Claire M. L. Bourne
Assistant Professor of English, Virginia Commonwealth University
Long-term fellowship (2014-2015)
“Set Forth as It Hath Been Played”: Printing the Performance in Early Modern England
Using the typographical arrangements of the dramatic page as a rich site of inquiry, Printing the Performance challenges the long-standing division between “the theatrical” and “the literary” in studies of early modern drama. Building on two decades of work by book historians who have insisted that printed plays should be taken seriously as reading matter, this project seeks to demonstrate that plays initially written with the theater in mind developed into intelligible reading matter not only through their acquisition of bookish features, such as authorial attributions and dedicatory epistles, but also through print’s deliberate negotiations with stage dramaturgy and the effects of early modern plays in performance. In particular, Printing the Performance argues that sixteenth- and seventeenth-century experiments in playbook typography and page design show early modern English playwrights and stationers attempting to make the printed texts of plays legible to readers as drama. These experiments—with symbolic type, punctuation, scene division, and illustration—were designed to encourage reading experiences around genre-specific theatrical innovations by answering for the effects that these innovations produced in performance: for example, the didacticism of the excessive physicality central to Ben Jonson’s comical satires; the cumulative, frightful, and relentlessly violent stage tableaux of Christopher Marlowe’s Tamburlaine; and the suspenseful plotting of Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher’s tragicomedy. The conventions of dramatic typography that seem mundane to us today were by no means settled in these first two centuries of printing plays in England. By studying how these typographic conventions came into being, this project claims the intersection of dramaturgy and book design as fertile ground for understanding the literary formation of early modern English plays between the Tudor moralities and Rowe’s edition of Shakespeare’s Works in 1709.