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date: 27 January 2020

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter examines one of the most problematic aspects of early modern theatre: its vexed relation to sight, seeing, spectacle, and illusion. It considers whether theatre offered the audience a version of the truth or a deceptive illusion, or whether it offered an illusion that had no effect on reality or one that could influence and transform it in some way. It explores the relationship between theatre and visual illusion by focusing on four plays: Robert Greene’s Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay, Ben Jonson’s The Alchemist, William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and Thomas Tomkis’s Albumazar. It shows that early modern plays persistently delegitimize visual technologies in order to assert the theatre’s distinctiveness and legitimacy as a mimetic medium by transforming optics into a deceptive, magical practice.

Keywords: early modern theatre, illusion, plays, Robert Greene, Ben Jonson, William Shakespeare, optics, spectacle, visual technologies, magic

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