This essay explores the early modern stage convention of the discovery space and use of other curtained and costumed spaces to argue that such conventions performed and materialized the experience of abjection, those terrifying reminders of man’s material origins and his destiny. Indeed, analyses of the Kristevan abject have overlooked its inherent performativity, specifically its dependence on both sensory perception and on acts of veiling and unveiling. Thus the theater — specifically the convention of the curtained discovery space as the locus for staging the “obscene” — is the ideal site to explore this jettisoning of materiality, maternal origin, and all reminders of death and decay. In particular, the essay examines moments of the abject’s revelation in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice and Middleton’s Revenger’s Tragedy, contending that the discovery space is one way to embody what cannot be embodied, to enact the unveiling of what can never truly be unveiled.

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