Reading Metatheatre: Special issue, Metatheatre and Early Modern Drama, ed. Sarah Dustagheer and Harry Newman

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How did the early moderns read metatheatre? This article challenges the conception that metatheatre can only be realized and experienced through theatrical performance. It offers a new methodological framework and body of evidence for the analysis of metatheatre in early modern drama by addressing the importance of the materiality of the text to ideas about theatrical self-reflexivity. Focusing on “paratexts” to a range of plays printed in England in the early seventeenth century, including character lists, errata lists and manuscript marginalia, I investigate implied and actual readers’ responses to the self-reflexive qualities of playbooks, whether or not those qualities are intentional. In doing so, I argue that early modern printed playbooks prompted “performative” reading practices through which readers actively reflected on the relationship between the real- and play-worlds, and enacted their own roles in the production of metatheatre. While Stephen Purcell proposes in this special issue that metatheatre is a “game that … can be played only in [theatrical] performance”, I contend that certain forms of metatheatre are accessible through—and sometimes even dependent on—the inter-play between different agents of meaning-making (dramatists, stationers and readers) on the “paper stage” of the printed book. More broadly, the article demonstrates the need for metatheatre to be re-assessed from the perspective of book history and textual studies as well as theater history and performance studies, with particular attention to the intersections between theatrical culture and print culture.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)89-110
Number of pages22
JournalShakespeare Bulletin
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 24 Mar 2018

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