This essay reports on a number of recent exhibitions in Italy, which raise issues relevant to study of the content, the ideologies underlying the dramaturgy, and the staging of types of Elizabethan and early Stuart drama. Several such exhibitions re-assemble from galleries around the world evidence of the princely magnificence of the great dynastic households, which do not focus attention on the individual art-work but on the modes of patronage that established, developed and extended family collections over several generations. The breadth of art (fine and applied) on display has required processes of curating that are wholly interdisciplinary in their approach, since the focus is on the contextualizing of individual works within overlapping rhetorics relating to connoisseurship and displays of power. This line of approach in its turn suggests new ways of interrogating especially the sources of plays based on Italian subject matter (usually historical), the better to highlight the dramaturgical choices made by playwrights drawing on such materials. Two particular instances are examined here in relation to Webster’s tragedies; and one in relation to Middleton’s Women Beware Women, while the theme of patronage allows for discussion of a particular theme in Jonson’s work. The latter half of the essay discusses two further exhibitions with an emphasis on traditions in the staging of courtly spectacle in Florence and Milan between 1439 and the 1660s. While these were vastly informative for scholarship concerning performance and the Stuart masques and Italian influences on Inigo Jones’s inspiration, it was also the mode of presenting the exhibited materials which impressed. The curators had found highly innovative means by which to teach visitors how to read extant documentation relating to performance; and their chosen methods suggested new ways in which research into performance history might present its findings for a general public as well as the scholarly community.

Author Biography

Richard Allen Cave is Professor of Drama and Theatre Arts at Royal Holloway, University of London. For over twenty years he was General Editor of the series, Theatre in Focus, published by Chadwyck-Healey Ltd., which produced some thirty titles, to which he himself contributed Terence Gray and the Cambridge Festival Theatre (1980); and Charles Ricketts' Stage Designs (1987). For Penguin Classics, he has edited the plays of W. B. Yeats (1997) and the plays of Oscar Wilde (2000). With Macmillan, he published Text and Performance: "The White Devil" and "The Duchess of Malfi" (1988). Professor Cave has written extensively on the plays and theatre of Jonson: Ben Jonson for Macmillan (English Dramatists Series, 1991); the co-authored Ben Jonson and Theatre: performance, practice and theory with Elizabeth Schafer and Brian Woolland (Routledge, 1999), and three chapters in Jonsonians: a Living Tradition edited by Brian Woolland (Ashgate, 2004). He is currently General Editor of an AHRC funded project to complete An Electronic Edition of the Collected Plays of Richard Brome (2005-2009). As a qualified Feldenkrais practitioner, he works regularly with professional actors, including members of the Royal Shakespeare Company, on voice and movement issues.