Join the Early Modern Working Group on Friday, March 18, to hear Professor William N. West (Northwestern University) discuss Common Understandings, Poetic Confusion: Playhouses & Playgoers in Elizabethan England (University of Chicago Press, 2021). To register, please contact Michael Tingley.
From the publisher:
What if going to a play in Elizabethan England was more like attending a football match than a Broadway show—or playing in one? In Common Understandings, Poetic Confusion, William N. West proposes a new account of the kind of participatory entertainment expected by the actors and the audience during the careers of Shakespeare and his contemporaries. West finds surprising descriptions of these theatrical experiences in the figurative language of early modern players and playgoers—including understanding, confusion, occupation, eating, and fighting. Such words and ways of speaking are still in use today, but their earlier meanings, like that of theater itself, are subtly, importantly different from our own. Playing was not confined to the actors on the stage but filled the playhouse, embracing audiences and performers in collaborative experiences that did not belong to any one alone but to the assembled, various crowd. What emerged in playing was a kind of thinking and feeling distributed across persons and times that were otherwise distinct. Thrown apples, smashed bottles of beer, and lumbering bears—these and more gave verbal shape to the physical interactions between players and playgoers, creating circuits of exchange, production, and consumption.
William N. West is Professor of English, comparative literary studies, and classics at Northwestern University. He is the author of As If: Essays in "As You Like It" (Punctum Books, 2016) and Theatres and Encyclopedias in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge UP, 2006). He also edits the journal Renaissance Drama.