Oldcastle as “the first part” even before they reached the stage, and sometimes even paying the playwrights in advance for the second part of a play before audience reaction to the first part could be gauged.11 Judging by Henslowe’s records, serial drama may have been at the height of its popularity with London audiences in 1595. Looking at May and June, for example, we might find 1 Hercules performed on May 20, followed by 1 and 2 Tamar Cham on May 21 and 22, and followed in turn by 2 Hercules on May 23, with a repeat double bill of 1 and 2 Hercules on May 27 and 28 and then again on June 12 and 13. After that, we see a “ne[w]” performance of 2 Caesar and Pompey on June 18—a play whose first part had itself debuted in November of 1594—followed by both parts of Caesar and Pompey back-to-back a week later on June 25 and 26. Other months in 1595 were not quite so intensely serialized as May and June were—perhaps early summer has always been the season for multi-part blockbusters?—but it nevertheless seems unmistakable that serialization was central to the Admiral’s Men’s practices at the time. Furthermore, given the preponderance of other serial plays that Henslowe commissioned in the years that followed (years for which we unfortunately do not have the company’s daily receipts to compare), it is reasonable to think that this trend was not just a short-lived fad in the middle of decade, but in fact one that continued through the whole of the 1590s and well into the 1600s. But surely it is also notable that the rise of serial drama seems to have coincided with the Elizabethan vogue for English history plays, Roman history plays, Turk plays, and other substantial stories about political conflict and dynastic succession. My point here is that these popular  Alongside Knutson and Crane, see also Nicholas Grene, Shakespeare’s Serial History Plays (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), esp. 10–12. 11



serial dramas were not simply soap operas designed to lure the punters back the following day to dip into their pockets a second time, but instead constitute a significant innovation in dramatic form, one that seems custom-­made for exploring political questions across longer dramatic arcs, offering extended opportunities for pointed juxtaposition, complex irony, and extended ideological critique. Critics like Peter Lake and András Kiséry are surely right in imagining that Elizabethan playgoers were intrigued by political issues and matters of state, accruing significant cultural capital by immersing themselves in substantive fictions, and in this respect, serial drama would have offered them a significant perk: since the audience’s experience of a single story was now extended across multiple days, the theatrical public was given an extended intermission between the parts of a serial to dissect and debate among themselves what had transpired thus far and to speculate about what would ensue, deepening their common experience, developing their political savvy, and coalescing them even further as a community.12 The Henslowe data suggests that when the second play of a serial was ready for the stage, the company would typically revive the first part alongside the new one and perform the two plays in tandem over the coming weeks and months, up until receipts began to dwindle. For these performances, the two parts were most often staged on consecutive days, although in some cases they were staged a day or two or even as much as a week apart. In all of these cases, however, it is reasonable to think that the company’s primary motivation for serialization would have been to encourage audiences to attend both of the performances, marketing them as two parts of a single whole. The company would thus have had good cause to emphasize the continuity between the serial’s constituent parts. There is no hard evidence surviving to prove that the roles would have been through-cast from play to play, with the same actors taking on the same parts from one performance to the next, but I think it is safe to imagine that this practice must have been the norm. It seems highly unlikely to me, for example, that Ned Allen would have played Tamburlaine in Part One on a Thursday afternoon but that someone else would have stepped into the role in Part Two on the Friday; and I can only imagine that the same would hold true for the actors playing Zenocrate, Techelles,  See Peter Lake’s epic How Shakespeare Put Politics on the Stage: Power and Succession in the History Plays (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2016) and András Kiséry’s incisive Hamlet’s Moment: Drama and Political Knowledge in Early Modern England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016). 12



Usumcasane, and Theridamas as well. Thus, I suggest that whenever a company set out to stage a serial drama, their casting decisions would have needed to take the whole arc, not just the first play in the series, into account right from the outset. * * * When Shakespeare helped launch the Chamberlain’s Men in 1594, he likely brought with him four history plays that would have been excellent candidates for serial performances. Two of these plays had almost certainly been performed serially earlier in the decade both by Pembroke’s Men and by Strange’s Men, quite plausibly under the running title of The Contention Between the Two Famous Houses, York and Lancaster.13 In 1619, Thomas Pavier would publish the two plays together as The Whole Contention Between the Two Famous Houses, York and Lancaster, a fact that suggests that nearly three decades later the plays were still considered by some to constitute two parts of a unified whole. But of course Shakespeare also wrote (and more likely co-wrote, or perhaps even co-revised) a third play that was set earlier in the reign of Henry VI, one that might have been designed to function as a prequel for these two, and so it may also be that by 1594 the Chamberlain’s Men would have taken the opportunity to serialize all three of these plays as a trilogy about Henry VI, which is of course the title that Shakespeare’s fellow actors gave to the plays when they were collected in the First Folio. Furthermore, in 1594 the Chamberlain’s Men would have had the option of introducing Richard III into the mix in any number of ways—either as the second part of a diptych about the tragic falls of a father and a son both named Richard, or else as the third play of a trilogy chronicling the rise and fall of the House of York, or even as the fourth play in an epic tetralogy spanning the whole of the Wars of the Roses.14 Critics disagree about whether all four of these plays would have been staged as a tetralogy—on one side of this debate, Nicholas Grene argues at length that they very likely were and Andrew 13  See Scott McMillin, “Casting for Pembroke’s Men: The Henry VI Quartos and The Taming of A Shrew,” Shakespeare Quarterly 23:2 (1972): 141–59 and Lawrence Manley and Sally-Beth MacLean, Lord Strange’s Men and Their Plays (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2013). 14  I find it tempting to speculate about whether the Henry VI plays might also have been serialized with the Queen’s Men’s play The True Tragedy of Richard III in the early 1590s before Shakespeare got around to writing his own version of these events. Could it even be that the two parts of the Contention were written specifically as prequels for the True Tragedy (a play that may well have been an absolute blockbuster in the late 1580s)?



Gurr seems to take it as given that “they were certainly performed together,” while on the other side, both Crane and McMillin are dubious that anything more intricate than a two-part play was ever staged serially on the public stage.15 Of course, there are no surviving records that might settle this matter for us either way, and so perhaps the point is moot. But at the same time, I would propose that the evidence from Henslowe’s diary suggests quite clearly that there was a substantial public appetite for serial drama in the mid-1590s, and thus, assuming that the Chamberlain’s Men were competing for the same audience as the Admiral’s Men, it seems altogether reasonable to imagine that they would have been looking for opportunities to stage their extant repertory in any number of serial combinations. One issue they would have faced, of course, is that the Henry VI plays are particularly challenging to cast. Predictably enough, casting studies have yielded wildly different results for them, but they are nevertheless consistent in showing that the three Henry VI plays (along with Titus Andronicus) require considerably more elaborate doubling strategies than the remainder of the Shakespeare canon. Jean E. Howard refers to these plays as “baggy monsters,” borrowing this delightful phrase from Henry James.16 What critics have rarely acknowledged, however, is that while each of the plays is daunting to cast on its own, if they are instead to be serialized with their roles through-cast, they become even baggier and more monstrous. Dividing upwards of sixty roles in a single play between a company’s actors is tricky enough, but dividing upwards of one hundred roles spanning four plays is another story entirely, especially since there are a wide variety of factors that a company’s plotter would need to take into account. To look at just one example, we should recognize that whichever actor is cast in the very small role of young Richard Plantagenet in Henry VI Part Two will necessarily play a much larger and far juicier part as the Duke of Gloucester in Henry VI Part Three, and then of course this same actor will become the star attraction in Richard III, shouldering one of the biggest roles in the whole Shakespeare canon. In this light, a company’s 15  See Grene, Shakespeare’s Serial History Plays, esp. 22–24; Andrew Gurr, Shakespeare’s Opposites: The Admiral’s Company 1594–1625 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 182–83; Crane, “The Shakespearean Tetralogy,” 290; and Scott McMillin, Shakespeare in Performance: Henry IV, Part One (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1991), 4. 16  Jean E. Howard, “Dramatic Traditions and Shakespeare’s Political Thought,” in British Political Thought in History, Literature, and Theory, 1500–1800, ed. David Armitage (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006): 129–44, 132.



decision about which actor to cast as Richard Plantagenet when he first appears in Henry VI Part Two has almost nothing to do with his role in that play and everything to do with the two plays that follow. McMillin considers options for doubling roles across the two Contention plays and proposes that the actor who played Suffolk might be resurrected effectively as Richard. This reading strikes me as quite compelling: it seems reasonable to imagine that Suffolk would have been played by a charismatic leading actor in the company, and so after his original character dies in the fourth act of Henry VI Part Two, if he were to return to the stage for the final act sporting a prop hunch and a dangerous swagger, I can easily imagine audiences vowing to return the next afternoon to see how this scenario played out.17 Moreover, I suspect that Margaret and Richard’s interactions in the sequel would unfold for the audience in something of a funhouse mirror for us, since we could not help but remember the very different chemistry we had witnessed between the same two actors in the previous performance. Thus, I propose that it would make good sense for any company mounting a serial to make casting decisions that would build up expectations in the first part that would lure audiences into returning for the next, and further, to make decisions that would reward their return by setting familiar faces into new combinations that reflected on, juxtaposed, and refracted the relationships they had enjoyed previously. Although it seems to me that the two Contention plays work quite well together overall in this respect—perhaps especially in their quarto/octavo texts, which McMillin convincingly argues were revised specifically to accommodate doubling scenarios that would enable this sort of serial performance—the situation with Richard III offers a different set of challenges. All three of the Henry VI plays are clearly written as ensemble pieces, with each of them offering meaty roles of more than one hundred lines to five or six actors in the company, whereas Richard III is undoubtedly a different beast altogether, a star vehicle where the leading role speaks nearly one-third of the text, almost three times as much as the second largest role in the play. This fact alone might give us reason to suspect that Shakespeare wrote the Henry VI plays and Richard III with quite different companies in mind, since their dramaturgical footprints are so differently shaped; and furthermore, we might wonder if the differences in their shapes would, in turn, make it more difficult to include Richard III in a serial run with the other plays. At the same time, however,  McMillin, “Casting,” 151.




we might consider an idea that Holger Schott Syme has recently put forward, that it very well might have been beneficial for a company to stock their repertory with plays that placed a variety of different demands on its actors so that they could balance out the biggest roles assigned to company members from day to day, sharing the heavy lifting between the actors instead of placing too much weight on just one or two star players, day in and day out.18 In this light, then, the dramaturgical differences between the Henry VI plays and Richard III might even be seen to be an asset, potentially even a part of the plays’ savvy design rather than an oddity, since it would give the company’s biggest star a lighter load for the day or two leading up to his massive star turn in the finale. However we imagine this, we should acknowledge that all four of these history plays make substantial demands on a company’s resources, and the task of plotting a functional doubling scheme for the series as a whole would undoubtedly have been an extremely complicated task. * * * In 1595, Shakespeare returned to the genre that helped establish his name as a playwright and embarked upon a new series of history plays, this time writing as a sharer in a company, embedded within a stable business model, working with known quantities and resources. Some critics have insisted that Shakespeare’s second tetralogy properly ought to be approached as four individual works rather than as a series, even in the case of the two plays that are explicitly named as Part One and Part Two. Certainly there are excellent reasons to appreciate each of these four plays on its own terms, and I fully understand why critics might want resist the pull toward homogenized, totalizing, and teleological readings. But at the same time, what we know about the commercial success of serial drama makes it difficult for me to imagine that Shakespeare could have started writing a new history play in 1595 without giving serious thought to its potential for serialization. For that matter, the fact that he begins Richard II with the exact episode that Edward Hall chooses to open The Union of the Two Noble and Illustre Families of Lancastre and Yorke, namely the quarrel between Thomas Mowbray and Henry Bolingbroke, suggests to me that Shakespeare returned to the English history play with a long arc in mind. 18  Holger Schott Syme, “A Sharers’ Repertory,” in Rethinking Theatrical Documents in Shakespeare’s England, ed. Tiffany Stern (London: The Arden Shakespeare, 2020), 33–51.



It also seems telling to me that these four plays are so often self-consciously intertheatrical (to borrow William N.  West’s useful term), sign-posting moments from other plays in the series, offering implicit and explicit advertisements for episodes in plays to come as well as regularly reflecting back on events that were previously staged.19 Each of the four plays, I would argue, pointedly rewards their audience for seeing the other plays in the series, and I thus see value in approaching them as a coherent and deliberate series. If we are right in imagining that Shakespeare’s earlier tetralogy was not just challenging to cast but more specifically challenging to cast as a serial, we might ask: what different strategies would a more experienced playwright adopt when setting forth on another run of unwieldy and complex interconnected plays? And in particular, how might he want to approach the matter of doubling in order to forestall problems down the road, problems that might require the sort of large scale “mending” that his earlier tetralogy apparently had to undergo? I imagine that in the early stages of writing, he probably would not have worried overmuch about how the minor roles would ultimately be covered; there would be world enough and time to sort out which actors might be available to play the likes of Bushy, Bagot, and Green. But the leading roles would have been another matter entirely, especially in the way that they unfolded over the longer arc of a serial. Thus, my primary suggestion is that any playwright who was strategizing how to deploy the major roles of a multi-part series might want to adopt three guidelines while writing: 1. No new major character should be introduced into the arc of the story until another major character has died, since this death would mean that one of the company’s leading actors has been freed up to take on a substantial new role. 2. The same point in reverse: whenever a major character dies, a substantial new role should be introduced for the company member who now finds himself suddenly underemployed. 3. Finally, whenever one of the company’s leading actors dies in one role and returns in another, we should remember that the audience will be more than usually aware of this phenomenon of theatrical

19  William N. West, “Intertheatricality,” in Early Modern Theatricality, ed. Henry S. Turner (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 151–72.



resurrection, and thus that it would do well for the script to acknowledge in some way their awareness of this interconnectedness. My main purpose in the remainder of this chapter will be to examine Shakespeare’s second tetralogy, looking for traces of how the company’s leading actors might have been deployed across its major roles in a way that not only takes advantage of theatrical possibilities offered by the process but also contributes to the larger interrogation of political questions that undergirds the series as a whole. In this light, there’s an intriguing moment in the final act of Henry IV Part One that I would like to consider. Falstaff, as you will surely recall, fakes his own death in battle and is solemnly eulogized by Prince Hal, only to rise again to stab Hotspur’s corpse and then take undeserved credit for having dispatched him. Hal is of course very much surprised to discover that Falstaff is still alive, and in response to his amazement, Falstaff offers this explanation: “I am not a double man… If I be not Jack Falstaff, then am I a jack.”20 Editors tend to gloss this comment about not being a “double man” (if they choose to gloss it at all) as having something to do with ghosts, but I’m not sure this explanation is entirely convincing. To my ear Falstaff’s reference is more likely a metatheatrical one: he is making the point that he is not the kind of actor who might be expected to cover multiple roles in a play, dying in one role and then re-­entering in another, sporting a new cloak and perhaps a different beard. This is the sort of thing we might expect to see from less prominent members of the company, of course, the slighter sort of actor who makes a career out of juggling a handful of minor roles in play after play. An actor of Falstaff’s stature, however, eschews such “double labor” and disdains to be taken for a double man (3.3.165). Let us begin with the most obvious example: in the final act of Richard II, with Henry IV formally crowned and enthroned, we are offered a short conversation where the king asks if anyone has heard any news about his unthrifty son who has been frequenting the taverns with a dissolute crew of loose companions, and Harry Percy (who will soon become better known to audiences as Hotspur) answers that the he had only just seen him heading off to the stews. This exchange about Prince Hal has no obvious relevance to the story of Richard II, and so it probably makes good sense to think of it as a teaser for the next play to come in the serial. 20  Kastan, ed. King Henry IV, Part One (London: Arden Shakespeare, 2002), 5.5.138-40. Subsequent citations are to this edition.



Crucially, however, although we hear tantalizing details about the untoward exploits of the wayward prince in this scene, we do not get to meet him in person. I would suggest there is an entirely pragmatic reason for this: we cannot possibly meet Hal at this point because the actor who will take on the role has not yet finished performing Richard’s part. His sun will have to set in the dungeon at Pomfret and then wander for a time with th’antipodes before it rises again in Eastcheap, breaking through the foul and ugly mists of vapors that did seem to strangle him. We are tantalized in this moment with a glimpse of a play to come, one that we may even know has been scheduled for performance the very next day; and if we are savvy fans of the company, we could probably even hazard a guess that the local celebrity starring as Richard in today’s show will return to star as Hal on the morrow. Indeed, if we imagine that Richard is in a sense “resurrected” as Hal, the first three plays in this series develop a deeper focus on a juxtaposition of two relationships: the relationship between King Richard and his cousin Bolingbroke in the first play and the relationship between King Henry and his son Prince Hal in the next two. It is not entirely clear which two members of the Chamberlain’s Men might have performed these roles, but surely, they had two of the most recognizable faces in all of London, quite plausibly the same two faces that were attached to Hamlet and Claudius, Iago and Othello, Brutus and Cassius, and many more such pairs. Early modern audiences would be used to seeing the chemistry between these two actors in show after show, and I cannot help but think that this chemistry would bleed through from one production to the next. In the case of the Henriad, for example, audiences could not help but notice that the same two men who grappled over a prop crown in front of Flint Castle in Richard II should find themselves the following afternoon grappling over the very same prop crown in the Jerusalem Chamber. Henry IV is haunted by the murder of Richard for the following two plays, and this haunting is in part made manifest for us intertheatrically by the fact that the son who vexes him so greatly happens to share such an uncanny resemblance to the man he displaced. There is a moment in Henry IV Part One that has long puzzled me, but which seems to make much better sense if we imagine these plays to have been serialized with this particular casting. In Act 3 Scene 2, the King finally manages to call his unruly son on the carpet before him and berate him for his unseemly behavior. He chides him for abandoning his noble peers and becoming “common-hackneyed in the eyes of men, … stale and cheap to vulgar company” instead of adopting an appropriately princely distance from his subjects, where he should ne’er be seen but be wondered



at. In the midst of this protracted criticism, the king—quite oddly, I think—compares Prince Hal to Richard II: The skipping King, he ambled up and down With shallow jesters and rash bavin wits, … Grew a companion to the common streets, Enfeoffed himself to popularity. (3.2.60–69)

Richard, I think it is safe to say, was a disastrous monarch who committed a great number of kingly faux pas, but being too familiar with the commoners would hardly seem to have been one of them. Certainly Richard II offers us no evidence of any such overfamiliarity. If anything, Richard shows far too little care for the approval of his people, disdaining and dismissing them to the point where they abandon him entirely, sitting on the ground to tell sad tales of the death of kings. For that matter, it was arguably Bolingbroke himself who ran the risk of debasing himself before the commoners, if York’s account of his coming into London at the end of Richard II is to be believed. Thus, as Henry criticizes Hal in this scene for his excessive familiarity, he seems to be conflating his son and his predecessor for reasons that are completely at odds with the evidence of the previous play. But perhaps there was good reason for this confusion in Shakespeare’s own theater. When Henry tells his son, “For all the world / As thou art to this hour was Richard then” (ll. 93–94), he gives voice to something Shakespeare’s original audience could not have failed to notice: when looking at Hal, Henry is reminded of Richard for the exact same reason that we are reminded of Richard—namely, that they share a single face. As Hal’s arc unfolds over the course of three plays and we grow increasingly aware of his shortcomings (his self-indulgence, his irresponsibility, his narcissism, his disloyalty, and eventually, his devolution into a Machiavellian mode of Realpolitik), the fact that he shares Richard’s face resonates for us even more deeply, dramatic irony in embodied form. As we continue to imagine a doubling scheme for a through-cast Henriad, two questions about the actor who plays Henry IV present themselves. First of all, I find myself wondering what role this actor might have been given in Henry V, although in this case, I confess that I don’t have an especially compelling answer. There are times when we might spot a reference in the text that offers a hint for a particular doubling, as Alan Armstrong acknowledges—he proposes that “metadramatic jokes are the



textual footprint of doubling within Shakespeare’s plays, self-consciously recognizing the persistent identity of the actor underneath the discrete parts he has played”21—but I have not managed to spot any such telltale footprints in Henry V. At the same time, it is clear that someone in the company would have had to take on the second longest part in the play, the role of the Chorus; and since the Henry IV actor is unclaimed and available, he would seem to be as sensible a choice as any for a role of this importance. For that matter, after watching three plays where these two leading actors grappled with one another, in many instances pointedly juxtaposing competing visions of what kingship ought to entail, there is perhaps something fitting about the idea that in this final installment in the series we would witness the king not struggling against a human adversary but instead being measured and judged by the voice of history itself. Both John Barton and Peter Hall’s 1964 production of The Wars of the Roses and Terry Hands’s 1975 production of the three Henry plays chose to resurrect Henry IV as the Chorus in this way, and perhaps for this reason. The second question that interests me is whether we should make anything of the fact that for the first two acts of Henry IV Part Two, the play’s title character is entirely absent from the stage. Conspicuous absences of this sort are sometimes thought to be a sign that an actor has been assigned to another role, as Ellen Summers and others have argued, and so perhaps we might wonder if the actor who plays the King might have also played Rumor, or Lord Bardolph, or Archbishop Scroop, or some other role that appears early in the play and then disappears.22 At the same time, we should acknowledge that even with his delayed entry, the King has the third-longest speaking role in the play, and so we would have no reason to think that any actor would feel slighted when handed this part. Instead, I would propose that the absence is designed to have a calculated dramatic effect on the audience: the first two acts of the play dramatize the unrest that stems from Henry’s shortcomings as a leader, and his protracted absence from the stage makes itself felt as an absence, one that becomes almost palpable for us. If we imagine ourselves as diehard fans of the Chamberlain’s Men watching the debut performance of this play in 1598, 21  Alan Armstrong, “‘What is Become of Bushy? Where is Green?’: Metadramatic Reference to Doubling Actors in Richard II,” in Inside Shakespeare: Essays on the Blackfriars Stage, ed. Paul Menzer (Selingsgrove, PA: Susquehanna University Press, 2006), 149–56, 149. 22  See Ellen Summers, “A Double Heuristic for Shakespeare’s Doubling,” in Staging Shakespeare, ed. Lena Cowen Orlin and Miranda Johnson-Haddad (Newark, DE: University of Delaware Press, 2007), 60–78.



I suggest there is reason to think that this absence would have been even more notable. The leading actors in the company undoubtedly had some of the most recognizable faces in all of London: Richard Burbage and Will Kemp were full-fledged celebrities, but I think we must imagine that John Heminges, Henry Condell, William Sly, Augustine Phillips, Thomas Pope, Richard Cowley, and probably even William Shakespeare were public figures in their own right. It may well have seemed strange to the play’s original audience that the title character did not appear on stage for the first hour and a quarter of the play, but I think it would have seemed far stranger still that one of the company’s two leading tragedians was uncharacteristically absent, especially since we would have come to the theater anticipating his reprisal of a role we had only just seen a day or two earlier. The longest role in Henry IV Part One, of course, is neither the prince’s nor the king’s, but instead a man that will kill him some six or seven dozen Scots at a breakfast and still complain for lack of work: the Hotspur of the North. The role of Hotspur seems to have been a major selling point for early modern audiences: he is given prominent billing on the title pages of all of the surviving early quartos of the play, even above Falstaff (when Falstaff is named at all). For that matter, if we are right in thinking that the 1613 court performance of a play called The Hotspur refers, in fact, to Shakespeare’s play, we would have reason to think that on some occasions in Shakespeare’s lifetime, Hotspur was even presented as the play’s title character. Henry Percy makes his first appearance in the tetralogy in the second act of Richard II, and he remains comparatively understated in his early scenes. I find it intriguing to imagine, though, that the same actor might have begun Richard II in the role of Thomas Mowbray, a dominant force in the opening act of the play, and someone who exits the play with some fanfare when he is banished in the play’s third scene. The actor who plays Mowbray surely would have returned in some other role in Richard II, and Harry Percy would seem to be an effective option, especially given the considerable scope of the part in the sequel. As Richard II begins, the king’s power seems all but absolute—in this world, we see that “the breath of kings” determines truth and falsehood, justice and injustice, freedom and banishment, even life and death—and so if the actor who played Mowbray in the first act were to be resurrected as part of the resistance in the second act, his return to the stage would also help to signal the cracks that are beginning to open in the façade of Richard’s absolutism. Furthermore, we might observe that the trial in the play’s first act presents Richard, Bolingbroke, and Mowbray in a triangular relationship, one that



is typically reinforced for us in the theatre by a visual triangle of Richard seated on high overseeing the two opposed combatants below. If the Mowbray actor returns as Hotspur in Henry IV Part One, we get the chance to see the action of the following play structured around this same trio of actors, albeit with their power struggles reshuffled into a significantly different triangle, with Hal and Hotspur contending against one another and Henry adjudicating between them. In Part Two, in the wake of Hotspur’s death, we might reasonably expect to find a substantial new role for this actor to step into. Moreover, given the popular success that this actor appears to have achieved as Hotspur, we might imagine that this actor’s new role would have been especially anticipated by the public, and thus would have drawn a particular degree of attention to itself. To my mind, the most effective role for this actor in Henry IV Part Two is Pistol, a character drawn from the world of humors comedy, one who might even seem as if he were designed to out-Hotspur Hotspur. The world of Part Two feels in many respects like a fever dream version of the world of Part One, with everything darker and more distorted, often in ways that are more unsettling than they are amusing. Pistol in particular seems like a downmarket caricature of Hotspur, transposed from the serious main plot to the comic subplot, a grossly exaggerated satire of the chivalric values that Hal and his crew had already mocked for being ludicrously outmoded. The relationship between Hotspur and Pistol would of course be even more pronounced for the audience if a single actor were to take on both of these parts over the run of the serial, appearing in the sequel as a satire of his former self. The question that interests me most in this thought experiment, however, is: what should become of Falstaff after his banishment in Henry IV Part Two? After all, the Epilogue to the play explicitly promises us a sequel with Sir John in it, one in which “Falstaff shall die of a sweat, unless already ’a be killed with your hard opinions,” and so anyone who had seen the earlier play performed with this Epilogue might have had good cause to be optimistic that Falstaff would appear in Henry V.23 Assuming that the Chamberlain’s Men adopted commercial strategies similar to the Admiral’s, we would have good reason to think that the company would have revived the earlier plays in the serial (or at the very least, the previous installment) in the week leading up to the debut of Henry V. If so, at the 23  A. R. Humphreys, ed., King Henry IV, Part Two (London: Arden Shakespeare, 1981), Ep. ll. 29–30.



opening performance of the new play, surely Falstaff’s fate after his banishment from the king’s presence would have been one of the foremost questions on everyone’s minds. We might well wonder if the Epilogue to Henry IV Part Two was retained when the play was revived in the 1599 run-up to Henry V, promising the audience a debt that would not in fact be paid. It may well be, as many critics have suggested, that Shakespeare originally intended to write a final play for this series that included both Falstaff’s death and the wooing of Catherine of France, just as the Epilogue promises, but eventually decided to leave Falstaff out of Henry V altogether. My own preference, however, is to imagine that this Epilogue was instead always intended as a false flag, an advertisement designed to raise misguided hopes in the audience, conceivably even one that was added to the play in 1599 for this express purpose. Henry IV Part Two is a play that begins, after all, with a Prologue who appears in a cloak painted full of tongues, literally a personification of misinformation, and throughout the play, Shakespeare plays extensively with ideas of unreliability, false hope, and deceit. It seems entirely fitting to me that a play of this sort should end with a promise that the company has no intention of keeping. Henry V in turn kicks off with a hefty speech by the Chorus and then two long and dense scenes of court intrigue, including an infamously grueling discussion of the Salic law, followed by yet another protracted speech from the Chorus, and so it is perhaps with some relief that we welcome the arrival of the comedians in Act 2. The play’s original audience would surely have expected Falstaff to appear here along with his crew, but he is nowhere to be seen, even though he is indeed one of the main subjects under discussion. The scene ends with Mistress Quickly calling everyone off to Falstaff’s sickbed, where he is so “shaked of a burning quotidian tertian, that it is most lamentable to behold.”24 Our interest is surely piqued by all of this: we seem to be well on our way toward the vision of Falstaff dying in a sweat that had been promised to us by the previous play’s Epilogue. The scene of the traitors’ trial follows instead, and it is perhaps interesting enough in its own generic way, but then we return to the main event, the comedians, who to our surprise are already in mourning. Can Falstaff really be dead? Did we somehow miss it? Could it possibly be that we were denied the chance of seeing his final moments and are instead left to imagine them vicariously through second-hand description alone? Falstaff, we might recall, has risen from the dead before—he is not  T.W. Craik, ed., King Henry V (London: Arden Shakespeare, 1995), 2.1.118–20.




a double man, as he has made expressly clear to us already. But in this case, despite our hopes and expectations, it turns out that he is genuinely not in the play at all, and instead has been banished from our presence just as he had been from Hal’s. Most films of the play undermine this dramatic effect by including some earlier Falstaff material in the form of a flashback, a phenomenon that should serve as testament to the way in which Shakespeare uses the structure of Henry V to build up our appetite for Falstaff only to deny us the satisfaction. As such, my first suggestion here is that the phenomenology of the audience’s experience would be ruined if the Falstaff actor—surely one of the company’s most recognizable faces—appears on stage in the early acts in any other role.25 Henry V, it seems to me, is clearly structured to toy with our expectations, and in a serial production of these plays, where Falstaff’s celebrated face would be every bit as recognizable as his overstuffed doublet, this will only work if the actor we expect to see as Falstaff is kept offstage. In a way, my suggestion here is that Shakespeare might have repeated the same strategy that I propose he employs with the King in Henry IV Part Two, keeping a leading member of the company hidden from view for such an extended stretch that it makes their absence palpable, using their celebrity to play with the collective expectation of a savvy theatrical public. The question remains: since Falstaff does not in fact appear in Henry V, which role would it make sense for the Falstaff actor to fill instead? My proposal is that it should be a role that only begins after Falstaff’s death is described to us, since this actor’s appearance on stage in a new role will effectively serve to confirm Falstaff’s death. And so it could well be that he enters the play in the very next scene as the King of France, or perhaps the Dauphin—I think that either of these options could be dramatically and comically effective. Nevertheless, I suggest that there is a far stronger option available to us, which is to bring the Falstaff actor back to the stage as Fluellen.26 I find this particular doubling appealing for three reasons. First of all, if we are right in imagining that the Hotspur actor was 25  The celebrity of Falstaff himself is also worth considering. F.J. Furnivall, C.M. Ingleby, and L.T. Smith’s The Shakespeare Allusion-Book suggests that Falstaff was one of Shakespeare’s most popular characters in the seventeenth century, coming second only to Hamlet in terms of volume, with some 32 allusions to the character surviving from before 1649 and a further 48 before 1700. I have always been amused by a headnote in the index to this book that reads “For the purposes of this Index, Falstaff is treated as a work” (536). 26  The only serial production that I know of to have attempted this doubling of Falstaff and Fluellen is Brave Spirits’ run through the second tetralogy in early 2020, which was devastat-



resurrected as Pistol, it would mean that the same two actors would have ­significant clashes in three consecutive plays: Falstaff “battles” with Hotspur in the first part, faking his own death and then stabbing Hotspur’s corpse; in the second part, Falstaff and Pistol fall out with each other and get into a chaotic dust-up over Doll Tearsheet; and in Henry V, Fluellen and Pistol disagree over questions of military discipline, with Pistol giving Fluellen a Spanish fig and Fluellen in return forcing Pistol to eat a leek. Each of these clashes is amusing enough on its own terms, but I think these conflicts gain an added dimension when the plays are serialized, since it seems that these two actors are locked in an eternal struggle with each other, finding new grounds to quarrel with each other in each of their subsequent reincarnations. The second reason that I am drawn to the idea of doubling Falstaff and Fluellen is admittedly a sentimental one. The relationship between Hal and Falstaff ends famously badly in Henry IV Part Two, denying the audience any sense of closure. This may, of course, be entirely the point—that in order to become the king that he becomes, Henry needs to walk away from Falstaff without looking back—but audiences have long been disappointed by the irresolution of this relationship. After the battle of Agincourt, however, the play offers us a charming conversation between Henry and Fluellen, where Fluellen speaks approvingly of the king’s Welsh heritage and of his willingness to wear a leek on St. Taffy’s day, and where the king replies by embracing Fluellen as his fellow countryman and then roping him in to assist him with a prank he is planning to play on Williams. This return of Hal’s mischievous side may well cause us to cast our thoughts back to his salad days in Eastcheap (which in real time, of course, might have been performed for us just two days prior), and thus Hal’s new-forged connection with Fluellen in this moment might in a sense be seen to bring him full circle. The effect here would of course be even more pronounced if the actor playing Fluellen were the same actor who had previously appeared as Falstaff. Such a doubling would not only help to reintegrate Hal’s present with his past just as the tetralogy is coming to a close, but would also go some distance toward addressing the disappointment audiences often feel after Falstaff’s banishment. The third and I think most intriguing reason that I would like to see the Falstaff actor cast as Fluellen, however, is that it opens up a fantastic ingly interrupted by the outbreak of coronavirus. Many thanks to Charlene Smith for corresponding with me about her production.



possibility in performance. As you will recall, during his conversation with Gower, Fluellen offers an extended comparison of Harry of Monmouth and Alexander the Pig, praising the king for his exemplary merits and excusing some of the rash conduct of his youth. The comparison goes on for some time, but culminates with Fluellen’s suggestion that Alexander the Pig was genuinely great even in spite of the unfortunate fact that once in his youth, when he was in his ales and angers, he killed his friend Clytus; and that similarly, Harry of Monmouth might also be justifiably considered to be great in spite of the fact that in his own youth, he had “turned away…the fat knight with the great-belly doublet” (4.7.9–42). Fluellen’s logic here is twistier than the River Wye itself, of course, but even in this context, it seems odd that his encomium to Harry should end with this extended periphrasis, dwelling on a figure that we have no reason to think that Fluellen had ever even met. He goes on to struggle to call the name of the fat knight to his memory, explaining that “He was full of jests, and gipes, and knaveries, and mocks; I have forgot his name” (ll. 43–45). If I am right, however, in thinking that Fluellen was originally performed by the same actor who had previously played Falstaff, it is tempting to imagine something magical happening in this moment, as the actor struggles to find the name of his former self. We may even recall this very same actor as having said just two days earlier, “There is a virtuous man whom I have often noted in thy company, but I know not his name. […] A goodly, portly man, i’faith, and a corpulent; of a cheerful look, a pleasing eye and a most noble carriage; and, as I think, his age some fifty, or, by’r Lady, inclining to three score” (2.4.406–13). And so when I imagine Fluellen at the Globe in 1599 struggling with his memory and then coyly concluding, “I have forgot his name,” my inclination is to think that Gower would not have needed to provide him with the answer, since the audience would undoubtedly have done it for him, replying in one voice: “Falstaff!” A moment like this would be pure panto, of course, but nevertheless, in the Henriad of my imagination, something of a miracle occurs. Falstaff may well die of a sweat somewhere off stage, his nose as sharp as a pen and babbling of green fields, but he comes back to life as a Welshmen, and with a wink, he lets us know it.

Celebrity No-Show: The Great Eater of Kent Karen Raber

In 1630 John Taylor published a pamphlet recounting the “admirable teeth and stomach exploits” of Nicholas Wood, who had made a name for himself as a minor local celebrity in Kent. The Great Eater of Kent summarizes the occasions on which Wood distinguished himself as a renowned glutton, sometimes reporting merely the creatures Wood consumed (“a whole Sheep of sixteene shillings price, raw at one meale…a Hogge all at once…three peckes of Damsons”1), sometimes giving more specific circumstances: Once at Sir Warham Saint Leiger’s house, and at Sir Willian Sydleyes he shewed himselfe so valiant of Teeth, and Stomacke, that hee ate as much as would wee have serv’d and suffic’d thirty men, so that his belly was like to turne bankerupt and breake, but that the Serving-men turn’d him to the fire, and anointed his paunch with Greace and Butter, to make it stretch and 1  The Great Eater of Kent or Part of the Admirable Teeth and Stomacks Exploits of Nicholas Wood of Harrison in the County of Kent (London, 1630), 6. Further references to this text are by page number only.

K. Raber (*) University of Mississippi, Oxford, MS, USA e-mail: [email protected] © The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2021 A. K. Deutermann et al. (eds.), Publicity and the Early Modern Stage, Early Modern Cultural Studies 1500–1700,




hold; and afterwards, being layd in bed, hee slept eight houres, and fasted all the while: which when the Knight understood, he commanded him to be laid in the stocks, and there to endure as long time as he had laine bedrid with eating. (9)

Like Taylor’s more than 150 published works, The Great Eater of Kent is a small contribution to what Bernard Capp describes as Taylor’s media celebrity, his commitment to strategies of publication designed to “package and promote” his work: “he was,” Capp asserts, “a publicist of genius.”2 Taylor’s extensive output in poems and pamphlets, serialized travel narratives, and a mass of lesser written objects amounted to a running commentary on the events and mores of his age. The Great Eater of Kent is a witty parody of banqueting’s traditional excesses and a moral satire on gluttony that also advertises an event that never happened. Taylor claims that he arranged for Wood to be given a wider audience to amaze: “Now my plot,” he says, “was to have him to the Beare-garden, and there before a house full of people, he should have eaten a wheele barrow full of Tripes; and the next day, as many puddings as should reach over the Thames;…the third day I would have allowed him a fat Calf or Sheepe of twenty shillings price, and the fourth day he should have had thirty Sheeps’ Geathers [gathers are the ‘pluck’ or sheep’s heart, liver and lungs], thus from day to day, he should have had wages & dyet with variety”(16). However, Taylor reports that Wood withdrew from the agreement, giving two excuses: the first, that he might be hanged for failing to earn his keep; and the second, that he feared that because he was “grown in years,” “his stomacke should fail him publikely and lay his reputation in the mire” (17).3 In other words, by Taylor’s account (whether we believe it to be true or not), Wood was a no-show for his own massive national debut at one of London’s most famous entertainment venues. Taylor’s pamphlet raises a number of questions germane to this collection, questions about notoriety, public authorship, and theatricality. How does the text, for example, supply its readers with the pleasure of the absent spectacle (or does it fail to do so?)? How is Wood’s prior local fame in Kent distinct from the wider celebrity Taylor wants to generate for 2  Bernard Capp, The World of John Taylor the Water Poet 1578-1653 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994), 56. 3  It is possible Wood was uncertain of his abilities given that he’d recently lost most of his teeth eating a quarter of mutton, bones, and all.



him—or is fame in London “wider” celebrity at all? What kind of publics might be imagined to consume this pamphlet versus the Bear Garden performance that never happened, and with what consequences in terms of communal identity? What difference does writing a pamphlet versus organizing a theatrical event make to an author’s or a performer’s relationship to a public? Taylor uses Wood’s insatiable “maw” to anchor his account of spectacular gluttony, but how are Wood’s other animalistic attributes especially useful to Taylor’s celebrity-fashioning apparatus—that is, how is Wood’s bestial embodiment leveraged to secure the fame of “The Water Poet” himself? And of course, how does a poet triumph in promoting himself and his celebrity when the celebrity withdraws from public life? In this essay I will address these issues, privileging the nexus between animality, embodiment, and theater to argue that Taylor stages Wood’s gluttonous anti-commensality as a form of anti-theatricality; at the same time, Taylor seizes the material and metaphorical circulatory function of Wood’s “maw” to mobilize his own reputation for compendious wit and knowledge by creating a new set of consumers subject to his pen, rather than to the engrossing spectacle of Wood’s body. In so doing, Taylor deploys Wood to define prodigy as bestial monstrosity, but cannot prevent that definition from attaching to his own search for a popular public audience. It is my contention that Taylor mobilizes all the moralizing discourses involving appetite and the body to report on his subject, but cannot hold fast the distinction between Wood’s gaping maw and his own ambitious prose.

Making Monstrous Celebrity Elsewhere in this volume, Jeffrey S. Doty and Musa Gurnis describe the manner in which figures like Taylor built their personae via a “multimedia public square,” in which boundaries between stage and city, art and finance, politics and social life were porous. Taylor’s various projects spanned a huge variety of what we would now consider distinct genres—poems, pageants, and pamphlets intersected with personal appearances, the business of ferrying passengers across the Thames to theaters, and the business of writing for and about the stage. Writing and the lived experiences of individuals interpenetrated to an extraordinary degree. Any account of Taylor’s friendships with, for instance, Ben Jonson, Thomas Heywood, William Rowley, George Wither, and a host of others, must be replete with personal and written exchanges (with Jonson, Taylor is reputed to have



cemented a friendship with an extempore verse competition): commendatory poems, “borrowed” material, elegies, imitations, mudslinging, and profiteering were the bedrock of Taylor’s reputation-building, as they were  for many of his contemporaries.4 Taylor clearly embraced the idea that there is no such thing as bad publicity, since all forms of notoriety contributed both to his growing celebrity and to his pocketbook through increasing sales and new ventures. When in 1614 William Fennor, in a kind of dry run for the later pamphlet, proved, like Wood, a no-show for a staged contest of dramatic readings, Taylor (who had hired a theater and had to deal with the audience’s rage) penned Taylor’s Revenge, calling Fennor a “scurvy, squint-eyed, brazen-faced baboon.”5 Fennor responded with Fennors Defence before disappearing from the public scene. As in Woods’s case, the pamphlets recoup a loss; but they also testify to the indiscriminate nature of fame and celebrity as practiced by Taylor’s far-flung network of acquaintances, friends, enemies, and rivals. It should be clear that what Taylor garnered through his many treatises and appearances was not the kind of fame that, for instance, King Ferdinand insists in Love’s Labour’s Lost “all hunt after in their lives” to defeat the “disgrace of death” with a lasting reputation for noble character and deeds.6 Fame requires vigilance to avert scandal and mere rumor: classical and Renaissance imagery of personified Fame emphasizes the speed of her messaging by placing wings on the goddess or on the trumpets she holds. Moreover, she is often aligned, as in Ferdinand’s speech, with death and the immortality she confers. Taylor was not particularly interested in this version of renown—posthumous reputation was not profitable, for one thing, nor was the prospect of guarding or limiting his engagement with friends, strangers, peers, antagonists, or the random reader’s part  in Taylor’s agenda. Rather, Taylor pursued an early form of what we now call celebrity, indiscriminately cultivating attention and curiosity, but also potentially disgust or opprobrium. The term celebrity, in use since the fifteenth century to refer broadly to “the state or fact of being well known, widely discussed, or publicly esteemed” (OED 1.a), is linked in its etymology to the condition of the festival (as in celebration), meaning that even in its most positive construction it speaks about the common crowd. We  See for instance, Capp, The World of John Taylor, 43–45.  Ibid., 15. 6  William Shakespeare, Love’s Labour’s Lost, ed. W.R. Woudhuysen (London: Bloomsbury, 1998), 1.1.1–3. 4 5



see in Taylor’s promiscuous embrace of all forms of public attention perhaps the first glimmerings of an orientation that will ultimately define modern manifestations of celebrity. Indeed, the multimedia public square Doty and Gurnis describe results in a kind of distributed personhood, the construction of a “person” (in this case Taylor) who is accessible through both his physical presence at events but also through the many objects that circulate amongst a wide and diverse public. Richard Preiss observes something similar when he remarks about the Fennor pamphlet exchange that it becomes “a kind of half-performed, half-literary object that cycles through multiple paratheatrical identities.”7 Where rival poets are concerned, the consequence of a distributed, multiplicitous identity consumed through a wide variety of genres and forms is clearly advantageous for Taylor: through his willingness to disseminate his work in this way, he achieves a new level of fame and fortune. However, when Taylor invests in a figure like Woods, who can be analogized to various non-human creatures and forces of nature, a more complicated, even hazardous boundary-confusion results. Taylor’s attempt to create a show at the Bear Garden out of Wood’s prodigious eating taps into a set of expectations about performance and theater based on his choice of venue. Unlike Wood’s previous appearances at inns, or in the homes of local figures among the gentry, the Garden was a central London venue frequented by all classes, itself a kind of open maw: in his poem Bull, Beare and Horse, Taylor himself describes the “Rabble Crew, / That thither comes,” which includes “Gamesters worth ten thousand pounds a man” as well as kings and paupers, Englishmen and foreigners alike. Andreas Höfele has challenged the assumption that the baiting arenas and theaters had little in common: rather, he argues, they shared “typological kinship” as well as geographical location.8 They also partook in other “synergies,” among which was their role in staging the often disturbingly fluid boundaries between human and animal, their shared clientele (theatergoers and baiting-arena audiences overlapped, as did their landlords and suppliers), and their shared material use of animals in performances (the infamous question dogging Shakespeare scholarship

7  Preiss, “John Taylor, William Fennor and the ‘Trial of Wit’,” Shakespeare Studies 43 (2015): 50–78, 51. 8  Höfele, Stage, Stake and Scaffold: Humans and Animals in Shakespeare’s Theater (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 6.



about whether The Winter’s Tale bear was real or not is the result of this likely but possibly unprovable exchange).9 As urban venues, both Shakespeare’s theater and the Bear Garden also drew on a larger population among which there was constant demand for entertainment, good potential for large receipts, and all the attendant political complications of performing under the shadow of a suspicious government. Wood’s performance would have functioned as an amalgam of all these factors. For Taylor, the opportunity to make good money was not insignificant, since this self-fashioned and self-educated author relied on his ability to exploit a number of markets—mainly, but not exclusively, related to writing and patronage—for an income; but placing Wood in the Bear Garden positioned Wood as the embodied expression of the possible blurring between human and animal because of his  intemperate consumption of other creatures. For instance, Taylor rechristens Wood “Nicholas Shambles” whose “greatness of…appetite” makes him the best “customer” to a slaughterhouse, emphasizing the indiscriminate nature of his eating; and elsewhere, as we might expect given the persistence of lingo that casts gluttons as “pigs” and “hogs,” Taylor compares Wood to that notorious food animal: “as a hog will eat all things that are to be eaten, so he [Wood] in eating [a] hog did in a manner of extraction distill all manner of meats through the limbeck of his paunch” (6). Hogs and pigs, we should recall, caused early moderns a good deal of anxiety because of their own inclusive eating habits—they were well known to consume whatever they might be fed, including human flesh, meaning those who indulged in pork might well be eating literally anything.10 In this moment, however, Wood does not merely become like the hog he eats: his paunch becomes a device for leveling the many parts of the hog that might grace a dinner table, reminding the reader that through the stomach all creation can be digested and turned to mere excrement. These insults  also have  the effect of reminding readers  of something that would have been widely and immediately apparent had Wood submitted to the public’s gaze in the Bear Garden: that gluttony is not merely morally suspect, but dehumanizing, bestializing. It is further a threat to 9  Höfele, Stage, Stake, and Scaffold, 7; Erica Fudge especially has made this case in Perceiving Animals: Humans and Beasts in Early Modern Culture (Chicago, IL: Chicago University Press, 2000), 11–33. 10  See for instance Erica Fudge, “Saying Nothing but Concerning the Same: On Dominion, Purity, and Meat in Early Modern England,” in Renaissance Beasts: Of Animals, Humans and Other Wonderful Creatures, ed. Fudge (Urbana and Chicago, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2004), 70–86.



the community. Taylor’s descriptions of Wood’s prior small-time wagers and performances include allusions not just to the wonder he generated, but to aspects of competition, resource diversion, and the retribution his eating sometimes provoked. Thus, in addition to his time in the stocks, Wood was targeted by a tavern-keeper, one John Dale, who overthrew “Sir Loyne of Beefe” for only two shillings with a huge amount of ale to “violently [take] away his stomacke” (10-11). The chagrin of his hosts at the plunder of their stores is perhaps best  summarized by the female tavern-­keeper who protests to Taylor that her larder is “slenderly provided” because Wood was there and already ate everything (15). And although Taylor argues that Wood is no more sinful than other “greats” like Alexander and Charlemagne, who earned their fame  by war, theft, manslaughter, and murder, he then notes that Wood has “overcome, conquered, and devoured in one week as much as would have sufficed a reasonable and sufficient Army in a day” (9). The reference to great national leaders, along with the extended comparison to provisioning soldiers, implies that Wood’s gluttonous and demanding stomach nourishes itself at the expense not only of vast numbers of animal lives, but perhaps at the expense of national interests. It should be no surprise, then, that one of Wood’s concerns about the Bear Garden appearance was that he would be punished for proving himself a drain on the economy by eating so much while working so little for his meals. Among Taylor’s riffs on Wood’s identity (and there are dozens) is this set of comparisons: Bell, the famous Idoll of the Babylonians, was a mere imposture, a Juggling toye, and a cheateing bable, in comparison of this Nicholaitan, Kentish Tenterbelly, the high and mighty Duke All-paunch, was but a fiction…A quarter of fat Lambe, and three-score Eggs have beene but an easie collation, and three well larded Pudding-pyes he hath at one time put to soyle, eighteene yards of blacke Puddings (London measure) have suddenly been imprisoned in his sowse-tub. A Ducke raw the guts, feathers, and all (except the bill & the long feathers of the wings) hath swomme in the whirlepole of pond of his mawe, and he told me that three-score point of Cherries was but a kind of washing meate, and that there was no tacke in them….(10)

In this passage, we again find a reference to meat’s devolution into fecal matter (“put to soyle”)—all that Taylor devours is diverted from others’ possibly more elevating uses to end up in his chamber pot. The



claustrophobic nature of Taylor’s reference to Wood’s carceral “sowse-­ tub” stomach and his engulfing “whirlpole” maw emphasizes Wood’s usurpation of both natural and human authority or capacity. Taylor alludes in this passage to a prior satirical pamphlet by Joseph Hall, translated as The Discovery of a New World, Or a Description of the South Indies by John Healy in 1609, which tells of the land of Tenterbelly and the absurd laws of its province “Eat-allia.”11 Wood’s stomach, which dehumanizes Wood by operating outside of rational control, also constitutes him a ruler, Nicholaitan, whose very real presence and actions triumph over—and erase—the paltry fiction of Hall’s prior comic character, Eat-allia’s Duke All-paunch. Wood’s swelling body thus encompasses or swallows deities and entire fictional countries, cheapening the reputation of Baal and displacing Hall’s narrative of Eat-allia. What Taylor’s pamphlet does, then, is clarify what would be left implicit in any appearance by Wood at the Bear Garden: that he is reduced to bestial status when his reason is enslaved to the demands of his belly, and that his resulting behavior violates every standard of human communal behavior, from the niceties of table rituals to the imperative to share food. David Goldstein’s recent work on the ethics of eating argues that anti-­ commensality, the withdrawal from eating’s social dimensions, is depicted as an ethical failing and a source of anxiety and censure in early modern literature.12 Taylor clearly portrays Wood as anti-commensal, and therefore morally and ethically suspect. Taylor seems to further highlight the failure of circulation or shared benefit involved in Wood’s acts of eating when he addresses the pamphlet’s preface not to any particular patron, or to the public who will presumably purchase it, but to Wood himself, enclosing the pamphlet in a loop that extends only between Wood as its subject, Taylor as its author and Wood once more as its primary addressee. At the text’s conclusion he describes Wood as embodying exactly this kind of selfenclosed physiological and economic system when he refers to Wood’s eyes “sunk inward, as if he looked into the inside of his entrails to note what custom’d or uncustom’d goods he took in” (18). All are trapped in and by Wood’s stomach, even—or especially—Wood himself.  Taylor clearly knew the text intimately, especially since it was a precursor to his own travel narratives. 12  Goldstein’s Eating and Ethics in Shakespeare’s England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013) makes the case that eating was principally an ethical practice, and that a significant number of Shakespeare’s staged eating scenes or references to eating concern themselves with failed commensality. 11



Writing the Maw But The Great Eater of Kent does a number of things that are only possible because the Bear Garden performance does not happen—that is, it relies for its existence and for the authorial pyrotechnics it contains on an act of withdrawal. Of the Fennor/Taylor “trial of wit,” Richard Preiss observes that “a broken performance is still a performance, even or especially when it migrates into other arenas to fulfill its original objectives.”13 Wood’s case likewise seems to result in an iterable act of display, if not a theatrical event; yet the nature of such a performance has attached to it different affective energies. In early modern show business, the environment of any stage was a complex, noisy, interrupted, unreliable space. What Robert Weimann has described as the platea of theater where agency is distributed across actors, audiences, and even props or outside influences, always in flux, and indeed often carnivalesque, functioned in productive tension with the locus or site of authority and stability most often associated with representational control, with decorum, or with elements like verse form or the sacred.14 Weimann’s formulation emphasizes the fruitful interplay of these aspects of theater and theatricality. But what difference would a “performance” at the Bear Garden make to such a schema—would the synergies between something approaching a script and the platea of the venue and its spectacle obtain as Weimann claims they do for theater? As Erika T. Lin observes, we’ve tended to read drama in a “flat” way, extracting plays’ meaning from scripts that do not reflect the material conditions of performance.15 Many of those conditions involve the erasure or diminshment of actors’ speeches by audience noise and the relatively distinct affective responses of audiences to particular kinds of delivery (e.g. a soliloquy vs. a dialogue). The Bear Garden would have been an extreme example of this kind of chaos, basically the platea on steroids. Audiences to actual baitings were encouraged to give voice to their approval or disapproval; they gambled, smoked, fought, liaised, and in general demanded endless variety or they got bored and showed their disapproval. These behaviors in part established the audience’s identity as  Preiss, “John Taylor, William Fennor and the ‘Trial of Wit’,” 51.  Robert Weimann, Shakespeare and the Popular Tradition in the Theater: Studies in the Social Dimension of Dramatic Form and Function, ed. Robert Schwartz (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978). 15  Lin, Shakespeare and the Materiality of Performance (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), 23–32. 13 14



a community, even potentially a mob, just as the baiting events themselves were intended to confirm their common dominion over animals. Staging Wood’s acts of prodigious eating would have balanced the anti-­ commensality Taylor notes throughout his pamphlet by turning him over to the arena audience, enabling their consumption of the show, if not of his plethora of foodstuffs. The seizures of agency Weimann assigns to the platea would, however, have been realized without a significant part of the contrasting and balancing elements of the locus—no script would have governed the scene, as spectators marveled, cheered, or booed Wood, walked out, gambled on his stunt, and so on. Any control Taylor might have hoped to exert over the moral meaning or the exact conditions of the event would have disappeared. In other words, the difference between a theatrical play and a performance like the one Wood was scheduled for involves the near-total surrender of an authorial or script-based locus. Other kinds of confusions and losses of control also arose during Bear Garden performances. As Erica Fudge points out, for some observers the cruel enjoyment enacted by Bear Garden crowds eroded the distinction between human and animal: “The binaries of baiting and being baited; watching and performing; human and animal collapse into one another” in dangerous ways.16 This confusion is specifically linked to the urban community, insofar as the city was the epitome of human civilization—one might expect provincial folk to be less capable of fully human distinction (and Fudge cites Taylor for making exactly this argument in another piece, Wit and Mirth, also published in 1630), whereas cultured urban dwellers are assumed to achieve a higher standard of comportment. The moral pull exerted toward restoring community access to Wood as a source of entertainment via the bear arena—in effect, restoring the circulation of “resources” that Wood’s body halts by offering him as a resource or commodity to the crowd—had thus to be weighed against the potential that such a spectacle could backfire in several ways, for instance by encouraging bestial degeneration among viewers, or revealing or generating confusions between gluttonous object and eager consumer, not to mention marginalizing the influence of the “author” of the event. Instead, by circulating a different kind of spectacle, a written, imaginative one, Taylor inserts himself as a primary participant, and therefore takes a different type and potentially greater degree of control over category distinctions and possible interpretation. We should note here,  Fudge, Perceiving Animals, 19.




however, that the forms of authorship Taylor engaged in were highly unstable. Rather than containing the influence and participation of the carnivalesque multitudes, they could in effect prove the elusiveness of such power. Taylor’s exchanges with Fennor, for instance, demonstrate this slipperiness of print: while Taylor tries to one-up this other no-show fellow writer, his witty provocations register his own vulnerability by widely disseminating the news about Fennor’s actions and also open the floodgates to responses like Fennors Defence. At first glance, an ongoing print feud seems to serve Taylor’s project of self-promotion, but each new blow in the duel could also open it to newcomers, to commentators beyond the two involved, thus attenuating Taylor’s authorial dominance. Since the argument in Fennor’s case began over a missed performance, the ground for the duel shifts from theater to text, but could as easily shift again back to theater were the incident to become famous or familiar enough for allusions to it in the play-texts of other stage writers.17 Scripts, pamphlets, and performances were simply not distinct, any more than were the categories of human and animal Wood’s example conflated. Neither, however, were they identical, but circulated and interacted to form a rich environment with fluid boundaries—in other words, they formed an early modern version of what we now gather under the umbrella term “media,” as Doty and Gurnis’s work indicates. We can say, then, that the kinds of print culture Taylor exploited might in fact have afforded a version of Weimann’s platea, an unruly environment of blurrings, overlaps, or interpenetrations.18 That does not mean that Taylor would not have turned to the pamphlet form in the hope of greater control via print, only that such control was often illusory. Taylor’s recounting of the failed public performance hints that Wood’s anti-commensal gluttony extends also to a degree of anti-theatricality: by removing himself from public access, Wood implicitly confirms Taylor’s many depictions of him as a hoarder, a bottomless pit swallowing all abundance, depleting resources of all sorts without giving a return on the investment. Wood, in other words, does not cooperate with any aspect of 17  For example, in her unpublished essay for the 2018 Shakespeare Association of America, “Court Scandal and Theater as Negative Publicity Machine,” Melissa Rohrer detailed the many subtle allusions to the Frances Howard affair that pepper plays of the period, noting that in this fashion unspeakable scandals could be spoken about, often to criticize elite behavior while escaping censorship. 18  I’m grateful to Musa Gurnis and Allison Deuterman for suggesting this insight and language.



the logic of theater. And if he is essentially anti-theatrical, then Wood cannot be allowed to value or benefit from one of the main national forms of urban celebrity, namely notoriety gained through public performance in a London venue. By shunning the performance Wood allows Taylor to act as the theater’s  savior who rescues a delightful and morally instructive event despite its protagonist’s rejection of the form. It should go without saying that Taylor is thus also able to parlay the whole premise into his own cultivation of a wide and admiring (and paying) readership. In this manner, in spite of Wood’s rejection of theater, Taylor makes him a public property as well as an individual asset. The pamphlet is, like many of Taylor’s pieces, nothing if not a cornucopia of riches, a veritable tour de force of literary and historical allusions, puns, jokes, endless lists, a banquet, or a shambles: like “Nicholas Shambles,” who indiscriminately eats up all the meats of a slaughter yard, Taylor produces a confusion of categories in his delighted and delightful attempt to paint the picture of Wood’s magnificence. Nero, Commodius, Tiberius, Charles V, Holofernes, Pompey, Tamburlaine, Arthur, and a host of others show up to be compared to Wood (9, 11). The text embraces natural history and geography, naming or describing dozens of animals from a range of locations in England and elsewhere: for instance Taylor claims Wood has a recipe for “fowle of all sorts, from the wren to the eagle, from the titmouse to the ostrich or cassawary” and notes that Wood is not fond of “the peacock of Samos, the woodcock of Phrygia, the Cranes of Malta, the pheasants of England, the caperkelly, the hathcock, and termagents of Scotland, the goats of Wales,…the skink of Westphalia,…the Spanish potato”; and that’s citing only a few lines out of many pages (12–13). Taylor plays on Wood’s name: “by his race he should be Maple, or Crab-tree, and by his stomach sure his is heart of oak; some say he is a medlar, but by his nature he seems like a low short pine, and certain I am he is Poplar, a well timbered piece or a store house for belly timber” (8). And of course, Taylor provides a list of the dishes Wood can eat, which includes nearly everything under the sun: sausage, custard, egg pie, cheesecake, flawn, fool, fricasse, pancake, fritter, flapjack or posset, and so on (13). Finally, Taylor outfits Wood with a series of costumes, as it were, many of which are contradictory. So for instance, Taylor credits Wood with being temperate in his drink and “chast of his body,” but then reveals him to be at the mercy of drink in a bet he loses with a tavern-­ keeper who provides enough ale to finally defeat the great eater’s paunch (17). Wood is a good Christian because he hates popish fasting; he is “no



gamester, neither at dice or cards,” yet he wins the game of “maw” whenever he plays. Most of all, Wood is a beast: “a confusion for all creatures,” who is “pastured” inadequately to his needs and resembles “one of Pharaoh’s lean kine,” “swarty, hawk-nosed like a parrot” (18). Obviously, these paradoxes and contradictions are part of Taylor’s satire, which is rife with reversals and comical distortions in the same vein as is, for instance, Hall’s account of “Eat-allia,” where the laws treat improvident and intemperate behavior as if it were the greatest virtue, or indeed in the same vein as most of Taylor’s other work. Yet the result is to create a kind of effective substitute for a public performance’s multivocal masquerade. Taylor wins this round of celebrity showdown precisely because at the heart—or stomach—of his account is an aporia, an absence. Ironic, in light of the fullness of Wood’s own belly: or perhaps not ironic at all. Wood’s desperate search for ever-greater quantities and types of fare speaks to constant hunger. In fact, great eaters could be seen as medical curiosities as much as celebrities. Unlike today’s competitive eaters who take advantage of a physiological oddity to gain fame and money, early modern great eaters were probably motivated by either a physiological condition like diabetes or one of the several genetic traits that lead to hyperphagia.19 A later “great eater,” William Marriott of Grey’s Inn, became an example of dietary disorders in Walter Charleton’s 1680 treatise on anatomy, Enquiries into Human Nature.20 Charleton speculates that what he calls great eaters’ “violent hunger” and “wolfish appetite” (vehemens fames and appetitus caninus) are due to the “outrageous,” even “cruel,” “predatory quality of the stomach,” which spews acid phlegm that “dissolves and consumes [their] meat almost as fast as they swallow it down” (81–82). Charleton reports that Marriott often remarked that he felt as if a “greedy worm” were incessantly gnawing him from within. “Hence,” Charleton concludes, “the stomach is afflicted with great anxiety, and by reason of the excessive strength of its praedatory constitution, devours, digests, dissolves, dissipates and consumes whatever is brought into it in a trice, and when full, still craves more”(82). A less scientifically inclined perspective is offered in a scurrilous 1652 pamphlet by George Fidge (which is very like 19  There are at least three possible syndromes (Prader-Willi, Kleine-Levin, and BardetBiedl) that include hyperphagia as a side-effect, plus a number of less rare physiological (and psychological) conditions. 20  Charleton, Enquiries into human nature in VI. anatomic praelections in the new theatre of the Royal College of Physicians in London (London, 1680).



Taylor’s in tone, if less generous in spirit), in which he describes Marriott as a “cormorant,” and a centaur (like Wood, beastly if only below the waist), and he claims that more flesh was buried in the bottomless pit of Marriott’s maw in a week than in Stepney Churchyard. But according to Fidge, Marriott’s stomach was so demanding that to pacify it he swallowed pebbles and bullets to “cool” its demands, a typical sign of a medical disorder and very similar to Taylor’s tidbits about Wood eating skins, teeth, bones, and other non-comestibles to sate his hunger. The point is that if these great eaters indeed suffered from genetic or other conditions, nothing could adequately fill their guts. They were, finally, literally and physiologically insatiable black holes. I want to end by proposing exactly this as an image of celebrity itself. Taylor’s compulsive writing, its abundance both within each piece and in the sheer number of works overall, its shambles-like random inclusivity— these are not very different in nature from Wood’s own insatiable appetite. At the core of both is an abyss, a space that can’t be represented and equally can’t be papered over, whether with whole hogs or with printed matter. It’s not the celebrity, but celebrity itself that turns out to be a perpetual no-show in Taylor’s concerted hunt for fame and fortune.


Bodies Public and Imaginary

Bodies Public: The Roaring Girl and the Rise of Celebrity Matthew Hunter

In a diary entry dated March 13, 1601, John Manningham records a story that is no less true for being (most likely) apocryphal: Upon a tyme when Burbidge played Richard III. there was a citizen grone soe farre in liking with him, that before shee went from the play shee appointed him to come that night unto hir by the name Richard the Third. Shakespeare overhearing their conclusion went before, was intertained and at his game ere Burbidge came. Then message being brought that Richard the Third was at the dore, Shakespeare caused returne to be made that William the Conqueror was before Richard the Third. Shakespeare’s name William.1

1  John Manningham, The Diary of John Manningham, ed. John Bruce (Westminster: Nichols and Sons, 1868), 39.

M. Hunter (*) Texas Tech University, Lubbock, TX, USA e-mail: [email protected] © The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2021 A. K. Deutermann et al. (eds.), Publicity and the Early Modern Stage, Early Modern Cultural Studies 1500–1700,




The tryst may never have happened, but its recounting is a very real record of the desires for contact that celebrities stir in their publics.2 Joseph Roach has called the special object of this longing “public intimacy,” and though it is everywhere to be found in the long eighteenth century, we catch important glimpses of it in Manningham’s early modern moment.3 We find it stirring the pulse of the nameless citizen “grown soe farre in liking” with Richard Burbage, and we find even more of it in Manningham himself. It is as if by re-telling to himself a story that someone else surely recounted to him, Manningham may place himself in the position of the woman who enjoys more than a little contact with two luminaries of the early modern stage. If this vicarious participation makes Manningham into an early modern version of the fan who not so secretly wishes to take his idol to bed, it is worth stressing that sex in this dynamic is itself a substitute—the closest a tittering law student can get to having the body that seizes his attention. That is why Manningham’s own body is nowhere to be found. The citizen’s, and then Burbage’s, and then Shakespeare’s, takes its place. Laying one surrogate experience on top of another, Manningham’s diary captures how easily a wish to have another person’s body slips into a wish to have that body take the place of one’s own. It is a desire for that is also a desire to be, which also means that it is a desire that can never really be satisfied. This is an essay about celebrity, that class of alluring people who are endlessly “talked about by the crowd[s]” who make them, but it is also an essay about frustrations that the celebrity brings to light: the frustrations that come from having a body and the frustrations that come from not having one.4 My argument is that the desires and disappointments spurred by this figure arise in response to the experience of publicity, which places the body under special duress. By now, it is no secret that publicity and embodiment make strained bedfellows. The friction between the two has been well documented by Michael Warner and Lauren Berlant. “The Mass Public and the Mass Subject,” the most provocative and prescient chapter of Publics and Counterpublics, finds Warner drawing upon Berlant’s earlier 2  On the relationship of Manningham’s anecdote to a burgeoning “theatre scene” in early modern London, see Jeffrey S. Doty and Musa Gurnis, “Theatre Scene and Theatre Public in Early Modern London,” Shakespeare 14 (2018): 12–25. 3  Joseph Roach, It (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2007), passim. 4  Joseph A.  Boone and Nancy J.  Vickers, “Introduction: Celebrity Rites,” PMLA 126 (2011): 900–911, 904. On the connections between celebrity, fame, and public talk, see also Leo Braudy, The Frenzy of Renown: Fame and Its History (New York: Vintage Books, 1986), 122–129 and 584–599.



work in order to argue for a grim double bind: the public sphere demands disembodiment, and yet disembodiment can never be perfectly attained, since our bodies are always in some way marked. We thus find ourselves conscripted into what he calls the public sphere’s fundamental dialectic between abstraction and embodiment. “[O]n the one hand,” there is the “prophylaxis of general publicity,” whereby we make ourselves the perfectly abstract and impersonal subjects of the public. “[O]n the other hand,” there is “the always inadequate particularity of individual bodies, experienced…as a kind of closeted vulnerability.”5 To be public is to be disembodied. And yet, since we can never actually leave our bodies behind, it is also to be never disembodied enough. Warner’s dialectic exposes the empty promise of the modern public sphere, which is that anyone can attain the disembodiment it demands, so long as they possess a body of the most particularized kind: white, male, and moneyed. This double bind is the legacy of the eighteenth century, when public persons, by Jürgen Habermas’s account, converged to dispute matters of public relevance through rational-critical debate. With Manningham, the interests of this chapter lie in a historical moment well before the rise of coffee shops and chocolate houses. It turns to the London of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries in order to show that the tension between embodiment and disembodiment, between particularized corporeality and faceless abstraction, is fundamental to the public sphere that emerges at that time. And yet it should be stressed at the outset that this social imaginary was not the mirror image of its eighteenth-­century successor. The differences between the two were significant, particularly so far as matters of embodiment and abstraction were concerned. At this early modern moment, there was as yet no codified meta-language of self-abstraction, and there was no explicit norm of privileged disembodiment. In fact, as we are going to discover, something more like the opposite was the case: abstraction was the unsought position, embodiment its coveted opposite. During this time, the city of London was fast expanding into an increasingly and rather uncomfortably public space. The newly public shape of social life accorded interactions there an uncomfortably abstract quality, an abstraction which 5  Michael Warner, “The Mass Public and the Mass Subject,” in Publics and Counterpublics (New York: Zone Books, 2002), 182. See Berlant, “National Brands/National Body: Imitation of Life,” in Comparative American Identities: Race, Sex, and Nationality in the Modern Text, ed. Hortense J. Spillers (New York: Routledge, 1991), 110–140.



the “positivity of the body,” as Warner might call it, promised to remedy—but not without also placing the most peculiar pressure on the experience of having a body. Despite the growing number of historians and literary critics who have turned their attention to publicity before the public sphere, focusing on the early modern social formations that pre-date the publics of the eighteenth century, there has been surprisingly little to say about the relationship between publicity and embodiment. This chapter redresses that gap. It draws upon Berlant’s and Warner’s claims in order to demonstrate that the gratingly public shape of social life in early modern London is structured by its own dialectic of abstraction and embodiment. At this early modern moment, to be public is to be alienated from the very body that makes one public in the first place, which also means that to be public is to desire, like Manningham’s illustratively anonymous playgoer, a body of one’s own. My argument is that it was the special capacity of the celebrity to satisfy this desire, but only ever partly. In early modern England, this novel figure emerges as insistently public and insistently embodied at once. As such, the celebrity bears within herself the promise to resolve the contradictions between abstraction and embodiment that publicity entails. Through me, the celebrity tacitly assures, you will get the body you always wanted. In making this promise, the celebrity resembles nothing so much as the commodity, which likewise assures consumers that it will, in Berlant’s words, “transmit its aura, its ‘body,’” to those who buy it.6 So it makes only too much sense that the rise of the celebrity roughly coincides not only with the emergence of an early modern public sphere but also with the emergence of what Jean-Christophe Agnew has called a “placeless” market.7 Swelling to encompass nearly every aspect of city life, London’s marketplace was nearly coextensive with public life. Linda Levy Peck has shown, in fact, that the city’s many new public places were inextricable from commodity sale and luxury display. Not only were shops and exchanges inescapably public places, but the things they sold were expressly for the purpose of public display.8 Clothes, ornaments, accessories, and other 6  Berlant, The Female Complaint: The Unfinished Business of Sentimentality in American Culture (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008), 141. 7  Jean-Christophe Agnew, Worlds Apart: The Market and the Theater in Anglo-American Thought 1550–1750 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986). 8  Linda Levy Peck, Consuming Splendor: Society and Culture in Seventeenth-Century England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005).



accoutrements were instruments for making oneself—which is also to say one’s body—public. Whatever form they took, they offered consumers a ‘body’ in place of the body they already had—a ‘prosthesis,’ as Berlant terms it. In this respect, the celebrity is what every commodity promises its consumer will become, which is also what makes the celebrity into the most seductive commodity of the market. Like the commodity, the celebrity flourishes on behalf of audiences seeking to reconcile embodiment and abstraction. By a vicarious relation, they remedy the alienation that defines the very experience of publicity. As we will see, that remedy can only ever be fleeting—which only spurs our desire for them. To make this claim, I turn to The Roaring Girl (1610), Thomas Dekker and Thomas Middleton’s comedy about the contemporaneous exploits of the real-life Mary “Moll” Frith. A cross-dressing pickpocket who paraded her transgressions in the neighborhood of London’s theaters, Frith was one of early modernity’s most “abnormally interesting people.”9 She inspired plays, epigrams, and pseudo-biographies. She was, as Marjorie Garber puts it, “ever in the news.”10 As such, Frith offers a particularly rich early modern example of the “new sort of fame” that flourished in the eighteenth century and, in Julia H.  Fawcett’s words, “recognized individuals not for what they had done but simply for who they were.”11 Yet The Roaring Girl is more than a provocation to roll back the historical origins of celebrity to yet an earlier period. Rather, this chapter takes The Roaring Girl as its case study because the comedy spurs us to reconsider the fraught relationship of embodiment to both publicity and celebrity. Studies of celebrity would seem to suggest that it is impossible to talk about celebrity without talking about the convergence of the public and the private in a single, electrifying persona. In addition to Roach’s concept of “public intimacy,” Richard Dyer has written that the “magic” of stars is that they “seem to be their private selves in public.”12 Felicity Nussbaum has argued that Restoration actresses “manipulated privacy

 Roach, It, 1.  Marjorie Garber, “The Logic of the Transvestite: The Roaring Girl 1608,” in Staging the Renaissance: Reinterpretations of Elizabethan and Jacobean Drama, ed. David Scott Kastan and Peter Stallybrass (New York: Routledge, 1991), 221–34, 222. 11  Fawcett, Spectacular Disappearances: Celebrity and Privacy 1696–1801 (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2016), 8. 12  Richard Dyer, Heavenly Bodies: Film Stars and Society, Second Edition (New York: Routledge, 2004), 13. 9




into the construction of a partially fictive offstage personality.”13 Stella Tillyard has proposed that “[c]elebrity was born at the moment private life became a tradeable public commodity.”14 And Fawcett has uncovered the ways that celebrities cultivate strategies of “over-expression” in order to withhold their private lives from public scrutiny.15 But if celebrity is “the meeting point of public appearance and private desire,” The Roaring Girl suggests that private desire is for the embodiment that publicity places under duress.16 A celebrity is the body her public can never have.

Any Body, Some Body, Every Body, No Body Whatever its connotations today, publicity was not always pleasant. By the end of the sixteenth century, London had transformed into an intensely public place thanks to a rapid influx of citizens, a proliferation of new media, and the emergence of urban institutions like Paul’s Walk and the Royal Exchange that facilitated new forms of stranger sociability. If these developments announce England’s happy deliverance into early modernity, it is important to underscore that they were not welcomed by everyone, as satirists from the period make obstreperously clear. John Donne laments that he “[does] hate perfectly / All this town.”17 Everard Guilpin pleads for his readers to “[e]ntice me not into the City’s hell.”18 And John Marston promises to “snarl at those which do the world beguile / With masked shows.”19 Town, city, world—these are all words for London.20 But 13  Felicity Nussbaum, Rival Queens: Actresses, Performance, and the Eighteenth-Century British Theater (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011), 44. 14  Stella Tillyard, “Celebrity in Eighteenth-Century London,” History Today 55 (June 2005): 20–27, 25. 15  Julia H.  Fawcett, Spectacular Disappearances: Celebrity and Privacy 1696–1801 (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2016). 16  Emrys D.  Jones and Victoria Joule, “Introduction,” in Intimacy and Celebrity in Eighteenth-Century Literary Culture: Public Interiors, ed. Jones and Joule (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018), 1–10, 2. 17  John Donne, “Satyre II,” in John Donne: The Satires, Epigrams, and Verse Letters, ed. W. Milgate (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1967), 1–2. 18  Everard Guilpin, Skialethia, or, The Shadow of Truth, in Certaine Epigrams and Satyres (London: Printed by I.R. for Nicholas Ling, 1598), “Satyra Quinta,” lines 1–2, sig. D4r. 19  John Marston, The Metamorphosis of Pigmalions Image, and Certaine Satyres (London: Printed for Edmond Matts, 1598), sig. C2v. 20  Janette Dillon, Theatre, Court, and City 1595–1610: Drama and Social Space in London (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 80–82.



they are more than that, too. They are words for social spaces whose boundaries, as Lawrence Manley puts it, are “permeable and therefore not wholly obligatory.”21 They capture a social domain that was newly public and, if satirists were any indication, no less irritating for it. Indeed, the simmering tone that makes itself felt even in the briefest examples above suggests that publicity was, at least for some, a sore in need of a salve. The irritation that runs throughout early modern satires might even be said to bear within itself the recognition that publicity—as a “permeability” or openness of oneself toward interactions with people one does not know— is itself a kind of feeling, a social relation that is also an affective bearing which “not only has its own general way of having a mood, but needs moods and ‘makes’ them for itself.”22 Not everyone may have found that feeling as galling as Guilpin and his comrades in satirical arms.23 But as an emotion that, in Sianne Ngai’s words, “appl[ies] equally to psychic life and life at the level of the body,” the irritation projected by their poems captures something of the discomforts that publicity places on the body.24 On the one hand, publicity is a kind of co-presence that requires the body, as when we go to a theater filled with other playgoers; on the other hand, it is an experience that all too often requires abstracting the body and all its particularities for the sake of someone else’s. The tension between these impulses animates a scene that recurs through nearly every satire from the period, a scene in which the satirist— delighted to be so disgruntled—finds himself face to face with a courtier dressed to the nines. Here is Marston’s take on the encounter: But oh! the absolute Castilio, He that can all the poynts of courtship show… Tut, he is famous for his reveling, For fine sette speeches, and for sonnetting; He scornes the viol and the scraping sticke, And yet’s but Broker of anothers wit. 21  Lawrence Manley, Literature and Culture in Early Modern London (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 394. 22  Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, trans. John Macquerrie and Edward Robinson (New York: Harper & Row, 1962), 139. 23  For a recent and persuasive take on the pointedly masculine forms of sociability that were fashioned by Elizabethan verse satires, see Per Sivefors, “Satire, Age, and Manliness in Everard Guilpin’s Skialethia,” English Literary Renaissance 49 (2019): 201–223. 24  Sianne Ngai, Ugly Feelings (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005), 184.



Certes if all things were well knowne and view’d He doth but champe that which another chew’d. Come come, Castillion, skim thy posset curd, Show thy queere substance, worthlesse, most obsurd. Take ceremonious complement from thee, Alas, I see Castillios beggary.25

We may think of this confrontation as a primal scene of stranger sociability in early modern London: in it, one anonymous person goes out into a public street in order to “publish” himself to the view of other anonymous persons. The anonymity of the encounter is what facilitates its central fantasy, namely, that in a domain where everyone is a stranger to everyone else, a nameless “Castillio” can present himself as a privileged insider of the court, making himself available as an object of admiration and public identification. Marston of course sees through the ruse, and there is accordingly no shortage of the contempt for which he was so renown. He lobs one barb after another at this “worthless pretender,” less to address him than to address his absent and invisible readers, whom he conscripts into his contempt. Hence the uneasy toggling between third-person reference and second-person address. Even as Marston cuts the courtly Castillio down to size, however, he is also giving him exactly what he wants. Attacking the pretender is its own form of public attention, whose effect is shown to frame the spectator as an abstraction rather than a person, an anonymous member of the abstract public. Marston succumbs to this abstraction, it seems, both wittingly and against his will. Each barb he throws effaces him a bit more; even the “I see” of the final line presents the satirist as an empty vessel for beholding this “Broker of another man’s wit.” It is as if Marston cannot regard the courtier’s body without bracketing his own. Scrupulously withholding the first-person pronoun, Marston’s satire stages publicity as a strangely zero-­ sum game: one man’s embodiment is another man’s abstraction. Every pretender who uses his body to make himself spectacularly public does so by interpellating everyone else as a spectator, a person whose body only matters insofar as it is a witness to his own. It is in this respect that the public sphere of early modern England crucially differs from its eighteenth-­century inheritor: at this time, it was not 25  John Marston, The metamorphosis of Pigmalions image and certaine satyres (London, 1598), sigs. C4r-C4v.



abstraction but the body that was the principle means of making oneself public. It was through the body, flagrantly displayed, that one commanded the attention of others. Indeed, when Thomas Dekker lampoons young gallants who insist on propping themselves on the stage during the performance of a play—“By spreading your body on the stage,” he sarcastically urges, “the Stagelike time will bring you the most perfect light”—he illuminates the drive for embodiment that dwells at the heart of publicity in early modern London.26 As will become increasingly clear, such flagrant embodiment, which Amanda Bailey has resonantly called “flaunting,” was not actually available to everyone: only certain bodies could enjoy the privilege of public spectacle, and only in certain ways.27 But for now, what needs most to be emphasized is that, at this earlier moment, self-abstraction was not yet the badge of distinction it would become later on. Instead, abstraction was an unsought condition that comes from living in a public world where any body can become some body, but only by making every body else into a no body.

Two Prostheses Elizabethan verse satire is the period’s most generically systematic—or mostly systematic—attempt to resolve this tension by converting abstraction from an unsought position into a vicariously embodied posture. This happens, however, not through direct representations or discussions of “the public,” but through discursive styles that mediated the relationship between abstraction and embodiment. Indeed, satire helps to codify an especially vituperative style of talk a supplement—a kind of substitute body—to the unsought condition of abstraction. Gleefully rebarbative, this style weds images of bodily injury or abjection to hard plosives, polysyllabic diction, and an almost breathless rhythm, in an active repudiation of the standards of grace and beauty that were normalized under the ideal of eloquence. Harsh where eloquence was sweet, the style cultivated by early modern satire tends to follow the most accumulative or paratactic threads of syntax, taking the form of a list rather than statement, before some performative utterance—like “I banish you” or “I defy you”—snaps  Thomas Dekker, The Guls Horne-Booke (London, 1609), sig. E3r.  Amanda Bailey, Flaunting: Style and the Subversive Male Body in Renaissance England (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2007). 26 27



everything into place with the most bitter punch. Writers from the period often called this style raillery, insult, or abuse, but it is worth underscoring what such terms paper over, which is the very material and corporeal conditions of language that the style itself enlists in the service of its attacks.28 Without apology, it foregrounds what Shoshanna Felman has called “the indissoluble relation between the physical and the linguistic, between body and discourse.”29 We encounter versions of this harshly corporeal style throughout satires from the period. Joseph Hall remarks that “[l]ong as the craftie Cattle lieth sure / In the black Cloude of his thick vomiture; / Who list complaine of wronged faith or fame.”30 Elsewhere, John Donne derides someone “who (beggarly) doth chaw / Other wits fruits, and in his ravenous maw / Roughly digested, did those things out-spew / As his own things.”31 Marston’s satire suggests most forcefully why this style should be so central to the genre. Here as elsewhere, Marston is not really interested in extracting a reply from the courtier he so acidly mocks. Rather, through the triangulation of address that is satire’s defining rhetorical gambit, Marston attacks a him over there so that he can all the more devastatingly appeal to a you over here. It is through such double-address that satire, in Jesse Lander’s words, “devote[s] itself to the constitution of particular communities.”32 But the community that Marston constitutes does not take a political or ideological cast. Instead, Marston uses his style to construct a body for a public that necessarily, as an imaginary community, has none of its own. “Points of courtship,” “posset curd,” “scraping stick,” “skim thy posset curd”—as the plosives gather and multiply, their cumulative effect is to lodge each word forcibly in the mouth. Even when silently read, this clotted and guttural style spurns easy enunciation, reminding us of the very somatic conditions that subtend the satirist’s speech. Embodying its speaker as forcefully as the “new-scrap’t eloquence” embodies the

28  For a learned study of this style, see Maria Teresa Michaela Prendergast, Railing, Reviling, and Invective in English Literary Culture 1588–1617 (New York: Routledge, 2016). 29  Shoshanna Felman, The Scandal of the Speaking Body: Don Juan with J.L.  Austin, or Seduction in Two Languages (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2003), 65. 30  Joseph Hall, Virgidemiarum: The Three Last Bookes of Byting Satyres (London, 1599), sig. B3r. 31  Donne, “Satire II,” 25–26. 32  Jesse Lander, Inventing Polemic: Religion, Print, and Literary Culture in Early Modern England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 35.



parvenus he takes as target, Marston’s style transforms him from an abstracted representative of the public into its weaponized prosthesis. The power of this prosthesis is to afford what Warner would call a “transitive pleasure.”33 Just as any spectator to the courtier’s “ceremonious” self-publication brackets his person, so does the spectacle of the satirist’s confrontation with his target demand a similar self-abstraction. Hence the mass address that defines the genre, which in addressing everyone also addresses no one in particular. We understand ourselves as addressed by this language, but only as strangers; the embodied particularities of our lives have no direct relation to it. Like all public address, the language of this satire is both for us and not. To be addressed by this language is to be addressed as an abstract no one, rather than a particular someone. And yet, by metaphorically “injuring” his all too embodied targets, Marston’s style provides his public with a vivid, humiliated image of the body that, as the subjects of public address, they have of necessity left behind. The obtrusive consonants and corporeal images act as a supplement to the abstraction that, I’ve been arguing, publicity entails. The style thus remedies the alienation of publicity by constructing a concrete, virtual body for the abstract public that Marston invokes. By a transitive relay, style gives a body to the public that has none of its own. But early modern satires also make all too clear that their outlandishly vituperative style was hardly the only strategy at the time for resolving the tension between abstraction and embodiment. Consider Guilpin’s caustic delight upon beholding well-dressed courtier: But soft! Whom have we here, What brave Saint George, what mounted cavalier; He is all court-like; Spanish in’s attire… This is the dictionary of complements, The barbers mouth of new-scrap’t eloquence.34

From his “barbers mouth” to his regal steed, Guilpin’s “mounted cavalier” is nobly embodied, but only because he is also so nobly commodified. The “dictionary of complements” and the Spanish dress make this unnamed courtier into an animating spirit of London’s marketplace—a man made by things sold to men. It is well-known that London’s  Warner, Publics and Counterpublics, 179.  Guilpin, Skialthethia, sig. D7r.

33 34



consumer culture spiked sharply at the turn of the century, and among its many effects is the emergence of a new kind of good. As Douglas Bruster has shown, the very meaning of the word “commodity” transforms during this time from a special political acumen to an item that was bought and sold.35 But as that transcendent form which evolves out of its brain grotesque ideas the commodity is more than just an object of sale. Its uncanny power is to make the person embodied and public at once. As Guilpin’s cavalier haughtily demonstrates, it furnishes the purchaser with a body which transforms him from an anonymous, undifferentiated stranger into a legible person—a somebody in a world of nobodies. The commodity thus illuminates the inextricability of the marketplace from the experience of publicity: the former grants access to the latter. The commodity, in other words, is a prosthesis all its own. It is not the opposite of the satirist’s style, but its mirror image. At the turn of the century, the fraught experience of publicity had generated two competing strategies of self-display, two equal and opposite prostheses for the body: on the one hand, style; on the other hand, the commodity. In the figure of the celebrity, these two prostheses find their alluring reconciliation.

Fictive Presence The history of celebrity does not begin with Mary Frith (whom I hereafter refer to as “Frith” in order to distinguish her from the “Moll” of Middleton and Dekker’s comedy). She enjoys precedents in celebrated clowns like Will Kemp and Richard Tarlton; in actors like Edward Alleyn and Richard Burbage; in Queen Elizabeth, whose resplendent self-display helped to establish a cult of royal personality; in the many authorial personas that, 35  Douglas Bruster, Drama and the Market in the Age of Shakespeare (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 104–105. On the emergence of the commodity in early modern England, see, among others, Jonathan Gil Harris, “Properties of Skill: Product Placement in Early English Artisinal Drama,” in Staged Properties in Early English Drama, ed. Harris and Natasha Korda (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 35–67; Natasha Korda, Shakespeare’s Domestic Economies: Gender and Property in Early Modern England (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002); David Hawkes, Idols of the Marketplace: Idolatry and Commodity Fetishism in English Literature 1580–1680 (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2001); Henry S. Turner, “Nashe’s Red Herring: Epistemologies of the Commodity in Lenten Stuffe (1599),” ELH 68 (2001): 529–561. Looming behind these studies are the essays collected in Arjun Appadurai, ed., The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986).



Samuel Fallon has recently shown, haunted London’s print marketplace of their own accord; and in the many local personalities of early modern London, like John Taylor and Ann Elsdon, “non-elite” persons whose reputations (as Jeff Doty and Musa Gurnis show) were both distributed across and generated by a range of popular media.36 Yet Frith also stands apart from these luminaries in a critical respect: her celebrity is founded first and foremost on her body, and it is founded first and foremost on turning her body into a form of defiance. Sporting the flagrantly masculine ensemble of doublet, breeches, and tobacco pipe, presenting herself in highly trafficked areas of London like Southwark, the Bankside, and Paul’s Churchyard, Frith made herself scandalously public by making herself so insistently and publicly embodied. The spectacle was not all exhibitionary, to be sure. Arrest records from 1600 and 1602 suggest that the performance provided Frith and her accomplices with a way to pickpocket the onlookers who gathered around her.37 But the one-woman-show of a pickpocket parading in man’s attire across London’s streets was so captivating in part because it was such an overt parody of the misogynistic terms that coded public presentation in early modern London. Only partly liberating, that is, Frith’s cross-dressing performs the gendered body that is needed to pass unmarked through London’s public places, its walkways and markets, its parks and taverns and squares. In Marjorie Garber’s words, her clothing merely “refer[red] back to the male as norm.”38 Frith’s cross-dressing exposed that norm to be laced deep into early modern London’s many public spaces. Indeed, we might understand that norm to provide The Roaring Girl with its narrative foundation: Sebastian 36  Samuel Fallon, Paper Monsters: Persona and Literary Culture in Early Modern England (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2019). For two extensive treatments of the early modern clown, see David Wiles, Shakespeare’s Clown: Actor and Text in the Elizabethan Playhouse (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987) and Richard Preiss, Clowning and Authorship in the Early Modern Theater (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014). On Alleyn’s celebrity, see S.P. Cerasano, “Edward Alleyn, the New Model Actor, and the Rise of the Celebrity Player,” Medieval & Renaissance Drama in England 18 (2005): 47–58. On Richard Burbage’s career as an actor, see Bart Van Es, Shakespeare in Company (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 232–250. See, as well, Pamela Allen Brown, “Anatomy of the Actress: Bel-Imperia as Tragic Diva,” Shakespeare Bulletin 33 (2015): 49–65 for an invaluable study of female actresses and the celebrity they accrued in early modern Europe. 37  See Gustav Ungerer, “Mary Frith, Alias Moll Cutpurse, in Life and Literature,” Shakespeare Studies 28 (2000): 42–84, 63. 38  Garber, “The Logic of the Transvestite,” 232. See also Stephen Orgel, Impersonations: The Performance of Gender in Shakespeare’s England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 127–153.



Wengrave is unable to wed Mary Fitzallard because his father, the anxiously moneyed Sir Alexander, demands too handsome a dowry. Being prevented from marrying the Mary of his choice, Sebastian decides he will pretend to fall for another—for Mary Frith, otherwise known as Moll Cutpurse, in the hopes that a cross-dressing “roaring girl” of criminal renown will seem so hideous to Sir Alexander as to make the other Mary appear angelic by comparison. It is an unlikely plan, but as early as the second scene, it has begun to work. Sir Alexander is shown lamenting that the latest object of his son’s desire is a “scurvy woman,” “a thing / one knows not how to name,” and, worst of all, a “strange thing” after which “[n]o blazing star draws more eyes” (1.2.125–134).39 As Sir Alexander makes virulently clear, for a woman to make herself so public in early modern London was also to make herself an aberration, a “monster” who was queerly because excessively embodied. Small wonder, then, that the reallife fascination generated by Frith was as misogynistic as the fictive Sir Alexander’s. Soon after The Roaring Girl was performed, Frith was placed on trial and “pressed to declare whether she had not been dishonest of her body.”40 As prurient as it is paternalistic, the question points to the fascination that Frith’s all too embodied public performances had generated in the most intimate details of her life. Her transvestism set her apart from the public and thereby seized its attention. The source of that fascination was what Sharon Marcus might call Frith’s “impudence.” For Marcus, impudent celebrities are products of the late nineteenth century, when celebrity and fame, long opposed as antithetical ideals, found their combination in figures who “showily departed from norms,” who “presented themselves as inimitable, though they often inspired emulation,” and who, most crucially, were “not content simply to challenge social mores, but gamble[d] on being rewarded by society for doing so.”41 Marcus’s great emblem of impudent celebrity is Sarah Bernhardt, darling and devil of the Victorian stage, whose irreverent wit and unfeminine physique uncannily echo the no less “impudent” performances of Mary Frith. Running from the beginning of the seventeenth century to the end of the nineteenth, the line connecting the two figures 39  All citations are taken from The Roaring Girl: The New Mermaids Edition, ed. Elizabeth Cook (London: A&C Black, 1997). 40  As cited in Ungerer, “Mary Frith, Alias Moll Cutpurse,” 67. 41  Sharon Marcus, “Salomé!! Sarah Bernhardt, Oscar Wilde, and the Drama of Celebrity,” PMLA 126 (2011): 999–1021, 1011.



is thin, but it is strong enough to suggest that defiance is constitutive of celebrity because it presents the actor to her public and removes her from it at the very same time. Impudence makes one public by opposing the public, even by attacking it. Such recalcitrance may take many forms, but Frith and Bernhardt are so revelatory because their defiance is rooted in their bodies, which do what others do not, or cannot, or will not allow their own bodies to do. Marcus’s analysis of celebrity draws heavily on the Victorian press, since mediation is the essential glue that binds together celebrities to their publics. In the early years of the seventeenth century, newspapers were of course only in the process of becoming the periodically circulated media that would help to usher in the public sphere of the eighteenth century. But if early modern London lacked such a press to report on Frith’s exploits, she was not unmediated, either. As Paul Mulholland has argued, the historical Frith receives honorable mention in Thomas Dekker’s comedy If It Be Not Good, The Devil Is In It (London, 1612); in Epigram 90 of Thomas Freeman’s Rubbe, and a Great Cast: Epigrams (London, 1614); in John Taylor’s The Water Cormorant: His Complaint Against a Broad Brood of Land-Cormorants (London, 1622); and in Nathan Field’s comedy of cross-dressing, Amends for Ladies: With the Merry Prankes of Moll Cutpurse (London, 1639). Frith’s fame was as durable as it was entrancing. As late as 1662, a biography of dubious authority was published, The Life and Death of Mrs. Mary Frith, Commonly Called Moll Cutpurse, as well as what Gustav Ungerer calls a “chapbook” version of the Life, entitled The Woman’s Champion; or the Strange Wonder Being a True Relation of the Mad Prancks, Merry Conceits, Politick Figaries, and Most Unheard of Strategems of Mrs. Mary Frith.42 As one more depiction of this infamous figure, The Roaring Girl itself functioned as “a kind of local reporting,” as Nina Levine puts it, both tapping into and extending the fascination that her cross-dressing produced.43 Yet The Roaring Girl also stands interestingly apart from these other depictions of Frith. Even as the play foregrounds Frith’s body as a form of public defiance, it also accords that body a peculiarly virtual quality. The comedy begins with a prologue priming audiences for an extended glimpse of Frith’s infamous exploits—“But would you know who ‘tis? Would you 42  P.A. Mulholland, “The Date of The Roaring Girl,” The Review of English Studies 28 (1977): 18–31, 23; Ungerer, “Mary Frith, Alias Moll Cutpurse,” 44. 43  Nina S. Levine, Practicing the City: Early Modern London on Stage (New York: Fordham University Press 2016), 109.



hear her name? / She is call’d mad Moll; her life, our acts proclaim” (Prologue 29–30)—the coy humor of which comes from the winking acknowledgment that most in the audience would “know who tis,” having paid for a ticket at the Fortune Theater, where the play was performed, because they had “hear[d] her name” before and wanted to hear more. No sooner do Dekker and Middleton mention Moll, however, then they withhold her from us. In her place, the play opens onto Sir Alexander and his son at odds over “a creature / So strange in quality, a whole city takes / Note of her name and person” (1.1.97–100). James Knapp has read these lines as Alexander’s fraught attempt to conceptualize the notoriety that Moll enjoys.44 Both “common” and “strange,” Moll is scandalously public and yet scandalously different from anything else the public has to offer. It is this scandalously embodied publicity that makes Moll into a celebrity, but even as Moll is marked for her corporeality—Alexander calls her “a creature”—The Roaring Girl also presents her in the very same moment as luminously virtual: this “creature” is also a star, her renown so far-reaching that she seizes attention even when she is not present. By thus withholding from audiences the roaring girl that it promises— foregrounding the effects of Moll’s fame rather than Moll’s famous self— Dekker and Middleton begin their comedy by presenting celebrity as the contradictory phenomenon that it remains to this day: at once embodied and abstract, both corporeal and virtual. For Moll’s public as much as for Nicki Minaj’s, celebrity is a fictive presence, mediated as much as embodied, that saturates the actor whenever she dares to appear before us. Celebrity gets produced by the particulars of an actor’s performance, but it is sustained by the conversations, the fantasies, and the reenactments that proliferate in her wake. To conceive of celebrity in this way is to align it with gossip—“talk about others” as Patricia Meyer Spacks puts it, which its participants use “to reflect about themselves.”45 Yet celebrity also does more than spur intimate, community-forming conversations. As The Roaring Girl demonstrates, celebrities mediate the relations, desires, and affective attachments of the public that produces them—and in no small part through their bodies. It is such a relation that sets The Roaring Girl in motion. Enlisted to secure his marriage to Mary Fitzallard, Sebastian’s “love” for Moll Frith is a particularly synthetic 44  James Knapp, “Mass Entertainment Before Mass Entertainment,” New Literary History 44 (2013): 93–115, 102. 45  Patricia Meyer Spacks, Gossip (New York: Knopf, 1985), 5.



version of the “mimetic desire” that, for Roach, it is the nature of celebrity to provoke.46 As fabricated as any celebrity-love must be—since the love for the celebrity is only ever the love for a fictive presence—Sebastian’s “infatuation” with Moll exposes the imaginary core that binds any public to the icons it cannot stop watching. Just as Sebastian’s feigned “love” for Moll brings about his true union to Mary, so does the fictive presence of celebrity generate genuine and durable attachments. Enlisting their bodies in ways that we dare not, celebrities invite us to engage vicariously with their behavior: to identify with it or to imitate it. The Roaring Girl is about to show that it is through our vicarious relation with this figure that we resolve—though never quite completely—the tension between abstraction and embodiment that publicity forces upon us.

Desiring Moll Like most celebrities, Moll looms over her world both as an icon of style for others and as the genius of the market through which she moves. In a scene that is incidental to the plot yet essential to the character, The Roaring Girl shows Frith consulting with her tailor, who tells her “You change the fashion.” It is a line of rich polysemy. Moll “changes” the fashion because she resists it and also because she sets a new trend. As the comedy shows us, there is a host of characters who are more than happy to follow Moll, to talk about her, and to imitate her, in no small part because of her attire. Clothes play a central part in The Roaring Girl because clothing acts as a body on top of the body, elaborating a style that takes the body’s place, turning the celebrity, we might say, into a better body—into one that is worth attaching to. Those attachments get dramatically established with Moll’s first appearance on stage. The scene opens onto an open-air marketplace, where vendors compete to sell some of the period’s most cherished objects of distinction, from tobacco, to fabrics, to decorative feathers. Moll’s entrance captivates the consumerist throng. No sooner has she appeared onstage then the shoppers and vendors who were enmeshed in their separate conversations unite into a chorus hailing her arrival: “Life, yonder’s Moll,” “Prithee let’s call her,” “Moll, Moll, pist, Moll” (2.1.161–165). As gallants and sempsters, fops and tobacconists either talk to Moll or about her, The Roaring Girl

 Roach, It, 72.




attributes to its celebrity heroine the power of consolidating people into a public by means of subjective identification with her. Central to that mass identification is the style of talk that Moll wields moments later, when Mistress Openwork tries to banish her from her shop: You goody Openwork, you that prick out a poor living And sews many a bawdy-skin coat together, Thou private-pandress between shirt and smock, I wish thee for a minute but a man. (ll.220–223)

Just before, Mistress Openwork had told her husband in so many words that Moll was a whore: “I send you for hollands,” she tells him, “and you’re in the low countries with a mischief” (ll. 210–211). It is one of the many moments in the play when Moll finds herself an object of slander— “two-leaved tongues of slander or of truth,” in Sebastian’s words, “[p]ronounce Moll loathsome” (2.2.10–11)—and her response is to match it in kind, trading “mischief” for “bawdy-skin,” “low countries” for “private-pandress.” For Mario DiGangi, Moll’s lewd punning “deflects public attention away from her own vulnerable condition as an unmarried cross-dressing woman.”47 But here as elsewhere, Moll is not exactly interested in turning leering eyes away from her. Indeed, Moll’s string of barbed plosives, which connects her with the satirists who come before her by achieving a masterfully visceral consonance, has the effect of emphasizing her own body—her mouth, her sexuality, her physical force—even as they attack Mistress Openwork’s. Karen Newman has importantly argued that women’s talk, whenever it was “removed to public spaces,” represented a “threat” to male forms of authority in early modern England.48 One struggles to find a better example of that threat than a woman who dresses like a man in order to go the marketplace and pick fights wherever she pleases. But what makes Moll such a threat to male authority is not simply that she argues with men, but that her infamous volubility makes her into an object of queer attachment for them. Indeed, much like Marston’s satirist, Moll’s flagrantly sexualized attack on Mistress Openwork makes her into a figure of public identification. Openwork is the body that we, as a mass witness, leave behind; and 47  Mario DiGangi, “Sexual Slander and Working Women in The Roaring Girl,” Renaissance Drama 32 (2003): 147–76, 156. 48  Karen Newman, Fashioning Femininity and English Renaissance Drama (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1991), 134.



Moll is the body that, by a vicarious relation, we acquire instead. And just as we’ve seen with Marston’s satirist, style is the alchemy behind this identification. The rapid accumulation of fleshy words like “prick,” “bawdy-­ skin,” and “private-pandress,” along with the cacophony of their consonants, furnish onlookers and audiences with a virtual body as a remedy to the abstractions of public life. So pronounced is that identification, in fact, that it acquires a distinctly erotic charge. The character of Laxton, a young, lascivious gallant, is there to make this clear. Observing the fray from a comfortable distance, Laxton declares that he “love[s]” Moll “forever” for her boldly and “gallantly” antagonistic performance (ll. 242–245). Of course, love is not love for Laxton. It is the name for a different and more desperate attachment. Like the young Manningham when he places himself in the position of the nameless citizen who takes Shakespeare to bed, Laxton desires Moll because her aggression makes her body into a figure of vicarious identification. Through it, the abstraction of publicity is remedied by a proudly corporeal presence. Desire is merely the discharge of mass identification. By dramatizing Laxton’s infatuation with Moll, The Roaring Girl tells a very particular story about the discontents of publicity in early modern England. It is easy to mistake that story as simply about the perils that come with having a body that does not satisfy the period’s silent and monochromatic norm. When Sir Alexander, earlier on, likened the challenge of changing his son’s mind to the challenge of “wash[ing] a Negro” (1.2.181)—a variation on the stock Jacobean trope of “washing an Ethiope white”—he makes all too explicit how publicity, in early modern England, places the most unbearable pressure on bodies that are marked for gender or race. Yet the example of Laxton demonstrates that The Roaring Girl is not interested in staging the stigma that Moll accrues as a result of her bodily differences, so much as it is interested in staging the many ways her bodily differences get exoticized in the service of fantasies of public, social distinction—fantasies that arise in direct response to the privileged invisibility conferred by inhabiting the period’s norms of gender and race. The Roaring Girl, in this regard, makes comic fare out of the anxious desire that Moll inspires in male characters like Laxton, a desire to be both invisible and visible, to flout the norms of public embodiment that one already has the privilege of inhabiting. Laxton, it would seem, is hardly alone in harboring this desire. His distance from the fray places him in the same physical relation to Moll that is occupied by the audience, which results in a momentary redoubling of surrogate experience on top of surrogate



experience—we identify with the character who desires Moll because he identifies with her body—suggesting that Laxton’s affective relation to the public pickpocket is not so removed from the audience’s own. Moll’s very language, in fact, would seem to invite this identification from the playgoers who paid to see her. Her “pricks” and its “bawdy-skin coat” are figures for the very embodiment that she provides her public with her every action, and it is all the more erotic for it.49 Indeed, the equivalence that the comedy establishes between Moll’s clothing and her speech—the stage directions tell us she sports a “frieze jerkin” (2.1.161sd) as part of her ensemble, and her language is no less abrasive—underscore that her style of talk embodies her just as forcefully as her style of dress. Over the course of the comedy, that rebarbative style of talk will contract into briefer, plainer utterances: “nay, then I care not”; “I scorn to prostitute myself to a man”; “I scorn to strike thee basely”; “I please myself and care not who else loves me”; “hang up my viol by me, and I care not.” Yet it would be a mistake to read such statements as simply a departure from the rhetorical innovation that we encountered in Moll’s first scene. Rather, Moll peels away verbal dexterity in order to reveal the illocutionary effect at the core of nearly all her speech. Her speech-acts of scorning and uncaring invoke a familiar scene of absent witness, implicitly addressing a public for whom Moll is its self-appointed scourge. We might think of them as the life-blood of Moll’s celebrity, for they rehearse a relation to publicity that is inscribed into her being as durably as a habitus. By wearing men’s clothes, or by talking to Mistress Openwork’s husband, Moll defies—and then she defies the expectation that she cares about her defiance. The double move imputes to Moll a seductive autonomy, the charisma of the person who opposes everyone because she depends on no one. But it is not for nothing that Moll’s first appearance takes place in the middle of a bustling marketplace. Her recalcitrant independence makes her into the most cherished commodity of the marketplace from which she emerges.

49  Focusing on Moll’s mastery of cant, William N. West likewise argues that Moll’s talk is “itself recognized as an object of desire.” West, “Talking the Talk: Cant on the Jacobean Stage,” English Literary Renaissance 33 (2003): 228–251, 248.



Taste-Maker of the Market Jonathan Gil Harris has proposed that the many shopkeepers and vendors of The Roaring Girl turn the Fortune Theatre, where the play was performed, into “a predecessor of the modern shopping mall.”50 In it, we cannot buy the many objects for sale, but only look at them. The w ­ indow shopping that the comedy forces upon us but does not allow us to transcend may be understood as the transformation of the commodity’s essentially phantasmatic properties into theatrical experience. The experience is characterized by a desire (“I want that shag ruff”) whose frustration (“but I cannot have it because it is part of the fiction a play”) is sublimated into vicarious engagement (“so I will enjoy it through the characters in front of me”), but surrogation in this case is just a higher-­order version of the prosthetic power that every commodity already enjoys. The commodity is at heart a fantasy about what is to come—through it, the experience of publicity will be better—and The Roaring Girl shows that its essentially future-tense construction can only founder once it has been actually bought. Just before Moll’s entrance onto the stage, the apothecary Goshawk had been asking Laxton for his thoughts on the tobacco he was selling. Laxton responds with confident praise: “I dare the arrant’st critic in tobacco, / To lay one fault upon it” (2.1.160–161). As if on cue, Moll enters the scene as just the “daring” “critic” Laxton desires, and Goshawk quickly casts him aside. It is now Moll’s judgment that he seeks: “Now thy judgment, Moll,” he quickly asks, “is’t not good?” His question is echoed only moments later, when Jack Dapper, another young gallant, pleads for Moll’s approval of the spangled feather he has just bought: “How lik’st thou this, Moll?” (2.1.292).51 That Dapper solicits Moll’s opinion after she rails against Mistress Openwork suggests that Moll’s defiance does not so much contradict as confirm her authority as the taste-maker of the market. Why should the celebrity emerge in early modernity as an arbiter of taste? The connection between the two is so frequently made today as to feel intuitive, and Moll makes visible its animating logic. Her rough frieze jerkin and sword, her breeches and tobacco, announce her to be an outsider opposed to the norms of public life. But as an outsider, Moll is also 50  Jonathan Gil Harris, Sick Economies: Drama, Mercantilism, and Disease in Shakespeare’s England (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004), 180. 51  On the connection between Moll and tobacco, see Craig Rustici, “The Smoking Girl: Tobacco and the Representation of Moll Frith,” Studies in Philology 92 (1999): 159–179.



especially dependent on publicly circulated styles and commodities in order to make herself public in the first place. Her masculine attire distinguishes her from public, but it also grants her access to the public that outcasts her. That dependence upon commodities in turn makes the celebrity, whose isolation from society is merely an aggravated version of the alienation that the experience of publicity produces, intimately acquainted with their virtues and their faults, their distinctions and their affinities— naturally equipped, it would seem, with a sense of which tobacco is the best, which the worst, which the merely middling. The logic Dapper intuits is that the outsider who refuses to follow the rules knows just the right ones to follow, that the person who is brazenly public is intimately acquainted with the commodities that make people public. Through him, Moll emerges as the “critic” whose taste gives value to the things that others buy. Revealingly Dapper would seem at first blush to be altogether confident in his shopping: “tell me not of general,” he declares when the feather-seller tries to sell him “the general feather” that is “most in fashion” (2.1.135–138). The line communicates a shrewd intuition about the interplay between fashion and social distinction: the minute a feather comes into fashion, Dapper recognizes, it is already on the way out. The intuition explains his ensuing purchase of an outrageously spangled feather, but it makes the desperation with which he seeks out Moll’s approval all the more striking. No longer resolved in his purchase, Dapper suffers from buyer’s remorse; it is as if, once the commodity has been integrated into one’s person, its promise to reconcile publicity and embodiment starts to break down, and the only way to amend it is to search out a public person, who alone can confer upon his purchase the value that Dapper wants it to have. Moll’s cross-dressing might make her an outcast, but the eagerness with which Dapper solicits Moll’s judgment suggests that he suffers from his own kind of exile—alienated from the commodities of the market from which Moll emerges. Dapper’s anxiety thus gives the lie to James Bromley’s recent argument that this gleefully materialistic character seeks to “valorize superficial embodiment and selfhood” in the name of a queer refusal of inwardness.52 Hardly seeking to make himself all surface, Dapper’s all too eager solicitations of Moll’s approval suggest that he is in search of just the harmony between embodiment and self-abstraction—frequently conceived as a harmony between inner and outer—that Moll’s celebrity offers as recompense  James Bromley, “‘Quilted with Mighty Words’: Clothing and Queer Style in The Roaring Girl,” Renaissance Drama 43 (2015): 143–172, 155. 52



for the broken promises of the commodity. It is in this respect that Dapper is symptomatic of the entire world of The Roaring Girl. From the Prologue’s reference to “tragic passion, / And such grave stuff, is this day out of fashion” (Prologus, 11–12); to Sir Alexander Wengrave’s catchpenny couplets, which have about them the hollow ring of parody; to Mistress Gallipot’s description of gallants as “mere shallow things” (4.2.45); to the “four angels marked with holes in them” (4.1.200) that he tries to pawn off to Moll, The Roaring Girl conjures a farcically counterfeit world. The play’s endless proliferation of substitutions and shams, as Valerie Forman proposes, is the direct consequence of the capitalist marketplace in which it is set. The counterfeit in this play is itself merely a version of the spurious relations that all money produces, “a figure for crises resulting generally from increasingly abstract social relations” in a burgeoning credit economy.53 But if the marketplace is the source of estrangement in The Roaring Girl, that is in no small part because publicity is, too. Like the city streets through which we saw London’s satirists take their bitter walks, the many public places of The Roaring Girl—the open-air shops, Holborn Street, Gray’s Inn Field, Marlyebone Park, the ordinaries and taverns that are on the tip of everyone’s tongues, the Fortune Theater itself— demand embodiment as their cost of entry. Going to a tavern, after all, means bringing one’s body into one, too. Accordingly, one must abandon one’s purely unmarked status as a member of “the public” for a body that is in some way marked and therefore aberrant, an alienating departure from the phantasmatic ideal of a bodiless public. With its infinite and exquisite commodities, the market promises consumption as a means of accessing publicity. Feathers, fabrics, tobacco—all trappings of outward display—promise prosthesis, a body in place of the body that sets one uncomfortably apart, even offers an improvement upon it. But Dapper’s giddy solicitations reveal the emptiness of the market’s promise. This “early modern paean to the universal powers of retail therapy,” as Harris calls it, stages such therapy as the market’s most enticing mirage.54 The feather is still just a feather after it has been bought, and so Moll is called upon to confer value upon it.

53  Valerie Forman, “Marked Angels: Counterfeits, Commodities, and The Roaring Girl,” Renaissance Quarterly 54 (2001): 1531–60, 1540. 54  Harris, Sick Economies, 177.



Moll is not immune to the counterfeiting that runs rampant throughout The Roaring Girl. The character is, after all, a simulacrum of the historical Frith, a boy playing a real-life girl dressed up as a man. But the enthusiasm with which Goshawk and Dapper seek her approval suggests a substance which sets her apart from the comedy’s cast of cardboard cutouts. T.S. Eliot took note of this substance long ago when he wrote that “we read with toil through a mass of cheap, conventional intrigue and suddenly realize that we are, and have been for some time without knowing it, observing a real and unique human being.”55 Critics have been echoing Eliot’s charmed surprise ever since and with good reason. In a market where “what d’ye lack” is the constant, cheapening refrain, Moll lacks for nothing, not even when she is shopping for a shag ruff. Set against the commodities of the marketplace, Moll’s “reality” stands out as the epitome of Roach’s “It,” an “effortless embodiment of contradictory qualities simultaneously”: Moll is both female and male, familiar and strange, approachable and dangerous.56 Most important, Moll is both virtual and physical, mediated and immediate, abstract and embodied. It is this “it,” which Eliot rightly reads as “reality,” that attracts Goshawk and Dapper to Moll. Her self-possession is an ideal of public presence which they hope to gain for themselves, whether through purchases or through Moll’s coveted judgment. Forman is surely right to propose that this remarkable solidity is the projection of a cultural fantasy, the fantasy that the “reality” eroded by the credit economy can in fact be reclaimed and embodied. But the fact that Moll of all characters is the site of such projection is not trivial. It illuminates the nature of the presence that so many celebrities seem to possess: celebrities are so seemingly real, possessed of a presence none of us can achieve, because of their relationship to the commodities of which and into which they are made. This takes us back to Moll’s consultation with her tailor, which shows her mastery of commodities in action: I forgot to take measure on you for your new breeches. Sir Alexander [aside]: Hoya! Breeches! What, will he marry a monster with two trinkets? What age is this? If the wife go in breeches, the man must wear long coats like a fool. Tailor:

55  T.S.  Eliot, Essays on Elizabethan Drama (New York: Harcourt, Brace, and Company, 1956), 85. 56  Roach, It, 8.


Moll: Tailor: Moll: Tailor: Moll: Tailor: Moll: Tailor:


What fiddling’s here? Would not the old pattern have served your turn? You change the fashion; you say you’ll have the great Dutch slop, Mistress Mary. Why, sir, I say so still. Your breeches will take up a yard more. Well, pray look it be put in then. It shall stand round and full, I warrant you. Pray, make ’em easy enough. I know my fault now: t’other was somewhat stiff between the legs; I’ll make these open enough, I warrant you. (2.2.75–86)

At the heart of this exchange is a dauntless performative, “I say so still.” Like her declarations of scorning and uncaring, the speech-act enunciates the message that Moll flouts the world because she does not care what it thinks. She will make her pants as she pleases. The moment is in every way a reversal of Dapper’s prolonged deliberation over a spangled feather. Not only does Moll reach her decision without hesitation, but her disdain for what Dapper calls “the general” never collapses into the restless search for someone else’s endorsement. Instead, the speech-act of “I say so still” claims immunity from the public whose attention she commands. In so doing, Moll makes herself into the most exceptional of subjects: a person who is untroubled by the objectifying gaze of her public, immune to the alienation of the market because she is both fully embodied and fully public at once. The reward for this double defiance is that solid, self-sufficient presence Eliot calls “real.” Moll’s outré attire suggests that that “reality” is an effect of the commodities that she uses to make herself public. But the tailor’s reply also suggests that Moll’s “reality” is what she imparts upon the commodities she wears. When Laxton remarks that Moll behaves “gallantly,” he is not so much saying she behaves as he does, but that this local luminary—“immaculate in her trendsetting power”—is a model for gallants like him to follow.57 Moll’s trendsetting defiance thus anticipates the power of later celebrities to remedy the alienation of the marketplace by 57  Harris, 182. Laxton’s fawning praise is resonantly echoed by John Taylor, who writes in his satirical description of “prodigal country gallants” that “Marry Frith doth teach them modestly, / For she doth keep one fashion constantly.” Taylor, The Water Cormorant (London, 1622), sig. C3r.



conferring upon its barren things the mystical value of their presence. Among those things, accessories and clothing enjoy special treatment because of the way fashion coordinates bodies and publics—and it is Moll’s very public body that is so often attracting public attention. Sir Alexander, for example, shudders at the thought of having “a cod-piece daughter” (2.2.91–92); Goshawk declares he “never knew so much flesh and so much nimbleness put together” (2.1.189–190); another character is certain that “when her breeches are off, she shall follow me” (1.2.227); still another calls Moll “a whore to hang upon any man” (3.3.211–212); and Laxton, likening Moll to an early modern aphrodisiac, calls her “a marrow-bone before an Italian” (2.1.178). All of these remarks enforce sex as the price that Moll must pay for presenting herself in public. Her gendered body makes her marked, an aberration from the normalized position that is inhabited by all the men who fixate upon her. Revealingly, Moll’s clothing does not diminish this errancy, but exaggerate it. Owning her bodily aberrations instead of allowing her aberrations to own her, Moll’s outlandish attire suggests that celebrities get so often linked to fashion because their clothing, as the body on top of the body, embraces their aberrant corporeality as an instrument of public display, turning it from a liability into a virtue.

“There Present” In this respect, Moll is an especially aggravated demonstration of how the public sphere that was emerging in early modern England worked: rather than compelling people to bracket their bodies, it compelled embodiment as its price of entry. And yet this means that the early modern public sphere is structured by its own double bind: the public body, as Moll no less than the wannabe courtiers of her era (and the satirists who ridiculed them) demonstrate, is also a defiant body. It flouts the anonymity of the crowd by daring to command its attention, and command its attention to its monstrous aberrations. It is this inescapably monstrous embodiment, Moll proleptically suggests, that makes all celebrities to some degree impudent celebrities. As the most public of persons, they defy the injunction that they apologize for their bodies, and, from this refusal, they gain that unflappable presence which Eliot registers as “real”—and which consecrates the clothes they wear as instruments for accessing publicity as effortlessly and as corporeally as they do.



The grossly titillated remarks of Alexander, Goshawk, and Laxton, however—anticipating as they do the prurient questions that would be raised during Frith’s trial—suggest that the celebrity’s defiantly exemplary self-possession is always threatening to transform her from a sublimely exemplary subject, whose every move is worth imitating, into a degraded object of desire. Dekker and Middleton vividly dramatize this tension when Laxton meets up with Moll in Gray’s Inn Fields, for what he thinks is a semi-public assignation. Moll arrives at the pre-determined time, but with a different kind of meeting in mind: she promptly discards her cloak and brandishes a sword. The silent humor of props punctuates the encounter with a phallic force: where he had hoped to find a woman’s pliant embrace, the gallant whose name suggests he is more counterfeit a man than Moll discovers a symbol of just the equipment he lacks. The effect of the reversal is to collapse eros into emulation. Laxton’s desire to have Moll is exposed as the corruption of a deeper desire to be her. In a version of the fandom that curdles into erotic obsession, his vicarious desire has turned in on itself—transfixed upon the image of Moll’s body—to become a desire for the figure through whom he desires. Moll thwarts that desire with an extended, forty-line rebuke which literalizes the corporeal and antagonistic force that I have been attributing to her styles of clothing and speech alike: What durst move you, sir, To think me whorish, a name which I’d tear out From the highest German’s throat if it lay ledger there To dispatch privy slanders against me? In thee I defy all men, their worst hates And all their best flatteries, all their golden witchcrafts With which they entangle the poor spirits of fools, Distressed needlewomen, and trade-fall’n wives. (3.1.-88–94)

Recalling her encounter with Mistress Openwork, the monologue begins with Moll’s recognition of the slander she knows she receives, and it proceeds to reject that slander with the bold performative, “In thee I defy all men.” The most explicit enunciation of Moll’s defiance, the utterance gains its full, performative force from the way it lifts Laxton from out of his role as discrete interlocutor and drops him squarely into the unwelcome position of representing “all men.” Scholars have long read this moment as an expression of the play’s emancipatory gender politics, and



those politics are instrumental in this moment to Moll’s distinctly self-­ reflexive construction of her own celebrity.58 By claiming to speak on behalf of all slandered women, of “distressed needlewomen and trade-­ fall’n wives,” Moll arrogates for herself the special status of representative—a person through whom others speak—and effectively shores up the celebrity that Laxton, in this moment, sought to make his own: “[H]owsoe’er / Thou and the baser world censure my life,” she proceeds to tell Laxton, “I scorn to prostitute myself to a man, / I that can prostitute a man to me” (3.3.91–112). A delicious revenge is enacted by this claim, which turns Laxton into the very prostitute he took Moll to be. And not only him. “The world” is Moll’s figure for the public that fixates, slanders, and tries to own her notorious body, and in equating “the world” with Laxton, lumping the two together, Moll exacts a revenge of a different kind: by boasting of her capacity to “prostitute a man to [herself],” she announces that her public does not control her celebrity. She does.59 What is so dazzling about this utterance is that, like all happy performatives, it creates the conditions it seems to describe. As she castigates Laxton and the public in one and the same breath, Moll’s declaration of control gives her control. The felicity of her speech act would have been resonantly secured by the Fortune Theater, which placed its audiences in an altogether submissive relation to Moll. They too “prostituted” themselves by paying to watch the actions of a boy playing an infamous woman playing a man. The Roaring Girl’s many references to prostitution throw a hard light on the connection between the celebrity and the commodity. Certainly, Moll is a commodity of a much different kind than a spangled feather or a fashionable fabric. As she declares her agency over “the world,” Moll forcibly reestablishes the distance that Laxton, in his desire to make Moll his 58  See Jean E.  Howard, “Sex and Social Conflict: The Erotics of The Roaring Girl,” in Erotic Politics: Desire on the Renaissance Stage, ed. Susan Zimmerman (New York: Routledge, 1992), 170–190; Susan E. Krantz, “The Sexual Identities of Moll Cutpurse in Dekker and Middleton’s The Roaring Girl and in London,” Renaissance and Reformation 19 (1995): 5–20; and Viviana Comensoli, “Play-Making, Domestic Conduct, and the Multiple Plot in The Roaring Girl,” Studies in English Literature 37 (1997): 249–266. 59  This sentence is meant both to recall and invert Warner’s fascinating claim about modern-day tabloid publicity, which chronicles the personal disasters of celebrities like Clint Eastwood and Rob Love in order to “keep[] them available for our appropriation of their iconic status by reminding us that they do not possess the phallic power over their images— we do.” What I am interested in uncovering here is the other side of this dialectical relation between celebrities and their publics, which gets registered, as Moll shows us all too well, as a kind of antagonism or even violence. Warner, Publics and Counterpublics, 180.



own, sought to overcome—and that separates all celebrities from their publics. A celebrity cannot be possessed because a celebrity exists only in her own mediation. But the very imaginative quality that undergirds the celebrity is also what makes her into the very personification of the commodity fetish—the conviction that a mystical value inheres in the thing. Buyer’s remorse is the unwanted glimpse through this mystical fabric that results when the commodity fails in its bid to integrate embodiment and abstraction. In refusing to be possessed, dwelling only in her own mediation, the celebrity holds such alienation at bay. So long as she does, she is a meta-commodity, or perhaps just the personifying logic of every commodity come to life: as Barbara Johnson has argued, the commodity invests the thing with a personality all its own, such that “[i]t [becomes] simply irresistible to imagine the social life of commodities without people,” since the commodity is prosthesis for the person.60 Pace Peggy Phelan’s insistence that performance “clogs the smooth machinery of reproductive representation necessary to the circulation of capital,” the celebrity embodies it, giving it a local habitation and a name.61 As an acutely public person who is both composed of commodities—shag ruff, tobacco, slacks—and who confers value upon them, the celebrity emerges in early modernity as a figure for the relation we want to have with the things that promise publicity yet give back only our own alienation. As I have been arguing, The Roaring Girl establishes a forceful equivalence between its protagonist’s outlandish style of dress and her outlandish style of talk. Moll’s phallic sword deepens the meaning of that equivalence, helping us to recognize that, whether we are dealing with a style of clothing or a style of talk, each is a prosthesis for the body. Moreover, it helps us to recognize that one of the constitutive experiences of publicity, then as well as now, is the fantasy of leaving our bodies behind and replacing them with others. Style figures so forcefully in these fantasies because style, as what Jeff Dolven has called “a way of continuing,” is a process of unifying disparate gestures, words, commodities, speech acts into a single, coherent form.62 In public, this form is what takes the place of our bodies—or at least makes them bearable. But if Moll embodies the prosthetic 60  Barbara Johnson, Persons and Things (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010), 22. 61  Peggy Phelan, Unmarked: The Politics of Performance (London: Routledge 1993), 148. 62  Jeff Dolven, Senses of Style: Poetry Before Interpretation (Chicago: University of Chicago Press 2017), passim.



fantasy of style that publicity thrusts upon us, her phallic weapon also drives home the challenge of fulfilling that fantasy. Within the narrative context of the scene, the purpose of Moll’s sword is to prevent Laxton from touching her, but given the comedy’s incessant interest in collapsing eros into emulation—a desire to have into a desire to be—we would do well to understand the prop as working in another way, too. By keeping Laxton at a distance, the sword becomes the comedy’s emblem for the impossibility of ever perfectly imitating, much less possessing, the celebrities who compel our identification. As an icon of style, Moll Frith is early modernity’s figure for the relations we wish to have to the publicity of our bodies. But the distance that Moll uses both her sword and her language to establish between herself and Laxton suggests that her style can only be enjoyed imaginatively, through a vicarious substitution. So long as publicity pits us against our bodies, someone else’s will have to suffice. The celebrity is one form—but not the only form—that fulfills the need that publicity produces. The Roaring Girl ends with an epilogue that promises an improvement upon performance, the real in place of the counterfeit: “The Roaring Girl some few days hence,” the actor playing Moll foretells, “Shall on this stage give larger recompense” (Epilogus, 34–35). Months later, the historical Mary Frith recounted to the authorities, during another arrest, that she was “at a play about 3 quarters of a year since at the Fortune in mans apparel & in her boots & with a sword by her side… And also sat there upon the stage in the public view of all the people there present in man’s apparel.”63 Mary Frith’s appearance at the Fortune makes it easy to overlook the comedy’s none too disguised confession that its heroine is not there because celebrities never are. They flourish as figments of just the sort that Moll, in the play’s conclusion, is revealed to be. The history of celebrity is a history of the ways these phantoms reconcile the tension between embodiment and abstraction that the experience of publicity brings with it. Not all celebrities might do so in a manner as overtly recalcitrant as Moll. Then again, it is telling that Moll’s next of celebrity kin, Nell Gwynn, the orange-seller who became an actress and the actress who became the lover of Charles II, was a master of the curse.

 As cited in Ungerer, “Mary Frith, Alias Moll Cutpurse,” 85–86.


Nobody’s Business Samuel Fallon

In 1603, the plague came to London. Those who could fled the city; the rest were left to wait out a contagion that spread rapidly in its close quarters. James I, fresh from his accession, imposed strict quarantines. The houses of the infected were marked with crosses. And the city’s theaters, as they had been during the last outbreak a decade earlier, were closed for nearly a year, leaving dramatists in need of money to turn to the press.1 None did so more industriously than Thomas Dekker, whose writing in the period focused on the experience of urban pandemic. That year he published The Wonderfull Yeare (1603), a pamphlet that read the plague as an expression of a world disjointed by the death of Elizabeth. A year later, he published a follow-up, Newes from Graues-end: Sent to Nobody (1604), the wry title of which hardly conceals the exhaustion, or the grief, that lingers beneath it. With “Death’s Text-bill clapt on euery dore,” it  See Kelly J.  Stage, “Plague Space and Played Space in Urban Drama, 1604,” in Representing the Plague in Early Modern England, ed. Rebecca Totaro and Ernest B. Gilman (New York: Routledge, 2011), 54–75, as well as the volume’s other essays. Stage suggestively explores the post-plague theater’s reconstruction of urban space. 1

S. Fallon (*) State University of New York at Geneseo, Geneseo, NY, USA e-mail: [email protected] © The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2021 A. K. Deutermann et al. (eds.), Publicity and the Early Modern Stage, Early Modern Cultural Studies 1500–1700,




was easy to feel that London was a city with no one left—that one was writing to nobody.2 Newes from Graues-end is a long poem on the plague, its causes, and its effects, but the pamphlet’s most striking feature is the epistle that comes first: a long, antic dedication (taking up a full third of the text’s pages) to the teasing personification of its subtitle. His proper name is “Syr Nicholas Nemo,” but Dekker prefers his “alias,” Nobody, and the paradoxes of address and description that come with it (NG, sig. A3r). For to capitalize nobody—to make the pronoun into a name—was to bring into being a curiously self-negating somebody. It was possible to treat Nobody as a person, an agent, someone who does things, but merely saying his name unraveled the attempt. It was possible to speak to him, too, but to do so was to admit that there was nobody listening. These jokes, riffs on the substantializing of a negative, were nothing new: they were as old as Odysseus’s humiliation of Polyphemus. But their grammatical surprise was evergreen, and so was their ability to bring out otherwise tacit problems of agency and identity, to defamiliarize the sense of what it was to be someone—anyone. For Dekker, in 1604, Nobody was something more particular: an image of the contradictions of plague life, when nobody really is the best company, and, perhaps, of the challenges of writing for the print audiences toward which the plague—and the closing of the theaters—had pushed him. Dekker’s Nobody was the face of a mysterious new entity: the reading public. In dedicating his pamphlet to this enigmatic figure, Dekker was claiming a persona that had long preceded him, both in England and in Europe. Nobody had percolated for centuries as a joke, then a meme, derived from Homer’s οὔτις. In 1507, the Strasbourg barber Joerg Schan reenergized him in the broadside Niemand, which depicts a wayfarer striding across a landscape strewn with broken household objects. The banner above him reads, “Nobody is my name, I bear everybody’s blame.”3 Schan’s image, and others like it, spread quickly, as Niemand, Nemo, and eventually their English cousin became broadside fixtures. They also found their way into more elite cultural spaces. Nobody adorned a Holbein tabletop (1515) and lurked in the background of Bruegel’s Elck (1558); he also rewarded 2  Thomas Dekker, Newes from Graves-end: Sent to Nobody (London, 1604), sig. D1r. Hereafter cited in text by signature. On Dekker’s pamphlets in the context of the plague, see Charles Whitney, “Dekker’s and Middleton’s Plague Pamphlets as Environmental Literature,” in Representing the Plague, 201–18. 3  On Schan’s Niemand and the early modern history of Nemo-figures, including those mentioned in this paragraph, see Gerta Calmann, “The Picture of Nobody: An Iconographical Study,” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 23 (1960): 60–104.



a humanist fascination with verbal paradox, as in Ulrich von Hutten’s whimsical treatise Nemo (1510/18). In England, Nobody’s association with the domestic, the private, and the ordinary made him a fit vessel for satire and polemic. In a broadside printed around 1550, the image from the second edition of Schan’s Niemand (1533) appears above “The Welspoken Nobody,” a ballad in which the title character fiercely criticizes the mass; another Edwardian broadside, this one by a Catholic, castigated the king in the voice of “Little John Nobody.”4 (Fig. 1) Then, at the beginning of the seventeenth century, fascination with Nobody increased again. He remained a popular figure in broadsides, appearing, for instance, in a woodcut above the ballad Nobody His Counsaile, where he advises a young man on the virtues of marrying a widow.5 He became a recurring figure in the paratextual spaces of pamphlets and playbooks, the object of dedications from John Marston and John Day as well as Dekker. He also came to the stage, appearing in Ben Jonson’s Entertainment at Althorp (1603), a masque honoring the new Queen Anne, and, on the London stage, as the hero of the history play Nobody and Somebody. In the process, his images continued to proliferate: when Nobody and Somebody was printed, in 1606, it was framed by woodcut caricatures of its eponymous antagonists (Fig. 2). It was probably this picture that was soon placed above the shop of the play’s stationer, John Trundle, whose publications could from then on be found “in Barbican at the signe of Nobody.”6 By this point, there were so many images of Nobody in circulation that it is hard to say which Trinculo has in mind, in The Tempest, when he tells Stephano that the mysterious music they hear is “the tune of our catch, played by the picture / of Nobody.”7 In any case, it is notable that for Stephano the picture needs no 4  See The welspoken Nobody (London, n.d.) and The Ballad of Little John Nobody Being a Libell upon the Reformation in the time of K. Edward t[he] 6th (n.d.). 5  Nobody His Counsaile to chuse a Wife: OR, The difference betweene Widdowes and Maydes (London, n.d.). 6  See the colophon of Gervase Markham, A schoole for young souldiers containing in breife the whole discipline of warre (London, 1615). On Trundle’s career, see Gerald D. Johnson, “John Trundle and the Book-Trade 1603–1626,” Studies in Bibliography 39 (1986): 177–99. 7  Tiffany Stern has recently made the case that the allusion refers specifically to the image from Nobody and Somebody, in order to identify Trundle as the printer of the ballad that provides the tune. If so, the allusion constitutes “Shakespeare’s only staged reference to a publisher,” and one in which he “seems … to be promoting Trundle’s ballad sales.” See Stern, “Shakespeare the Balladmonger?” in Rethinking Theatrical Documents in Shakespeare’s England, ed. Tiffany Stern (London: The Arden Shakespeare, 2020), 226.



Fig. 1  “The Welspoken Nobody” (c. 1550). RB 18323. The Huntington Library, San Marino, California



Fig. 2  Title page of No-body and Some-body (London, 1606). RB 62750. The Huntington Library, San Marino, California

introduction. He and Trinculo, and their historical contemporaries, were readily familiar with Nobody, for he was everywhere. Despite his refusal to be anybody at all, he had emerged as what was, in early modern England, the most novel sort of public person: a celebrity. The emerging phenomenon of early modern celebrity drew its energies from multiple sources. There was the court and its halo of aristocratic renown and scandal, the one exemplified by Philip Sidney, as a “cultural icon” and military hero, and the other by Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, like Sidney an exemplary courtier but eventually, and sensationally, the leader of



an uprising against Elizabeth that resulted in his beheading in 1601.8 Although Essex’s celebrity depended on his association with the court, it was burnished, as Jeffrey S. Doty writes, by “impromptu street performances of popularity,” in which the courtier actively sought the publicity of the city. An increasingly metropolitan London offered both a complement and a counter to the court’s monopoly on celebrity display; in its busy streets, courtiers could seek public followings even as local personalities, such as Moll Frith, made names for themselves through rumor, gossip, and the thrilling possibility of the chance encounter. Frith’s fame, as Matthew Hunter’s chapter in this volume demonstrates, was refracted by another arena of celebrity: the public theater. The stage amplified the fame of those it represented, and it made stars of the actors whom audiences flocked to see—notably the clowns Richard Tarlton and Will Kemp, whose charisma came from their antic, “extemporal” performances, but also Edward Alleyn, whose tragic bombast made him, as S. P. Cerasano argues, a “public property” and “a new model of professional success.”9 And beyond the theater there was the burgeoning marketplace of print, where writers might hope to win the fame—if not the notoriety—that followed Robert Greene, the bestselling writer of romances and rogue literature whose death in 1592 sparked a wave of pamphlets claiming to feature his last words or to record his ghostly returns to London. Nobody was different, of course, in that he wasn’t a real person. But many early modern celebrities weren’t. If Greene, for instance, had been famous in life, he haunted his readers after his death as a ghostly fiction. In the 1590s, semifictional personae like him flooded print: such figures as Euphues and Colin Clout and Pierce Penilesse detached from the texts that introduced them and wandered into others, emerging in the process as nearly autonomous beings, agents at large in a nascent literary field.10 Colin and Pierce were celebrities because, like Tarlton or Ned Alleyn, they were “mediagenic” personalities, their charisma dependent on the tantalizing distance of textual or theatrical mediation.11 Like Alleyn, whose 8  On Essex’s celebrity, burnished through “impromptu street performances of popularity,” see Jeffrey S. Doty, Shakespeare, Popularity, and the Public Sphere (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017), 16, 45–48; as well as Alexandra Gajda, The Earl of Essex and Late Elizabethan Literary Culture (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012). On Sidney, see especially Richard Hillyer, Sir Philip Sidney, Cultural Icon (New York: Palgrave, 2010). 9  S. P. Cerasano, “Edward Alleyn, the New Model Actor, and the Rise of the Celebrity in the 1590s,” Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England 18 (2006): 47–58, 54, 56. 10  I discuss such personae in my book Paper Monsters: Persona and Literary Culture in Elizabethan England (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2019). 11  In his sociological account of celebrity, Chris Rojek uses the term “mediagenic” to refer to “elements and styles that are compatible with the conventions of self-projection and inter-



renown rested on the Marlovian excess he channeled, or Colin, who was hailed by poet after Elizabethan poet, Nobody attained celebrity in his ceaseless remediation: in the circulation of his image, in the serial rewriting of his story, in the inexhaustible retellings of the joke at his core. Indeed, because Nobody was no more than his mediated persona, he can disclose with unusual clarity the dynamics of early modern celebrity. Nobody, however, was different from Alleyn or Colin or Greene’s ghost in another, more significant way. Greene’s celebrity was necessarily specific— it was as someone in particular, as Greene himself and no one else, that his ghost could become the object of fame and notoriety. Nobody, by contrast, was precisely the negation of distinct individuality: his effect was to give a face to what was faceless by definition. As Luke Wilson has argued, in the sharpest study to date of the proliferation of the seventeenth-­century Nobodies, his predication of a “grammatical subject … on a lack of subjective identity” foregrounded the problem of agency itself.12 A self-­ emptying subject, Nobody was an unavoidably paradoxical public figure, for he was congenitally resistant to the fame that he nevertheless achieved. Nobody was a public name, and he was utterly anonymous—no one and nothing at all. Nobody became a celebrity, however, not despite his self-negation but because of it. His lack of a name, of a self, was precisely what made him interesting: being nobody was what made him somebody. The contradiction at work here was distinctive to Nobody’s persona, but it hinted at a more thoroughgoing link between publicness and negation. For if one form of public subjectivity was the charismatic singularity of mediatized celebrity, the other was the abstract, deracinated personhood of the private person in public. As Michael Warner has argued, disembodiment was the condition of entry to the bourgeois public sphere: it was through a separation from the self—from particular interests, from the body—that one could be absorbed into the collective “public subject.” This “principle of negativity,” Warner suggests, nurtures an aspiration to universality that is “both the utopian moment of the public sphere and a major source of domination.”13 At the beginning of the seventeenth century, self-negation was not yet a normative ideal of public discourse, but it was a felt condition of publicity—one enforced by the experience of association with strangers in a growing city and by the growth of the public theater and the action, fashioned and refined by the mass media.” Rojek, Celebrity (London, Reaktion Books, 2001), 187. 12  Luke Wilson, Theaters of Intention: Drama and the Law in Early Modern England (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000), 216. 13  Michael Warner, Publics and Counterpublics (New York: Zone Books, 2005), 164–65.



print trade, each an incipient mass medium. And it was against this abstraction of personhood, and the uniformity that it imposes, that celebrity projected itself. For Sharon Marcus, celebrity assumes an asymmetrical relationship to its audience, a relationship defined by “nonreciprocal exhibition and attention.” “The fan’s look,” Marcus writes, “is self-­annihilating, because it seeks a recognition that it can structurally never receive.”14 Celebrity, it turns out, has its own principle of negativity: it purchases star power by annihilating the people who confer it. Nobody’s peculiar effect, as I argue in what follows, is to express this negation within the form of celebrity itself. He can do so because of his eccentric relation to a public that he at once represents and stands at a distance from. Not simply a denizen of the complexly mediated publics of early seventeenth-century England, Nobody is their reflected image—the public personified to itself. The first section of this chapter examines prefatory epistles to Nobody written by Dekker, Marston, and Day, who use Nobody to satirize the decline of patronage and, at the same time, to personify what they took to be the patron’s successor: the anonymous, dispersed reading public. The second section considers the play Nobody and Somebody, arguing that Nobody emerges not just as an image of public anonymity but as the charismatic object of public attention. Relocating the grounds of fame from the court to the city, from visible display to discursive circulation, this Nobody is a reminder of the ambivalence of publicity, which can turn anyone into somebody, but risks turning everyone into a nobody. The last section explores the twin roles that Nobody plays as a figure both for publics and for the celebrity personalities that command their attention, suggesting that he discloses something essential about publicity: its  simultaneously opposed and conjoined drives to anonymity and to singularity.

Letters to No One To what public did Nobody belong? We can begin by suggesting two: the print public in which his pamphlets circulated and the “theater public”— as Doty and Musa Gurnis have termed it—in which he appeared as a dramatic character.15 It is tempting to propose further divisions: there may be 14  Sharon Marcus, “Salomé!! Sarah Bernhardt, Oscar Wilde, and the Drama of Celebrity,” PMLA 126.4 (2011): 999–1021, 999, 1008. 15  Jeffrey S. Doty and Musa Gurnis, “Theatre Scene and Theatre Public in Early Modern London,” Shakespeare 14:1 (2018): 12–25.



good reasons, for instance, to distinguish a ballad public from a pamphlet one. But Nobody’s very mobility hints at the difficulty of maintaining distinctions like these. Indeed, early modern celebrity seems to conspire to defeat them. Richard Tarlton found an afterlife as a jestbook hero; William Kemp turned his traveling morris dance into a pamphlet, Kemps Nine Daies Wonder (1600).16 Their celebrity, like Nobody’s, proved itself in the ability to move from one medium, and one public, to another. At the same time, such remediations also underlined the boundaries between the mediums and publics they traversed. Consider again Trinculo’s reference to “the picture of Nobody,” an off-hand phrase that, even as it brings Nobody to the stage, insists nonetheless on the medial specificity of the printed image. The distinction is worth preserving because, despite their overlap, the character of publicness in print and in the theater differed. The theater public, as Doty and Gurnis argue, was defined by the space of the theater itself and the places that surrounded it: the taverns, the inns, the alehouses where “playwrights and actors and fans mingled,” exchanging stories, telling jokes, giving parodic imitations.17 This public was, of course, an association of strangers, but the interactions that sustained it were above all personal ones, encounters framed by the co-presence of those who participated. The fundamental act of participation in this public was playgoing: gathering, in the space of the theater, as a public. Thus, as Paul Yachnin has argued, the “socially transformative work” of the commercial playhouses was crucially embodied, felt in the alteration of “the physical landscape,” in the “innovative forms of dress, behavior, and language” that they cultivated.18 In print, inevitably, the situation was different. No doubt print publicity had a locale of its own: the zone of personal exchange, of advertisement and consumption, that was Paul’s walk. But reading, unlike playgoing, did not require physically being there; one could encounter a book in solitude, and so enter into the collectivity constituted by public

16  On Tarlton’s print afterlife, in such texts as Tarltons Newes out of Purgatorie (1590), see Alexandra Halasz, “‘So beloved that men use his picture for their signs’: Richard Tarlton and the Uses of Sixteenth-Century Celebrity,” Shakespeare Studies 23 (1995): 19–38; Richard Preiss, Clowning and Authorship in Early Modern Theatre (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 110–40; and Katherine Duncan-Jones, “The Life, Death and Afterlife of Richard Tarlton,” The Review of English Studies 65, no. 268 (2014): 18–32. 17  Doty and Gurnis, “Theatre Scene,” 12. 18  Paul Yachnin, “Performing Publicity,” Shakespeare Bulletin 28.2 (2010): 201–19, 213–14.



address alone.19 The associations sustained by print could therefore feel rather more abstract—perhaps especially so around the turn of the seventeenth century, as the scale and pace of the print trade increased. For someone like Dekker, working at the intersection of page and stage, the difference must have been particularly acute. That may be why the dedicatory epistles to Nobody written in the first decade of the seventeenth century were all written by playwrights, faced as they were with the task of reaching the decidedly more elusive audiences of the reading public. If the theater public took shape in paratheatrical settings—the taverns and inns in which playgoers could cross paths with actors and playwrights—the paratext offered a sort of print analogue: it was a space of encounter between writers and the readers they hoped would buy their books. Nobody made his home there, in the dedications that repeatedly hailed him and swore allegiance to him. John Marston’s Antonio and Mellida was published in 1602 with a dedication addressed to “the only rewarder, and most iust poiser of vertuous merits, the most honorably renowned No-body.” Two years later, Dekker borrowed the trope in Newes from Graues-end: Sent to Nobody; the playwright John Day did the same a few years after that, placing a dedication to “Signior No-body” in the front matter of his 1608 comedy Humour out of Breath.20 Nobody’s role in these epistles is a complex one. In the first place, he is a surrogate patron, and thus a satire of the apparent decline of liberality. Marston calls him the “bountious Mecænas of Poetry”; Dekker praises him as “the only Atlas that supports the Olympian honour of learning: and (out of thy horne of Abundance) a continuall Benefactor to all Schollers.”21 Day, rather less subtly, declares Nobody “a Patrone worthie the Sister-hood, I meane, the poore halfe-dozen, for the Three Elders, they climbe aboue my element.”22 Complaints about the dearth of patrons were widespread in Elizabethan and Jacobean England; whether 19  For one account of the difference between theatrical and print publicity, see Alexandra Halasz, The Marketplace of Print: Pamphlets and the Public Sphere in Early Modern England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997, 178–89), who argues that the privacy of reading and the durability of the book as object (as against the fleeting, evental status of the stage) were necessary conditions of the creation of a public sphere. Mullaney offers a thoughtful critique of this argument in Reformation of Emotion, 161–73. 20  John Marston, The History of Antonio and Mellida, The first part (London, 1602), sig. A2r; John Day, Humour out of breath (London, 1608), A2r. 21  Marston, Antonio and Mellida, sig. A2r; Dekker, Newes from Graues-ende, sig. B1r. 22  John Day, Humour out of breath, A2r.



they reflected a genuine lapse of literary patronage is harder to say. Richard McCabe has recently argued that, rather than declining, patronage in the period began to come from new sources, with the relative weakening of aristocratic generosity balanced by the rise of a merchant middle class eager to convert new wealth into prestige.23 In Newes from Grauesende, Dekker both acknowledges this shift and casts doubt on its adequacy. “Liberality,” he declares, “has bin a Gentleman of a good house, and ancient house, but now that old house … is falne to decay”  (NG, sig. A4r). Yet the city, with its class of the newly affluent, is no better: “thats so full of Crafts-men,” he complains, “there is no dealing with their misteries” (NG, sig. A4v-B1r). In either case, the invocation of Nobody as sponsor points to the other function of dedications: they were a marketing tactic, a public advertisement of the approval of a person of note. What McCabe calls the “art of dedication” was thus an art not just of soliciting patrons, but of finding buyers: “illustrious patronage” was itself a “marketable commodit[y].”24 Marston, Dekker, and Day’s bet was that its opposite was too. The most substantial and the most interesting of the epistles was Dekker’s.25 Marston and Day were content to sketch their ironic dedications in the space of a page; Dekker’s, by contrast, swells nearly to the point of overtaking the poem it introduces, and it offers, under the cover of a paradoxical encomium, a subtle exploration of the publicity fostered by the marketplace of print. The dedication’s premise is that its author has traveled the world during the plague year, looking for but failing to find “any man, woman, or child” willing “to keepe open-house for the seauen poore Liberall Sciences” (NG, sig. A4r). With nowhere to turn, Dekker’s author retreats to “Duke Humphres walke in Powles: swearing fiue or sixe poeticall furious oaths, that the Goose-quill should neuer more gull me, to 23  See Richard McCabe, “Ungainefull Arte”: Poetry Patronage, and Print in the Early Modern Era (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016): “[P]atronage retained its allure not only because it extended the aura of illustrious association to those who received, sought, or canvassed it, but also because a wider range of people desired the stature of patrons as the aristocracy of trade sought to rival that of birth” (226). 24  McCabe, “Ungainefull Arte,” 4, 65. 25  There is some uncertainty about whether Dekker wrote Newes from Graues-end alone or in collaboration. Gary Taylor and John Lavagnino include it in Thomas Middleton: The Collected Works (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2007). According to Robert Maslen, writing in the volume’s introduction to the pamphlet, “Internal evidence suggests that Dekker wrote most of the pamphlet and that Middleton’s contribution is concentrated in about a hundred lines of poetry” (129).



make me shoote paper-bullets into any Stationers shop” (NG, sig. B1r). Only then does he remember the existence of one last potential benefactor: Nobody. The story of writerly desperation that Dekker sketches here is drawn straight from one of his central influences. More than a decade earlier, in 1592, Thomas Nashe had imagined another young writer, starved for patronage, who has likewise retreated to Paul’s, ready to give up, when he hears word of “a certaine blind Retayler called the Diuell.” Nashe’s devil is “a greedy pursuer of newes … a Politician in purchasing,” and as such, he stands less for the absent patrons whom Nashe’s young writer reproaches than for the reading public that will consume his pamphlets.26 Pierce Penilesse—the name of both Nashe’s pamphlet and the persona he adopts in it—long fascinated Dekker.27 In 1606, he wrote Newes from Hell Brought by the Diuells Carrier, a sequel of sorts in which the devil replies to the moral satire that Pierce had sent him. The earlier Newes from Graues-ende is similarly indebted, retelling Nashe’s story by replacing the devil with the equally ubiquitous, equally elusive Nobody. Like Nashe’s devil, Nobody is closely linked to the London stationers. “It was would fret their hearts to see thee at their Stalls reading my Newes,” Dekker jokes, but during “all the time of this Plaguy Allarum … none but Nobody bought bookes of them: Nobody was their best, and most bounteous customer” (NS, sig. B3r). He is a bookbuyer: an image of Dekker’s consumer public. That public is nobody in several distinct but interrelated senses: it is no one in particular; it is non-present, dispersed in time and space; and its members are, to each other and to the writer, essentially anonymous. Writing for such an audience, moreover, seemed to anonymize oneself as well. Just as Nashe assumed the mask of Pierce Penilesse, Dekker became the mysterious signatory of his epistle: “Some-body” (NG, sig. C1v). Where Nashe’s devil was teasingly sacrilegious, Dekker’s Nobody was straightforwardly paradoxical, a contradiction in terms. In the ballads that invoked Nobody—and, as we shall see, in Nobody and Somebody—the jokes that followed him tended to rely on the third person, eliciting 26  Thomas Nashe, Pierce Penilesse His Supplication to the Diuell, in The Works of Thomas Nashe, ed. Ronald B.  McKerrow, 5 vols. (1904–10, repr. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1958), 1:161. 27  Imitating Nashe was not without risk, as Robert Maslen notes. Given that Nashe’s works had been banned several years earlier by the bishops John Whitgift and Richard Bancroft, a pamphlet like Newes from Graues-end was “playing a dangerous game”; Taylor and Lavagnino, Middleton: The Collected Works, 129.



surprise from ordinary uses of the word (“Nobody’s home”) that were made strange by the substantialization of their subject. The effect is different, however, in the epistolary second person, for if it is ordinary to refer to nobody, it is very unusual to address him. The absurdity of Nobody draws attention to the act of address, and hence to the challenges of writing for a public—a community of strangers that comes into being not by being spoken about, but spoken to. “A public,” as Michael Warner argues, “is a space of discourse organized by nothing other than discourse itself. … It exists by virtue of being addressed.”28 And if publics are thus poetic effects, conjured by address, then their characteristic figure is the apostrophe: the address to something inanimate, or to a dead or absent person. In the prefatory epistles that filled late sixteenth- and early seventeenth-­ century books, it was apostrophe that brought to life the amalgamated persona of “the reader”—not any reader in particular, but a generalized composite of them all. With his usual irony, Dekker poked fun at the custom even as he took part in it, complaining in The Wonderfull Yeare (1603) that the reader “must be honyed, and come-ouer with Gentle Reader, Courteous Reader, and Learned Reader, though he haue no more Gentilitie in him than Adam had.”29 Often, epistles to the reader accompanied dedications to patrons, the twin prefaces reflecting the double economy of the early modern literary field. But in Newes from Graues-end, Dekker included only one epistle: Nobody, as in Marston’s and Day’s epistles as well, played the roles of patron and reading public alike. Dekker’s (or rather Somebody’s) most direct and sustained address to Nobody coincides with his most elaborate anticipation of the scene of reception: Accept therfore (for hansell-sake) these curtall Rymes of ours (thou Capon-­ feaster of schollers:) I call them News from Graues-end … Reade ouer but one leafe (deare Nobody) & thou putst vpon me an armor of proofe against the rankling teeth of those mad dogs (cald Booke-biters) that run barking vp and downe Powles Church-yard, and bite the Muses by the shinnes. Commend thou my labours, and I will labour onely to commend thee: for thy humor being pleasd, all the mewing Critists in the world shall not fright me. (NS, sig. B2v-C1r)

 Michael Warner, Publics and Counterpublics, 67 (italics in original).  Thomas Dekker, The Wonderfull yeare. Wherein is shewed the picture of London, lying sicke of the Plague (London, 1603), sig. A3r. 28 29



Publication, Dekker suggests, is an act fraught with risk. In his epistle to the reader in The Wonderfull Yeare, he wonders aloud “what madnes” leads “good wits” to it: “For he that dares hazard a pressing to death (thats to say, To be a man in print) must make account that he shall stand (like the old Wethercocke ouer Powles Steeple) to be beaten with all stormes.”30 In print, one is always exposed, always in the open; publicness means vulnerability to the “mad dogs” who frequent public spaces, to the corrosive talk of “Booke-biters.” Somebody’s appeal is directed to a more charitable reader; distinguished from the “mewing Critists,” Nobody is an avatar for a quieter, less rankling public—one whose willingness to buy might indeed insulate an author from barbs. The intimacy of direct address brings Somebody’s readers before him, as if into a special pact, even if, in other circumstances, they might be book-biters themselves. Even, however, as the lines solicit the public whose good opinion Somebody needs, they also dissolve it: if nobody reads “but one leaf” of the pamphlet—if, that is, it never finds a public at all—then the mad dogs of Paul’s will never rip it apart. In one sense, then, Nobody is a fantasy of public address, of apostrophe, the trope that enables absence and negation themselves to be brought into rhetorical presence. But he is also something close to the opposite: the fantasy of an escape from publicity altogether. Yet this fiction of escape is also an act of outreach. For Gérard Genette, the paratext is “a zone not only of transition but also of transaction: a privileged place of a pragmatics and a strategy, of an influence on the public.”31 The canny strategy of Dekker’s epistle—like Marston’s and Day’s—is to make an ambivalence about public address the heart of their pitch. In writing to Nobody, they give their buyers an image of themselves, but an image obscured by the very forms of mediation that bring them the texts of Antonio and Mellida or Newes from Graues-ende or Humour out of Breath to them. In Nobody, the facelessness of print publicity is itself commodified: what he sells is membership in an otherwise abstract and diffuse public readership. Nobody is in this sense a mediatized persona, formed by what the linguistic anthropologist Asif Agha calls “the lamination of a process of commoditization upon a process of

 Dekker, The Wonderfull Yeare, sig. A3r.  Gérard Genette, Paratexts: Thresholds of Interpretation, trans. Jane E. Lewin (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 2. 30 31



communication.”32 His curiously negative identity reflects the constitutive impersonality of the overlapping social forms at whose intersection he was born: the virtuality of print publicity and the abstraction of exchange value.

Purchasing a Name In 1603, the stationer John Trundle established a shop in Barbican. His specialty was pamphlet news, and he occasionally published plays—most notably (also in 1603) the first quarto of Hamlet. In 1606, Trundle installed above his shop a sign that would identify him for two decades. From then on, one could find Trundle at “the signe of No-body,” “att the nobodye in Barbican,” and, after a change of location in 1624, at the “No-Body in Smithfield, neere the Hospitall Gate.”33 Trundle’s sign rendered the act of advertisement as paradoxical as Dekker’s epistle had rendered the act of address, for Nobody nullified the individuating distinctions that marketing demanded. As Luke Wilson argues, he “represents … at once the congealed practice that is the commodity and [its] effacement.”34 But that contradiction hardly diminished the force of the sign. On the contrary, it was precisely by ironizing the distinguishing function of advertisement—by selling nobody—that Trundle differentiated his shop and its books. But selling Nobody was very different from selling nobody. To put Nobody at the top of one’s stall was to claim a highly visible and appropriable persona, and one that pointed to Trundle’s own output. In 1606, the year he adopted the sign, he registered “The picture of No Bodye” with the Company of Stationers, and he published the play Nobody and Somebody.35 The sign was no doubt drawn from one of these, very likely the image that appears on the title page of Nobody and Somebody. It was thus the end of a chain of remediations. Having come to Trundle as a 32  Asif Agha, “Large and Small Scale Forms of Personhood,” Language & Communication 31.3 (2011): 171–80, 173. For Agha, mediatization is endemic in contemporary corporate media institutions, but it emerges with print as a technology of mass communication. 33  See Gerald D.  Johnson, “John Trundle and the Book-Trade 1603–1626,” Studies in Bibliography 39 (1986): 177–99, 181. 34  Wilson, Theaters of Intention, 253. 35  See Johnson, “John Trundle,” 181. The registered title likely refers to a woodcut, probably the woodcut that appeared on the title page of Nobody and Somebody, according to Cyrus Hoy, Introductions, Notes and Commentaries to Texts in “The Dramatic Works of Thomas Dekker,” ed. Fredson Bowers (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980), 129.



theatrical persona, Nobody was made a textual character, then a picture; finally, that picture migrated from the book to the stationer’s sign, and he was translated again. Nobody’s mediatization was thus an effect of the constant re-appropriation of his name and image. His celebrity arose in the repeated acts of mediation that made him so notable, so ubiquitously public, that he could be put to the work of selling the books that contained him. In becoming such a celebrity, Nobody realized a popularity that those books had already anticipated. In Nobody and Somebody, Nobody is a character determined to “purchase a name,” and a name, he learns, is the sort of commodity that can be had only in the recursive circuits of public discourse. Nobody and Somebody is in more than one way a play about publicity. It begins at court, where publicness is a form of representation and display. This is a space of what Habermas calls “representative publicity”: the predecessor of the public sphere that is not a social space at all but a “status attribute,” an aura that “surrounded and endowed” the authority of a lord or a ruler. The emergence of new forms of public association in the seventeenth century did not mean the end of representative publicity, which, on the contrary, found an outlet in the public theater.36 Rather, as Kevin Sharpe has argued, these new publics demanded more subtle and committed repertoires of monarchal representation. The resulting “theatricalization of regality” under the Tudor monarchs stood in a complex relation to the theater itself: a powerful tool of monarchal display but one that threatened to disenchant authority, to subject it to popular discussion.37

36  Steven Mullaney has recently explored the antitheatricality implicit in Habermas’s concept of representative publicity. For Habermas, he points out, “theater could contribute to the public sphere only after it had denatured itself and become less theatrical” (and more novelistic). Mullaney’s discussion resists Habermas’s strong medial distinction (theater as linked to representative publicity, prose fiction to the public sphere) while pursuing the insight that different media facilitate different modes of “publication.” See Mullaney, The Reformation of Emotions in the Age of Shakespeare (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015), 158. 37  Kevin Sharpe, Selling the Tudor Monarchy: Authority and Image in Sixteenth-Century England (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009), 54. For an account that emphasizes the power of theatrical representation to “expose the mystifications of power,” see David Scott Kastan, Shakespeare After Theory (London: Routledge, 1999), 115. On the role of the theater in establishing politics as a subject of public knowledge, see András Kiséry, Hamlet’s Moment: Drama and Political Knowledge in Early Modern England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016).



In Nobody and Somebody, the effects are predictably hard to pull apart. The play’s opening scene is a political dispute—a debate about whether the tyrannical Archigallo should be deposed—that produces, within it, a powerful defense of royal authority. That defense comes from Archigallo’s brother, Elydure, who insists that a king’s “regality / Brookes not taxation”; rather, his “greatest royalties / Are that their subjects must aplaud their deedes, / As well as bear them their prerogatives.”38 The speech is a striking articulation of representative publicity: a king’s deeds, Elydure suggests, are not for but before his subjects, and they must “aplaud” as if they were a theatrical audience. But the argument is nonetheless diminished by the implication that it is disputable, a political view among others. Before long, Elydure will be proven both wrong and right: Archigallo is deposed, but his crown and the prerogatives of regality are given to Elydure himself. Published in 1606, though possibly performed some years earlier, Nobody and Somebody evinces the concern with the problem of succession that preceded and followed Elizabeth’s death in 1603.39 Indeed, the play’s main plot is little more than a series of successions, reduced to an almost parodic repetition. For having been reluctantly crowned—what distinguishes Elydure as a monarch is that he does not crave power—the new king proceeds to give his crown away: when he meets his brother, now repentant and despairing, Elydure is moved to sympathy and decides to restore him. Once back in power, however, Archigallo promptly dies, and Elydure takes the throne once more—only to lose it a second time when he is usurped by the scheming brothers Peridure and Vigenius. As one 38  No-body, and Some-body. With the true Chronicle Historie of Elydure, who was fortunately three seuerall times crowned King of England (London, 1606), sig. A3v. Hereafter cited parenthetically with initials NS. 39  For an argument that the play was performed before the accession of James, see Roslyn L.  Knutson, “The Start of Something Big,” in Locating the Queen’s Men, 1583–1603: Material Practices and Conditions of Playing, ed. Helen Ostovich, Holger Schott Syme, and Andrew Griffin (London: Routledge, 2009), 99–108. Knutson focuses on evidence of the involvement of the playwright Robert Wilson (d. 1600): “Because of the 1606 date, scholars have given Nobody and Somebody to Queen Anne’s Men (formerly Worcester’s Men), but signs of Wilson in the play suggest to me the Queen’s Men of Elizabeth I instead” (106). Peter Lake has recently argued that the succession crisis was the crucial political context for late Elizabethan drama; see How Shakespeare Put Politics on the Stage: Power and Succession in the History Plays (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2016). In Drama and the Succession to the Crown, 1561–1633 (Farnham: Ashgate, 2011), Lisa Hopkins shows that the problem of succession remained a key concern of drama through the reign of James I.



might expect, the brothers fail to share power peacefully. They soon kill each other, and the unassuming Elydure is crowned for a third and final time. In a sense, the outcome affirms the natural legitimacy of authority, which keeps finding its way back to Elydure, whose reluctance to wield power indicates his fitness for it. But the more powerful effect may be to turn “regality” itself into the stuff of farce, as the crown is comically fumbled from one uninspiring king to the next—and so, perhaps, is revealed to be a form of mere display, a prosthetic identity that Elydure can be given, then denied, then given again. In its main plot, then, Nobody and Somebody gently ironizes the representative display of the court. In the subplot, the play introduces a different mode of publicity altogether. Our first hint of it comes while still at court, where Archigallo—not yet deposed—learns of “complaints against one Nobody,” who has been busy helping the poor, the imprisoned, and the itinerant. The king is assured that Nobody is “an honest subject,” but this is just the problem: “Ile haue none such as he within my kingdome,” Archigallo declares, “Hee shall be banisht” (NS, sig. B1r). It is Nobody’s honesty that provokes the corrupt king, but also his marginality: against the visibility of Archigallo’s court, he exemplifies the invisibility, the anonymity, of the commoners. The subplot accordingly shifts locales, from the court to the country (and later the city), and it trades named personages for anonymous stock types: Nobody is accompanied by an unnamed clown, and in their travels they encounter husbands and wives, apprentices and porters, braggarts and servants, none of them given more than a generic label. Not requiring names, they are nobodies themselves, and their marginality is only reinforced by Nobody’s antagonist, Somebody, who is dispatched, as his “opposite … in all thinges,” to hound him from the country (NS, sig. B1v). Nobody, of course, has no body either; he is “all breech” and “no body” (NS, sig. C1r). The authority of the nobleman, wrote Habermas, existed “inasmuch as he made it present … displayed it, embodied it.”40 But display of this sort is just what Nobody can never achieve: he is “a crisis of embodiment,” in Anston Bosman’s description, and for this reason, the representative publicity of the court is beyond him.41 Anonymous, ordinary, socially marginal, he is an emblem of the people before whom authority is staged. And yet the peculiar fame that he  Habermas, Structural Transformation, 13.  Anston Bosman, “Renaissance Intertheater and the Staging of Nobody,” ELH 71.3 (2004): 559–85, 576. 40 41



has already begun to accumulate, a fame apparent in the fact that word of him has reached Archigallo’s ear, suggests that he is something more than a private subject—that he is the model of an alternative form of public personhood. Nobody thus hints at a release from the logic of courtly visibility even as he expresses its central dialectic: royal charisma depends on the nameless multitude, whose anonymity discloses by contrast the singularity of the king. Nobody had played this role once already, in Ben Jonson’s Entertainment at Althorp, a masque performed in June, 1603 to welcome the queen and prince “as they came first into the Kingdome.”42 The first night of the Entertainment offers a conventional pastoral masque, with fairies and satyrs preparing the scene for the presentation of the royal personages themselves: “This is shee, / This is shee … Long liue Oriana / To exceed (whom she succeeds) our late Diana.”43 But the next night’s entertainment is very different: a morris dance performed by “the throng of the countrey,” “[w]ho, because that no man sent them, / Haue got No-bodie to present them.”44 Jonson’s masque clarifies the oppositions that lie beneath Nobody and Somebody. While the first half of The Entertainment focuses on the visual spectacle of the queen, the second insists on the evanescence of speech. Nobody’s bodilessness leaves him uniquely allergic to the masque’s emphasis on physical display, and his only resource—a “sodainly thought on” and, according to the stage directions, inaudible oration—slips from him almost immediately. “I am No-bodie,” he declares, “and my breath / (Soone as it is borne) hath death.”45 Nobody cannot survive a courtly masque because he renders paradoxical the public visibility on which the genre depends. The situation is more complicated in Nobody and Somebody, which takes more seriously the alternative that Nobody represents. Like Jonson’s, this Nobody is defined by verbal paradox. But where Jonson’s paradoxes foreclose, ushering Nobody toward death even as he speaks, those of Nobody and Somebody generate endless discourse: 42  Ben Jonson, A Particular Entertainment of the Qveene and Prince their Highness to Althrope, at the Right Honourable Lord Spencers, on Saturday being the 25. of June 1603 as they came first into the Kingdome, in Ben Jonson, ed. C. H. Hereford, Percy Simpson, and Evelyn Simpson, 11 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1954), 120. 43  Ibid., ll. 113–14, 123–24. 44  Ibid., ll. 236, 254–55. 45  Ibid., ll. 274–75.



Come twentie poore men to his gate at once, Nobody giues them mony, meate and drinke, If they be naked, clothes, then come poore souldiers, Sick, maymd, and shot, from any forraine warres, Nobody takes them in, prouides them harbor, Maintaines their ruind fortunes at his charge, He giues to orphants, and for widdowes buildes Almes-houses, Spittles, and large Hospitals, And when it comes in question, who is apt For such good deedes, tis answerd Nobody. (NS, sig. B4r)

If the effect of these lines is to link Nobody to a vein of popular social critique—and so to bring out the class logic of his antagonism to courtly visibility—their impetus is as much linguistic as it is political. Each formulation of an action performed by Nobody seems to elicit another, so that the satirical force broadens and deepens even as the satisfactions of grammatical surprise (the collapse of the substantive Nobody into the negative nobody) intensify through repetition. By the end of the passage, the name has become something like a refrain, or a punchline. Who is “apt / For such good deedes?” Anyone and everyone can supply the answer: “Nobody.” If Nobody is on every tongue, it is partly because the word is a grammatical reflex, a ubiquitous term of negation. Ordinary denials thus become slander: he finds himself implicated when a wife insists to her jealous husband that “I haue beene with Nobody” and again when an apprentice assures his master that “Nobody was drunke with me” (NS, sigs. C2r, C2v). Nobody’s identity, as Wilson argues, “depends entirely on the set of grammatical constructions in which his name is or can be used”; he is “an empty center around which attributes accumulate in a pattern determined by purely grammatical constraints.”46 Or, to put it slightly differently, he is a projection of ordinary talk, a personification produced over and over by the defamiliarization of prosaic habits of speech. Those habits of speech tend toward negated reference: I haven’t been with him; I have been with nobody. This is why when Nobody is addressed in the second person (as in the dedicatory epistles discussed above) or identified with the first person (as in Desdemona’s “Nobody, I myself” or Dickinson’s “I’m nobody! Who are you?”) the effect is so arresting. Nobody, as Peter Womack writes,  Wilson, Theaters of Intention, 242.




“requires the third person; it is only as something talked about that he acquires his significance.”47 It makes sense, then, that Nobody is talked about constantly in the play, that he enters it as an object of discussion and rumor long before he appears on stage. Early on, Somebody asks his servant: “But is it true the fame of Nobody, / For vertue, almes-deedes, and for charitie / Is so renownd and famous in the Country?” (NS, sig. B3v). The servant replies that it is: Oh Lord sir ey, hes talkt of farre and neere Fills all the boundlesse country with aplause, There liues not in all Britaine one so spoke of, For pittie, good mind, and true charitie. (NS, sig. B3v)

Not just the object of discussion, Nobody repeatedly prompts talk about talk: reflexive accounts of the operations of fame, gossip, and rumor. Characters like the servant report not only on who Nobody is or what he does, but also—primarily—on how he is “talkt of,” with the effect that he begins to acquire the circularity typical of the celebrity as, in Daniel Boorstin’s aphoristic definition, “a person who is known for his well-­ knownness.”48 Somebody’s question, apparently a solecism, in fact gets at just this circularity: “But is it true the fame of Nobody … Is so renownd and famous?” Nobody is nothing apart from the talk that he generates and that, in turn, generates him. Even, it seems, to himself. When he finally appears on stage, the first thing he does is ask the clown about his reputation: “Come on myne owne servaunt, some newes, some newes, what report haue I in the country? how am I talkt on in the Citty, and what fame beare I in the Court?” (NS, sig. B4v). While the main plot of Nobody and Somebody traces Elydure’s reluctant ascent to the public role of king, the subplot thus offers Nobody’s eager pursuit of a public name. But the publicness that Nobody pursues differs sharply from that conferred on the king. Where the latter depends on a logic of courtly representation, the former is spatially and socially democratized, circulating in the country and the city as well as at court. Where royal publicity is rooted in the visible display of authority, Nobody’s emerges in discourse; he is a creature of fame (a word that tends to follow 47  Peter Womack, “Nobody, Somebody, and King Lear,” New Theatre Quarterly 23.3 (2007), 199. 48  Daniel Boorstin, The Image: Or, What Happened to the American Dream (New York: Atheneum, 1962), 57.



him) in its full range of meanings: rumor, gossip, report, scandal, renown.49 And where Elydure, with an aristocratic renunciation, retreats from authority, Nobody energetically seeks a name for himself. He is determined to be famous. His search begins in the country, but it soon turns to the city, which emerges as a public space distinct from Elydure’s court, capable of bestowing its own forms of repute: [S]ince my man so much commends the Cittie, Ile thether, and to purchase me a name, Take a large house of infinite receipt, There keepe a table for all good spirits, And all the chimneyes shall cast smoake at once: There Ile giue schollers pensions, Poets gold, Arts their deserts, Philosophy due praise, Learning his merit, and all worth his meede. There Ile release poore prisoners from their dungeons, Pay Creditors the debts of other men, And get myself a name mongst Cittizens, That after times partakers of all blisse May thus record, Nobody did all this. (NS, sig. C2v-C3r)

From one perspective, the picture Nobody gives of himself in these lines is a quasi-aristocratic one. A figure of charity and largesse, he is, in Somebody’s words, a “publique Benefactor,” and his special attention to the liberal arts (a staple, as we have seen, of print invocations of Nobody) positions him as the munificent successor to a nobility whose patronage has dried up (NS, sig. C2v-C3r). But from another angle, Nobody’s class position seems rather different. Sponsoring writers in the city, he belongs to what McCabe calls the “aristocracy of trade”: the bourgeoisie who increasingly sought the prestige of patronal status. Nobody’s affinity with 49  For an overview of the idea and representation of fame in early modern literature, see Philip Hardie, Rumour and Renown: Representations of Fama in Western Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012). Hardie emphasizes the “instabilities and tensions” (5) in the concept of fama, which encompasses the circulation of discourse (rumor or report) and its product (reputation or renown) as well as positive and negative valences (fame as well as notoriety and scandal). Fama, Hardie suggests, features “a characteristic tension between cohesive and disruptive effects of the production and circulation of words” (19). For an even broader historical account of fame, see Leo Braudy’s foundational book The Frenzy of Renown: Fame and Its History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986).



this rising class is reflected in his transactional approach to reputation: there is little pretense of selflessness in his charity, no delicacy to the ambition to “purchase” a name.50 Then again, there is no snobbery, either. “When the King / Knighted the lustie gallants of the Land,” Somebody’s servant reports, “Nobody made daintie to be knighted, / And indeede kept him in his knowne estate” (NS, sig. B4r). Acquired status seems to be more to Nobody’s taste than bestowed status. He prefers fame as a commodity, purchasable to the extent that one can trade material for symbolic capital. It is a fitting preference: as a cipher—a negation made a name—Nobody figures a form of identity that is nothing in itself, but acquires value in its circulation and exchange. Whether such an identity can be sustained, however, is unclear. The name Nobody seeks is always on the verge of slipping away, of dissolving into the undifferentiated mass of nobodies who do (or rather, fail to do) all of the deeds credited to him. In this sense, he paradoxically embodies the anonymity of the public whose gossip promises to make him singularly famous. Inevitably, Nobody and Somebody works toward a meeting of its twin protagonists, the king and the upstart. By the time Nobody reaches the court, at the end of the play, he has indeed become a public name: when Cornwell introduces him, along with Somebody, he describes them as “two noted persons of the Land / much spoke of by all states” (NS, sig. H3v). Yet it has proven impossible to control his name’s proliferation, and flattering reports of his charity are overtaken by slanderous rumors of misdeeds for which nobody takes the blame. He arrives before Elydure, then, ready for the king to adjudicate the case: to endorse Somebody’s slanders or to vindicate Nobody’s good name. The long trial rehearses the wordplay that has driven the subplot all along: Somebody offers a litany of wrongs perpetrated by Nobody, only for Nobody to reply that, “[i]f things were done, they must be done by some-body” (NS, sig. H4v). Talk allows no resolution; it contains Nobody within the paradoxical terms of the joke that underwrites him.

50  See Richard McCabe, “Ungainefull Arte”: Poetry Patronage, and Print in the Early Modern Era (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016): “[P]atronage retained its allure not only because it extended the aura of illustrious association to those who received, sought, or canvassed it, but also because a wider range of people desired the stature of patrons as the aristocracy of trade sought to rival that of birth” (226).



That is why the rescue of his good name finally requires a turn from the discursive forms of publicity at work in the city and country to the visibility of courtly representation. Nobody is acquitted when his pockets are turned out and material proof of his good deeds (in the form of receipts for the imprisoned debtors he has redeemed) is discovered. His legitimation turns out to depend on his being made visible, on the public display of his body. Until now, his celebrity has been an alternative to the publicity of the court—a function not of elite display but of ordinary talk—but in this final scene he is absorbed into the representative apparatus of the state, validated by Elydure even as the king, through a display of beneficence, performs his regality. Nobody had lived in the unpredictable circulation of discourse, but now there is no more to say; the play simply ends. And the happy ending comes with a cost. It requires the flattening of the paradoxes that distinguished him, as a person with and without a body, with and without a name. Now his body is unambiguously real, his name is officially endorsed—and the root of his peculiar celebrity is gone. Then again, if the logic of representative publicness seems to finally absorb the challenge that Nobody poses to it, at another level it is Nobody, not Elydure, who turns out to be the play’s center. It is his persona, at least, that outlives and transcends Nobody and Somebody itself. When traveling playing companies took Nobody and Somebody to Europe, as Anston Bosman observes, it was Nobody who dominated the stage, with the historical main plot ceding ground.51 It was, of course, Nobody who occupied the title of the play, notwithstanding his relegation to the subplot. And it was Nobody who found a home above John Trundle’s bookshop, where he stayed for two decades, the enduring sign of a name purchased from nothing.

Celebrity, Publicity, and Negation In Newes from Graues-end, Dekker had given us a personified Nobody who is gradually revealed to be an avatar of the reading public that was the pamphlet’s destination. In Nobody and Somebody, the angle is reversed: now Nobody is a figure of public anonymity—associated with the social marginality of the world beyond the court—who emerges, over the course of the play, as something like a celebrity. In the first case, his individuality is emptied out, as we begin to see that he is a cipher for a form of agency  Bosman, “Renaissance Intertheater,” 576–77.




that is too diffuse, too plural, too distributed to belong to anyone in particular. In the second, we watch as that distributed agency congeals into the persona of Nobody, “notable person” of the land. These contraposed stories locate him between the same poles. He is formed in the tension between singularity and anonymity; he is caught between his identification with the beholding public and his constellation as the special object of their attention. This is why he can seem like an apparition—his shape “disperst” throughout the country, as Somebody suggests (NS, sig. H4r)— only to surge into the foreground, a presence demanding notice. Nobody is on every tongue, but also at risk of slipping away. After all, to look too closely at Nobody is to resolve the trick of grammar that animates him, and so to ensure his disappearance. Nobody’s teasing familiarity reflected the particular paradoxes of his character, but it also evinced the peculiar blend of presence and absence that underwrites the charisma of celebrity in general. “Public intimacy” is the name that Joseph Roach gives this effect—it is “the illusion of availability,” of “proximity to the tantalizing apparition,” that characterizes our experience of star power.52 If public intimacy is an oxymoron, the contradiction is the point: for Roach, charisma arises in the tension between a singular aura and the fragmented, multiplied images that carry it to audiences. A celebrity’s intimacy is uncanny because it is genuinely surprising, because they are unfamiliar—because they remain, ultimately, apparitional. “Social distance,” suggests Chris Rojek, “is the precondition of celebrity.”53 Without the mediation of print, the stage, or the screen, the mass visibility that celebrity requires would not be possible; but more to the point, neither would the special thrill of mediated encounter, of proximity through and in spite of remove. The sense that celebrity depends on a certain set of antinomies—the dream of immediacy against the fact of mediation, the aura of the striking individual against the anonymous multitude of observers—drives Sharon Marcus’s argument that celebrity is “theatrical in structure.” It is theatrical, she suggests, because, like the stage, “it combines proximity and distance and links celebrities to their devotees in structurally uneven ways.”54 If for Roach celebrity tantalizes by managing to be “at once touchable and transcendent,” for Marcus, touch is just what eludes the grasp: celebrities  Joseph Roach, It (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2007), 3, 44.  Rojek, Celebrity, 12. 54  Marcus, “Salomé,” 999, 1000. 52 53



in her account are “[o]n display but untouchable.” Fans, she writes, “pay to gaze on a star who is dramatically present but rarely returns their looks and to whom they cannot speak.”55 Celebrity requires a visible but unavailable star and, equally, a grasping but invisible audience: it requires a public of nobodies. The singularity of celebrity thus turns out to depend on its opposite: the negation of the self that grounds public sociability. Life in public, after all, is life among strangers, a series of interactions among people anonymous to each other. And insofar as publics were communities of shared interest or attention, that too had an implicitly negative effect: it meant submitting oneself to the collective investment of the group, as when playgoers—despite social, political, and religious differences—are joined by a “shared curiosity, excitement, sense of allegiance to the young hero” of Hamlet.56 The emancipatory promise of publics like those of the theater or, in a different way, of print was to allow one to be, for a time, merely a playgoer, merely “the Reader.” Eventually, this sort of abstraction—the separation from oneself as the price of admission to a collective, public subject—became the normative foundation of the bourgeois public sphere. So, at least, argued Habermas: the crucial effect of the coffeehouses and salons of the eighteenth century, in his view, was the preservation of “a kind of social intercourse that, far from presupposing the equality of status, disregarded status altogether.”57 The principled remove of Joseph Addison and Richard Steele’s Mr. Spectator—“rather,” as he puts it, “a Spectator of Mankind, than … one of the Species”—embraced this negativity, rendering it an ethos of public discourse as rational detachment.58 A century earlier, the enigmatic figure of Nobody cast it as something very different: as a mystery, a paradoxical anti-personhood born of strange new forms of association. Nobody thus marks an early and estranged recognition of the “principle of negativity” that, as Michael Warner suggests, came to define the  Roach, It, 16; Marcus, “Salomé,” 1008.  Yachnin, “Performing Publicity,” 214. Yachnin is careful to observe that publics do not wholly efface personal differences; rather, being a playgoer involves an attunement to one’s own responses to a play as well as those of fellow playgoers. But coming together as a public entails a certain transformation: an intersubjective connection that depends on but also transcends one’s individuality. 57  Habermas, Structural Transformation, 36. 58  The Spectator No. 1, Thursday, March 1, 1711. See Selections from The Tatler and The Spectator, ed. Angus Ross (New York: Penguin, 1982), 199. 55 56



public sphere. Nobody was an image of the public reflected to itself, an allegory of the abstraction, the anonymity of life in public, carried to the furthest extreme. But what stands out about Nobody is not just the negativity that defined him; it is that he managed to be unique—to be genuinely singular—by virtue of it. Nobody’s genius was to render the negative principle of publicness a celebrity-effect of its own. He was ordinariness made special, a figure well-known for being unknown. And the paradoxes of his fame suggest how closely linked the opposed types that he embodies—the celebrity and the nobody—really are. For to the extent that celebrity needs an anonymous audience, an assembly of nobodies, as the backdrop against which to project its singular charisma, these seemingly unlike kinds of person turn out to depend on and to express each other: the private person is driven to distinguish himself, to purchase a name, and the celebrity discovers in the mediation of her image a form of self-­ alienation. The twin impulses to be someone and to be no one lie next to each other at the heart of early modern publicity, and Nobody is born where they meet.

Jonson’s Ridicule of Shakespeare: Commodifying Drama in “To the Reader” of The Alchemist James P. Bednarz

Ben Jonson is probably best known for celebrating Shakespeare in the First Folio of 1623 as a universal genius, “not of an age, but for all time.” Yet in 1612, at a time when Jonson confronted the prospect of his own failure as a commercial dramatist, he used the quarto publication of The Alchemist to challenge readers to reject Shakespeare’s counterfeit comedy in favor of his own legitimate drama. Not content with merely writing plays, Jonson incited his audience to question their value in work that fostered the creation of an extraordinarily self-conscious theatrical public that was encouraged to accept commercial drama as a form of “art.” Writing at that time for the King’s Men, Jonson was among a new generation of commercial dramatists who began to use print as a medium to publicize their poetic programs by justifying them theoretically in the context of the current theatrical scene. Peter Lake and Steven Pincus point

J. P. Bednarz (*) Long Island University, Brookville, NY, USA e-mail: [email protected] © The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2021 A. K. Deutermann et al. (eds.), Publicity and the Early Modern Stage, Early Modern Cultural Studies 1500–1700,




out how in early modern England, political discourse fundamental to the creation of a public sphere was often initiated by the state to generate support for its policies, with the unforeseen consequence of fueling contention.1 Jonson, in proclaiming his poetic authority through drama, initiated a similarly uncontainable controversy. The robust business of early modern theater in London brought a new professionalism to drama made possible by the creation of large, involved theatrical audiences, communities of cultural consumers eager to learn more about the plays, players, and playwrights who entertained them. Jonson curated The Alchemist in print for these prospective readers, denizens of both theater and print shop, in an effort to shape their attitude toward dramatic poetry. In his address “To the Reader,” he urged them to ponder the value of the “commodity” they held, to consider its meaning and implications, measuring it not only by what it was, but also by what it was not. One might object that Jonson’s “publicity campaign” to promote The Alchemist through publication in 1612 was a “publicity stunt,” an insignificant “sales pitch” for the sake of self-promotion in a competitive marketplace. But this interpretation grossly underestimates the extent to which Jonson’s marketing of his work to a curious public involved a genuine attempt to renovate commercial theater, based on a humanist program of moral reform that stressed the importance of “poetry” (the early modern word for “literature,” including “drama”) for the commonwealth’s social and psychological wellbeing. Based in part on the urgency of this commitment to social change, Jonson’s goal was to transform commercial drama into art, and he recognized that he would have to both define and shape his own factionalized audience within the so-called public theater, one that was capable, in his estimation, of providing a remedy for the frivolous entertainment the King’s Men frequently offered. Jonson not only wrote for the King’s Men, but also critiqued their repertoire and urged his readers to do the same. Jonson’s letter is an expression of disciplined position-taking that responds to real events in a theatrical “review” that skillfully blends general precepts with contemporary exemplars. Jonson’s heuristic imperative guided his critical strictures, even though The Alchemist is informed by a kind of moral cynicism that substitutes expediency for virtue. At this time he conceived of ordinary Jacobean 1  See “Rethinking the Public Sphere,” the introduction to The Politics of the Public Sphere in Early Modern England, ed. Peter Lake and Steven Pincus (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2007), 19. For an examination of the new mutual influence of dramatists and commercial playgoers, see Leo Salingar, “Jacobean Playwrights and ‘Judicious’ Spectators,” Proceedings of the British Academy 75 (1989): 1–23.



society, in comedy, as being split between those who were either cunning or conned. He reserved positive representations of virtue for masque and verse. The allegorically named “Lovewit” thrives by cheating the cheaters, taking possession of the hesitant gamester Surly’s potential bride, Dame Pliant, and forcing the Anabaptist preacher Tribulation Wholesome to relinquish his right to the metal merchandise he had given the alchemist Subtle to be turned into gold. Jonson coaxes us to applaud such craftiness. Otherwise, his goal in writing the play was consistent with his sustained effort to commodify commercial drama as a classically sanctioned vehicle for comic ridicule, shaping it as an “art” in conformity with the authority of what he considered to be the best available “literary” theory. The strategy made him famous. Jonson had already become a theatrical celebrity by 1601, when, Thomas Dekker reports in Satiromastix, Jonson would deliberately “venter on the stage” when his plays ended “to make all the house rise up in Armes, to cry…that’s he, that’s he, that’s he.”2 When, in the same play, the audience is presented with an actual large portrait of Jonson (to contrast with another of Horace), Dekker would have expected them to be able to identify him. By 1618, as the recently discovered account of the enthusiastic crowds that greeted him on his “foot voyage” to Scotland that year indicates, Jonson, who continually expressed disdain for the “multitude,” had certainly become, paradoxically, the period’s most famous living poet.3 Instantly recognizable by audiences, Jonson exercised a charismatic appeal over a highly educated following within the public theater, a coterie of playgoers whose existence illustrates the fallacy of adhering too rigidly to Alfred Harbage’s distinction between “public” and “private” audiences.4 The Globe might more accurately be seen as a sphere of publics rather than Habermas’s public sphere, one in which not only politics, but also culture, became subjects for consideration and debate. Commercial theater provided, at a

2  Thomas Dekker, Satiromastix, or the Untrussing of the Humorous Poet, in The Dramatic Works of Thomas Dekker, ed. Fredson Bowers, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1953), vol. 1, 389. 3  See Ben Jonson’s Walk to Scotland: An Annotated Edition of the “Foot Voyage,” ed. James Loxley, Anna Groundwater, and Julie Sanders (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), for a first-hand account of the numerous crowds of well-wishers that welcomed him at successive stops along his tour. 4  Alfred Harbage’s notion of dual audiences is fundamental to Shakespeare and the Rival Traditions (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1970), 3–57.



price, new common spaces for the mingling of divergent, multiple, and overlapping publics who paid to be entertained and informed. The King’s Men welcomed a degree of controversy in what Hamlet concisely defines as the pursuit of “reputation and profit,” goals that Jonson tended to characterize as being inherently at odds with each other. Theater companies thrived on variety, and the ideal public Jonson cultivated in print was abstracted by him from the multiple publics he encountered at the Globe and Blackfriars. He imbued these theatergoing book  buyers with “private” (exclusive) qualities and commended them for their support of his less popular, but more significant, art. Having intuited his ideal theatrical public, Jonson consolidated this constituency through print. The social network linking commercial theater and print culture that he first exploited with the publication of Every Man Out of His Humour in 1600 allowed for the storage, retrieval, and dissemination of his artistic ideology on an unprecedented scale. As such, it continued to serve, through publication of The Alchemist in 1612, as a powerful catalyst for the acceptance of commercial drama as a valid expression of “art.”5

Jonson’s Reformation of Commerical Drama In his open letter to readers of the 1612 quarto, Jonson maintains that drama’s social impact can only be achieved by imposing necessary artistic constraints on its composition. Guided by neoclassical precepts enunciated in the most important work of early modern English literary criticism, Sir Philip Sidney’s Apology for Poetry, Jonson insisted that the best way to reform contemporary commercial drama was to write comedy that maintained a firm hold on mimetic verisimilitude in regard to both subject matter and formal structure. Further, insofar as it was didactic, comedy, Sidney asserts, necessarily involves ridicule. “Comedy,” he writes, moralizing Aristotle’s Poetics, “is an imitation of the common errors of our life,” represented “in the most ridiculous and scornful sort that may be, so as it

5  For a brilliant exposition of this linkage and its importance for the status of drama in the period, see Julie Stone Peters, Theatre of the Book, 1480–1880 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 93–146. See also David M. Bergeron, Textual Patronage in English Drama, 1570–1640 (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2006), 23–47, for a treatment of the incorporation of defensive paratexts in the publication of commercial plays.



is impossible that any beholder can be content to be such a one.”6 And it was most effective, Sidney continues, under the sway of Lodovico Castelvetro’s Poetica, when it was experientially plausible, conforming to “the rules of place and time, the two necessary companions of all corporeal actions.”7 Didacticism and verisimilitude had long been fundamental preoccupations for Jonson, and in marketing The Alchemist in print he involved his audience in an intense debate on what drama was and should be, using Shakespeare’s recent comedy The Winter’s Tale as his prime example of what should be avoided. Yet this strategy would come under considerable pressure in The Alchemist, insofar as the contemporary London scene Jonson represents endorses Lovewit’s pliant rectitude, lending the comedy a pragmatic, but not a moral, ending, one that avoids punitive self-righteousness in favor of a sliding scale of moral rectitude tinged, perhaps, by cynicism about what it takes to obtain economic security in the Jacobean London Jonson’s characters and audiences shared. Theory and practice, at any rate, had begun to exhibit contradictions in The Alchemist that would be further exacerbated by the lurid festivity of Bartholomew Fair. The problem Jonson faced from 1599 onward with the invention of comical satire was how to make a commodity into art and produce art as a commodity, and to do so, writing for the King’s Men, the most important and popular Jacobean theater company, he had to reconcile his own artistic interests with those of the mass market for which he wrote. For recent scholars who have argued for an almost entirely anonymous collaborative theater scene, Jonson has always posed a problem, since he was motivated by an intense drive to distinguish himself from others in his profession by claiming what Richard Helgerson evokes as a “laureate” status.8 Yet far from being “self-crowned,” Jonson continually looked to select publics comprised of networks of cultural  consumers, early 6  Sir Philip Sidney, An Apology for Poetry, ed. Geoffrey Shepherd (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1973), 117. 7  Sidney, An Apology, 134. For Jonson’s more flexible attitude, in practice, toward the neoclassical principles he defended and an account of Sidney’s influence on his poetics, see James P.  Bednarz, “Jonson’s Literary Theatre: Volpone in Performance and Print (1606–1607),” in Volpone, A Critical Guide (London: Continuum, 2011), 83–110. 8  Richard Helgerson’s Self-Crowned Laureates: Spenser, Jonson, Milton, and the Literary System (Berkeley, CA: The University of California Press, 1963), should be commended nevertheless for having framed the issue of Jonson’s self-presentation in the context of early modern cultural history.



modern “influencers,” and fellow writers to “seal” themselves as members of what he later called “the Tribe of Ben.” Jonson’s drive to distinguish himself was tied to what Roger B. Rollin, playing on Harold Bloom’s terminology, posits as an “anxiety of identification,” a psychological predisposition for defining himself against mirrored opposites.9 This drive epitomizes the vital sense of individual agency that has long been taken as symptomatic of Renaissance culture. Jonson labored to establish a “name” (as he called it) by legitimizing commercial drama. His achievement was paradigmatic, bringing him fame while bestowing honor on his profession in the marketplace of symbolic goods. The period’s accelerated dynamics of self-fashioning represented by Jonson’s assumption of poetic authority played out in a social milieu characterized by new, multiple, and increasingly nonconcentric group identities.10 English Renaissance culture was shaped by such struggles over personal and collective identities, and Shakespeare’s critical assessment of the “rules of art,” written into the plotting and dialogue of The Winter’s Tale, documents his rejection of their putative laws. In “To the Reader” Jonson divides his audience into a minority of “Understanders” and a majority of “Pretenders” who never adequately examine the nature of the plays they pay to watch. With this minority, in a display of reciprocal recognition, he conducted a trade in symbolic goods from which he sought fame, in its traditional guise as the reward of excellence through distinction, even to the exclusion of wealth. Although his work often met with popular approval, from 1599 onward Jonson consistently defined his poetics in line with what Pierre Bourdieu refers to as the “field of restricted production,” that part of the system of mass production which allows a space of “dynamic autonomy” for an attitude toward art-making that defines itself as the exclusive domain of legitimate “art” in opposition to naïve forms of popular entertainment which it stigmatizes as essentially commercial and therefore artless—regardless of whatever  Roger B. Rollin, “The Anxiety of Identification: Jonson and the Rival Poets,” in Classic and Cavalier: Essays on Ben Jonson and the Sons of Ben, ed. Claude J.  Summers and Ted-Larry Pebworth (Pittsburg, PA: Pittsburg University Press, 1982), 139–54. See also George E. Rowe’s convincing analysis of this phenomenon in Distinguishing Jonson: Imitation, Rivalry, and the Direction of a Dramatic Career (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1988), 1–37. 10   See Hannah Chapelle Wojciehowski, Group Identity in the Renaissance World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 10–35, for the concurrent global transformations of group identity during the period. 9



extraneous economic, political, or social factors might be called on to justify them.11 Jonson’s strategy for assuming the role of an “artist” in the commercial theater was to pitch his drama to a select minority, an enlightened society whose adulation, he assumed, would be further validated by some ideal future community, imagined as posterity. The notion that Shakespeare and Jonson publicized opposing approaches to drama while they were both actively involved writing comedies for the King’s Men contradicts the widely held assumption, grounded in the scholarship of Samuel  Schoenbaum, that Jonson never expressed significant misgivings about Shakespeare while the latter was active in the theater and that Shakespeare, therefore, never had reason to react to him.12 Agreeing with Schoenbaum that their theatrical rivalry was a literary myth, largely attributable to the excessive fantasy of eighteenth-century commentators, Richard Dutton states that “Jonson kept his peace (at least in public) about the older man until he had retired to Stratford, and then in effect put himself forward to fill the gap which that retirement had created.”13 It was only with Bartholomew Fair of 1614, Dutton maintains, that Jonson finally ridiculed Shakespeare’s drama in order to assert his right to occupy “the authoritative space.”14 “Jonson waited until Shakespeare had securely retired from the theatrical world,” he concludes, “before he fully vented his Oedipal spleen on the father-figure whose success apparently so frustrated his own.”15 But Jonson, in a push for market share of symbolic capital, began publicizing his differences with Shakespearean drama long before Bartholomew Fair. During the late Elizabethan period, the quarto of Jonson’s Every Man out of His Humour, published in 1600, contains his first public parody of Shakespeare’s work. In it, as scholars have long recognized, Jonson registered his first critique of Shakespeare’s drama with mocking allusions to its putative absurdities of language and form, citing the ludicrous rhetoric of Julius Caesar and the laughable channel-jumping Chorus of Henry 11  Pierre Bourdieu, The Field of Cultural Production (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993), 115–18. 12  Schoenbaum, Shakespeare’s Lives (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1970). 13  Richard Dutton, Ben Jonson / Authority / Criticism (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1996), 146, and S. Schoenbaum, Shakespeare’s Lives: A Compact Documentary Life (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1970), 92–97. 14  Ibid, 146. 15  Richard Dutton, “Jonson and Shakespeare: Oedipal Revenge,” Ben Jonson Journal 23 (2016): 24–51.



V.16 He embedded these allusions in an aggressive new genre—comical satire—that he devised in 1599 to contest the hegemony of festive comedy at the Globe. What is more, irrefutable evidence of Shakespeare’s reaction to Jonson surfaces in the armed Prologue of Troilus and Cressida, which answers its armed predecessor in Poetaster. Eliminating his involvement in the so-called Poets’ War falsifies theater history. The paradigmatic opposition between Shakespeare and Jonson as mighty opposites, David Bevington justly concludes, is “not simply a construction manufactured long after the fact but was something that the two authors consciously shaped for themselves in an ongoing conversation.”17 But while Shakespeare confined his wry commentary on Jonson’s neoclassical program to metatheatrical topicality, Jonson used print as well to enunciate his positions more forcefully to a reading audience. Their exchange, advertizing competing ideas about what theater was and could be for Jacobean audiences, would have a lasting effect on the manner in which their work would be viewed once eighteenth-century scholars turned Shakespeare and Jonson, using the terms of their debate, into caricatures of spontaneous Nature and labored Art. The competitive theatrical drive within the King’s Men’s dialogical repertoire spilled over into print when Jonson ridiculed a still-active Shakespeare in the first quarto of The Alchemist in 1612.18 A primary document in the history of theatrical publicity, in the sense of theatrical marketing, “To the Reader” appears in the quarto  between Jonson’s symbolically fraught dedication of the play to Lady Mary Wroth and a commendatory poem by George Lacy, registering audience acclaim for Jonson’s drama. In a hierarchical chain of admiration, Jonson, who praises Lady Mary, is, in turn, praised by Lacy. The Alchemist is consequently packaged as an elite commodity of patronage culture sold in the 16  For an overview of Jonson’s earliest parodies of Julius Caesar and Henry V in the first quarto of Every Man Out of 1600, see James P. Bednarz, “When did Shakespeare Write the Choruses of Henry V?,” Notes and Queries 53 (2006): 486–89, and “Dekker’s Response to the Chorus of Henry V in 1599,” Notes and Queries 59 (2012): 63–68. (It is not known whether any or all of these allusions were in the original 1599 performance at the Globe, several months before Every Man Out of His Humour was published with additions that had not been acted.) 17  David Bevington, “Jonson and Shakespeare: A Spirited Friendship,” The Ben Jonson Journal 23 (2016): 1–23, 21. 18  E.A.J. Honigmann’s foundational essay “Contemporary Criticisms of Shakespeare” in Shakespeare’s Impact on His Contemporaries (Totowa: Barnes and Noble, 1982), 91–108, points out the significance of Jonson’s address to readers of The Alchemist.



commercial marketplace to readers who frequented the public theater. Between praising his patron and being praised by an admiring audience member, Jonson advertized his play’s merits while denigrating Shakespeare’s drama in attacks cleverly disguised as generalizations. His strategy throughout was to interpret Shakespeare’s greater commercial success as a sign of artistic failure based on a self-defeating concession to popular error. How seriously should readers take Jonson’s campaign to justify his work by covertly vilifying Shakespeare? He was a master showman, especially skilled in the art of “application” or topical highlighting, who appreciated the excitement generated by controversy. Yet he was also an unusually exacting critic who fiercely defended his ideological principles on the nature and function of drama. For strategic reasons, it is nevertheless possible that he exaggerated what he saw as Shakespeare’s flaws for the sake of touting the virtues of his own comedy in light of the apparent success of The Winter’s Tale. Jonson’s letter to readers of The Alchemist should be read in light of what we currently know about Shakespeare’s imposing presence as a writer still actively engaged in producing an alternative to Jonsonian drama in 1612. It illustrates Shakespeare’s flaws in an effort to draw off part of his audience. Jonson’s open letter is not an act of nostalgia commemorating the “memory” of his “beloved” Shakespeare, but an indictment of Shakespeare’s artistic failings by a writer intent on commodifying their difference in order to confirm his own artistic legacy. Shakespeare made crucial changes to his affiliation with the King’s Men between 1612 and 1614, yet Schoenbaum is wrong in finding “little reason to doubt” the quaint speculation of Shakespeare’s eighteenth-century biographer Nicholas Rowe that the playwright intended to spend “the final non-­ literary phase” of his life back at Stratford, “in Ease, Retirement, and the Conversation of his Friends.”19 Recent biographers, including Park Honan and Katherine Duncan-Jones, have found the notion that Shakespeare intended to sever all ties to the King’s Men and retire to New Place in 1613 largely anachronistic.20 Robert Bearman, who has carefully studied the playwright’s finances, doubts that Shakespeare, in his late forties, would have settled for an income of about £70—from his tithe-shares, his  Schoenbaum, Shakespeare’s Lives, 279.  Honan, Shakespeare, A Life (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), 378–81; DuncanJones, Ungentle Shakespeare (London: Thomson Learning, 2001), 245–50. 19 20



freehold estate of 107 acres, and the Henley Street property—after having secured, at best, some £200 a year from his professional activities in London. It is more plausible, Bearman insists, to assume “that Shakespeare had simply decided to wind down, freeing himself from any obligation to act on stage by surrendering his shares but retaining some contact with his company (and some income) by collaborating with others in the writing of new work.” “Voluntary retirement,” he adds, “was not a concept that Tudor and Stuart society would have recognized,” and “there is little to suggest that, in terms of his and his family’s financial security, his retirement, or semi-retirement, is something that he could simply afford to do.”21 Although Shakespeare cashed in his shares in both the King’s Men and the Globe around the time that the theater burned down in June 1613, he continued to show legal, professional, and commercial activity in the capital. Jonson’s open letter was consequently an extreme form of self-­ merchandising meant to provoke a debate on the purpose of playing in a theatrical milieu in which Shakespeare was an active, dominant force. Having finished The Winter’s Tale and The Tempest, Shakespeare was still hard at work, collaborating on Cardenio, All is True (Henry VIII), and The Two Noble Kinsmen with John Fletcher, while remaining close to fellow actors. On 13 March 1613, with John Heminges as one of his co-­ purchasers, he invested in the Blackfriars Gatehouse, a large residential property near the King’s Men’s indoor theater. Serving perhaps as “a pied-­ á-­terre,” Park Honan observes, “the gatehouse would have been on the doorstep of one theatre, and just across the water from the Globe. His troupe’s stock of his playbooks was close at hand, and there is no sign that he did not, at first, aim to live and work at Blackfriars.”22 “This was the best possible area of London for a King’s Man,” Duncan-Jones adds, “and I cannot doubt that some of the time in 1613–1615 Shakespeare did live there.”23 He collaborated with Richard Burbage on the creation of an impresa for Roger Manners, the eighth earl of Rutland, to display during 21  Bearman, Shakespeare’s Money: How Much Did He Make and What Did This Mean? (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016), 151–70, 152, 153. 22  Honan, Shakespeare, 379. On 13 March 1613, Shakespeare agreed to pay Henry Alker, its owner, £140. The next day he paid £80 and signed the mortgage, intending to settle the balance on 29 September, but the burning of the Globe on 29 June might have affected his finances, if he were still a householder. He does not seem to have paid the rest nor to have contributed money to the Globe’s rebuilding. 23  Duncan-Jones, Ungentle Shakespeare, 248.



the Accession Day tilt of 24 March 1613. Burbage painted and produced the impresa that Shakespeare devised. The 44 shillings in gold Shakespeare received for the commission indicate the financial opportunities London still provided. He had more time to spend at New Place, yet the often-­ cited contemporaneous description of him as “of Stratford-Upon-Avon in the Country of Warwickshire gentleman,” Duncan-Jones points out, does not imply “that Stratford, not London, was where he now resided,” since it utilizes a rhetorical formula that “identifies an individual through his place of origin.”24 “As usual, he is almost invisible in the Stratford records,” Lois Potter observes.25 On 16 November 1614, when the Stratford town clerk Thomas Greene (who described himself as the playwright’s “cousin”) sought out Shakespeare’s advice on dealing with the Welcombe enclosures, he found him with John Hall (his son-in-law) in London. Shakespeare “had his reasons for a long stay in the capital in 1614,” Honan adds, “at just the time the King’s Men played at court.”26 During this period Shakespeare could easily have read Jonson’s open letter in a copy of The Alchemist, with its sharp criticism of The Winter’s Tale, or have attended a performance of Bartholomew Fair by the Lady Elizabeth’s Men  at the Hope theater in 1614, with its parodies of The Winter’s Tale, The Tempest, and The Two Noble Kinsmen. The play premiered on 31 October.  With Jonson and Burbage as neighbors, the opportunity to socialize was certainly there, and it is difficult to believe that Jonson, who lived at Blackfriars until 1616, was oblivious to his presence. Jonson could, on the contrary, count on Shakespeare being among those potential readers of The Alchemist most interested in its targeted criticism of contemporary theater.

Shakespeare’s Audience of “Pretenders” It was not Shakespeare’s absence from the theatrical scene, then, but his active and competitive presence that reignited Jonson’s criticism when they both wrote comedies for the King’s Men between 1610 and 1611. In light of Shakespeare’s greater popularity, Jonson’s strategy in “To the Reader” of The Alchemist was to construe such popularity as a sign of  Duncan-Jones, Ungentle Shakespeare, 248.  Potter, The Life of William Shakespeare: A Critical Biography (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012), 403. 26  Honan, Shakespeare, 383. The King’s Men performed eight times at court during the Christmas season of 1614–1615. 24 25



artlessness. Through the quarto Jonson challenged theatergoing book buyers to join an enlightened minority of “Understanders” who recognized the value of authentic drama. Contemporary scholars of early modern theater often maintain that writers surrendered all claims of ownership in their dramas when they handed them over to theater managers or publishers, since they possessed no legal copyright safeguarding their possession. Yet Jonson frequently acted as if he retained a proprietary interest in his plays by constantly collaborating in their promotion with publishers who welcomed his involvement in their print commodification of his drama. Through the combined media of performance and print, Jonson publicized his drama as great “poetry” (i.e. “literature”). The paratexts of The Alchemist defined the significance of his work within a field of cultural production that required theatergoers and book buyers to choose between competing factions that championed opposing poetics. By publicizing his approach, he instilled in his audience a sense of the significance of the literary enterprise that informed his drama as well as an understanding of the harmful theatrical practices he rejected. The effectiveness of his analysis depended on the extent to which he was successful in promulgating a strict division, in theory, between significant and insignificant art. His faithful partisans, he maintained, had to reject the opinion of the majority of gullible “Pretenders” who preferred the kind of choreographed spectacle featured in Shakespeare’s recent plays: If thou beest more, thou art an Understander, and then I trust thee. If thou art one that tak’st up, and but a Pretender, beware at what hands thou receiu’st thy commoditie; for thou wert never more fair in the way to be cos’ned (then in this Age) in Poetry, especially in Playes: wherein now the Concupiscence of Daunces, and Antickes so raigneth, as to runne away from Nature, and be afraid of her is the onely point of art that tickles the Spectators.27

Jonson’s criticism of Shakespeare is remarkably specific in this instance, since it concerns a kind of entertainment at which Jonson conspicuously excelled. His phrase “dances and antics” refers to two main elements of court masques: the formal “dances” with which they ended and the 27  Quoted from The Alchemist (London, 1612), registered by Walter Burre for publication on 3 October 1610 but printed two years later, at which time Jonson seems to have added the  prefatory material. Burre had previously released Catiline. Modernized quotations of Ben Jonson are from The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Ben Jonson, ed. David Bevington, Martin Butler, Ian Donaldson, et al., 7 vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012).



grotesque “antics” with which they began.28 “Antics” were regularly performed at the beginning of masques and were variously known as “antimasques,” “antemasques” or “antic masques.” Their faddish inclusion in drama, Jonson warned, violated its integrity, and the result was a counterfeit commodity passed off on cheated theatergoers incapable of differentiating genuine from fake plays. Jonson’s critique proposes an implied contrast between The Alchemist and The Winter’s Tale. After the King’s Men produced The Alchemist in 1610 and, in all likelihood, The Winter’s Tale in 1611, Jonson in 1612 asked his readers to reconsider the value of Shakespeare’s new comedy, which featured both a stately “Daunce of Shepheardes and Shephearddesse” (TLN 1988–89) and an antic “Dance of twelve Satyres” (TLN 2164) among the entangled episodic vignettes of its sheep-shearing festival (4.4).29 Aside from the fact that it perfectly illustrated his complaint, what must have prompted Jonson to fixate on this particular scene was his perception that Shakespeare had borrowed the idea for its satyr dance from Oberon, the Fairy Prince, the opulent court masque that he and Inigo Jones, among others, had composed for presentation at Whitehall on 1 January 1611. Shakespeare, for his own part, might have been equally interested in Oberon, since its fairy lore and agile tetrameter lyrics reenvision the world of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.30 At the beginning of Jonson’s masque ten satyrs run out from behind a rock, “leaping and making antic action and gestures” (III:726). After singing, they fall “into an antic dance full of gesture and swift motion,” until “the crowing of the cock” (III:733) with the arrival of the sixteen-­ year-­old Prince Henry, as Oberon, in a chariot (pulled by white bears), at 28  Ian Donaldson, Ben Jonson (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 250, explains how Jonson, in The Masque of Queens (1609), attributed the invention of what he there designates the “antimasque” to Queen Anne, who had proposed “a foil or false masque” to contrast with her entry. 29  The Winter’s Tale is quoted from the First Folio of Shakespeare, ed. Charlton Hinman (New York: Norton & Co., 1968) by through line numbers. Parenthetical Act, Scene, and Line numbers throughout are cited from The Riveside Shakespeare, ed. G. Blakemore Evans, 2nd ed. (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1997), which is the copy text for all modernized quotations from the plays. 30  Stephen Orgel, Imagining Shakespeare: A History of Texts and Visions (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003), 105–111, and John Pitcher, ed. The Winter’s Tale (London: Bloomsbury, 2010), 69–72, point to Jonson’s refashioning of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Oberon. They disagree, however, as to whether Inigo Jones’s extant sketch of two nimble satyrs with shaggy-legged costumes was meant for Oberon and if they might serve as visual evidence of how they looked to Shakespeare.



the sight of whom they “leap for joy.” During the sheep-shearing festival in The Winter’s Tale, the old shepherd’s servant announces the arrival of a group of twelve rustics—carters, shepherds, neatherds, and swineherds— who have “made themselves all men of haire” and “cal themselves Saltiers.” Probably attempting to say “satyrs,” the servant’s malapropism makes sense, since a “saltier” is an acrobat or tumbler. Together they present “a gally-maufrey of Gambols” (TLN 2148–49). If their dance is not considered “too rough,” he predicts, “it will please plentifully” (TLN 2149–52). That Shakespeare was consciously adapting Jonson’s antic dance is suggested by the amusing metatheatrical allusion registered in the servant’s claim to the disguised King Polixenes that three of the twelve rustics, “by their own report (Sir) hath danc’d before the King: and not the worst of the three, but jumpes twelve foote and a half” (TLN 2158–60). Here the line between the imaginary and real blurs. Since the King’s Men occasionally participated in court anti-masques, scholars have long speculated that Shakespeare identifies three members of his own company performing his satyr dance as the same ones who danced before King James I in Jonson’s Oberon on 1 January 1611.31 Because The Winter’s Tale was acted at court before James on 5 November 1611, it is possible that Shakespeare added the satyr dance, with its allusion to a prior performance before the king, for this occasion. It has little consequence for the plot; its removal would go unnoticed. Yet in a scene crammed with variety, one of the longest in the canon, it is nevertheless difficult to determine if Shakespeare’s antic dance was part of the original script or an addition.32 For Jonson, the greatest masque maker of his age, however, dance was merely the genre’s body not its soul, which depended for its significance on the poet’s allegorical conceptualization. And he was convinced that the increased influence of musical theater on dramatic performance threatened the success of his own classically inflected mode of social realism. In the Induction of Bartholomew Fair, first acted in 1614 and belatedly published in 1631,  Jonson repeated his mockery of Shakespeare’s 31  E. K. Chambers, The Elizabethan Stage, 4 vols. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1923), vol. 3, 385–86, notes an Exchequer payment on May 1611 of £15 for “players imployed in the maske” of Oberon as dancers on this occasion. 32  Most recently Gary Taylor and Gabriel Egan, The New Oxford Shakespeare Authorship Companion (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017), 578–79, restate the revision theory previously contested by John Pitcher, ed., The Winter’s Tale, 90–93. The Companion’s theory that The Winter’s Tale was probably written in 1609, instead of 1611, in light of the circumstantial evidence provided by this essay, seems unlikely.



indulgence in dramatic choreography in an even more transparent manner than his attack two years earlier. Here, in a passage written for performance, he teasingly couples his critique of The Winter’s Tale with The Tempest when the play house scrivener informs the audience that Jonson was loth to make Nature afraid in his playes, like those that beget Tales, Tempests, and such like Drolleries, to mixe his head with other mens heeles, let the concupisence of Jigges and Dances raigne as strong as it will amongst you.33

Exemplifying Jonson’s allusive technique at its least subtle, disguised only by the plural case, a verbal trick he frequently deployed in censure, this otherwise blatant attack on The Winter’s Tale and The Tempest also manages to suggest their paradigmatic quality. Ostensibly duplicating their order of production, he here yokes the sheep-shearing dance and antic of The Winter’s Tale (4.4) with the pageantry of the masque of Juno, Ceres, and Iris in The Tempest (4.1) to extend his earlier criticism.34 The continuity between Jonson’s critiques of 1612 and 1614, linguistically and conceptually, is striking. Paraphrasing language from “To the Reader” of The Alchemist, Jonson’s disparagement of “the Concupiscence of Daunces, and Antickes [that] so raigneth,” in 1612 is recalled in his observation in 1614 of how “the concupisence of Jigges and Dances raigne.” In “mixing his head with other mens heeles,” Shakespeare’s drama, Jonson now reveals, has been corrupted not only by the court masque but also by the “theatrical jig,” which has moved from the margin to the center of drama.35 Too much festivity in drama, Jonson asserts, is not a good thing. Excessive dancing in such productions, he assumed, had an anti-mimetic quality at odds with the function of comedy, which consisted predominantly of ridicule. Performances by Shakespeare’s company were customarily supplemented at their conclusions by bawdy comic ballets called “jigs” which, Jonson suggests, have become  Bartholomew Fayre: A Comedie Acted in the Yeare, 1614, (London, 1631), sig. A4r.  This chronology is sustained by the fact that Simon Forman saw The Winter’s Tale in May 1611 and Shakespeare made use of publications printed that September in writing The Tempest. 35  Charles Read Baskervill, The Elizabethan Jig and Related Song Drama (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1929), the foundational study of the genre, is updated by David Wiles, Shakespeare’s Clown: Actor and Text in the Elizabethan Playhouse (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005) and, most recently, Roger Clegg and Lucie Skeaping, Singing Simpkin and Other Bawdy Jigs: Musical Comedy on the Shakespearean Stage (Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 2014). 33 34



its main fare, satisfying both courtly and popular tastes. Sebastian calls the strange spirits he encounters in The Tempest “a living drollery” (or “puppet play”); Jonson applies the category to Shakespeare’s comedies in the Induction to Bartholomew Fair. In 1612, Jonson complained that “to runne away from Nature, and be afraid of her is the onely point of art that tickles the Spectators.” In 1614, inverting the metaphor, he declared himself “loth to make Nature afraid in his playes,” by imitating The Winter’s Tale and The Tempest.36 Jonson believed that following Nature (not running away from her or making her afraid) was only possible through reasonable conformity to rules of art, which stressed mimetic verisimilitude and generic uniformity. Jonson never wavered from his response to the question “What is Comedy?” that he posed in Every Man Out of His Humour. It was, according to Cicero, an imitation of life, a mirror of manners, and an image of truth (I:346). The Alchemist is a showpiece of applied neoclassical theory that Jonson designed to serve as a model for what authentic comedy, at its best, could be. To this end, beginning with “To the Reader” of The Alchemist, Jonson initiated a publicity campaign against Shakespeare that extended from 1612 to 1616, during which, every two years, he reminded “Understanders” of his superiority, next in the Induction to Bartholomew Fair acted in 1614, and finally in the Prologue of the revised Every Man in His Humour, at the opening of the 1616 Folio.

Shakespeare the Witty Ignoramus By framing personal criticism as general, passing his observations off as a broad assessment of the current theatrical malaise in “To the Reader” of The Alchemist, Jonson allowed himself to be inordinately harsh in obliquely, but effectively, mocking Shakespeare. His expression of disdain is particularly strong in the next passage, which indirectly points to Shakespeare in its indictment of those popular “Professors” (i.e., “practioners”) of dramatic “Art” who not only violate its rules but, more irritatingly, mock the critical “terms” Jonson, in line with conventional humanist literary theory, used to appraise it: But how out of purpose, and place, do I name Art? When the Professors are growne so obstinate contemners of it, and presumers on their own Naturalls, as they are deriders of all diligence that way, and, by simple mocking at the termes, when they understand not the things, thinke to get off wittily with their  The Alchemist, sig. A3r; Bartholomew Fayre, sig. A3r.




Ignorance. Nay, they are esteem’d the more learned, and sufficient for this, by the Multitude, through their excellent vice of judgement. (sig. A4r)

Jonson frequently modeled his writing on classical sources, and, in this instance, he paraphrases Quintilian’s rebuke in Institutio Oratoria of those speakers possessing extraordinary “natural gifts” who have “uttered much that deserves to be remembered,” but neglect the rules of art and use wit to mask their ignorance.37 This quotation captures one of Jonson’s primary objections to Shakespeare. And, once again, the object of Jonson’s irritation is found in the sheep-shearing episode of The Winter’s Tale (4.4) with its subversive exploration of the dialectical instability of the terms “Nature” and “Art” vital to Jonson’s literary theory. In that scene, in response to Perdita’s refusal to plant “Carnations, and streak’d Guilly-vors” (TLN 1890) because they are called “Natures bastards,” created through the “Art” of grafting, an illegitimate substitute for the work of “great creating-Nature” (TLN 1998), Polixenes famously proposes instead that these terms are both co-­dependent and indistinguishable: Yet Nature is made better by no meane, But Nature makes that Meane: so over that Art, (Which you say addes to Nature) is an Art That Nature makes: you see (sweet Maid) we marry A gentler Sien, to the wildest Stocke, And make conceyuve a barke of baser kinde By bud of Nobler race. This is an Art Which do’s mend Nature: change it rather, but The Art itself, is Nature. (TLN 1900–1908)

“So it is,” Perdita graciously agrees, ending the debate, although still scrupulously refusing to plant them (TLN 1909). This dialogue not only enunciates Perdita’s commitment to an ideal of pristine Nature and a rejection of illegitimate Art, but, through Polixenes, challenges the fundamental critical division of Nature and Art upon which Jonson’s neoclassical methodology depends. Since human beings act as natural agents, Shakespeare suggests, separating these concepts yields a superficial understanding of their baffling interplay. The Winter’s Tale is a self-consciously 37  Quintilian is quoted from The Institutio Oratoria of Quintilian, trans. H.  E. Butler (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1920), 281.



irregular comedy that mocks “the terms” of neoclassical mimesis in a highly self-conscious manner, using “wit” to undermine Jonson’s orthodox conception of law, nature, and art. By depending on his own natural ability instead of enhancing it with art, Shakespeare, according to Jonson, paradoxically produced work that either ran away from Nature or made Nature afraid. It is for this reason that “To the Reader” of The Alchemist also responds to Shakespeare’s provocative Chorus, Time, who explicitly denies the validity of the neoclassical law of time, immediately after Shakespeare himself violates the law of place in shifting the scene from Sicilia to Bohemia.The Alchemist was a showpiece, one of Jonson’s most rigorous applications of the rules of art in its attention to plot, time, and place, in an ostentatious advertisement of his commitment to neoclassical theory. Conforming to Aristotle’s observation in The Poetics that the action of drama should be limited to the course of a single day, its central action, generated by the trickery of Subtle, Face, and Doll Common, depicts events that occur on 1 November 1610 in and around Lovewit’s dwelling at Blackfriars in London. Probably performed after a long interval (because of closure due to plague) on that day by the King’s Men at their Blackfriars theater, in The Alchemist play time and real time, play world and real world, are carefully aligned. The plague that had caused Lovewit to retreat to the country was all too real. Although the first known performance of The Alchemist occurred at Oxford in September, while the King’s Men were touring, it is possible that Jonson added this date to his play to entertain its later opening audience at Blackfriars. Jonson’s vision of what great drama should be was shaped by his drive to invent a self-analytical mimetic mode capable of coming to terms with the way things actually were in contemporary society, not as they were imagined in what he saw as ludicrous escapist fictions. Because he merely depended on his own “Naturalls” (i.e., “natural abilities”), Jonson implies, rather than the best contemporary theory, which he advocated, Shakespeare’s “Art” was actually “unnatural,” insufficiently informed by reality. What must have particularly irritated Jonson was that Shakespeare was even “esteem’d the more learned” by “the Multitude” who valued his witty paradoxes on Jonson’s earnest bromides on the need for verisimilitude. In 1612, Jonson consequently felt threatened by Shakespeare’s subversive wit, which, he regretted, was taken by some as true learning. In coming to terms with the social and professional forces that shaped the individual repertories of early modern theater companies, it is important to give latitude to disruption and change, as writers entertained their



audiences with controversy and the shock of the new. The staging of The Alchemist of 1610 and The Winter’s Tale of 1611 exemplifies the remarkable dialogical range that the King’s Men strove for, as they commissioned radically opposed conceptual commodifications of comedy by the period’s two leading dramatists, for audiences that were involved in weighing their differences. Shakespeare certainly approved of this intra-theatrical debate, a kind of wit-combat that subjected the rules of art to the play of wit. We should not forget that Shakespeare and Jonson were also audience members whose privileged position as professionals allowed them to leave an enduring record of their experiences. Instead of exhibiting a company style, the King’s Men’s repertoire afforded Shakespeare and Jonson a shared venue to enact competing comic visions. For all his staid learning and professed Stoicism, Jonson was a literary street-fighter who believed in strategically overpowering his rivals. And for all his assumed naturalness, Shakespeare was adept at turning Jonson’s critical categories rhetorically on their heads, converting humanist literary formulae into the subject of baffling paradoxes. Based on Jonson’s later extreme praise of Shakespeare as his “beloved” in the First Folio of 1623, I suspect that Jonson egregiously exaggerated Shakespeare’s flaws from 1612 to 1616, during his lifetime, as part of a strategy to win their debate. In 1612, he felt impelled to attack the reputation of a rival dramatist who had prevented his drama from receiving the full recognition it deserved and who, even more hurtfully, had mocked the terms of art that authenticated it. Jonson, despite his objections that his work did not satirize specific individuals, practiced an art of innuendo. In a brilliant satiric ploy, he dared the targets of his satire to identify themselves as his subjects, thereby admitting their errors. Such barbs were traps. And although he never explicitly names Shakespeare, Jonson’s charges apply uniquely to a competitor whose genius for deploying facetious wit to mock the laws of art posed a major professional threat to the acceptance of his project. Jonson, faithful to the ideological principles he expounded, met this threat with total resistance, without regard for whatever personal involvement he and Shakespeare enjoyed. In his influential Preface to Shakespeare, published in 1765, Samuel Johnson expressed contradictory assessments concerning Shakespeare’s familiarity with neoclassical literary criticism. On the one hand, Johnson maintained that Shakespeare was relatively oblivious to dramatic theory, since he had “engaged in dramatick poetry with the world open before him; the rules of the ancients were yet known to a few; the public judgment was unformed; he had no example of such fame as might force him



upon imitation, nor criticks of such authority as might restrain his extravagance.” But, on the other hand, he questioned his own belief that Shakespeare was oblivious to the neoclassical rules of time and place which restricted legitimate drama to a single day and  location: “Whether Shakespeare knew the unities, and rejected them by design, or deviated from them by happy ignorance, it is, I think, impossible to decide. We may reasonably suppose that, when he rose to notice, he did not want the counsels and admonitions of scholars and criticks, and that he at last deliberately persisted in a practice, which he might have begun by chance.”38 This essay provides evidence of such admonitions. Johnson, who rejected the reasoning behind the “unities,” saw Shakespeare’s resistance to them, in either case, as a sign of his comprehensive genius. Attention to Shakespeare’s two experiments with the neoclassical rules of time and place in The Comedy of Errors and The Tempest help to resolve Johnson’s quandary. In both instances, while exhibiting a fidelity to the laws of time and place, Shakespeare simultaneously interrogates the fundamental empiricism they assume. The Comedy of Errors, based on two Plautine comedies, Menaechmi and Amphitryon, not only incorporates the rules of time and place, but, more importantly, poses a sophisticated challenge to their stability as ontological categories defining human experience. Although the comedy takes place in one city, Ephesus, between about noon and 5:00 pm, its story of mistaken identities is a metaphysical farce based on the difficulty of trying to locate one’s true identity in time and place.39 What is more, Dromio of Syracuse’s lengthy discussions of the destructive time of baldness (2.2.66–109) and the smothering space of the spherical Nell (3.2.71–147) constitute a linked pair of comic routines on the psychology of temporal and spatial perception that emphasize its radical subjectivity. Further, by framing his Plautine plot line with a tale drawn from the anonymous ancient rambling romance Apollonius of Tyre, Shakespeare highlighted the self-consciously playful side of his syncretic classicism, an approach that should be distinguished from Jonson’s later neoclassicism. A basic familiarity with neoclassical literary theory is essential for an understanding of Shakespeare’s poetics because it supplied him with a questionable empirical assumption against which to pose a sense of the countervailing radical subjectivity it precluded. As if to prove to Jonson 38  Samuel Johnson, “Preface to Shakespeare,” in The Yale Edition of the Works of Samuel Johnson, 18 vols (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1958–), vol. 7, 79. 39  See, for instance, Barbara Freedman’s provocative essay “Egeon’s Debt: Self-Division and Self-Redemption in The Comedy of Errors,” ELR 10 (1980): 360–83.



his agility in the manipulation of dramatic form, Shakespeare stringently followed the laws of time and place in The Tempest, after ostentatiously violating them in The Winter’s Tale, which guides its audience from Sicilia to Bohemia and back, leaving a gap of sixteen years between acts three and four.40 But in working within a neoclassical framework in The Tempest he rendered a world that was, as Harry Levin deftly illustrates in his essay on these two magus plays, a precise response to The Alchemist.41 Although the empirically inflected mode of representation in The Tempest conformed to Jonson’s mimetic guidelines, it offered a supernaturally inflected world that was, in this regard, conceptually at odds with the same sense of reality that informed the world of Jonson’s London cheaters.

Time’s Overthrow of Law in The Winter’ Tale What Jonson must have found ideologically offensive was the extent to which Time, the Chorus of The Winter’s Tale, in a brilliant display of wit, directly contests the philosophical foundation of the dramatic theory The Alchemist exemplifies by both breaking the neoclassical law of time and undermining the concept of immutable “Law” which Time considers to be as variable as “Custome”: I that please some, try all: both joy and terror Of good, and bad: that makes, and unfolds error, Now take upon me (in the name of Time) To use my wings: Impute it not a crime To me, or my swift passage, that I slide Ore sixteene yeeres, and leave the growth untride Of that wide gap, since it is in my powre To orethrow Law, and in one selfe-borne howre To plant, and ore-whelme Custome.42

 The boatswain states that “our ship, / Which but three glasses since we gave out split, / Is tight and yare” (5.1.222–4). Three glasses are three hour-glasses. Similarly, Alonso wonders at Ferdinand’s attachment to Miranda: “Your eld’st acquaintance cannot be three hour” (l. 186). 41  Harry Levin, “Two Magian Comedies: The Tempest and The Alchemist,” Shakespeare Survey 22 (1969): 47–58. See also Martin Butler, “The Tempest and the Jonsonian Masque,” in Performances at Court in the Age of Shakespeare, ed. Sophie Chiari and John Mucciolo (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019), 150–161, for persuasive insight into Shakespeare and Jonson’s complex literary transactions. 42  The Winter’s Tale is quoted from Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedie (London, 1623), TLN 1580–88. 40



A superb example of Shakespeare’s manipulation of a classical form to challenge neoclassical theory, Time as Chorus affirms his authority to not only violate the law of time but overthrow “Law” itself. Shakespeare, here, had to have known that he was negating one of Jonson’s most closely held theories. The “argument of Time” (TLN 1608) is that what we call “law” is as mutable as custom. “Law,” like “Custome,” from Time’s radically transformative perspective, is part of a network of social practices without access to an eternally fixed truth outside of Time, who embodies the power of metamorphosis. Time claims that he cannot be said to commit a “crime,” a violation of the neoclassical law of time, in skipping over sixteen years between acts, because he represents change itself in a world where every belief has its moment of credence before being replaced by something new. Nothing, except Time, mutability itself, remains the same: The same I am, ere ancient’st Order was, Or what is now receiv’d. I witnesse to The times that brought them in, so shall I do To th’ freshest things now reigning, and make stale The glistering of this present, as my Tale Now seemes to it. (TLN 1589–94)

In Time’s “Tale,” which Shakespeare incidentally tells,  ancient order is said to differ from what we now receive as truth. Successive perceptions of order from antiquity to the present change with the “times that brought them in.” It is impossible to follow precedent in a constantly changing world. Our newness, “the glistering of this present,” briefly apprehended, is soon as “stale” as Time’s antique romance. Written in the wake of the King’s Men production of The Alchemist, Shakespeare’s clever repeal of the neoclassical laws of time and place in The Winter’s Tale invalidated a symbolic marker of Jonson’s self-assumed artistic authority. Jonson’s response to this intellectual playfulness was to advise his readers that such quibbling was an expression of willful, not absolute, ignorance. For Jonson, the only alternative to being guided by the methodology of the neoclassical rules of art was to rely on one’s own inadequate “Naturalls.” By doing so, neglecting art, Jonson paradoxically maintains, Shakespeare’s drama, infused with an instinctive unrestrained inspiration, became unnatural, too detached from lived experience to present it credibly. About six



years later, Jonson succinctly summarized this shortcoming to William Drummond  by informing him that: “Shakespeare wanted [i.e. ‘lacked’] art.”43 When Jonson came to terms with the anti-neoclassical Chorus of The Winter’s Tale, he had to have remembered having done so once before, almost a decade earlier. The Chorus of Henry V in 1599 had also asked its audience to use its “imaginary puissance” to provide his drama with all the power it needed to sustain and amplify its engagement with his play. A theatrical performance, Shakespeare writes, should “work” on the audience’s “imaginary forces” (Prologue, 19) which can transform the inadequate spectacle enacted before them into a satisfying virtual reality: For ’tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings, Carry them here and there, jumping o’er times, Turning th’ accomplishment of many years Into an hourglass. (Prologue, 30–33)

In carrying kings “here and there” while “jumping o’er times,” audience members are coaxed into violating the laws of time and place. Whatever they take for real in the theater, the Chorus assumes, results from the mutual interplay between actors on a stage and the active minds that interiorize and recreate them. In order to make the scene credible, the audience must “eke out our performance with your mind” (3.0.37). The Chorus to Act 3 consequently sees no problem with the play’s “abuse of distance” (ll. 31–32), its defiance of the law of place, as the scene shifts from London to Southampton, and from England to France. The mind can leap across time and through space when imagining experience, Shakespeare indicates, and plays share that liberty. The Chorus of Henry V was one of the signature features of Shakespeare’s drama that Jonson parodied in the quarto of Every Man Out of His Humour, his first play to cite Shakespeare’s social climbing and putative flaws as a dramatist in Julius Caesar, Henry IV, and Henry V. There Jonson uses his own chorus to parody Shakespeare’s, shortly after Henry V was first staged in 1599. In 43  William Drummond, “Informations,” in The Cambridge Works of Ben Jonson, ed. Martin Butler, David Bevington, and Ian Donaldson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), vol. 5, 361. Jonson, of course, also belittled Shakespeare’s geographical knowledge to Drummond in pointing out that Bohemia had no seacoast (vol. 5, 370).



Jonson’s chorus (or “Grex,” as he terms it, using Greek instead of Latin), responding to Mitis’s longing to see the humourists purged, Cordatus, the author’s friend, replies: let your imagination be swifter then a paire of Oares, and by this, suppose Puntarvalo, Briske, Fungoso, and the Dog, arriv’d at the Court gate, & going up to the great chamber. Macilente and Sogliardo, we’ll leave them on the water till possibility and natural means may land ’hem.44

Unlike Shakespeare, Jonson jests in Every Man Out, he was not going to violate the neoclassical unities of time and place by transporting his characters over the ocean too soon. What Jonson’s satire of the Chorus of Henry V in Every Man Out tries to counter is a deep skepticism about the need for such laws, since, Shakespeare’s Chorus maintains, the audience, using their imagination, is able to shift easily between distant locations with the speed of thought, following the writer’s fiction. The Chorus of The Winter’s Tale repeats the assault on the law of time that Shakespeare had proffered twelve years earlier in the Chorus of Henry V of 1599. He took, however, a very different tack in the Chorus of The Winter’s Tale, when he went from defining dramatic mimesis in terms of a subjective epistemology shaped by imagination’s transformative power to contemplating the ontological condition of ceaseless cultural change that invalidates the pretense of eternal fixed law in either drama or the world at large. Jonson answered Shakespeare’s latest challenge in “To the Reader” of The Alchemist just as he had responded earlier in Every Man Out, a play so popular that three quarto editions were published in 1600. In his remarks to the reader of The Alchemist, Jonson implicitly categorized Shakespeare as artless for what was actually his clever challenge to literary theories Jonson’s plays illustrated. No matter how sophisticated Shakespeare’s wit was in this vein, Jonson, who rejected its insight, counted it a species of ignorance and consequently the enemy of Art. Shakespeare possessed, one might say, an active, not a passive ignorance. Had Shakespeare realized that he was needling Jonson by cleverly embedding a metatheatrical subtext defying the rules of art in the text of The Winter’s Tale soon after the success of The Alchemist? It seems likely, especially due to their prior history of similar theatrical exchanges. When he wrote “To the Reader,” Jonson, understanding the point of Shakespeare’s critique of  Ben Jonson, Every Man Out of His Humour (London, 1600), sig. N3r.




the literary principles for which he was known, was fighting to maintain his relevance in the face of Shakespeare’s uninterrupted success. He believed that publicizing his plight would help his cause. Late twentieth-century criticism usually took “To the Reader” as being an indictment of flaws too general to be localized, “characteristic of the period,” although Alvin Kernan readily admitted that “Shakespeare is, of course, one of the playwrights Jonson attacks.”45 Jonson is often characterized as merely reiterating the common theatrical maladies, especially violation of the laws of time and place, that Sir Philip Sidney had diagnosed as one of the principal problems with contemporary drama in An Apology for Poetry. Sidney had declared that English drama was “absurd” especially insofar as it was “faulty both in time and place, the two necessary companions of all corporeal actions.”46 Yet no contemporary dramatist mocked the “terms” of Art posited by Sidney and Jonson more brilliantly than Shakespeare, whose metatheatrical retorts undermined Jonson’s literary program so forcefully that they required a response.

Shakespeare as Autolycus  When Jonson warns readers of The Alchemist to “beware at what hands thou receiu’st thy commoditie; for thou wert never more fair in the way to be cos’ned (then in this Age) in Poetry, especially in Playes,” he implicitly engages in some of his harshest criticism of Shakespeare’s dramaturgy, using the language of the marketplace to characterize Shakespeare’s ruse to purchase the attention of his gullible audience. Shakespeare, he implies, might be classified as a kind of confidence man who gulls theatergoers by providing them with debased “commodities” instead of such legitimate merchandise as The Alchemist. To Jonson, Shakespeare was, in essence, a version of his character Autolycus, named after the son of Hermes, the patron of poets and thieves, known for his ability to lie  and steal. Shakespeare was not an innocent purveyor of inferior goods, but a merchant who knew he was taking advantage of his audience when he cleverly mocked the terms of art, which Jonson equated with reform. Both Jonson and Shakespeare were familiar with the Renaissance con game known as  Alvin Kernan, ed., The Alchemist (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1974), 202.  For further discussion of Sidney’s prior impact on Jonson’s theory of drama, see Bednarz, “Jonson’s Literary Theatre,” cited above. 45 46



the “commodity swindle,” and the impression Jonson leaves is that Shakespeare’s drama was a version of this scam. So much attention has been directed to explicating the concept of faith in Shakespeare’s Winter’s Tale that we are liable to forget the predominance of deception in its multiple plots. Indeed, in one of the few contemporary accounts of an early modern performance of a Shakespeare play, the notorious magus Simon Forman, like Jonson, associated The Winter’s Tale not with faith, but with deception in the note he left detailing his impression of the comedy. In the year before he died (on 12 September 1611), Forman began a series of diary entries in a manuscript he called a “Bocke of Plaies and Notes therof … for Common Pollicie.” In the several pages of the project now preserved as the Bodleian Library’s MS Ashmole 208, he recorded eyewitness accounts of performances of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Cymbeline, The Winter’s Tale, and an anonymous Richard II, acted by the King’s Men between 1610 and 1611. His aim, expressed in his title, was to use them to illustrate pragmatic advice on personal conduct. The result was a series of short plot summaries intermittently highlighted with prudential insights and advice. In his notes on The Winter’s Tale at the Globe, which he saw on Wednesday, 15 May, 1611, he recalls much of its main plot, from Leontes’s jealousy to Perdita’s restoration, before ending with a reminder to heed its examples of ingenious criminality. Ignoring the statue scene entirely, with Paulina’s injunction to “awake your faith” (TLN 3301), Forman doubles back to the threat posed by Autolycus’s devious thefts in Act 4, scenes 3 and 4, which he construes as a shrewd warning to “Beware of trusting”: Remember also the rogue that came in all tattered like colt pixie, and how he feigned him sick and to have been robbed of all that he had and how he cozened the poor man of all his money, and after came to the sheep-shearer with a pedlar’s pack and there cozened them again of all their money. And how he changed apparel with the king of Bohemia his son, and then how he turned courtier, etc. Beware of trusting feigned beggars or fawning felons.47

Forman saw Autolycus as a “rogue” who resembled a “colt pixie,” a mischievous fairy (akin to Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream) adept at deceiving mortals while assuming different identities. In his transformation from beggar to would-be courtier, he writes, Autolycus “cozened”  Simon Forman, “Booke of Plaies,” Bodleian, MS Ashmole 208, fol. 202.




the shepherds “of all their money,” alerting Forman to be particularly suspicious when dealing with beggars, peddlers, and courtiers to whom, it appears, one might as readily apply the epithet “fawning felons.” Forman was a “wise man,” occasionally consulted to help locate stolen objects and identify thieves, and, like Jonson, he shows a professional interest in the techniques of “cozenage” he was involved in exposing as well as exhibiting. One of Jonson’s prime specialties in writing for the commercial theater was his series of plays, including The Alchemist, which obsessively explored how the gullible are preyed on by criminals who exploit their victims’ belief in miraculous solutions to their problems. The anecdote Jonson told Drummond, gleefully describing how he had disguised himself in a long gown and white beard as an astrologer when he “cozened a lady with whom he had made an appointment,” indicates his psychological investment in those acts of exposure his comedies recapitulate.48 But while Forman considers The Winter’s Tale to be a source of pragmatic advice on how to avoid being victimized, Jonson implies that the play’s audience members (such as Forman) had themselves been swindled. Jonson consequently urges readers of The Alchemist to reconsider any esteem they had for Shakespeare, who, like Autolycus, was a purveyor of “trumpery,” with a stock of outlandish “Tales” eagerly purchased by a credulous adoring audience. Being “cos’ned” by a dramatist involved paying to be admitted to a worthless play that rejected Jonson’s notion of poetic truth. Shakespeare had certainly left himself open to the charge that he “cos’ned” his audience through his ironic suggestion of his own affinity to Autolycus, who tells tall tales to an audience who marvels at the wonder he produces: ridiculous stories they take for truth. Jonson’s critique seems to have been guided by his taking of Shakespeare’s poetic self-effacement at face value, by turning Shakespeare into Autolycus. Scholars frequently cite two works in radically different genres by Robert Greene that Shakespeare combines in The Winter’s Tale: Greene’s prose romance Pandosto, the Triumph of Time, which Shakespeare transforms to a comedy from tragedy, and his crime expose The Third Part of Cony-Catching, with its example of the thief who, under the pretense of being in distress, picks the pocket of the person who aids him. This trick that Autolycus plays on the shepherd-clown in Act 4, Scene 3, is ironically framed as a parody of the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25–37—a moment of disenchantment, blending romance and realism, that ushers Shakespeare’s paradigmatic entertainer into Bohemia. It sets the stage for the petty thief  Drummond, “Informations,” 375.




and ballad seller to delight and delude those taken in by his miraculous commodities. For twenty-first century readers, a “winter’s tale” might only literally designate the time of year in which the play is set or symbolically suggest a season of death before a spring of renewal. Yet the predominant meaning of the phrase for Shakespeare and his contemporaries was: a ludicrous false story, an idle fiction fit only to entertain naïve listeners during a long winter night. “A sad Tale’s best for Winter,” Mamillius appropriately explains. He has one in mind “of Sprights, and Gobblins” (TLN 618). The OED defines a “winter’s tale” (in usage from around 1555) as “a fantastic, unrealistic, or unlikely story” told “for entertainment during the winter.” Standing alone, the word “tale” could have a neutral connotation, but here it suggests a “mere story, as opposed to a narrative of fact,” “a fiction,” or “falsehood” instead of the truth (OED 5). In George Peele’s The Old Wives Tale, Madge, the blacksmith’s wife, entertains three pages, lost in the forest, with “a merry winter tale.”49 The pages, aptly name Antic, Frolic, and Fantastic, provide an enthusiastic audience. Frolic tells her that “when I was a litle one, you might have drawn mee a mile after you with such discourse.” Agreeing “to drive away the time with an old wives winters tale,” Madge then relates a far-fetched chivalric romance about “a king’s or duke’s” daughter kidnapped by a Magician and the quests by her brothers and a wandering knight to rescue her.50 It consists of a series of largely discontinuous episodes that feature a braggart soldier, a friendly ghost, and a mysterious well with a talking head. Shakespeare’s title indicates his skeptical refusal, in a poetics of self-effacement, to justify his play as being anything more than a mere “winter’s tale.” Shakespeare anticipated criticism of his “winter’s tale” by adding the ballad  singer Autolycus in a wonderfully self-deprecating caricature of a profession frequently accused of purveying mendacious and meretricious commodities. Even more pointedly,  John Pitcher maintains that Shakespeare, in order to make sure “his debt to Greene would be apparent,” created Autolycus as “an objectification of the thief that Shakespeare was accused of being” in Greene’s Groatsworth of Wit at the beginning of his career, with its reference to him as “an upstart crow with borrowed feathers.”51 Part of the reason that Shakespeare wanted to make sure his  George Peele, The Old Wives Tale (London, 1595), sig. Br.  Ibid. 51  John Pitcher, “Some Call Him Autolycus,” in In Arden: Editing Shakespeare (London: Thomson Learning, 2003), 252–68, 255. For prior speculation of this analogy, see 49 50



debt to Greene would be apparent was because he sought ironically to admit the elements of theft and deceit that adhered to the core of storytelling. Paulina herself acknowledges that an account of Hermione’s return might be “hooted at / Like an old Tale” (TLN 3327–28). It seems, to one “gentleman,” to be “so like an old tale, that the verity of it is in strong suspicion” (TLN 3038–39). It seems to another to be so like to “an old tale still, which will have matter to rehearse, though credit be asleep and not an ear open” (TLN 3070–71). Indeed, the plot of The Winter’s Tale might be said to be even more implausible than those Autolycus sold, since because of it, “Such a deal of wonder is broken out within this hour that ballad-makers cannot be able to express it” (TLN 3034–35). How different, we are made to consider, in Shakespeare’s witty dialectic, is his tale of restoration and reunion from Autolycus’s merchandise: the ballad of a usurer’s wife brought to bed of twenty money-bags, the veracity of which is endorsed by Mistress Taleporter, and his ballad made by a cold fish, flying forty thousand fathoms over the water, lamenting the hard hearts of maids? To Jonson, Shakespeare’s alignment of his profession as a teller of tales with that of Autolycus, the purveyor of improbable fictions comprised of counterfeit miracles, would have been appropriately revelatory. One of the most touching scenes in the Shakespeare canon is the moment at which Paulina asks Leontes and the members of the court to “awake your faith,” issuing this requirement of belief that will allow the supposed “statue” of Hermione to come to life. The effect might be termed miraculous, as Leontes, the repentant husband who has grieved for sixteen years over a death for which he feels responsibility, is reunited with the wife he had daily mourned in shame and guilt. But Paulina tells us that she has been lying: Hermione did not die and Julio Romano never sculpted her statue. Instead, she reveals to Leontes, the court, and the audience that Hermione had been sequestered away for sixteen years until the time was right for her restoration. Paulina justifies her deception through her interpretation of the oracle’s revelation and prophecy. Shakespeare understood that his plot Lee  Sheridan Cox, “The Role of Autolycus in The Winter’s Tale,” Studies in English Literature, 1500–1900 9 (1969): 283–301; “William Collins Watterson, The Sewanee Review 4 (1993): 536–548; and Steven R. Mentz, “Wearing Greene: Autolycus, Robert Greene, and the Structure of Romance in The Winter’s Tale,” Renaissance Drama 30 (1999/2001): 73–92. Brian Vickers, “‘Upstart Crow?’ The Myth of Shakespeare’s Plagiarism,” The Review of English Studies 68 (2010): 244–67, corrects the impression that Shakespeare was accused of “stealing” material in the common sense of the word.



strained credulity, and he appears to have been amused at his own contrivance in re-writing Greene’s tragic romance as a tale of repentance and restoration. Autolycus’s ballads are capable of inspiring the same sense of wonder in the credulous as Shakespeare’s “winter’s tale.” Is it credible to believe that Paulina could hide Hermione away for sixteen years waiting for the oracle’s providential predictions to unfold? Is the comic conclusion of The Winter’s Tale, with its fulfillment of Apollo’s oracle, despite the death of Mamillius and Antigonus, still too good to be true? Shakespeare’s romance encourages, in an ironic undercurrent, a  questioning of belief. The play’s self-dismissive title implies as much. Jonson’s strategy was to take Shakespeare’s ironic self-reflection, projected onto the figure of Autolycus, at his word, as an expression of bad faith.

Why Jonson Mocked Shakespeare in 1612 To understand why Jonson’s criticism of Shakespeare was so severe in addressing readers of The Alchemist, it is necessary to appreciate his determination to publicize the significance of his strategically theorized approach to the reform of commercial drama in light of Shakespeare’s greater popularity and resistance. It is furthermore helpful to add to this determination a sense of how his criticism of Shakespeare must have been exacerbated by the humiliating theatrical failure of Catiline. Although The Alchemist was a controversial comic success, the tragedy of Catiline, Jonson’s next play for the King’s Men, probably produced in the spring or summer of 1611, was by his own admission a commercial disaster involving “all vexation of censure.”52 Jonson probably conceived of The Alchemist and Catiline for the King’s Men between 1610 and 1611 as exemplary models of comedy and tragedy that would establish his artistic command of both genres. Despite its poor reception, however, he reacted to his public humiliation by calling Catiline his best play in a heavily annotated quarto edition that referenced its classical precedents, which he dedicated to William Herbert, the earl of Pembroke, in 1611. Dedicatory and Commendatory paratexts provided an added layer of authority. Here, using language later echoed in his letter “To the Reader” of The Alchemist, Jonson praises Pembroke for daring “in these Jig-given times to countenance a legitimate Poeme” (sigs. A2r-v). Among the celebrity 52  The Cambridge Ben Jonson, V:367, lines 234–38. Subsequent quotations from Catiline are cited from the first quarto, published in London in 1611.



endorsements Jonson enlisted to commend Catiline after its failure, Francis Beaumont applauded its classical rigor and rejection of “common praise” and lauded him for having “squared thy rules by what is good,” although, in doing so he had made himself “three ages yet from understood.” Nathan Field echoed Jonson in attributing Catiline’s  failure to the same demand for choreography in drama, complaining that “in this age, where jigs and dances move, / How few there are that this pure work approve!”53 Published around the same time that The Winter’s Tale was probably first staged, the anti-choreographic bias expressed in the first quarto of Catiline intensifies in “To the Reader” of The Alchemist, where it serves to differentiate Jonsonian “Understanders” from Shakespearean “Pretenders.” Instead of depending on the multitude, Jonson used his ongoing association with the Sidney family to further validate his work. The literary principles that Jonson advocated retailed ideas expressed in Sir Philip Sidney’s Apology for Poetry, and Jonson stressed his personal connection to members of the Sidney family in the quartos of Catiline in 1611 and The Alchemist in 1612, where he advertised their status as his ideal readers. William Herbert was the first person to whom Jonson officially dedicated a play, and his expression of gratitude to the earl in Catiline sealed their association, countering negative popular sentiment. One of the most important patrons of the age, William Herbert was the son of Mary Sidney, the deceased hero-poet Sir Philip Sidney’s sister. (It was to William and his brother Philip, the earl of Montgomery, that the Shakespeare First Folio was dedicated in 1623.) Jonson, who respected him, told Drummond that the earl sent him yearly a New Year’s gift of twenty pounds to purchase book.54 When writing The Alchemist, Jonson was particularly close to members of the prestigious Herbert-Sidney family. As Ian Donaldson points out, between May and November 1610, when the London theaters were closed due to plague, Jonson probably resided at the Pembroke estate of Sir Robert Sidney (William Herbert’s uncle and the deceased Sir Philip Sidney’s brother), serving as tutor to Sir Robert’s son. Jonson commemorated his residence in his famous ode “To Penshurst,” in which he  Catiline his Conspiracy, London, 1611, sigs. A3v, A4r.  Drummond, “Informations,” 375. Jonson’s separate addresses “To the reader in Ordinary” (who fails to judge accurately) and “To the Reader Extraordinary” (capable of appreciating his art) at the opening of Catiline of 1611 subsequently hardened into the more caustic division between “Pretenders” and “Understanders” in “To the Reader” of The Alchemist. 53 54



mentions the oak tree, still standing, that was said to have been planted on 30 November 1554, the day of Sir Philip Sidney’s birth.55 In 1612, Jonson continued to publicize his actual and intellectual connection to the Sidney family by dedicating The Alchemist to Lady Mary Wroth in an address that precedes his letter “To the Reader.” Lady Mary, Sir Philip Sidney’s niece and Pembroke’s first cousin (later an accomplished author), was ideally positioned to understand Jonson’s neoclassical poetics. In her “judgement (which is a Sidney’s),” Jonson writes, he “felt safe.” Intimately familiar with his work, she had danced with Queen Anne in The Masque of Blackness (1605) and Beauty (1608). The motto that Jonson modified from Horace to display on the title page of The Alchemist outlines his commitment to serve the coterie audience he idealized in Pembroke and Wroth: “Neque, me, ut miretur turba, laboro: contentus paucis lectoribus” (“I must not strive to catch the wonder of the crowd but be content with few readers.”) Jonson’s connection to Sir Philip Sidney had immense symbolic resonance for him. And this epigraph was so meaningful to him that he subsequently reused it on the title page of his 1616 Folio. In 1612, in the final part of his missive to readers of The Alchemist, Jonson acknowledged that his own form of legitimate drama had been displaced by the kind of “scattered” entertainment Shakespeare’s “Pretenders” enjoyed. Shakespeare’s drama was sought after, he concludes, because it embraced “common errors.” Yet such energetic artlessness was doomed, he predicted, since it would eventually either undo itself or yield to an artful adversary, although current audiences overestimated its perceived merits: For they commend Writers, as they doe Fencers, or Wrastlers; how if they come in robustuously, and put for it with a great deale of violence, are receiv’d for the braver fellowes: when many times their own rudenesse is the cause of their disgrace, and a little touch of their Adversary gives all that boisterous force the foyle. I deny not, but that these men, who always seeke to doe more than inough, may some time happen on some thing that is good, and great; but very seldome: And when it comes it doth not recompense the rest of their ill. It sticks out perhaps, and is more eminent, because all is sordide and vile about it: as lights are more discern’d in a thick darknesse, then a faint shadow. I speake not this out of a hope to doe good on any man, against his will; for I know, if it were put to the question of theirs, and mine, the worse would find more suffrages: because

 See Donaldson, Ben Jonson, 284–95.




the most favour common errors. But I give thee this warning, that there is a great deal of difference betweene those, that (to gain the opinion of Copie) utter all they can, how ever unfitly; and those that use election, and a meane. For it is onely the disease of the unskilfull, to think rude things greater then polish’d: or scatter’d more numerous then compos’d.

Acknowledging that most preferred such “common errors,” Jonson marketed himself to a devoted minority of enlightened theatergoers and readers who grasped the significance of his bold renovation of popular drama, which was grounded in what he considered to be the best humanist theory. His dilemma was that although he aggressively deployed publicity as a means of expanding his audience, he vilified majority public opinion, because “most favour common errors.” He conceptually isolated the notion of “fame” from contemporaneous “popularity,” which remained a dirty word. Reaching readers at the point of sale, Jonson’s letter at the opening of The Alchemist represented its author as a purveyor of fine art in a hostile culture dominated by spectators who craved what was rude rather than polished, scattered rather than composed. The identity of the sole rival dramatist who illicitly mixed modes; mocked the rules of art; was more popular than the author of The Alchemist; and was capable of producing writing that was at times “good, and great,” but preferred to rely on his own copiously inventive unrestrained impulses must have seemed even more self-evident in 1612 than it does today. In the analogical theater Jonson conjures into being, audiences watch dramatists (instead of plays) competing as fencers or wrestlers. It is in this manner that he imagines himself and Shakespeare. And while Jonson recognized that popular opinion was against him, he appears to have positioned himself in “To the Reader” of The Alchemist as Shakespeare’s artful and ultimately successful adversary who would eventually acquire an “uncommon” fame by avoiding and exposing his rival’s failings. Although Jonson never reprinted his address “To the Reader” of The Alchemist, sometime after 1623 he copied the concluding passage quoted above almost verbatim in his Discoveries, repeating his denunciation of “the multitude” who “commend writers as they do fencers or wrestlers” whose “rudeness” causes “their own disgrace” or compels them or yield to “a slight touch of their adversary.”56 Deceived audiences, he again notes, “think rude things greater than polished, and scattered more  Discoveries is quoted from The Cambridge Works of Ben Jonson, vol. 7, 522.




numerous than composed.” But in the next paragraph, as if in dialogue with his own earlier assessment, he qualifies the harshness he had earlier expressed when Shakespeare was still alive. After mocking the players for praising Shakespeare’s ability to write quickly with little editing, he assumes a more forgiving tone. “But he redeemed his vices with his virtues,” Jonson finally admits. “There was ever more in him to be praised, than to be pardoned,” he concludes, although he had aggressively publicized his opinion in 1612 that such writing was “seldome” good or great.57 Jonson’s letter to the Reader of The Alchemist is best read in context, as part of a rhetorical strategy that indulged in an excessive degree of scathing criticism to make its point. Qualifying his criticism of Shakespeare at a time when Jonson’s own popularity was under pressure would have entailed an unacceptable act of self-repudiation. For Jonson, serving as his own publicity agent, 1612 was a time to overemphasize Shakespeare’s shortcomings and compensate for his own painful theatrical failure by suggesting the intrinsic superiority of his drama for a self-selecting elite whose status was posited on their preference for The Alchemist, a copy of which they currently held in their hands.



Afterword Joseph Roach

A fight has broken out, and a circle of onlookers forms around it. The spectators, whether or not they take sides, cheer on the combatants. Everyone more or less respects the impromptu limits of the ring. Attracted by the tumult, however, the crowd grows as word of the fight spreads through the neighborhood. Like dropping a stone in a pool, the inciting event at the center sends out concentric ripples of excitement in all directions. People who weren’t present themselves press others for details about the casus belli, the blow-by-blow narration, and the outcome. Rumors fly. Exaggerated or misreported tales of the behavior of the antagonists circulate. Newsmongers compete. Gossip dies down only when everyone who wanted to hear the story has listened to one version or another of it repeated, leaving behind a residue of anecdotes of variable trustworthiness. Some of these finally travel not only across town, but also through time. A few endure as folklore or, rarer still, as written sources, in which case they can be made to count as history.

J. Roach Yale University, New Haven, CT, USA e-mail: [email protected] © The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2021 A. K. Deutermann et al. (eds.), Publicity and the Early Modern Stage, Early Modern Cultural Studies 1500–1700,




Such staple conventions of social communication originate in one of the simplest of all the possible arrangements for structuring the relationship between performers and publics: a contest contained within a circle of spectators surrounded by a locale. Not coincidentally, they also suggest the sine qua non of the “theater scene” invoked by the authors of the foregoing essays in this horizon-expanding volume about the early modern stage and its dynamic generation of publicity. At the center of their project is a circle—a “wooden O” to be precise—in which fights often break out. In this bloody arena, a “cockpit,” in fact, belligerents battle to the death: “Then should warlike Harry, like himself, / Assume the port of Mars.”1 Rippling out from the performances in the middle of this ring, utterances expressing “surmises, jealousies, [and] conjectures” reach ever widening circles of willing ears from the lips of a many-tongued monitor, who challenges the auditors with a question that is not merely rhetorical, “for which of you will stop / The vent of hearing when loud Rumor speaks?”2 Vivid personalities and remarkable deeds thereby crest on the waves of hearsay, crisscrossing back from the perimeter of the locale to its center, carrying stories of popular icons and legendary happenings that fill the stage again. Noblemen such as the Earl of Essex found themselves “namechecked” (or at least called out by unmistakable allusion) from the stage, especially if they got into trouble, as Essex memorably did. But commoners take stage and make their own meanings. Like celebrities in more recent times, certain characters in early modern London were known to the public by their first names. Making star appearances in the chapters above, the real-life “Blue John,” “Nomentach,” “Mad Besse,” and “Cutpurse Moll” represent but do not exhaust the dramatis personae whose identities are shown to have passed fluidly between the theater and the teatrum mundi and back again, their names circulating as briskly as jokes, while the fictional but ever-­popular “Nobody” seems to have performed everywhere at once. In this “inter-theatrical” crucible of anecdotal fame and notoriety, Shakespeare, the playwright, assuming the role of “William the Conqueror,” stole a march on Richard Burbage, the actor, entering too late as “Richard III,” while Ben Jonson used the prefatory matter of The Alchemist to debate in public the merits of his theory of comedy as opposed to Shakespeare’s. Such a lively scene of public 1  Henry V, ed. T.W. Craik (London: Arden Shakespeare, 1995), Prologue, 5–6. Subsequent citations are to this edition. 2  King Henry IV, Part 2, ed. A. R. Humphreys (London: Arden Shakespeare, 1967), Prologue, 1–2. Subsequent citations are to this edition.



contention flourished long before the age of mass communication, and even before the word publicity itself was coined. But flourish it did, and the burden of the argument of this book is that something like a “public sphere”—one centered in the playhouse rather than the coffeehouse— emerged from the early modern theater scene long before it was a glimmer in the eye of any aufklärer. In this intellectual drama, cast me in the role of “Rumor,” getting in the last word after all, as so often happens. The editors and contributors to Publicity and the Early Modern Stage engage with a generational theoretical conversation about which I can report from the occasion of its advent. The ongoing conversation involves the critique of the idea of the eighteenth-­century bourgeois public sphere and its subsequent complication, re-situation, and expansion as an historical category. The occasion was what happened at a 1989 conference organized to introduce the belated but welcome English translation of Jürgen Habermas’s The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society (1962). A crowd gathered, and a fight broke out. To be sure, it was a very decorous, even gracious fight; but excitement spread outward in all directions nonetheless. Two of my most brilliant junior colleagues at Northwestern University at that time, Nancy Fraser and Michael Warner, joined by Lauren Berlant from the University of Chicago, pressed Habermas about the limitations of his idea of the public sphere. Fraser followed up apace with her generative “Rethinking the Public Sphere” in Social Text (1990). Warner did likewise with “The Mass Public and the Mass Subject” in Habermas and the Public Sphere (ed. Calhoun, 1991). Warner later collected this essay and others, including “Sex in Public,” co-­ written with Lauren Berlant, in his oft-cited Publics and Counterpublics (2005). In their critique of Habermas’s default mode of affectless monochromatic male heterosexual privilege in the Enlightenment public sphere, they raised issues of such urgency about gendered, classed, and raced citizenship in a society where “there is nothing more public than privacy” that they stilled even the wagging tongue of Rumor. My silenced complaint, which was that Habermas got theatrical history wrong where he got it at all, seemed like a quibble at the time. Imagine my sense of vindication when Steven Mullaney set forth an authoritative and nuanced critique of Habermasian “anti-theatricality” in The Reformation of the Emotions in the Age of Shakespeare (2015). Conflating the Elizabethan and Jacobean public playhouse with the court stage, Habermas categorized the English theater as a retrograde scene of



“representative publicness,” in which the stage functioned as an institutional arm of state and church, foreclosing the possibility of independent public opinion forming from thoughtful discussions among the participants. Without rejecting the importance of Habermas’s emphasis on the proliferation of print culture and the advent of the novel to the discourses of the Enlightenment, Mullaney stakes a strong counterclaim for the generative effects of what Publicity and the Early Modern Stage reconstructs as the English theater scene, which combines discursive and nondiscursive communications in the hurly-burly of mixed performances on the stage and off it. The contributors to this volume side with Mullaney: in addition to the contentious issues debated on the public stage, a stand-alone building like the Globe is still part of a milieu; the larger theater scene includes other public venues of “stranger sociability” where playgoers and others gather, including alehouses, inns, and brothels. In this emergent scene of inter-theatrical attractions, were there no ideas worth talking about coming from the center ring? Shakespeare knew there were, and he trusted his audience to think about them. “For ‘tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings,” the Prologue of Henry V tells the auditors, having invited them a few lines before “[t]o piece out our imperfections with your thoughts (emphasis supplied)” (Prologue, 28, 23). This famous appeal to the imagination might predicate thoughts about matters more weighty than costumes and scenery, particularly in a play that will later ask them, “[i]n the quick forge and working-house of thought (emphasis supplied),” to conjure the image of all London turning out to cheer the Earl of Essex returning in triumph from Ireland, “rebellion broached on his sword,” following soon after a scene in which they have encountered an unforgettable image of imperfection to “piece out” (5.0.23, 32). That is the victorious paragon on which Essex’s glory is supposed to be modeled giving the flagrantly criminal order: “Let every soldier kill his prisoners” (4.6.37). What could it have meant for playgoers, in this context, to feel, vicariously but vividly, “[a] little touch of Harry in the night” (4.0.37)? Would they have invested as much interest as one of the essays above does in the possibility that the actor who played Richard III doubled as Hal? In the absence of direct evidence, such questions invite worthwhile speculation even when they cannot yield conclusive answers. Then as now, they suggest potential topics for “Taverne and alehouse pratte,” which would be wrong to dismiss as inconsequential. At least one thing is certain. In the version of “representative publicness” performed in the early modern



theater and alternatively documented in these pages as “public intimacy,” the emperor and the warrior-noble characters who were his deputies could show up on the stage wearing surprisingly few clothes, and not only Macbeth in his nightshirt. Coriolanus takes time off from the war to stand apart in silence with his mother. Othello goes berserk when his wife misplaces her linen. Such uninhibited disclosures of human vulnerability offer a different way to contemplate publicity. At least since the publication of Intimacy, a special issue of Critical Inquiry (1998), “public intimacy” and its variant phrases have made repeated appearances in different critical contexts. Lauren Berlant speaks of “public feelings,” reimagining the public sphere as an “affect world,” radically evolved away from the putatively “rational” discursive networks of Habermasian description, introducing her “Feel Tank Chicago” (a pathos-positive alternative to Think Tanks), and following up with a “Public Feelings Salon” for the Department of Performance Studies at NYU. In a different but not wholly unrelated context, in studies of the eighteenth-century stage, “public intimacy” has been used to describe the illusion of affective transparency and personal accessibility created by actors and especially actresses. Felicity Nussbaum’s Rival Queens (2010) and my own It (2007) are cited on this point more than once in the essays above, while Mary Luckhurst and Jane Moody devoted an entire section of their Theatre and Celebrity in Britain 1660–2000 (2006) to essays on “Public Intimacy.” Acting in a repertoire saturated by Shakespearean and other Elizabethan and Jacobean revivals, however, eighteenth-century actors stood on the shoulders of giants. What the introduction and eleven essays in Publicity and the Early Modern Stage have accomplished is to revise the history of publicity to incorporate the most productive thinking about the construction of early modern social behaviors and values through the medium of the stage. These projects move the field far beyond the practical theatrical definition of publicity. There is scant mention, for instance, of such crass flourishes as flag raisings, cannon firings, or trumpet fanfares to announce the shows to potential playgoers on the other side of the river. What publicity means instead is the coordination of relationships among strangers by focusing their attention on something or someone extraordinary. “Publicity,” in this sense, is the medium of intersubjective communication that operates in ever-enlarging circles since the early modern period. A “celebrity,” in this sense of publicity, is the stranger who is known to us only because she is known to others. A “celebrity stranger,” in this sense of celebrity, is a person who has mobility within the community because he belongs



somewhere else. A “community,” in this phobic sense of the celebrity stranger as an outsider, is an aggregation of persons hypothetically linked together by local media of social performance, including but not limited to “rumor, sermon, lawsuit, and play.”3 Let two summary points suffice for a conclusion to this rich and varied collection of exciting research. First, the early modern entrepreneurs who came up with the motto for the Globe theatre, totus mundus agit histrionem (“the whole world is a playhouse”), knew exactly what they were talking about. Second, in a professional discourse that oscillates between pleonasm and oxymoron in its struggle to explain itself to itself—“public intimacy,” “stranger sociability,” and “multimedia personhood”—we are still trying to figure it out.

3  See Jeffrey S. Doty and Musa Gurnis’s contribution in this volume, “Local Celebrities Onstage and Off,” 106.

Author Index1

A Addison, Joseph, 242 Mr. Spectator, 242 Alleyn, Edward, 4, 7, 15, 17, 198, 222 Armin, Robert, 19, 119–147 epitaph, 122, 147 Foole upon Foole (1600), 130, 135n56, 136 B Berlant, Lauren, 188, 190, 191, 281, 283 Blue John, see Smith, John Boorstin, Daniel, 13, 46, 47 Bradley, A.C., 29 Braithwaite, Richard, 67–69, 71, 74, 80, 90 The English Gentleman (1630), 67 Burbage, Richard, 4, 7, 15, 17, 165, 188, 198, 254, 255, 280


C Calhoun, Craig, 9, 281 Chapman, George, 105, 105n18 Old Joiner of Aldgate, 105, 106 D Dekker, Thomas, 19, 20, 102, 106, 107, 191, 195, 198, 201, 202, 213, 217–219, 218n2, 224, 226–231, 227n25, 240, 247 Newes from Graves-End: Sent to Nobody (1604), 217, 226 The Roaring Girl, 102, 187–216 The Wonderfull Yeare (1603), 217, 229, 230 Devereux, Robert (2nd Earl of Essex), 104, 221 Doty, Jeffrey S., 11, 11n29, 18, 19, 50–52, 61, 71, 199, 222, 224, 225

 Note: Page numbers followed by ‘n’ refer to notes.

© The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2021 A. K. Deutermann et al. (eds.), Publicity and the Early Modern Stage, Early Modern Cultural Studies 1500–1700,




E Epenow, 26 F Fennor, William, 112, 113, 174, 175, 179, 181 Fraser, Nancy, 9, 33n28, 281 Frith, Mary, 7, 19, 20, 102, 103, 106, 124, 222 See also Dekker, Thomas, The Roaring Girl; Middleton, Thomas, The Roaring Girl Frith, Moll, 191, 198–203, 210, 213, 216 The Roaring Girl, Thomas Middleton and Thomas Decker, 124, 187–216 G Gayton, Edmund, 71, 88 Guilpin, Everard, 192, 193, 197, 198 Gurnis, Musa, 13, 13n34, 18, 19, 52, 173, 175, 181, 199, 224, 225 H Habermas, Jurgen, 9–13, 110, 115, 189, 232, 232n36, 234, 242, 247, 281, 282 representative publicness, 282 Henslowe, Phillip, 68, 153–155, 157 Howe, Agnes, 105–107 J Jones, Inigo, 257, 257n30 Jonson, Ben, 19, 20, 35n30, 108, 111, 111n41, 113, 116, 173, 219, 235, 245–278, 280 The Alchemist, 245–278, 280 Bartholomew Fair, 249, 251, 255, 258, 260

Catiline, 274, 275, 275n54 Cynthia’s Revels, 74 Discoveries, 277 Entertainment at Althorp (1603), 219, 235 Epicoene, 28 Every Man Out of His Humour, 248, 251, 260, 267 Masque of Blackness, 276 Oberon, The Fairy Prince, 257 K “Keep the Widow Waking,” 106, 107 Kemp, Will, 4, 7, 15, 17, 112, 138, 144, 144n80, 165, 198, 222, 225 Kemps Nine Daies Wonder (1600), 225 Kyd, Thomas, 68, 68n5, 69, 74–76, 79, 89, 91, 93, 94 The Spanish Tragedy, 68–76, 68n4, 68n5, 73n19, 74n23, 79, 80, 84, 85, 87, 92–94 L Lambe, John, 104, 115–117, 115n61, 177 Lok, Michael, 25–27, 29 Long Meg, 103 M Manley, Lawrence, 193 Manningham, John, 3, 187–190, 188n2, 205 Marcus, Sharon, 14, 47, 200, 201, 224, 241 Marlowe, Christopher, 7, 12 Tamburlaine, 4, 7, 35, 89, 153, 155, 182 Marston, John, 82, 86, 192–194, 196, 197, 204, 205, 219, 224, 226, 227, 229, 230


Antonio and Mellida, 226, 230 Massinger, Philip, 75, 76, 78–87, 78n31, 89–94 The Roman Actor (1626), 19, 75, 75n25, 76, 78–82, 80n34, 80n35, 81n36, 81n37, 85, 87, 89–95 Middleton, Thomas, 19, 20, 75n25, 102, 153n8, 191, 198, 202, 213, 227n25 The Roaring Girl, 102, 187–216 Mullaney, Steven, 10, 11, 101, 106, 226n19, 232n36, 281, 282 N Namontack (Nomentach), 28n14, 280 Nashe, Thomas, 132, 228, 228n27 Native Americans, 27, 28, 28n14 Nussbaum, Felicity, 15, 31, 191, 283 P Peele, George, 272 Old Wives Tale, 272 Pierce Penilesse, 222, 228 Prynne, William, 90 R Roach, Joseph, 6, 15, 20, 21, 31, 46, 52, 87n45, 124, 188, 191, 203, 210, 241 public intimacy, 6, 31, 46–48, 65, 188, 191, 241, 283, 284 See also It-effect Rojek, Chris, 46, 48, 241 S Schickel, Richard, 31n22 Scotus, John Duns, 123, 144 Shakespeare, William, 2, 6, 11n29, 15, 18–20, 29, 38, 43, 45–66, 74,


86, 94n52, 125, 150, 156–161, 156n14, 163–165, 167, 168, 168n25, 175, 176, 178n12, 187, 188, 205, 245–278, 280, 282 Anthony and Cleopatra, 48n10 Christopher Sly, 74 Comedy of Errors, 264 Coriolanus, 19, 45–66 Hamlet, 54, 81, 81n37, 231, 242 Henry IV, Part 1, 152, 161, 162, 165, 166 Henry V, 163, 164, 166–169, 267 Henry VI, Part 1, 48n10, 157, 158 Henry VI, Part 2, 157, 158 Henry VI, Part 3, 157 Julius Caesar, 54, 251, 267 Othello, 25–43 Richard III, 54, 125, 156–159, 280 Taming of the Shrew, 74 The Winter’s Tale, 176, 249, 250, 253–255, 257–261, 258n32, 259n34, 263, 265–268, 270, 271, 273–275 Sidney, Phillip, 131n43, 221, 248, 249, 249n7, 269, 269n46, 275, 276 Smith, John, 19, 26, 27, 29, 119–147, 280 blue coat, 120, 135, 138 Christ’s Hospital, 119, 120, 122, 125, 130, 135 a “very fool,” 120, 143 Steele, Richard, 242 Mr. Spectator, 242 T Tarlton, Richard, 17, 18, 132, 138, 198, 222, 225, 225n16 Taylor, John, 7, 20, 100, 102, 108–115, 114n57, 114n60, 171–184, 178n11, 199, 201, 211n57



Taylor, John (cont.) as celebrity, 111, 114, 115, 172, 174, 199, 211 A Funerall Elegie, in Memory of the Rare, Famous, and Admired Poet, Mr. Benjamin Jonson, 111 The History of the Two Maids of More-clacke (1609), 119, 121, 138, 140 as promoter, 20, 111, 172, 173 Tillyard, Stella, 15, 192 Trundle, John (stationer), 219, 219n7, 231, 240 Turner, Graham, 14n37, 31, 32, 99n2

W Warner, Michael, 3, 8–10, 36, 40, 188–190, 197, 214n59, 223, 229, 242, 281 Weimann, Robert, 53, 179–181 Wilson, Luke, 150n4, 223, 231, 233n39, 236 Wood, Nicholas, 20, 112, 171–184, 172n3 The Great Eater of Kent (John Taylor), 20, 112, 171, 172, 179 Y Yachnin, Paul, 11, 13, 225, 242n56

Subject Index1

A Abstraction, 144, 189–191, 194, 195, 197, 203, 205, 215, 216, 224, 231, 242, 243 Actors and acting as celebrities, 4, 8, 15, 16, 46, 47, 66, 201, 202, 216 and doubling, 150, 152, 158, 163 See also Armin, Robert; Burbage, Richard; Tarlton, Richard Address, 53, 54, 54n21, 57, 59, 61, 64, 86, 173, 178, 194, 196, 197, 218, 226, 229–231, 246, 252n18, 275n54, 276, 277 Amphitheatre, 77, 78 The Rose, 90 Animality bears, 26, 34–36, 59, 103, 109, 109n37, 112, 138, 176, 180, 218, 233, 257 cormorants, 184 hogs, 176, 184 1

Animals, 175–177, 180–182 Anonymity, 8, 20, 194, 212, 224, 234, 235, 239–241, 243 Appetite banquets, 48n10, 172, 182 eating, 172, 172n3, 175–178, 178n12, 180, 184 food, 45, 176, 178 maw, 173, 175, 178, 183, 184 Audience and/as crowds, 45–66 as public, 55, 173, 205, 206 Authority political, 35, 73 theatrical, 73, 80, 179 B Banquets, 48n10, 172, 182 Bear Garden, 173, 175–180 Blackfriars playhouse, 78

 Note: Page numbers followed by ‘n’ refer to notes.

© The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2021 A. K. Deutermann et al. (eds.), Publicity and the Early Modern Stage, Early Modern Cultural Studies 1500–1700,




C Celebration, 19, 32, 35n30, 46–50, 48n10, 52, 53, 61, 66, 111, 135, 174 Celebrity as local phenomenon, 13n35, 14, 36, 46, 99, 221 and race, 25–43 as wonder, 26, 27 Celebrity culture, 13–16, 14n39, 46 Character, 3–5, 16, 18, 19, 28, 29, 35–43, 48, 53, 54–55n21, 55, 58, 59, 65, 66, 76, 76n26, 85, 100, 102, 102n7, 104, 105, 108–110, 112n45, 123–128, 124n11, 124n12, 132, 133, 135, 136, 141, 143–146, 145n83, 150, 151, 153n8, 158, 160, 164–166, 168n25, 174, 178, 203, 205–208, 210, 212, 219, 224, 225, 232, 237, 241, 249, 268, 269, 280, 283 Character books, 37, 38, 41, 41n51, 42, 124 Circulation of jokes, 223 memes and virality, 144 of public discourse, 232 of theatrical conventions, 92 City, 2, 25, 29, 38, 41, 47, 49, 51, 55–57, 62–64, 74n23, 90, 100, 104, 109, 113, 114, 114n55, 124, 140, 173, 180, 189, 190, 192, 202, 209, 217, 218, 222–224, 227, 234, 237, 238, 240, 264 Clothes, 141, 190, 203, 206, 212, 236, 283 Clown, 17–19, 112, 114, 119, 128, 131n43, 132, 133, 138, 141n76, 152, 198, 199n36, 222, 234, 237

Comedy, 20, 47, 74n23, 88, 138, 145n83, 166, 191, 198, 201–203, 206, 207, 210, 216, 226, 245, 247–249, 251–253, 255, 257, 259, 260, 262–264, 271, 274, 280 Commercial theater, 42, 67–95, 100, 101, 103, 110, 246–248, 251, 271 Commodity, 190–192, 198, 198n35, 206–211, 214, 215 Commodity(ies), 14n37, 124, 132, 180, 231, 232, 239, 246, 249, 252, 257, 269, 272 Company of Stationers, 231 Court, 4, 7, 25, 26, 35n30, 41, 82, 103–105, 107, 114, 117, 120, 153, 165, 167, 194, 221, 222, 224, 232, 234, 237–240, 255–259, 255n26, 268, 273, 281 Crowds, 16, 19, 34, 40, 43, 45–66, 174, 180, 188, 212, 247, 247n3, 276, 279, 281 D Disability as category of identity, 130 cognitive disability, 120, 128, 133, 147 dissociating from, 125–130, 132–133, 143, 145–147 laughing at, 131 Disembodiment, 189, 223 Distributed personhood, 102, 109, 175 Drama, see Theater E Embodiment, 19, 35, 82, 101, 115, 132, 173, 188–192, 194, 195, 197, 203, 206, 208–210, 212, 215, 216 Epistles, 119, 218, 224, 226–231, 236


F Fame notoriety, 4, 7, 99, 106, 108, 109, 172, 174, 182, 222, 223, 238n49, 280 renown, 2, 17, 48, 103, 124, 174, 221, 223, 238, 238n49 Folly, 122, 130, 132, 143, 145, 147 Fool artificial fool, 128, 131–133, 140, 142, 143 foolsbooks, 120, 120n5, 127, 133, 135, 138 natural fool, 122, 127, 128, 131–133, 145 Frith, Mary, 7, 19, 20, 103, 106, 124, 191, 198–203, 210, 211n57, 213, 216, 222 G Gallants, 2, 69n6, 140, 145, 195, 203, 205, 207, 209, 211, 211n57, 213, 239 Genre city comedy, 47, 74n23 comedy, 252, 271, 274 conventions of, 69–70, 72–76, 84–85, 87, 90, 92–95 Roman plays, 47 Ghost, 17, 161, 223, 272 H Hieronimo, 19, 68, 68n4, 69, 71–74, 80, 82, 84, 86, 87, 88n46, 89, 90, 92, 93 I Intertheatricality, 75–76n26, 93, 94, 102n7, 123n11, 127, 161


Irony, 76, 155, 163, 229 It-effect, 46, 52 J Joke Helen Keller, 129, 130, 130n37, 139 nobody joke, 218, 228, 239, 280 public punchline, 19, 119–147 K King James, 52n13, 93n52, 116n62, 258 The King’s Men, 76, 77, 85, 86, 109, 245, 246, 248, 249, 251–255, 255n26, 257, 258, 262, 263, 266, 270, 274 John Lowin, 85, 86 L Laughter, 74, 124, 125, 125n16, 127–129, 131n43, 142, 143 Henri Bergson, 127, 129 Locus and platea, 53, 55, 57, 59, 61, 65 London, 16, 17, 20, 26, 36, 37, 37n36, 42, 45, 47, 52, 52n13, 69–71, 77–80, 85, 89–91, 94, 99–101, 103, 104, 106, 108, 110, 112, 112n45, 113n55, 114, 116, 117, 120, 123, 125, 136, 142, 144, 154, 162, 163, 165, 172, 173, 175, 177, 182, 188n2, 189–192, 194, 195, 197, 199–201, 209, 217–219, 222, 228, 246, 249, 254, 255, 262, 265, 267, 275, 280, 282



M Market, 16, 17, 42, 154, 176, 190, 191, 199, 203, 207–211, 249, 251 Mass media, 16, 99, 223n11 Mediation, 46, 201, 215, 222, 230, 232, 241, 243 Meme, 123, 123n11, 126, 128–138, 144, 218 Multimedia public square, 114, 173, 175 N Negation, 223, 224, 230, 236, 239–243 Nobody, 218 Nemo, 218, 219 Nobody and Somebody, 219, 224, 228, 231–235, 231n35, 237, 239, 240 Ulrich von Hutten, 219 O Othello, see Shakespeare, William, Othello P Paratext, 226, 230, 248n5, 256, 274 Gerard Genette, 230 Performance, 4, 6, 8, 11–12, 11n25, 13n34, 14n38, 16–19, 26, 28, 30, 31, 33, 40, 52, 53, 60, 68, 71, 71n13, 74, 75n25, 76n29, 79–94, 89n49, 100, 101, 103, 104, 106, 108, 109, 112–114, 120n5, 125, 132–134, 138, 141, 144, 150, 151, 154–156, 158, 162, 164, 165, 167, 170, 173, 175–177, 179–183, 195, 199,

200, 202, 205, 215, 216, 222, 252n16, 255, 256, 258, 259, 262, 267, 270, 280, 282, 284 Plague, 77, 217, 218, 218n2, 227, 262, 275 Playing companies Admiral’s Men, 153, 154, 157 Chamberlain’s Men, 104, 152, 156, 157, 162, 164, 166 and doubling, 159 King’s Men, 76, 77, 85, 86, 109, 144n80, 245, 246, 248, 249, 251–255, 255n26, 257, 258, 262, 263, 266, 270, 274 Poets’ War, 252 as publicity campaign, 20, 246, 260 Popularity, 2, 5–7, 11, 12n29, 47, 50, 61, 66, 75, 94, 127, 154, 222, 232, 255, 274, 277, 278 Print, 3, 8, 10, 11, 15–20, 69, 100, 106, 108, 111–114, 112n45, 117, 153, 181, 199, 218, 222, 224–227, 226n19, 230, 231, 231n32, 238, 241, 242, 245, 246, 248, 249, 252, 256, 282 Prodigy, 173 Publication, 3, 10, 11, 17, 40, 42, 100, 101, 106, 108, 111, 113, 172, 219, 230, 245, 246, 248, 248n5, 256n27, 259n34, 283 Public culture, 4–6, 8, 20 Public intimacy, 6, 31, 46–48, 65, 188, 191, 241, 283, 284 Publicity, 3, 4, 6–8, 10–12, 14–21, 14n37, 25–43, 49, 99–101, 104, 106, 112, 126, 174, 188–195, 197, 198, 202, 203, 205–209, 212, 214n59, 215, 216, 222–225, 226n19, 227, 230–234, 232n36, 237, 240–243, 252, 260, 277, 278, 280, 281, 283


Public/publics public intimacy (see Roach, Joseph, public intimacy) publicness, 15, 16, 50, 223, 225, 230, 232, 237, 243 reading public, 218, 224, 226, 228, 229, 240 representative publicness (see Habermas, Jurgen) theatrical public, 35, 71, 75, 76, 78, 79, 86, 87, 88n46, 89, 90, 94, 150, 155, 168, 245, 248 Public sphere, 4, 6, 9–16, 33, 50n11, 101, 103, 114, 115, 150, 189, 190, 194, 201, 223, 232, 232n36, 242, 243, 246, 247, 281, 283 R Race, 26, 27n8, 28, 43, 182 and celebrity, 25–43 Revenge, 62, 71, 72, 73n19, 75, 75n25, 80–85, 87–89, 88n46, 93, 214 Rumor, 2, 7, 48, 49, 106, 164, 174, 222, 237–239, 238n49, 280, 281, 284 S Satire, 166, 172, 183, 193–197, 193n23, 219, 228, 249, 252, 263, 268 Stage and staging and affect, 47, 65 in Coriolanus, 46, 49, 52, 56, 63–65 and doubling, 20, 149, 150, 153, 158, 160, 168 Strangeness, 26, 28, 30, 32, 35 Stranger, 4, 6, 8, 12, 12n30, 13, 15, 17, 21, 26, 26n7, 27, 29, 32,


34–38, 40–43, 99, 100, 108, 109, 165, 174, 192, 194, 197, 198, 223, 225, 229, 242, 283, 284 Style, 19, 20, 41, 91, 99–101, 103, 120, 195–198, 203–206, 208, 213, 215, 216, 222n11, 263 Surprise, 67–95, 124, 142, 167, 177, 210, 218, 229, 236 T Talk, 10, 33, 40, 60, 64, 113, 117, 188n4, 191, 195, 202–204, 206, 206n49, 215, 230, 236, 237, 239, 240 Theater Caroline theater, 69, 70, 89 commercial theater, 42, 67–95, 100, 101, 103, 110, 246–248, 251, 271 Fortune theater, 115, 202, 209, 214 as mass media, 16 See also Commercial theater; Theater culture Theater culture, 15, 20, 109, 115 Theatrical convention, 92 U Uncertainty, 70, 76, 79, 94, 95, 227n25 V Value, 39n45, 50, 71, 124, 126, 160, 166, 208, 209, 212, 215, 239, 245, 246, 256, 257, 271, 283 exchange value, 231



W Wonder, 25–28, 27n10, 41n51, 152, 158, 164, 167, 177, 200, 230, 271, 273, 274, 276

Z Zaniness commedia dell’arte, 132 Sianne Ngai, on, 132, 133