William N. West. Common Understandings, Poetic Confusion: Playhouses and Playgoers in Elizabethan England


  • Eric Nicholson New York University




William N. West’s Common Understandings, Poetic Confusion: Playhouses and Playgoers in Elizabethan England, suited for specialists and non-specialists alike, is a boldly original and impressively versatile study of the discourses as well as experiences of the participatory entertainment offered at early modern London’s commercial playhouses. Deftly coordinating rigorous historical research, analysis of numerous but always salient primary sources, and theoretically informed, convincing interpretation, West opens a variety of fresh perspectives on the topic. Beginning with a demonstration of the aptness of “Playing”, rather than Theatre or Drama, as a descriptive and critical designation, he follows a propositional approach in the succeeding chapters on “Occupatio” through “Non Plus”, via “Confusion,” “Eating,” and other common criteria, to articulate a new understanding of how Elizabethans spoke of playgoing, rather than identifying what it meant to them. This lucidly written and truly ground-breaking monograph offers an extraordinarily rich, diverse array of critical insights that promise not only to change and re-direct our knowledge of its subject matter, but also to pave the way for fruitful commentary and enlightened understandings to come.

Keywords: playhouses; playgoing; Elizabethan England; poetic confusion; occupation; reoccupation; forms of life