Heywood's epic theater.
Although I don't wish to repudiate this productive line of inquiry, I want to suggest that the application of Brechtian principles to early modern drama is considerably more complicated. To locate traces of what we now perceive as Brechtian dramatic techniques in the drama of this period, I want to do more than examine the plays for moments of artistic discontinuity, ideological rupture, and self-conscious theatricality. Instead, I want to think about the positioning of early modern audiences in relation to the drama they witnessed. How were specific groups of spectators affected by these plays? How did theatrical performance interrupt their daily lives, enlisting them in the production of theatrical meaning that resonated with their shared experiences? I will argue that the early modern theater in several important ways resembled what Brecht would later call the "epic" theater, but that we might more easily recognize that theaters contributions to a socially resonant dramatic praxis by looking beyond Shakespeare and the Globe to Thomas Heywood and the Red Bull. Specifically, I want to look at the five-part cycle of plays known as the Ages (c. 1609-13) that draw on classical epic to trace Roman mythical history from the birth of Jupiter to the fall of Troy. (2) Examining the Ages, and the venue at which they were staged, according to Brechtian precepts gives us a new way to appreciate these frequently disparaged plays while marking a significant contrast with Shakespeare's much more acclaimed history plays.
When evaluated according to twentieth-century critical tastes, the Ages didn't measure up to the canonical plays with which they were compared; the action and spectacle that are Heywood's plays' most prominent features pale next to the linguistic density, vivid characterization, and literary merits of Shakespearean drama. (3) Understanding these plays historically, however, we must recognize that their differences have less to do with abstract aesthetic standards and more to do with the different expectations and tastes of the audiences that the two playwrights catered to. According to James Wright's retrospective account in 1699, the Red Bull was "mostly frequented by citizens, and the meaner sort of people," (4) a group perhaps best placated by nostalgic tales, visual effects, and the exploits of larger-than-life classical heroes--audiences who enjoyed nothing but "drums, Trumpets, Battels and Hero's," according to that theater's detractors. (5) Thomas Dekker, writing for the Red Bull in 1612, realized that audiences at this playhouse required a different kind of play, that the playwright's "Worthy friends Muse ... deserve[s] a Theater full of very Muses themselves to be Spectators." (6) Rather than "hearing a play," as Hamlet proposed to the audience at the Globe, the "uncapable multitude" at the Red Bull seemed more interested in seeing the drama, a predisposition satisfied abundantly by the Ages. (7)
Such claims have led to the assumption that playgoers at the Red Bull were largely ignorant and aesthetically unsophisticated, and therefore insignificant in the dramatic history of the period. Richard Rowland usefully reminds us that these claims are probably exaggerated and that the Red Bull hardly had a monopoly on raucous and unruly audience behavior during this period. (8) Even assuming a disparate sociological composition of the audience at the Globe and Red Bull, thinking about the Ages in Brechtian terms allows us to appreciate the latter theaters repertory, acting style, and audience comportment as both an effective dramaturgical strategy and a socially vital form of entertainment. Despite its twentieth-century detractors, the two repertories were both commercially viable throughout the early seventeenth century, suggesting, as Brecht later realized, that there was more than one route to theatrical success. (9) Rehabilitating the Red Bull's reputation, in other words, does not necessitate that we ignore or erase the important differences between this theater and its rivals, but that we recognize and appreciate its unique contribution to the culture of playgoing in early modern London. (10)
In looking at the Ages as epic theater, therefore, I wish to shift emphasis away from the literary merits of the play (qualities inevitably foregrounded in later published editions and critical commentary) to focus on how the theater, for Brecht, is "conditioned by the question of how, when, and for what class it is made use of." (11) I wish to look at what Brecht called the "apparatus" of the theater, the set of organizational principles that allow us to think of dramatic works as the productions of a complex and multifaceted institution that includes not just the playwright and the actors but also its production values, the composition of its audience, and the social, economic, and geographical setting of the theater itself. Unlike the Globe and other Bankside playhouses, the Red Bull was located in the teeming northwest suburb of Clerkenwell. Due to its location, it was poised to draw from a large local population of tradesman and apprentices rather than relying on cross-river traffic from more affluent inner-city dwellers with the time and money to regularly journey across the Thames for an afternoons entertainment. Partly because it catered to these "men in crowded heaps," the Red Bull quickly developed a reputation for "lame blank verse" plays while its actors became known as "terrible tear-throats." (12) This reputation was constructed initially by social elites, and was perpetuated throughout the centuries by literary scholars--individuals who were unable or unwilling to countenance the important appeal of these plays for certain audiences. (13)
The Red Bulls unique demographic is significant when we realize that both Heywood and Brecht, throughout their respective careers, struggled to turn the commercial theater into a vehicle for socially efficacious entertainment that would resonate with a class of playgoers neither ordinarily nor satisfactorily targeted by the purveyors of cultural services. Brecht claimed that the theater must let itself "be carried along by the strongest currents in its society." By this he does not refer to the prevailing social or aesthetic authorities, but rather the working classes who are in greatest need of popular yet meaningful entertainment. Consequently, the theater should move "straight out into the suburbs ... at the disposal of those who live hard and produce much." (14) These playgoers were enjoined to " [follow] the play in a relaxed manner"--both for their own entertainment and so that the drama might "be checked by the audience against its own experience." (15)
Three hundred years earlier, writing for a theater that, not coincidentally, was itself located in a London suburb inhabited predominantly by artisans, Heywood anticipates Brechts claims:
Plays have made the ignorant more apprehensive, taught the unlearned the knowledge of many famous histories, instructed such as cannot read in the discovery of all our English Chronicles.... [Plays] refresh such weary spirits as are tired with labor ... to moderate the cares and heaviness of the mind, that they may return to their trades and faculties with more zeal and earnestness, after some small soft and pleasant retirement. (16)
In the Ages, Heywood specifically addresses an "unlettered" audience, advancing a didactic and humanistic theatrical agenda: "striving to illustrate things not known to all," it is "more then sight / We seek to please." (17) Both writers viewed playgoing as a potentially redemptive, instructive, and transformative form of mass entertainment that could build social solidarity for all auditors, and especially for those that shared a similar economic background, realizing that effectively reaching this group might entail diverging from the dramatic conventions popular with another.
Early modern observers recognized similar cleavages at various London theaters. Turners Dish of Lenten Stuff (1612) distinguishes between drama at several playhouses:
The players of the Bankside The round Globe and the Swan Will teach you idle tricks of love, But the Bull will play the man. (18)
Plays at the Globe and Swan are often about love, Turner claims, implicating such thematic concerns in an "idle" theatrical agenda that offers little of practical utility to the types of playgoers that frequent these Bankside venues. "Idle," of course, is not a neutral term in the theatrical discourse of the period, and antitheatrical polemicists frequently and vociferously contended that the theater promoted idleness, along with its attendant vices. Turner's Dish, however, argues that "idle tricks of love" are not common to all plays, just those performed on the bankside. Performances at the Red Bull, on the other hand, "play the man"--as Heywood put it, they "hath power to new mold the hearts of the spectators and fashion them to the shape of any noble and notable" virtue. (19)
Both Brecht and Heywood saw the key to emancipatory entertainment in a general realignment of the basic forms of theatrical presentation. For Brecht, the problem with the German theater of the early twentieth century (the so-called "Aristotelian" or "bourgeois" theater) went beyond the content of the plays, and included its entire apparatus, designed to privilege a certain type of play that merely absorbs and reflects the values of the dominant elements of society. His quarrel was one between "renovation" and "innovation," between those who sought to alter the theater through the internal substance of the plays presented there and those who would transform the theatrical institutions themselves in their general orientation towards social life. He militates against the tendency of the traditional theater "to fuse" the "various elements" of production (gesamtkunstwerk) into a single and coherent performance designed to generate empathy and catharsis. Instead, Brecht posits a theater that fosters a more active role for its audience by advocating a "radical separation of the elements" where "words, music, and setting become more independent of one another." (20) Accomplishing real innovation required the use of verfremdungseffekten, devices designed precisely to diminish realism, to "prevent the audience from losing itself passively and completely in the character created by the actor." The epic theater therefore forces its spectators to "take decisions" and become consciously critical observers, rather than becoming passive receptors of theatrical sensation. Through these alienation or estrangement effects, Brecht hoped to jar audiences away from the plot of the play, reminding them that they are witnessing a dramatic performance, rather than being immersed in a lifelike representation. (21)
In the plays of Shakespeare and his contemporaries, Brecht noticed a precursor to this epic theater. Staged outdoors during daylight hours, with relatively sparse scenery, some degree of alienation effect is present in all early modern drama staged at public amphitheaters--an effect Brecht attempted to replicate in Mother Courage and Her Children (c. 1941) by using "an even white light" to "[eliminate] any vestige of atmosphere."' (22) The subject matter of Shakespearean drama, especially the histories, also interested Brecht. In Coriolanus, for instance, Brecht applauded a form of realism that dissected the causal complexities in human social relations and explored the contradictions inherent to them. He thought the plebeians' reluctance to take up arms reflects their internal ambivalence about improving their material conditions through revolution, on the one hand, and the risk of losing everything if that struggle were to fail. (23) However, the mechanisms by which this material was presented appealed to Brecht's materialist aesthetics only sporadically, in certain exemplary scenes, and seldom throughout the entire production. Because Shakespearean drama so often centers on the subjective passions of individual characters and the tragic culmination of their actions, its form, for Brecht, was highly conventional and incapable of genuine social transformation. (24) Ultimately, because this kind of drama centers upon its illusionistic virtuosity and the pathos generated by lifelike characters, its historical role is that of "merchandise" that engenders docile actors and audiences "eager to become as wax in the magician's hands." (25)
Unlike the five-act structure of most Renaissance plays that offers "a single inevitable chain of events," the episodic structure of the Ages ensures that the audience is not permitted to comfortably ingest a single narrative thread working toward a satisfying climax and consolidated meaning. (26) Spectators are forced to engage in five often digressive stories--each with its own discrete ending, each only tenuously related to the others. Homer, the prologue or narrator of the episodes in the Ages, persistently disrupts the action, eliminating any suspense by revealing each act's content before it begins--a function remarkably similar to the printed placards that punctuate many of Brecht's plays. Homer also provides a running metatheatrical commentary on the action that recognizes that many spectators might be disgruntled and possibly bored by the production, not completely immersed in the plot as Aristotelian theater demands. "Our last Act comes," Homer says, "which lest it tedious grow, / What is too long in word, accept in show." If one of the five stories fails to impress, possibly the others will, by drawing on different dramatic and narrative techniques designed to stimulate audiences--Homer (and Heywood) are "loath ... to cloy [the audience's] appetites with viands of one taste." (27)
The five episodes contained in each of the Ages are also generically different. Believing "history without humor is a ghastly thing," Brecht thought abruptly oscillating between genres was necessary for a critically aware audience, one capable of grasping the dialectical movement of history, rather than superficially indulging in the emotional catharsis provided by tragedy. (28) Into the largely tragic action of The Silver Age, Heywood inserts a lengthy comic set-piece concerning the cuckolding of Amphitryon by Jupiter, a scene that, through disguise, features "two Soda's ... two Amphitryons"--where the characters, even Socia and Amphitryon, begin to believe "I am not myself" and fall for Jupiter's ruse. (29) By constantly moving between drama and spectacle, realism and farce, Homer and other characters both introduce and parse the various discrete elements of the production lest they bleed together into a continuous whole that limits the audience's critical distance and their awareness of the production as a self-conscious theatrical performance. In this way, the Ages privilege the very lack of unity that so many critics saw as their greatest fault. (30) But unlike Shakespeare's deft blending of Falstaff's humor with more serious themes in 1 Henry IV, the Ages deliberately lack subtlety, and their unstable cast of characters makes empathy difficult for any extended period.
Characters, in fact, are not the focal point of the Ages at all, which rely on an ensemble of different and unfamiliar techniques for their dramatic appeal. In his own statements on theatrical form, Heywood rehearses mimetic theories commonplace during the Renaissance, but with an interesting twist. He declares that drama "is the imitation of life, the glass of custom, and the image of truth," intimating that a mimetic representation is capable of rendering virtue more perspicuous and attainable to its auditors--a familiar enough claim for the moral value of dramatic art. But Heywood also invokes "the glass of custom" as the crucial link between life and truth, implying that the representation must resonate in the first place with that with which the audience is already familiar. Heywood recognized that the "glass of custom" for playgoers at the Red Bull, accustomed to plays like John Day's The Travels of Three English Brothers (1607) and Heywood's Fortune by Land and Sea (c. 1607), was action. Action wasn't only necessary to engage Heywood's intended audience, it was the cornerstone on which all other structural features depended and the element of the production that provided the scope for any subsequent historical education and moral enrichment: "all [other facets] are imperfect without ... action, ... the gloss and beauty of any discourse." (31) He shifts onto the physical apparatus of the theater an important component of a play's broader social function, believing that virtuoso acting goes only so far in engaging and educating an audience.
Brecht too recognized the importance of action. Contrary to the affect advocated by Constantin Stanislavsky, Lee Strasberg, and other proponents of method acting, Brecht argued that "not everything depends on the actor." Instead of relying on an actor's ability to embody characters, he emphasized that the dramatic work should be "shown by the theater as a whole ... [that] unite[s] their various arts for the joint operation." (32) The Brechtian theater does not strive to depict individuals directly or realistically, but instead posits an approach where the actor, through interpretive, fragmented, and oblique examples, presents his character to the audience rather than attempting to become that personage: the epic theater "facilitates a new style of acting" where "the actor would have to find quite a different way of drawing attention" to [the] event he portrays. (33) Instead of revealing the psychology of the character, the actor--predominantly through action and exaggerated gesture--must disclose the gestus, or gist of the character, an act Brecht calls "epic narration." Brecht used the term gestus as a contrast to conventional method acting, to denote a set of techniques where the performers conveyed basic attitudes and ideas, rather than more nuanced concepts and psychological details. Actors "would ... demonstrate the social gest implicit in an action or an event in such a way that its contradictory emotions and motives were situated or 'historicized.'" Brecht encouraged his actors to function as reporters or observers, to "play their character as a stranger" rather than striving to assume their identity. (34)
These competing approaches to acting were just as contested in the Renaissance as they were in the twentieth century. It's only fitting that Hamlet, probably the modern method actor's most coveted role, should draw a firm distinction between "a robustious, periwig-pated fellow" who would "tear [a] passage to tatters, to very rags, to please the groundlings, who for the most part are capable of nothing but inexplicable dumb shows and noise" and a model actor like the Player King who strives "to acquire and beget a temperance that may give it smoothness" (3.2.6-11). (35) Where the melodramatic antics of the former preserve a critical distance between actor and audience, the naturalistic representation of the Player King tries to nullify it. The Player King's ability "to force his soul so to his own conceit" certainly affects Hamlet, who marvels at the player's naturalism--"his visage wann'd, / Tears in his eyes, distraction in's aspect, / A broken voice" (2.2.530-33). For Hamlet, these two opposed forms of acting are also linked to audiences. The groundlings who "are capable of nothing but inexplicable dumbshows and noise" (3.2.11-12)--the kinds of players who allegedly frequented Heywood's plays at the Red Bull--are unable to appreciate the subtlety of the Player King "who pleased not the million [and] t'was caviare to the general" (2.2.418).
Indeed, much of the action in the Ages--much to the chagrin of someone like Hamlet--takes place in dumbshows that offer a striking visual counterpart to lines spoken by the characters. These dumbshows often duplicate narrative material already presented in the dialogue, this time incorporating ostentatious action and spectacle. Perhaps the most memorable scene in The Silver Age features no dialogue, but depicts Hercules "sinking] himself, flashes of fire. The devils appear at every corner of the stage with several fireworks. The judge of hell and the three sisters run over the stage, Hercules after them. Fireworks all over the house" (K2v-K3r). Although visually striking, especially to the tradesmen and apprentices at the Red Bull, these frequent action sequences compel an alternate focus for spectators, drawing their attention away from the narrative presented through the dialogue. In this way, dumbshows in the Ages act as footnotes that interrupt the performance, entertaining spectators by allowing them an omniscient perspective on the events staged rather than becoming intimately involved in the characters' experiences. (36) Spectacle might come at the expense of realism, but drawing attention away from the words of individual characters, as Brecht later understood, allowed audiences to adopt a more distanced, and more beneficial, point of view.
Perhaps in an effort to match the epic subject matter, and much to the frustration of modern readers, Heywood's characters rarely engage in naturalistic or believable dialogue with one another. Instead, they adopt a gestural approach to acting "where the language itself implies and compels the corresponding action," allowing the actor to be simultaneously both "in" and "out" of character. (37) Realizing the absurdity inherent in attempting to generate a realistic depiction of the larger-than-life heroes who populate the Ages, Heywood's epic characters allow audiences to judge them as elements in a fictional performance starkly divorced from the everyday world. Hercules, for instance, tends to describe what he's doing while he's doing it. After being challenged to battle by Achelous, Hercules steps out of character to observe his own circumstances within the theater: "see, I am addressed / With this to thunder on thy captive crest. /I cannot bellow in thy bombast phrase, / Nor deaf these spectators with my brave [exploits], / I cut off words with deeds." (38) Hercules directly engages the audience, disclosing a contradiction between actor and character as he, quite bombastically, denies his ability to "bellow in bombastic phrase." Audiences would no doubt realize that Hercules, at this moment, is precisely not "cut[ing] off words with deeds" as he takes the time to narrate his own actions rather than committing them, as he vows to Achelous.
Throughout the play, Hercules is always depicted with a club--to the extent that the weapon becomes a compulsory prosthesis to denote the man. Despite the fact that this conspicuous stage property is easily visible to anyone in the audience, both Hercules and the other characters constantly (but unnecessarily) refer to it. Nessus redundantly exclaims "That's Hercules I know him by his club" and points to a character who would be hard to miss precisely because of what he's carrying. While attacking the centaurs, Hercules gestures to "my club and arms"--precisely at a point when these implements would be abundantly obvious to everyone watching the play. (39) In repeatedly emphasizing the club, Heywood again draws attention to the play's own theatricality by creating a more emblematic representation of Hercules--a character who becomes a tableau comprised of his fustian language, histrionic gestures, and symbolic club. Audiences are invited to consider Hercules' function in transmitting these classical myths into a much more mundane historical dispensation where epic characters stand out because of their estrangement from reality, not their similarity to any living figure. Rather than trying to make a character like Hercules believable to an early modern audience, Heywood makes it virtually impossible for spectators to identify with him, and thus they are better able to reflect upon historical change and assess the different value systems underwriting the brazen age and their own. Heywood's gestural effects, moreover, differ significantly from their more familiar Shakespearean counterparts where soliloquys and asides seem designed to immerse spectators in the emotional life of the character. And of course repeated mention of Hercules' club euphemistically references his unruly penis, humorously alerting audiences to the serious issue of that character's sexual violence throughout The Brazen Age. (40)
In The Iron Age, Hector continues the gestural acting style begun by Hercules and Jupiter in previous installments, often referring to himself in the third person. Ambushed by Achilles and his Myrmidons, Hector narrates and comments on his own death:
Dishonorable Greek, Hector never dealt On base advantage, or ever lift his sword Over a quaking foe, but as a spoil Unworthy us ... Come you slaves, Before I fall, I'll make some food for graves, That gape to swallow cowards ... All Greece shall know, Blood must run waste in Hector's overthrow. (41)
Hectors dying speech invites audiences to consider the morality of Achilles actions, rather than comfortably accepting them as a consequence of battle or ingesting them as an acknowledged part of an abstract historical record, however emotionally charged.
One spectator, in fact, was so outraged by Achilles' actions that he decided to physically intervene, as Edmund Gayton reports:
One butcher of our nation ... seeing Hector over-powered by Myrmidons, got upon the stage, and with his good baton took over the true Trojans part so stoutly, that he routed the Greeks, and railed upon them loudly for a company of cowardly slaves to assault one man with so much at odds. He struck moreover such an especial acquaintance with Hector, that for a long time Hector could not obtain leave of him to be killed, that the play might go on. (42)
This butcher's reaction might seem laughable, but it attests to a performance that, quite literally (in Brecht's words) "arouses his capacity for action and forces him to take decisions." (43) Demolishing the fourth wall, the butcher was consciously evaluating the Myrmidons' treacherous deeds according to communally held notions of honor and justice, not as an impotent witness to an idle and diversionary entertainment. (44) Rather than prompting an emotional response predicated on an individual identification with a lifelike dramatic character, this production evoked a visceral collective response as the audience no doubt cheered the butcher's antics.
While naturalistic drama relies on an intensely realistic portrayal of its characters to evoke pathos in the audience and immerse them in the production, Brecht sought to counter this passive mode of reception and the docile spectators it allegedly produced by deliberately constructing unstable characters--ones who could not easily or automatically be identified with a single actor. (45) Due to the number of characters present in early modern history plays, doubling roles was a necessity for any successful performance and was a practice common to all theatrical companies. But because this technique detracts from the realistic identification of actor and character, theater historians have sometimes assumed that "doubling was, at best, a necessary evil." (46) Shakespeare's plays, we assume, use this technique as sparingly as possible, and leading actors like Burbage and prominent roles like Hamlet or Richard III were never doubled. But where Shakespearean drama is presumed to treat doubling as an unavoidable nuisance because it is aesthetically displeasing, Heywood's Ages adopt it as a vital component of the theatrical experience. In The Golden Age, even major characters like Saturn, Titan, and Jupiter would have to double, allowing the audience to witness supreme deities in one scene as much more pedestrian figures in others--playfully suspending any illusion of power surrounding these larger-than-life characters. The Fair Maid of the Exchange (1607), a play frequently attributed to Heywood and quite possibly performed at the Red Bull, pursues a more imaginative approach to doubling for comic effect. According to the doubling chart included in the quarto, the actor playing the relatively important character Bernard also portrayed two women and a boy. (47)
Like all plays of the period, the Ages were forced to confront the maddening convention whereby boy actors played female roles. Many plays gloss over this fact by not alluding to it at all, or use disguise to partially obviate the need for the illusion in the first place. (48) No audience, however, no matter how willing to subscribe to theatrical conventions and suspend disbelief, could comfortably imagine the warlike Jupiter as a nymph in Dianas forest. Yet this is precisely the farcical situation staged in the second act of The Golden Age, allowing Heywood to draw attention to the absurdity of this practice. Jupiter thinks that even given his extremely masculine "stature" he might yet "pass for ... a Virago, or a good manly lass." Despite obvious visual evidence to the contrary, he insists that he is "far from [a] man," convincing Diana that he is a woman in order to join her train, and finally hoodwinking Calisto into sleeping with him. (49) The disguised Jupiter wonders to the audience "if they should put me to ... any such gentlewomanlike exercise, how should I excuse my bringing up?"--as if his upbringing, not his masculine appearance, is the greatest barrier to the ruse he's attempting to enact. (50) Throughout the scene, the actors perpetuate the illusion even while their own words and Calisto's complete incredulity on discovering Jupiter's identity alert the audience to the inanity of the situation, confirming that what they are witnessing is unmistakably theater. Along with gestural acting, these and other alienation effects realize a degree of structural autonomy within the dramatic performance and constitute supplementary focal points for the entertainment of the audience, evoking the collective laughter of spectators who delighted in this kind of visual humor even during the weighty events narrated in the play.
Music was also an indispensable component of any Brechtian performance, not because it could be seamlessly introduced into the play to enhance realism, but because it "allows the actor to exhibit certain basic gests on the stage." (51) By gestic music, Brecht has in mind popular forms like the cabaret and the operetta rather than the excessive lyricism of genres like opera where "we see entire rows of human beings transported into a peculiar doped state, wholly passive, sunk without trace." (52) Heywood's Ages not only incorporate music to a greater extent than other history plays of the period but they also use song and dance to punctuate and disrupt the performance, rather than reinforcing the thematic message of the play or intensifying our emotional involvement with its characters. In The Golden Age, a group of satyrs perform for Diana and implore auditors to "come to the forest," valorizing the more wholesome pastoral lifestyle they have adopted in contrast to the courtly intrigue of Jupiter and the other deities. Rather than revel in their show, Diana notes the songs "simpleness" and denies any illusionistic effects of the satyr's dance--"here is no city-craft. / Here's no court flattery," she insists. (53) Rather than allowing spectators to become absorbed in this spectacle, the satyr's song outlines a message independent of the scene in which it appears, one that resonates with the everyday concerns of the audience at the Red Bull rather than the epic heroes who populate the Ages.
A similar pageant, of course, occurs in The Tempest when Ferdinand and Miranda are entertained with an elaborate masque. The effect of Prospero's performance on its spectators, however, is quite different, approaching the trancelike state Brecht thought was induced by opera. Ferdinand is so enchanted by the verisimilitude of the masque performed at Prosperos command, he exclaims
This is a most majestic vision, and Harmonious charmingly. May I be bold To think them spirits? (4.1.117-19)
Confident in his ability to manufacture believable illusions, Prospero answers in the affirmative: "Spirits, which by mine art /I have from their confines called" (4.1.120-21). Heywood's audience at the Red Bull, by contrast, was purposely distanced from this kind of chimerical immersion in the fictive world of a mythical past through music that functioned as a counterpoint to the drama, not an indistinguishable feature of it.
Finally, we might compare the dramaturgical principles guiding various Jacobean plays by examining the structural apparatus that frames the production. Due to the perplexing temporal and geographical distance of their settings, many early modern dramatic works, and especially history plays, rely on a chorus, prologue, or other mechanism to acclimate the audience to the lifeworld of the play. These framing devices inevitably influence the audience's reception of the subsequent action and dialogue. But they also orient the audience to a specific mode of observation. The famous prologue to Shakespeare's Henry V invokes "a kingdom for stage' and "princes to act" in an attempt to figuratively relocate its audience to a number of exotic locations. We are advised that the "warlike Harry" ought to be taken "like himself" and that our "imaginary forces" will allow us to witness a vividly realistic portrayal of historical events onstage. By asking spectators to "piece out our imperfections with your thoughts"--and then enumerating those same imperfections--the chorus invites the audience to physically and mentally enter the fictive space of the play, certainly an enthralling dramatic environment, but one divorced from the basic reality of most playgoers at the Globe (1.0.3-25).
By the beginning of the third act the transformation is complete: the chorus assumes that we "have seen / The well appointed king at Dover pier;" that we "behold / A city on the inconstant billows dancing," and that we have, in fact, left England for France (2.0.3-15). The prologue grants to its spectators substantial imaginative powers that are essential, he claims, to participate meaningfully in the fictional setting and the ethical predicaments presented in that play. But the parameters of this mental engagement are strictly demarcated by the prologue. He tells us exactly where we are and what were supposed to be seeing--even how these things are supposed to make us feel. Despite the entreaty to use our imaginations, the Henry V chorus situates the audience passively, as participants in a singular dramatic vision, even if this requires active cognitive ability and even when the result is a stunningly complex theatrical reenactment of Harry's reign. (54) If we don't become immersed in the world that the chorus conjures, if we don't "eke out [the] performance with [our] mind," he warns, we might not be entertained (3.0.35).
At the Red Bull, on the other hand, the theatrical energy is generated by the audience's realization that they can't possibly intuit stage events in a realistic way, a shift in perspective that seeks to amplify historical and geographical distance rather than erase it. The prologue to The Golden Age does not pretend to transport its auditors to the distant locales where it is set, content instead to narrate the action as a strictly dramatic event. This prologue deliberately displaces the audience from the events portrayed, situating them in the historical present:
Oh! Then further me, You that are in the world's decrepit age, When it is near his universal grave, To sing an old song; and in this Iron Age Show you that state of the first golden world. (55)
The goal of the production (this "old song") is to disclose the contrasting conditions prevailing during various historical epochs so that the audience will seek to emulate the heroic virtue of the "golden age," not as an abstract concept or a remnant of a bygone and forgotten era, but specifically within the context of a radically different cultural setting--the modern "decrepit age."
Homer's commentary is integral to the play's agenda in two senses. I First, his narration organizes the action into discrete episodes and introduces the panoply of mythical personages and their complicated genealogies that might not be familiar to a largely uneducated audience. Homer also consistently structures the action so that the audience will recognize, and even be shocked by, the multiple temporal shifts, and deliberately bring the perspective of a later, "courser metal'd Age ... where men's sins increase" tc the performance of the mythical past. (56) At no time is the audience situated anywhere outside the confines of a cramped and noisy theater on an afternoon in the early seventeenth century; nor are they invited to understand the players as anything but temporary and only partially adequate representations of the personages they portray. As Brecht enjoins: "at no moment must [the actor] go so far as to be wholly transformed into the character played" while the audience must be prevented "from transferring himself to a particular room ... [or] imagining himself to be the invisible eye-witness or eavesdropper of a unique intimate occasion." (57) Unlike the Henry V prologue that invites the audience to transport themselves to foreign locales and become completely engrossed in the historical events onstage, Heywood positions his audience as part of a continually unfolding historical process. Even when Heywood's characters do traverse geographical distances, they do so in the pedestrian attire of everyday life. In stark contrast to Harry's bellicose band of brothers, Hobson in 2 If You Know Not Me "slipped o'er into France, and in my [gown and] slippers." (58)
In noting the similarities between Brecht's theory and Heywood's dramaturgy, I don't wish to suggest that Heywood shared Brecht's overtly socialist politics, nor that he consciously invented the concept of the epic theater. Indeed, such modern political and aesthetic categories are largely anachronistic when applied to early modern London. Nor am I suggesting that Elizabethan and Jacobean drama is automatically or uniformly Brechtian in style or purpose, or that a Brechtian reading is necessarily the most cogent way to approach Shakespeare, Heywood, or any other dramatist of the period. Yet for those wishing to advance political readings of early modern drama or to probe the radical aesthetics deployed in the theater of this era, looking beyond Shakespeare toward drama written by other playwrights and staged at different venues offers rich and sometimes overlooked opportunities to recover the social and political energies latent in these plays and to better appreciate Brecht's own fascination with the drama of this period. To talk about Heywood's as an epic theater allows us to make sense of elements of the Ages that have infuriated traditional critics and have consistently proven difficult for readers, allowing us to grasp how Heywood was attempting to redefine the history play for a specific group of playgoers. Just as Brecht understood his theater in opposition to the prevailing artistic currents of his day in order to serve the working classes, the Ages violate prevailing dramatic conventions to entertain, instruct, and resonate with a similarly downmarket clientele.
University of Texas at Safi Antonio
(1) Jonathan Dollimore, Radical Tragedy: Religion, Ideology, and Power in the Drama of Shakespeare and His Contemporaries (London: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1984), 3. See also Matthew H. Wikander, The Play of Truth and State (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986), 223-40; Charles Edelman, "Shakespeare and the Invention of the Epic Theatre: Working With Brecht," Shakespeare Survey 58 (2005): 130-36.
(2) The plays in the cycle, all written by Thomas Heywood, included The Golden Age (c. 1609), The Silver Age (c. 1610-11), The Brazen Age (c. 1610-12), and the two-part Iron Age (c. 1612-13). This popular quintet inspired at least one spinolf, The Escapes of Jupiter, staged nearly a decade later, possibly to coincide with a revival of the Golden and Silver Age. The epilogue to II Iron Age left ample room for potential future installments. A long tradition of scholarship has suggested that the The Silver Age and The Brazen Age were revivals of 1 and 2 Hercules, staged by the Admiral's Men at the Rose in 1595. See John S. P. Tatlock, "The Siege of Troy in Elizabethan Literature," PMLA 22 (1915): 673-770; Allan Holaday, "Heywood's Troia Britannica and the Ages," Journal of English And Germanic Philology 14 (1946): 430-39; David Mann, "Heywood's Silver Age: A Flight Too Far," Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England 26 (2013): 184-203, 184-89. My interest is not in these plays' provenance, but in their performance at the Red Bull in the seventeenth century. All quotations from early modern texts have silently been modernized.
(3) Indeed, many critics dismissed this cycle altogether, suggesting that, in terms of "quality," the two dramatists aren't really comparable. T. S. Eliot condemned Heywood for lacking "the artist's power to give indefinable unity to the most various material," while, even more curtly, L. C. Knights declared Heywood a "minor nuisance." T. S. Eliot, Elizabethan Essays (London: Faber and Faber, 1934), 107; L. C. Knights, Drama and Society in the Age of Jonson (London: Chatto and Windus, 1937), 256. Always basing their analogies on more renowned dramatists, critics wondered "why Heywood profited so little from his discipleship" of Marlowe, or, alternatively, why a play like The Iron Age, which some believe borrows extensively from Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida, could itself be so poorly executed. See Hallet D. Smith, The Ages.: Five Plays by Thomas Heywood (PhD diss., Yale University, 1934), 16.
(4) James Wright, Historia Histrionica (London, 1699), B3r.
(5) Quoted in Andrew Gurr, Playgoing in Shakespeare's London, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 79.
(6) Thomas Dekker, If It Be Not Good, The Devil Is In It (London: J[ohn] T[rundle], 1612), A3v. Originally written for the Prince's Men at the Fortune (who rejected it), Dekker's play quickly found a home at the Red Bull.
(7) John Webster, The White Devil (London: Nicholas] O[akes], 1612), A2v. In this prologue, Webster also refers to the playgoers at the Red Bull as "ignorant asses" (A2r). According to its author, the play was a dismal failure at the venue around the same time the Ages were first performed-- suggesting that Webster seriously misjudged his audience.
(8) Richard Rowland, "(Gentle)men Behaving Badly: Aggression, Anxiety, and Repertory in the Playhouses of Early Modern London," Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England 25 (2012): 17-41.
(9) The classic discussion of audiences is Alfred Harbage's populist take in Shakespeare's Audience (New York: Columbia University Press, 1941). Anne Jennaline Cook takes the opposite tack in arguing for an audience largely composed of social elites in The Privileged Playgoers of Shakespeare's London (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1981). Neither, however, explores the heterogeneity of audiences according to what playhouse they chose to attend. Andrew Gurr takes a step forward in this line of inquiry in Playgoing in Shakespeare's London, 60-81. For a more extended discussion of the stratified audiences at London's theaters, see Mark Bayer, Theatre, Community, and Civic Engagement in Jacobean London (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2011), 85-115. For a comprehensive documentary history of the Red Bull and its resident actors, see Eva Griffith, A Jacobean Company and Its Playhouse: The Queen's Servants at the Red Bull Theatre (c. 1605-1619) (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013).
(10) For instance, in an attempt to elevate the Red Bulls status in theater history, Griffith suggests that the theater, not unlike London's more upscale venues, attempted to cultivate a more refined clientele. She argues that "the Queens Servants," performing at the Red Bull, "attempted to cater to Anna of Denmark as well as those with whom she was associated, all this while bearing in mind her family's culture, and that of her circle" (110).
(11) Bertolt Brecht, Brecht on Theatre, trans. John Willet (New York: Hill and Wang, 1964), 109. In explaining Brecht's dramaturgy, Walter Benjamin explains that the epic theater "can be more accurately defined in relation to the stage than the play." Understanding Brecht, trans. Anna Bostock (London: New Left Books, 1973), 1.
(12) Quoted in Gurr, Playgoing, 223, 235, 244.
(13) For the origins of the Red Bull's reputation in the seventeenth century, see Mark Bayer, "The Red Bull Playhouse," in The Oxford Handbook of Early Modern Theatre, ed. Richard Dutton (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 228. These disparaging comments proved so enduring that G. E. Bentley repeated the sentiments in a section on "The Reputation of the Red Bull" in his magisterial Jacobean and Caroline Stage, further solidifying its ignominious place in dramatic history for subsequent generations. G. E. Bentley, The Jacobean and Caroline Stage (Oxford: Clarendon, 1941), 6:238.
(14) Brecht on Theatre, 186.
(15) Benjamin, Understanding Brecht, 15-16.
(16) Thomas Heywood, An Apology for Actors (London: Nicholas Oakes, 1612), F3r, F4r.
(17) Heywood, The Brazen Age (London: Nicholas Oakes, 1613), L3v.
(18) William Turner, Turner's Dish of Lenten Stuff (London: J. Wright, 1612), 2. Given the date of this pamphlet's publication, it's likely that the author's comments are based, at least in part, on the Ages, each of which enjoyed long and successful runs at the Red Bull over the years immediately preceding.
(19) Heywood, Apology, B4r.
(20) Brecht on Theatre, 34, 37, 38 (emphasis in original).
(21) Ibid., 37, 91.
(22) Bertold Brecht, Mother Courage and Her Children, trans. John Willet (New York: Penguin, 2007), 96.
(23) Brecht on Theatre, 277. See Dollimore, Radical Tragedy, 63.
(24) Benjamin, Understanding Brecht, 18. Indeed, Shakespeare's plays were so prominent in European theaters in the early twentieth century that they became the traditional standard against which newer, more innovative, plays were judged.
(25) Brecht on Theatre, 36, 39. For a thoughtful discussion of Brecht's ambivalent relation to Shakespeare, see John Rouse, "Shakespeare and Brecht: The Perils and Pleasures of Inheritance, Comparative Drama 17 (1983): 266-80; and Doc Rossi, "Brecht on Shakespeare: A Reevaluation," Comparative Drama 30 (1996): 158-87.
(26) James N. Loehlin argues that the popularity of Brechtian dramaturgy allowed directors to reimagine the discontinuous Henry VI plays as epic theatre in the 1960s. This trilogy nevertheless remained less popular than more holistic histories like Richard II, Richard III, and Henry V. James N. Loehlin, "Brecht and the Rediscovery of Henry VI," in Shakespeare's History Plays: Performance, Translation, and Adaptation in Britain and Abroad, ed. Tom Hoenselaars (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 140.
(27) Heywood, The Brazen Age, I3v, H2r.
(28) Bertolt Brecht, Life of Galileo, ed. Ralph Manheim (New York: Penguin, 1980), 117. Despite the unjust persecution of its title character, Brecht took pains to emphasize that "The Life of Galileo is not a tragedy" (115). On Brechts distaste for tragic catharsis, see W. A. J. Steer, "Brecht's Epic Theatre: Theory and Practice," Modern Language Review 63 (1968): 636-49 (640-41).
(29) Thomas Heywood, The Silver Age (Nicholas Oakes, 1613), E2v, Fir.
(30) See Ellen R. Benton A Plaine and Direct Course': The Unity of Thomas Heywood's Ages," Philological Quarterly 56 (1977), 169-182, 169.
(31) Heywood, Apology, B3v.
(32) Brecht on Theatre, 202.
(33) Ibid., 44. Stanislavsky's technique of "method acting," which directs actors to "transform themselves into their characters" and "to become incarnate in their parts," has become the method by which actors approach their craft, and by which successful productions are judged. Constantin Stanislavsky, Building a Character, trans. Elizabeth Hapgood (New York: Theatre Arts, 1949), 20-28.
(34) Peter Brooker, "Keywords in Brecht's Theory and Practice of Theatre," in The Cambridge Companion to Brecht, ed. Peter Thompson and Glendyr Sacks (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 197.
(35) All quotations from Shakespeare's plays are from The Norton Shakespeare, ed. Stephen Greenblatt et al. (New York: Norton, 1997) and are cited parenthetically in the text.
(36) See Benjamin, Understanding Brecht, 3-4.
(37) R. B. Parker, "Dramaturgy in Shakespeare and Brecht," University of Toronto Quarterly 32 (1963): 229-46, 231.
(38) Heywood, Brazen Age, B3r.
(39) Ibid., B4r-C1r.
(40) This alternate understanding of the club was as common in early modern England as it was in classical antiquity. For instance, Love's Labour's Lost notes that "Cupid's butt-shaft is too hard for Hercules' club" (1.2.156-57).
(41) Thomas Heywood, The Iron Age (London: Nicholas Oakes, 1632), H3v-H4r.
(42) Edmund Gayton, Pleasant Notes Upon Don Quixote (London: William Hunt, 1654), B2r.
(43) Brecht on Theatre, 37.
(44) Brecht himself notes the importance of folk wisdom--"its immutable characteristics, its time-honored traditions, [and] its unconquerable strength" in animating epic theater. Ibid., 108.
(45) In Mother Courage and Her Children (1939), for instance, actors change costume and character onstage so that audiences cannot easily identify with individual characters and develop sentimental feelings towards them.
(46) Alwin Thaler, "'Doubling' in Shakespeare," Times Literary Supplement 13 (1930), 122. For complementary views on the practice of doubling, see William Ringler, Jr., "The Number of Actors in Shakespeare's Early Plays," in The Seventeenth Century Stage, ed. G. E. Bentley (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1968), 110-38; William J. Lawrence, Pre-Restoration Stage Studies (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1927), 43-78.
(47) The Fair Maid of the Exchange (London: Henry Rocket, 1607), A2r.
(48) Shakespeare's plays attempt both of these. A comment on a 1610 production of Othello at Oxford suggests the radical displacement of the actor's identity onto his dramatic character: "Desdemona," writes Henry Jackson, "in her death moved us especially when, as she lay in her bed, with her face alone she implored the pity of the audience." Quoted in Gamini Salgado, ed., Eyewitnesses of Shakespeare (New York: Barnes and Noble, 1975), 30. Despite the fact that Jackson could hardly have failed to notice that he was witnessing a boy actor playing the part of Desdemona, it is "she" who nevertheless dictates the emotional response. Other plays, notably Twelfth Night and As You Like It, have their leading female characters adopt male disguises for the majority of the play.
(49) Thomas Heywood, The Golden Age (London: William Berenger, 1611), E1r-E2v. In the details of this episode, Heywood deviates slightly from Ovid, where Jupiter disguises himself as Diana herself.
(50) Ibid., E1r.
(51) Brecht on Theatre, 87.
(52) Ibid., 89.
(53) Heywood, Golden Age, D3v-D4r. Heywood's Rape of Lucrece (1608) also uses music in innovative ways. See Griffith, A Jacobean Company, 161-70.
(54) Interestingly, the 1600 quarto of Henry V, devoid of the chorus and significantly more episodic than the more familiar Folio, more fully corresponds to what Brecht later outlined as epic theater.
(55) Heywood, Golden Age, B1v.
(56) Ibid., B1r-v; Brazen Age, B1r. It is not just the prologue, Homer, who addresses the audience. Following the second act of The Silver Age, Jupiter offers a sort of benediction, stepping out of character to address the audience: "our act thus ends, we would have all things even, / Smile you on earth whilst we rejoice in heaven" (F2r).
(57) Brecht on Theatre, 188-93.
(58) Thomas Heywood, The Second Part of Queen Elizabeth's Troubles (2 If You Know Not Me, You Know Nobody) (London: Nathaniel Butter, 1606), G2r.
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|Title Annotation:||Thomas Heywood|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Dec 22, 2014|
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