This book focuses on performance construed in the largest sense, as the deployment of a personal style, as imagery of various kinds, and even as books, which in the early modern era often include strongly performative elements. The chapters in the book fall logically into four groups: on personal style and the construction of the self, on drama, on books, and on the visual arts. Personal style is performative in the simple sense that it is expressive and in the more complex sense that it thereby implies that there is something to express. The book takes a broad view of the question of performance through disguise. Disguises in Elizabethan drama are nearly always presumed to be impenetrable, effectively concealing the self, whereas costume is designed to adorn the self, to make the self more strikingly recognizable. The book considers the changing effects of disguise and costume both on concepts of the self and on assumptions about the kind of reality represented by theater. As a practice that makes performance visible as such, theater is characterized by an ongoing reflection on the very norms that make dramatic performance legible and indeed possible. Images are never more performative in and for a culture than when they offer a view onto the differences through which culture is made.
This chapter focuses on a particular kind of evidence, illustrations, and addresses what kind of information they contribute to or encode in books. Illustrations in early modern books serve a wide variety of functions. As in scientific texts, they are essential explanatory devices; but even in these cases pictures are rarely merely explanatory. The repetition of illustrations strikes us as inept, an index to the inadequacies of early printing, though in terms of design it might actually be considered a virtue. That it was at least considered an available visual convention is clear from one of the most extraordinary pieces of early English book illustration, John Heywood's The Spider and the Flie, 1556, with astonishing woodcuts by an unknown artist. Illustrium Imagines has here ceased to be a coin collection, a record of images drawn from the material remains of the past, and has become an iconology, fanciful when necessary.