‘Dove-like looks’ and ‘serpents eyes’
Staging visual clues and early modern aspiration
in The senses in early modern England, 1558–1660

This chapter explores conflicting philosophical and early scientific attitudes to visual clues, before examining the moral judgements of seeing in late Elizabethan drama. Examples from late Elizabethan plays show appearance as a practical means of fulfilling courtly aspiration, but also suggest the moral concern surrounding such ambitions. These issues were of personal interest to the ambitious, playgoing young gentlemen of the Inns of Court. Suggesting the irony of such a debate in a medium which itself relies so much upon appearance and deception, the chapter considers the ways in which writers for the 'new technology' of the playhouse were engaged in guiding their audiences both in how to see, and how to interpret the validity of the visual. It concludes with information on Thomas, Lord Cromwell, which stages the existence of evil men unpunished in the world, 'for that they are not reputed evil'.

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