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Epic Performances from the Middle Ages into the Twenty-First Century$
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Fiona Macintosh, Justine McConnell, Stephen Harrison, and Claire Kenward

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780198804215

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: December 2018

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198804215.001.0001

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A Harmless Distemper

A Harmless Distemper

Accessing the Classical Underworld in Heywood’s The Silver Age

Chapter:
(p.181) 13 A Harmless Distemper
Source:
Epic Performances from the Middle Ages into the Twenty-First Century
Author(s):

Margaret Kean

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/oso/9780198804215.003.0013

This chapter considers how the epic underworld becomes accessible from the early modern London stage. It examines plays by Kyd, Dekker, and others, but the main focus is on Thomas Heywood’s The Silver Age (1613), where katabatic movement on stage successfully translocates the descent narratives of erudite classical poetry into popular dramatic performance. The Silver Age retells the myth of Proserpina’s abduction by Pluto but it reconfigures Ovid’s account to fit within an episodic drama based around the life story of the Theban hero, Hercules. Heywood’s play offers an unusually independent and sustained response to classical materials, and an additional literary interest in Statius will be proposed. The chapter also employs recent work by theatre historians to reflect on the collaborative nature of early modern dramatic production, and on the repertoire and specific skill-set developed at the Red Bull Playhouse in the early years of the Jacobean era.

Keywords:   katabasis, reception of Ovid, early modern theatre, Red Bull Playhouse, William Shakespeare, Thomas Heywood, Harrowing of Hell, Thebes, Hercules, Proserpina myth

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