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Reviewed by:
  • Theatre and the English Public from Reformation to Revolution by Katrin Beushausen
  • Alejandro García-Reidy
Katrin Beushausen. Theatre and the English Public from Reformation to Revolution. cambridge up, 2018. 298 pp.

katrin beushausen's historical survey is the latest monograph dedicated to the relationship between the public sphere and theater in early modern England, a topic that has recently been attracting critical attention, for example in Jeffrey Doty's book Shakespeare, Popularity and the Public Sphere (Cambridge UP, 2017), already reviewed in this journal (vol. 69, no. 2, pp. 143–45). Both monographs address the usefulness of adapting the concept of the public sphere as defined by Jürgen Habermas for the eighteenth century in order to analyze the new roles of commoners in early modern society and contemplate their presence in social discourse. Beushausen approaches this incarnation of the public sphere based on two key abstractions: "theatricality and the public" (1). Theatricality is conceived as a negotiation "between the conventions of theatre and those practices in society at large that bear a structural or metaphorical relation to theatre" (15). Thus, rather than focusing on dramatic texts, Beushausen engages a variety of cultural and political productions (some literary, but mainly essays, pamphlets, newsbooks, legal records, and engravings) to study the constant presence of the rhetoric of theater and examine "theatricality's roles in early modern society in relation to the emergent public of the period [and] the impact of theatre on the material practices with which acts of public-making were realised" (14). From this perspective, the public sphere appears not as a monolithic network articulated by rational debate but as a dynamic accommodation of diverse publics. This "plurality of potentially overlapping or oppositional publics" (8–9) in early modern England was generated through social events in which the multitude played a significant role. At the same time, the fact that "theatre provided a model for the addressing of the increasingly popular publics of the post-Reformation period" (31) means that the printing press was not the only catalyst in the creation of a public sphere, as Habermas argued in relation to the eighteenth century. Another point of emphasis for Beushausen is that theatricality mobilized emotions when appealing to the public, whereas Habermas conceived the public sphere [End Page 211] basically as a creation of rational discussions among members of the nascent middle class. This, in short, is what makes the book so compelling: it is an approach to a diversity of sociocultural phenomena in order to study the role played by the common public in early modern England; it offers an insightful analysis of how the language of theater, or theatricality, permeated many of those discourses (even those associated with the antitheatrical pressures of reformers, Puritans, and the Interregnum period); and it stresses the role that emotions played in this process.

Beushausen's book is divided into four chapters, plus a prologue and an epilogue. The chapters follow a chronological order from the English Reformation until shortly after theatrical activity officially resumed in London in 1660. Chapter 1 focuses on how "the people were addressed frequently, though not continuously, as a force in political and religious discourse during the post-Reformation period" (69). Beushausen examines elements of theatricality that were used to draw the attention and move the passions of audiences at church or in reformist tracts, as well as during key political events such as the royal entries in London of Elizabeth I and James I. Chapter 2 focuses on the years leading to the English Civil War (1642–51) and how the tensions of this period were especially productive in the creation of a public, as commoners were more involved in political affairs and became more self-aware. Beushausen argues that the consciousness of this public as a new and unique social entity can be found in the way dramatic prologues and epilogues of the period directly addressed their audiences, therefore recognizing them as a public. This is reinforced by the role that the people played as a social force during particularly volatile episodes, such as the Star Chamber trial of the Puritans Prynne, Burton, and Bastwick in 1637 and their triumphant return to...


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