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This volume considers transnational and intercultural aspects of early modern theatre, drama and performance. Its twelve chapters, loosely cosmographically grouped into West, North and South, compose a complex image of early modern theatre connections as a socially, economically, politically and culturally realised tissue of links, networks, influences and paths of exchange. With particular attention to itinerant performers, court festival, and the significant black, Muslim and Jewish impact, they combine disciplines and methods to place Shakespeare and his contemporaries in the wider context of early performance culture in English, Spanish, French, Dutch, German, Czech and Italian speaking Europe. Their shared methodological approach examines transnational connections by linking abstract notions of wider theatre historical significance to concrete historical facts: archaeological findings, archival records, visual artefacts, and textual evidence. Crucial to the volume is this systematic yoking of theories with surviving historical evidence for the performative event – whether as material object, text, performative routine, theatregrams, rituals, festivities, genres, archival evidence or visual documentation. This approach enables it to explore the infinite variety of early modern performance culture by expanding the discourse, questioning the received canon, and rethinking the national restrictions of conventional maps to reveal a theatre that truly is without borders.

The English Comedy as a transnational style

This chapter analyses the specifics of the English Comedy (Englische Comedie) as a genre practised by the popular travelling English troupes and their inheritors, during the century between the 1580s and 1680s. Most scholarship has assumed that English travelling actors exported English plays, and performed them on the Continent with necessary adjustments. This chapter elaborates a different perspective: the methodological discussion of historical theatre aesthetics presented here analyses the English Comedy in its specificity, born on the Continent from predominantly indigenous material (stories, motifs, symbols), and presented in the innovative theatrical style imported from England. As such, it existed in-between – as a paradoxically local, idiosyncratic amalgam of numerous cultural identities. More specifically, I trace the characteristics of what was known throughout the seventeenth century as the English Comedy, and argue a unique, recognizable, dramaturgical style that was in itself a nexus of transnational influences. Theoretically, the essay evidences and analyses a certain historiographic paradox: the available evidence (mostly of a textual nature) testifies to a rich circulation of material and personnel, while the resulting theatre performances adopt local tastes and, as it were, reiterate local cultural identities.

in Transnational connections in early modern theatre
Sidney’s literary rebirth

Chapter 3 is concerned with the problems involved in reconciling a poet’s life-narrative with the vita activa model and examines the potential causes for the ‘gap’ between Sir Philip Sidney’s public life and his works, which continues to pose a challenge for modern biographers. It considers the two ‘waves’ of responses to Sidney’s death: the elegies published in the immediate aftermath of his death and funeral, which seek to establish him as an exemplary soldier and courtier, and the first portrayals of Sidney as an exemplary poet figure (often referred to as ‘Astrophil’ or ‘Philisides’), following the printing of his works during the 1590s. For the most part, these two categories of life-narrative provided for Sidney remained distinct from each other, and there were few attempts to read his works biographically, beyond an ‘identification’ of Stella as Penelope Rich. Nevertheless, there is one remarkable exception: Edmund Spenser’s ‘Astrophel’, which should be read not as an unsuccessful belated elegy for Sidney but as a response to his rebirth in print and an innovative attempt to bridge the gap between the dead knight and the poet ‘borne in Arcady’.

in English literary afterlives
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Chapter 1 is an overview of written lives of poets during the early modern period and the shapes they take (prefatory lives, compilations of lives etc.). It proposes that the dominance of the idea of vita activa (public service) in Renaissance humanism in existing models of lives posed problems for writing lives of poets as poets. The early modern written lives of Chaucer and Sir Thomas More are used to illustrate this problem. Both were recognised as important English poets during the sixteenth century, yet the biographies of both are almost exclusively concerned with their public lives. The chapter also contrasts two lives that illustrate the developments traced by this book: Thomas Speght’s ‘Life of Chaucer’ (1598) and Gerard Langbaine’s ‘Life of Cowley’ (1691). The former is a carefully structured text that unites typical features of the exemplary life and the prefatory life and demonstrates the dominance of the humanist idea of a vita activa within early modern life narratives. The latter considers Cowley primarily through his works, indirectly revealing the impact of Izaak Walton’s Lives (discussed in Chapter 4).

in English literary afterlives
Greene, Sidney, Donne and the evolution of posthumous fame

English literary afterlives covers the Renaissance treatment of the posthumous literary life. It argues for the emergence of biographical reading practices during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, as early readers attempted to link the literary output of dead authors to their personal lives. Early modern authors’ complex attitudes to print, and their attempts to ‘fashion’ their own careers through their writings, have been well documented. This study, by contrast, explores how authors and their literary reputations after their deaths were fashioned (and sometimes appropriated) by early modern readers, publishers and printers. It examines the use of biographical prefaces in early modern editions, the fictional presentation of historical poets, pseudo-biography, as well as more conventional modes such as elegy and the exemplary life. By analysing responses to a series of major literary figures after their deaths – Geoffrey Chaucer, Philip Sidney, Robert Greene, Edmund Spenser, John Donne and George Herbert – English literary afterlives charts the pre-history of literary biography in the period and presents a counternarrative to established ideas of authorial emergence through self-fashioning. The book is aimed at scholars and students of the individual authors covered (Sidney, Spenser, Greene, Donne and Herbert), as well as readers interested in book history, reception history, authorship and life-writing.

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‘After I am dead and rotten’ – Spenser’s missing afterlife

The interlude on Edmund Spenser’s (lack of) afterlife in print forms a ‘bridge’ between Chapters 3 and 4. Surprisingly, considering the fact that his status as one of the most eminent poets of his time was undisputed, Spenser’s death in 1599 did not prompt many reactions in print, perhaps as a result of his long absence in Ireland. It begins by examining the few known commemorative poems for Spenser by John Weever, Nicholas Breton and Francis Thynne, and then proceeds to chart the emergence of a ‘Life’ of Spenser in the biographical compilations of the seventeenth century, culminating in a prefatory life published with the 1679 edition of his Works (the earlier Lownes editions, which contained the ‘Mutability Cantos’ had lacked a similar preface). Rather than merely checking them for factual errors, however (of which there are plenty), it focuses on the ways in which the different accounts use and adapt anecdotes about Spenser. The interlude argues that while they are very unlikely to be true, those anecdotes have a narrative and structural function within the lives and thus reveal the biographical compilers’ attempts retrospectively to make sense of the life of a poet who had died several decades before.

in English literary afterlives
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The introduction begins by outlining trends in studies of authorial careers and authorship, which, owing to the influence of New Historicism, have mostly focused on the ways in which early modern authors created themselves during their own lifetime. It then provides an overview of milestone publishing events in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (including Tottel’s Miscellany, Jonson’s Workes and the Shakespeare folios) and moves on to argue that authorial careers did not always end with their deaths, as both readers and publishers would retrospectively seek to evaluate an author’s complete works and produce definitive editions. This retrospective view on the works was often accompanied by a desire to put them in a logical-seeming sequence that mirrored the author’s life and to supplement the text with a prefatory life of the author and/or a portrait.

in English literary afterlives

Chapter 2 examines the professionalisation of the publishing industry and the first generation of ‘professional’ poets. It focuses on a peculiar phenomenon of the 1590s, Robert Greene’s death in 1592 and his textual afterlife as a semi-fictionalised professional poet character and cause of the Harvey–Nashe quarrel. Due to his reputation as a ‘hack’ writer, much Greene criticism has focused on literary quality (as well as the apparent insult to Shakespeare in Greenes Groats-worth of Witte), although recently there have been more varied approaches to Greene. This chapter, however, is primarily interested in Greene’s afterlife as a biographical phenomenon. It argues that Greene’s notoriety as a prodigal scholar and a professional – if negatively perceived – poet figure is for the most part a posthumous construct through his appearances as a ghostly character figuring in other people’s works. This involved a gradual fashioning of Greene’s body of works into a suitable life narrative by other figures involved in the professionalisation of the English publishing industry during the 1590s. Vitally, however, this fashioned identity established the possibility of newly close relation between the nature of literary output and personal life.

in English literary afterlives
From Donne to Herbert

This chapter focuses on Izaak Walton and his discovery of a biographical technique that anticipates literary biography, through his uncommon educational background, his experience of the Civil War and his interest in the concept of a ‘private’ life. The chapter examines how in his different versions of the Life of Donne, written over the course of thirty-five years, Walton grew increasingly interested in Donne’s works (especially his poetic works) and attempted to use them in his Life to recover the poet’s own voice or ventriloquise it through paraphrases. Over the course of his revisions to the Life of Donne, Walton developed a new model for writing a Life, which, unlike the vita activa model, was suitable for writing the life of a poet and culminated in Walton’s Life of Herbert, the first life of an English poet as a poet. The chapter argues that Walton’s biographical technique was substantially shaped by his use of literary quotation, which differs from the aphoristic style of quotation more commonly used by his contemporaries. It also proposes that Walton’s innovative approach played an important role in the success of his Lives and proved highly influential for the development of literary biography.

in English literary afterlives
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New Sincerity and the performance of post-Soviet national identities

Chapter 5 analyzes the 2012 play Uzbek, an autobiographical solo-show about the author’s experience as an Uzbek migrant at the age of 19. Untangling the themes of the play, this chapter illustrates how, by artfully playing the space between sincerity and irony, Uzbek draws out the paradoxical nature of official documents in contemporary Russian culture and thereby addresses the precise complexities of the form in which it is performed. In this way, the chapter demonstrates how Russian documentary theatre artists ask their audiences to consider the contradictory status of documents as material testimonies that represent the untrustworthy aspects of official discourse in post-Soviet culture and, simultaneously, as influential arbiters of individual experience.

in Witness onstage