Erika T. Lin
This page reflects a scholar's association with the Folger Institute.
"Seasonal Festivity and Commercial Performance in Early Modern England" (Mellon, 2014-2015)
This book-length project reconstructs the performance dynamics of May games, Robin Hood gatherings, morris dances, and other early modern seasonal practices and analyzes their impact on the drama of Shakespeare and his contemporaries. In sixteenth- and seventeenth-century England, holidays were often celebrated with dancing, music, athletic combat, informal roleplaying, and scripted drama. In the professional theatres, however, these same activities functioned not as communal rituals but as commodified entertainments. Drawing on early modern pamphlet literature, broadside ballads, churchwarden accounts, household records, diaries, letters, and many other archival sources, this project will trace how the commercialization of festive practices transformed performance from a ubiquitous mode of sociality that permeated communal life into the institutionalized representational mode that we think of today as “theatre.” The project is thus a kind of ur-history of the English stage as well as a broad-scale attempt to rethink how diverse cultural practices coalesce into seemingly unified aesthetic objects. Because festivity constituted a mode of embodied popular knowledge, physically enacting holiday customs onstage had important social and cultural consequences that derived not simply from drama as literary text but also from live performance. Building on—but also moving beyond—the concept of “performativity,” this project examines how cultural norms and beliefs come to be (re)produced through bodily acts and affective experiences. It thus serves not only as a detailed study of a historically-specific set of performance practices but also as a wider theoretical contribution to the humanities as a whole.