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Metropolitan Tragedy

Metropolitan Tragedy: Genre, Justice, and the City in Early Modern England

Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 248
  • Book Info
    Metropolitan Tragedy
    Book Description:

    Breaking new ground in the study of tragedy, early modern theatre, and literary London,Metropolitan Tragedydemonstrates that early modern tragedy emerged from the juncture of radical changes in London's urban fabric and the city's judicial procedures. Marissa Greenberg argues that plays by Shakespeare, Milton, Massinger, and others rework classical conventions to represent the city as a locus of suffering and loss while they reflect on actual sources of injustice in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century London: structural upheaval, imperial ambition, and political tyranny.

    Drawing on a rich archive of printed and manuscript sources, including numerous images of England's capital, Greenberg reveals the competing ideas about the metropolis that mediated responses to theatrical tragedy. The first study of early modern tragedy as an urban genre,Metropolitan Tragedyadvances our understanding of the intersections between genre and history.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-1771-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Performing Arts, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Note on Texts
    (pp. xv-2)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 3-20)

    Early modern English dramatist, pamphleteer, and pageant writer Thomas Heywood consistently and enthusiastically dubbed London ametropolis. InAn Apology for Actors(1612) Heywood argues that play-houses and “the Citty Actors” are as essential to London’s metropolitan status as they were to the ancient “Metropolis” of Rome, “a place whither all the nations knowne vnder the Sunne, resorted.”¹ Heywood’s mayoral pageants celebrate London as a “Metropolis” whose distinctions in culture, history, commerce, and religion render it superior to both ancient and contemporary cities.² InA Challenge for Beauty(1636) comparison remains Heywood’s strategy of choice for praising England’s capital. Through...

  7. Chapter One Topography, Murder, and Early Modern Domestic Tragedy
    (pp. 21-46)

    Amidst the outpouring of scholarship on representations of early modern London in various genres, the city’s importance to theatrical tragedy has gone largely overlooked.¹ This is striking not least because in the late sixteenth century, at the same time as city comedies and mayoral inaugurations registered commercial and political changes in England’s capital, domestic tragedy and revenge tragedy explored the judicial implications of London’s emergence as a metropolis. In the next chapter I examine how Elizabethan and Jacobean revenge tragedy, like civic pageantry, takes the ancientpolisas a point of reference and organizes the relationship of the city to...

  8. Chapter Two Translatio Metropolitae and Early English Revenge Tragedy
    (pp. 47-75)

    Ancient tragedy, according to classicist Simon Goldhill, functions as “a machine to turn epic myth into the myths of thepolis.”¹ Goldhill’s myth-making machine found an outlet in the revival of ancient tragedy on the early modern English stage. The resurgence of revenge tragedy in England coincided with the heyday of domestic tragedy. As we saw in the previous chapter, although domestic tragedy deploys allegory in a manner reminiscent of epic romance, it privileges the innovative theatrical idioms in its London fantasy. By contrast, revenge tragedy brings epic myth into the service of England’s imperial ambitions. In particular, it reflects...

  9. Chapter Three Tyrant Tragedy and the Tyranny of Tragedy in Stuart London
    (pp. 76-107)

    In the tragedies of tyrants of Stuart England, vengeance becomes increasingly a public rather than a private undertaking. As in the revenge tragedies of earlier decades, personal affront, rape, and murder continue to inspire retributive violence; but in tyrant tragedies, violators are often heads of state, and avengers claim to pursue justice on behalf of an injured populace. To the extent that these plays represent abuses of royal authority, it makes sense that their setting shifts largely to the court. In stately halls and palace bedrooms, tyrants rule by whim and will rather than by law and consent, producing the...

  10. Chapter Four Noise, the Great Fire, and Milton’s Samson Agonistes
    (pp. 108-138)

    In the epistle “Of that sort of Dramatic Poem which is call’d Tragedy,” John Milton introducesSamson Agonistesin terms of “Tragedy, as it was antiently compos’d.”¹ For Milton this means tragedy as theorized and practised by the ancient Greeks. He cites Aristotle’s catharsis clause, albeit in an interpretive paraphrase informed by contemporary translations of thePoetics, and names Æschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides as “the best rule to all who endeavour to write Tragedy” (66, 68). What I find striking about this list of classical influences is its neat division along methodological and metropolitan lines. On the one hand, Milton’s...

  11. Postscript
    (pp. 139-144)

    Metropolitan tragedy – even when seemingly “about” sixteenth- and seventeenth-century London – often speaks to urban experiences that exceed its own temporality. In the classical sources and Christian cosmopolitanism ofSamson Agonistes, for example, we find a desire to write to metropolises other than London circa 1666. Yet Milton’s dramatic poem is far from unique: tragedy as an urban genre, in any given time period but especially the early modern, is marked by a tendency to inscribe itself within an extended history of form. In this postscript I focus on the Royal Shakespeare Company’s 2002–3 production of Philip Massinger’s...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 145-182)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 183-214)
  14. Index
    (pp. 215-231)