Between Theater & Philosophy: Skepticism in the Major City Comedies of Ben Jonson & Thomas Middleton

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1st Edition

230 x 155 mm. 192pp ... [In stock in Australia, for immediate delivery]

Between Theater and Philosophy studies the aggressive, restless, and critical scepticism of the major city comedies of early modern English dramatists Ben Jonson and Thomas Middleton. The book places the city comedies in the context of the battle between theatre and philosophy declared by Plato's expulsion of theatre from his ideal republic.

As Mathew Martin demonstrates, Plato's expulsion of theatre is not accidental but rather the fundamental precondition of Plato's constitution of philosophy as the systematic unfolding of truth as presence and being. Because of its ontological fluidity, theatre must be cast, and cast out, as parasitic, trivial, and false. But theatre at least is not a footnote to Plato, and it repeatedly - sometimes outrageously, sometimes surreptitiously - returns to the polis and to philosophy to exact its revenge. The major contention of Martin's book is that each of the city comedies it studies enacts such a return, a return that turns theatre's parasitism into a theatrical scepticism under whose scrutiny falls a variety of ideological constructs founded on the (apparent) attainment of truth as presence and being.

For Jonson and Middleton, however, theatre returns not exactly to Plato's polis but to Jacobean London and its analogues, to specifically early modern urban environments undergoing rapid and estranging changes that at once provoked desperate attempts to achieve order and provided new conceptual structures with which to critique these attempts. Jonson's and Middleton's city comedies walk this thin line between two modes of critique. Just as scepticism appropriates but ultimately unravels philosophy, so Jonson and Middleton use and discard the various conceptual tools at their disposal, their only ground being the dizzyingly groundless space of the stage. The two playwrights reverse-read the parasitism and marginality of theatre into the rapidly expanding world of appearances that constituted Jacobean London.

For Middleton this world of appearances is a field of conflict shaped by commodity forms and commercial mentalities. For Jonson the world of appearances is more tightly circumscribed and intense but always situated within an exchange economy that threatens the possibility of a world overrun by appearances and utterly ungrounded in being. The two playwrights' city comedies turn on the relations between desire, knowledge, power, and commerce; their scepticism - always provisional, always improvisational - works on the edges of specific discourses to expose their dependence on power and performance for their production as truth.

Between Theater and Philosophy book presents deconstructive and materialist readings of Jonson's Volpone, Epicoene, The Alchemist and Bartholomew Fair and Middleton's Michaelmas Term, A Trick to Catch the Old One, and A Chaste Maid in Cheapside, readings that tease out and foreground these plays' sceptical energies by reading them alongside Plato, Montaigne, Bacon, Descartes, Austin, Wittgenstein, Foucault, and Derrida, and reading them within the social, political and economic dynamics of early modern London.
^ Drama ^ Shakespeare

(9780874137392)

SKU 9780874137392
Barcode # 9780874137392
Brand AUP
Artist / Author Matthew R. MARTIN

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