Performing Material Culture on the Early Modern Stage


With just a few days to go until the Materialities of Urban Life in Early Modern Europe conference, here is a taster of the panel organised by Farah Karim-Cooper (Shakespeare’s Globe)…

This panel examines the ways in which objects are defined and interpreted through performance. What is the relationship between identity and material culture and how is this mediated through the use of objects – such as mirrors, musical instruments, costumes, even stage blood – on the stages of early modern theatres?

Laura Tosi asks what a female ruler sees when she looks at herself in the mirror, exploring how the Duchess of Malfi negotiates her own performative role through the object of the looking glass. Lucy Munro’s paper is interested in the ways in which a material substance – the paint, ink or animal’s blood used to represent human blood on the early modern stage- interacts with theatrical form and convention Yolanda Vazquez, actor from Shakespeare’s Globe as well as many other theatres, including the RSC, talks about how costume helps to construct and negotiate time, place and identity through performance. Finally, Simon Smith’s paper examines the way in which musical instruments should be understood as domestic objects; in the hands of actors these become staged properties, contributing to theatrical performance through their material form as well as through the sounds they could produce.


‘Death and the Maiden’, an allegorical painting of a young woman playing a lute, with the figure of Death behind her, about 1570. © Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.

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