Seeing Speech as Spectacle in The White Devil

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    This article argues that, in the early seventeenth century, rhetorical devices and stage devices overlap. There has been much critical interest in the materiality of theatres like the Blackfriars, the Globe, and the Red Bull. Recent work in early modern theatre studies has made some broad gestures to the way in which poetic and verbal effects are linked with the practical theatrical work of the playhouse. Rhetoric and rhetorical styles have also been subject to renewed scholarly interest, with some suggesting the imminence of an “aesthetic turn” or “New Formalism.” Yet these two critical approaches often remain distinct. Attention to the interaction between speech and spectacle can unite ostensibly different angles of literary analysis and deliver further attention to the visual, philosophical, and intellectual complexity of seventeenth-century playhouse spectacle.I begin by exploring some important terms in early modern English that point to rhetoric's participation in the material world and that suggest these two approaches, when considered from an historical perspective, are complementary. I then attend to the dumb shows and to light and darkness in John Webster's The White Devil (1612) to argue for a critical approach to early modern theatre studies that combines historically minded close reading with recent revisionist considerations of spectacle and that sees rhetorical style as part of the visual and material world of the playhouse.

    © 2016, John Wiley & Sons Ltd. This is an author produced version of a paper published in Literature Compass uploaded in accordance with the publisher’s self- archiving policy. The final published version (version of record) is available online via Wiley Online Library at Some minor differences between this version and the final published version may remain. We suggest you refer to the final published version should you wish to cite from it.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)548-559
    JournalLiterature Compass
    Issue number9
    Publication statusPublished - 15 Sept 2016

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