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date: 14 November 2019

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter examines the ways in which the traffic between life and stage is always governed by a set of social, ethical, and interpretive norms, the violation of which threatens to humiliate (at best) or physically harm (at worst) the spectator. More specifically, it considers the problem of epistemological decorum in early modern theatre and describes the figure of the female playgoer as a model for indecorous participation, one that knowingly exploits the tensions between actuality and theatricality in order to sustain the play while also revealing its dependence upon the absorption and judgement of audiences. The chapter first provides an overview of the social logic of decorum in early modern England before turning to the perceptual contract that makes theatrical fiction possible. It argues that such a contract must be upheld by spectators in so many different ways at once—imaginatively, affectively, ethically—that it may dissolve at any moment; indeed, any act of theatre worth the same will always seek deliberately to push this contract to its limit.

Keywords: stage, decorum, early modern theatre, female playgoer, actuality, theatricality, audiences, perceptual contract, theatrical fiction, spectators

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