Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




M.J. Kidnie


Taking its cue from the many Renaissance playwrights who emphasized their spectators’ participation, this dissertation develops a model of audience response based on what texts from the period reveal about early modern spectators’ active engagements with staged bodies and stage space. Discussing plays by Shakespeare, Peele, Beaumont, Marston, Ford, Middleton, and Tourneur, I establish an analytical arc that travels gradually deeper into the body, moving from performances that depict the superficial violation of the body to those that represent its violent penetration onstage, thereby encouraging spectators to contemplate the body’s physiological recesses. Early modern anatomical science and its exploration of the body provide a historical backdrop for an analysis of the spectator’s confrontation with the human body’s ontology, while a phenomenological approach to the experience of playgoing respects the importance Renaissance plays placed on the audience’s ability to bring stage phenomena to life. Chapter One argues that the representational strategies of early modern drama encourage a metatheatrical awareness on the part of audiences, by highlighting the conflation of presentation and representation that underlies the theatrical delivery of fictional bodies and places. The distinction between the actor’s persona (which presents) and the character’s persona (which is represented) fundamentally influences the spectator’s engagement with what the body performs—that is, how this dually invested body exists in space and time (the subject of Chapter Two) and what breaches of bodily integrity it can physically withstand within the performance arena (Chapters Three and Four). The drama of the time intimated that by imaginatively participating in the theatrical exploration of the body’s capabilities and limits, early modern spectators could attain the knowledge and power Renaissance culture so often invested in the physical human form.