Audience Communities: Early Modern Desire in Post-1956 British Performance Open Access

Middleton, Irene Jane (2010)

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Live theatre creates significant reactions in audience members through their cognitive and interpretative participation in performance. While individual reactions might diverge and fade away, the group reaction of the audience reinforces the shared interpretation visually and aurally, increasing the power of the staged event. The shared experience of participation and interpretation links audience members them together into "an audience," a collective body that sustains itself as a community through its shared experience and reactions.

Cognitive science supports the conclusion that audience members have more similarities than differences in their response to performance. On an unconscious cognitive level, audience members participate in the creation of meaning from performed actions and language. The resulting conscious interpretation is also guided by shared species- and culture-wide experiences.

The combination of naturalism in acting and abstraction in sets and costuming encourages participation in productions of early modern drama over the last fifty years in Britain. Naturalism presents a firm and comfortable basis for creating meanings while abstraction encourages an increased degree of involvement in interpretation, encouraging audience members to participate in developing similar interpretations.

Desires provide an enticing possibility for participation and have the potential to build especially cohesive audiences. Some audience members' might limit their conscious participation in staged desires to those that fit their sexual orientation. Early modern drama, however, has a fruitful combination of the familiar and the alien, regularly producing moments that are identifiable as desires yet are evasive of modern sexual identity categories. These "queer desires" lure all audience members into interpretive participation with the titillation of desire without threatening sexual self-identity. The shared experience of queer desires of early modern plays draws audience members together into the communal audience.

Three case studies focus on early modern dramas that use queer desires to create the communal audience and then manipulate it, encouraging group reactions in support of central themes. This dissertation examines Titus Andronicus, which increases a longing for community, The Jew of Malta and The Merchant of Venice, which increase a yearning for ethnic and religious tolerance, and As You Like It, which encourages support for patriarchal structures.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Preface 1
Chapter 1: The Communal Audience--Cognition, Interpretation, and Desire 9
Chapter 2: Desiring Horror 39
Chapter 3: Desiring Difference 89
Chapter 4: Desiring Youth 160
Conclusion 209
Works Cited: Print 276
Works Cited: Film and Performance 316

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