Theatre History at PNRS 2017

Dear readers,

I’m thrilled to say that my panel session, “Theatre History Beyond Borders,” will be part of the upcoming conference of the Pacific Northwest Renaissance Society in Portland this October! The theme of the conference is timely, “Renaissance Border Crossings: Documented and Undocumented,” to which I am excited to see how keynote Daniel Vitkus responds. Below you’ll find our complete panel rationale and paper abstracts from my lovely colleagues, Misha Teramura (Reed College) and John Kuhn (SUNY-Binghamton).

A sixteenth-century engraving envisioning Domitian’s naumachia (staged sea battle) within the Colosseum, c. 85 AD.

Theatre History Beyond Borders

Until recently, the study of English Renaissance Theatre History has been primarily concerned with the accrual of original documents attesting to the lives of playtexts in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century England. In the last decade, however, the traditional boundaries of the field have been challenged as new and newly expanding methodologies have changed the ways we read and organize the archives of Theatre History, while new primary evidence has allowed scholars to reconsider the English theatre industry in an international context. The purpose of this panel is to explore the ways that these recent approaches traverse the traditional borders of English Renaissance Theatre History, both national and methodological. How do these cross-pollinations enrich or inhibit our ability to understand the Renaissance theatre industry and to interpret the complex lives of individual plays? What paradigms are now made available by these new resources, archives, and ways of reading the hitherto peripheral?

Each panelist will begin with a familiar element of the Renaissance theatre industry and demonstrate how crossing familiar disciplinary boundaries can invite new approaches and provoke new questions. Elizabeth E. Tavares will draw on analytical tools and concepts from museum studies to reassess acting companies’ repertory schedules as products of curation. Misha Teramura will consider how two resonating performance events around the year 1600 shed light on the international networks of English theatrical performance. John M. Kuhn will consider how the material turn in indigenous studies can inform our understanding of the political work that props did on the Restoration stage. In these focused, fifteen- to twenty-minute papers, panelists will demonstrate how these methods illuminate our understanding of the history and historiography of English Renaissance theatre beyond borders national and disciplinary.

Dryden’s Hammock:
Indigenous Studies and English Theatre History

John M. Kuhn
Assistant Professor of English, SUNY-Binghamton University

Abstract: In recent years, both the “new theater history” and indigenous studies have urged scholars, for different reasons, to turn from the textual to the material. This paper shows how these methodologies might productively inform one another through a case study of John Dryden’s Mesoamerican blockbusters The Indian Queen (1664) and its sequel The Indian Emperor (1665). Dryden’s The Indian Queen advertised itself as a radical break from the drama that had preceded it, claiming that it brought to the theater “shows…that never yet were seen.” This essay interrogates Dryden’s claim of novelty by tracing the material sources of the many objects that circulate through these two plays, from hammocks to expensive backdrops depicting a “Temple of the Sun” and an “Indian Cave” to elaborate imported feather headdresses. I argue for a reconsideration of Dryden’s Mesoamerican plays—and, by extension, the genre of heroic tragedy to which they gave rise—as a site in which a complex pastiche of visual technologies were drawn together, technologies that emanated in equal parts from robust indigenous craft traditions of rope- and feather-work, and from domestic traditions of scenic design and staging in the public theaters of pre-war England. I argue that the insights of indigenous studies allow us to re-politicize the often positivist tendencies of Theater History, while English Theater History provides us a new site through which to tell stories about indigenous agency and the afterlives of indigenous aesthetics in the early modern world.

Bio: John Kuhn is Assistant Professor of English at SUNY-Binghamton, where he teaches and writes about the literature and history of 17th-century England and the Atlantic world. His main scholarly interests are in Renaissance and Restoration theater and performance, the history of comparative religious study, and the links between the disciplines of colonial ethnography and antiquarianism in the early modern period. Secondary interests include Atlantic studies (particularly the question of how indigenous studies might allow us to reframe Renaissance literature), local and social history, early modern apocalypticism, and the poetry of George Herbert. His articles have appeared in or are forthcoming from English Literary Renaissance and Early Theater, as well as the edited volume Prophecy and Eschatology in the Atlantic World, 1500–1700. He is currently at work on a monograph about theatrical spectacle and comparative religion in early modern England, as well as decidedly miscellaneous articles about the vexed, transcultural, transatlantic history of the hammock; the transnational circulation of George Herbert’s apocalyptic poetry; the trope of sudden death by narratively-convenient broken heart in Jacobean drama; and the staging and ethical functions of corpse-piles in domestic tragedy. B.A., English, University of Kansas (2008); Ph.D., English, Columbia (2016).

Strange’s Levant:
Museum Studies and English Theatre History

Elizabeth E. Tavares
Assistant Professor of Arts and Humanities, Pacific University

Abstract: One methodological grafting useful to the development of theatre history praxis, especially for the Elizabethan period, is that of museum studies. A field concerned with the social and political forces that emanate from as well as structure the exhibition of art, Museology depends on a vocabulary of curation: the selection and arrangement of discrete, pre-existing art objects or aesthetic experiences by means of collective subjectivity. Following the work of visual practitioner-scholars Hans Ulrich Obrist, Paul O’Neill, and Terry Smith, I argue that curation is a hermeneutic equipped to account for the two unique aspects of the repertory system (which structured the Elizabethan theatre industry): the collective process of selecting, purchasing, revising, and mounting plays; and the uneven and gradual accrual of the plays a company came to own and was associated with over time. By tracing the development of the Lord Strange’s Men’s explicit investment in narratives featuring Mediterranean, North African, and Mongolian tyrants throughout the 1580s, I will demonstrate how, by attending to selection and arrangement as creative acts, critics might make sense of repertory schedules (which, insofar as the scholarship has hitherto acknowledged, exhibit no discernible thematic pattern or economic logic). I will conclude by considering how our approach to, in particular, theatre companies as discrete archives might evolve when employing this transdisciplinary paradigm.

Bio: Elizabeth Tavares is Assistant Professor of Arts and Humanities at Pacific University. Specializing in Shakespeare and Tudor drama, her research foci include playing companies, theatre history and performance. Tavares’ scholarship and reviews have appeared in or are forthcoming from Shakespeare Bulletin, Shakespeare Studies, The Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism, The Journal of the Wooden O Symposium, and Notes & Queries, among others. She has also contributed to numerous theatre blogs, Digital Humanities projects, and edited collections in Television Studies. Tavares currently serves as Scholar-in-Residence with the Original Practice Shakespeare Festival, as well as senior drama editor for the literary magazine, Silk Road Review. B.A., English and History, DePaul University (2009); Ph.D., English, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (2016): www.elizabethetavares.com.

Vere’s Players:
English Theatre History Beyond England

Misha Teramura
Assistant Professor of English and Humanities, Reed College

Abstract: While scholarship has traditionally approached English Renaissance theatre within a national framework, the industry itself was an international affair. London companies performed plays that reenacted news from abroad for local audiences while English actors toured not just within England but also across continental Europe. This paper considers a pair of events that reflect these two international faces of the English theatre industry. In 1599, the now-lost play The Overthrow of Turnhout, performed in London by an unknown troupe, dramatized Sir Francis Vere’s recent victory against the Spanish in a battle of the Dutch Revolt. Not long after, the earl of Northumberland was touring the military camps of Holland and attended a performance by “Sir Francis Vere’s players,” a company about which nothing else is known. Who were these players, and what was the connection between these two events? What documents, materials, and people crossed borders to make these two events possible? In attempting to answer these questions, my paper argues that to confront the English theatre industry’s international affiliations also entails rethinking our assumptions about the roles of acting companies, patronage, and service.

Bio: Misha Teramura is Assistant Professor of English and Humanities at Reed College. His work focuses on early modern English theater, with a particular emphasis on Shakespeare’s sources. His book-in-progress revisits Shakespeare’s use of Geoffrey Chaucer as a way to complicate recent assessments of Shakespeare as a “literary dramatist.” His other work has appeared in Shakespeare Quarterly, English Literary Renaissance, Review of English Studies, Early Theatre, The Chaucer Review, and Notes & Queries, and covers such topics as the lost plays of the English Renaissance, Elizabethan espionage, early modern theories of friendship, and the ownership of Chaucer folios in colonial North America. B.A., English and History, University of Toronto (2010); Ph.D., English, Harvard University (2016): www.mishateramura.com.

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