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Reviewed by:
  • Antitheatricality and the Body Public by Lisa A. Freeman
  • Susan Bennett
Lisa A. Freeman.
Antitheatricality and the Body Public.
U of Pennsylvania P, 2017. 361 Pp.

IT IS REMARKABLE THAT FOR ALMOST FORTY YEARS Jonas Barish’s The Antitheatrical Prejudice (U of California P, 1981) has remained the definitive, go-to reference for scholars who wish to address or simply cite matters of antitheatricality. It is, therefore, a bold—but certainly timely— move by Lisa Freeman to analyze antitheatricality anew. She delivers on this task with a thorough and thought-provoking investigation realized in a compelling series of case studies that demonstrate the pervasiveness of antitheatrical onslaughts across theater history. She considers the “contentious discursive environment, political, religious, philosophical, literary, and dramatic,” in which antitheatricality is produced and understood, looking at both familiar and less well-known examples from “Anglo-American archives” (5–6). While the book is a must-read for researchers working on any period of British or American theater, she hopes that it might also be “a model for further research on the political and cultural significance of antitheatrical attacks in other nations, places, and states” (6). I am confident that scholars interested in those “other nations, places, and states” will find Freeman’s work productive and inspiring.

Of most interest to early modernists, chapter 1 is a remarkably detailed interrogation of evidence related to the 1634 Star Chamber trial for sedition of William Prynne, author of the 1000-plus-page antitheatrical volume Histrio-Mastix. Freeman opens with James Shirley’s The Triumph of Peace, a masque written as a repudiation of Prynne and his publication, performed at the Banqueting House for the King and Queen a mere four days before the trial began. As she persuasively demonstrates, the performance of 3 February 1634 started well before The Triumph of Peace addressed its audience at court: “a magnificent, torchlit procession filled the streets of London” and wowed crowds along its route from Chancery Lane to Whitehall Palace, led by “one hundred Gentlemen of the Inns of Court” and accompanied by pages, footmen, dancers, musicians, and four Roman-style chariots (each pulled by six horses) (11). For Freeman, the procession across the city made “popular cause” with its urban spectatorship, staging “a reciprocal interest in the power of the common law to curb monarchical overreaching” (22).

The Triumph of Peace not only appeared to deliver a conventional “show of submission” to the king (30), but also addressed, “as a competing locus [End Page 155] of authority, judgment, and interpretation,” the gallery reserved for the Gentlemen of the Inns of Court located directly behind the royal party (29). Moreover, it was a pre-trial intervention equally directed to a reading public: three thousand copies “were printed ahead of time and made immediately available for sale. The masque became one of the most talked-about spectacles in London, and more copies had to be printed” (29). Freeman argues that the lawyers’ various strategies were effective in shaping public opinion, a concept “just beginning to emerge and to be recognized for its political and rhetorical efficacy” (30).

Prynne’s Histrio-Mastix was another, if more protracted, attempt at shaping public opinion. As Freeman suggests, no critical account of such a massive and intricate text can realistically claim to be comprehensive, and thus she chooses to focus on “the practical concerns and rhetorical effects of the paratexts,” observing a “rhetorical dramaturgy of call and response” intended to persuade its readers to embrace “Calvinist proscriptions” (39). Through analysis of the different elements that structure the enormous volume, Freeman elucidates how and why the book was held seditious. Both The Triumph of Peace and Historio-Mastix serve as critical background to her scrutiny of records of the court proceedings. While these court proceedings have received significant scholarly attention, Freeman’s account has the advantage of a recently discovered manuscript, Eng 1359, the “most exhaustive account of the trial and what appears to come closest to a complete, though not necessarily official, transcript of the proceedings against Prynne” (63). This manuscript, held in Harvard’s Houghton Library, provided the author with “an unprecedented opportunity” to examine and illustrate “the distinct rhetorical posturings and...


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