Degree Granting Department
Sara Munson Deats, Ph.D.
National mythology, Antitheatrical prejudice, Metatheater, Performativity, Barish
Shakespeare uses metadrama as a rhetorical vehicle for responding to antitheatricalism; realistic drama and staged theatricality therefore coexist in his plays. The cultural context of the early modern era, especially its antitheatrical rhetoric and the predominance of theatricality throughout the structures of its society, illumines the interaction of metadrama and antitheatricality Shakespeare's plays, particularly Troilus and Cressida and King Lear. By failing to consider adequately the unique nature of the emergence of early modern theater and the equally distinct reaction to its popularity, previous scholarship considering antitheatricality has exhibited essentialism and a universalizing tendency similar to that of the antitheatricalists.
The paucity of specifically protheatrical response in prose to the immense antitheatrical work of polemicists such as William Prynne and to antitheatrical tracts and publications signals the presence of protheatrical response within the literature of the stage: its plays. Metadramatic critics have noted that metadrama provides a subtle means of establishing a connection between actors and their audience and that it serves as a means of interrogating various deployments of theatrical power and the motives implied by its use. Troilus and Cressida celebrates, interrogates, and reproves the theater, engaging the proponents and detractors of the theater through depictions of Ulysses and Pandarus as effective and ineffective interior directors, respectively.
Ulysses's militaristic drive toward victory at all costs demonstrates his affinity to the figure of the stage Machiavel, while his seemingly inexplicable hostility toward Achilles similarly marks his connection to the figure of the Vice. Pandarus's relation to theatricality highlights the negative associations of theater and prostitution apparent in the works of the antitheatricalists. His self-delusory propensity to motivate others to actions to which they are already predisposed mocks and calls into question the assertion that theater exerts motivational power over its audience. Literary critics considering King Lear observe that identity loss underpins the tragic process apparent in the plays' protagonists. Depictions of staged theatrical ability and inability and positive depictions of antitheatrical Puritanism pervade King Lear.
The deployment of theatricality in the play both emphasizes its creative and soteriological function and embodies the harmful potential of dramaturgical art.
Scholar Commons Citation
Willcox, Douglas R., "Metadrama and antitheatricality in Shakespeare's King Lear and Troilus and Cressida" (2008). Graduate Theses and Dissertations.