Ante-aesthetics: Towards a Theory of Early Modern Audience Response
The neo-classical consensus was that Shakespeare and other Renaissance English dramatists achieved what they did despite their crass audiences. In 1902 A. C. Bradley found Shakespeare’s audience an interesting but peripheral topic, since everything important about his work was almost entirely independent of it: they wanted a clown and he gave them the Gravedigger (Bradley 1909: 365). In 1941 Alfred Harbage came to the opposite conclusion, finding early modern audiences superior in themselves and significant partners in the creative process: ‘Shakespeare’s audience . . . thrived for a time, it passed quickly, and its like has never existed since. It must be given much of the credit for the greatness of Shakespeare’s plays’ (Harbage 1941: 3).