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Drama and Resistance: Bodies, Goods, and Theatricality in Late Medieval England

Claire Sponsler
Volume: 10
Copyright Date: 1997
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    Drama and Resistance
    Book Description:

    Claire Sponsler explores the intertwined histories of bodily subjectivity, commodity culture, and theatricality in late medieval England. In a fascinating consideration of popular drama in the period from 1350 to 1520, she argues that many types of performances during this time represented cultural evasions of the imposition of disciplinary power. “Lucidly written and powerfully presented, the arguments of Drama and Resistance will have profound impact on future study of medieval performance and will undoubtedly be important as well to medievalists across many disciplines.” --Kathleen Ashley, University of Southern Maine

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8799-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction Bodily Transactions: Performance, Identity, and Commodification
    (pp. xi-xviii)

    This book takes up the question of discipline as it applies to medieval subjects by investigating how commodity culture, discourses of bodily control, and theatricality converged in late medieval England as part of the “disciplining” of individuals. In particular, I consider both the technologies of power that structured the individual and the tactics of consumption that made possible a refiguring of and resistance to power. Although the cultural practices and representations I examine all predate the modern period, both my interest in this topic and my means of exploring it are indebted to the present—to often contentious contemporary debates...

  5. CHAPTER 1 Fashioned Subjectivity and the Regulation of Difference
    (pp. 1-23)

    In August 1976, the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Council, Inc., sued in federal court to reclaim possession of some sixteen thousand acres of tribal land constituting three-quarters of the town of Mashpee, Massachusetts. What was in dispute was not whether the Mashpees had a legal claim to the land, but whether they did indeed constitute a distinct and separate “Indian tribe” and so would be eligible to argue for their rights to land ownership. For several months in 1976, James Clifford, a historian who has made a career of studying and critiquing the discipline of anthropology, attended the Mashpee trial, subsequently...

  6. CHAPTER 2 Counterfeit in Their Array: Cross-Dressing in Robin Hood Performances
    (pp. 24-49)

    Robin Hood is now usually packaged for popular consumption as the quintessentially romantic hero. Living free in the forest with his loyal band of followers, he is construed as a valiant and charming character whose outlaw justice is nobly used to aid the poor and weak while fighting the rich and powerful. Whether bantering playfully with his men, gallantly wooing Maid Marian, or engaging in dashing feats of physical prowess, the modern Robin Hood, made familiar through such venues as Hollywood films and children’s storybooks, is the very picture of charm, selflessness, nobility, and courage. The end product of centuries...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Conduct Books and Good Governance
    (pp. 50-74)

    Social theory asks that we think of conduct as a form of practice centering on the body. As practice, conduct is made up of what Marcel Mauss has called “techniques” of the body—movements, gestures, postures, and other corporeal behaviors. Not only do these bodily techniques vary from person to person, but they also change shape, Mauss argues, “between societies, educations, proprieties and fashions,” carrying different meanings in different local and historical contexts.¹ In this view, conduct is shaped by the society that produces it, as the body is invaded by hierarchies and rules that it enacts in accordance with...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Mischievous Governance: The Unruly Bodies of Morality Plays
    (pp. 75-103)

    Philip Stubbes’s famous attack on playgoing, written in 1583 in the context of increasing suspicion of the theater, complains with special vehemence about the “bawdy, wanton shewes & uncomely gestures” used in plays and interludes.¹ Although some might argue that plays and interludes are as valuable as sermons and teach good examples of behavior, just the opposite is the case, Stubbes contends. These plays in fact encourage idleness, draw people away from sermons and lectures in churches, and lead to lust, whoredom, and uncleanness. Instead of offering good examples, they teach spectators how to “playe the vice,” instructing them in...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Devoted Bodies: Books of Hours and the Self-Consuming Subject
    (pp. 104-135)

    Sometime in the early sixteenth century in what was probably a perfectly ordinary transaction, the Tourotte family of northern France came into possession of a luxurious book of hours. One of their first acts upon acquiring this devotional book was to stamp it with the signs of their ownership, which they did by commissioning two new illuminations of themselves for insertion into the book and by arranging to have two existing illuminations emended.¹ In the first of the new illuminations, the Tourotte family—father and son, mother and daughter—are depicted kneeling in prayer within what looks like a room,...

  10. CHAPTER 6 Violated Bodies: The Spectacle of Suffering in Corpus Christi Pageants
    (pp. 136-160)

    The central body for late medieval England was thecorpus Christi, deployed across a wide range of cultural practices and represented in the ritual of the Eucharist, a rite that took a simple item of daily consumption and turned it into a powerful symbol of the divine.¹ This transformation of bread into flesh, of commodity into body, found dramatic expression in the large-scale urban performances of the fourteenth through sixteenth centuries known as the Corpus Christi pageants.² In and through these pageants conflicting understandings of corporeality and embodiment in relation to the socioeconomic structures of the late medieval town were...

  11. Afterword Domination, Resistance, and the Consumer
    (pp. 161-164)

    How do you know?” is of course the question that haunts all historical and cultural critique, reminding us that historiographical knowledge is a mediated affair, one in which present desires intersect with past representations of at best dimly glimpsed events. To look for moments of resistance within late medieval culture, as I have done, thus inevitably reveals as much about the searcher as it does about the practices found and scrutinized. That said, the processes of control and resistance that I have been arguing can be seen in late medieval England must be acknowledged as inseparable, part of the polyvalency...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 165-204)
  13. Index
    (pp. 205-210)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 211-213)