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“The labor we delight in”: Amateur dramatists in the London professional theaters, 1590–1642

Matteo A Pangallo, University of Massachusetts Amherst


In the commercial theaters of early modern London there worked a group of dramatists who, though they wrote for the playmaking industry, were not members of it. Rather than outliers in a unified, closed field of playwriting, they were amateur dramatists, a distinct class of writers who took advantage of the radically open nature of the field of playwriting for professional theaters to supply their own plays to the actors. Their plays require a different set of critical and historical questions than that traditionally used in examining plays by professionals. The reason for this distinction is that amateur dramatists came to their work with primary experience of the theater as cultural consumers rather than producers: they were playgoers who, though from a diverse range of economic and social backgrounds, shared a passion for the public stage—a passion that they translated into efforts to pen plays for that same stage. As plays by playgoers, their texts provide evidence for better understanding how particular audience members saw and understood the professional stage. Their plays reveal directly what audience members wanted to see and how they thought actors might stage it. In their attempts to replicate specific practices, conventions, and techniques that they saw in professionals' plays, they reveal how certain playgoers understood, or thought they understood, the professional theater. In their deviations from what they saw in professionals' plays, they testify to a gap between what the profession produced and what the audience wanted—a gap unnoticed by studies of audience experience that rely on professionals' plays to recreate that experience. Playgoers writing their own plays demonstrate that the early modern audience was a participatory, engaged, and even autonomously active force of dramatic creation. In the early modern professional theater, playgoers could create the texts and, in some cases, the performances that they desired. Reading amateurs' plays with an awareness that they were written not just for audiences but also by audiences thus opens a new window onto the early modern playhouse, the diversity of dramatists who wrote for it, and the creative experiences of the spectators who attended it.

Subject Area

Theater|British and Irish literature|Theater History

Recommended Citation

Pangallo, Matteo A, "“The labor we delight in”: Amateur dramatists in the London professional theaters, 1590–1642" (2012). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3518404.