In Elizabethan England, play after play took confusion, disguise, or madness as a central subject. This thematic interest in confusion followed a concern, prevalent during the 1570s, 1580s, and early 1590s, that drama was genuinely confusing to its audiences. Whereas plays and interludes from the middle decades of the sixteenth century frequently expressed a desire to make their performances clear to their audiences, performances of the later decades began to suggest that confusions are an unavoidable part of the experience of playgoing, and even perhaps a necessary part of theatre’s ability to inform and instruct. Accounts of early performances, like a 1594 Inns of Court Comedy of Errors, also hint that a play’s impact could be enhanced through a deliberate attempt to produce confusion among audiences and actors. Uncovering a dramaturgy of confusion implicit in Gascoigne’s Supposes and Kyd’s Spanish Tragedy, this essay argues that during this period, a practical recognition that drama relies on disorder to affect its audience supplemented a theory of didactic drama. By the late 1590s, though, the thematizing of confusion familiar from later plays replaced this real confusion.


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pp. 217-233
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