“Staging Knowledge in Early English Drama” Kalamazoo 2018
In late-medieval England, public performances of learning and expertise were political performances, that not only expressed one’s mastery of a subject but also an ability and right to speak to it in public view. Whether speaking to knowledge of theology, or medicine, or carpentry, these public professions of knowledge were subject to scrutiny both institutional (e.g. the Church or craft guilds) and informal (by lay churchgoers or prospective customers). Drama offered a form in which claims to knowledge could be exaggerated, parodied, or reproduced for effect--in a word, staged--to invite medieval audiences to rethink the social and political dimensions to such performances. Scholars of medieval drama have greatly enriched our sense of the form’s implication in its historical moment; others have brought to bear the insights of performance studies to understand theater’s symbolic function in medieval culture. This panel’s critical focus on knowledge in performance proposes to bridge these strands of scholarship, in questioning how medieval drama might have reframed the politics of such performances.
This panel invites papers that explore how early English theater and dramatic texts represented knowledge in performance. Possible questions to explore include: How are social and political restrictions on performances of knowledge suspended or altered in early drama? How do dramatic performances of knowledge and expertise challenge or reinforce traditional divisions between modes of knowledge and areas of expertise, e.g. natural science and poetics? What effect does the fictional representation of knowledge have on an audience’s attitude towards real-life experts and the nature of knowledge?