Appropriate This


  • Charles Whitney University of Nevada, Las Vegas


This essay maps three fundamental features of the Renaissance theater as a theater of appropriation. The first feature considers how early modern audience response can be fruitfully characterized as oriented toward appropriation, and particularly appropriation as action, as the re-situation of dramatic material to do or make something. The second involves a corollary, that a major aspect of production must have involved accommodating practices of appropriation, even though producers sometimes resisted this. Shakespeare and other playwrights seem to have worked to provide material for appropriation, so that audience appropriation came not just after production, but actually was factored into the creative process. Hamlet provides the best example of how a producer may have grasped the creative possibilities of audience appropriation. The third feature considers the theater's concern with the common good, as well as with particular goods. It places the theater's appropriative exchanges in the context of early modern economic exchange, and specifically in relation to evolving notions of the balance between private and public interests. Two of Shakespeare's uses of a key word in this regard, "commodity," suggest an ethical framework for understanding the theater of appropriation.

Author Biography

Charles Whitney, University of Nevada, Las Vegas

Charles Whitney is Professor of English at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He is the author of Francis Bacon and Modernity (Yale 1986) and articles on Bacon and on Renaissance drama published in The Journal of the History of Ideas, Shakespeare Quarterly, English Literary Renaissance, Medieval and Renaissance Drama, and elsewhere. His book Early Responses to Renaissance Drama (Cambridge 2006) is the winner of the 2008 Elizabeth Dietz Memorial Prize from SELand Rice University for the year's best book in Early Modern Studies.