2018 Palmer Award for Best New Essay

Barbara Palmer Award
Award Year: 

Winner: Lin, Erika T. “Social Functions: Audience Participation, Efficacious Entertainment.” In A Cultural History of Theatre in the Early Modern Age, edited by Robert Henke. London, UK: Bloomsbury, 2017.

In this far-reaching and masterful essay, Lin employs an impressive array of evidence from across Western Europe and the Americas to demonstrate the significant social function of spectatorship in the early modern era. Using approaches from cultural history to investigate the sensory, cognitive, affective, and social experiences of audiences of early modern entertainments, both scripted and unscripted, Lin finds that performance “did not just reflect the world; it helped create it” (49). Lin maps her findings to a large yet culturally specific moment by taking a broad approach to performance that incorporates substantial evidence from drama, religious practice, civic processions, spectacles, acrobatics, dancing, and visual culture. In the process, Lin stresses the active and participatory nature of early modern spectatorship and argues for the theatre’s role in constructing a shared cultural experience among a socially and economically heterogenic audience.

Examining the responses to female actors of the sixteenth-century commedia dell’arte, for example, Lin theorizes the sexual and gender dynamics of theatrical spectatorship. She inquires about the degree to which spectatorship at religious or ritualized events affected audience experiences at the theatre. The essay also explores how theatre conceptualized the cultural interactions between Western Europe and the “New World.” These efforts enable Lin to explore “the very means through which culture is created and circulated, not simply as a social occasion but as itself a form of social production” (39). For its incredible breadth of evidence in support of this monograph-worthy argument, we are very pleased to award the Barbara Palmer Award for best new essay in early drama archival research to Erika Lin.

Award Committee: Vicki Hamblin, Frank Napolitano, and Susannah Crowder (chair). Awards announcement and presentation took place during the MRDS business meeting in May at the annual International Congress on Medieval Studies, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, Michigan.