Settlement Aesthetics: Theatricality, Form, Failure


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships


Literatures in English


This project engages key formal continuities between settlement writing and English popular drama between 1570 and 1620 to examine how dramatists gave expression to New World accounts of failure and loss. During this period, unprecedented geographic expansion outside the theater was mirrored by an expansion of the dramatic setting. Yet dramatic interest in settlement crisis was primarily aesthetic rather than thematic, as dramatists recognized in settler accounts a corresponding crisis of representation which suggested that traditional forms of knowledge were unsuited to the demands of the present. These dramatists drew on the structure and rhetoric of settlement documents to respond to changes in the dramatic medium and question the capaciousness of their own theatrical worlds. By linking innovations in dramatic scenography to England’s New World failures, this project shows that drama played a crucial role in formalizing the uncertainty at the heart of the early modern knowledge-making enterprise.