Moving Scenes

In June 2011, I started a four-year research project funded by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research, with the working title “Moving Scenes.”

“Moving Scenes: Theatre, Passions and the Public Sphere in Early Modern England” examines the role of the theatre in thinking about the transmission of emotion in the context of the emerging public sphere in early modern England.

Although Jürgen Habermas situated the origins of the public sphere in the eighteenth century, recent research has traced its roots to the sixteenth and seven­teenth centuries. The transition from a feudal to a proto-capitalist society in which persuasion and rhetoric became central tools, contributed to the emergence of an early public sphere. The print controversies of the period are also seen as central in this process, as well as the religious debate caused by the English Reformation (see (Halasz 1997; Zaret 2000; and Staines 2004).

These changes in society evoked pervasive questions about the role of the emotions in this emerging public sphere. The relation­ship between sense experience, emotion and reason constitutes a major ‘faultline’ in early modern English culture (Sinfield 1992; see also Smith 2009). Not only was the stage a key focus for debates about the effects of passion in perception and judge­ment, it was also one of the important locations in which this debate was carried out. With spec­tators from across the social spectrum, the theatre was one of the major cultural labo­ra­tories in early modern English culture.

With its specific focus on the role of the theatre in debates about the place of conveyed emotions in the public sphere, Moving Scenesshows that a study of theatrical representations of the effects of passion can do more than shed light on issues of identity and selfhood. The research project provides insight into the politics of passions in early modern English culture.

“Moving Scenes” is funded by a ‘Veni’-grant from the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO).

Works cited

  • Halasz, Alexandra. The Marketplace of Print: Pamphlets and the Public Sphere in Early Modern England. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.
  • Smith, Bruce. The Key of Green: Passion and Perception in Renaissance Culture. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2009.
  • Staines, John. “Compassion in the Public Sphere of Milton and King Charles” in: Reading the Early Modern Passions: Essays in the Cultural History of Emotion. Eds. Gail Kern Paster, Katherine Rowe and Mary Floyd-Wilson. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004. 89-110.
  • Zaret, David. Origins of Democratic Culture: Printing, Petitions, and the Public Sphere in Early Modern England. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2000.
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