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Damnable Deconstructions: Vice Language in the Interlude Alan Somerset Thinking about the sites chosen for permanent London theaters between 1567 and 1600, and the reasons for choosing these locations, naturally leads to considering the rise of Elizabethan opposition to the drama and the underlying motives for it. While Jonas Barish points out that "the antitheatrical prejudice" has existed since the days of Plato and Socrates, he also emphasizes that the flourishing of medieval Church drama resulted in very sparse and sporadic objections to playing. A tretise of miraclis pleyinge, a fourteenth- or early fifteenth-century Lollard tract, waxes indignant in its opposition to playing, but as Barish convincingly argues its writer was forced into some strange stratagems and illogicalities in trying to adjust the charges levelled against plays by the ancient Church Fathers (that plays were idolatrous encouragements to worship false gods) to fit the medieval Church drama, which strove to enhance worship of the one true God. ' The writer or writers of A tretise found few who agreed with this view, while the alliance of drama and doctrine continued well into the sixteenth century; Paul Whitfield White's Theatre and Reformation has shown how the religious reformers used the stage as a weapon of controversy between about 1535 and 1556 and how Protestant writers continued into the 1570s to use the drama for polemics and instruction.2 William Ringler reinforces the point by outlining how relatively infrequent were the published instances of disquiet about playing before the mid1570s . But suddenly, Ringler suggests, there occurred a paradigm shift, and an increasingly strident opposition to playing emerged after 1577. Ringler offers, in my view, an unsatisfactory explanation for the causes and timing of this opposition, because it is too neat and leaves too much out; he argues that opposition in 1577-79 resulted from the construction of the Theater and the Curtain in 1576-77, which caused the profession of playing to grow within 571 572Comparative Drama a few months from "a small private enterprise . . . [into] a big business," which, he says, "became obnoxious" within this short time by catering to popular tastes.3 This account has become widely accepted, but I think it repays further investigation. Ringler was apparently unaware that the first purpose-built London theater, the Red Lion at Mile End, was constructed in 1567 and operated for a season without opposition, and he also did not realize the energy and extent of professional playing in London and the provinces before 1576. The profession of playing did not spring up overnight in 1576, or just in London, as the successive volumes published in the Records of Early English Drama series have proven again and again. Troupes of professional actors under royal and aristocratic patronage had criss-crossed England for decades. Also, earlier opposition to playing had occurred, but apparently not in print; the prologue to Lewis Wager's The Life and Repentance ofMary Magdalene (c.1558) decries the fact that some have "spitefully dispised" the performers although they have performed for "a long season" including playing "at the vniuersitie ."4 White also notes the extent and energy of professional playing before 1576; however, to account for the opposition that appeared in print thereafter he echoes Ringler's idea about the growing influence of popular tastes and suggests as well that the players' growing prosperity allowed them to become, by the 1570s, more independent of their (ideologically motivated) patrons.5 But one must be careful with such distinctions. Is it not an oversimplification to ascribe play-repertoires simply to popular tastes—in any case, does not the equation of popular taste with obnoxious playing strike one as a little condescending? On the other hand, can we accept the idea that aristocratic patrons were normally motivated by religious ideology? As White admits, through most of her reign Queen Elizabeth "showed a preference for entertainment on classical and romantic themes" rather than for homiletics or polemics.6 As patron par excellence, the monarch and her preferences would surely influence aspiring companies ! Finally, neither Ringler nor White offers evidence, from the dramatic literature itself, of there having been a sudden eruption in 1576-78 of plays pandering to the popular. The tone...


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