Many scholars have has sought (or continue to seek) a deeper and more nuanced understanding of the relationship between Shakespeare’s theatre and emerging concepts of public and private. Historians and literary critics have applied versions of Habermasian ‘public sphere’ theory to the Renaissance period and the subject of material privacy has also become a fruitful topic of study. My research hopes to enter this field by attempting to understand how commercial drama configured the politics and morality of privacy. The idea of public office and public service resonated in profoundly positive ways during the sixteenth century, and the idea of ‘private’ profit was frequently excoriated, although the concepts came under sustained scrutiny during the course of the next century. The commercial drama of Renaissance England engaged with a variety of these political concepts in a number of ways, such as in its representation of political figures (disguised dukes, for example), and its positing of a division between ‘public’ and ‘private’ forms of commercial theatre. My thesis will investigate drama’s contribution to the larger contest over political privacy in the English Renaissance. It takes as its subject the full corpus of dramatic work written for the commercial theatres in London from 1575, when the theatre at St Paul’s opened, to 1642, when all the playhouses were closed. In doing so, I hope to address some of the more obscure plays, demonstrating the richness and complexity of the theatrical scene.
My research is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.