- Imagining Spectatorship: From the Mysteries to the Shakespearean Stage by John J. McGavin and Greg Walker
John J. McGavin and Greg Walker
Oxford University Press, 2016
£18.99, pb., 224 pp.
This book attempts to be to the study of early modern English spectatorship what Wolfgang Iser's The Implied Reader (1974) is to reader-reception theory. John J. Mcgavin and Greg Walker's analysis of how plays were designed to cue audiences' responses is split in two. the first two chapters establish a theoretical framework for the study of how performance, mise-en-stage, location and the actors' use of the theatrical space were geared to influence playgoers' interpretation. Mcgavin and Walker's approach seeks to ascertain the effect of i) how the actors exploited the spatial and physical dynamics of their "stage", whether it was a street, an outdoor playhouse stage or a great hall and ii) the position of an audience member in relation to the action. The case studies which constitute the second half of Imagining Spectatorship focus on the dramaturgy of medieval and early tudor plays, with Chapters Three, Four and the Afterword exploring sixteenth-century performances, real and imagined, and Chapter Five reflecting on a modern open-air production of David lynsay's The Three Estates (1552). The shakespearean stage features prominently in Chapter one but only occasionally thereafter.
Walker and Mcgavin's focus on the situational element of playgoers' experiences is illuminating. Impressive readings of the potential impact of spectators' sight-lines include, for example, a consideration of whether an audience member watching the York Pinners' Crucifixion Pageant could see the actor playing the crucified Christ in the wagon (8-16), and how on the outdoor stages the clown's first appearance through the curtains purposefully eluded the sight of those in the more expensive gallery seats and played to the yardlings (34-35). Readings of gesture (149) and how audiences' expectations might have been formed through their pre-performance reading of the theatrical space in front of them (156) are also interesting but, as my single-page references suggest, localised and underdeveloped.
Mcgavin and Walker state at the outset that "the bulk of our playhouse examples [come] from the works of shakespeare" (viii). the rationale is sound as shakespeare's plays are the most familiar to most readers. However [End Page 196] the authors also rightly champion their exploration of medieval and early Tudor drama. The plays were probably performed up until the 1570s and they are more sophisticated than is usually thought. Yet the book's neglect of shakespeare's peers means that Imagining Spectatorship is not "the relatively wide sweep of theatrical history" (viii) it claims to be. Elizabethan hits such as Thomas Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy and Christopher Marlowe's Tamburlaine are ignored. omitting strategies of interpretation-control such as those found in Ben Jonson's grex in Every Man out of His Humour and The Staple of News's Gossips is a serious oversight. There is little on masques, Elizabeth's progresses and indoor theatres. this could have been easily remedied. the analysis is only 184 pages long and the two authors could have written more. While Imagining Spectatorship provides a basis from which a theory of spectatorship can develop further it is a pity that this slim book feels like only three-quarters of a monograph.