"... take me for a man": The Role of the Boy Companies in the Theatre of Jacobean London
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts
This thesis involves a study of theatre in early 17th century London, focussing on the work of the boy companies. These were theatre companies made up entirely of child actors, who performed on the stages of the private theatres up until about 1609. The attitude that I take is that the performances staged by these companies constituted a separate theatre-form or performance-practice of its own, and accordingly I approach the plays put on by these companies as being part of a specific repertoire, the study of which nevertheless bears wide implications for our understanding of the culture of early modern London. Regarding their performances in terms of the possibilities which they offered for the de-familiarisation of cultural practices, of selfconsciously staging conventions in high relief, I have followed a seam of scepticism surrounding the representation of identity in this culture. My 'thesis' is that within the cultural practice that this theatre constituted there was an acute awareness of the inconsistencies and evasions which existed within the strategies of self-fashioning in the urban setting, an awareness which was ironically distinguished by a highly ambivalent theatricality. The first chapter involves a reading of one of the last and certainly most demanding plays written for this theatre, Epicoene or The Silent Woman by Ben Jonson. Growing out of Jacques Lacan's studies of subjectivity and the subjective gaze, I approach this playas a performance-text which directly and self-consciously addresses issues of performance and dramaturgy. In chapter two I site the space of the theatre itself with reference to other available 'playing spaces', in particular the banqueting-house and the city itself, as I draw in other plays of the repertoire. The thesis concludes with a discussion of the body of the child as being constructed in this culture as an ambiguous site of passivity and self-avoidance, out of which I turn to deal with the constituting and performing of male and female gender.