Theatrical Commerce and the Repertory System in Early Modern England (seminar)

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For more past programming from the Folger Institute, please see the article Folger Institute scholarly programs archive.

This was a fall 2003 semester seminar led by Roslyn L. Knutson.

Scholars are used to identifying plays by authorship, date, and company ownership, but are not as practiced in considering the plays so identified as members of a company's repertory, with all that concept entails. This seminar drew on the resources of the Folger Shakespeare Library to investigate the ramifications of the repertory system in the early modern playhouse world, 1583–1613. To begin, laid out some background on the business of playing: company structure and management, playing venues, audiences, and texts. Subsequently, we focused on company repertories, looking across the theatrical marketplace in chronological units (1583–94, 1594–99, 1599–1603, and 1603–13). The goal was to consider the commercial implications of a given company's repertory as well as the repertories in competition with each another. Participants were expected to be (or to become) familiar with current scholarship in theatre history. However, most of the time was spent with the plays themselves as repertorial siblings and rivals across company lines. We assembled these repertories with an eye to cultural motifs and staging techniques that might have characterized an individual company's identity and strategies of theatrical commerce at the time. There was ample opportunity for participants with projects in conception, or underway, to explore those projects further in the context of the seminar's focus.

Director: Roslyn L. Knutson is Professor of English at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. She is the author of Playing Companies and Commerce in Shakespeare's Time (2001) and The Repertory of Shakespeare's Company, 1594-1613 (1991), as well as numerous articles on early modern theatre history. She is currently researching the lost plays of the 1590s.