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London In Early Modern English Drama: Representing The Built Environment

By Author: Mark Gary
Total Articles: 61

The past two decades have seen a growth of interest in early modern London reflected in a number of important studies that seek to read the literary and cultural production of the period against the practices and experiences of urban life. Historians have thrown fresh light on the city's institutions, communities and neighborhoods, and explored the material fabric and changing physical environment of the city in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, permitting a more nuanced understanding of MBT Chapa the conditions of urban culture. Drama in particular evidences the growing cultural significance of London as Darryll Grantley reminds us it was in this cultural moment that theatre 'became an overwhelmingly metropolitan phenomenon'.

As a communal form, and one which is spatially realized and materially located within the urban fabric, it thus provides a rich resource for the examination of attitudes and ideas about the early modern city. The particular aim of Grantley's study is to explore the way in which drama engages with 'the growing and changing consciousness of the built environment and the particular modes of living and self-definition that attaches to it'. In order to achieve this he deploys a broad framework. Extending beyond the focus on late Elizabethan and Jacobean drama of much recent work on early modern London, Grantley organizes his study chronologically, beginning with the Tudor interludes of the earlier sixteenth century, progressing through sections devoted to late Elizabethan and to Jacobean drama and culminating in a final chapter on Caroline drama. There are methodological problems to contend with in such a project. As the author acknowledges 'the built environment of London is rarely an overt topic of the drama, glimpses of it have to be gleaned from individual scenes, characters or narrative situations'. In the pre-commercial theatre, such glimpses are noticeably rare. In the absence of developed London settings Grantley makes productive use of MBT Lami references to urban place names in the early drama, using them to illustrate a latent moral geography in which London occupies a negative pole.

He characterizes the interludes as providing 'an overwhelmingly external view of the city rather than invoking any sense it had of itself. With the coming of the professional theatre in the 1570s, however, a change in focus is discernible as the plays begin to stage for the new urban audiences 'a more concrete reflection of their lives and material concerns'. Where an intimate acquaintance with the city arouses moral suspicion in the interludes, in the plays of the 1580s and 1590s association with London is more favorably represented. As part of this newly positive attitude towards the city, Grantley points to a celebration of both the city's economy and its administration especially as embodied in the figure of the Lord Mayor in the contemporary vogue for historical dramas.

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