In and Out of the Closet : New Perspectives on Early Modern Closet Drama
Organisation : Sophie LEMERCIER-GODDARD et Aurélie GRIFFIN (Sorbonne Nouvelle)
In early modern England, the phrase ‘closet drama’ has most notably been used to refer to a body of neo-Senecan tragedies often influenced by the works of the French dramatist Robert Garnier, beginning with Mary Sidney Herbert’s Antonius (1592) and ending with Elizabeth Cary’s Tragedy of Mariam (1613). The phrase has also been applied to other plays and theatrical subgenres, in particular pastoral drama, a notable example being Lady Mary Wroth’s Love’s Victory (written around 1619). The closure of the theatres during the Civil War also forced Margaret Cavendish and John Milton to compose plays that were not necessarily designed for public performance, namely Samson Agonistes (1671) and Cavendish’s two volumes of printed plays (1662 ; 1668). Whether a constraint or a choice, the conception of such plays is intrinsically correlated with the political and cultural context in which they were written : closet drama may have enabled authors to voice controversial content while benefiting from the shelter of the private space in which they were produced.
The development of closet drama is sometimes seen as a reaction against the commercial theatres, providing an apparently elitist response to what would be the latter’s crowd-pleasing tendencies. Yet the distinction between closet drama and public theatres may be overrated, as it emphasises their social and aesthetic differences to the point of erasing any potential similarities or communications. Examining the contiguity between closet drama and commercial theatres is all the more important as the sources of closet drama are often derived from Continental theatre, in particular the plays of Robert Garnier, which were performed in public in France. If the specificities of closet drama must not be overlooked, they, in turn, must not obscure any potential dialogue between plays or perhaps even their circulation within Europe. Comparisons could also be drawn between closet drama and another self-consciously elitist genre that pitted itself against public theatres : that of the Masque – at least one author of closet dramas, Samuel Daniel, also wrote successful Masques, and Mary Sidney Herbert’s prominent figure at court probably ensured her attendance to some of them (her niece Mary Wroth also participated in Ben Jonson and Inigo Jones’s Masque of Blackness in 1605). In both cases – though in different ways – women took a more active part than in the commercial theatres, either as performers (though silent ones in the Masque) or as playwrights in closet drama.
Although (or maybe because) they were confidential for long, the renewed critical interest in these plays is attested by new editions that are either published or under way. We would, therefore, like to investigate the challenges closet drama poses to modern editors. Do the characteristically long monologues and soliloquies of closet drama justify its distinction from the wider early modern theatrical corpus, or alternatively prove that this distinction is a later critical construct ?
We welcome contributions on early modern closet drama that will address - but are not limited to - the following topics :
Genre, sources, intertextuality and European drama ;
History of the theatre ; antitheatricality, links to other theatrical forms (court entertainment, pastoral drama, academic drama) ;
Form (rhetorical performance vs bodily performance, argument vs action, sententiae) and themes (Roman history, politics, family, ethics) ;
The representation and/ or questioning of gender in these plays ;
women’s involvement in closet drama ;
Didacticism ; education ; play-reading ;
Publication ; unstaged drama ; censorship ;
From the page to the stage : stageability ; staged readings ; contemporary university drama.
Informations pratiques, lieu, etc.
Contributors are invited to send their abstracts (300 words) together with a short bio to Aurelie GRIFFIN and Sophie LEMERCIER-GODDARDby 30 June. Notifications of acceptance will be sent by 15 July.