Shakespeare's Two Playhouses: Repertory and Theatre Space at the Globe and the Blackfriars, 1599-1613.
Shakespeare's Two Playhouses is an engaging and thought-provoking book that examines "the dynamic and interactive relationship between repertory and theater space," contending that repertories were powerfully shaped by the playhouses in which companies staged their dramas (9). Drawing on the work of theorists such as Henri Lefebvre, Dustagheer's definition of "space" throughout the book is expansive, as the Globe and Blackfriars theaters are defined not just "as material but also socio-cultural entities and places of the imagination" (3). But that Repertory comes before Theatre Space in the title is apt, because if the book's project is to examine how repertories were shaped by playhouses, its central argument is that after the King's Men reacquired the Blackfriars in 1608, their repertory "both absorbed and emerged from," while also at times challenging or changing, space-specific characteristics of the repertory of the Children of the Queen's Revels, who played at the Blackfriars from 1600 to 1608 under various names (171). Thus, each chapter of this study first contrasts the repertories of the Lord Chamberlain's/King's Men and the Queen's Revels from 1599 to 1608 before showing how, in various post-1608 plays, the King's Men incorporated characteristics of the Queen's Revels' drama as they took over a space that had already "been produced--that is, imaginatively created" by the children's company (171). But the King's Men were also careful to continue to maximize the affordances of the Globe as well, a combinatory appeal Dustagheer terms "performance duality."
The first and strongest chapter reconsiders the well-worn distinction between public and private playhouses, arguing that "private" did not connote simply an indoor and more socially exclusive space, but rather a tradition of "bespoke entertainment for the elite" performed in domestic spaces (39). To link themselves with this upscale tradition, the Queen's Revels consistently staged elite onstage audiences watching performances in aristocratic households. In contrast, Julius Caesar and Coriolanus are read as plays that both legitimize but also acknowledge the dangers of public performance and the new, socially diverse audiences of the outdoor playhouses. The second chapter argues that the Blackfriars' physical location--within a liberty in constant jurisdictional conflict with the City of London--led the Queen's Revels to both represent and subvert London's attempts to control the Blackfriars, an endeavor which included setting plays in the most disreputable parts of the city. This chapter reads The Alchemist as "the King's Men's metafheatrical revenge on the Blackfriars residents" who had prevented the company from playing there in 1596, unsettling them by bringing seedy behavior into the Blackfriars during a distorted version of a private domestic performance and highlighting confusion over the boundaries between city and liberty (92).
Chapter 3 focuses on the visual and aural affordances of both theaters, contending that "the representation of material culture was particularly dominant at the Blackfriars" due to the candlelit lighting conditions and sumptuous decoration of the theater, fashionable dress of the well-heeled playgoers, and precinct's association with fashion and luxury goods (123-24). It argues that the King's Men increased their display of material culture when they took over the indoor theater, but playwrights such as Jonson, Fletcher, and Middleton--who had criticized this materialist sensibility in Queen's Revels plays--likewise brought this critique to their post-1608 King's Men drama. Meanwhile, The Tempest's success at the Blackfriars is attributed to its performance duality, merging the musicality of the Blackfriars with the Globe's louder sound effects and interest in magic. The final chapter takes up the Blackfriars as a location intimately linked with the English Reformation, arguing that the Queen's Revels provided "a discursive space to think through the Reformation and its implications" (141). Fletcher and Shakespeare extended this theatrical legacy into a more overt questioning of the Reformation and powerful destabilization of history, memory, and truth, in Henry VIII, which would have had special resonance at the Blackfriars, the historical site of Henry's divorce proceedings from Katherine of Aragon.
Shakespeare's Two Playhouses is worth reading for its arguments about the evolution of the King's Men's repertory and its broader attention to space's impact on repertory style. It is also a model for productively but cautiously using insights from contemporary performance to illuminate potential early modern performances, and will be an important resource on the Blackfriars for a long time. However, its argument for "a playhouse style, something that is expressed in a body of plays which share similarities not because they were written by the same playwright or for the same company, but because they were written for the same playhouse," while convincing, is not as persuasive as it could have been with more sustained attention to the playtexts in question (172). This book is very good at illuminating new material conditions of production for the drama (the post-1608 King's Men's repertory especially), but does not always use this information to unlock the genuinely new readings of these plays whose potential underlies the study. When it does do this--for example in the first chapter's reading of Julius Caesar, as a play that teaches spectators how to be discerning observers of public political theater as a response to the public playing conditions of the Globe--it is highly compelling. But in that same chapter, Coriolanus does not receive the same amount of attention, and is read as possessing a nascent form of performance duality due to its titular protagonist (who resembles protagonists of the Queen's Revels' late repertory) more than its change in attitude toward public performance relative to Julius Caesar. A greater focus on political theater in Coriolanus would have allowed space-specific insights to bloom into an innovative reading of the play, and would have made a more convincing argument for the importance of the King's Men's incipient absorption of the Queen's Revels' style. Throughout, post-1608 plays such as the The Tempest would similarly have benefited from more detailed close readings.
This study also raises provocative questions about the relationship between authors and companies in the establishment of a repertory style, particularly in the author-centered private theaters. For example, the third chapter argues that in Cynthia's Revels, "Jonson establishes that audiences at the Blackfriars could expect to see" a conspicuous display of material culture (129-30). Yet the first chapter contends that Cynthia's Revels "embodies a tension between the attitudes of company and playwright," assuming a preexisting company stance instead of one Jonson helped create (45). Further, who made up the company that already possessed sensibilities about what the repertory should look like before its first new play was even staged? I ask not to imply that the creation of a company's repertory style was ever simple or straightforward, but rather to suggest that this book makes even more pressing our need to understand how companies' repertory styles developed.
Gratefully, this book has taken a key step in that direction. Shakespeare's Two Playhouses is the rare monograph that would have been improved by an additional thirty pages. That is the virtue of a good book, one that will be important and generative for a long time.
Reviewer: MEGHAN C. ANDREWS
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|Author:||Andrews, Meghan C.|
|Publication:||Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2019|
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