Soyica Diggs Colbert
This article explores the formation, expansion, and future of the field of African American performance studies, considering the cultural, social, and political contexts that brought the field into being. This relatively young interdiscipline has emerged as a result of the growth of ethnic and gender studies in the 1970s and the advent of performance studies in the 1980s. Since its beginnings African American performance studies has considered how artists and activists reshape blackness in order to make it a category of liberation rather than confinement. Focusing on performing arts (such as theater, dance, and music), as well as oral expression and modes of self-fashioning, African American performance studies examines black expressive culture within the contexts of the United States.
Aristotle’s Poetics has been thought to be inaccessible or misunderstood in sixteenth-century England, but this inherited assumption has drifted far from the primary evidence and lagged behind advances in contiguous fields. As a member of the corpus Aristotelicum, the shared foundation of Western education until the late seventeenth century, the Poetics enjoyed wide circulation, ownership, and interest in Latin and Italian as well as the original Greek. Placing the Poetics in its intellectual context suggests a very different narrative for its reception in English criticism, one that accounts for a multiplicity of readings and uses on both sides of the academic divide. Some of those readings—in Cheke, Ascham, Rainolds, Sidney, and others—are considered in this article, and directions are proposed for future research in what remains a rich and mostly unworked vein of literary history.
Terry F. Robinson
With the development of connoisseurship in eighteenth-century England came new scrutiny of the female body. This article examines the contemporary intersection between aesthetic appreciation and the act of viewing the female form. Drawing upon recent scholarship, it charts a history of “body connoisseurship” from the Society of Dilettanti, to London’s Theatres Royal, to the Royal Academy of Arts, and reveals how the focus on the female physique—as an object of beauty, sex, ownership, and exchange—was shaped not only by men but also by women who exerted increasing control over their own representational narratives. More fundamentally, it places women at the center of connoisseurial debates in the period, contending that depictions of women’s bodies within connoisseurial contexts function at once as emblems of knowledge, both aesthetic and concupiscent, and as emblems that ironize and destabilize such knowledge by cultivating a fiction of the profound unknowability of women—and thus of beauty itself.
This essay examines realist plays in the United States before the golden age of realism during the period from 1920 to 1970. It discusses the concept of realism as applied to drama and analyzes the work of William Dean Howells who is considered an early exponent of realism in his fiction. It suggests that while only a few realists emerged before 1920, their works kept alive the playwright’s wish to describe life as lived rather than as desired. This essay also considers several relevant works, including Clyde Fitch’s The City, Edward Sheldon’s Salvation Nell, and Rachel Crothers in A Man’s World.
This article discusses the articulation of authority in London merchant hall drama in the early Tudor period. The Drapers’ Company records payments for plays performed, often by professional companies, at their August election feast for over a century, suggesting that their patronage of drama was not only the means to display company wealth and sophistication, but also bound up with the transferal of authority within the guild. Read in relation to London’s, with its increasingly fraught relation to the centralizing policies of the early Tudor monarchs, interludes such as John Skelton’s Magnificence and the John Rastell and John Heywood production, Gentleness and Nobility, emerge as explorations of issues urgent in the civic milieu: the theory and practice of governance and the ethics of oligarchy.
This article examines forms and uses of theatricality in recent African American productions on slavery in the performing and the visual arts. It argues that by deploying modes of the comic, such as satire and parody, along with racial stereotypes, in their engagement with the traumatic history of slavery, contemporary artworks aim to provoke their audiences into an affective relationship with the artwork and the history it represents. In this manner, they seek to bring into focus not the past itself but our present-day reactions to it, asking viewers to reflect on their involvement with the ongoing mimetic and affective legacies of New World slavery. The article discusses Suzan-Lori Parks’s 1996 play Venus and Kara Walker’s 2014 installation A Subtlety or the Marvelous Sugar Baby as case studies.
The rich and expanding rhetorical universe of the English Renaissance annexed the expressive possibilities of painting and the plastic arts using a variety of figures and tropes. These—ekphrasis (intense description), blason (anatomizing description), paragone (the contest between the arts), and emblems and imprese (formal verbal-visual symbols)—allowed English writers to press the visual into the service of the verbal, creating powerful rhetorical tools and distinctive literary expression. This article describes the development of these verbal-visual tools from the late medieval period through the early seventeenth century by Italian art theorists and in the exemplary works of Sidney, Spenser, and Shakespeare.