Contagious emulation: antitheatricality and theatre as plague in 'Troilus and Cressida'

Chalk, Darryl ORCID: (2010) Contagious emulation: antitheatricality and theatre as plague in 'Troilus and Cressida'. In: This earthly stage: world and stage in late medieval and early modern England. Cursor Mundi (13). Brepols Publishers, Turnhout, Belgium, pp. 75-101. ISBN 978-2-503-53226-4


Stephen Gosson, recovering playwright turned antitheatrical pamphleteer, described theatre in his 1582 tract, Playes Confuted in Five Actions, as the 'Chair of Pestilence'. In the Renaissance, London's playhouses were forced to shut down for protracted and potentially ruinous intervals when plague epidemics raged. But writers such as Gosson, William Rankins, John Rainolds, and William Prynne suggested an association between theatre and plague that went beyond the restrictions necessitated by the real physical danger of contagion for the throngs of people who flocked to see plays. They insinuated that theatre itself behaved like a plague and was capable of infecting its audience with a disease-like quality. On recurrent occasions in anti-stage criticism theatre was not only likened to the plague but was frequently figured as a plague. The recurrence and significance of this curious metaphoric transposition of 'theatre as plague' throughout antitheatrical documentation is the subject of this paper. It will argue that the notion of a contagious theatricality emerges in the period as the theatre's opponents repeatedly imagine that actors will become the vectors of a contagion of corruptive roleplaying capable of destroying the natural order of things. The paper will demonstrate that plague and playhouse culture became metaphorically and even pathologically congruent: not only in discourses that can be identified as anti-theatrical, but also in staged dramas like Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida. In the famous speech on degree and in his satirical upbraiding of Achilles and Patroclus' imitations of the Greek generals, Ulysses self-consciously replicates and appropriates the antitheatrical identification of theatre as plague, performing a metatheatrical re-inscription of oppositional sentiment. In Troilus and Cressida, Shakespeare appears to subtly advocate contagious theatricality even as he admits that the world, in typical theatrum mundi fashion, is utterly consumed by the plague of theatre.

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Item Type: Book Chapter (Commonwealth Reporting Category B)
Refereed: Yes
Item Status: Live Archive
Additional Information: © 2010, Brepols Publishers n.v., Turnhout, Belgium.
Faculty/School / Institute/Centre: Historic - Faculty of Arts - Department of Theatre (Up to 31 Mar 2011)
Faculty/School / Institute/Centre: Historic - Faculty of Arts - Department of Theatre (Up to 31 Mar 2011)
Date Deposited: 11 Sep 2011 04:54
Last Modified: 05 Sep 2016 03:06
Uncontrolled Keywords: Shakespeare; English renaissance drama; plague; contagion; antitheatralists; Troilus and Cressida; theatre; theatricality
Fields of Research (2008): 19 Studies in Creative Arts and Writing > 1904 Performing Arts and Creative Writing > 190404 Drama, Theatre and Performance Studies
20 Language, Communication and Culture > 2005 Literary Studies > 200503 British and Irish Literature
16 Studies in Human Society > 1601 Anthropology > 160104 Social and Cultural Anthropology
Fields of Research (2020): 36 CREATIVE ARTS AND WRITING > 3604 Performing arts > 360403 Drama, theatre and performance studies
47 LANGUAGE, COMMUNICATION AND CULTURE > 4705 Literary studies > 470504 British and Irish literature
44 HUMAN SOCIETY > 4401 Anthropology > 440107 Social and cultural anthropology
Socio-Economic Objectives (2008): C Society > 95 Cultural Understanding > 9501 Arts and Leisure > 950105 The Performing Arts (incl. Theatre and Dance)
E Expanding Knowledge > 97 Expanding Knowledge > 970120 Expanding Knowledge in Language, Communication and Culture
C Society > 95 Cultural Understanding > 9502 Communication > 950203 Languages and Literature

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