- Moving Shakespeare Indoors: Performance and Repertoire in the Jacobean Playhouse ed. by Andrew Gurr and Farah Karim-Copper
Moving Shakespeare Indoors: Performance and Repertoire in the Jacobean Playhouse supplies a comprehensive and nuanced study of the Blackfriars. Drawing inspiration from the recent inauguration of the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse (modelled on what may be John Webb’s drawing of a Jacobean indoor playhouse from the Restoration), this elegant collection of essays sheds new light on how the material conditions of the Blackfriars may have influenced the ways in which plays were performed there, as well as on the historical circumstances that may have led The King’s Men to move into that playhouse in 1609.
In Part I, “The Context of Hard Evidence,” contributors explore the conditions of playing in England in the early seventeenth century, consider evidence for the construction and decoration of an indoor Jacobean playhouse, and decipher staging possibilities at the second Blackfriars. In Part II, “Materiality Indoors,” [End Page 104] contributors focus largely on the material conditions of indoor playing, stage practice, and audience response. In Part III, “The New Fashions for Indoors,” contributors address the following thorny question: what shaped the repertory of Shakespeare’s company from the early years of the seventeenth century onwards?
Regardless of these foci, all the contributors take up basic questions relating to indoor stage practice and repertoire composition. Rather than challenging conventional wisdom about the material conditions of the Blackfriars Playhouse (Harbage 1952 and Gurr 2009, for instance), several contributors consider, in interesting and varied ways, whether the move indoors in 1609 (during the winter months) impelled Shakespeare’s company to develop a unique style of performance. In fact, concentrating on matters such as the Blackfriars’ smaller stage with its stool-sitting gallants, the breaks in performance required to trim the candles, the use of a consort of musicians, and the tastes of coterie audiences, they reach the consensus that the “indoor style” was unlike the Globe’s: “private not public; coterie not populist; intimate not rowdy,” as Paul Menzer puts it (170).
For instance, Farah Karim-Cooper (chapter 10) demonstrates the effects cosmetic face paint could produce in a candlelit playhouse attended by lavishly attired patrons, and also how cosmetics along with other aspects of indoor dramaturgy created an atmosphere of intimacy (produced at the Globe by other means). She likens the experience to a modern fashion show, where actors and wealthy audience members competed for attention. Although coterie audiences at the indoor theaters (some of whom attended performances to see and be seen) were less diverse than the Globe’s, due to the higher admission fee, does KarimCooper’s “fashion show” analogy threaten to occlude the broader theatrical event at the Blackfriars?
Tiffany Stern’s “The Second Blackfriars Playhouse as a Place of Nostalgia” (chapter 5) argues that the plays performed by Shakespeare’s company sometimes allude to the history of the Blackfriars’ building, in its various incarnations (and uses). In a section entitled “Parliamentary Nostalgia,” Stern repeats the well-known fact that in Henry VIII Shakespeare alludes to that theater’s “past life” as a legatine court, where the annulment trial of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon took place about 80 years before Shakespeare dramatized that event. Soon after, she concludes, “the urge to re-enact Henry VIII’s divorce story in the very space where it happened is surely behind Shakespeare’s choice to write a play on that subject in the first place” (105). Plausible though it is, Stern’s broad conclusion relies on a single brief reference to the Blackfriars: “For such receipt of learning is Blackfriars” (Henry VIII, 2.2.137). Furthermore, her point echoes one already made in Gordon McMullan’s Shakespeare and the Idea of Late Writing: Authorship in the Proximity of Death” (2007): [End Page 105]
More to the point, the historical resonance of performance in the Blackfriars space was considerable, since the very same building had been used for the...