Riotous Reform, Staging Complaint, 1561–1595
ABSTRACT Riotous Reform: Staging Complaint, 1561-1595 Frances Caitlin Eastwood
A cluster of plays published in London in the mid-1590s centres on reform and its corollary—a resistance to established authority. This thesis examines the staging of commons complaint during the evolution of commercial playing. The innovation of profit-led drama was driven by the imperative of attracting regular spectators drawn from a diverse demographic. Players sought to maximise audience numbers by playing upon commons grievance. This social critique was sweetened with novelty. The evanescent energy of Italian commedia dell’arte, as a continental form of playing, was harnessed for its entertainment value, its adaptability, and its malleability in a climate of growing demand and increasing regulation. Modish content and form were mediated through the riotous exuberance of celebrity clowns. This hybrid English commedia was not the quaint parochial clowning of the native tradition but rather a transnational cultural interaction with the leading drama of the continent. The staging of commons complaint may have been fuelled by expediency rather than ideology, but it was instrumental in fostering an interpretive community bound by laughter in an increasingly militant political discourse. This thesis appraises the role of five little-known plays in the formation of commons identity and in the channelling of popular unrest.