Staged Magic in Early English Drama
Lellock, Jasmine Shay
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In late medieval and early modern England, magic was everywhere. Although contested, occult beliefs and practices flourished among all classes of people, and they appeared regularly as a subject of early English drama. My dissertation focuses on staged magic in early English drama, demonstrating the ways in which it generates metacritical commentary. It argues that magic in drama serves more than just a symbolic function, but rather, some early English drama saw itself as performing a kind of magic that was also efficacious. To this end, this project theorizes that drama participated in forms of contemporary magic that circulated at the time. This dissertation focuses on representations of magic in early English drama, specifically in the Croxton <italic>Play of the Sacrament</italic> (ca. 1471), Robert Greene's <italic>Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay</italic> (1588-92), William Shakespeare's <italic>The Tempest</italic> (1610-1), and John Milton's <italic>A Maske Performed at Ludlow Castle</italic> (1634). These early English plays stage their magic as socially and personally beneficial, not just illusory, flawed, or demonic. Whether staging magic as a critique or apology for its own medium, however, the plays suggest that theater draws upon magic to depict itself as efficacious. This project thus reads magic as both a metaphoric, literary convention and its own entity with accompanying political and cultural effects. Examining magic and its representation as part of a continuum--as contemporary audiences would have done--offers a clearer picture of what magic is doing in the plays and how early observers might have apprehended its effects. This dissertation offers a textually based cultural context for the magic found within its central plays, bringing extraliterary magical texts into conversation with literary, dramatic texts. Because the borders between natural philosophy, religion, and magic were not clearly defined in early modern England, this project draws as well upon scholarship and primary materials in the history of science and religion. The motivation of this project is to reanimate early English theater with a sense of wonder and magic that it historically offered and that it continues to bring to readers and audiences to this day.