Killing Time on the Early Modern Stage: Tempo, Judgment, and the Art of Defense Open Access

Coblentz, Dorothea Smedley (2017)

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How can time be killed and why would someone want to kill it on stage? Though the expression "killing time" post-dates the English Renaissance, the metaphor captures a view of time as material and adversarial, which would have been familiar to Shakespeare and his contemporaries. More than an abstract unit of measurement, time for early moderns incorporated timing and, by extension, ethical questions of appropriateness and opportunity. In this project, I argue that that the emergence of secular drama in sixteenth-century England provided early moderns a robust new art form particularly suited to considering time as both an embodied and a conceptual activity. Dramatists drew extensively from existing discourse in music, athletics, and rhetoric to craft theatrical time. Of these, the "art and science of defense," what we today know as fencing, offered dramatists one of the most useful sources of inspiration because fencing time is generated interpersonally, across fencers, objects, and environments. Fencing masters taught time as combative rhythm of movement, and this conception of time is indispensable to understanding early modern drama. This dissertation examines, on the granular level, how common temporal tactics taught in fencing manuals made their way into dramatic structure. More broadly, it explores the wider questions of aesthetics and cognition opened by the view of time as embodied skill.

By illuminating the early modern theater's investment in time as an antagonistic rhythm of movement, my research takes part in conversations around embodiment, practice, and cognition in literary studies, historical phenomenology, and cognitive science. However, while much of this scholarship has focused on the theater as a forum for joint perception and extended cognition and identified the cooperative nature of theatrical interactions, I foreground interruptive timing in the interplay between audience, environment, and player. By attending to this aspect of dramatic time, my research reveals the influence of the temporal aspects of literary feigning in shaping genre and the theatrical experience. That is, pace and plot - the speed of exposition and the order of events - follow not only a smooth narrative arc but also participate in a recursive and amplifying temporality, the back and forth of a phrase of combat.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Embodied Temporality in Early Modern England

Chapter 1: Killing Time in Titus Andronicus

Chapter 2: Taking Time for Love in As You Like It

Chapter 3: Wasting Time with Puritans in Bartholomew Fair

Chapter 4: Making Time for Murder in Arden of Faversham


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