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Reviewed by:
  • Imagining Spectatorship: From the Mysteries to the Shakespearean Stage by John J. McGavin and Greg Walker
  • Catherine Connor
John J. McGavin and Greg Walker.
Imagining Spectatorship: From the Mysteries to the Shakespearean Stage.
Oxford UP, 2016. 228 Pp.

THIS DENSE, WELL-DOCUMENTED BOOK by two senior British researchers will be useful to “parallel lives” scholars of European theater and performance studies. The authors have combined their expertise in medieval and early modern English culture with basic elements of embodied cognition theory as established within the English-language and European theater canon. Most importantly, their conclusions on spectatorship and their applications of cognitive-emotive scholarship are solid. Their “spectatorial turn” considers not only numerous biological constraints on each “self” but also pragmatic issues of location, spatial orientation, posture, and other contextually specific cultural practices of the pre-modern period. These include aspects of class, occupation, wealth, age, religious affinity, and gender. As McGavin and Walker demonstrate, turning to spectators is necessarily a cognitive-emotive turn. They incorporate concepts of contemporary phenomenology without drawing on terms considered jargon by some traditional critics. Instead, they indirectly reference the “four E’s” of our embodied mind-brains as supported by neurological and phenomenological research indicating that, in effect, our body-brains are always embodied, enacting, embedding, and extending their essence and very existence within everything inside and outside our skin. Additionally, because action and perception are necessarily interactive, we are always—simultaneously and individually—both biological and cultural beings. In that sense, this book has more in common with the works of more practical cognitive comedia scholars who study how real eco-sociocultural relations give rise to the conceptual content of our thoughts. And similar to cognitive comedia scholars, McGavin and Walker rely on what is now being called a “fifth E,” referring to emotions and empathy. Emotions and empathy are bioculturally observable and form the basis for why diversity of spectatorship is central to every stage of planning, producing, performing, and participating in the forms of theater and festival they analyze. [End Page 185]

The most significant contribution of this volume is the solid demonstration of how and why individual spectators participate in and produce meanings and feelings while they are experiencing performances. In one chapter after another, the authors’ analyses of texts and contexts reiterate the contributions of individual differences among spectators. They demonstrate how dramatists, various authorities, and actors all attempted to address the biocultural differences among audience members in performance spaces and in larger personal contexts. In effect, the “imagining spectators” of the title refers (1) to how spectators themselves necessarily “imagine” in the sense of feeling and thinking what they are individually experiencing, and (2) to how creators of texts and/or performances are obliged to imagine the potential range of individual viewers, their resistances, and their pleasures. This should also sound familiar to comedia scholars, especially to those who have embraced cognitive approaches precisely because of their authenticity and accuracy when fully applied. In this regard, the book offers an important lesson for comedia scholars, as the authors combat the errors of presuming the cohesion of theatrical audiences and their collective action. They bring convincing evidence to bear on the “centrifugal forces” operating among individuals rather than merely presenting evidence that might correlate with rigidly defined socioeconomic or gendered categories.

Chapter 1, “The Spectatorial Turn,” includes excellent, detailed examples from a medieval York pageant, the Cruxifixion, that should inspire scholars of early modern Hispanic theater to examine the power of popular religious spectacles past and present. For example, the authors cite Juan Luis Vives’s opposition to “indecorous crowd behavior” such as the Cruxifixion and, I must add, to the kind of reformed Spanish Catholicism that did not survive Vives’s generation in the long run. Indeed, much of McGavin and Walker’s analysis of personal religious experiences of spectators and participants in medieval pageants is directly applicable to our study of current Holy Week activities, as well as to the study of the countless traditional, religion-based holiday festivals one can still discover in even the smallest of Spanish, Portuguese, and Ibero-American towns.

Chapter 2, “Tudor Household Drama: Beyond the Cognitive Turn,” includes fitting...


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pp. 185-188
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