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Playing work: The uses of labour on the Shakespearean stage

Rutter, Tom Oliver; (2003) Playing work: The uses of labour on the Shakespearean stage. Doctoral thesis (Ph.D), UCL (University College London). Green open access

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Abstract

In my thesis I argue that different social groups in early modern England used the idea of work both to legitimise their own and to invalidate others' activities. Noble patronage, competition for audiences, the personal aspirations of dramatists, and its own problematic status all involved the theatre in these struggles. In my first chapter I argue that on the popular stage of the 1590s, acting was depicted as work in an attempt to counter accusations that actors earned money through play. However, plays written for the revived children's companies at the end of the decade stressed their performers' amateurism in order to appeal to the leisured elite. In the following two chapters I continue to explore the relation between work and social status, identifying a tension between the ruling class's attempts to justify its privilege by representing government as work, and its traditional disdain for labour. In Shakespeare's plays, emphasis seems to shift from the former to the latter over the course of his career, and I argue that this may be related to the attempts of the Lord Chamberlain's / King's Men to attract a privileged audience. In my fourth chapter I argue that ambivalence towards work underlies Ben Jonson's treatment of poetry as a profession, and compare his strategies for dealing with this to those used in the writings of early modern lawyers and physicians. I then examine the portrayal of mercantile work in the plays of Dekker and Heywood, showing how they reconcile uncertainty as to its morality with the need to appeal to a citizen audience. In my final chapter I suggest that the same playwrights both reflect and reinforce changing attitudes to women's work by both belittling it and discouraging certain forms of female labour.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Qualification: Ph.D
Title: Playing work: The uses of labour on the Shakespearean stage
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
Additional information: Thesis digitised by ProQuest.
Keywords: Communication and the arts; Shakespearean performance
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10119526
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