During a recent conversation, the topic turned to how the presence of Shakespeare seems to swallow up and overwhelm other early modern dramatists. This wasn’t about bashing the man; it was about the importance of reading or seeing Shakespeare’s plays alongside those of his contemporaries. Doing this reveals how early modern plays interconnect, share, and blatantly steal from one another, and it shows how the spirit of collaboration was alive and well. It also suggests Shakespeare’s influences (and vice versa): from whom he borrowed ideas, and in turn, who borrowed from him. It also introduces the reader or playgoer to some exceptionally good drama.
So where does the average playgoer start if they want to learn more about these plays? A good portion of the information on the web pertaining to Shakespeare’s contemporaries is for scholars and academics, which can be off-putting for the casual reader. Here’s where the new direction for my blog comes in. I want to help fill the void for those who’d like to discover plays like The Spanish Tragedy or ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore but don’t have the time or inclination to peruse a thesis or scholarly journal. I do, of course, hope my blog will be of some use to scholars and teachers. I also hope to reach those who want to better engage with Shakespeare, since knowing what Will’s contemporaries wrote about, and how the plays cross-pollenate, can enhance the reader’s or playgoer’s experience. In sum, I’d like my blog to be a resource.
My goal is an instructive close reading that is both engaging and thought-provoking. Here’s the plan: for each play, my first post will be about what to look for as far as overarching themes and concepts. Next, I’ll do more focused posts, act by act, pointing out anything interesting or important that might enhance the experience of seeing or reading the play. Since interpretations and productions vary, my posts will cleave to the spirit of the texts, but I will incorporate links to online videos where available. Finally, in hopes of making the unfamiliar more familiar, I’ll note any similarities to Shakespeare plays. If something in Galatea, for instance, is like something in The Tempest, that connection might be key to concepts otherwise missed.
This new direction isn’t meant to be an exhaustive analysis. I’m not going to state a thesis or make any claims. I’m simply going to point out things I find interesting and unusual in the hope it will help others discover and enjoy non-Shakespeare drama. I’m proselytizing for Shakespeare’s contemporaries, but I’m not the only one; check out the Read Not Dead project in the UK and the Rarely Played play-reading series at the Stratford Festival in Ontario, if you haven’t before. There’s also been an uptick in productions of plays such as Middleton’s The Changeling and Webster’s Duchess of Malfi. Even John Lyly is experiencing a bit of a revival, and if you’ve been following my blog, you know that I’ve previously done some work on his Galatea (ergo, it’s the first play I’ll feature).
This new direction is a work in progress, so I encourage feedback. How can I make this better? What else needs to be addressed? What plays should I include? Last of all, please share and spread the word. More readers mean more feedback and more potential fans of Middleton, Ford, Webster, Beaumont, Fletcher, Heywood…etc, etc, etc.
So there you have it. New year, new direction for my blog (and I hope you enjoyed the Spinal Tap reference in the title). Check back next week for my overview of Galatea.