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Metadrama and the Informer in Shakespeare and Jonson

Bill Angus

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Explores disturbing connections between authors and informers revealed in the metadrama of Shakespeare and Jonson

Have you ever wondered what was really going on in the inner-plays, secret overhearing, and tacit observations of early modern drama? Taking on the shadowy figure of the early modern informer, this book argues that far more than mere artistic experimentation is happening here. In case studies of metadramatic plays, and the devices which Shakespeare and Jonson constantly revisit, this book offers critical insight into intrinsic connections between informers and authors, discovering an uneasy sense of common practice at the core of the metadrama, which drives both its self-awareness and its paranoia. Drama is most self-revealing at these moments where it reflects upon its own dramatic register: where it is most metadramatic. To understand their metadrama is therefore to understand these most seminal authors in a new way.

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Introduction Suspect Devices: Metadrama and the Narcissism of Small Differences
1. Hamlet’s ‘lawful espials’: Metadrama, Tainted Authority, and the Ubiquitous Informer
2. Every Man In and Out: Metadramatic Ideals and Harsh Realities
3. Sympathy for the Informer: Iago, Volpone, and Other Metadramatic Authors
4. ‘Masters both of arts and lies’: Metadrama and the Informer in Poetaster and Sejanus
5. Falstaff, Hal, Coriolanus: Metadrama and the Authority of Policy
6. ‘Three Cranes, Mitre, and Mermaid men’: Metadramatic Self-Deprecation and Authority in Bartholomew Fair
7. ‘Ministers of Fate’: Politic Oversight and Ideal Authorities
8. Onstage Overviews: Metadrama and the Information Market

About the Author

Bill teaches at Massey University in New Zealand. His research is mainly in Shakespeare and the early modern period. He is currently exploring representations of the crossroads a place of transformative power and spiritual binding, in early modern and other cultures. This encompasses histories of wandering, place magic, judicial execution, the regulation of burial, and theories of space and liminality.


A carefully developed and original argument that brings to our attention a hitherto overlooked aspect of Renaissance drama. A theoretically sophisticated and historically informed account, full of surprising perceptions that, taken together, add significantly to our knowledge, and will enhance considerably our readings of the plays of Shakespeare and Ben Jonson.

- University of Stirling, John Drakakis

This book is a learned, distinctive study which makes a forceful argument for paying new attention to the crucial but neglected figure of the informer in Renaissance literary and political culture, as well as intervening in debates about the metadramatic aspects of canonical Renaissance plays.

- Newcastle University, Kate Chedgzoy

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