Discursive Iterations/Fearful Symmetries
For if . . . our youth seriously listen to such unworthy representations of the gods . . . hardly will any of them deem that he himself, being but a man, can be dishonored by similar actions; neither will he rebuke any inclination which may arise in his mind to say and do the like.
—Plato, The Republic, c. 386 B.C.E.
As soon as he saw the [gladiator's] blood, he at once drank in savagery and did not turn away. His eyes were riveted. He imbibed madness. He found delight in the murderous contest and was inebriated by bloodthirsty pleasure. He was not now the person who had come in, but just one of the crowd which he had joined . . . He looked, he yelled, he was on fire, he took the madness home with him.
—Augustine, Confessions, c. 400
Also, sithen [miraclis pleyinge] makith to see veyne sightis of desgyse, aray of men and wymmen by yvil continaunse, eyther stiryng other to leccherie and debatis, as aftir most bodily myrthe comen moste debatis, as siche myrthe more undisposith a man to paciencie and ablith to glotonye and to othere vicis, wherefore it suffrith not a man to beholden enterly the werde of God over his heued, but makith to thenken on alle siche thingis that Crist by the dedis of his passion badde us to forgeten.
—Anonymous Wycliffite author, Miracle Plays, c. 1360
As the style and subject matter of stage-plays is scurrilous and obscene, so likewise it is bloody and tyrannical, breathing out malice, fury, anger, murder, cruelty, tyranny, treachery, frenzy, treason, and revenge . . . which efferate and enrage the hearts and minds of actors and spectators; yea, oft times animate and excite them to anger, malice, duels, murders, revenge, and more than barbarous cruelty, to the great disturbance of the public peace.
—William Prynne, Histrio-mastix, 1633
The spectator at the play experiences too little; he feels like a "Misero, to whom nothing worth while can happen"; he has long since had to moderate been obliged to damp down, or better direct elsewhere, his ambition to occupy a central place in the stream of world events; he wants to feel, to act, to mold the world in the light of his own desire—in short to be a hero.
—Sigmund Freud, "Psychopathic Characters on the Stage" 1905
Where once the dime and nickel novels suggested ways of crime to unbalanced youth, the motion picture has come to make a more ready and more potent appeal. The printed word is never so ardent with an impressionable mind as the acted word.
—Richard Barry, Pearson's Magazine, 1911
The young men who opened fire at Columbine High School, at the movie theater in Aurora, Colo., and in other massacres had this in common: they were video gamers who seemed to be acting out some dark digital fantasy. It was as if all that exposure to computerized violence gave them the idea to go on a rampage—or at least fueled their urges.
—Benedict Carey, New York Times, 2013
Imagine you were asked to create a profile of the prototypical spectator using the above seven epigraphs. Demographically, the subject is young and most likely male. Intellectually, he is underdeveloped. Emotionally, he is immature, exhibiting a tendency toward emotional and behavioral extremes. He finds it difficult to distinguish between representation and reality, more often attaining catharsis through projection and identification than through lived experience. These qualities make him susceptible to wild emotional vacillations, misprision, and injury. In short, he is a potential danger to himself and to others.
Of course, creating a composite from these fragments that span over two millennia is ridiculous. It is impossible to assemble any sort of accurate representation from them. But in many cases, at least up until the twentieth century, such scintillae are all we have. Unlike the spectacles they watched, those who witnessed the plays, pageants, public trials, executions, coronations, and funerals of the past have largely formed the faceless backdrop of historical inquiry. In part this lacuna is due to a scarcity of records: actual descriptions of spectators at state, religious, and entertainment productions are few and far between. To study and make claims about them, then, becomes what Dennis Kennedy calls "a problem in metaphysics, [and] writing about them may border on the impossible." Exerting an equally powerful influence on the study of spectators and spectatorship, however, is the widely held prejudice that the spectator is the product of modernity and its concomitant technologies of representation: photography, film, television, and, most recently, the computer. In her history of spectatorship studies, Michelle Aaron places what she calls "the birth of the spectator" in the late 1960s. While some theorists place the origins of spectatorship as a topic of inquiry slightly earlier, there is, in general, a critical consensus that spectatorship as a discourse did not come into being before the twentieth century.
But whereas formal theoretical approaches to and detailed statistics about spectatorship may be the domain of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, discourses on the topic are not. Meditations on the dangers of looking (especially the sort associated with entertainment spectacle) exist in abundance throughout the history of Western culture. While the seven epigraphs with which I begin frame their anxieties about spectators through their unique historical and cultural contexts, certain constants emerge: the spectator is male, young, highly impressionable, and potentially dangerous. These are not, however, qualities we can assign to actual historical viewing subjects; that is, the spectator of Augustine's gladiatorial arena is not the same as "the young men" in the New York Times article that merge the fantasy violence of video games with the incarnate act of shooting high school classmates or movie patrons. Rather, such qualities stand in for the spectator these writers imagine, project, and sometimes fear. While "real" spectators may be historically contingent and temporally circumscribed, ideas about them can (and do) cross such boundaries, accruing various resonances along the way. These ideas form a different sort of spectatorial presence, one that is discursive rather than material. Often indiscriminately conflated with the real bodies and psyches that attend the theater, sports arena, or movie multiplex, the discursive spectator is a repository of a culture's ideas and anxiety about viewing and interpretive practices, particularly those associated with popular entertainment. And, while entertainment media, exhibition technologies, and viewing practices have changed dramatically from the era of Plato to postmodernism, anxieties about spectatorship have remained remarkably consistent. The discursive spectator, then, provides an alternative starting point for tracing a history of spectatorship—one organized by conceptual and ideological structures rather than practice-oriented ones—of which the twenty-first century is only the most recent part.
This study explores a particular moment in that history, that of early modern England. Walter Benjamin has argued that film's development and ascendancy in the twentieth century both responded to and caused "profound changes in the apperceptive apparatus." Sixteenth-century England also witnessed a surge in a particular form of mass entertainment: professional drama. I argue that as the commercial theater developed and prospered as a for-profit endeavor, a cultural need arose to find new ways to describe the sort of looking that playgoing both catered to and fostered. The narratives that evolved in response produce what I call the early modern discursive spectator—a figure generated largely through early modern cultural anxieties and fantasies about spectators rather than through empirical observation and thick description of actual audience behavior. Finally, I claim that the early modern discursive spectator did not merely develop alongside the phenomenological one, but played as significant a role in shaping early modern viewers and viewing practices as did changes to staging technologies, exhibition practices, and generic experimentation.
As the opening epigraphs suggest, I am not making the case that the early modern period marks the origin of either the discursive spectator or theories of spectatorial dynamics. As Jonas Barish states, such concerns about the effects of entertainment media "go back as far in European history as the theater itself can be traced." Renaissance England did, however, produce a great deal of writing on the theater and its effects on audiences. While theater had been a part of English culture since the early twelfth century, the sixteenth century saw massive changes in theater's production and regulation, including the building of London's first amphitheaters, the proliferation of professional playing companies, and the imposition of laws regulating them. The years between 1576 and 1642, therefore, are some of the earliest for which we have an abundance of materials that refer both directly and indirectly to theater spectators. As London's professional theater industry took hold and flourished, those involved in the business of the stage developed a preoccupation with shaping, even controlling, consumer tastes and habits. Simultaneously, moralists and magistrates attempted to discipline—morally, behaviorally, and geographically—London's many theatergoers. Such mobilizations of (and resistances to) commercial, moral, and social pressures on theatergoers mark the early modern period as a particularly significant one in the development and coherence of the discursive spectator. As Jean-Christophe Agnew puts it, "Elizabethan and Jacobean theater . . . did not just hold the mirror up to nature; it brought forth 'another nature'—a new world of 'artificial persons'—the features of which audiences were just beginning to make out in the similarly new and enigmatic exchange relations then developing outside [as well as inside] the theater." While Agnew's "artificial persons" refer to the emergent early modern English professional identity of the actor, another such presence is perpetuated by the professional theater, one Agnew tacitly references: "Inside the banquet hall and guild hall of the sixteenth century, the players experimented sporadically with dramatic forms, developing new conventions that would enable them to communicate with an audience that was at once physically present and psychologically distant." It is precisely this "psychological distance"—the inscrutability of any individual's or group's particular affective and psychological templates, desires, and limits—that gives rise to the cultural projection I call the discursive spectator.
The vast temporal expanse covered by the seven introductory epigraphs signals another of this project's deep investments, which is to consider the discursive spectator's transhistorical presence and potency. While focused primarily on the discursive spectator's early modern incarnation, this study also looks backward to earlier manifestations and forward to later ones. In part, I use the early modern discursive spectator's past and future as a framing mechanism; however, I also move between modern spectatorial theories, many of which deal with modern forms of media and entertainment, and early modern ideas about the theatrical spectator, placing them in conversation with one another throughout the book. That I do so may raise the charge of "unhistoricism," a methodological stance recently cited by Valerie Traub as trending in both queer and early modern studies (and, most particularly, the conjunction of the two). While, as she carefully articulates, "unhistoricism" or "teloskepticism" encompasses numerous critical viewpoints and concerns, it represents, in short, a heuristic method that advocates reading against chronological sequencing as a means of averting teleological narratives of queer identity. While A Monster with a Thousand Hands takes as a given that "the spectator" has a discursive (as well as a material) history, it is not an archaeological or genealogical project. Rather, this study understands the discursive spectator as an entity that consists of multiple, sometimes contradictory narratives, some of which have long and relatively consistent half-lives and some of which emerge and disappear within a given era. To imagine the discursive spectator via a framework in which "one model . . . is superseded by another, which may again be superseded by another [and] the superseded model then drops out of the frame of analysis," is to ignore the ways this figure replicates its own discursive DNA and resists historical pressures. For, even when the discursive spectator responds to historical events (such as those that occur during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in London's theatrical exhibition, practice, and culture), how it responds defies tidy articulation along an axis of historical contingency. While cultural debates about the entertainment spectator tend to become reinvigorated by new or newly popularized entertainment media, the discourses on which they rely tend to recycle long-extant and pervasive biases. The discursive spectator's existence, then, forms along trajectories similar to those Annamarie Jagose claims for queer temporality; in other words, this figure is better understood as a series of "recursive eddies and back-to-the-future loops" rather than a neatly progressing construct that reaches its apotheosis in the era of mass media.
If certain aspects of the discursive spectator can best be described and explored synchronically, a diachronic perspective better serves others. Far from challenging or rejecting historicism, I rely on many of its paradigms in order to flesh out the discursive spectator's travels through a specific period, one that, for my purposes, is demarcated via the rise of the English professional, for-profit theater, and its subsequent cessation during the English Civil War. In addition to demonstrating certain historicist "hallmarks" (for example, the acceptance of periodicity and the use of a range of discursive production as a means of taking the discursive spectator's measure), the book's organization follows a predominantly chronological framework. While this schema runs the risk of suggesting a teleological narrative, it also allows for a more thorough examination of the ways in which the discursive spectator shifts, accrues, and pares resonances even within a relatively short period. To read chronologically does not necessarily imply reading teleologically; that is, to study a concept, discourse, institution, narrative, category, or tradition diachronically does not go hand-in-hand with accepting and propagating a narrative of destiny. Indeed, the call-and-response nature of discursive production often requires placement within a linear time frame in order to bring the smaller epiphenomena that have occurred (and continue to occur) in the discursive spectator's history into clearer focus. Much like an electrocardiogram, which measures the pattern of an individual's heartbeat over a short period in order to pick up irregularities in the heart's sinoatrial current, a chronological approach allows for attentiveness to shifts, both major and minor, in the early modern spectator's discursive presence during roughly a sixty-year period. While such shifts do not add up to a tidy developmental narrative, they provide a means of demonstrating this figure's fluidity (a quality that renders it an ideal surface for registering cultural projections about theater audiences) and attaining a clearer understanding of the discursive spectator's role in shaping spectatorial practice as it manifests in phenomenological experience and the empirical world.
My approach, then, differs from "strict" historicist methods in two primary ways. The first is that with the exception of the first chapter, the majority of my archive derives from material written for and about the theater, as opposed to reaching outside of it to other kinds of cultural institutions. The second, and more significant, is that I am less interested in what the early modern English discursive spectator tells us about something other than itself; that is, I do not investigate it in the service of another, larger construct or industry, such as early modern subjectivity, religion, sexuality, affect, cognition, or even the theater itself. Instead, this study advances two primary goals, neither of which, I have come to find, are adequately served by espousing a single methodology. The first is to demonstrate the discursive spectator's value as a topic of study, one that has been largely overlooked and unarticulated in both early modern discussions of theater audiences and audience studies more generally. The second is that rather than privileging a historical narrative's elucidation, I model an interpretive method—a way of reading—that takes the discursive spectator as its primary topic, and then I explore what this readjustment of focus reveals about early modern spectatorship and the scholarly biases, blind spots, and (over)investments found in much of early modern audience studies.
Those looking for a book that focuses heavily on the historical conditions of possibility and production that "produce" the early modern discursive spectator will not find it here. This is not to say that such a study would be unproductive or ineffective: certainly, I hope that others will take up and offer other perspectives on the discursive spectator. As Traub posits, "Readings . . . are not the same thing as history," a claim with which I wholeheartedly agree. However, readings can provide effective starting points for reimagining the kinds of histories we currently tell about the spectator and (re)discovering new material in those we have previously inscribed. The subsequent section looks at some of these narratives via their enunciations in scholarly discourse, which, for the most part, have been trifurcated into the areas of demographic studies, theoretical investigations reliant on modern and postmodern theoretical axioms, and affective inquiries seeking to understand how audiences responded to early modern drama.
A View of the Field
This study participates in a methodological incentive posited by Jeremy Lopez in his 2008 book Theatrical Convention and Audience Response in Early Modern Drama. Pointing out that the emphasis on audience demographics has become "unnecessarily paralyzing, making it seem as though we cannot talk about the effects of a play on an 'audience' until we understand the exact composition of that audience," Lopez calls for a more capacious model for studying early modern theatergoers. And, in point of fact, most early critical work on early modern theatrical audiences tended to fixate on "Shakespeare's" audiences and approach the topic using a predominantly demographic approach. Among the most influential of these are Alfred Harbage's Shakespeare's Audience (1941), E. K. Chambers's The Elizabethan Stage (1974), Ann Jennalie Cook's The Privileged Playgoers of Shakespeare's England (1981), and Andrew Gurr's Playgoing in Shakespeare's England (2004). Painstakingly stitching together the few scraps of extant evidence about London's theater audiences, these scholars provide us with a relatively comprehensive picture of who might have attended one of Shakespeare's plays at the Globe or one of John Marston's at the Children of Paul's. While their work provides an invaluable snapshot of these audiences of the past, it does not account for the ways that the spectator is as much a cultural idea as a material presence. Recent studies on the early modern audiences, however, attempt to understand and re-create what audiences thought and felt when watching drama (particularly Shakespeare's works). While the desire to unearth and interpret early modern audience response is not new, earlier approaches to this question relied on contemporary theoretical models of spectatorship. Prevalent in the 1990s, this set of inquiries oriented itself toward psychoanalysis and film studies, perspectives that offered alternatives to the dominant practice of demographic historicism. By applying contemporary theories of identification, particularly those derived from Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalysis, these studies sought to elucidate the spectatorial dynamics of the past via ideas produced in and by a more proximate historical era, that of the early and mid-twentieth century. Yet another approach (and the one with the broadest reach, in that such studies began as early as the 1970s and continue into the present moment) looks to historicize audience experiences, viewing practices, and affect. These studies rely on period-specific methods of exploring audience response, ones that offer alternative inroads into and archives for the "who, what, where, and how" of early modern theatergoing that are somewhat less restricted by the limits of demographic data. These include explorations of linguistic (such as puns), representational (such as allegory), and staging (such as the thrust stage) conventions; stage properties; costume; spatial orientation; cognitive structures; embodiment; and affective systems of meaning and exchange. Rather than canvass all of these studies here, I discuss a detailed example of the approaches that attempt to resurrect spectatorial experience with an eye toward clarifying Monster's contribution to early modern audience studies.
Barbara Freedman's Staging the Gaze: Postmodernism, Psychoanalysis, and Shakespearean Comedy (1991) remains one of the most ambitious studies of early modern spectatorial dynamics to date. Working primarily within Lacanian psychoanalytic paradigms and apparatus theory, Freedman also draws on feminism, structuralism, and cultural materialism to flesh out a theory of "Elizabethan spectator consciousness," which she defines as "an epistemological model based upon an observer who stands outside of what she sees in a definite position of mastery over it." According to Freedman, rather than participating in this model of spectatorship, Shakespearean comedy exemplifies the theater's participation and role in the cultivation of a subversive, counterhegemonic gaze, one that works to destabilize the spectating subject's illusion of control by staging blindness and misprision as forms of percipience.
Freedman's contribution to early modern audience studies has been somewhat undervalued, perhaps because of its challenge to historicism, which attained a near-hegemonic methodological dominance in the 1990s. Taking on Stephen Greenblatt's claim that the structures of Renaissance identity render psychoanalysis "marginal or belated" as a heuristic for early modern literary study, Freedman makes a case for psychoanalysis's efficacy via history. Her opening chapter focuses on Italian humanists' distinction "between the eye, which sees, and the mind's eye, which sees that it can never see itself seeing," a distinction she likens to the split subject of psychoanalysis. And, while she uses methodological tools sharpened by film theory, she does not buy into them wholesale; for example, Freedman critiques film theory's overinvestment in the line between live and filmed performance, stating that this binary has obscured the ways in which the theatrical and cinematic gaze might be related.
My study shares Freedman's belief that historical and theoretical inquiry are not mutually exclusive, that so-called "modern" theoretical concepts and lexicons can, when used with care, provide vital access points into productive investigative templates for historically antecedent phenomena. My use of history, however, diverges from Freedman's. While Staging the Gaze tends to engage with history in order to demonstrate historicism's inevitable imbrication with, even reliance on, theory, Freedman's readings of Shakespeare's plays seem far less interested in continuing the negotiation between history and theory than does her initial chapter. This methodological fade-out makes the insightful historical analysis of her first chapter seem as if it appeared only to get the monkey of historicism off her back. In addition, this bifurcated structure also places many of Freedman's insightful readings in the service of a theoretical telos from which she initially takes some pains to distance herself: that psychoanalysis is the most accurate lexicon for expressing and understanding early modern spectatorship.
Freedman's book emerged in a moment in Renaissance studies during which scholars tended to position psychoanalysis and historicism not only as antithetical methodologies but as ones that required defending. Much of the work from this period contains elaborate defenses about how historicism or psychoanalysis constitutes a privileged or superior way of exploring early modern subjectivity, culture, and, most particularly, Shakespeare's plays. Current scholarship in the field tends to move more freely between these and other methodologies. As noted in Carla Mazzio and Douglas Trevor's introduction to Historicism, Psychoanalysis and Early Modern Culture, more recent work demonstrates "less intent on upholding particular models of analysis than on rethinking and recasting their effects, [and] many contemporary critics have come to resist the labels that once accompanied certain sets of topical interests and reading strategies." Mazzio and Trevor's description of this more self-reflexively hybrid critical approach aptly depicts the one on which this study draws. Rather than a defense of historicism or psychoanalysis, Monster understands and engages with these perspectives as dialectically intertwined and mutually constitutive of one another. In addition, as noted earlier, the discursive spectator's history often presents itself as a series of variant iterations, a temporal model in which psychoanalysis is well-versed. Freud understood such recursive phantasms as the principal dynamic that undergirds individual and cultural behaviors and representations; in psychoanalytic theory, the repression of foundational traumas—sexual, generational, ethnic, and national—forms the template from which all identity arises. While this study focuses on a discursive rather than identitarian construct, the process of recursive sedimentation Freud describes as constitutive of individual and collective identity offers an architectural paradigm for understanding the discursive spectator's history.
In addition to privileging psychoanalysis, Freedman also adopts apparatus theory's initial myopic focus on the visual realm of experience. Early proponents of apparatus theory treat film as if it is only visual technology, overlooking the potentially subversive or contradictory effects of sound, including film score, language, ambient noise, and sound effects. While many film scholars have since challenged this bias, there is still a pronounced tendency to talk about cinema as a primarily visual medium. It is a bias Freedman seems to accept, reading Elizabethan entertainment culture as one similarly focused on the visual. While Freedman's study predates those of scholars whose work has fleshed out the sensory environment of the early modern theater, there is ample evidence in the texts with which she works that the theater was an experience in which the ear was at least as important as the eye. Often, theatrical spectatorship was described through sensory synecdoche, as if to suggest that the theater's communicative potency was such that the division between the senses melted away. Rather than limiting my analysis to issues of the gaze, I look at Renaissance spectatorship as an act that up until the seventeenth century tended to be represented as engaging the full palate of the senses.
Mentioned earlier, Jeremy Lopez's study Theatrical Conventions and Audience Response in Early Modern Drama has played a significant role in reinvigorating early modern audience studies. In particular, Lopez's exploration of frequently deployed dramatic conventions as a viable repository for analyzing audience experience opened up new and fertile archival terrain. And, like Freedman's intervention, Lopez wants to think about the productive possibilities offered by "dehistoric[izing] audience response." Rather than doing so in order to propose an alternative theoretical narrative, Lopez argues for creating an alternative history of spectatorship based in "the continuing vitality of a theatrical tradition." Given this claim, it may seem counterintuitive that Lopez's study focuses primarily on once-popular plays that have largely been ignored in studies of early modern drama; he does so, however, in order to move beyond the scholarly tendency to focus on Shakespeare's audiences. His engagement with underexplored plays provides a much-needed corrective to audience studies, a field that has often been pursued in the service of understanding more about Shakespeare (the author, the "man of the theater," the genius) than about audiences.
Lopez's argument that the most vital and productive of repositories for understanding English Renaissance audiences is "the plays they watched" is one with which I largely agree: indeed, this book uses seventeenth-century plays and masques as its primary archival source. However, Lopez's claim that "Elizabethan and Jacobean drama seems to be very sure of the response it wants from its audience at any given moment" often gets conflated with the implied one that what a play or playwright wants to communicate to its audience is what it or he accomplishes. For example, in a reading of the players' scene in Hamlet, Lopez moves immediately from a claim about the scene's (or its author's) intentions to one about the certain achievement of these communicative goals: "Twenty-eight purple lines into his Hecuba-speech in Hamlet, the Player is interrupted by Polonius: 'This is too long' (2.2.456). The audience, having been taught that nothing that Polonius says can be taken seriously, laughs. . . . It is notable that the audience has this kind of laugh at this point because it is prepared for quite the opposite reaction." Lopez might be right in his assumption that the audience would have laughed at this point in Hamlet. However, as he earlier states, we cannot and do not know what early modern spectators thought and felt or how they reacted while watching this scene. While such fluidity is part of Lopez's project of proposing a history traced through theatrical traditions, ones that help create the audiences with which they communicate, the assumption that the spectator any given play wants is the one it gets is problematic. Unwittingly, Lopez resurrects the idea of the passive spectator, an entity that becomes imprinted with whatever message the play (or text or film) wants to send, a bias that undermines his goal of "better understanding the audiences of the English Renaissance."
The tendency to conflate "real" spectators with imagined or projected ones is not unique to Lopez's work; indeed, most studies that seek to theorize the spectator rely on this fallacy to some extent. Certainly, real and theoretical spectators do align at times, and conventions that repeat in a given historical period and extend beyond it suggest a kind of communicative reliability. However, in positing the premise that early modern drama "was extremely self-conscious [and] demanded an equal self-consciousness from its audience as well," Lopez not only avers that the relationship between play (text) and audience is one of predictable cause and effect, but he also enacts his early criticism that much of the work on early modern audience ends up in the service of an author, a play, or drama more generally. In fact, one might say that Lopez is not particularly interested in audiences in Theatrical Convention and Audience Response; rather, they provide the means by which he can posit the importance of noncanonical (and particularly non-Shakespearean) drama. More accurate, however, would be to say that insofar as Lopez is interested in audiences, he is interested in them as a construct—a projection—of early modern theater practitioners and plays and of contemporary scholars: "The audience I imagine in chapter 1 is the audience I imagine Elizabethan and Jacobean dramatists to have imagined, for which the effects I describe would have been most effective." Such "imaginings" suggest another entity, one that Lopez tacitly acknowledges but does not explore: a category of inquiry made up of the projections addressed and created by early modern cultural institutions, including the law, education, the Church, and, of course, the theater. It is precisely this entity to which Monster is devoted.
Most recently, studies such as Tanya Pollard's Drugs and Theater in Early Modern England (2005), Charles Whitney's Early Responses to Renaissance Drama (2006), Matthew Steggle's Laughter and Weeping in Early Modern Theatres (2007), Bruce Smith's Phenomenal Shakespeare (2010), and Allison P. Hobgood's Passionate Playgoing in Early Modern England (2014) have sought to augment our understanding of early modern theater audiences by bringing embodied spectatorship to the table, or, in Smith's words, "projecting ourselves in the historically reconstructed field of perception as far as we are able." Historicizing affective structures that the early modern theater helped shaped and was shaped by, these studies approach this shared aim using somewhat different archives and approaches. To a large degree, however, they share two basic claims: that while we cannot decisively "know" what audiences thought and felt while watching plays, there is more valid evidence about audience response than has been acknowledged, and that early modern audiences played an active and crucial role in shaping the period's drama. Methodologically hybrid and argumentatively bold (particularly in their defense of phenomenological rather than material or strictly historical archives), these interventions provide a response to the often-repeated charge put forth by performance studies scholars: that historicist approaches to early modern drama tend to forget the very thing that makes theater theater—the vital presence of living bodies onstage. This approach's insistence on the significance of (and possibility of accessing) individual and collective processes of reception and response brings a more animate and tangible practice to the field of early modern audience studies.
Despite the valuable insights advanced by these projects, a clear-cut problem persists, one that Hobgood addresses in Passionate Playgoing: "How can we actually know how participants felt during or after a performance of Macbeth in the early seventeenth century" (original italics)? Following Bruce Smith's charge that we take more literally the "stories" early modern subjects, especially playwrights, told about "what was happening in their bodies and brains when they looked, listened, read, and loved," Hobgood claims that "the faultlines between early modern humoral theory, philosophical and medical treatises, pro- and anti-theatrical literature, and drama of the early modern period contain a productive narrative about what it might have felt like to participate in early modern theatergoing." Such fault lines are, no doubt, productive places for excavating early modern spectatorship, but they are still the fault lines between narratives rather than experiences. More significantly, while each of the archives from which Hobgood draws (humoral theory, philosophical and medical treatises, pro- and antitheatrical literature, and drama) are cultural fields that would, certainly, have a modicum of interest in representing spectators' experiences, reportage is by no means their primary aim. Instead, they are complex, multifaceted discursive structures, a fact that Hobgood acknowledges when she states that her study "explores [the experience of] spectatorship by examining, in great part, early modern ideas about emotion." If we imagine plugging in another ineffable, volatile, entangled human experience, such as the trauma of witnessing an accident, and study it via the same cultural structures Hobgood uses for her analysis of spectatorial experience (medical, philosophical, moral, and representational), few, I think, would claim that even a thorough canvassing of these discourses would provide an accurate understanding of traumatic experience. Such study certainly would produce some forms of comprehension—empathic identification, intellectual analysis, historical situatedness—but not actual knowledge of how it felt, something into which Hobgood claims her research can provide genuine insight: "I rethink early modern theater-going—what it felt like to be part of performances in English theater—as an intensely corporeal, highly emotive activity characterized by risky, even outright dangerous bodily transformation" (my italics). However, as Cathy Caruth intuits, most corporeal, highly emotive experience "is not locatable in the . . . original event . . . but rather in the way that its very unassimilated nature . . . returns to haunt the survivor later on."
As this study invests in those hauntings, which often take shape in the form of discursive presences, it may read as antithetical to more embodied and affective hermeneutic approaches. In other words, the discursive spectator may seem too spectral, too exsanguinated, to provide any insight into "real" audiences of the period. And, in one sense, it is. As stated earlier, A Monster with a Thousand Hands is not a study of the phenomenological audiences of early modern England but rather of the culturally constructed figure of the spectator. But despite this perspective, this study does concern real audiences: one of its central claims is that cultural discourses about entertainment spectatorship play a significant (and undertheorized) role in shaping individual and cultural interpretive practice and affective response. As Stephen Purcell has said of contemporary audiences that attend Shakespeare's plays, "Ideas about the nature of Shakespearean spectatorship circulate widely in culture more broadly, and audiences will inevitably arrive at a Shakespearean performance with certain preconceptions about what their role is likely to involve." The sources I draw evidence from are similar to (and often the same as) those used by Whitney and Hobgood, including an admixture of more traditional historicist sources (sermons, antitheatrical treatises, legal and medical documents, and correspondence) and less material ones (such as what Whitney terms "allusions," or references to audiences or their experiences found in various representational genres). But whereas Whitney and Hobgood seek to flesh out what Steven Mullaney has called an "emotional logic" of playgoing in the early modern period, I trace an alternative but intersecting history of how early modern English culture imagines, projects, represents, and circulates ideas about theater spectators and the dynamics of theatrical spectatorship.
The Sense of an Audience: Archives, Modes of Evidence, and Ways of Reading
Almost without exception, scholarship on early modern audiences draws heavily on antitheatricalist writings—one of the richest representational repositories of the Renaissance theatrical spectator. This relatively abundant resource, however, presents several challenges. Like English playwrights, English antitheatricalists display a tendency to "borrow" heavily at the level of polemic and phrasing from one another and from earlier classical and medieval moralists. Jonas Barish, for example, calls a particular section of William Prynne's Histrio-mastix "overflow[ing] with an inky gutter of references to Tertullian, Cyprian, Chrysostom, Augustine and 'sundry' other Fathers." Such redundancy mirrors a concern regarding contemporary scholarship that uses this moralist discourse: since nearly all work done on early modern audiences relies heavily on this archive, it becomes difficult to avoid retreading old ground. It is, therefore, worth taking a moment to clarify the use of antitheatricalist writings in this project. Most obviously, as this study is about spectatorial discourses (rather than spectatorial practice or affect), the parroting of classical and contemporary sources that occurs in antitheatricalist treatises becomes an important piece of evidence rather than an idiosyncracy that requires a disclaimer. That is, such repetition aptly demonstrates the presence and potency of certain discourses about theater spectators (re)circulating in early modern England. That Prynne and other antitheatricalists echo various medieval philosophers (who in turn had cited classical ones) to convey the idea of the vulnerable spectator suggests both that this discourse has a history that precedes the early modern period and that these writers, on some level, relied on these earlier discourses in order to craft their own "take" on the discursive spectator. That Prynne and other antitheatricalists echo one another demonstrates one channel through which ideas about theatrical spectators were circulated and reified. These authorial and cultural redundancies provide opportunity to examine precise patterns of repetition and deviation to better understand the conceptual cynosures around which the early modern discursive spectator tends to orbit.
In addition to moralist discourse against the theater (and the counterdiscourse of protheatrical defenses), I draw upon writings produced by other cultural institutions concerned with early modern theatergoers' behavior (such as the legal apparatus and the Anglican Church) and upon the few examples of spectatorial testimony found in correspondence and personal records. However, insofar as the discursive spectator is concerned, there is no more significant archive than the plays and entertainments written for audiences (and often for specific ones). Rather than provide a survey of early modern plays' references to their audiences, such as is found in appendix 2 of Gurr's Playgoing in Shakespeare's London, I use a selection of plays and court entertainments to explore developments in the discursive spectator that occur over a limited period of about thirty years. Just as the rise of the English professional theater is a gradual process that takes place over more than a century, English writing about the theater and those who watched it was a work in progress. I do not therefore claim that the early modern period had one cohesive version of the discursive spectator. Rather, I begin by identifying several pervasive discourses about theatrical spectatorship in circulation at the end of the sixteenth century and follow them through the first decades of the seventeenth. While the late sixteenth century saw massive changes to London's theatrical landscape, the seventeenth century also saw numerous changes in early modern theatrical culture, albeit more in degree than kind. A proliferation and diversification of playing venues, innovations in staging conventions, and alterations to the theatrical patronage system during this period suggest and promote greater cultural and artistic interest in the spectator. With the reopening of the boys' companies at Paul's and Blackfriars at the turn of the century, the occupation of the Blackfriars by the King's Men in 1608, and the building of the Cockpit Theater in 1616, more variety, both in genre and venue, became available to playgoers. James I's queen, Anna, an avid patron of the arts, ran a court newly devoted to the production of entertainment spectacle. Under her supervision, the court masque developed into a multimedia event featuring dazzling visual effects that were eventually exported onto the public stage. And, while royal patronage was still a significant means of financial support for playing companies, customer revenue became increasingly important to their survival. In other words, the seventeenth century marks an apogee in "the artist's push-pull relationship with his audience." As competition for playgoers became more intense, schemes for attracting audiences diversified. Generic experiments accelerated as playing companies attempted to attract particular "types" of audience. The satiric, bawdy plays featured by the children's companies, for example, targeted a more select audience, or, in more mercenary terms, one that could afford to pay three times as much for admission. Cultivating a more "sophisticated" audience, however, had its drawbacks; one less-desirable epiphenomenon of the satiric trend was audience backlash. Jokes made at the expense of other playing companies, public figures, and even the audience itself "localized the battlefield . . . by turning the device against the playwrights themselves." Finally, as many playwrights began imagining their work as potentially having two lives—on stage and in print—the reader emerges as a significant asymptote to and influence on the theatrical spectator.
My goal in this study is not to canvass all of the ways in which Tudor-Stuart England thought about the large and unwieldy category of spectatorship, even theatrical spectatorship. Therefore, the book takes a suggestive rather than comprehensive approach. Focusing on the final decades of the sixteenth century, Chapter 1 explores the cultural terrain in which the early modern professional theater took root and held. It is, of course, a terrain undergoing seismic shifts, and, as I argue, the rapidity and magnitude of the English commercial theater's rise generate new ideas (and modifications to existing ones) about and language for describing theatergoers. In particular, the word spectator enters the English language during this period, in Sir Philip Sidney's poetic opus The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia. Surveying a variety of texts (sermons, legal documents, treatises, essays, poetry, and drama) that reference or explicitly deliberate on the spectator, I identify three pervasive suppositions circulating during the late sixteenth century: that the interpretive exchange that occurs between the play and the spectator is often understood as a violent, even traumatic, interaction; that spectatorship, as a communal act, produces creative energy that mimics the generative force usually associated with the divine; and that spectatorship is not governed by the sensory binary of audial-visual, but is an experience that activates multiple sense perceptions.
The subsequent chapters take the discourses elucidated in the first and investigate one way in which they progress over the seventeenth century's early decades. Focusing specifically on representations of theatrical spectators found in cultural production designed for entertainment, edification, and pleasure, I demonstrate how certain discursive shifts may be as readily explained by changes in how spectators are linguistically represented and disseminated, particularly by those writing for and about the theater, as by changes in technologies of stagecraft, spectacle, and exhibition. In particular, I focus on subgenres that become cynosures for experiments in form and staging and emerge as highly popular during the early seventeenth century: children's company satire, dramatic romance, and court masque. Chapter 2 explores Francis Beaumont's satire (and notable commercial flop) The Knight of the Burning Pestle. Written for the Blackfriars' boys' company, Knight is often cited as a play before its time—one that prefigured the radical metatheater of Brecht and Beckett. Rather than explore the play as a reliquary of audience response and tastes during the early seventeenth century (or try and pinpoint the reason for its failure), I consider the ways in which Knight engages with the figure of the violent spectator. Instead of dramatizing the widely circulated cultural narrative of the theatergoer who sees acts of violence, sedition, and lust acted out on the stage and becomes indelibly imprinted by them (a transfer demonstrated by an acting out of similar acts in the real world), Knight portrays a revelatory variant of this figure: the spectator who enacts violence on the vehicle of representation itself. I argue that this incarnation of the violent spectator appears on the early seventeenth-century stage as a response to new commercial pressures (both real and perceived), proliferation of venues, and alterations in audience behavior.
Chapter 3 explores the nascent role of the dramatic reader's influence on the discursive spectator. Taking up Lukas Erne's argument that Shakespeare's later works were written for both readers and spectators, I look in detail at two of Shakespeare's dramatic romances that are particularly interested in the figure of the reader: Pericles and Cymbeline. Rather than ask how this double focus affected Shakespeare's writing, however, I focus on how this reimagining of receptive possibilities reinvigorates a particular (and long-standing) tension in the discursive spectator's shape, which is the play between spectating as a communal or individual activity, or both. Specifically, I revisit a (teleological) bias repeated by early modern and modern theorists of audience: that with the approach of modernity and its attendant subjective and technological revolutions, the viewing collective or audience of the early modern period transforms into the "isolated watcher," or spectator. In addition to making the argument that individual and collective models are in play in the early modern period (and throughout history), I look at the ways in which Shakespeare's romances, albeit narratives written for the stage, represent spectatorship as a fundamentally individual act, at least if it is being done well. Both Pericles and Cymbeline attempt to model "proper" spectatorship, a practice often tied to reading in both plays. In doing so, they suggest that spectatorial fashioning is not only desirable but possible, a shaping fantasy that parallels the concomitant introduction of certain textual apparatuses used to influence early modern readers in the early seventeenth century. However, this chapter concludes by suggesting how such disciplinary conventions fail as often as they succeed in shaping spectators and how discursive and material spectators as frequently conflict as align.
I continue studying the discursive spectator as an entity poised between the worlds of page and stage in Chapter 4, which traces changes occurring within the descriptive lexicon of spectatorial processes over a thirty-year period. I revisit the archive of the Jacobean court masque, a site widely identified as a flashpoint for the evolution of a more spectacularized theatrical practice and visually oriented spectator. Critics have tended to focus on Inigo Jones's innovations in set design and lighting as the primary catalyst for this turn. Jones's stagecraft, however, was not exported onto the public stage until the 1630s (and not consistently until the Restoration), while changes in descriptions of viewers and viewing practices are evident in the first decade of the seventeenth century. I argue that Jones's collaborator and artistic rival, Ben Jonson, played the more significant role in generating these discursive changes. The concatenation of Jonson's practical need to find a descriptive lexicon for Jones's stagecraft and his anxiety that the masque's spectacle consistently trumped its poetry generates one of the more profound changes to the seventeenth-century discourse on spectatorship: the representation of looking and listening as separate, even oppositional, interpretive activities.
Jonson spent much of his career seeking his "ideal consumer," and he understood the masque genre, both in its performed and written form, as a potential instrument for inculcating "learning and sharpness" in his audience. The attempt to negotiate between the "understanding" spectator the writer wants and the obtuse one he fears is a dynamic shared with the other plays discussed herein: all imagine the possibility of spectatorial fashioning via disciplinary conventions that promote certain behaviors and interpretive practices while holding up others to ridicule and condemnation. My argument here turns on the premise that these projections play a significant role in shaping how audiences act, think, and respond, which in turn (re)shapes the way dramatists imagine and represent their audiences. The circulatory passages through which these ideas and practices flow is where the discursive spectator lives and breathes, the place where it forms the connective tissue between ideas and anxieties about the spectator and real viewing subjects.
In his treatise on modern theater audiences, Herbert Blau notes that the audience "is always already a deceit, another fantasy of perversion (or perverse fantasy), an obligatory scene in the theater that from its very beginning theater wished it could do without." Whether fantasy or phantasm, the spectator is not merely the witnessing body (or the body witnessing) performance, but an entity that determines the very conditions of theatrical production. If, as Peter Handke writes, "the audience does not yet exist" until it is addressed by a play, I would argue that a play does not, indeed cannot, come into being without first imagining an audience, its audience. Tellingly, the words spectator and spectre are etymological kin: both derive from the Latin root spectāre. Embodied as the "beholder, onlooker, or observer," the spectator also haunts the theater's moral and creative landscape as an "apparition, phantom, or ghost, especially one of a terrifying nature or aspect." Unstable, protean, and capricious, the spectator seems as much eidolon as entity. And yet this shadow presence—this apparition—remains long after the onlookers go home. Writing commendatory verses for colleague John Fletcher's failed play The Faithful Shepherdess, actor Nathan Field gives this phantasm a name and shape: "Then if the monster clapt his thousand hands / And drownd the sceane with his confused cry." Field's refiguring of Plato's metaphor for the crowd—the many-headed monster—offers some insight into what was at stake for those invested in the art and commerce of the early modern theater; less clear is what has been at stake in eliding or ignoring the discursive spectator over centuries of scholarly inquiry into that institution. In the chapters that follow, I trace the discursive spectator's imprint on some of the cultural productions that shaped and were shaped by this figure in order to better understand its influence on those involved in producing the early modern theater, those who attended it, and those who have pursued and continue to pursue it as an object of study.