Past event

English Research Seminar -- Professor Nigel Smith (Princeton University) Transnational Early Modern Drama: Violence, Emotion and Political Theatre

Early modern ‘transnational' drama cannot be understood as the interaction of any two literary traditions, each belonging respectively to the vernacular expression and culture of a given state. It is properly understood as the coming together of several traditions, texts, properties, and players from different places, whether the plays themselves, or other kinds of acting, were being performed only in one place or region or rendered by traveling companies that crossed borders. Neither were such companies wholly made up of personnel from one country, but over time incorporated players from different places just as they filtered and refined plays and performance customs from different places. This complex field of transnational activity was set within the broader context of global geopolitical realities in the early modern world, from the persistence of Asian and African empires and the rise of west European nation states and their colonial/imperial global rivalry with each other to the impact of contact between these places, not least the rapid transit or migration of people to places very far from their countries of birth.

This lecture will investigate the evolving political role of tragedy in the traveling theatre companies of northern Europe and in the context of the changing nature of urban, religious, court and academic drama at this time. I'm interested in the persistence of violent spectacle in plays and performances despite ethical and aesthetic objection in drama criticism and theory, and the role of traveling theatre in transmitting political thought (such as ideas of sovereignty and the relationship between resistance and revenge) as well as international news. This history can be projected on a global plane, as drama in, for instance, north Africa, Sri Lanka, China, and Japan, commented upon arriving Europeans and was transformed by this context, in addition to instances of theatre as a colonial and religious instrument of control and/or conversion. Is comedy as opposed to tragedy a more responsive vehicle for registering the profound global changes of this era?

My theatrical examples largely come from the Netherlands, England, the German-speaking world, and Portugal, but with some outreach to Spanish, French and Italian contexts, and the global dimensions of all these places. I'm strongly in favour of the use of digital technology in the humanities and welcome insights into how it might be used in the future study of the transnational (drama and theatre) field, and as it addresses the content of this lecture.