Cambridge Studies in Renaissance Literature and Culture: Theatres and Encyclopedias in Early Modern Europe Series Number 44

Cambridge Studies in Renaissance Literature and Culture: Theatres and Encyclopedias in Early Modern Europe Series Number 44

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In this 2003 book West explores what 'theatre' meant to medieval and Renaissance writers and places Renaissance drama within the influential context of the encyclopedic writings produced at the time. It was an encyclopedic culture, obsessed with sorting knowledge, and early encyclopedias presented themselves as textual theatres, in which everything knowable could be represented in concrete, visible form. Medieval and Renaissance plays, similarly, took encyclopedic themes as their topics: the mysteries of nature, universal history, the world of learning. But instead of transmitting authorized knowledge unambiguously, as it was supposed to be, the theatre created a situation in which ordinary experience could become a source of authority. West covers a wide range of works, from the encyclopedic texts of the Middle Ages and Renaissance to Marlowe's Dr Faustus, Jonson's The Alchemist, and Bacon's Novum Organum, to provide a fascinating picture of the cultural life of the period.
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Product details

  • Paperback | 312 pages
  • 152 x 230 x 17mm | 488g
  • Cambridge, United Kingdom
  • English
  • 22 Halftones, unspecified
  • 0521030617
  • 9780521030618
  • 1,930,564

Table of contents

List of illustrations; Acknowledgements; Note on texts; Introduction: circles of learning; 1. The space of the encyclopedia; 2. The idea of a theatre; 3. Tricks of vision, truths of discourse: illustration, ars combinatoria, and authority; 4. Holding the mirror up to nature?: the humanist theatre beside itself; 5. The show of learning and the performance of knowledge: humors, Epigrams, and 'an universal store'; 6. Francis Bacon's theatre of Orpheus: 'literate experience' and experimental science; Notes; Bibliography; Index.
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Review quote

''... At the heart of every encyclopaedic effort is the desire to marvel,' West comments, and this sense of awe is mirrored in his own engaging explication of the processes of wonder construction. It comes out through the densely argued examples and the splendid illustrations of fantastic beasts and performances spaces. Curiositas, 'the lust of the eyes', which links passion for knowledge to the watching of 'shows', works its dangerous magic through the majority of this fascinating book.' Journal of New Theatre Quarterly "[West] covers medieval and Renaissance demonstrations of the ars combinatorium and theatrical performances, and with taste as well as erudition...This is an important contribution to the history of ideas seen from a very rewarding perspective." Renaissance Quarterly "A fascinating and suggestive book." Studies in English Literature "West has written a learned book that draws freely on several scholarly fields and a panoply of primary sources...A certain semantic slippage is necessary to West's project and I, for one, am happy to grant him the privilege, for the liberties he takes in constructing his larger argument are more than compensated for by the quality of his local readings and his clear presentation of engaging historical materials." Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England Ty Buckman
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About William N. West

William West has taught at the University of California at Berkeley, Stanford University, and the University of Nevada, Reno, and is currently assistant Professor of English at the University of Colorado at Boulder. He has published on encyclopedism, the arts of memory, symbolic economies, and the epistemology of early modern performance in journals such as English Literary Renaissance, Renaissance Drama, and Comparative Literature. He is currently at work on a book on the significance of confusion and misunderstanding in early modern drama.
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