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date: 24 January 2020

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter examines the emergence of a specifically theatrical notion of personhood in the mid-seventeenth century, one that had its roots in earlier humanist notions of honestas, decorum, and civility but that had been modified by antitheatrical discourse and by new attempts to imagine a performative public sphere. It begins by tracing the long genealogy of quotidian theatricality embedded in the idea of honestas, which characterized Renaissance and early Enlightenment notions of normative sociability. It then explores the predominant meanings and inferences of ‘theatrical’ over the course of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, along with some of the ways and genres by which honestas was recommended to the wider reading public. The chapter concludes with a close analysis of William Shakespeare’s Othello, which captures in the figure of Iago the many and conflicting meanings of honesty (including honestas) and dramatizes the profound social dangers of an accomplished ‘Theatrical personality’ that could manipulate conversations and interactions at will.

Keywords: personhood, honestas, decorum, public sphere, quotidian theatricality, sociability, William Shakespeare, Othello, honesty, Theatrical personality

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