This essay constructs a genealogy for early modern audience studies, showing how this subcategory of scholarship on early modern drama responds to some of the questions raised by early New Historicist criticism. The foundation of audience studies is theater history; its methodology often derives from phenomenology-inflected theater studies, which examines perceptions of experience onstage and off. However, the assumption in New Historicist criticism that early modern drama actively participates in its culture, not merely reflecting the public sphere but actively shaping it, leads naturally to an investigation of the interactions among theater audiences and the various parts of the theater industry. To demonstrate the possibilities of audience studies, this essay includes an analysis of Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher's play Love's Cure; or, The Martial Maid (1647), a comic drama with a cross-dressed brother and sister. The analysis examines the construction of the play and its production history to understand the potential pleasures it offered to early modern spectators. This adds a new dimension to the gender studies that formerly dominated the scholarship on this play. The combination of several factors suggests that it was the element of femininity, both artificial and somewhat exaggerated, in performance, that made watching boy actors in the roles of young maidens so pleasurable for spectators. Among the factors involved are the playwright's decision to foreground the characters' study of appropriate gender performance; the creation of this play for the King's Men, a company whose repertoire frequently featured multiple female characters; and the peculiar acoustics of the Globe, which made alto voices particularly resonant.
Jennifer A. Low; Early Modern Audiences and the Pleasures of Cross-Dressed Characters. Poetics Today 1 December 2014; 35 (4): 561–589. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/03335372-2873494
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