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Title: Shakespeare and the Spectacle of University Drama
Authors: Blank, Daniel
Advisors: Smith, Nigel
Dolven, Jeff
Contributors: English Department
Keywords: Ben Jonson
Early modern drama
University of Cambridge
University of Oxford
William Gager
William Shakespeare
Subjects: English literature
Theater history
Issue Date: 2018
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: Dramatic performances at the universities in early modern England have usually been regarded as insular events, completely removed from the plays of the London stage. By tracing the evolution of university drama during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, however, this dissertation illuminates how an apparently secluded theatrical culture became a major inspiration for Shakespeare and his contemporaries. While the university stage began as a pedagogical tool, its rhetorical and religious motivations became increasingly overshadowed by elaborate stagecraft and secular spectacle. Antitheatrical attacks from prominent figures within the university only strengthened the resolve of university dramatists, who began to draw motivation from their professional counterparts. Playwrights like Shakespeare and Jonson were likewise fascinated by the university tradition, albeit in different ways, and they incorporated elements of university drama and the controversies surrounding it into their own plays. In revealing the rich exchange between these two seemingly distant theatrical worlds, Shakespeare and the Spectacle of University Drama illustrates the immense impact the university dramatic tradition had upon the Shakespearean stage. The first three chapters explore the early development of university drama and its initial affinity with professional theater. Chapter One explores the role of religious drama at Oxford and Cambridge during the late 1550s and early 1560s. By focusing upon a production of John Foxe’s Christus Triumphans, this chapter illustrates the value of academic performance for a generation of returned Protestant exiles. As the nature of university plays shifted, however, that value began to be questioned, and Chapter Two examines the ensuing controversy through a discussion of John Rainolds, the foremost assailant of university performance. Chapter Three considers the plays of William Gager, the Elizabethan era’s leading academic playwright and Rainolds’ primary opponent. The final two chapters demonstrate the influence of university plays upon commercial drama. Chapter Four argues that Shakespeare relied upon Gager’s adaptation of Seneca’s Hippolytus when crafting the title character in Hamlet. Chapter Five explores Ben Jonson’s Volpone, arguing that the quarto text’s dedication to Oxford and Cambridge reflects not only the play’s association with university drama, but also the author’s desire to be a part of university culture.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog:
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:English

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