Early Modern Drama in Performance, a Festschrift in honor of Lois Potter, a professor emerita of English at the University of Delaware, is an excellent collection of thirteen short essays that explore the connections between early modern texts and theatrical performance. The topics of the essays are, by design, eclectic, [End Page 348] reflecting Potter's varied work as a textual editor, theatre critic, biographer, and curator of "playreadings that she has hosted throughout her teaching career … [that] breathed life into many old plays and made participants aware of the dramatic possibilities of (mostly) non-Shakespearean drama (3)." The essays—all of which are by tenured, senior, or emeritus scholars—are arranged chronologically by topic, ranging from an examination of how English-language playgoers received the verse of Marlowe's contemporaries to a meditation on theatrical temporality revealed through the failings of the Royal Shakespeare Company video archive. Seven are primarily on Shakespeare's plays, but the other six are on lesser-known (or at least less-frequently staged) early modern dramas in performance.
In the first essay in the book, Roslyn L. Knutson questions the primacy of Marlowe's blank verse among his contemporaries. She troubles the twentieth-century truism that "good verse" before Shakespeare meant a successful imitation of Marlowe's bombastic style, effectively arguing that playgoers and readers of the day had more subtle and varied tastes. In the next essay, Bradley D. Ryner takes as a jumping-off point performances in 2009 of Marlowe's The Jew of Malta and George Chapman's The Blind Beggar of Alexandria at the American Shakespeare Center. Questioning the assumption that Chapman's play is a "radically incomplete … serious romantic story" (25) of which only the comic scenes survive, and instead reading it as a mostly complete comedy, Ryner argues that "The Blind Beggar not only shares structural and stylistic features with The Jew of Malta but, moreover, constitutes both an implicit reading and a conceptual extension of the economic ideas at work in it … and goes further to suggest theatrical virtuosity itself as a correlative for the capitalist generation of profit" (26). In the third essay, "Theater of Anatomy," Peter Hyland also uses as a starting point a modern performance of a lesser-known play, Henry Chettle's The Tragedy of Hoffman, a revenge tragedy in which the revenger is an overt villain. The play features a skeleton onstage, and Hyland teases out the theatrical implications of using a real skeleton as opposed to a reconstruction as a prop.
The next two essays are some of the strongest in the book. Ann Thompson and John O. Thompson create a semiology of rings utilized in Shakespeare's plays. They note how rings, which can be difficult to see from a distance onstage, are crucial rhetorically and theatrically to the plots of many plays. They argue that such a close-reading "study of how rhetorical figures work at the micro-level of the text helps the reader or audience-member to hear what this rich and complicated language is doing, and how it is doing it" (59). In "Editing and Staging The Revenger's Tragedy: Three Problems," Alan C. Dessen examines three scenes, each of which "poses a challenge to an editor, director, or reader [End Page 349] trying to reconstruct the original staging" (64). Examining spaces for interpretation left open by early modern stage directions, or the lack thereof, he demonstrates through a close reading of six editions and three performances the fascinating multiplicity of theatrical interpretations available.
Arthur F. Kinney's contribution, "Shakespeare and Cognitive Vision," is the most ambitious (and longest) in the volume, using scientific studies of vision to recast scenes of seeing in Shakespeare's plays as scenes of cognitive interpretation: he argues that "Shakespeare saw even eyewitnessing as always cognitive and therefore always interpretive and partial, often designed" (99). Jay L. Halio similarly takes a theoretical approach, arguing that Shakespeare's conception of tragedy goes beyond the medieval...