“Prop Culture: The Shakespearean Clown and His Marotte,” Forthcoming in Shakespeare Quarterly 72.1 (Summer 2021 [publ. 2022]).
This essay recovers the neglected stage performance practices of the clown’s marotte—the short staff topped with his likeness—to argue for its importance to the theory and practice of early modern theatricality. Drawing on little-known material artifacts as well as visual, printed, and manuscript sources, and early modern drama, the essay brings to life the established conventions and imaginative potential of the marotte’s long and rich history. It begins by considering marottes in The Two Gentlemen of Verona, King Lear, and Frances Merbury’s Tudor interlude The Marriage of Wit and Wisdom that blur the boundaries between character and prop. It then turns to an iconic but unfamiliar marotte in Hamlet as a prop-character that manifests intertheatrical circulation as it traces the residue of biblical and humanist visual traditions, playhouse history, and fictional memory in the play as a map of the marotte’s cultural mobility. By way of thinking about the materiality of theatrical character and its circulation the marotte reveals how audiences’ shared cultural and theatrical knowledge helped to construct and interpret performance as it unfolded not over the course of an afternoon show, but across many places and times.
“Puppet Theater” and “Folly” Forthcoming in the Routledge Encyclopedia of the Renaissance World, ed. Kristen Poole (2022).
These short essays offer general introductions to puppetry and the Folly tradition for a new online encyclopedia. “Puppet Theater” describes how puppets function as both practical performing objects and abstracted cultural objects in their circulation as metaphor. “Folly” describes a literary-artistic tradition that brings together biblical, humanist, and popular understandings of foolishness in a set of codified emblematic representations of fools that can be at once moralistic and subversive.
“Puppet Theater and the Interpreter Role,” NextGenPlen plenary, Shakespeare Studies 48 (2020), 152-8.
This essay was selected for presentation in the Shakespeare Association of America’s annual NextGenPlen plenary panel for top early career researchers in 2019. It locates puppet theater as a practice and metaphor invoked in moments of interpretive uncertainty, centered on a reading of the sole surviving print illustration of 16th-17th century English puppet theater. Synthesizing over six hundred pamphlets invoking puppet theater alongside the material traces of late medieval devotional puppetry, I begin by tracking how Reformation writers invoke puppetry metaphorically to frame attacks on what they perceive as the theatricality of Catholic religious practice (especially in the Eucharist), even as they seem to respond to literal puppets involved in that practice. Turning then to Ben Jonson’s use of puppets, it considers the formalized role of the puppet Interpreter to show how interpretive uncertainty allows common people a chance to intervene in puppet performance, offering a model for audience interactivity more broadly.
“King Lear” and “Measure for Measure” in How to Teach a Play: 75 Exercises for the College Classroom, ed. Miriam Chirico and Kelly Younger (Bloomsbury 2019), 78-83.
In an anthology designed to offer performance-oriented approaches to teaching drama, both contributions present a performance exercise intended to highlight specific key themes of Shakespeare’s King Lear and Measure for Measure. The exercise for King Lear explores the central relationship between Lear and his Fool as it changes from its first quarto printing to its collection in Shakespeare’s first folio. Measure for Measure‘s exercise raises questions about power structures in the Duke’s surveillance culture. [PDF]
“Patchwork Play: Nineteenth Century Toy Theater and Participatory Media Culture,” Nineteenth Century Studies 30 (2017-19[publ. 2019]): 25-43. Special issue on “Patchwork, Cut-and-Paste, and Reassembly,” ed. Casie LeGette.
Drawing on new toy theater archives at the New York Public Library, this article reconstructs the patchwork methods of decorating and assembling mass-produced characters, scenery, wings, and props.As consumers construct these pasteboard stages to play old dramas and invent new adventures, they manifest toy theater as an emergent form of what contemporary media scholars call a “participatory culture,” where the relation between producers and consumers of media is destabilized as consumers become creative producers themselves, repurposing existing media in new ways. Recognizing such a media paradigm in the nineteenth century no only links toy theater to a cultural development continuous with our own media culture, but also restores toy theater to its place as constitutive of rather than merely accessory to the commercial theater. [PDF]
“Puppet Performance and Collaborative Critique: Ben Jonson’s Models of Literary Interpretation,” Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 59.2 (Spring 2019): 281-304.
*Winner of the Medieval and Renaissance Drama Society’s Martin Stevens Award for the best new essay in early drama studies.* Drawing on literal and figurative uses of puppetry across five genres of Ben Jonson’s writing, this article argues that Jonson’s intense and sustained engagement with puppet theater produces both a theory of drama and a literary idiom. Through Bartholomew Fair, Jonson defines puppet audiences’ participation as itself a form of criticism that defines the entertainment’s form from within. This interactive feedback loop of audience judgement becomes inseparable from formalized literary criticism as Jonson takes up puppet theater as a tool for performing such criticism himself in and beyond A Tale of a Tub. By leveraging puppet theater’s similarities to the court masque to critique his collaborator Inigo Jones, Jonson defines the artistic parameters of the masque and offers puppetry as both a vital strand of his early criticism and its model of interpretive engagement as an alternative to it. [muse.jhu.edu/issue/40407]
Book Review: Robert Armin and Shakespeare’s Performed Songs. By Catherine A. Henze. New York and London: Routledge, 2017. Forthcoming in Early Theatre 23.1 (June 2020).
Book Review: Shakespeare’s Two Playhouses: Repertory and Theater Spaces at the Globe and the Blackfriars, 1599-1613. By Sarah Dustagheer. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017. Theatre Survey 59.3 (September 2018): 423-5. [PDF]
Digital Editing for Folger Shakespeare Library’s Digital Anthology of Early Modern English Drama
Nicole Sheriko’s edited versions of EEBO-TCP transcriptions of early modern printed drama are now housed in the Folger Shakespeare Library’s Digital Anthology of Early Modern English Drama. [A discussion of this digital humanities project has been published by Martin Mueller, “Shakespeare His Contemporaries: collaborative curation and exploration of Early Modern drama in a digital environment,” Digital Humanities Quarterly 8.3 (2014)]