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Listening for Theatrical Form in Early Modern England

Allison K Deutermann

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Examines the impact of hearing on the formal and generic development of early modern theatre

Early modern drama was in fundamental ways an aural art form. How plays should sound, and how they should be heard, were vital questions to the formal development of early modern drama. Ultimately, they shaped the two of its most popular genres: revenge tragedy and city comedy. Simply put, theatregoers were taught to hear these plays differently. Revenge tragedies by Shakespeare and Kyd imagine sound stabbing, piercing, and slicing into listeners’ bodies on and off the stage; while comedies by Jonson and Marston imagine it being sampled selectively, according to taste. Listening for Theatrical Form in Early Modern England traces the dialectical development of these two genres and auditory modes over six decades of commercial theatre history, combining surveys of the theatrical marketplace with focused attention to specific plays and to the non-dramatic literature that gives this interest in audition texture: anatomy texts, sermons, music treatises, and manuals on rhetoric and poetics.

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1. Introduction: Audiences to this Act
2. Sound in Mind and Body: Hearing Early Modern Revenge Tragedy
3. ‘Sprinkled among your ears’: Ben Jonson, John Marston, and the Cultivation of the Listening Connoisseur
4. ‘Caviare to the general’?: Taste, Hearing, and Genre in Hamlet
5. Listening for Form at the Cockpit Theater
6. Epilogue

About the Author

Allison Deutermann is an Assistant Professor in the Department of English, Baruch College, City University of New York. She is the co-editor of Formal Matters: Reading the Materials of English Renaissance Literature (MUP, 2013).


The great merit of this book is that it ties the subject of sound to matters which are textually verifiable. While the sounds of the past may be difficult − even impossible − to recover, the evidence of how they were interpreted is not. Listening for Theatrical Form in Early Modern England links cultural history to formalist critical issues, engages with recent work on the senses and reflects the renewed interest in the aesthetic.

- Neil Rhodes, University of St Andrews

"A valuable contribution to the scholarship."

- Darren Freebury-Jones, Notes and Queries

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