The Theater as Persecution

Ellen Mackay

in Persecution, Plague, and Fire

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print March 2011 | ISBN: 9780226500195
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226500218 | DOI:
The Theater as Persecution

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  • Literary Studies (1500 to 1800)


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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

Chapter.  10478 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Literary Studies (1500 to 1800)

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