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Home :: Archive :: 2005 :: June ::
Celebrity and the Theatre of Idols
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.1133  Thursday, 23 June 2005

[1]     From:   Tom Bishop <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 22 Jun 2005 10:51:58 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.1126 Celebrity and the Theatre of Idols

[2]     From:   Colin Cox <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 22 Jun 2005 08:10:06 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.1126 Celebrity and the Theatre of Idols

[3]     From:   Jack Heller <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 22 Jun 2005 11:45:27 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.1126 Celebrity and the Theatre of Idols

[4]     From:   Terence Hawkes <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 22 Jun 2005 13:12:01 -0400
        Subj:   SHK 16.1126 Celebrity and the Theatre of Idols

[5]     From:   Bill Lloyd <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 22 Jun 2005 23:37:04 EDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.1126 Celebrity and the Theatre of Idols


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Tom Bishop <
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Date:           Wednesday, 22 Jun 2005 10:51:58 -0400
Subject: 16.1126 Celebrity and the Theatre of Idols
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.1126 Celebrity and the Theatre of Idols

Jack Heller asks about "celebrity", which I take as a metamorphosed form
of fame, a topic certainly dear to the hearts of many early modern
writers. The question would be when the change takes place.  Was Sir
Philip Sidney an Elizabethan "celebrity"? Was Essex? Some  aspects of
their depiction, both at the time and after, seem to  suggest a cult of
personal fame that reminds one of it, though less  media-managed or
consumer-oriented, of course. One might add to the  mix both Eugene
Waith's valuable work on "The Herculean Hero" and the  later term
"charisma" on which Raphael Falco has recently written in  relation to
Shakespeare, Marlowe and Milton. Taking a cue from Falco, I would also
suggest Marlowe as an exponent of "celebrity" in some plays. Tamburlaine
is certainly a figure of intense personal magnetism, whose impact on
those around him has something of the aura of modern celebrity as well
as older martial glory. Likewise Faustus, perhaps, though this aspect of
his story isn't followed up much in what we have. Henry IV's account to
Hal of the PR competition between  himself and ex-king Richard in 1H4
3.2 reads like a textbook analysis  of the uses of "celebrity" for
political ends, though its roots lie,  I guess, in discourses like
Machiavelli's on how the prince should  actively manage his reputation.

The question of whether and when actors (or other theater persons) were
celebrities could be pursued with some reward I think, though the
evidence might be hard to find. One piece that speaks to their emerging
status in a modern-like light is Manningham's famous 1602 anecdote of
Shakespeare and Burbage:

"Upon a time when Burbage played Richard the Third there was a citizen
grew so far in liking with him, that before she went from the play she
appointed him to come that night unto her by the name of Richard the
Third. Shakespeare, overhearing their conclusion, went before, was
entertained and at his game ere Burbage came. Then, message being
brought that Richard the Third was at the door, Shakespeare caused
return to be made that William the Conqueror was before Richard the Third."

It's notable that this is a story told while both men are still alive
and, even if it was not true and KNOWN not to be true, it outlines the
sort of thing that could plausibly be said. That seems to me to suggest
the fairly early development of something like a picture of a modern
fan's response to theatrical celebrity.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Colin Cox <
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Date:           Wednesday, 22 Jun 2005 08:10:06 -0700
Subject: 16.1126 Celebrity and the Theatre of Idols
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.1126 Celebrity and the Theatre of Idols

I would suggest Troilus & Cressida is packed with a plethora of celebrity.

Heck if Brad Pitt played me I'd be famous.

Colin Cox

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jack Heller <
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Date:           Wednesday, 22 Jun 2005 11:45:27 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 16.1126 Celebrity and the Theatre of Idols
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.1126 Celebrity and the Theatre of Idols

According to the OED, "celebrity" to refer to individuals begins in the
nineteenth century. However, I suspect that some related concept of fame
might still exist as Shakespeare wrote A&C, Timon, etc. I have thought
about Coriolanus as another example, but with some differences-he
opposes celebrity as it conflicts with merit. Still, he may yet be a
celebrity.

Heller

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Terence Hawkes <
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Date:           Wednesday, 22 Jun 2005 13:12:01 -0400
Subject: Celebrity and the Theatre of Idols
Comment:        SHK 16.1126 Celebrity and the Theatre of Idols

Jack Heller is right

 >'early modern anti-theatrical discourse speaks of the theatres as
 >encouraging a kind of idolatry'

However, I think the objection is to something more serious than
'celebrity'. Puritan unease concerning the theatre was focused on its
apparent commitment to the worship of graven images-a characteristic, as
they saw it, of old Catholic practices and, indeed, of monarchical
power.  The playhouses thus seemed to embody and encourage a
fundamentally reactionary mind-set. This strikes me as an entirely
tenable position which can still attract sympathy from the intelligent
and right-minded, many of whom continue to find the theatre
reprehensibly squirm-making as a result.

T. Hawkes

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Bill Lloyd <
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Date:           Wednesday, 22 Jun 2005 23:37:04 EDT
Subject: 16.1126 Celebrity and the Theatre of Idols
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.1126 Celebrity and the Theatre of Idols

Jack Heller asks

 >(c) Were performers and/or
 >playwrights becoming celebrities?

Burbage's celebrity has been mentioned. Edward Alleyn and Ben Jonson
were probably about as famous (though different people must have been
famous-- or infamous-- in different circles). But probably the most
famous theatrical person of all was the comedian Richard Tarlton. He was
the original "rock star"-- favored by Queen Elizabeth, loved and
remembered by high and low. Posthumous books were written in his name,
and decades after his death in 1588 he was still famous enough to be
used as an inn-sign. See Alexandra W. Halasz, "'So beloved that men use
his picture for their signs': Richard Tarlton and the Uses of
Sixteenth-Century Celebrity" in Shakespeare Studies 23 (1995), pp. 19-38.

Bill Lloyd

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