Prologue to THE FIGURE OF THEATER
Prologue to THE FIGURE OF THEATER
The Figure of Theater—BY DAVID MARSHALL (Columbia UP, 1986)
ON March 1, 1711, when The Spectator made its debut upon the London scene, the metaphor that pictured the world as a stage was reputedly thousands of years old. The Renaissance, which had reflected upon the concept of theatrum mundi to an unprecedented degree, still provided a view of the world; the playhouses, closed for a time by the Puritans, had been open again for fifty years. Thus in writing under the title of The Spectator and declaring, "I live in the world, rather as a Spectator of Mankind, than as one of the Species," (1) Joseph Addison was situating himself within a familiar frame of reference. He was assuming an eighteenth-century version of a familiar pose when he announced in the prologue to his journal: "I have acted in all the Parts of my Life as a Looker-on, which is the Character I intend to preserve in this Paper." (2)
What was new for Addison's readers, however, was themselves: their own role as readers at the beginning of a century in which the rise of journalism and the rise of the novel would invent (or reinvent) the reading public. Addison characterizes these readers—whom he numbers, perhaps overoptimistically, at "Three-score thousand"—as a "Fraternity of Spectators . . . in short, every one that considers the World as a Theatre." (3) But it is their presence as a public that gives the theatrum mundi metaphor a new turn. For although these readers will look to the pages of The Spectator for representations of the scenes and characters of their society, they have become spectators of The Spectator. Addison acknowledges that his reading public is his "Audience"; (4) and in his first observation as the Spectator he focuses on the reade in the act of examining a book and inquiring after the author. He resolves to withhold "my Name, my Age, and my Lodgings," satisfying the reader's "Curiosity" with only a sketchy account of his life, since "communicating them to the Publick" would "draw me out of that Obscurity which I have enjoyed for many Years, and expose me in Publick Places." Although the author admits that he is "frequently seen in publick Places," he claims that no more than a half dozen friends "know" him; and the Spectator wishes to avoid "being stared at." (5) Surely a spy needs to preserve anonymity, whether in the Court or the Coffee-House; but the sense of these negotiations between author and reader might have been sketched by Henry James: the "Looker-on" findes himself the spectacle of those he would see without being seen. As the author addresses the public to invite them to see the world as a stage, he must acknowledge from the outset that his book as well as the world will be seen as theater.
In 1710, one year before Addison's first appearance as the Spectator, the Earl of Shaftesbury seemed less certain about how to negotiate a safe relation with that "Fraternity of Spectators" whose public view makes publishing a book seem like a theatrical act. Writing in his book, Soliloquy, or Advice to an Author, he complained about those authors who "exhibit on the stage of the world that practice which they should have kept to themselves." (6) Shaftesbury is referring in particular to authors of memoirs and essays who, despite the private character of their texts, insist on "appearing in public or before the world," publishing before the "eyes of mankind." (7) I would like to suggest, however, that Shaftesbury writes in a context in which the act of publishing itself—regardless of the character of the book—placed the author "on the stage of the world." In the course of the eighteenth century the public increasingly would abandon the playhouse and reconstitute itself around individual acts of reading; historically, spectators would give way to readers. (8) Figuratively, however, readers remained spectators; the assembling of a group of anonymous, isolated, unseen observers collectively known to authors as (and only as) the public in a sense reproduced the conditions of an audience. In literature and aesthetics, the ut pictura poesis tradition continued to picture readers as spectators, despite the attempts of Lessing and others to separate the arts; Kames' formulation was typical: "writers of genius, sensible that the eye is the best avenue to the heart, represent everything as passing in our sight; and from readers or hearers, transform us, as it were, into spectators." (9) My point is that in the sphere of published books, all readers were transformed into spectators, as it were. The eyes of the world, to which all published books were inevitably addressed, in trun transfomed the text to theater.
By the middle of the eighteenth century, when Dr. Johnson would define "to PUBLISH" first as "To discover to mankind; to make generally and openly known" and seconed as "To put forth a book into the world," (10) Fielding would begin a novel with the assertion: "An author ought to consider himself, not as a gentleman who gives a private or eleemosynary treat, but rather as one who keeps a public ordinary, at which all persons are welcome for their money." (11) Writing in 1710, Shaftesbury is more troubled with the conditions that Fielding seems to embrace from the outset; Shaftesbury is troubled by the book's commodity status and especially by the public realm in which published books by definition were destined to appear. In the pages that follow I will examine Shaftesbury's view of the conditions of the book and the characters of authors and readers. My focus will be on the theatricality of these conditions and relations: what it means to publish a book before the eyes of the world, what it means to publish oneself before the world. I will consider the prospects that theater offers for knowing oneself an the threat that theater poses to the concept of the self. At stake, also, will be tha character of philosophy for Shaftesbury.
1. Joseph Addison and Richard Steele, The Spectator, 4 vols., ed. Gregory Smith (London: J. M. Dent, 1970), 1:5.
2. Addison, 1:5.
3. Addison, The Spectator, No. 10, 1:31-32.
4. Addison, 1:31.
5. Addison, The Spectator, No.1, 1:3-5.
6. Anthony Ashley Cooper, Earl of Shaftesbury, Characteristics of Men, Manners, Opinions, Times, etc., ed. John M. Robertson (Gloucester, Mass.: Peter Smith, 1963), 1:109. All further citations of the Characterstics will refer to this edition. I also have consulted the third edition (1723) of the Characteristics and in a few cases I have restored the eighteenth-century punctuation or typography where I thought that Shaftesbury's emphasis was lost in modernization.
7. Characteristics, 1:197.
8. For an account of this transition, see the works cited above in "Preface," note 1. On the rise of publishing and its consequences, see: Ian Watt, "The Consequences of Literacy," Comparative Studies in Society and History (1963), 5:304-345, and "Publishers and Sinners: The Augustan View," Studies in Bibliography (1959): 12:3-20; Q.D. Leavis, Fiction and the Reading Public (Norwood, Pa.: Norwood Editions, 1977); Elizabeth L. Eisenstein, The Printing Press as an Agent of Change: Communications and Cultural Transformations in Early Modern Europe (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1979); Terry Belanger, "Publishers and Writers in Eighteeenth-Century England," in Books and their Readers in Eighteenth-century England (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1982), pp. 1-25; A. S. Collins, Authorship in the Days of Johnson, Being a Study of the Relation between Author, Patron, Publsiher, and Public, 1726-1780 (London: Robert Holden, 1927); J. H. Plumb, "The Public, Literature, and the Arts in the 18th Century" in Paul Fritz and David Williams, eds. The Triumph of culture: 18th-Century Perspectives (Toronto: A. M. Hakkert, 1972); pp. 27-38; Lennard J. Davis, Factual Fictions: The Origins of the English Novel (New York: Columbia University Press, 1983); and Michael Shinagel, Daniel Defoe and Middle Class Gentility (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1968), pp. 107-121.
9. Henry Home, Lord Kames, Elements of Criticism, 3d ed., 2 vols. (Edinburh, 1765), 2:347. For background to the ut pictura poesis tradition, see: Rensselaer W. Lee, Ut Pictura Poesis: The Humanistic Theory of Painting (New York: W. W. Norton, 1967); William G. Howard, "'Ut Pictura Poesis'," PMLA (1909): 24:40-123; Rémy G. Saisselin, "Ut Pictura Poesis: Du Bos to Diderot," Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism (1961-62): 20:145-156; Jean H. Hagstrum, The Sister Arts: The Tradition of Literary Pictorialism and English Poetry from Dryden to Gray (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1972); Cicely Davis, "Ut Pictura Poesis," MLKR (1935), 30:159-169; and Hugh Witemeyer, George Eliot and the Visual Arts (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1979).
10. Samuel Johnson, A Dictionary of the English Language (London, 1783).
11. Henry Fielding, The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling (New York: The Modern Library, 1950), p. 1.