In Hamlet, Shakespeare makes use off play wealth a play, as the device through which prince Hamlet hopes to prove King Cloudless guilt In the murder of the old King Hamlet. This idea suggests itself to Hamlet in Act 2, Scene 2, when Restaurant tells him that a group of actors will soon be arriving at Elisions, at which point their conversation digresses briefly to the circumstances surrounding these itinerant players.
In the space of the next 45 lines, Shakespeare informs his audience of overall important issues affecting the real actors of his time. This Is of particular Interest from the viewpoint of New Historicism, which treats literature as a part of history, and as an expression or representation of forces on history (Holman and Harmon, 318). New Historicism emerged as a theoretical movement in the late sass and early sass with one of the earliest proponents being Louis A. Monotone.
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In his essay “Professing the Renaissance: The Poetics and Politics of Culture,” Monotone says that the focus of New Historicism “… Has been upon a refiguring of the socio- ultra field within which canonical Renaissance literary and dramatic works were originally produced; upon restating them not only In relationship to other genres and modes of discourse but also in relationship to contemporaneous social institutions and non-discursive practices” (17). A Handbook to Literature points out that New Historicism “… Sews literary works (particularly Renaissance dramas and Victorian novels) as instruments for the displaying and enforcing of doctrines about conduct, etiquette, and law. In a dynamic circle, the literature tells us something bout the surrounding Ideology… , and the study of Ideology tells us something about have written Hamlet around 1600-1601, near the end of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. At that time, there were serious issues affecting the English acting companies, and Shakespeare has highlighted several of them in the short passage which begins at line 312 of Act 2, Scene 2.
When Hamlet asks which players are arriving, Restaurant responds: “Even those you were wont to take such delight in, the tragedians of the city’, thereby revealing Hamlet as an enthusiastic devotee of theatre whose knowledge of drama, therefore, is not surprising Hamlet goes on to ask why the company is traveling, given that it would be more beneficial to their reputations and pocketbooks to stay at their own theatre in the city.
Susanne Woofed points out, in her introduction to the play, that by the time Hamlet was written, “Threatening had become an extremely popular entertainment,” attracting approximately a tenth of Loon’s population to weekly performances (7). This should have meant a relative degree of security and wealth for the playwrights and actors, but that was certainly tot always the case. While Queen Elizabeth I loved theatrical productions, and did what she could to protect the more prestigious acting companies, major sources of trouble were the plague and the Puritans.
The plague caused theatres to be closed for portions of many years, sending the players out on the road. The Puritans compounded the actors’ problems, as F. E. Holiday comments with heavy irony: “There was still some plague about in London, and, as the cause of plague is sin and the cause of sin is plays, [Thomas White, vicar of SST. Duncan-in-the-West] had little faculty in demonstrating with inexorable logic that the cause of plague is plays” (Shakespeare in His Age , 80).
The essence of the Puritans’ objection to drama, is very clearly delineated by Suzanne Woofed: [The theatrical metaphor] showed… That histrionic power can expose an inner emptiness, upon which other uses and forms of power-??political, sexual, linguistic-??can be founded, since it allowed the individual to play any role necessary to gain power. Such histrionic power could also become politically subversive Just as it was morally disturbing in suggesting that here may not be any absolutes in human nature to govern behavior….
In a society much more stratified and hierarchical than our own, the theatrical metaphor then also had a socially disturbing quality, because it suggested that rank itself might have no more intrinsic validity than any other role…. Equally threatening,… Boys dressed as women played all the female roles…. Attacks on the theater stressed the danger to actor and audience of such promiscuity (Hamlet, 13). Woofer’s comments are highly significant in New Historicist terms, with her preferences to the potential political submissiveness of acting, and the possibility of an individual’s gaining power through role playing.
Woofed makes it clear that the Puritans objected strenuously to everything about acting and the theatre, and F. E. Holiday adds that they also detested Queen Elizabethan insistence upon the use of high Anglican rituals (Shakespeare, 79). Unfortunately for the actors, the Puritans held strong positions in the British Parliament and in the City Corporation of the city of London, so Elizabeth could not entirely ignore their protests.
Throughout the last quarter of the sixteenth century, the Puritans made numerous attempts to persuade the Privy Council that the -??legal constraints placed on the days upon which the theatres might operate, were regularly flouted with the Queen’s unofficial blessing. When Restaurant responds to Hamlet’s question about why the troupe is traveling, he suggests that it may be “by means of the late innovation” and the related note indicates that this expression might be an allusion to “a Privy council order of 1600 restricting the number of London playhouses to two and the number of performances to two a eek” (Woofed, 71).
Another of the actors’ problems at the beginning of the seventeenth century, comes to light a few lines later, in Reassurance’s answer to a question Hamlet asks about the current popularity of the acting company. Restaurant says that there is “an rare of children” who are “now the fashion,” with the result that attendance has dropped markedly at the public theatres where the adult actors play. This is a reference to the child actors who had been well-received in the sass, and who returned to popularity in 1600. They performed at private theatres such as
Blackbirds, which had the advantage of being roofed and much more comfortable than public stages such as Shakespearean Globe, which was open to the skies. As Holiday notes, “[The choir-boys] could offer far better musical fare than the men, and their pert mimicry of their elders was a welcome innovation, deliciously piquant to the more literate Londoner restlessly awaiting the end of an epoch” (Shakespeare, 236-7). Much of the highly satirical and comedic material used by the child actors, was written by Shakespearean contemporary, Ben Johnson.
This is what Restaurant offers to when he says that the children “so brattle the common stages-??so they call them-??that many wearing rapiers are afraid of goose-quills and dare scarce come thither” In Hamlet’s next lines, Shakespeare questions the validity of the productions by the choir-boys: “Will [the boys] not say afterwards, if they should grow themselves to common players (as it is most like, if their means are no better), their writers do them wrong to make them exclaim against their own succession? A little later, when Hamlet asks if the boys are winning this “War of the Theatres,” Restaurant plies that they do-??”Hercules and his load too,” in an allusion to the Globe playhouse’s symbol, which was Hercules holding up the world In the final lines of this section, Hamlet comments on the irony of people who once “made mouths,” or were derisive of his uncle Claudia, now honoring him, if only by exchanging their money for coins with his likeness (22,354). This fickleness provides an interesting parallel with that shown by Elizabethan theatre audiences, which have abandoned the adult acting companies for the choir-boys.
This brief foray of Shakespearean into the “War of the Theatres” might be viewed as slightly subversive, given Queen Elizabethan patronage of the child actors-??though his rebuke of the Queen and his public audiences is very mild in tone. While William Shakespeare provides an example of a successful Elizabethan actor and playwright, most of his fellow actors did not fare nearly so well, at least in financial terms. The problems of plague, Puritan opposition, and competition from child actors, all made acting a less-than-secure occupation, despite the huge popularity of drama as public entertainment during Elizabethan reign and beyond.
Historicist’s approach, with its focus on the interplay between history and text.