The Influence and Association of Paratext in Caroline Drama

Audrey Birkett

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This thesis is an in-depth analysis of the alliances, reputations, and meanings that were created within the Caroline dramatic community as a result of the playwrights’ meticulous use of paratext. By scrutinizing the paratexts (including prologues and epilogues, commendatory verses, and dedications to patrons and readers) of three different Caroline authors (William Davenant, Richard Brome, and John Ford), I have provided a picture of the divided and conflicting political and social landscapes of the professional theatre during the reign of Charles I. Through the use of such framing material, playwrights situated themselves in coteries that promoted very distinct outlooks on the purpose and place of drama. Within the commercial theatre, the desire to please, as well as shape diverse and complicated audience tastes, was forwarded in both printed and performed ancillary material. Playwrights used paratext to attract a specific audience to their published plays and explain the motives and meanings embedded in these texts. This material, while promoting one set of values, also worked to condemn competing ideals, as authors criticized peers in order to advance their own reputations and their own plays. Paratext was included as a matter of course in the era, to explain the author’s intentions in writing the play and to advertise the author in a specific and bespoke light.
The paratexts that accompanied the plays of Davenant, Brome, and Ford helped shape and expand the reputation each man tried to form for himself. It also conditioned the reading of his plays, both in terms of meaning and message, as well as in how the play reflected the attitudes each held in relation to the theatre, his contemporaries, and his own public image. Davenant, Brome, and Ford had very different ideas on the role of the theatre and drama in society. These ideas were made known in the ancillary material and paratexts that accompanied their performed and printed plays. This thesis looks at how paratext and ancillary material were used in different ways by these men to shape their authorial reputations and temper audience reactions to their plays. It analyses how important and necessary paratext became to these playwrights writing from 1625 to the close of the theatres in 1642. Through these three playwrights, a wider investigation of how paratext was used to situate playwrights in the theatrical and literary communities of the Caroline era emerges.
Original languageEnglish
Award date1 Oct 2011
Publication statusUnpublished - 2011

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