chapter  4
36 Pages

Theatre and carnival licence: exploring the boundaries of comic freedom and tragic excess

WithMolly Smith

Theatre’s interest in carnivalesque excess, in crossing the limits of comic licence and tragic dignity, emerges in several plays of the early Stuart period. In the early seventeenth century, both comedy and tragedy seem to test the limits of their genre. These plays demonstrate a close relationship between theatre’s interest in crossing the boundaries of comic form and tragic dignity and the sociopolitical crossing of boundaries that emerged shortly after in the events of the midcentury. Theatre both reflects and contributes to a pattern of violations that emerge during this period, violations that lead ultimately to a clear desacralizing of traditional structures of social and political behaviour that had characterized society until now.