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Spectators, aesthetics and encompletion

This book discusses early modern English drama as a part of visual culture. It concerns the ideas about 'making and unmaking' that Shakespeare and his contemporaries may have known and formulated, and how these ideas relate to the author's own critical assumptions about early modern aesthetic experience. The study of drama as a part of visual culture offers the perfect context for an exploration of pre-modern aesthetic discourse. The book expounds the author's approach to plays as participants in a lively post-Reformation visual culture in the process of 're-formation'. It then focuses on the social meanings of patronage of the visual arts in a discussion of Paulina as patron of Hermione's image in The Winter's Tale. The discussion of The Winter's Tale pivots around the play's troubling investment in patriarchal notions of 'perfection'. The book also explores image-breaking in Robert Greene's Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay. This play presents an instance of onstage iconoclasm in the supernatural destruction of a demonic brazen head, a quasi-magical figure that had been depicted in English literature since at least the twelfth century. In focusing on the portrayal of invisibility in The Two Merry Milkmaids, the book explores early modern preoccupation with processes of visual construction in a play in which there is very little artisanal activity.

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Speaking pictures?

the word was not only privileged over the image, but the visual sense was denigrated in its favor’. 9 Knapp suggests that Protestant hostility cultivated a ‘preoccupation with visual experience in early modern English culture’, ‘even in the absence of a significant tradition in the visual arts’. 10 In focusing on post-Reformation English cultural activity in the ‘absence’ of the visual arts, Knapp

in Making and unmaking in early modern English drama
The ends of incompletion

To make something, it might be assumed, is to aim to produce a finished product. This assumption dominates many critical readings of spectator experiences in the early modern period. Stephen Greenblatt’s seminal analysis of Shakespeare’s Henry V , for example, turns in part on the complicity of the audience in the production of the image of the king

in Making and unmaking in early modern English drama

Michael Baxandall’s pioneering 1972 study, Painting and Experience in Fifteenth-Century Italy. 2 ‘Visual culture’ is a pertinent phrase for use in this study because it implies a breadth of visual reference that includes the diverse range of types of work with which an early modern artisan might be involved. Painters in this period regularly carried out decorative work, and, as Lucy Gent points out

in Making and unmaking in early modern English drama
Open Access (free)
Behind the screen

culture. 38 As our understanding of the development of early modern English visual culture expands, new opportunities to explore the place of visual discourses in the making of aesthetics ideas also emerge. The intertwining of metatheatrical self-reflection with explorations of processes of ‘making’ suggests to me that more needs to be done to understand historicised aesthetic experience in conjunction

in Making and unmaking in early modern English drama
Open Access (free)
Invisibility and erasure in The Two Merry Milkmaids

threatening to social and natural order. In contrast to Gyges, however, Corcut’s experience of being unseen while disguised as a shepherd leads him to a spiritual revelation that would have appealed to an early modern Christian audience. Before he is put to death on his brother’s orders, Corcut reveals: Since my vain flight from fair

in Making and unmaking in early modern English drama
The unknowable image in The Winter’s Tale

idolatrous’. 15 In these readings of the play, the bewildering ambiguities attendant on the image of Hermione are reflective and evocative of the climate of uncertainty that characterised early modern English religious culture. Elsewhere, the ‘unknowability’ of Hermione’s image is a source of ‘wonder’ that has radical implications for spectators’ ontological experience. T. G

in Making and unmaking in early modern English drama
Divine destruction in Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay

If early modern image-makers and spectators did not have a fully formed notion of ‘completeness’, how exactly did they understand works which were defaced, ruined or destroyed? At various points in this book I have considered iconoclasm as a productive mode of interacting with spectacle in which ‘new’ images are produced as a result of image-breaking. Does this

in Making and unmaking in early modern English drama