This essay models a method for unearthing performance traces in texts that seem on the surface to be strictly literary. Centering on Thomas Dekker's The Raven's Almanac, a compilation of stories akin to those in early modern jest books, it analyzes a bawdy tale about a friar and an abbess that reveals deep connections to May games. Festivity constituted a mode of embodied knowledge, a somatic and kinesthetic process that conditioned playgoer responses. This essay demonstrates how examining nondramatic performance, including quotidian, ceremonial, and ritual practices, allows the recovery of ephemeral audience affect. Studying spectators’ emotions is notoriously challenging but can productively complicate concepts such as character and narrative. Moreover, it was through amorphous feelings and sensations that theater actively produced cultural understandings. Expanding the methodological toolkit for investigating performance offers a useful blueprint for researching other ineffable but consequential historical experiences that exceed, by definition, the documentary evidence.
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Research Article| September 01 2021
Erika T. Lin; Festive Friars: Embodied Performance and Audience Affect. Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 1 September 2021; 51 (3): 487–495. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10829636-9295037
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