Dramaturgy and the Plausible Wonder in Restoration Fiction, 1660–1670
Keywords:English novel, Restoration fiction (1660-1670), Theatre, Wonder
AbstractMackenzie’s roman-à-clef Aretina (1660) seems to foresee or, indeed, to capture the reopening of theatres when, at the end of Book 1, a group of actors present a monster (and a show) “upon a stage, whereon the Commedians used to act,” and the narrator subsequently summarises the performance taking place on the palace’s neglected stage. Nevertheless, the reopening of theatres had little or no immediate influence on the new English prose fiction published in the 1660s. As far as prose fiction is concerned, scholarly criticism about the Restoration theatre–novel interface addresses the period after—not before—1670. Yet, if areas of intersection are investigated, then a spectrum of quite different, isolated instances will emerge; from Margaret Cavendish’s remarks on her contemporary plays to events inspired by theatrical contrivances. This article therefore seeks to explore the presence of theatre and dramaturgy in the new English fiction published in the early years of the Restoration. The first part offers a comprehensive survey of theatrical thumbprints in this corpus of texts by considering the issues raised in literary criticism on the topic, such as dialogues, epistles and soliloquies, historical novels and first-person narratives. The second part pinpoints the episodes in high romances where wonder is no longer caused by magic, enchantment or any other supernatural intervention, but arises from calculated staging effects and devices. Authors of romances in the early years of the Restoration period contributed to the development of the English novel by making the moments of wonder more spectacular for characters, and more credible for readers, in line with the emerging scientific culture.
FundingThis article is a result of the research project “Early Novel in English, 1660–1700, Database and Textual Editing” (ENEID), financed by MINECO (Ref. FFI2017–82728–P).
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