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Encouraged by the convenient vagueness of the phrase ‘early modern England’ I have in this book been consciously vague about drawing chronological boundaries; while the majority of the texts discussed were published between about 1580 and about 1650, there are a few probably earlier and rather more certainly later. During this period, which witnessed a huge expansion in that mode of public discourse represented by various kinds of printed news, both the forms and conception of news underwent important changes. Of the forms of writing I discuss, the domestic play as a medium for the representation of news events had the shortest lifetime and was significant really only at the end of the sixteenth century and in the first quarter of the seventeenth century. The stage was voracious in its appetite for novelty, and although the domestic play had antecedents in earlier dramatic forms, the drama of crime and topical sensation had only a limited shelf-life. The power of theatre to ‘search into the secrets of the time’ and of the players to operate as time’s ‘abstract and brief chronicles’ is acknowledged in many plays of the period from Hamlet to Massinger’s The Roman Actor, and represented by apologists for the stage as one of its moral functions, but these functions could be achieved in dramatic modes other than contemporary domestic realism. The broadside ballad’s role as a purveyor of sensational news, delivered in oral and printed forms, lasted much longer, well into the nineteenth century; and there remains a still audible echo of this traditional way of telling a lurid story in present-day self-consciously literary redactions such as Blake Morrison’s ‘The Ballad of the Yorkshire Ripper’ (1987).
KeywordsNews Event Roman Actor Tigerous Mother Dramatic Mode Huge Expansion
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- 1.Headline to an article by Nicci Gerrard entitled ‘The End of Innocence’, in the Observer, 17 November 2002.Google Scholar