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Ancient Scripts and Modern Experience on the English Stage, 1500-1700

Ancient Scripts and Modern Experience on the English Stage, 1500-1700

Bruce R. Smith
Copyright Date: 1988
Pages: 302
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  • Book Info
    Ancient Scripts and Modern Experience on the English Stage, 1500-1700
    Book Description:

    Unlike the contrast between the sacred and the taboo, the opposition of "comic" and "tragic" is not a way of categorizing experience that we find in cultures all over the world or even at different periods in Western civilization. Though medieval writers and readers distinguished stories with happy endings from stories with unhappy endings, it was not until the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries--fifteen hundred years after Sophocles, Euripides, Plautus, and Terence had last been performed in the theaters of the Roman Empire--that tragedy and comedy regained their ancient importance as ways of giving dramatic coherence to human events. Ancient Scripts and Modern Experience on the English Stage charts that rediscovery, not in the pages of scholars' books, but on the stages of England's schools, colleges, inns of court, and royal court, and finally in the public theaters of sixteenth-and seventeenth-century London.

    In bringing to imaginative life the scripts, eyewitness accounts, and financial records of these productions, Bruce Smith turns to the structuralist models that anthropologists have used to explain how human beings as social creatures organize and systematize experience. He sets in place the critical, physical, and social structures in which sixteenth-and seventeenth-century Englishmen watched productions of classical comedy and classical tragedy. Seen in these three contexts, these productions play out a conflict between classical and medieval ways of understanding and experiencing comedy's interplay between satiric and romantic impulses and tragedy's clash between individuals and society.

    Originally published in 1988.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5939-9
    Subjects: Performing Arts, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-2)
    (pp. 3-11)

    One day in the mid-1480s, students of Pomponius Laetus’s academy mounted a five-foot-high platform in a square in Rome and proceeded to act out Seneca’sHippolytus. It was the first time that a “tragedy” had been publicly performed in well over a thousand years. In that fact Pomponius took pride, not only as a scholar who wanted to revive classical drama but as a Roman citizen who wanted to restore his city to its ancient glory. Remembering the event in print a year or so later, Sulpicius Verulanus pointed out that Rome had not seen an enactment of a tragedy...

  6. I Critical Contexts
    (pp. 12-58)

    Settled comfortably in their Cambridge rooms in the early 1540s, Roger Ascham and his colleagues brought together seven different historical periods, three different civilizations, and two very different ideas about the nature of drama. Homer (eighth century b.c.), Pindar (518–438 b.c.), Sophocles (c. 496–406 b.c.), and Aristophanes (c. 450–c. 385 b.c.) speak for at least three separate periods in Greek civilization; Terence (c. 195–159 b.c.), Virgil (70–19 b.c.), Horace (65–8 b.c.), and Seneca (4 b.c.–a.d. 65), for at least three separate periods in Roman civilization. Seen from the distant perspective of sixteenth-century Englishmen,...

  7. II Spatial Contexts
    (pp. 59-97)

    When john tiptoft, Earl of Worcester, sat down in the 1480s to translate this theatrical anecdote from Cicero’sDe amicitia, he imagined the event taking place, not in one of the vast public theaters of Cicero’s distant Rome, but in one of the makeshift playing places Tiptoft knew firsthand in late-fifteenth-century England. Nowhere in Europe in Tiptoft’s time was there any such thing as a public theater, and so, understandably, he transferred the playing of this “tragedye” ofOrestesto the usual venue for dramatized romance in the Middle Ages, the great hall of a nobleman’s house, a monastery, or...

  8. III Social Contexts
    (pp. 98-133)

    In the end, Livy reports, Scipio Africanus repented that he had allowed “this new fashion” to come about during his consulship. For half a millenium, Roman drama had been acivicevent, in every sense of the word. As a way of marking festival occasions, competitions and plays brought together in one place all strata of Roman society. To try and change that, to give the senators their own plays apart from the commonality, was to challenge the whole society’s self-definition. “So hard a matter it is,” Livy concludes, “to alter an old custome, and make a new order to...

  9. IV Comedy
    (pp. 134-198)

    Cardinal Wolsey’s banquet was just beginning when into the great hall at Hampton Court burst some uninvited guests—a company of shepherds. No wayfarers from the muddy January fields outside, these merrymakers; they claimed to speak no English and asked for a French interpreter. “Havyng understandyng of thys yortryhumphant bankett,” their translator explained to Wolsey, “where was assembled such a nomber of excellent fayer dames [they] cowld do no lesse under the supportacion of yorgrace but to repayer hether to vewe as well ther incomperable beawtie as for to accompany them at Mume chaunce And than After daunce...

  10. V Tragedy
    (pp. 199-264)

    The heroine stood over the cold mangled body of the man she desired, admitted that her love had caused his death, and prepared to free herself from the sexual passion that consumed her still:

    The innocent boy, charged with inchastity,

    Lies dead, untouched by sin, untouched by shame.

    My guilty breast awaits the avenging sword;

    My blood is shed to pay the dues of death

    For one who never sinned.

    And with those words the schoolboy dressed up in a matron’s gown feigned to kill himself, falling down to join his classmate, an “innocent boy” in actual fact, as...

    (pp. 265-272)

    If sulpicius wrote an epilogue for the papal performance of Seneca’sHippolytusin the 1480s, it has not survived. But that’s all one: the revolution in dramatic imagination touched off by Pomponius’s schoolboys has not come to an end. Critics like George Steiner may have announced the “death” of tragedy, the bleak world we have made for ourselves politically, intellectually, and spiritually may seem to preclude comedy, but “tragic” and “comic” remain reference points that we look to still for mapping the world of human experience. We use those terms both to ally ourselves with the past and to distinguish...

  12. INDEX
    (pp. 273-289)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 290-290)