We need a change in point of view, which will come in time, but we might as well make a beginning.—Hardin Craig, “Research Opportunities in Renaissance Drama (Exclusive of Shakespeare)”
With this volume, Renaissance Drama publishes its fortieth issue. That, though, is in its “new series,” which began counting in 1964; it is the forty- ninth issue if one includes a decade of yearly issues and reports before the “new series” was inaugurated. Those earlier reports emerged out of a series of meetings held in conjunction with the annual Modern Language Association (MLA) convention, beginning in 1955. Attentive readers will also notice that the present issue appears neither forty nor forty- nine years after that date but fully fifty- eight. Depending on how one counts, then, every year Renaissance Drama celebrates more than one anniversary because it has more than one history, as do the subjects it explores, as this volume demonstrates.
The first publication in the series of collections that leads to the present volume of Renaissance Drama was a mimeographed type-script of notes and proposals advanced at a special meeting at the seventieth MLA convention in Chicago in 1955, entitled “Research Opportunities in Renaissance Drama (Exclusive of Shakespeare),” and mailed the following year to participants and anyone else interested in it.1 Responding to a call in PMLA for surveys of work in various academic fields, Samuel Schoenbaum and several other scholars invited a number of colleagues in their field to meet and discuss whether there [End Page ix] might be a need to step back, survey what was being done, and put forward projects that they hoped to see taken up:
It was felt that the proposed report should include a broad range of topics—critical, historical, comparative, and textual; that it should, in other words, be as complete as possible. To this end, a number of authorities with varied interests were invited to submit brief descriptions of projects which, if carried out, might be welcomed as useful contributions.2
For the fortieth volume of Renaissance Drama, the editors have tried to do something similar.
It is easy to emphasize the differences between the research opportunities of 1955 and this volume, beginning with the changing weights of the two words that are still in the journal’s title, “Renaissance” and “drama.” But I am struck by continuities as well, and if the ways in which these projects were imagined then is often far from what we might look for now (although who is really to say how far?), many of the desiderata sound similar: more and better editions, both of canonical works and lesser-known ones, and also of works that appear only in manuscript; more information about what Elizabethans and Jacobeans might have known about a wide variety of related fields; more work on print house practices; more work on influences across language communities; more engagement with contemporary theory; more on musical performance, stage machinery, and other aspects of performance; an encyclopedia of character types, situations, and scenes . . . About the only things that might seem really surprising to contemporary readers of Renaissance Drama are the repeated pleas for further study of Neo- Latin academic drama.
Much that we might look for now was not asked for, at least not explicitly, in the 1955 “Research Opportunities,” of course. But I am again struck by how problems that then did not even seem like opportunities—questions of gender and sexuality, of race and class, of reading practices made possible by new technologies, of subsequent histories of reception and of criticism, or performance, phenomenology, and many others—are in a sense prepared for by the proposals that it published. The first meetings of the group, and the notes that came out of them, responded in part to “the view developed in some [End Page x] quarters that scholarship and criticism had accomplished just about everything of any consequence, and perhaps also a bit more.” In their variety alone, the proposals are a counterclaim to the exhaustion this view diagnoses and to the idea that scholarship could even identify for itself end points rather than moving targets. I do not know exactly...