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date: 22 February 2020

Abstract and Keywords

However much disasters threaten communities, strain them to their limits, or unravel them altogether in the course of any given emergency, disasters also create communities. They can do so in many ways: as a traumatic past event that generates a sense of belonging or attachment to a place, or group, or former state of affairs; as a present reality which brings into clarified focus the structure of collective life and the differentially distributed resources available for survival; or as a future possibility constituting a horizon of governmental reflection and activity, a focus of planning, knowledge production, and programmes of disaster preparedness, risk abatement, or risk management. The power of disaster to sponsor imagined communities was something early modern dramatists and theatrical entrepreneurs knew well, a knowledge embedded in and enacted through the artefacts they produced and from which they sought to turn a profit. Through political catastrophe, playwrights and the theatre companies that sponsored them undertook acts of world making in the paradoxical form of narratives of threatened or realized large-scale destruction. Thomas Middleton participated in this aspect of the Renaissance commercial theatre throughout his career. This article focuses on three of his later plays: The Old Law (1618 or 1619), Hengist, King of Kent (1620), and A Game At Chess (1624). Through close readings of these plays, it works to describe some of the primary resources Middleton employed to create states of emergency on stage, especially resources of plot, characterization, and language.

Keywords: Thomas Middleton, plays, disaster, theatre, Renaissance, Old Law, Hengist, Game At Chess, communities

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