This page is referenced by:
"Hear for your love, and buy for your money": Ballads and Theater as Experiential Commodities"
-- Claire M. BusseInthe second stanza of the ballad, “A Caveat for Cut-purses,” sung by the character Nightingale in Ben Jonson’s Bartholomew Fair (1614), the ballad singer offers a defense against accusations that he is the “cause of this crime” (stealing purses) because he distracts his audience, enabling cutpurses to go about their trade. The content of his ballad is then enacted on stage, as Nightingale’s conspirator, Ezekiel Edgworth works the crowd to take advantage of the audience’s very distraction and cut their purses. The self-referentiality of Nightingale’s performance of the ballad intersects with and parallels the metatheatricality that dominates the play as Jonson himself uses the ballad to provide a preview of the remainder of the play to follow. For the ballad reasons that, if ballad singers are to be held responsible for such a crime, one would also have to hold judges, preachers, and the king himself accountable for providing a spectacle that enables crime, as well as hold its victims responsible for their own foolishness.
Recording of stanza two.
The events that follow Nightingale’s performance demonstrate the accuracy of his claims, showing the criminals to be clever, the fools gullible, and the judges and preachers (in the form of the disguised Justice Overdo) to be, in part, responsible for the criminal and immoral behavior that goes on in the fair.
The similarities between the plot of Bartholomew Fair and the lyrics of “A Caveat for Cut-purses,” suggest that one of these works influenced the other. Indeed, later broadside versions of this ballad, printed in the 1640s and 1650s, make direct reference to its appearance in Jonson’s play.
“A Caveat for Cut-purses.” Recording of stanza six.
As the extant copies of the ballad were printed well after Bartholomew Fair was first performed, it is unclear whether Jonson wrote the ballad for the play, or was drawing upon an already popular song.
The similarities between plot and ballad found in Bartholomew Fair were not uncommon, as ballads about Doctor Faustus, Titus Andronicus, and Alice Arden (pictured below) contain details similar to those found in plays depicting these figures.
“The Judgment of God shewed upon one John Faustus Doctor in Divinity.”
“The Lamentable and Tragical History of Titus Andronicus.”
“The Complaint and Lamentation of Mistresse Arden of Feversham in Kent.”
Nor was Bartholomew Fair the only case of a theatrical production invoking popular ballads, for ballads are sung in many early modern plays. For the purposes of this essay the origin of “A Caveat for Cut-purses” is less significant than the fact that Jonson draws a parallel between the plot of his play and Nightingale’s song to indicate similarities between ballads and theater. That Jonson is interested as much in the interrelated function of these art forms as he is in their content becomes clear though his use of metatheatre and his depictions of the commercial settings in which ballads and theater are performed.
Francis Beaumont’s The Knight of the Burning Pestle (1607) also pairs ballads and metatheatre, but whereas Jonson’s metatheatre is structural—a device used to draw attention to the commercialized aspects of theater—Beaumont turns metatheatre into the subject of his play. More specifically, Beaumont depicts the space of performance within the commercial theater as a collaboration of audience and actor to the exclusion of the author (ironically, himself). Four lines into The Knight of the Burning Pestle, the Prologue's attempt to introduce a somewhat conventional play called The London Merchant, is interrupted by a Grocer (George) and his wife (Nell), who insist that the actors on stage perform a play more to their liking: the adventures of a Grocer Errant. The Grocer’s request for the tradesman’s equivalent of a Knight Errant—a travelling, adventuring knight—is most likely inspired by the apprentices of Thomas Heywood’s Four Prentices of London (c. 1592-94), four noble brothers who win Jerusalem for Christendom. At the same time, Beaumont implicitly suggests that there is something errant, or false, about the idea of a chivalric grocer and hints at the complications that will follow in the play due to the errors made by the character cast in the role of Grocer Errant. When the boy actors resist enacting this play, claiming they have no actors available for the lead character, the Grocer and his wife invite their apprentice Rafe onto the stage to play the part of the errant grocer. The rest of the play alternates scenes from each play with occasional overlaps between the two. And just as the metatheatre moves center-stage in this work, so does the performance of ballads. For the plot of The London Merchant, the original play to be performed by the actors, depicts the plight of the Merrythoughts, a family brought to penury and vagrancy by a patriarch, Merrythought, who seems to care only for drink, revelry, and song. By the end of The Knight of the Burning Pestle, the practical and pragmatic characters in this plot are all forced to sing ballads in order to submit to Merrythought, the play’s lord of misrule.
Bartholomew Fair and The Knight of the Burning Pestle highlight similarities between ballads and theater as commodities that are experiential in nature, with Jonson foregrounding the analogous commercial transactions through which these artistic forms circulate, and Beaumont focusing on the similar way that ballads and theater are consumed. Their use of metatheatre specifically emphasizes the monetary transactions at the heart of theatrical production as well as the impact of such transactions on the relationships between audience, playwright, and performers, a subject echoed by their depictions of ballad singing and selling. In Bartholomew Fair, Jonson explores what it means for an art form to be a commodity—both in terms of its production and consumption. In The Knight of the Burning Pestle, Beaumont focuses on the flexibility of the art form, examining ways in which the consumers of the aesthetic experience can recast it to fit their particular needs. Whether the emphasis is on the marketplace in which ballads are sold, the use to which consumers put their ballads, the performance of actors, or the reception of the audience, both authors highlight how the interactive nature of theater and ballads blurs distinctions between producer and consumer. Jonson and Beaumont show ballads and theater to be potentially disruptive art forms, as it is impossible to control an audience’s experience and response to the works or a performer's presentation of the work.
Because of the experiential nature of early modern theater and ballads, their impact was determined as much by the particularities of each performance—their audience, the agents performing the work, and the circumstances surrounding the performance—as it was by their written text. While what remains today is the fixed, printed text of the ballad, broadside ballads were also performed events in which the experience of the audience influenced the reception of the text. Patricia Fumerton has argued that early modern production, reception, and consumption of ballads produced an art form that had an overall effect on its audience of fragmentation rather than cohesion. Fumerton posits that since ballads were sung and sold at different locations, an individual’s experience of a ballad, and thus perception of it, might be influenced by where and when it was heard. Thus, because of their various means of transmission as well as their intertextuality, ballads could not easily be identified as the product of any particular individual. An individual’s perception of a ballad would rest as much, if not more, on the circumstances in which they experienced it than on the specifics of the text.
Likewise, for the early modern theatergoer, plays were events in which a number of agents influenced how the play might be received. Given the multiple forces shaping the experience of early modern theater (whether audience expectations, actors’ performances, or the whims of the censors), authors had limited authority over their works. Ben Jonson makes this point clear in the contract with the audience his Scrivener presents in the Induction of Bartholomew Fair. The contract performs an attempt to establish authorial control over the play, which the play itself goes on to undermine by showing the futility of attempting to regulate this commercial product. The contract read by the Scrivener, attempts to control the audience by highlighting the economic exchanges at the heart of the performance, suggesting that the audience may only criticize the play to the extent, that is, up to the amount that they have paid. The contract itself reveals the number of ways that the audience can undermine the success of a play—whether through disruptive behavior, misinterpretation, or criticism. While the contract attempts to determine how the work will be received, its very presence points to the inability of theater companies to control audience perception and social fashions. By portraying himself as a figure determined to use legal methods to force the audience to cede this control to the author, Jonson reveals the very inability of the author to control the context for and reception of his work. Instead of an authorially controlled performance, the play becomes an enactment open to a multiplicity of responses and interpretations—none of which can be mastered or even predicted by the author.
Indeed, Jonson frames his play with scenes that draw attention to the disruptive potential of the commercial elements of theater. The audience is not the only potentially disruptive economic agent affecting the reception of a play, for the performance of a play depends on various workers—both on and off stage. Jonson’s Induction depicts dueling forces within the theater itself. By opening with a disgruntled Stagekeeper complaining that the author does not value his idea of what would make a successful play, the Induction draws attention to the theater’s reliance on its employees—and its vulnerability to their own wishes. The author, Book-Holder, and Scrivener’s attempts to limit audience reactions by establishing contractual terms between the audience and playwright are countered by the Stagekeeper, who warns the audience that they are bound to be disappointed by the play they are about to see. Jonson’s use of metatheatre here emphasizes that the context in which the play is experienced can overshadow and potentially undermine the content of the work itself. An audience’s reception of a play can be influenced by any number of agents—all with different investments in the performance.
At the end of the play Jonson returns to the concerns of the Induction when he depicts the interactions between audience, authors, and performers in the outrageous puppet retelling of Marlowe’s Hero and Leander, puppetry that became all the fad in the nineteenth century.That we are meant to draw comparisons between the Induction and the puppet show becomes clear when the audience member Bartholomew Cokes demands to see the actors before the performance. The puppeteer Lantern Leatherhead agrees and brings out the puppets, including one serving as the Ghost of King Dionysius.
The hilarity and fascinating paradox is that Dionysius, who is first identified as King Dionysius, but later shifts into Dionysius, god of the theater, is in Jonson’s puppet play costumed “in the habit of a Scrivener,” suggesting to Jonson’s actual audience that what will be depicted in this scene is a manifestation of the earlier contractual concerns of the Induction (5.3.88).
The depiction of the audience’s arrival to the puppet show at the end of the play once more emphasizes the economics of the performance transaction, prioritizing the audience over the content of the performance. When Bartholomew Cokes asks the doorkeepers about the type of performance he would be paying for, they ignore the question and instead assert: “we’ll take your money within” (5.3.12-13). At least five times in the next sixty some lines there is a direct reference to the payment required to attend the play. And, in another echo of the Induction to the play in which the various employees of the theater debate who determines its value, we find a discrepancy between the author and theater company at the puppet play about the monetary worth of the performance. Bartholomew Cokes admits that he has no cash on hand, so he borrows from the puppet show’s author. Overestimating the value of his play, Littlewit gives Cokes a crown. Despite the Doorkeepers assertions that the play costs twopence, Cokes pays them twelvepence—thus determining the value of the performance and inverting the author’s position in the contract, wherein the price of the performance should determine the audience response.
The farce of the show that follows provides a means for Jonson to directly address the impact of commodification on art. The puppet show, a rewriting of Marlowe’s Hero and Leander, reveals how even the most sophisticated texts can be brought low by market forces, transforming Marlowe's poem into something similar to the Punch and Judy type show pictured above. Through the discussion surrounding the performance, Jonson reveals the devolution of an aesthetic work when it becomes a commodity. Fearing that Marlowe’s version is “too learned and poetical for our audience,” the puppeteer, Lantern Leatherhead, reassures his audience, specifically the juvenile and dim-witted Bartholomew Cokes, that he “entreated Master Littlewit, to take a little pains to reduce it to a more familiar strain for our people” (5.3.110, 104). Littlewit confirms these changes. He informs Cokes, who admits that he has read but not understood Marlowe’s poem, that he has “only made it a little easy, and modern for the times,” suggesting that all he has done has been to update the classical settings of Marlowe’s work, moving it to London where Leander is a “dyer’s son about Puddle-warf” and Hero “a wench o’ the Bank-side” (5.3.112-116). The performance that follows bears little similarity to Marlow’s text other than the title and names of characters: Hero appears as a drunken whore and Leander, Damon, and Pythias (who somehow end up added into this work) are back-stabbing, drunken brawlers. Because of the author and performer’s desire to accommodate the paying audience, Marlowe’s poem is made unrecognizable.
The puppet show also demonstrates how the conditions of performance enabled a direct relationship between audience and performer to the detriment of authorial control. Notably, the one figure not present for this performance is its author—who has left to search for his wife. As in the Induction, Jonson presents an author who is worried about his lack of control over the performance. As Littlewit leaves the stage he commands Lantern Leatherhead, “look you be perfect; you undo me else i’ my reputation” (5.5.10-11). And he is rightly concerned, for during the course of the puppet show the puppet master loses control of the plot and his puppets, who turn against him, cursing and beating him while the audience, represented through Bartholomew Cokes, eggs them on. Neither the actors nor the audience can be contained within the bounds of the play—a point Jonson emphasizes in the scene immediately following the puppet show, when the Puritan Zeal-Of-The-Land-Busy attempts to shut down the performance. Leatherhead defends the play, offering that, since it has been approved by the Master of Revels, it is “licens’d by authority” (5.5.14, 16). He cannot, however, control his puppet-actors and Puppet Dionysius breaks through the fourth wall to argue with Busy about the puppet show’s legitimacy.
Just as the puppet show reveals the impact of commodification on a work’s integrity, Nightingale’s singing of “A Caveat for Cutpurses” draws attention to the fact that the performance of ballads is also a commodified experience. As Nightingale informs Bartholomew Cokes, his eager audience and potential customer, “I sing it [A Caveat for Cutpurses] in mine own defence. But ‘twill cost a penny alone, if you buy it” (3.5.39-41). Cokes makes it clear that he is a customer, and reminisces about previous ballads he purchased, offering at the end of the singing to “buy the / whole bundle too” (3.5.45-6, 168-9). When Nightingale calls out a list of “fine new ballads” to tempt potential customers (2.4.10), he presents a mishmash of titles:
Hear for your love, and buy for your money!Nightingale’s list offers something for everyone: ballads seeming to titillate by hinting at sexual relations (“The Ferret and the Coney”) countered by those that offer “preservatives” against the danger of sexual relations, condemnation of fashion taken straight from anti-theatrical pamphleteers matched with morality depicted as fashion, and stories of scatological farting witches followed by a song about Saint George.
A delicate ballad o’ The Ferret and the Coney!
A Preservative again’ the Punks’ Evil!
Another of Goose-Green Starch, and the Devil!
A Dozen of Divine Points, and The Godly Garters!
The Fairing of Good Counsel, of an ell and three quarters!
What is’t you buy?
The Windmill blown down by the witch’s fart!
Or Saint George that O! did break the dragon’s heart! (2.4.10-18)
Left, “A Godly new Ballad, Intituled, A Douzen of Points,” Pepys 2.30, EBBA 20653.
Right, Robert Guy. “A warning for all good fellowes to take heede of Punckes inticements,”
Pepys 1.288-289, EBBA 20135.
The mix of ballads in the list above reflects Nightingale's needs to appeal to the diversity of individuals attending the fair. At the same time, this need to please his varied audience/customers creates a space in which the moral authority of particular works is potentially diminished by their companion texts. While Nightingale’s list gestures at pleasing the more upstanding members of society, balancing the profane with a number of ballads meant to moralize, elevate, and educate, the placement of these ballads among more crass titles subtly undermines their authority. As a product, the moral “A Dozen of Divine Points” is ascribed the same value as the “Windmill blown down by the witch’s fart.” By juxtaposing moral ballads with ridiculous, lewd, and perverse ones, Jonson draws attention to the ways in which the context in which a work appears redefines its meaning. Similarly, the inclusion in his list of “Goose-Green Starch, and the Devil,” a ballad that depicts a woman punished by the devil for her love of fashion, right before two ballads that use positive images of clothing and fashion as a vehicle for their moral lessons, draws into question the content of “A Dozen of Divine Points” and “The Godly Garters”—the latter an attempt to dress up morality with the very thing that has just been targeted as immoral.
Careful attention to the titles in his list of ballads reveals that Nightingale is even more actively adapting individual ballads to his own commercial purposes, and—through the context in which he places them—reshaping their meaning, potentially putting his own slant on their contents.
Martin Parker. “Houshold Talke, OR; Good Councell for a Married Man.”
Nightingale’s recasting of advice ballads such as Martin Parker's "Household Talk, or Good Council for a Married Man" into "The Fairing of Good Counsel'" raises questions about how effective such advice will be, how it will morally “fare,” and also points to its commodified nature—“fairings” were tokens and souvenirs brought home from events like Bartholomew Fair. Nightingale’s reference to the “delicate ballad o’ The Ferret and the Coney” also uses the language of the “delicate ballad” that appears in a number of ballads depicting young lovers uncertain about their relationships.
A delicate new Ditty composed upon the Posie of a Ring: / being, I fancie none but thee alone: sent as a New-years gift / by a Lover to his Sweet-heart.
“Richard Crimsal. Pretty Nannie: OR, A dainty delicate new Ditty, fit for the Contry, Town, or Citty, which shewes how constant she did prove unto her hearts delight and onely Love.”
“A delicate new Song, Entituled, Sweet-heart, I loue thee.”
“A most delicate, pleasant, amorous, new Song, made by a Gentleman that enioyes his Loue, shewing the worth and happi-nesse of Content, and the effects of loue, called, All Louers Ioy.”
But Nightingale then combines the delicate ballad with the sexual innuendo found in depictions of men and women as “ferrets” and “coneys.” The reference to “coneys” adds additional possible associations with the roguery of coney-catching pamphlets popular at the time. He also makes a possible reference to the specific ballad “A man cannot lose his money, but he shall be mockt too, OR, Suttle Mals love to a simple Coney, / To make him an Asse to spend his money” (c. 1625, Magdalene College Pepys 1.467, EBBA 20219), in which a young gentleman is conned by a young women into spending all his money on her, which she takes and then leaves him to marry another—in other words, a ballad directly at odds with the sentiments found in the “delicate new” ballads.
“A man cannot lose his money, but he shall be mockt too, OR, Suttle Mals love to a simple Coney, / To make him an Asse to spend his money.”
What Nightingale does here, however, is no more than ballads themselves do to more conventional stories. Nightingale’s transformation of Saint George into a heartbreaker of dragons is only one step away from George’s transformation from religious hero to heartbreaker of virgins in “An excellent BALLAD of St. George for England, and the King of Egypt's only Daughter, whom he delivered from Death: And how he slew a monstrous Dragon” (British Library Roxburghe 3.620-621, EBBA 31318), a retelling of Book One of Spenser’s The Faerie Queene, which is as perverse as the puppet show’s retelling of Hero and Leander. Note that several characters in the ballad use the same “o” that Nightingale uses when he describes the ballad of “Saint George that O! did break the dragon’s heart!,” suggesting that the edition reproduced in the Roxburghe collection might be the ballad Jonson is invoking.
“An excellent BALLAD of St. George for England, and the King of Egypt's
only Daughter, whom he delivered from Death: And how he slew a monstrous
Jonson’s depictions of plays, ballads, and puppet shows explore the ways in which these commodified experiences escape the influence of their authors and are reconfigured by the audience and the individuals performing them. Whereas Jonson emphasizes the production of these commodified experiences, Beaumont, in The Knight of the Burning Pestle, highlights their consumption. In his play Beaumont depicts the lack of authorial control over a production when he stages an audience taking over the plot of the play being staged and convincing the actors go along with this rebellion, if somewhat unwillingly. George, Nell, Rafe, and the actors actively revise the two plays being performed on stage, changing content and structure to suit their momentary needs, a strategy echoed by the ways characters within the plays employ ballads.
While Beaumont also highlights the commercial transactions at the heart of the theater, he does so to reveal the influence of the consumer on such transactions. Willing to pay more for the performance they desire, George and Nell force the actors to revise the play on the spot, revealing just how much a theater company must cater to its audience’s interests. To this different end, Beaumont, like Jonson, draws attention to the commercial nature of theater by directly staging cash exchanges between the audience members and the actors in moments ranging from George’s insistence that the boys hire shawms (musicians playing an oboe-like instrument) at his expense to Nell’s tipping the boys that please her with their dancing.
If George and Nell are employed as characters by Beaumont to show how consumers can affect the content of the theatrical product, their apprentice Rafe reveals just how malleable a performed work of art is when it enters the marketplace. George and Nell expect Rafe to represent their interests on stage. Rafe’s performance, however, seems to undermine the intentions of his employers. For while George and Nell call for a Grocer Errant—a figure that “represents [the] trade, “in honor of the commons of the city” by doing “admirable things” (Induction 30, 25, 34) —Rafe’s character of the grocer errant rejects the commercial aspects of trade, adopting the mantle of chivalric hero as a means of cheating and taking advantage of the various tradesmen he encounters, failing to pay bills, and destroying shops along the way. Rafe essentially rewrites his employer’s plot to articulate his own desires rather than that of his masters, as can be seen in the extended commercial transaction at the King of Cracovia’s house. When Nell calls for a scene in which Rafe wins the love of the King’ s daughter, Rafe rejects the daughter’s love in favor of his beloved cobbler’s maid Susan, a plot itself made popular in ballads such as Thomas Deloney’s “The Spanish Lady’s Love.”
Though George and Nell hand Rafe money to compensate the King of Cracovia’s household so that he “be not beholding to him,” Rafe compensates members of the household not in accordance with their status but based on the specific services they have done for him personally. In doing so, Rafe revalues the worth of these individuals, giving the Horsekeeper more than the Chamberlain, and the Chamberlain more than the King’s daughter—only the boy who wiped his boots receives less than her. Rafe prioritizes labor over status and rejects the alliance between the trades and nobility that his employers desired.
Just as the metatheatre moves center-stage in Beaumont’s play, so does the performance of ballads, which are also reimagined by those who consume them. In The London Merchant, the play interrupted and rejected by George and Nell, the ballad-singing lord of misrule/patriarch Merrythought compels the other characters to sing their way back into his good graces. Throughout The Knight of the Burning Pestle, Beaumont emphasizes the various ways in which individuals draw upon the fluid nature of ballads and adapt them to speak to the circumstances in which they find themselves. Beaumont uses this strategy to show how ballads, like theater, are malleable to the desires of their performers and audiences. The ballads sung throughout the play are truncated, revised, and re-contextualized very much like what Patricia Fumerton describes as the likely result of the early modern experience of ballads: “such fragments of print and song and image themselves created fragmentary gatherings or partial ‘wholes’ of assemblages in the minds of contemporaries.” Ballads could be changed or co-opted to suit the need of the individual singing them, whether seller, as with Nightingale in Bartholomew Fair, or consumer, as is demonstrated in The Knight of the Burning Pestle.
Whereas Jonson depicts the economic nature of ballads and the pressure their status as commodities puts on their content, Beaumont focuses instead on the ways in which individuals mentally “own” ballads. I put “own” in quotes here because no one in the play buys or sells ballad artefacts. It is not at all clear that any of the characters have purchased a broadside. When the characters in the play sing ballads, furthermore, they rarely sing them as extant ballads are printed, but instead make them “proper” to themselves, just as Rafe has co-opted his role as the Knight of the Burning Pestle. Merrythought is perhaps the easiest to make sense of; indeed, his use of song has been the subject of a number of studies. Merrythought uses song as a means of communication, drawing upon a range of musical styles to respond to other characters’ demands and to comment on various situations. Rarely does he sing more than a few lines of any one song; rather he excerpts the lines most relevant for his purposes. Merrythought is a bricoleur using lines as necessary and disposing of the context from which they came.
While Merrythought’s use of song in the play is somewhat straightforward (he invokes the lines he needs and discards the rest), it is more challenging to make sense of the song choices made under duress by Mistress Merrythought, Michael Merrythought, and Venturewell when they are forced to sing their way back into Merrythought’s graces. When Old Merrythought requires his wife and son to sing in order to reconcile with him and gain entry into their home they choose the ballad “A Rare Example of a Vertuous Maid in Paris”:
The song itself relates the story of a Protestant child who rejects her mother’s commands that she attend Mass and is burned at the stake for her defiance. It does not clearly match the situation at hand. Critics have thus attempted to understand the ballad in terms of its personal relevance to its singers, suggesting that the characters are choosing a ballad that reflects their Protestant values or “Puritanical Sympathies”. Yet there is little in the play to suggest that Michael or his mother are strongly devout, much less Puritan. Mistress Merrythought’s criticism of her husband seems to be more pragmatic in nature, based on the fear that her husband’s refusal to work is wasting away their money.
The ballad chosen by Venturewell, who is seeking Merrythought’s forgiveness for the supposed death of Merrythought’s son Jaspar, seems equally incongruous. Venturewell sings the ballad best known as “Fortune my Foe,” in which a young man laments the potential loss of his beloved after fortune has turned against him:
Recording of stanza one.
When discussing Venturewell’s choice, critics move away from focusing on the text of the ballad to emphasize instead the ballad’s haunting tune, which was frequently used in goodnight ballads and ballads depicting tragic figures. Whether the interpretation is grounded in text or tune, critics of The Knight of the Burning Pestle have approached the ballads in it as fixed texts with specific meanings and limited interpretations—“ A Rare Example of a Vertuous Maid in Paris” is a Protestant martyr song; “Fortune my Foe” a morbid gallows song.
Rather than seeing the ballads as set texts with stable significations, it may help to rethink the ballads based on the contexts in which characters sing them. In other words, a character’s nature should not alone be determined by his or her choice of ballad. Singing “A Rare Example of a Vertuous Maid in Paris” does not necessarily mark one as Protestant, nor does invoking “Fortune my Foe” decidedly indicate conservatism or morbidity. Rather, Beaumont shows his characters employing these ballads to serve their purposes, reshaping their meaning as they go. If we consider that Michael and Mistress Merrythought’s choice of “A Rare Example of a Vertuous Maid in Paris” is sung when they are forced to accede to the demands of Merrythought, then the choice of the ballad could be viewed as a response to domestic tyranny, particularly with its subtitle’s reference to compulsion.
Recording of stanza three and Recording of stanza eleven.
In singing this ballad, Michael and Mistress Merrythought are able to obey the demands of their patriarch while at the same time expressing their frustration with and resistance to oppressive authority through the particular lines of the ballad found in stanzas three and eleven linked in the recordings above.
Venturewell’s choice of ballad is similarly astute. By singing a tune associated with criminals expressing regret, Venturewell admits to his sense of culpability for the (supposed) death of Merrythought’s son. But, despite the adoption of its tune for goodnight ballads and the seemingly ominous nature and haunting tone of its opening lines, the original “Fortune My Foe” (National Library of Scotland, Crawford.EB.398, EBBA 33202) after which the tune was named is not a ballad of failure but is instead a lover’s lament. The title of the ballad reveals clearly that it is ultimately a ballad about success.
Venturewell is, in fact, singing a ballad in which a character who fears fortune has turned against him discovers that it has not. In the second half of the ballad, the lady reassures her lover that human relationships can survive the whims of fortune. In singing this ballad, Venturewell positions himself as suffering only a temporary loss while also providing Merrythought with a model for sympathy and reconciliation. While he sings a ballad about young lovers, he is using it instead to emphasize the importance of forgiveness and reconciliation.
The reshaping of ballads to fit the singers’ needs and interests echoes the ways in which the fictional audience members of The Knight of the Burning Pestle rework the play to suit their personal desires and needs. Like Jonson's Bartholomew Fair, Beaumont's play employs metatheatre to draw clear parallels between theater and ballads. Both plays posit the stage as a potentially anarchic space in which the audience and actors have as much (if not more) influence as the playwright. Similarly, ballads are shown to have no inherent meaning, but are reconfigured by the context in which they appear—whether as a list of commodities to be sold or as a means of solidifying social relations. Both the commercial and experiential nature of ballads and theater place them as much in the control of the various economic agents participating in the experience as in that of their creators.
In Bartholomew Fair and The Knight of the Burning Pestle, theatrical productions, like ballads, are commodities that can be purchased, taken home, and made one’s own. The two plays depict these commercial experiences in a positive light, as they also serve to develop new communal relationships. At the end of both works, commercial theater is no longer disruptive, but the center of sociability. The Knight of the Burning Pestle ends with Nell inviting the gentlemen in the audience to accompany her home to enjoy “a pottle of wine and a pipe of tobacco” as well as the opportunity to tell her their responses to Rafe’s performance: “I hope you do like the youth, but I would be / glad to know the truth” (Epilogue 5, 6-7). And while Bartholomew Fair begins with a depiction of different groups competing with each other, it ends with a comfortable sociability created in large part through their attendance at the puppet show. Indeed, the final word of Bartholomew Fair is given to ballad purchaser and theater lover Bartholomew Cokes who, after Justice Overdo invites the playgoers to his house for dinner adds, “Yes, and bring the actors along, we’ll ha’ the rest o’ the play at home” (5.6.117-118).
media/_Table of Contents - JS3_PF-3.jpg
Introduction: Multimedia and Multimodal Theatricality
Inhis 2006 article, “Shakespeare’s Residuals: The Circulation of Ballads in Cultural Memory,” Bruce R. Smith laments that the role played by both oral and printed ballads in early modern drama “has largely been forgotten” by modern theater studies. So much have ballads fallen off the performance-studies radar, he continues, that theater scholars can no longer even find an inroad: “With scholarly argumentation and theatre history we know the nature of the evidence and what we can do with it: with ballads, we don’t quite know where to begin.” Smith, more than any other scholar of Shakespeare, has made major progress towards paving just such an inroad for ballads into Shakespearean theater and performance studies. In “Shakespeare’s Residuals,” he demonstrates, in particular, how broadside ballads often tailored themselves after popular Shakespearean plays, such as Titus Andronicus, functioning something like an abbreviated single-sheet remainder or memento of the performed play.
Since Smith wrote his 2006 lament, the study of ballads, and especially of broadside ballads, has emerged more prominently on the critical scene within the context of the history of the book and ephemera studies. What had considerably held back serious scholarly work on broadside ballads until then was the rise and subsequent dominance in the eighteenth through the late twentieth centuries of the field of folk studies, which focused on purely oral or traditional songs. The difficulty of viewing original broadside ballads—which are spread across US and UK libraries, and often protected even from scholarly viewing due to their rarity—has also been an impediment to their study. But increased access to extant broadside ballads through facsimiles in such digital resources as Early English Books Online (EEBO), the Bodleian Broadside Ballads Online, and especially the huge assembled collection of pre-1701 facsimiles, transcriptions, and recordings of ballads printed pre-1701 in the English Broadside Ballad Archive (EBBA), has fostered much interest in them. But, with few exceptions (Wurzbach's Street Ballad, Chess's “Plays and Broadsides,” and, focusing on songs in plays, Wong's Music and Gender in English Renaissance Drama), we still lack significant critical study of broadside ballads within theater and performance history. It is the objective of this collection to act something as a corrective or rerouting of ballad and theater study to advance Smith’s early exploratory inroads into just such analysis. Following Erika T. Lin’s persuasive argument about the blurring of modes of performance from early modern entertainments such as occasional festivities to the professional stage, I do not here make a clear distinction between theater history and performance studies. The terms are here used interchangeably.
I begin this collective enterprise with a simple premise: that both plays and broadside ballads were foremost intended to be performed in the period, however distinctly they might have be dramatized. Furthermore, their performativity relies in both genres on exploiting multiple media. As Matthew J. Smith and Julia Reinhard Lupton underscore, in their concluding essay to this study, when plays are enacted on the stage, they actualize not only text as spoken words and stage directions as actions, but also many other media and modes of communication: dialogic banter, dramatic actions and gestures, visual effects, including costumes, the sounds of cymbals, trumpets, canons, music, and song, as well as open dancing and more visceral kinesic movement, to name but a few. Street broadside ballads may have been mostly sung a capella by a sole hawker dressed in the plainest of clothes, perhaps accompanied by a simple fiddle, but such hawkers also drew on the power of a media-filled performance: holding up or waving a sheet of decorative black-letter text that also sported on it many eye-catching woodcut illustrations and other ornamentation, and that was further imprinted with a tune title that invited song—which assuredly the hawker belted out to catch the attention of his audience—perhaps even swaying or dancing to the tune. Indeed, constituted of multimedia, both performative genres drew on multimodal practices of communication. By multimodal, I specify the employment of many different ways of making meaning (textual, aural, linguistic, spatial, and visual) necessitated by the employment of dramatic multimedia. In terms of their multimodality, I would go so far as to argue that the performers of broadside ballads have more freedom of communicating meaning than do professional players who are confined to a specific, delimited space—the stage. By virtue alone of the diversity of spaces in which they disseminated their wares—from the streets, to alehouses, to marketplaces, to hangings, and far out into the countryside—hawkers could draw on occasional props and improvised interactions to communicate with their audience and invite them to participate as role-players in the broadside ballad experience.
Of course, plays have their own performative advantages. Foremost, they benefit from being performed by professional players, well skilled in captivating their audience with an intonation of their voice or a dramatic gesture, and even if not evoking audience involvement (other than the odd boo, cheer, tear-drop, or thrown rotten tomato), they could viscerally spark responses in their audience, such as toe taping to a performed tune or dance. Still, though less skilled than professional performers, broadside ballad hawkers must also have worked hard to engage their audiences—for that way market profit lay—pointing to an intriguing word in the ballad title or striking visual woodcut illustration on the sheet, reaching out to a passerby to grab their attention, enthusiastically or dolefully intoning a particularly popular tune to which the ballad could be sung, and inviting the audience to sing along, thus themselves becoming actors in the performative event. In voicing the words of the characters in broadside ballads—who often speak in the first person, as does Titus in the ballad “Titus Andronicus”—the audience has the opportunity momentarily to inhabit those sung roles. They also get to adopt, should they choose, oppositional and even multiple points of perspective both within and between ballads, which broadside ballad producers encouraged in their production, aiming to net the largest sector of potential consumers.
As part of drawing in their audience, broadside ballads were also intended to be touched and handled. Cokes, in Ben Jonson’s Bartholomew Fair (1614), on hearing a balladmonger hawk his ballads at the fair, fondly recalls to his sister the illustrated broadside ballads above the chimney in their country home: “O sister, do you remember the ballads over the nursery chimney at home o’my own pasting up? There be brave pictures!" (3.5.45-47). Though the hawker has invoked Cokes’ imaginative recall of the visual appeal of ballads, we hear other senses being sparked as well: the tactile engagement with the artifacts. Those ballads placed above his nursery chimney were “o’my own pasting,” Cokes proudly declares. Similarly, as we see in the series of images above depicting hawkers and buyers of ballads, the woman in the middle picture, showing interest in purchasing a broadside ballad, seems compelled to touch it. Broadside ballads were intended, among other purposes, to be hand-pasted on walls or posts, yes, but also simply to be held in the hand, or passed around, or pocketed and carried about for later showing at one’s pleasure.
Viewed through something like a prism of possible modalities for making meaning out of the multimedia of broadside ballads, “residual” seems an understatement for the experience they might evoke of staged plays. This collection seeks to activate more fully the performative roles of broadside ballads and plays as distinct genres but also as interactive or companion genres mutually constitutive and citational of each other.
The Interperformativity of Ballads and Plays
In pursuing Smith’s call for new inroads into thinking about broadside ballads within theater history/performance studies, we are thus at the same time answering the call made by the two early modern genres themselves, or at least by their authors/producers and, to the extent they were also participatory makers of meaning, their audiences. Public broadside ballads and the public theater were the most popular, indeed mass-marketed, of early modern performative multimedia as well as the most affordable. They evince an intense consciousness of the many ways of capitalizing on their media through a variety of modes of performance. They also exploited other popular works within their individual genres. Towards maximizing cheap marketability, ballad producers drew on other popular ballads—often literally stealing bits and pieces of them, usually in the form of refrains, images, and tunes—and playwrights invoked other popular plays—not only repeating snatches of text but adopting theatrical methods (think of ghost of Hamlet’s long-worn wail). The creators of these genres further complicated such profitably evocative practices by consciously crossing their genres and drawing on each other’s marketable performativity. Most of the essays in this issue explore such self-conscious capitalizations within broadside ballads and between broadside ballads and plays.
Of course, the “affordances of performance,” to cite W. B. Worthen citing Donald A. Norman, offered by these two popular genres, it should be stressed, are by no means identical. Broadside ballads and drama played not only complementary but also competitive roles in their mass-market economy. They also shared a performative environment that was occasional and associative in very unstable and mobile ways, as William N. West underscores in discussing theater performance as “intertheatricality.” I shall explore in more detail below this concept of the intertheatrical, or—focusing more precisely on their multimodal dramatization—what I would call the “interperformative” character of both broadside ballads and plays.
First, let us revisit the self-conscious “residual” features of drama in broadside ballads, wherein the later often evoke plays in their plots and, even more commonly, in their titles, refrains, or tunes. What is at stake in this remediation of plays via broadside ballad artifacts? It would seem, as has been suggested above, that in so deliberately drawing on stage plots or stage personae, or even snatches of lines and tunes sung in plays of the period, makers of broadside ballads catered to the desire of consumers to reproduce something of the witnessed stage performance, or perhaps even a performance much talked about that they had not personally seen. In performing ballads in a communal setting (whether public or domestic), consumers could draw upon not only the thing itself—the play—but the theatrical effect of the play having been staged to a gathering in the theater.
Did the play text, then, serve as something of a musical “score” both for the play performance and for the subsequently printed and performed ballad artifact? Did it offer performance cues for its users? This is a fascinating question when one considers that musical notation actually starts to appear on broadside ballads of the later seventeenth century, often as a substitute for woodcut images of figures or scenes.
Worthen raises but ultimately rejects this notion of play-text as “score” for the enacted performance, refusing it together with other oft-used analogies, such as “script,” “blueprint,” “information,” and “software.” Rather, he affirms, such analogies work to “polarize poetry and performance, largely by identifying the text with a representation to be authentically downloaded to the stage.” With qualification, he prefers Kenneth Burke’s terms, “tools” and “technologies,” which suggest “a mobile, reciprocal relationship between the work writing might perform as symbolic action and the scene of its affordance, as equipment for living in the changing technology of the stage.” That is, Worthen wants more emphasis on the performance of the play-text as a realization of “agency” and “use.” Bottom line: “in performance, the text becomes material for use, used and used up, eventually put aside in the process of making a play.” orthen is clearly thinking of “score” more in terms of classical music than the very personalized and impromptu use of a musical score, or more simply just a tune title, as it typically appears printed on ballad sheets, which serve merely as a pointer to the melody to which the ballad should, or could, be sung. Given the reuse of ballad tunes, even their later appearance on broadsides in the form of musical notation would seem to function something like a trace or residue of the popular and variously sung tune. One thing is certain: the musical score on broadside ballads in no way would have dictated the sung performance(s) of ballad-texts any more than the scripts or promptbooks of plays would have dictated their staged performance.
Indeed, many of the musical scores printed on broadside ballads have been dubbed “meaningless,” signifying that they either don’t make up a recognizable tune or that the notation printed on the sheet cannot be matched to the poetic measure of the words on the page (Weinstein, Catalogue, xxv). As such, they are likely as meaningless as stage directions in promptbooks that end up being altered or simply ignored. Particularly of value is Worthen’s alternative notion that the play is an affordance or tool that gets “used up.” This concept as experienced phenomenon would explain why people across the social spectrum would want to grab hold of some re-creation of a performed play. That recreation could well have been held onto in the form of the physical thing of the broadside ballad, which offers a multimodal performative experience through text, illustration, and tune, even if ballad artifacts were themselves used up, both in any moment of their performance and more literally through over handling or recycling (as toilet paper, kindling, bird-cage lining, and the like).
But the above discussion suggests that the flow of “usage” between plays and broadside ballads was one-directional whereas, as Chess notes, it in fact moved back and forth between these two competing market forms of ephemera. Smith is surely correct that broadside ballad makers capitalized particularly on popular plays by Shakespeare and other dramatists. This is evident, for example, in the many extant ballads in EBBA with titles that include “Titus Andronicus,” “King Lear,” and “Mad Tom of Bedlam,” or have printed on them the ballad tune, “Willow, Willow,” to which Desdemona sings her now famous death-bed song in Othello.
A search by title word in EBBA further shows that broadside ballads appropriated the story-line of many other plays of the period not just Shakespeare’s, as Smith observes.
However, as an instance of reverse appropriation, consider more closely Desdemona’s sing of the “Willow, Willow” ballad. It is highly unlikely that the tune to her song caught on in broadside ballads, which it did, because of Desdemona’s compelling tragic scene in Othello. Rather, Shakespeare drew on what was already a very popular ballad tune—Desdemona notably refers to the song as “an old thing”—in order to lend affective power to his character’s performance. Indeed, as Megan E. Palmer points out, the ballad does not even occur in the first printing of Othello (Q1, 1622).
In fact, we find snatches of ballad titles, lines, refrains, phrases, and even whole stanzas cited in just about every public and private stage production of early modern England, defined for the purposes of this collection broadly as c. 1550 – 1700. Furthermore, although the evidence for the appropriation of oral and printed ballads by playwrights derives primarily from short snippets of song printed in quarto and folio texts, likely much more than a piecemeal line or even stanza was sung in staged performances. As Smith points out, why reproduce full ballads in the published play when everyone knew the ballad text and tune? Of course, not all lyrics nor even all tunes of ballads were common knowledge. But many were, which is part of the joke in The Winter’s Tale when Autolycus refers to his ballad wares as “new.” The audience watching any stage performance where ballads were sung could enjoy recognized songs and texts, and maybe even sing along. I would further add that printing large chunks of ballads in play-texts would, in practical terms, have added to the cost of the publication—paper being the primary expense in publishing then, as it is today—and would have disrupted the narrative of the reading experience. Once again, we should not see the printed play as the “score” or “script” of the performed ballad, any more than we should see the printed broadside ballad as such. Both artifacts acted much more as “tools and technologies” for the changing occasions that partially determine the character of their performance.
We might here return to West’s coinage of “intertheatricality,” expanding it to include the theatricality of broadside ballads as well as of plays, to discuss what he refers to as “the unconscious of the theater.” He explains: “Instead of reading the historical record of early modern theatricality as a collection of allusions, [intertheatricality] opens the possibility of understanding theater as made out of other performances.” As part of such accumulated and remediated performativity, I posit, we need to consider the role of improvisation in both broadside ballads and dramatic plays. Hawkers selling their ballad wares on the street would have used all affordances of their surroundings and the multimedia of the ballad artifacts they sold to try to catch the eyes or ears or touch of people passing by. Gesturing to someone looking in their direction, waving an illustrated black-letter text in the air, encouraging passersby to gather round, and inviting them to participate in singing the song, and even perhaps to engage with them in moving or dancing to the ballad, as suggested in the movements of the figures in the illustration of “A Merry new Song”
—all would have been staple impromptu hawking tactics. Though occurring in a more orderly and delimited space, a stage performance would also have offered many opportunities for interchanges with the audience and off-the-cuff recitations and songs, which might be recollective of vocalizations or gestures just heard or seen by the audience a few moments earlier outside the theater, among the many public places where ballads were hawked.
In this vein, a stage performer—especially one with singing skills, such as Robert Armin,
who in 1598 replaced Will Kemp as the clownish character for Shakespeare’s company, who likely played such song chanting figures as Feste and Autolycus, would have surely been a master of improvisation. Seeing an audience smile at a one-line/one-phrase reference to a popular broadside ballad, he might well have spontaneously seized the opportunity to burst into extended song. Smith and Lupton in their essay explore precisely such a moment that might have been exploited by Kemp while playing a servant in Romeo and Juliet. Stage performances, in sum, like broadside ballad performances, were open to tactical adjustment. The Winter’s Tale, which features the most ballad singing in any of Shakespeare’s plays, cries out for such improvisational tactics, in the spirit of the roguish balladmonger, Autolycus. Extemporaneous ballad singing would also have been a means of extending and giving emotive power to the single act of this play devoted to the spring-like rebirth which Autolycus exudes on entering the stage in Bohemia, after three acts that end in wintry tragic deaths and mourning in Sicilia. A passing stanza sung by Autolycus could be extemporaneously expanded into two or three stanzas or even a whole ballad. Just how much of the snatches of broadside ballads extant in the play-text of The Winter’s Tale would have been extemporaneously extended in performance by Autolycus live on the stage, or by other characters assigned ballad snippets in other play-text “residuals,” might well have depended on where the play was performed and for whom, and on the spontaneous rapport (or lack thereof) between actor and audience at a particular performance, just as with occasional performances of the parts or wholes of broadside ballad media on the streets of London, in public or private city spaces, or at country fairs.
The intertheatricality or interperformativity of ballads and drama grew more intense in the course of the seventeenth century. By the mid-seventeenth century, whole ballad songs were so commonly sung on the stage that a new genre of musical theater emerged, dubbed “ballad operas,” the most famous of which is John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera (1728). The addition of ballad songs to the stage had the advantage of intensifying and popularizing the orality of performances, and the theater capitalized on this fact by increasingly incorporating ballads, including their kinesic association with dance, as vividly dramatized in the after-play “jig” discussed in Smith and Lupton's essay. Broadside ballads responded competitively to such "ballad operas" by often adopting theater songs and lyrics which became popular, adding some extra stanzas and, sometimes woodcuts, and reissuing them on single sheets as, well, broadside ballads, often labeled as “new.” A famous conspirator in this back-and-forth appropriation between musical theater and the printed (as well as performed) ballad was Thomas D’Urfey, who wrote ballads for both stage and broadside performance.
But D’Urfey was just one among many engaged in the cross-pollination between stage and broadside ballad.
Remediating Performance and the Affordances of the Web
The self-conscious process of appropriation and adaptation by producers and consumers of broadside ballads, which I have dubbed “interperformativity” (a twist upon West’s “intertheatricality”), allowed for the remediation of one genre by the other. By “remediation,” I refer to the concept promoted by Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin, in their book by the same name (1999). This work serves as the keystone to the first contribution in this collection by Lori Humphrey Newcomb and her students, but it lies latent in all the contributors’ approaches.
According to Bolter and Grusin, as each emerging communicative medium strives for relevance, it inevitably recapitulates past media and in so doing calls attention to its own affordances and limitations. Such remediation requires a “double logic,” which might at first seem paradoxical: the fact that every culture “wants both to multiply its media and erase all traces of mediation.” As they state more specifically, remediation thus draws on the two imperatives of “immediacy” and “hypermediacy.” The authors focus in their book on modern digital and visual media, but as they observe, remediation “has been at work for the last several hundred years of Western visual representation.” They cite as an example a seventeenth-century painter seeking to attain the illusion (read “immediacy”) of realism through linear perspective and the contrivance of realistic lighting (read “hypermediacy,” 11). In sum, as “each medium promises to reform its predecessors by offering a more immediate or authentic experience, the promise of reform inevitably leads us to become aware of the new medium as a medium” or, to put this notion more bluntly, “immediacy leads to hypermediacy.”
Both professional theaters and broadside street ballads can be seen to be individually engaged in acts of remediation with previous media and with each other. In Bolter and Grusin’s terms, that is, they are involved in attempts at continued immediacy through new hypermediacy. By "hypermediacy," they refer to a multiplication of old media conjoined with the invention of innovative media. Such dual means of hypermediacy are employed in a (ultimately failed) effort to create the effect of an immediate, non-mediated experience. Commodified public drama emerged out of and adapted non-vendible communal rituals such as medieval miracle or mystery plays as well as local festivities; these sources were themselves constituted of many media and modes of communication. But at the same time as they adopted prior practices of performance, professional playwrights sought to create the illusion of immediacy by adding new media: for instance, we are introduced to the “realism” of one-on-one interaction with the audience through the contrivance of soliloquy or through other nuanced emotive and visceral modes evoked by performers. Such “realistic” professional acting was accompanied by the actors drawing on the affordance of a situated, tailor-made stage as well as a plenitude of sound effects, instruments, song, costumes, and props. Along the same lines, broadside ballads remediated their precursors in manuscript illumination as well as in oral, handwritten, and printed songs. Such earlier, discrete media were re-constituted and concentrated on a single sheet of the broadside ballad in what was in effect hypermediated, in the sense of multiplied and thus a new use of media, all in the effort to create the effect of immediacy: black-letter typeface adapted earlier, familiar styles of handwriting and print at the same time as printed tune titles invoked familiar melodies of oral song—extended later to include musical notation—and perhaps most innovatively, if still evocative of manuscript and book illustration, woodcut illustrations and ornaments decorated the ballad sheet of these texts and tunes. A multitude of old media—none particularly innovative on its own—were ingeniously crammed together onto a single sheet in the service of an experience of immediacy that would call up even more real-life intimacies (modalities of physical handling, of jostling up-close bodies, of a multitude of visceral reactions to overloaded senses), and even of communal dancing.
In incorporating the multimedia of broadside ballads into the professional theater and vice versa, both printed ballads and printed plays in performance multiplied these processes of remediation, which always implied, and in the audience, invited, self-conscious reflection on those very processes. The immediacy of the hypermediated performativity of the kind professional theaters promoted was, indeed, precisely what ballads most needed to make them come even more convincingly alive for their consumers. On the other hand, broadside ballads offered professional theater, always physically at a certain remove from its audience, evocations of an intimate, up-close, and personally lived experience.
What we can now further add to this mutual remediation of and between drama and broadside ballads, as part of the mandate of the EMC Imprint, is our own remediation of traditional modes of criticism by ourselves incorporating these genres critically and self-consciously through the hypermedia of the world wide web: offering a plethora of images, film clips, interviews, recordings, and the like, which we invoke to make the experience of this collection simultaneously more immediate than a conventional printed volume and more reflective of what we today understand as lived experience. In sum, we draw on the affordances of the internet with which we are all familiar in the twenty-first century, including digital archives such as EBBA—which remediates “original” artifacts by making them more accessible precisely through the hypermedia of multiple facsimiles, metadata, and recordings—in an effort to bring more alive the performativity of early modern ballads and drama, then and now.
Ballads and Performance in Review
The inspiration for this collection, Ballads and Performance: The Multimodal Stage in Early Modern England, was a seminar on Shakespeare and Ballads that I led in April 2015 at the Shakespeare Association of America’s annual conference.
On reading my group’s submitted papers for the seminar, I knew right away that many of them were unusually strong and also that they addressed in new ways the timely topic of how ballads and plays interacted in the period. Four contributors to that session—David Baker, Claire M. Busse, Kris McAbee, Jessica C. Murphy, and Rochelle Smith—significantly revised their papers for this collection to further hone their focus on ballads and performance; Baker further recruited as collaborators to his expanded piece graduate students in an upcoming class he would be teaching on the topic (Travis Alexander, Adam Engel, Katharine Landers, Mary Learner, and Ashley Werlinich). In addition, four scholars who were not part of the seminar were brought on board: Julia Reinhard Lupton, working together with Matthew J. Smith; Lori Humphrey Newcomb, collaborating with her graduate students Michelle M. Chan, Hilary Gross, Kyle R. Johnston, Sabrina Y. Lee, Kathryn E. O’Toole, Michael J. Ruiz, and Stacy Wykle; and Pamela Reinagel. Finally, Bruce R. Smith graciously agreed to provide an Afterword. Together, these scholars, by discipline alone, remediate an established literary cultural approach to ballads and performance by adding to the traditional literary disciplinary perspective History, Information Science, and Neurobiology.
Following the mandate of the EMC Imprint, the collection also encouraged the contributors to draw on all the affordances of the web, offered through the Scalar platform, to emphasize the sensory and interactive experience of both broadside ballads and theatrical performances: examples of ballad woodcut illustrations and recordings; film clips; videotaped performances and interviews; diagrams and digital visualization tools, etc. Their resultant compilations are gathered into five sections: Remediating Ballads and Plays; Marketing Theatricality: Producers and Consumers of/in Ballads and Plays; Performing Knowledge, Senses, and Emotions; Staging Deformity and Female Disease; and Beyond the Last Act.
In the first section, “Remediating Ballads and Plays,” Newcomb, together with her interdisciplinary class of seven graduate students, self-consciously performed acts of remediation on early modern acts of remediation, resulting in their collaborative piece, “Shakespeare in Snippets: Ballads, Plays, and the Performance of Remediation.” Drawing specifically on Bolter and Grusin’s work, discussed above, they set about not only to enact historical remediation in our own time but also to rethink the affordances and limitations of each era’s characteristic media. Focusing on six of Shakespeare’s plays together with cognate (that is, related) early modern ballads, the students created new play-based ballads. They did so by “combining printed objects, vocal and instrumental performances, interactive digital platforms, a playlet, and performance installations.” They then added video-tapings of their reflections upon the process and product of their efforts and on those of their audience responding to their creations as performed at a “Ballad Fair.” The double-pronged demands of immediacy and hypermediacy that constituted their own remediations via modern media are so “in your face” that they raise the question, “When the practice of remediation itself leaps across centuries, does self-referentiality outweigh immediacy, or are new effects created?” Fearing self-indulgence or estrangement, the participants instead encountered often surprising new insights through their multimedia and multimodal engagement, even at such a vast temporal distance, with the historical processes of remediation.
The second section, “Marketing Theatricality: Producers and Consumers of/in Ballads and Plays,” focuses on one of the key cultural affordances exploited by both broadside ballads and professional theater: the market and its consumers. Claire M. Busse, in “‘Hear for your love, and buy for your money’: Ballads and Theater as Experiential Commodities,” explores how Jonson’s Bartholomew Fair (1614) and Francis Beaumont’s The Knight of the Burning Pestle (1607) demonstrate that the means of production and the demands of consumers which underpin both broadside ballads and plays work to undermine authority and resist limits on interpretation. But each playwright adopts a different perspective about his fact. Whereas in Bartholomew Fair, Jonson explores what it means for his drama to be a performed product—both in terms of its creation and consumption—in The Knight of the Burning Pestle, Beaumont focuses on the flexibility of his play as performance, examining ways in which the consumers of the aesthetic experience can recast it to fit their particular needs. Despite their different approaches, however, both authors show ballads and theater to be potentially disruptive genres at the hands not only in the hands of their creators but also, and more unpredictably, in those of their consumers.
In this same section, Kris McAbee, in “She’s Crafty, She Gets Around: Women’s Craft and Commodification in Ballads,” adopts an new approach and exposes the striking difference, not similarity, between Shakespeare’s plays and broadside ballads as seen through the commodified performativity of “craftiness” by maids. While crafty women are consistently viewed negatively in Shakespeare’s plays, she demonstrates, the figure of the crafty woman is much more multifaceted and widely embraced in broadside ballads. Indeed, employing digital visualization tools, she shows how the crafty woman in broadside ballads becomes all the rage toward the end of the seventeenth century. In marketing the crafty woman type, broadside ballads utilize the affordances of interperformativity continually to remediate this female “type” across the broadside ballad genre. The crafty woman, that is, calls up others of her kind while craftily shape-shifting so that she cannot be easily pinned down. In McAbee’s critical effort to get a hold on this slippery character, she divides crafty women ballads into four (sometimes overlapping) subsets defined by the use to which they put their craft: first, to embrace the single life, second, to avoid unwanted sexual encounters, third, to punish or trick men, and forth, to fulfill their own sexual desires. In all these remediations of craftiness in broadside ballads, women are revealed to act as agents in their own financial circumstances. But this revelation suggests another crafty marketing strategy on the part of the authors/printers/publishers/hawkers of the broadside ballads (almost all of whom were male) who created and disseminated crafty woman ballads: their intent to appeal to an audience of women and inspire them as consumers of ballads. That is, if women saw themselves satisfyingly living on their own terms in the character of the crafty maid, another dynamic is at work in these ballads: their produces have created and sustained the “crafty” woman as a commodity of ballad culture. In the final analysis, women remain subjects, or more accurately, “objects” subject to remediation by producers and all consumers, who also include men.
The third section, “Performing Knowledge, Senses, and Emotions,” turns self-conscious remediation of performativity inward. David Baker, together with a cohort of graduate students, focuses on just a snippet of Shakespeare’s Hamlet in which the court, at the opening of Act 4, scene 4, comments amongst itself about the dangerous nothings of Ophelia’s madness, which is followed by her performance of that madness through snippets of songs and ballads. A key aim of Baker and his collaborators is to rethink a long-standing critical emphasis on ballads as almost exclusively about communicating and perceiving feelings. In investigating Shakespeare’s remediation of ballad snippets, Baker and his students draw on later-day remediations of Shakespeare through illustrations, film clips, and self-reflective interviews to show that much more is at stake in the court’s comments: a fearful and as yet not fully graspable set of intellectual problems facing humanists of the early modern period having to do with the truth claims made by popular texts like ballads, even as the ballads themselves claim to be “nonsense.”
The thought-piece by Baker and his collaborators about what one might term the power of ballads to provoke inquiring thought is deliberately positioned in this section in opposition to Pamela Reinegal’s essay, “Ballads on the Brain: A Neurological Hypothesis.” As if extending Francis Bacon’s call for an experiential science, which so threatened the long-standing maxims passed down by early modern humanists examined in the previous essay, Reinagel speaks from the position of a modern-day scientist. She here draws on both the neuroscience of emotion and experiential practice of singing ballads. Her analysis is supported by conceptual illustrations and charts of studies of neural responses to song, as well as by sound clips of ballads sung by professional and non-professional singers, including herself. The data reveals, she suggests, that such oral performances “may have conferred neurophysiological benefits to the singers, listeners, and communities that sang together.” Reinegal here turns modern-day science into a different remediation of the vexed interrelation of early modern “knowledge” and popular affection, returning ballad performance to a focus on the emotive, with a literally healthy payoff.
In section four, “Staging Deformity and Disease,” we return to the scene of Shakespeare remediating broadside ballads. As if looking back to the twinned essays that form the previous section, Rochelle Smith turns away from Shakespeare’s one overt reference to popular broadside ballads about monstrous births, made in The Winter’s Tale, where Shakespeare appears to position himself and his audience in opposition to the naïve gullibility of the lowly shepherdesses who ask whether such wonder ballads are “true.” This scene has traditionally been read as confirming a comfortable humanist understanding that popular knowledge was nonsense, which Baker and his collaborators qualify. Smith’s focus, however, in her essay, “The True Form and Shape of Caliban: Monstrous Birth at the Edge of the Human,” is on Shakespeare’s more complex and questioning remediation of the monstrous birth ballad in the form of the character of Caliban in The Tempest. In this late Shakespearean play, Smith acutely observes, the word “monster” recurs more often than in any other of Shakespeare’s plays, almost entirely in reference to Caliban. Drawing on early modern scientific inquiries into such monstrosity as well as textual and visual representations of such monstrous births in broadside ballads, she argues that Shakespeare in The Tempest depicts an actual monstrous birth in his deformed slave, Caliban. In doing so, he remediates monstrous birth ballads that were so popular throughout this period in order to query our understanding of Caliban’s and our own humanity. Smith then jumps forward to later remediations of The Tempest in futuristic TV series and films, where the cyborgian or human engineered is the monstrous, to show that what is at stake in all these performances of the monstrous birth is the very essence of what constitutes the “human.”
Jessica C. Murphy, in “‘Greensickness Carrion’: Re-reading Capulet through Broadside Ballads,” looks to a different kind of monstrosity or, in this case, “disease” as it was remediated by Shakespeare specifically in drawing on the affordances of broadside ballads: that is, the female disease of greensickness as described in medical treatises of his time. While treated seriously in these medical writings, Murphy points out, greensickness in the texts, illustrations, and songs of broadside ballads talk about greensickness more often as a joke about the “insatiable female body.” Maid after maid in broadside ballads desperately seeks sex with a man to cure her so-called illness. Shakespeare and his audience were more than familiar with this mass marketing of a supposed disease in broadside ballads for bawdy entertainment. So when Capulet calls Juliet “greensickness carrion,” and so frantically pushes her to marry Paris in the very scene after Juliet has had sex with Romeo, the audience would very likely have understood his near hyperbolic performance as, in Murphy’s words, a “calculated use of a female disease to bring his daughter’s body back under his control.” Through such “calculation,” Capulet is himself desperately and, in some film performances, Murphy shows, even violently, adopting the language of medical treatises in an effort to restore his daughter’s value as a commodity on the marriage market. But he is also subtly—and likely what for Shakespeare’s audience, which was immersed in the mass market of broadside ballads that made bawdy fun of female sexuality as a disease—remediating popular knowledge of Juliet’s sexual activity.
In the final and fifth section of Ballads and Performance, “Beyond the Last Act,” we appropriately extend our gaze on the performance of plays beyond their ending, opening up the apparent divide between play as text and play as performance to entertain multimedia and multimodal performativity more generally, including, of course, drama’s key ally and competitor, the broadside ballad. Such an embracive opening up of the play occurs in the performance of a jig on the stage afterwards, as an extension of the dramatization or, to follow through on a clear theme of this collection, as a remediation of the play world. To bring this elongated performativity alive, Smith and Lupton begin their essay with another remediation they helped sponsor together with EBBA: a modern enactment of one of the many dialogue ballads in EBBA titled “jig” or “jigge,” often sung in a comic and bawdy vein. The jig we chose, “A Pleasant Jigg Betwixt Jack and his Mistress”
was performed by EBBA actors/singers and instrumentalists before a public audience in January 2016 at the University of California, Irvine. In this subsequent essay, Smith and Lupton ask us to imagine just such a jig occurring at the end of a performance of Romeo and Juliet, and raise their questioning bar one level: “How,” they ask, “would a theatrical presentation like this, with bawdy dialogue and comic mood, affect an audience’s digestion of the tragedy they have just witnessed?” Drawing on the multimedia affordances of the web to illustrate their answer, the authors demonstrate that the ballad-like features of even tragic performances—Capulet’s ball, the duet dialogue of Romeo and Juliet, inter-act songs and banter, and repeated evocations of specific ballads—exhibit not a dichotomy but the continuity between the tragedy and the ballad-like jig.
In sum, this concluding contribution to our collection, through a focus on the jig, underscores many aspects of the multimedia and multimodal performativity of plays and ballads that runs consistently through the essays. We recognize that the ballad as jig is but another remediation of the multifaceted ballad as artifact, which is yet another tool that gets used and used up visually, textually, and orally in its creation, dissemination, and consumption in early modern England, surviving only residually in some rare artifacts that can be digitized and further remediated in databases like EBBA. At the same time, we recognize that the play as play-text was also used and used up, as Worthen argues, in drawing on the occasional affordances of performance. And we can acknowledge once again that the interperformativity of plays and broadside ballads (even if the latter are only sometimes evoked through “snippets”) involves a self-consciousness of each other and of their roles as agents and commodities in a popular market economy.
Viewed as an assembled whole, this collection reflects upon the culture of a period that was actively engaged in twinned, if not identically twinned, genres that were heavily invested not only in the market but in thinking about their use of multimedia performativity. Liberally drawing upon each other, plays and of broadside ballads each in their own ways interrogated how, as major participators in a market economy, they could affect and probe their role in the life of the masses, which extended to include a broad-spectrum public of both high and low. Necessarily, they probed the very nature of the multiple media and many-faceted modes of performing those media that were available to them. In so doing, they demonstrated that such theatricality for the masses, of all sorts, could address important issues about the nature of human knowledge, the senses, and the emotions as well as culturally constructed notions of monstrosity, disease, and gender. As the after-play jig demonstrates, audiences themselves wanted the multimedia performance at the theater to extend beyond the last act, as if inviting it to reach out to join the everyday life inhabited by the broadside ballad. Ballads and Performance: The Multimodal Stage in Early Modern England offers many paths of understanding where to begin in undertaking an investigation into broadside ballads and theater/performance studies. In the process, we hope to have achieved a fresh perspective on what has now become Shakespeare’s stale line, “All the world’s a stage.”