To many of their contemporaries, William Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, and Thomas Middleton were little more than artisanal craftsmen, "stage-wrights" who wrote plays for money, to be performed in common playhouses and in a manner often antithetical to what Jonson himself viewed as the higher calling of poetry. In response to the conflicting pressures of censorship and commercialism, Paul Yachnin contends, players and dramatists alike had promulgated the idea of drama's irrelevance, creating a recreational theater that failed to influence its audience in any purposeful way.
In Stage-Wrights Yachnin shows how Shakespeare, Jonson, and Middleton struggled to reclaim not only the importance of their art, but their own social legitimacy as well as through the reshaping of the commercial theater. His bold readings of their works unveil the strategies by which they sought power from their privileged but powerless position on the margins. Adopting a hermeneutical approach, he explores a wide range of historical evidence to describe how English Renaissance drama depicted the world in ways refracted by the interests of the playing companies; throughout, he challenges recent historicist models that have overrated the importance of dramatic productions to society and its institutions of authority.
Paul Yachnin offers a new way of understanding dramatic texts in relation to their social history. In showing how the efforts of three playwrights helped shape the area of discourse we now call "the literary," Stage-Wrights represents both a major rereading of the place of theater in Shakespeare's London and an important clarification of the social context of contemporary criticism.
"Clearly one one of the most important and well-argued treatments of English Renaissance drama to have appeared in recent years."—English Language Notes
"Yachnin's implicit claim here is that Shakespeare, Jonson, and Middleton in effect created the basic institutions of the commercial theater along with the social habitus of the cultural consumer. An important and badly needed contribution to the field of early modern studies."—Michael Bristol, McGill University
"This book has a powerfully persuasive effect, which results from its convincing orderly logic, anticipatory refutation, and infusion of well-balanced good sense. Yachnin offers a refreshing and thoughtful counteractive to both materialist and idealist excesses."—Albion