As may be apparent from our examination of Marlowe’s ‘tragic glass’ and Peele’s ‘iron Pen’, the friction between the representation of textual meaning and performance practice on the Elizabethan stage had a history of its own. Much neglected by critics, its history was marked by fits and starts rather than by any linear pattern of development. This history witnessed its first climax in the alliance of common players and humanistically educated poets in the formative period of London’s popular theatre in the 1580s. In contrast, no comparable antagonism marked the relations between writing and showing in the near-contemporary indoor theatre of the boys of the chapel. In the case of John Lyly, arguably Shakespeare’s most important predecessor, the division of interests between dramatist and actors found scarcely any articulation. Here, for better or worse, the unfolding uses of dramatic representation were not entangled with (and did not have to be secured against) any encroachment by ‘jigging veins of rhyming mother-wits’. In these circumstances, Lyly must have felt free to use the opening of Midas (1589) for launching a remarkable précis on the new art of Renaissance representation-the more so because it anticipated and combined the Hobbesian politico-juridical notion of a contractual type of representative action and what Heidegger defined in modern epistemology as the setting forth of a masterful world-picture ‘in relation to oneself’ or one’s emerging national culture. 1
Lyly was master of a boy’s choir and writer of their plays. His prologue to Midas on dramatic representation deserves further attention as one of the most revealing negotiations of authority in theatrical transactions before Shakespeare’s Henry V (1599). In both prologues, although for different reasons, there is a kind of truce between text and institution, in fact an attempt to establish a workable balance between them. Lyly’s prologue brings the expectations of the audience, the work of the actors, and the composition of the dramatist together in an audacious ‘Hodge-podge’ fashion as much a ‘mingle-mangle’ as the ‘world’ and the ‘matter’ to be represented. As a result, text and institution, like playing and watching, are subsumed under a workable order that relocates the site of its authority amidst relations of production and reception. Even more remarkably, the prologue makes these representative on two levels: epistemologically, as insightful images or structures mirroring one another; and, socially, in the sense that one stands for or finds itself in the same situation as the other. The epistemology and politics of this ordering are such that the dramatic text and its theatrical performance mutually reinforce one another. Thus conjoined, the production effort is strong enough to overrule even classical authority. The new model forcefully embraces both the gaps and the links between what represents and what is represented (and received). In fact, these gaps and links are constitutive of a new poetics of representation in the Elizabethan theatre.