Closet tragedy
Fulke Greville’s Mustapha
in The genres of Renaissance tragedy
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This chapter gives an overview of the development of closet tragedy in early modern England and its place in relation to the tragic genre. Rather than dramatising incidents, closet drama emphasises the reactions of the characters and the form often features lengthy rhetorical speeches abounding in devices such as apostrophe and stichomythia, along with a chorus. Although the form has often been dismissed as a rather inept protest movement against the perceived aesthetic lapses of the popular theatre, this chapter shows that the extent of this schism between the two forms has been exaggerated and that closet drama was fertile ground for generic experiments. Fulke Greville’s Mustapha, the first in a projected trilogy of political dramas, departs from the prevailing tradition in closet drama for dramatising episodes from ancient Roman history, focusing instead upon a sequence of events from the recent history of the Ottoman Empire, involving the sultan, Suleiman the Magnificent, and thus sharing common ground with the so-called Turk plays which were enjoying considerable popularity in the commercial theatres. Greville’s play raises questions about the nature of tragic heroism and explores the opportunities and limitations of tragedy as a locus for political comment and generic experiments.

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