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Persecution, Plague, and FireFugitive Histories of the Stage in Early Modern England$
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Ellen MacKay

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780226500195

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: February 2013

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226500218.001.0001

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The Theater as Persecution

The Theater as Persecution

(p.23) 1 The Theater as Persecution
Persecution, Plague, and Fire

Ellen Mackay

University of Chicago Press

Against the long tradition of a theater that promises nothing as its best effect, the theater of early modern England subscribes its audience to a very different bargain. Its accidental archive preserves performances whose disappearance leaves a mark. This chapter takes up the English playhouse's signature injury; its gift for “turn[ing]” the “guttes” of the spectator “outward” and “blaz[ing] with colours to the peoples eye” his, or more likely “her secret conveighaunce.” Odd as it sounds, this is a talent the theater is proud of; the quotation comes from Stephen Gosson's paraphrase of a lost scene in Robert Wilson's The Three Ladies of London (1581), in which the allegorical character of Conscience recommends playgoing as a preventative to sin's concealment. To Gosson's great vexation, this gut-spilling ends up furnishing the emerging stage with its most vindicating rationale. This chapter aims to account for the tenacity of this idea, by bringing out what tends to get forgotten in conscience's protheatrical use: the catastrophic alignment with Rome's debauched past.

Keywords:   modern England, playgoing, Stephen Gosson, The Three Ladies of London, audience, conscience, English playhouse

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