Performance

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    "'Which long their longings urged their eyes to see': Emblematic Perspectives in the Early Stuart Masque" by Caroline Pirri

    “Which long their longings urged their eyes to see:” Emblematic Perspectives in the Early Stuart Masque

    Caroline Pirri

    Historians of the Jacobean court masque have emphasized the importance of its formal structure, rightly noting that the masque’s scenic backdrop - painted in single-point perspective - would have been clearly visible only from the king’s position at the center of the hall. While the centrality of the perspective schema was a critical feature of the masque’s reception, the crisp geometric lines that converged on the king’s seat were also intersected by a host of other perspectival frameworks. This paper will claim that in Ben Jonson and Inigo Jones’s court masques, emblematic tableaux and poetic emblems functioned as miniaturized perspective schemas; they opened out the centralized perspective of the main scene to the spectators ringing the borders of the hall. The masque’s use of popular emblems lent it a didactic function, providing Jonson with a visual scaffold on which to hang his poetry to “make the spectators understanders.” But Jonson and Jones did not simply reproduce popular emblems; they reinvented them, resisting transparency and legibility to create forms that were “not […] hieroglyphickes, emblemes, or impreses, but a mixed character partaking somewhat of all, and peculiarly adapted to these most magnificent inventions.”  To Jonson and Jones, the effectiveness of the masque as a political and didactic tool relied on the spectator’s ability to make sense of the experience.  And after the spectators were invited to shift their focus from the main scene to the emblems, they were detained in that unenlightened position. Their perspective was purposefully and continually frustrated so that they could be directed gradually – through the masque’s poetry – to the larger argument. Thus, the conflict between linear and emblematic perspective turned the spectator’s desire for visual and interpretive clarity into a motive force for political self-fashioning. Masque attendants were compelled to submit their understanding to Jonson’s poetry, and to James I’s position as sovereign viewer, in order to become ideal subjects. 

    Categories: 
    • Debating Visual Knowledge
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    "To Trust or Not to Trust: Telescopic (mis)Information on the Early Modern Stage" by Vivian Appler

     “To Trust or Not to Trust: Telescopic (mis)Information on the Early Modern Stage”

    Vivian Appler

    Galileo Galilei’s Siderius Nuncius (1610) announced to early modern Europe the introduction of a new machine to the labor of astronomy: the telescope. This manuscript made claims about the topography of the moon and announced the discovery of three new stars, which Galileo named after his benefactors, the Medicis. Galileo’s claims would be transformed into fodder for theatrical satire well into the end of the seventeenth century. Early modern philosophers of science were the first to incorporate machines into the process of re-visioning the contents of outer space, which caused a rift in the European academy. The debate over such machines, and the reliability of the information derived from them, quickly became the subject of popular plays and performances of the time. The seventeenth century stage was teeming with telescopes.

    Giambattista della Porta, who claimed to have invented the telescope before Galileo, also wrote the commedia erudita, Lo Astrologo, in 1606. Della Porta’s play soon became a primary source for Thomas Tomkis’s English farce, Albumazar (1615), which pokes fun at the idea of mechanical instruments constructed to enhance human perception. Aphra Behn’s comedy, The Emperor of the Moon (1687 – also based on an Italian commedia) raises questions about knowledge gained through the medium of the telescope and mocks the characters who value such information. The seventeenth century was a time, in England and in Italy, during which the distinction between the sciences and the arts were not as fixed as they might seem today, a disciplinary fuzziness which may have contributed to a cultural rejection of empiricism. This paper considers the reasons why the visual information presented through the lens of the telescope was suspect, and what role theatrical performances had in perpetuating and/or challenging such a culture of mistrust.

    Categories: 
    • Debating Visual Knowledge