THESIS: Introduction

Here it is! At this point, I need to thank my college advisor and thesis reader: Professor Conforti and Professor Ryden. First of all, I need to thank them for reading this stuff over and over and over and over . . . Second, for telling me that the particular battle I am trying to fight is still there to be fought. (I was deathly afraid the entire time I was working on my thesis that some professor somewhere would publish a new tome making my thesis utterly obsolete.) Third, at the risk of sounding snide, I need to thank them for supplying me with opportunities to hone my opinions. Many of the arguments presented in this thesis came about during lectures where I either vocalized my dissatisfaction with a professor or student's opinion or sat stewing in philosophical fury. I may be the last humanities student alive who actually takes academic arguments seriously, but hey, it's gotta be someone!

I need to thank Professor Conforti, especially, for being such a goal-oriented advisor. For employment reasons, I had to get the thesis done within six months or less. Professor Conforti's "let's get it over with already" attitude was a huge asset in the achievement of that goal!

Concerning my purpose in writing the thesis (other than wanting to graduate), the Introduction, which follows, is more or less self-explanatory. Suffice it to say, This is my attempt to bring into the academic study of literature, the kind of in-depth and enthusiastic discourse that fans carry on everyday.

Please feel free to comment, only not, I beg you, on textual errors. At this point, as the thesis is being bound and stuck somewhere in the USM library, I really don't want to know. To reach me, e-mail:

Inside Knowledge: Votary Theory at Work

People who are fond of books know the feeling of
irritation which sweeps over them [when disturbed].
The temptation to be unreasonable and
snappish is one not easy to manage.
The Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett

The first time I forgot myself while reading was in second grade. I barely remember the book now, except that it was an easy reader and about a cat. I do remember that I became so absorbed, I was late for school lunch. It was the beginning of many years of inattentiveness. Ten years later, I would get moved to the front of eleventh grade math for reading Jean Auel's Clan of the Cave Bears during class. Upon entering the work force as a secretary, I learned never to bring interesting books to my desk. I was liable to bark, "What do you want?" to interrupting supervisors.

My enthrallment with books started before I learned to read myself. I was read to as a child, mostly by my mother, who also told me fairytales, including her own (about a troll named Milo). I developed a predisposition then for audio performances. I would also act out the stories I heard. I would experiment mentally, and physically, with crafting fictions: if you change all the female characters in Cinderella to male and the male characters to female, does it alter the story? Suppose a certain event, crucial to the original text, does not occur? Suppose we add a character--what happens then? Story was a real as well as a made thing.

Despite growing up without a television, I was surrounded by performances: ballet (my sister Ann's interest), plays in the park--Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde--opera, symphonies, Peter, Paul & Mary, black & white oldies (shown at the old-style, downtown theater), Star Wars, The Cat from Outer Space. Once I bought a television at the age of twenty-six, I became equally enamoured with commercials, sitcoms and television dramas (Criminal Minds, Buffy, Star Trek). The remarkable aspect of my youth, however, was not the plethora of art to which I was exposed but the fact that so little of it was accompanied by any valuation.

Sincere Marxists and semiologists will insist that I did unwittingly receive the valuations of a dominant culture. A Caucasian female living in upstate New York, I was inculcated through the shows I attended, the radio I listened to, and the movies I watched with images, icons and concepts that supported and furthered the agendas, opinions, values of my white, middle class culture. The equation is complicated somewhat by the fact that I am a Mormon and was raised as one, but nevertheless, I am, in fact, Anglo and middle class.

Suffice it to say that defending my Anglo, middle class upbringing was not a factor of my childhood. I never needed to defend anything I read to anyone. We went to see Shakespeare because my parents like Shakespeare not because he was valuable or important or canonized. We also went to see the aforementioned Star Wars and scads of Little League baseball games. Every event was approached with the same interest, humor and post-show analysis. The idea of placing books or playwrights or films into hierarchies was never addressed, nor were the books, plays and films linked to political or social agendas. I am still flummoxed when I run across readers who equate their particular likes and dislikes with membership in a specific political party.(Footnote 1) Most importantly, my reactions--despite the post-show analysis--were never formalized or made relevant. No one asked me if I'd caught the symbolism in C.S. Lewis' Narnia series (my comprehension of the symbolism was taken for granted); no one asked me what Shakespeare meant to me. (A lot.) And certainly, no one ever asked me if I intended the novels of Orson Scott Card to form a life-long interdisciplinary reading pattern between religion and science-fiction, although that kind of happened anyway.

Subsequently, upon entering college, I experienced a minor shock. In retrospect, the Humanities program at Brigham Young University in 1989 was, if anything, geared towards formalism, even New Criticism; formalism, I don't mind; what I wasn't prepared for was the high-mindedness attached to literature and the subsequent politics that accompanied that high-mindedness. Reading literature did not just mean that one learned a great deal about the Romantics, Beowulf and Maya Angelou. It gave one clout of sorts. If one read Henry V, one could make comments about the Gulf War. Or women's rights. Or anything.

It occurred to me that the humanities was fighting a desperate, and rearguard, action against the hard and soft scientists who did use their disciplines to comment on such things as women's rights or, in the case of the hard scientists, to address the provable workings of the universe (all while we humanities scholars were nitpicking nuances in The Tale of Genji). Justification for one's discipline appeared to be tied to one's ability to slather the outcomes of that discipline onto the rest of the world. Hence the desire by humanities students, and professors, to use their Insights Into Human Nature to Say Profound Things. Which seemed, to my twenty-year-old mind, unbelievably dumb. I gravitated towards professors who emphasized authorial intent and historical context and who were, as well, overwhelming engaged by their particular specialties (I am happy to say that they were there to find). In the meantime, I developed, as twenty-year-olds are wont to do, a Theory in which I condemned every artistic work that meant something. Author makes statement equals bad literature, I decided.

That lasted right up until I realized that I'd condemned C.S. Lewis and Dostoevsky amongst others. I tried to fit exceptions into my theory and then gave it up. But my dissatisfaction with the search for Meaning or Purpose in literature remained, a dissatisfaction that has been exacerbated by current trends in critical theory. The compulsion by humanities students to Talk About Life appears to have intensified in the last ten years. In issuing pronouncements on race, class and gender, the humanities discipline appears more and more like an extension of the Sociology Department, its language a blend of labels and jargon and a rather excessive use of the word "ideology."

Power lies at the core of this abandonment of aesthetics for "relevance." As in the game of hot potato, humanities students breathlessly follow the exchange of power from discipline to discipline, group to group. Now, women have it (who will get it next? where did it go?). Now, it's back to the white males. Oops, it crossed over to the resistant ideology. Nope, the dominant ideology snatched it back. A discipline intended for the study and enjoyment of literature has turned works of art into sociological springboards--what can we do with Jane Austen? Do we love her because she is a feminist? Do we loathe her because she isn’t feminist enough?--a type of blatant self-promotion fraught with irony, considering the anti-capitalistic tendencies of humanities departments. Straightforward commodification would bother me less, but I refuse to hand Pamela over to scholars who will claim great insight while deploying Pamela in their gender wars. (Although to be fair, I doubt Richardson would have minded.)

Where, I wonder, are the scholars who love literature just because it is literature? Who don't need to dismantle it or politicize it or defend it in terms of "real-life applications?" Who experience, as Roland Barthes called it, jouissance, the fun of the thing. I know these scholars exist. I have myself been in thrall to artistic works, in love with words, images, dialogue, faces. Moreover, I have encountered amongst my friends and relations (and through them, other lovers of artistic works) a fondness for entering fictional worlds. My friends and family and I will discuss film and novel characters as real people, not bothering to preface our remarks with "according to the author" or "as seen through our eyes." I have also witnessed a flexible and objective independence by which fans will reject an event within the "canon" story because it doesn't ring true while remaining faithful to the author/director's overall characterizations and design.(Footnote 2)

Too often, this type of creative involvement is perceived by humanities scholars as a nice, but useless, side-effect, not the principal response to the arts under discussion.(Footnote 3) Again and again, they return to the value of a work as a source of historical, sociological, even personal change. In her book on the Oprah Book Club, Kathleen Rooney echoes an idea common amongst many scholars (and readers) when she writes, "[I]n many cases the very impulse to read [amongst high brow and low brow readers] may very well be delineated in terms of . . . . self-improvement." It is foolish, Rooney argues, to attack Oprah for doing the very thing promoted by academe. She continues, "One of the things--but certainly not the only thing--genuinely good books can do for us as readers is inspire us to higher levels of morality, in the sense that they put us through the paces of moral awareness and affiliation, and disaffiliation." Rooney, I should state, makes a valiant effort to not reduce the literary search for self-improvement to mere platitudes or lessons. Nevertheless, her attitude that literature should mean or do something--should feed us in a practical rather than creative way--is at the root of not only Oprah's Book Club but contemporary academic approaches to the arts.(Footnote 4)

The search for a usable purpose in the arts is hardly new to Western Civilization. It extends back as far as Plato. Many groups and cultures consider that the arts are only palatable if they contain a moral lesson. However, the issue I wish to address is not, Do people believe that art should educate? but, What is the job of the humanities scholar in regards to the arts? Is it our job to fight over artistic works, pushing and molding them until they say the "right" kinds of things, the things we personally approve of and hold important, insightful and necessary to society? Should every production of Taming of the Shrew be preceded by a lecture on the evils of chauvinism, or, contrariwise, on the resistant aspects of feminist ideology? Are humanities scholars condemned forever to hold the position of cultural judges: this is acceptable because it addresses race, class and gender; this isn't acceptable because it promotes capitalism and other nefarious ideologies?

I hope not. I believe the job of the humanities scholar is to understand an artistic work on a creative level. Political commentary, gender commentary, social commentary may be entertaining, but they are not our primary responsibility. Rather, the artistic works of any age--be they popular, middlebrow, classical or indeterminate--are themselves the scholar's responsibility: a wide and deep area, hence the need for specialties. Our responsibility is not one of judgment, although judgment is not always out of place. Rather, our responsibility is to acknowledge, comprehend and just plain care about artistic works--literature, plays, poems, films: the outpouring of creativity throughout the ages.(Footnote 5) We should learn their contexts, learn how they have been used, how analyzed. We should understand their audiences. Most importantly, we should look for the creative desire, manifested throughout these works, in both the artist and in the reader/spectator.

Once again, hopefully with more success that when I was twenty, I have developed a theory. In this case, the theory is meant as a tool, a way of approaching artistic works that will address them at the creative level. I call this tool votary theory.(Footnote 6) Votary theory, while not ignoring historical or social realities (the influence of context), focuses on the creativity within artistic works rather than on their power-related or usable applications (social, political, personal). More precisely, votary theory postulates that power is not, in fact, the overwhelming determinant that so many critical theorists suppose. People do not watch plays, read books, listen to music, go to movies for the sake of reinforcing political (and therefore power-ful or power-less) positions. Finally, votary theory presents a set of tools with which to address individual works. Hopefully, through votary theory, the worst excesses of critical theory can be avoided. Artistic works should never be subsumed by signifiers, ideologies or political labels, languages that do almost anything except understand the things they describe.
1. A secretary (and political science major) I once worked with informed me that Republicans don't like Harry Potter. Since I know a number of Republicans and since most of them have read and liked Rowlings' books, I was at a loss as how to answer. "Uh…."

2. Many Buffy fans were upset by a last minute cancelled wedding that occurred in the second to last season. As a result, some fans, like myself, re-imagined the script to accommodate the unexpected ending while others simply ignored the event as "non-canon"; however, no fan abandoned the story line for that season as a whole. Like it or not, the characters didn't get married.

3. Reader response theorists being the notable exception. The current trend in reader response, however, is largely sociological, i.e., Elizabeth Long's Book Clubs: Women and the Uses of Reading in Everyday Life (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2003) and Janice Radway's Reading the Romance: Women, Patriarchy and Popular Literature (Chapel Hill: University of North Caroline Press, 1984, reprinted 1991).

4. Kathleen Rooney, Reading With Oprah: The Book Club That Changed America (Fayetteville: The University of Arkansas Press, 2005), 76. "[T]ruly great novels," Rooney writes in the same chapter, "result not only from an author's intellectual, political, social and cultural seriousness"--yikes!--"but also from an author's ability to evoke a kind of enigmatic, philosophical and almost spiritual quality," 98-99.

5. There is a beautiful passage in Umberto Eco's Name of the Rose (New York: Warner Books, Inc., 1980) in which the narrator imagines books conversing through time: "Now I realized that not infrequently books speak of books: it is as if they spoke among themselves . . the library seemed all the more disturbing to me. It was then the place of a long, centuries-old murmuring, an imperceptible dialog between one parchment and another, a living thing, a receptacle of powers not to be ruled by a human mind, a treasure of secrets emanated by many minds, surviving the death of those who had produced them or had been their conveyors," 342-343.

6. My use of the term "votary" comes from a 1946 review of The Duchess of Malfi by Brooks Atkinson in which he refers to playgoers as "votaries of horror." I prefer "votary" to "fan," not because my conceptualization of a votary is very different from that of a fan but because "fan" carries a somewhat single-minded/popular culture connotation. I needed a broader term.

Chapter 1

Chapter 1 is the boring chapter. There are a few zingers, but you have to hunt for them. However, Chapter 1 was necessary to the thesis; here, I attempted three things: (1) to prove to my professors that I knew enough (just) about critical theory to get away with inventing a new theory; (2) to establish the background to which I was responding; (3) to establish the axioms of votary theory, namely that people are individuals and individuals have creative desires.

If you are thinking, "You had to defend the idea that people have personal likes and dislikes over art? Are you kidding me!?" . . . you and me both, baby, you and me both.

Votary Theory

After a lecture of my own I have been accompanied
from Mill Lane to Magdalene by a young man
protesting with real anguish and horror against
my wounding, my vulgar, my irreverent
suggestion that The Miller's Tale was
written to make people laugh.
Experiment in Criticism by C.S. Lewis

The humanities often becomes obsessed with the desire to be relevant. This desire takes two forms: relativistic interpretations based upon personal or sociopolitical demands (and often completely unrelated to the text); and, cultural interpretations in which the text or performance becomes merely a peephole into its surrounding milieu, supplying the scholar with pedantic, often power-oriented, lessons about a time-period or culture. In the first case, context--the author's intent, the work's historicity, its relationship to other works--is lost; the work becomes no more or less deconstructable than a car manual. In the second case, the work becomes little more than evidence for other concerns, of little worth in its own right. In both cases, the work is robbed of its creative essence. It is my hope that votary theory will help the humanities scholar approach artistic works with balance; more importantly, it will enable the scholar to focus on the creative strengths, or weaknesses, of an artistic work and on the creative desire that connects that work to its audience.

The relationship between historic context and creativity must first be addressed. Picture a container, a plastic glass from Wal-Mart or Target, the kind that is sold with summer patio items. It is tall, colored with pastel stripes or dots. This glass can hold lemonade or iced tea, water or soda: a host of liquids. It would not be wise to fill it with especially hot items; the plastic has a tendency to melt.

The container represents context; it is empirical in nature, composed of proof held together by narrative or theory. It morphs--these glasses tend to crack, chip and warp slightly with the passage of time, although they are surprisingly hardy--and its base rests on an ideal: that history can and should be submitted to the strictures of responsible evidence.

The glass's content is much more variable and far less definite. It is personal, emotional, creative, qualities difficult to quantify. But no matter how abstract, the content must fit the glass. It is not wise, or responsible, to pour into the glass a flood of expectations which the glass is not equipped to handle; another container should be found. Likewise, we must accept that our desires about the past must fit their proper contexts. The very real creativity of Shakespeare is not exchangeable with the very real creativity of Arthur Miller. William Wordsworth and T.S. Eliot could not have walked in each other's shoes. Steven Spielberg is not Homer with a slightly different schtick (although that may be debatable).

Thus the relationship, in votary theory, between historical context and the creative act. Votary theory focuses ultimately on the artist's and audience's creative desire, an ineffable, indeterminate quality, difficult to categorize; yet that quality must fit its container, its moment of occurrence. In this way, even something as relativistic and theoretical as creativity can be held to a standard of proof. It is customary to assume, for example, that the opinions we hold in the present are opinions we would hold in another time. We are tempted to believe that a tolerant twenty-first century liberal would behave with tolerance and liberalism in the seventeenth century. It is far more likely that the expression of a similar state of mind would occur. From this perspective, the blue-state horror of gun-toting and overly religious red states has a far closer emotional link with the Puritan fear of displeased, displaced and (uniquely) religious Native Americans than with any Quaker-like tendencies from the same time period.

This does not negate the presence of tolerance (or paranoia) in either the blue-state or the Puritan; rather, it points to differing modes of expression. Likewise, votary theory postulates the existence of a creative desire which, like envy, happiness, trust and love, appears over and over in historically unique guises. Further, votary theory, while not proposing an absence of political considerations, suggests that the creative desire may have more influence within history than is usually credited. Through votary theory, an aesthetic appreciation of a work within its historical moment may be achieved. This is accomplished by focusing not on the work's purpose or the reader's use of the work, but on the reader/spectator as he or she exists inside the work.

Votary theory begins with an acceptance of a work's audience as composed of individuals; an individual engages an artistic work in a particular time and place, crafting a position within that work in order to enjoy its creative reality. Unlike reader response, votary theory does not examine the linear engagement between the reader/spectator and the work: the ways by which the reader processes a text, accepting or rejecting signifiers, information, themes. Neither does votary theory focus on the use that individuals make of artistic works (social, political, personal). Rather, votary theory focuses on the reader/spectator within the artistic work, the creative experience rather than the self-referential one. Readers/spectators willingly enter an author's creation, suspending other desires or impulses for the sake of the experience. How they behave within the work--whether they feel at home there, whether they wish to remain, to return--is the concern of votary theory. The reader as an historical being bears on the experience of engagement but the historical relevance of the work should excite the humanities scholar less than whether, and how, the reader's creative desires were satisfied.

In order to explicate this concept, it is first necessary to defend the individual as a creative agent since positioning within a work cannot be accomplished, or discussed, en masse. Without agreement at this fundamental level, the humanities scholar will not be able to utilize the tools offered by votary theory. If the individual experience of an artistic work doesn't matter, then social/political commentary is the only thing left to us and the humanities may as well relinquish its responsibility towards the arts to the manipulations of sociology. Votary theory, therefore, attempts not only to provide a tool of understanding but to defend the creative experience at an individual level.

The Individual as Agent

The individual as agent, and, specifically, the individual as a creative agent is often dismissed by theorists as naïve and jejeune, an old-time attitude of Western civilization long outgrown. Few contemporary scholars go so far as the Frankfurt School, which perceived mass culture as modern bread and circuses, entertainment designed to distract the lower orders from the ennui and dissatisfaction of the capitalistic system. Yet many scholars, including structuralists and postmodernists, remain surprisingly wedded to the concept that something is going on within mass culture other than personal enjoyment. The "something else" is either resistance or citizenship.

In the first case, resistance, scholars hope to awaken the masses--Brechtian-like-- to read "against the text." Popular culture becomes legitimate the more it is perceived as adversarial, attacking the dominant culture rather than reinforcing it. "[M]ass culture," Dana Polan wrote in 1986, "has become one of culture studies' most recurrent Others--a repository and a stereotypic cause of all the social ills of life under capitalism."(Footnote 1) If scholars can prove instead that popular works undermine the conventions of the dominant culture, freeing audiences from society's capitalistic mantle, such works will gain legitimacy as academic topics. In many ways, such scholarship is similar to the treatment of Harry Potter by occasional Christian fundamentalists; to avoid condemning the popular children's series as tainted by black magic, they interpret the texts as Christian, replete with allegorical significance. In both cases, mass or popular culture performs an acceptably edifying function. That a revelatory and edifying mass culture might also bore people to death hardly matters in the face of enlightenment.

Communal resistance, followed by communal enlightenment, is only possible once the individual--idiosyncratic, sometimes irrational, wholly self-interested--is annihilated from the equation. Once that occurs, all responses become social responses, shared constructions which collectively sway the ship of culture one way or another. Theorists--who are as capable of discussing themselves as they are of discussing others--are not unaware of the flaw in this conception. If responses to art are socially constructed, then our understanding of those responses is also socially constructed. Roland Barthes himself drew a line between popular culture which evades the dominant ideology and popular culture which addresses it, either in acceptance or rejection; but post-post-modernists (if not Barthes himself) would point out that all of Barthes' arguments are drawn from a similar source and background: Western critical thought.(Footnote 2)

In recent years, theories about culture have drifted from the exposure of mass conventions to the shared social aspects of artistic works. In his book Re-Reading Popular Culture, Joke Hermes argues that popular culture provides a powerful form of citizenship which reaches across class, race and gender, including as well as excluding. He is less interested in deconstructing popular culture than in watching it at work in society. Popular culture becomes a resource for shared expression and dialogue. It is also a disciplinary force, with negative and positive effects.(Footnote 3)

Other scholars, noting the interdisciplinary threads of cultural research, have stressed that culture is complex, non-reducible to one theory, structure or set of signs. They examine the multiple interactions between a production and its community, but the interactions under study are almost always external--the organized, resistant or self-conscious reciprocity amongst viewers, fans, groups.(Footnote 4) Votary theory, on the other hand, examines what is, to an extent, entirely theoretical and unknowable: the internal delight which a reader/spectator feels towards a work--the enthrallment, the self-forgetfulness, the merging of the reader with the author's world.

Outside of reader response criticism, which seems to trundle along entirely apart from cultural and historical considerations, theorists remain wary of promoting the individual in culture--mass, popular or otherwise. Roland Barthes, a seminal figure in the field of critical theory, considered jouissance (delight in the bodily elements of popular culture) an individualistic experience, yet ultimately saw it too as political, an "evasion of ideology," a form of resistance.(Footnote 5) Susan Bennett's attitude in her book Theatre Audiences: A Theory of Production and Reception (1990) is typical of many contemporary theorists. While defending the individual's response to the theater, she is vaguely apologetic, assuring her readers that she is concerned with experimental theater which will change people socially and politically.(Footnote 6)

Theorists seem consumed by political and sociological perspectives. "I readily grant the argument that, as consumers, readers have little control over popular culture," Hermes writes, while Janet Staigner states, "[C]ritical approaches to autonomous literary or cinematic texts" are in fact arguments over "social arrangements."(Footnote 7) Richard Butsch in his book The Making of American Audiences argues that resistance must be collective in order to matter, stating, "Indeed, all actions (and inaction) are inescapably political, in the sense that every act inevitably contributes to recreating existing conditions or to changing them."(Footnote 8) Even reader response theorists, who have drifted closest to the scorned concept of the individual, were rescued from embarrassment by Stanley Fish's philosophy of interpretative communities, which posits that people--for all their personal experiences, thoughts, reactions--emerge from a culture which imbibes them with knowledge regarding culture-specific signs, constructions, and assumptions.

Fish is not necessarily wrong. The individual as separate from society (and hence history) is a rather palpable impossibility. Nevertheless, the reluctance--the fear--of scholars towards the individual in history strikes an odd note in the study of artistic works. Absent a truly relativistic mentality, most people would agree that we are biological beings who come into this world as individual brains encased in individual skins. For theorists concerned with categorizing mental behaviors or promoting social activism, the individual experience of life may not matter. For those of us more interested in comprehending the feel, aura, ambiance and sense of an event, the individual's existence, choices and creative desires carry enormous weight. Nothing can be understood without it.

Imagine such an event: war, flood, murder. The event is comprised of many individuals--from twenties to thousands--interacting, withdrawing, complaining, dying. As they make choices, deliver decisions, state motivations--however socially crafted--they influence other choices, decisions, motivations. The event becomes a veritable swarm of interactions: letters sent, received, read. Conversations overheard, ignored. Actions avoided, taken, apologized for. As each individual moves, acts, thinks, talks, connections form. Standing above the action, we can barely decipher where connections begin or end. So we form theories. We tease out elements here, now here, now here, and draw thick lines of connection: dot-to-dot formulations. Add a few labels, words like "ideological" and "construction"--you can throw in "imperialism" just for fun--and you have a seemingly perceptive theory that will, at a superficial level, explain just about anything you want it to. Now remove the black line; look again at the intertwining, and downright messy paths of individuals at work. The dot-to-dot formulations may explain some general principles; they may address some wide-ranging ideas, allow for basic understanding, but they will never gratify the true historian's hunger for the reality of an event. How did it feel? What was it like? How did people behave, react, think?

What creative experiences did they engage in?

Sociologists have argued, cogently, that our current cultural assumptions make it impossible for us to ever fully adopt or live inside the reality of the past. When PBS valiantly attempted to produce "real" history by placing contemporary individuals in historical settings--1900 House, Colonial House--the result was inevitably problematic. Setting alone does not determine historical behavior. The entire mindset is missing. Nevertheless, we continue to seek for that quality of understanding; in doing so, we should remember that the individuals around us, and those of the past, are not so many constructs for us to borrow at will, rearrange at our pleasure. They are people who lived, died, loved, hated, endured, and we are passionately, consumably, aware of their materiality. We want to come to terms with that materiality, to grasp objectively, emotionally in what ways the people of the past are as real as us. This is true for the humanities scholar as much as for the historian, for it is only when we allow for the reality of others (past and present) that we will realize the creative substance of artistic works. As we learn to respect the audience as individuals, we will learn to respect the works those audiences imbibed.

For me, the issue of the individual comes down to one of love. As a Mormon, I believe in the salvation of the dead; that is, I believe I can be linked to my dead ancestors through religious ceremonies and that this link will preserve both them and me in the hereafter. This link does not wipe out historical relevance. I do not picture my pioneering ancestors or--to go further back--my blacksmithing and stewarding ancestors as belonging to the same political or social milieus in which I function. The nineteenth century Kellys who left the Isle of Man for the United States and, subsequently, Utah, lived in a different world from me. At the same time, I would be disrespectful if I imagined my ancestors as less engaged by religious principles, less capable of analysis and self-perception, less interested in artistic works and the joy those works bring. If I say, "My great-grandmother was a product of her time and location; she was obviously influenced in her decisions by the ideology of American westward expansion which further promoted her self-expression as a white woman in a patriarchal society," I am not really saying anything about her at all. I haven't captured her heart, thoughts, personality, day-to-day conditions. I have set her at one remove, pigeonholed by a thick line.

Context matters; I can learn a great deal about my great-grandmother by placing her within her time--what happened to her, what was being written and performed and preached during her time period, what we know (evidentially) about the nineteenth century--but accessing the quality of my great-grandmother's experience, and the pioneer movement, calls for something more insightful than ideological labels. Focusing on results, in other words, is not the best window into the human spirit and will not, in the end, give us a true or valid image of the past or the artistic works of the past.

More effective is an approach which positions us within the historical moment (see Fig. 4); from that position, we can follow connections as they branch, multiply, end, dive into odd corners. This is not relativism; one's perception changes with one's position, but the connections--decisions made, actions taken, thoughts transcribed--however confusing, continue to exist no matter where we stand. As we follow strands of connection, we may, in strange, unexpected moments, gain a glimpse of another world. Most importantly, for the purposes of votary theory, we can follow an individual's encounter with an artistic work, and in that way, hopefully come to appreciate the energy, creativity, triumph or failure of that work within its context.

Artistic works and their audiences deserve an approach that emphasizes a work's context without bypassing the individual and the individual's creative desires. An artistic work cannot be understood without its creator or its readers/spectators. The humanities scholar should know not only the who, where, when and why of a work's history, she should seek to comprehend the creativity/spirit/reality of the work and its performance. This will not occur until the creativity/spirit/reality of the individual in relationship to that work is accepted as a given. Broad social constructs do not convey this kind of information.

Through votary theory, I postulate that the individual's relationship to the work comes down to how that individual positions him/herself inside the work. The individual is motivated to do this by a creative desire. The first tenet of votary theory is that artistic works are enjoyed by individuals within their historical contexts. The second tenet is that individuals value and desire an interior, creative experience.

The Individual's Desires

Critical theorists, while allowing for "reflexive" attitudes on the part of audiences, consistently fail to allow for the creative desire within audiences (and sometimes even within artists). Discussions of individual desires inevitably take on social or political ramifications. The creative, imaginative impulse is lost in a storm of relevance. The result is a bizarre kind of literal aesthetic whereby any argument I make for a work's creative excellence is the result of my social/cultural status while, at the same time, I am being influenced, even indoctrinated, by the work's symbols and icons. I am too literal-minded to be swept away by the aesthetics of the work (my motivations are entirely reality and power-oriented) but too artistic to be impervious to the work's aesthetic operations. And if I read the thing backwards, presumably, I'll go join the Monkeys.

Creativity, first of all, is not a specialized right-brained activity, reserved for artists, poets and performers. People want to create all kinds of things: loving families, good filing systems, decent web sites, tasty treats, well-groomed animals, a trusty lesson plan. How that desire plays out may very well be influenced by cultural environments and institutions but votary theory postulates its existence regardless of external frameworks. The creative desire like any human desire (envy, hate, love) exists throughout time and history. The modes of its expression are influenced by context but context does not determine the desire. A contemporary Shakespeare would not, perhaps, write plays (unless he teamed up with Andrew Lloyd Webber); that a contemporary Shakespeare would have creative impulses I have no doubt.(Footnote 9)

The creative desire can antedate context because it does not have to be purposeful or political in order to exist. This is not to say that writers, actors, directors do not express political, purposeful ideas in their works. But the human desire to make something is not in itself political or power-centered--useful--however contextualized. Nor, when audiences revel in a made thing, are they acting merely out of contextually relevant considerations. Yet we in the humanities seem sometimes to function (and expect the past to function) in a pale world where delight for the sake of itself has been carefully sidelined ("Well, yes, I suppose it happens."). The humanities has taken the passion out of art, reduced it to a series of political constructs and then exhibited surprise and alarm at the result: Why is everything so political and class-oriented? In an attempt to recover passion, artistic works are sometimes further reduced to a series of activist demands; context, authorial intent, is abandoned for politicized relativism. What does it matter what Milton thought--all that matters is how we feel about him, especially if what we feel will get us what we want.

Although individuals will often enter artistic productions for the express purpose of finding relevant applications, what they experience there, what they enjoy, how they enjoy it, determines whether they will return much more than a politicized argument or even a useful emotional platitude. After all, why read, go to movies, watch television at all if only the application carries weight? For C.S. Lewis and many others, the reason is transcendence. In his polemic An Experiment in Criticism, Lewis writes:
Literary experience heals the wound, without undermining the privilege, of individuality. There are mass emotions which heal the wound; but they destroy the privilege. In them our separate selves are pooled and we sink back into sub-individuality. But in reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself . . . Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action and in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more myself than when I do.(Footnote 10)
The value of a literary work lies in the introduction to a mindset unlike one's own. Wayne Booth echoes this idea in The Company We Keep, where he stresses the dialogic nature of reading. As the reader encounters the text, he develops a relationship with the author. It is the reader's duty to extend magnanimity to the text, to take as much as the text is able to impart, but also to consider what the text has to say. According to Booth, the issue at hand is not whether Huckleberry Finn, for instance, utilizes hegemonic ideologies or draws on particular interpretative structures, but whether we agree with the ideas, themes, possibilities offered us by the author.(Footnote 11)

Arnold Weinstein also emphasizes the "other" quality of artistic works: our desire, through art, to reach beyond ourselves.(Footnote 12) In his book A Scream Goes Through the House, Weinstein argues that the feelings of pain, loss, love within art connect us as human beings. Weinstein is principally interested in the effects of art. Like Joke Hermes and Booth, he envisions a citizenship surrounding artistic productions, social connectivity across space and time.(Footnote 13)

Votary theory too postulates a desire to reach beyond the self, especially a desire to create beyond the self. Readers/spectators engage in fan fiction, on-line debates, conventions, role playing and other such performances. They exchange insights over a work, extrapolate possible outcomes, reject elements of a canon story, and analyze the characters. Although these behaviors are more obvious amongst popular culture fans, such excitement is not confined to a particular "brow"--high, middle, low, academic or popular. Fascination with Dante's Inferno, Shakespeare's Hamlet or Hawthorne's House of the Seven Gables is rarely reducible to "good form" and splendid prose. We are entranced, "entangled," as Wolfgang Iser would say.(Footnote 14) We are entranced because we find ourselves wanderers in another's universe. Our entanglement there involves not only self-forgetfulness but a desire to make, complete or satisfy the requirements of that universe.(Footnote 15)

This latter claim separates votary theory from reader response. Wolfgang Iser, for instance, postulates readers who encounter blanks or gaps in an unfolding text. The blanks draw the readers in, forcing the readers to make choices. As they comply, their opinions regarding prior portions of the text are reevaluated while their decisions about future portions of the text are shaped. Reading is a linear engagement. Readers bring their personalities, opinions, plus social relations to the experience, but every response is the consequence of contact with the text.(Footnote 16) The result is a new "text" created by the reader's interaction with the author's intent (as located in the work). This "text," however intangible, is an external object, colored by "what this work means to me" and "what I got out of this experience." It is, in other words, entirely critical.(Footnote 17)

Votary theory also relies on the author's intent as found in a script, performance, book, story, poem. Unlike Iser, votary theory tackles an artistic work not as it is being processed (perhaps for the first time) or as a product of the reading/spectating experience but as it exists, within the individual's perception or memory, in its entirety. Votary theory attempts to address that moment of creative involvement in which process, and result, become supererogatory. The world of the author--whether a physical world like Middle Earth or an emotional world such as found within Kafka's cockroach--is accepted, if not fully grasped, as a whole by the reader/spectator. Within that work as a whole, readers/spectators establish a place for themselves. They become part of the author's world, consequently satisfying their creative desires.

Votary theory builds on a theory presented by C.S. Lewis in An Experiment in Criticism. Lewis, like Iser, examines reading as a process. He postulates two classes, or types, of readers: those who use and those who receive. Users are those who look only for "the Event" in the book, the vicarious fulfillment of pleasure. They prefer texts that are easily personalized. Unlike users, receivers actively engage the text, reading and rereading it, giving it their whole heart and being altered because of it. "The 'recipient,'" Lewis writes, "wants to rest in [the book's content]. It is for him, at least temporarily, an end."

Lewis argues that rather than criticizing a book by its appellation--popular, highbrow, middlebrow--it should be criticized by the kind of reading or readership it engenders: receivers who enter into the work and allow that work to carry them on the journey as determined by the artist; or, users who treat the work as simply "assistance for [their] own activities," whether those activities be educational, political, social or economic. For users, texts/performances are mere manuals of self-instruction or activism; receivers, on the other hand, give themselves over to the language and world of the author. By Lewis' definition, academics can be as guilty of "using" as any romance reader while a science-fiction reader may behave as a receiver towards her genre of choice. Lewis furthermore protests against earnest readers who, in their attempt to wrest profundity from a text, fail to appreciate its humor or language.(Footnote 18)

The attractiveness of Lewis' argument is his focus on the artistic work as its own reward. Lewis resented educational approaches that reduced or "exposed" the "real" meaning behind the language of a work, thereby bypassing the work's creative offerings. In his literary analysis of Lewis, Alan Jacobs writes, "Lewis rails against [teaching skepticism rather than teaching a desire for truth], because he believes that in the long run this abdication of responsibility--the responsibility to seek knowledge--will lead to the 'abolition of man,' our transformation into a species unable ever to hear the music that Creation really does make." Here Jacobs reveals Lewis as a true formalist, with the typical Lewis' twist.(Footnote 19)

The reader/spectator of votary theory is a combination of Lewis' receiver and user. In behavior, the individual of votary theory appears like the receiver, swept along by the narrative--fearless, consenting, and generously willing to adopt the author's vision. Like the user, however, the individual rates satisfaction/fulfillment as a primary goal; he or she is not above manipulating a text (as much as it can be manipulated) or discarding texts until a good fit is found. The reader/spectator of votary theory is searching for a home, a place wherein to work out the creative desire. The importance of the work as a whole in this search cannot be underestimated. Creativity does not, as so many college freshmen seem to think, entail a lack of discipline. Once I am inside a work, I am held to its structure. I make a place for myself, but I cannot simply transform the work into a pliable piece of self-involvement. Whether or not I know the original author's intent, I am constrained by the work's shape as I am constrained by the shape of my living quarters. I may decorate my studio apartment according to my personal whims; I cannot alter the age or structure of the house in which my apartment resides--not without changing it, irrevocably, into something else. This forced organization is, to a great extent, the appeal of artistic works: I exercise my creativity within the confines of another mind.(Footnote 20)

Without understanding this desire, and the homes in which it roosts, much of our culture is practically (in the practical sense) incomprehensible. To a greater or lesser extent, we all--readers, spectators and artists--search beyond ourselves, partly for self-definition but also for self-production. Our participation in a book, movie, poem, television show enables us to make some thing. Our participation is personal, hands-on, engaged; yet, it is also objective and inventive.

Votary Theory as Tool

Votary theory begins with the reality of the individual; it postulates a creative desire on the part of that individual. Votary theory then suggests that a fundamental element of audience enjoyment is the ability of individuals to create inside an artistic work. We are not simply all voyeuristically bent on satisfying social needs: power, status, change. We desire to create; we exercise our desire through our own creations and within the works of others. Votary theory further suggests that this desire is fundamental to the human experience; without it, no artistic work can truly be understood.

Votary theory is a tool which brings together factors which, in the humanities, are too often held apart. The job of the humanities scholar is to understand artistic works, both their contexts (container) and their content (creative essence). A good scholar should never abandon context entirely for content; on the other hand, humanities scholars are often so busy dismantling texts in the search for context (or, rather, culture), they fail to be readers/spectators and enjoy the content. They forget, and sometimes even belittle, the staggering grandeur of artistic works: the poetic language, the well-crafted scene, the thoughtful characterization. Votary theory submits an approach that applies context without reducing works to mere contextual productions. As in religion, as in love, as in any transcendent moment, something else is going on.

To that end, votary theory presents three questions which will enable the humanities scholar to reach a complete understanding of an artistic work:

1. What is the historical context? What do we know about the time and place in which this work was generated? What do we know about the author and the author's intent?

2. What would readers/spectators have encountered when they engaged the work? What ambiance surrounded it? How was it treated by critics, other reviewers? How was it produced? Advertised?

3. Within a historical context (Question 1), faced with a particular form of engagement (Question 2), how might readers/spectators have exercised their creative desires? How might they have made a place for themselves within a work?

In answering the last question, humanities scholars will hopefully learn to appreciate artistic works at the creative level. Once individuals enter a work, we must rely on our glimpse--our sense--of their experience there. In its final stages, votary theory is entirely theoretical. In many cases, it is simply not possible to interview long-dead spectators, peppering them with surveys about their imaginative desires. Nor would such an approach be entirely appropriate (although it could certainly be done with a contemporary audience). Votary theory attempts to combine a moment in time (scene of a play, page of a book) with that moment's aura or quality (the creative desire flowing between the participant and the work). Many reader/spectator response surveys focus on the meaning or impact of a work to an individual after the event; the issue of creative excitement is rarely addressed; it is uncertain that it could be. As a teacher of English Composition, I have learned that artistic enjoyment is not always communicable. "I liked the characters," students tell me as we wrestle over literary analysis essays. "Why?" I ask, fully armed with my humanist analytical training. They don't know. They're not sure. They tell me how they feel, and I translate their language into a passable thesis. But I am aware, as they are, that my language may not be entirely accurate. Creative involvement is an elusive experience.

Consequently, the efficacy of votary theory is best proved through application. I have selected two works: The Duchess of Malfi by John Webster and the film, Late for Dinner. Both works are relevant to the American landscape and will be examined within that context. The Duchess of Malfi, although written circa 1612 by Englishman John Webster, did not appear in America until the mid-nineteenth century. It was performed sporadically on and off Broadway for the next 100 years. I will examine it specifically within the context of its 1946 production in New York City and will introduce an imagined 1946 spectator as part of votary theory application.

Late for Dinner is a more recent Hollywood film (1991) which uses cryonics as its central plot device. Although cryonics is a world-wide cause, the United States contains the largest number of cryonics organizations and the only cryonics organizations that freeze people. I will be examining the film as it might be examined by a future humanities scholar. The creative experience of a Late for Dinner spectator at the moment of engagement will be presented.

The fourth chapter of my thesis will also concern an artistic work, The Last Promise by Richard Paul Evans. In this chapter, I will examine the relationship between language and votary theory. One of the overwhelming worries of critical theory, especially those theories which excise creativity from the artistic equation, is the power of language and aesthetic enjoyment. These worries are not only held by members of the academic elite. The Last Promise was removed from LDS-run bookstores for its possible negative influence on Mormon readers. I will address the issue within the context of Mormonism and as an active Mormon but will present votary theory as a tool that renders these fears irrelevant for the humanities scholar. In this chapter, the possibility of individual audience interviews will be tackled in more detail.

Votary theory does not answer all the problems encountered by the humanities scholar, who seeks to understand a work's context as well as its creative essence. Rather, votary theory functions as one possible approach, a position within the strands of human connection. It is an enlightenment tool, but it works precisely because it does not insist that enlightened messages must be embedded in artistic works or that artistic works must be linked to enlightened theories. Individuals of the past or present do not need to see what we see (or want to see) in order for us to credit their experiences. Their motives do not need to be ideological, powerful or historically significant in order to have merit. Creativity is a good enough reason to study a work. More than anything, votary theory is an attempt to restore balance to the study of artistic works. We need to drag our appreciation of such works away from their enslavement to hegemonies and hidden messages to a more holistic, and wholesome, position. The study of power has some merit, but in its demand for attention, the individual's creative desire is often bypassed, shoveled off to the side. Votary theory wishes to restore that desire to a position of respect.
1. Dana Polan, "Brief Encounters: Mass Culture and the Evacuation of Sense" in Studies in Entertainment: Critical Approaches to Mass Culture, ed. Tania Modleski (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986), 167.

2. Barthes' approach is summed up in John Fiske's Understanding Popular Culture (New York: Routledge, 1989), 54-55. Comments about the Catch-22 exhibited by theorists, who attack Western culture while relying on it, arise in several contexts. Dana Polan in "Brief Encounters" states, "[B]oth Kaminsky and Eizykman share in the ideological binary opposition of mass culture and avant-garde culture," pointing out that despite their differing analysis, the two critics depend on the same assumption that "mass culture is essentially the regime of content, theme, the formulaic regularity of simple explanatory myths, an art tied to the givens of an everyday world," 168. In an essay from the same book, Tania Modleski warns against feminist scholars who attack the dominant ideology; she points out that women, in many artistic contexts, are connected with the dominant ideology: to attack the dominant ideology in art will be to attack women. "The Terror of Pleasure: The Contemporary Horror Film and Postmodern Theory," 163-164. Although these criticisms of postmodernism are recent, the Catch-22 of postmodernism was acknowledged early on. In a 1930s English murder mystery by Dorothy Sayers, her detective, Peter Wimsey encounters a group of Marxist musicians who promote a "soul of rebellion" in their music. Another spectator scoffs; their "Bourgeois music [has] "resolution at the back of all [its] discords . . . Till you can cast away the octave and its sentimental associations, you walk in fetters of convention." Ever obliging, Wimsey agrees: "That's the spirit. I would dispense with all definite notes . . . It is only man, trammeled by a stultifying convention--" at which point Wimsey has to go solve the murder. It is just as well. As Wimsey fully knows, if his suggestion were taken, it would do away with the discussion, not to mention the music. Critical attacks on conventions must beware, else in banishing all forms of convention, they banish themselves as well. Dorothy Sayers, Strong Poison (New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1995), 84.

3. Joke Hermes, Re-reading Popular Culture (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2005), 8.

4. Butsch, for example, argues against the idea that audiences are passive, unable to "manage mass media." Richard Bustch, The Making of American Audiences: From Stage to Television, 1750-1990 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 280. Mukerji and Schudson point out that Marxist-influenced theories tend to "obscure the complex ways people make sense of and use their tastes" in Rethinking Popular Culture: Contemporary Perspective in Cultural Studies, Chandra Mukerji and Michael Schudson, eds. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991), 34. Janet Staigner argues that "scholars may get further in analyses once they stop assuming that individuals have one, logical relation to the movies." Jane Staigner, Interpreting Films: Studies in the Historical Reception of American Cinema (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992), 12. However, Staigner also argues that individual agency is a nineteenth/twentieth century concept and relies on Stanley Fish's theory of interpretive frames.

5. Fiske, 50.

6. Susan Bennett, Theatre Audiences: A Theory of Production and Reception (New York: Routledge, 1990), 177-182.

7. Hermes, vii; Staigner, 210-211.

8. Butsch, 292.

9. It is likely, for instance, that Beatrix Potter never would have written a word if she had not wanted a life independent from her parents. The creative desire, which emerged in her watercolors and stories, may simply have found a different outlet--as it did later in her life when she focused all her energies on her farm.

10. C.S. Lewis, An Experiment in Criticism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1961), 140-141.

11. Wayne Booth, The Company We Keep (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988), 135.

12. In fact, an encounter with the "Other" (another world, mindset, set of experiences) is a recurring refrain in writers as diverse as C.S. Lewis, Kathleen Rooney, Wayne Booth, Camille Paglia, Dorothy Sayers, Umberto Eco, Alberto Manguel. Votary theory postulates that (1) this experience, encounter, is not limited to authors and critics--they just happen to be more articulate when it comes to explaining it; (2) the experience is often perceived as a result rather a moment of creative engagement; votary theory examines the moment.

13. Arnold Weinstein, A Scream Goes Through the House (New York: Random House, 1988), xxi.

14. Wolfgang Iser, "The Reading Process: A Phenomenological Approach," in Reader-Response Criticism: From Formalism to Post-Structuralism, ed. Jane Tompkins (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1980), 65.

15. A great deal of fan fiction takes place "off-screen," that is, during periods of time not covered by the original text (book or television series), either during the summer (when television series go into re-runs) or after a series (book or television) has ended. Although the fan fiction contains "off-screen" material, it is often measured (by fellow fans) by how well the writer has captured the characters as determined by the original text. Has the fan writer remained true to the author's universe, vision?

16. Iser, 54.

17. Similarly, certain types of criticism produce creations, new texts, themselves. The object of votary theory, however, is to examine the creative desire not in its parasitic use of works but in its symbolic conjunction with works.

18. Lewis, 88-89.

19. Alan Jacobs, The Narnian: The Life and Imagination of C.S. Lewis (San Francisco: Harper, 2005), 174, emphasis in text. Lewis' art for art's sake stance never descended into an attack on popular culture. He did detest modern poetry, for almost unfathomable reasons, but in general he could be surprisingly non-elitist.

20. The image of reader/spectator inside the artist's world is not a new concept. The issues of distance and connection bridge both literary and performance theory; film and theater scholars often refer back to critical and reader response theories, applying similar concepts and rules to various types of production. Daphna Ben Chaim goes so far as to compare novels, film and theatre. In the film and the novel, the narrative is controlled by a point of view. The reader/spectator of a novel/film has to make a more concerted effort to climb inside the story, to see it from another perspective, than the spectator of a play. Yet Ben Chaim argues that the experience of the theater compared to film is "really one of differing degrees, not of opposition." We can apply the same generous attitude to texts. After all, like the play and film, a novel cannot be enjoyed until it is engaged. All artistic works, to an extent, rely on an appreciative (or angry) participant. Daphna Ben Chaim, Distance in the Theatre: The Aesthetics of Audience Response (Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1984), 56.

Chapter 2

Chapter 2 is the most polished of the chapters. I wrote it first. In fact, I wrote it last fall (2006) for a pre-thesis class called "Reading & Research." It flows more smoothly than the other chapters; it is also the most "historical" and contains the best evidence. Consequently, it also has the most footnotes. Many, many, many footnotes.

Thanks, Mom for supplying the biographical evidence for the 1946 spectator. There are many perks to having a family which can, and will, produce primary source material from the last hundred years or so. This is one of them.

The Duchess of Malfi

If truth-in-advertising principles applied to the
titles of 17th-century plays . . . [the] current production
would be called something like
"The Guy Who Did In the Duchess of Malfi
and Then Felt Bad About It."
New York Times reviewer of a 2003 performance

The Duchess of Malfi by John Webster did not arrive in America until nearly 200 years after its birth. Unlike Shakespeare's plays, it was not performed in the colonial era or published by eighteenth century American presses. Nor does it appear to have entered the colonies in chapbook form. The play was first performed on Broadway in 1858. For the next 100 years, it lurked in the cultural mainstream; it was referred to in book reviews and magazine articles; discussed on radio and television. Through the 1970s and '80s, the play faded until now it is performed only occasionally in off-off Broadway productions.

The Duchess' arrival in America was contingent upon certain cultural conditions--fascination with Shakespeare in the mid-nineteenth century; the middlebrow approach to classics in the 1940's. During the mid-twentieth century, it became a vehicle for an ambitious, Hollywood-oriented star. It was advertised as a thriller in the age of film noir and detective novels. It continually failed in the theatre, yet was continually revived. Through votary theory, we will hopefully reach an understanding of how 1940's audiences might have dealt creatively with The Duchess--how they might have positioned themselves within its performance.

The Play's History

John Webster wrote The Duchess of Malfi in the early part of the seventeenth century. It was performed at the Globe Theatre between 1613 and 1614 and printed in 1623. Although Shakespeare and Webster overlap, Webster has always been attached, by scrupulous critics, to the Jacobean era. This is fitting since unlike the heroic pageantry linked with Elizabeth's reign (and at work in Shakespeare's earlier plays), the Jacobean era possessed a darker caste of mind. Many of Shakespeare's more problematic, less definable dramas--Othello, All's Well That Ends Well, The Tempest--were written after James I began his reign.

The Duchess commences with two brothers confronting their widowed sister. They wish her not to marry again--partly out of greed (they don't want her fortune to pass into non-related male hands) and partly from sheer cussedness. One brother is a corrupt Cardinal. The second is a high-strung Duke who will later repudiate and mourn his sister in the same breath. The Duke leaves his henchmen, Bosola, in the Duchess' service. Bosola discovers that the Duchess has taken a lover--she bears three children in the course of the play--but fails to discover the lover's identity until the Duchess reveals it to him under the misapprehension that Bosola is a friend. (There is more than a hint of Iago in Bosola's character.)

Her lover--or husband, depending on how seriously you take their marriage vows--is Antonio, her steward, a man of Bosola's class. Bosola is impressed by the Duchess' choice, but he too is a faithful servant (unlike Iago, he does not serve himself) and reports the Duchess' conduct to her brothers. They take immediate revenge, banishing both the Duchess and Antonio from Malfi; they later seize the Duchess and her two youngest children, returning her to Malfi under house arrest. The Cardinal leaves the issue there, but the Duke is incestuously obsessed with his sister. He tries to drive her mad; that failing, he orders her execution, which Bosola oversees. The Duke then repents his order, and Bosola, who was never keen on the murder to begin with, takes his revenge on his perfidious employers (they haven't paid him). He kills the Duke and the Cardinal. A number of other people, including Antonio, die along the way.

It is a macabre play and on paper (and, unfortunately, occasionally on stage), it appears melodramatic in the extreme. One scene of The Duchess contains three dead bodies onstage with three (newly killed) offstage. To hear the play read gives a better sense of its grandeur. The poetry rumbles. The action builds in tension, becoming darker and more disturbing as the Duke descends into madness and the Duchess' life disintegrates. Webster ably weaves together disparate characters, themes and outcomes. There are a tad too many deus machinas, and Webster's vision of humanity is depressing. The play is full of bitter comment over the corrupt nature of the Church and governments. Bosola, however Iago in appearance, is more honorable than Shakespeare's villain; he is the only character in the play who faces the reality of himself. Even the Duchess--noble, defiant--reacts more than confronts.

The play was performed in England throughout the seventeenth century. Samuel Pepys saw it twice.(Footnote 1) Webster was never as popular as Shakespeare or Ben Jonson, but The Duchess underwent three printings, and poets and critics praised Webster's talent. However, unlike Shakespeare, none of Webster's works entered America during the colonial era, either in print or performance.(Footnote 2) In England, The Duchess underwent expurgation and revisions (the unflagging pastime of eighteenth and nineteenth century sentimentalists) in order to emphasize the romantic subplot. It was revived spasmodically. A cut version was finally produced on Broadway in 1858.(Footnote 3)

Published versions of the play were available to Americans in the late nineteenth century. The Dramatic Works of John Webster, edited by William Hazlitt, was published in 1857 and a Temple Dramatists edition of The Duchess in 1896. Both were published in London and surfaced in America. California's Overland Monthly magazine referred to the Temple Dramatist edition (a small, pocket size book) in 1897 with the aside that Webster's plays would be "marvels of dramatic art" if it wasn't for the inevitable comparison to Shakespeare.(Footnote 4) The play itself was referenced in several articles between 1871 and 1889. All articles highlighted the Duchess' dignity and courage in the face of impending doom.(Footnote 5)

It is difficult to gauge The Duchess' prevalence in America in the early part of the twentieth century. In 1919, a theater correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor, reviewing a London revival of The Duchess, felt it necessary to outline the plot for his American readers. (He also compared Webster to Shakespeare.)(Footnote 6) The Mercury Theatre in New York considered The Duchess for its 1938 season before changing its mind in favor of Heartbreak House. The play was performed by a college group in 1945 and a repertory theater in early 1946.(Footnote 7) It may yet have remained an obscure footnote, one of those many annotations necessary to textual exegesis, had not the play been revived on Broadway in 1946. It had been produced recently in London, starring John Gielgud as the Duke, to great acclaim. Bertolt Brecht and W.H. Auden wrote an adaptation for the Broadway production (again, it was cut), although a prior adaptation was eventually used instead (Auden's name remained in advertisements for the play).(Footnote 8) Elisabeth Bergner played the Duchess. Her husband, producer/director Paul Czinner, hired British director George Rylands (he had directed Gielgud's production) as well as British composer, Benjamin Britten for the overture and incidental music.(Footnote 9)

The play premiered in Providence, Rhode Island in late September 1946, moving to Boston and on to the Barrymore Theatre in New York where it lasted for approximately a month, thirty-eight performances in all. During the same time period, 1946 playgoers could have attended State of the Union (1946 Pulitzer Prize play), Denes Psychodramatic Theatre's 6 Dramatized Case Histories and the unending Life with Father (the season's hit at 4,066 performances).(Footnote 10) Despite The Duchess' low number of performances, the production does not seem to have hurt the careers of any of the actors, although Bergner never did make the break into Hollywood.(Footnote 11)

The next major production occurred in 1957 when The Duchess ran for three weeks at the Phoenix Theatre. In the last fifty years, the play has appeared on radio and television, in novel form, and in off-Broadway productions.(Footnote 12) Since the 1990's, productions have been darker, more psychological and less likely to leave out the incest; Bosola (the Iago character) moves definitely center stage. The play is rarely read, although the Norton Anthology included it in editions, after Norton's 1962 debut volume, to represent Jacobean Playwrights. (A bell-tolling indication, if one was needed, of The Duchess' waning popularity.) More recently, the play appeared as the sub-plot of the arty horror film Hotel, in which a largely American cast strives to film The Duchess (cut to make it more "accessible") in Venice. They spend their evenings at a hotel of psychotic wait staff; the staff is managed by an ironic maitre d' who, like the misogynistic Bosola, considers the Duchess "a whore."(Footnote 13)


Treatments of the play have varied over time, although there are consistencies between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The twentieth century shared with the nineteenth an appreciation of Webster's connection to Shakespeare, a belief that the Duchess was the central character of the play, and a proclivity for cut scripts. For its first production on Broadway in 1858, the play was advertised as a Shakespeare clone--"upon the whole [Webster's White Devil and The Duchess of Malfi] come the nearest to Shakespeare of anything we have upon record," stated the advertisement. "Startling situations" were promised as well as a "Dancing Barber" after the show.(Footnote 14) It sounds preferable fare to the 1946 production which was advertised blandly as "Elisabeth Bergner in The Duchess of Malfi by John Webster/ Adapted by W.H. Auden with John Carradine and Canada Lee."(Footnote 15) John Gielgud had recently made the play a sensation in London (as Ferdinand the Duke), and reviewers assumed Czinner chose The Duchess as a promotional tool for his wife Bergner's talents. At the time, Broadway was the center of the entertainment industry, and doubtless it was hoped that a stunning performance (by Bergner) would translate into a Hollywood contract.

Overall, the reviewers disliked Czinner's production. The actors were praised individually, but the play failed to live up to the reviewers' expectations. Most were familiar with Webster's drama and had anticipated "bombast and fustian" (as one reviewer described it) or, at least, some blood-thirsty horror.(footnote 16) The play does, after all, contain multiple murders, a severed hand and strangulation. Czinner's production didn't deliver. Edwin F. Melvin of the Christian Science Monitor compared the Boston opening to a prior stage version, noting, "It telescopes the remaining events and disposes of [the Duchess'] villainous brothers Ferdinand and the Cardinal and their henchman, Bosola, more rapidly than even Webster contemplated." He then praised Bergner for a "quality of emotion lacking through much of the evening," a rather backhanded compliment.(Footnote 17) Brooks Atkinson of the New York Times was also disappointed, calling the production "conventional," "tepid" and "too genteel." Nine years later, he still wasn't happy. The 1957 production of The Duchess at The Phoenix Theatre was advertised as an "Elizabethan thriller by John Webster" but the production struck Atkinson as "studied," "elaborate, formal and contrived." "If Webster is not sensational," he explained in his review, "he is nothing."(Footnote 18)

Yet it is Webster's sensations that evidently bothered the play's producers. Preceding the 1957 production, a discussion took place at The Phoenix entitled "'The Duchess of Malfi.' Penny Dreadful or Poetic Tragedy?" a topic that reflected the middlebrow concerns of the day. (The Duchess and Antonio attended; since the murderer, Bosola, wasn't included, the discussion was likely weighted towards "poetic tragedy.")(Footnote 19) The question was evidently still a concern in 1962 when the McCarter Theatre Company presented The Duchess as part of their "Shakespeare And His Contemporaries" season. The positive review praised the play's lack of "excess" which did not "turn [the deaths] into condescending sport."(Footnote 20) The impression is one of slight tedium. Where, Brooks Atkinson would have asked, are the "startling spectacles"?

For "startling spectacles" abound in The Duchess. The play contains a mistress-ridden Cardinal; an incest-ridden brother; a secret lower-class lover; three secret pregnancies; an ambiguous, murdering thug who has all the best lines and lives longer than the heroine; the aforementioned severed hand; seemingly dead bodies made out of wax; plus, "real" dead bodies littering the stage. The Duchess has always tipped on the edge of melodrama and with so many bewildering possibilities, the safest interpretation may be a specific one. The favored interpretation in 1946 and previously was the Duchess' courage in the face of her own death. Sure, she snuffs it, but she does it with style. (Bette Davis accomplished this, without the severed hand, in the 1939 film Dark Victory.) It is the Duchess who tells Bosola, "I know death hath ten thousand several doors/For men to take their exits, and 'tis found/They on such strange geometrical hinges/You may open them both ways.--Anyway, for heaven sake/So I were out of your whispering," which translated means, "So I'm going to die; stop going on about it already."(Footnote 21)

This interpretation of nobility in the face of death, common also in the nineteenth century, was perpetuated in the early twentieth century by the promotion of middlebrow culture: what Lawrence Levine, among others, calls the "sacralization" of culture and Joan Shelley Rubin, more temperately, calls an agenda to "[mediate] between realms of 'high' art and popular sensibility."(Footnote 22) The middlebrow approach owes it emergence to disillusioned "highbrows," professors and reviewers, in the 1920's who considered the elite "genteel" aspirations of the past century undemocratic, yet disdained mass/lowbrow culture for its populism and supposed bad taste. Over the next three decades, middlebrow adherents promoted the growth of book clubs--in particular, the Book-of-the-Month club--literary reviews in newspapers, lectures on art, education-based discussions on television and radio. Articles such as "What Makes Great Books Great" were average reporting fare.(Footnote 23) At work was the belief that ordinary (that is, "middleclass") people could understand the classics, not because they belonged to elite, specially trained literary circles but because (1) they educated themselves using available tools (newspapers, radio, etc.) and (2) they applied their own experiences to great literature. In a 1957 book review, Vincent Starrett assured readers that an "enjoyable, rewarding, and significant library can be formed at relatively small cost by a man of taste and intelligence." It is noteworthy that Starrett dismissed "a First Quarto of The Duchess of Malfi" as too expensive for this library. The Duchess of Malfi might interest a middlebrow reader but not a first Quarto. Starrett's advice is meant for the Everyman, not the wealthy dilettante.(Footnote 24)

The Duchess fit well into the peaking of the middlebrow movement in the 1940's and 50's. Revivals of classics, especially Shakespeare's "contemporaries," were popular. When Thomas Caldecot Chubb reviewed the 1951 publication The England of Elizabeth, he placed the Duchess alongside other classic Elizabethan characters (Volpone, Falstaff), stating boldly, "[T]here are certain brief periods of concentration in which achievements are many and outstanding . . . We all know about [the Elizabethan Age's] mighty drama . . . Certainly it was the most versatile."(Footnote 25) The Duchess became the object of a discussion group; it was debated on radio and television. A gift book of the play--illustrations by Michael Ayrton; forward by director George Rylands--was listed on Gimbels' 1948 full-page Christmas display ad with the tag line "limited editions signed by the artist."(Footnote 26)

The prevalent interpretation of the play (courage in the face of death) also fit middlebrow requirements, being both classical and applicable. As late as 1961, a televised Catholic Hour addressed "Man's dignity in the face of death described in scenes from 'The Duchess of Malfi' by John Webster."(Footnote 27) For nineteenth and twentieth century critics (except, possibly, Brooks Atkinson), the Duchess was the main character (her grandiloquent yet crazed brother served as counterpoint), her increasing trials the central point of interest.

Such a specific interpretation, promoted as it was by the advancement of American middlebrow culture, undermined rather than aided The Duchess' popularity. It is possible, of course, that without middlebrow culture, The Duchess never would have been produced (as a Shakespeare clone) in America at all. Nevertheless, the safe but too strict interpretation of courage in the face of death curtailed the audience's creative involvement.

Application of Votary Theory

We have established context for The Duchess, both its history in America and its treatment in 1946. Let us now imagine an audience member for the play: a young, white woman in her mid-twenties. She has a college degree, unusual for a woman in the mid-1940's but not unheard of. She teaches in a local high school. This will change when she gets married; she will become a housewife and move out of the city into a bungalow in upstate New York. Her soldier fiancé is currently still abroad, but she expects him home shortly. World War II has ended; America is experiencing enormous euphoria. Our spectator's expectations of the future are positive.

Our audience member knows The Duchess is coming to New York. She has followed the reviews. Despite the reviewer's criticisms, she means to attend. Perhaps, she is a fan of Bergner. Perhaps, she is an early proponent of civil liberties. She is pleased that the black actor, Canada Lee, plays the part of Bosola, even though it is a "white man's" role. During the war, her boyfriend served with Negroes; their letters to each other describe the changes they expect to see in American life for blacks and Jews. Consequently, like the actor himself, the spectator considers the casting choice an advance for race relations.(Footnote 28)

Our audience member is also a proponent of middlebrow culture. The purpose of education, she believes, is to familiarize students with great literature. They may not be able to learn everything there is to learn about a work of art, but at least they can be exposed to the canon. Perhaps, she even considers it her duty to attend The Duchess so she can describe it to her students. However, she also enjoys Shakespeare and is aware of the contextual link between Shakespeare and John Webster. The Duchess should be a treat.(Footnote 29)

She attends a matinee on a Saturday, buying a ticket for $2.00; this will place her in the middle stalls. What, we now ask, did she experience? Was it positive? Negative? Was she able to enter the play, find a place from which to enjoy the action? What did she tell her students the next school day?

It is likely, first of all, that she had difficulty entering the play although she may have approved of it. The Duchess in 1946 had been cut to a safe formula--dignity in the face of death--a formula which would resonant with our audience member. Death has been an inescapable topic for her over the last few years; she did not know what would happen to her, her family members or her fiancé. She is sympathetic to the toughness and determination exhibited by the Duchess, who also faces an uncertain future.

Yet, at the same time, The Duchess' formula seems rather inflexible and a trifle dull. Our audience member has read the play. Furthermore, she is an Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers fan. She grew up listening to The Shadow with her siblings. Her boyfriend has a penchant for monster films, although she never cared for them. She does admire Humphrey Bogart whom she saw that summer in The Big Sleep, one of the new popular film noir.(Footnote 30) In attending The Duchess, she expected a bit more, well, gore, to be honest. Excitement. She knows the world is a dark place; she knows what her fiancé has seen in Europe. They don't need to tidy up this play for her. Good grief, she won't be offended or astonished by dead hands and incestuous brothers.

But the dying Duchess never leaves her gaze, never reveals the darkness, subtlety and phantasms behind the producer's interpretation. Any attempt to clamber inside the production is thwarted by the forceful interpretation. Creativity is balked. Our spectator feels as if she were plunked into a Gothic thriller and commanded only to watch the still-life. She is impressed by the sumptuous Elizabethan costumes. But costumes aren't enough. Something more is needed.

Votary theory argues that although context (middlebrow culture, WWII) affects experience, the search for a creative baptism is super-contextual. Alongside defenders of reception theory, votary theory agrees that gaze--looking for creative possibilities--belongs within the individual purview of the reader/spectator. We respond to visual and lingual signs which are grounded in culture and arise from specific contexts; however, our reactions stem not only from historical and cultural attitudes/teachings, they are also deliberate, physiological and creative. Hence, I can enjoy Shakespeare even though I am not an Elizabethan. I can enjoy books by Gabriel Garcia Marquez although I am not Latino. My interpretation, my understanding may change with my context, but my enjoyment, my enthrallment, my desire to enter the play, the text, unbalked, will not.

The audience member brings creative desires to a performance. Once there, creative engagement is encouraged or stultified by the performance. Ellen Esrock of The Reader's Eye discusses various factors that affect the likelihood of visual (or creative) engagement. She quotes from a reader:
For me the text was too exact and definite a description to encourage visualization; one felt as if one is too forcibly being asked to see the [text] as the author wants.

It is possible of course that my reaction was psychological; the imagery was too negative for me to willingly take it in with lunch.(Footnote 31)
Esrock dismisses the first possibility and focuses on the second. Votary theory, however, claims the first as equally if not more valid. The reader is exhibiting a creative desire. Balked from exercising that desire, the reader feels that the text has failed her. Likewise, votary theory argues that spectators (readers) desire creative participation in a performance (text). If thwarted, they lose interest, refusing to take the work in "with lunch" or at any other time.

According to votary theory, creative satisfaction is one reason 1946 New Yorkers attended The Duchess. Their classical and applicable needs fulfilled, spectators would still welcome, still seek, entrance into another world. After all, if classical and applicable lessons are all one requires, Cliff Notes and platitudes will do the job. Czinner's production of The Duchess appears, unfortunately, to have fallen short even of platitudinous Cliff Notes.

Rather, our 1946 spectator languished with a too "exact and definite" text. The production confounded her ability to enter the world of the creator, stabilize her perceptions alongside those of the director. Interpretation was a barrier, not an aid. A too fluid interpretation, on the other hand, would have given our spectator nothing to work with, nowhere to sit like entering a house empty of furniture. Furniture abounds in Webster's script; it resembles a Victorian cottage awash with side tables, bureaus and hard little chairs. Paradoxically, an earnestly strict interpretation may be the only way to clear the room. It is likely this dilemma that provoked a 1946 reviewer to describe any production of The Duchess as "an impossible task" due to the "two-dimensional characters moving with obscure motivation in a world filled with violence, lust and brutality and devoid of sense, poetry or tragedy."(Footnote 32)

It is possible, of course, that some spectators did muscle their way into the 1946 production, making themselves part of Czinner's version of Webster's vision. Readers/spectators are individuals with individual tastes; they will find certain worlds more appealing than others; lacking other options, they often take whatever comes to hand. However, considering the play's short run, the votary theorist must ask, Is there any way our 1946 spectator could have been satisfied (or, more satisfied) creatively?

In 1964, John Russell Brown wrote of The Duchess, "The tragedy cannot be said to have had a fair chance in the theatre." Thirty years later, Don Moore, who studied The Duchess' performance from its inception up to 1964, concurred: "But intelligent, sensitive productions of Webster are generally rare in the modern theatre."(Footnote 33) A sensitive production, however, may not have been the answer in 1946. The play has creative possibilities both of horror and ambiguity; both could have satisfied a post-World War II audience member in America.

As Stephen King has proved, horror is an accessible medium for creative needs.(Footnote 34) In fact, horror relies on a reader/spectator who is willing to approach the monster's closet, not alongside the protagonist, perhaps, but certainly behind his or her shoulder. Horror was an available option when The Duchess arrived in New York in 1946; Dracula had opened on Broadway in the fall of 1927 and become an instant and rampaging success, spawning an industry that is still strong today. Shorn of its middlebrow and genteel associations, The Duchess is a kind of Diabolique meets Psycho extravaganza with Freddy Krueger thrown in just for fun. Reviewers before and after The Duchess' 1946 opening described the play (rather than the production) as "blood thirsty," "dark and violent melodrama."(Footnote 35) Advertisements desperately proclaimed the play's sensations; the reporters and marketers knew, if the producers did not, what the audience would look for. As a horror show, rather than a Shakespeare clone, The Duchess may even have morphed its way onto screen á la Dracula--The Aunt of Bosola, Frankenstein and the Duchess. After all, the play offers graveyards, madness, betrayal, abuse, corpses, werewolves, conspiracies, not to mention multiple murders.

The play also offers ambiguities. In her book Dead Hands: Fictions of Agency, Katherine Rowe successfully demonstrates that The Duchess deals thematically with the problems of contractual relationships. The dead hand in the play is a symbol of the connection between intention and act. It ratifies a contract at the same time it binds the wielder to that contract. The issue of free will is continually under examination. Is Bosola, servant to the Duke, an independent agent or an extension of his master, executing stated orders?(Footnote 36) Such problematic relationships, as distilled in the play, could have provided a complex, yet intricately woven world for the 1946 spectator to explore.

The problem of contractual relationships rises out of its time period; The Duchess is a Jacobean play replete with Jacobean themes. Yet issues of self-interest, contractual ties, intent, consequences and freedom exist in our own culture. Nor would these issues have appeared strange to a 1946 spectator. As Americans turned from war to the business of getting on with jobs, marriages and domestic affairs, issues of identity (personal, national, familial) arose. Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman appeared on the American landscape in 1949. Tennessee Williams was producing works at the same time as well as Faulkner and Hemingway, all writers who tackled issues of self-identity and the particular "contracts" that influence that identity.

If our 1946 spectator had been allowed inside The Duchess, she might, like the student of history, have found a place from which to watch the various, complicated connections (between the Duchess, her brothers, Antonio and Bosola) tangle and untangle themselves. In fact, recent productions have stressed contractual issues of class and psychology. Of a 1995 production, a New York Times reviewer stated, "[It's] a sort of Freudian soap opera, a thinking person's 'Dynasty'."(Footnote 37) Perhaps now, more than in the last two centuries, we can explore the tensions between the Duchess--who chooses a lover she never acknowledges--and her brothers--who sacrifice their sister for the sake of money and revenge--and Bosola, who struggles over his agency in a seemingly relentless hierarchy.

By studying The Duchess' reception in America from the perspective of votary theory, we can gain an appreciation of the emotions and pleasures (and disappointments) of a 1946 audience member and possibly, even, a sense of the times in which Webster himself thrived, times filled with uncertainty, aristocratic patronage and a taste for dark, sensational stories. The Duchess (1946) could have utilized the creative options of both horror and ambiguity; instead, the play relied on a strict middlebrow interpretation which held its audience at arms' length, thwarting creative involvement.

This returns us to the main argument of votary theory: people are not motivated principally by socially or politically powered wants. The Duchess in 1946 offered a socially acceptable interpretation; the producers stretched audience acceptance by casting a black man in a supposedly white man's role but, then, the audience, or at least the critics, appeared disposed to be racially tolerant. The Duchess starred a well-known actress, well-known director, well-known composer. The play itself had recently received great acclaim in England. It satisfied certain ideological tendencies in American culture. None of this was enough. The 1946 audience wanted creative access. Without it, they lost interest.

The audience may have been satisfied creatively by an interpretation geared towards horror and ambiguity. After all, it is possible to link a desire for horror and ambiguity to the abrupt social changes and devastating wars of the mid-twentieth century, although such explanations run the risk of creating obsessively tidy schematics. After all, it is also possible that the horror genre of the twentieth century anticipated a need that goes back to Homer and the flesh-eating crocodiles of Egyptian mythology. In any case, although that feeling or need existed in American life, The Duchess of Malfi (1946) failed to provide or access it in a creative fashion.

The Duchess of Malfi still lurks in our culture. Occasionally, I encounter fellow devotees. It is hard to give it up as a lost cause. Possibilities abound. The ambiguous villainy of Bosola would find its popular complement in Spike from Buffy, Anikan Skywalker from Star Wars, Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom, Smallville's Lex Luther, the lawyers of Boston Legal. Perhaps, another production will arise which will give us the sensations, the prose, even the dignity, but also allow us entry so we may pleasurably, actively, wander at will.
1. Pepys approved of the first version that he saw; he disliked the second and never attended another showing. Don Moore, John Webster and His Critics, 1617-1964 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1996), 10.

2. Productions of Shakespeare are well-documented: Romeo & Juliet in 1730, Richard III in 1750; Othello in 1751, The Merchant of Venice in 1752. All played in New York with the exception of the last which played in Williamsburg. The Restoration comedies were also performed in America in the eighteenth century: William Congreve's Love for Love in New York in 1750; John Gay's Beggar's Opera the same year, also in New York.

3. Moore, John Webster and His Critics, 11, 15.

4. "Brief Notice," Overland Monthly & Out West Magazine 30 (1897): 94.

5. The articles include "Disease and Death on the Stage" (1893) by the Health Commissioner of New York, in which the Commissioner explains that death does not occur in the dramatic way it does on stage; "Three Dream Heroines" (1889) in which a writer for Scribner's Magazine romantically compares the character of the Duchess to Viola (Twelfth Night) and Elizabeth (Pride & Prejudice). In 1871, Reverend Francis Jacox used a quote from the play to illuminate Proverbs 3:24 for his book Scripture texts illustrated by great literature; that same year, Olive Logan praised the Duchess as "queenly, lovely, accepting death" in her book on the moral effects of playgoing. All articles located at Cornell University and the University of Michigan's Making of America,

6. "'The Duchess of Malfi' Revived," Christian Science Monitor, December 30, 1919, 14.

7. Performances prior to Broadway are referred to in Edwin Melvin's "Elizabeth Bergner Starring in Revival of Webster Drama," Christian Science Monitor, September 24, 1946, 5; and Louis Calta's "'Duchess of Malfi' Due at Barrymore," New York Times, October 15, 1946, 39. The Mercury Theatre's change of plans: "Max Gordon Play Will Open Tonight," New York Times, March 21, 1938, 18.

8. Reportedly the two writers did not get along. Bertolt Brecht began the adaptation; Auden was brought in later. Brecht removed all the gory scenes, including the severed hand, stressed the incest and streamlined the plot. It is said that director, George Rylands, upon seeing Brecht's adaptation, was appalled at his removal of all the good bits. Discussed in Bertolt Brecht, Collected Plays, vol. 7, eds. Ralph Manheim and John Willett (New York: Random House, 1974); and, Ian Samson's article, "Malfi mish-mash," Times Literary Supplement, June 4, 1993, 19.

9. Sam Zolotow's articles: "British Director Signed by Czinner," New York Times, August 22, 1946, 40; and "Britten is Writing Overture for Play," New York Times, August 28, 1946, 39.

10. Louis Calta, "The Curtain Falls on the 1946-47 Campaign," New York Times, June 1, 1947, X1.

11. Whitfield Connor, who played Antonio, later signed with Universal. John Carradine, who played the Duke, was already a well-known figure on Broadway and in Hollywood.

12. The Brecht/Auden adaptation was finally put to use in 1998 at the Chelsea Centre Theatre in London.

13. Hotel, DVD, directed by Mike Figgis (2002, United States: Metro Goldwyn Mayer Home Entertainment, 2005).

14. "Classified Ad 9," New York Times, April 5, 1858, 8.

15. "Display Ad 114," New York Times, August 8, 1946, 20.

16. L.A.S., "Canada Lee Takes Role of Bosola In 'Duchess of Malfi,'" Christian Science Monitor, September 30, 1946, 5.; and, Brooks Atkinson, "The Play," New York Times, October 16, 1946, 35.

17. Melvin, "Elisabeth Bergner Starring In Revival of Webster Drama," 5.

18. Brooks Atkinson, "The Play," 35, and Atkinson, "Theatre: Horror Play," New York Times, March 20, 1957, 33.

19. "'Duchess of Malfi' Discussion," New York Times, February 28, 1957, 25.

20. Howard Taubman, "Theatre: A Drama Series," New York Times, March 5, 1962, 27.

21. John Webster, "The Duchess of Malfi," in the Norton Anthology of English Literature, vol. 1, ed. M.H. Abrams (New York: W.W. Norton, 2003), lines 200-204.

22. Information on middlebrow culture drawn from Lawrence Levine's Highbrow/Lowbrow (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1988); and, Joan Shelley Rubin's "Between Culture and Consumption: The Mediations of the Middlebrow," in Power of Culture: Critical Essays in American History, eds. Richard Wightmann Fox and T.J. Jackson Lears (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1993); and Rubin's The Making of Middlebrow Culture (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1992).

23. Arthur Mizener, "What Makes Great Books Great," New York Times, March 9, 1952, BR1.

24. Vincent Starrett, "Books Alive," New York Times, February 10, 1957, B11.

25. Thomas Caldecot Chubb, "These Made It Great," New York Times, July 8, 1951, 148.

26. "Display Ad 46," New York Times, December 5, 1948, 47.

27. "Television Programs," New York Times, March 14, 1961, X14.

28. Canada Lee performed the role "white face." To modern sensibilities, this seems shockingly racist, yet to Lee, and many reviewers, it was a progressive choice: a black man had been selected to play a (white man's) role for his ability, not his skin color. An image of Lee being made up as Bosola can be found in Monica Z. Smith's Becoming Something: The Story of Canada Lee (New York: Faber & Faber, 2004), photograph insert.

29. I may seem to be stacking the deck here in my image of a 1940's audience member, but in fact, this individual closely resembles my mother and my aunt. My aunt Eleanor attended New York University before World War II. During the war, she was in the WAC. She returned to NYC in 1946 to get her Ph.D. My mother lived with Eleanor in NYC in 1954. My mother later taught grade school in upstate New York (her degree is in art) before and immediately after her marriage; her "boyfriend" was a nuclear engineer, not a returning soldier. My imaginary spectator's politics and opinions regarding literature and race closely resemble opinions expressed by my aunt and my mother.

30. Middle class Americans of the era were not only interested in self-betterment through the classics, they were also fascinated by mysteries and monsters. The popular horror film industry was "profitable cinema entertainment," as a New York Times writer called it in 1936. "Vampires, Monsters, Horrors," New York Times, March 1, 1936, X4. American spectators not only frequented horror films but the more prestigious film noir: Double Indemnity in 1944, Murder, My Sweet in 1945 and The Big Sleep in 1946. Perry Mason, The Maltese Falcon, and The Shadow all aired on radio in the same time period. It was the age of mystery fiction from Nancy Drew to Raymond Chandler. Agatha Christie was a steady British import.

31. Ellen Esrock, The Reader's Eye: Visual Imaging as Reader Response (Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press, 1994), 185. This quote also illustrates that despite my reservations over the use of surveys, it is possible to elicit discussions of creative engagement from readers/spectators. I will explore this possibility more in the fourth chapter.

32. L.A.S., "Canada Lee Takes Role of Bosola in 'Duchess of Malfi,'" 5. Regarding the Brecht/Auden script, a recent reviewer commented, "Webster's chaos may be impossible to re-direct." Ian Sansom, "Malfi mish-mash," 19.

33. John Russell Brown, ed., The Duchess of Malfi by John Webster (Cambridge: Harvard University, 1964), lix; and Moore, John Webster and His Critics, 1617-1964, 152.

34. In 1999, I attended a Brown Bag lecture by Stephen King with a friend (a fan of King). I was surprised and impressed by the number of attendees (the talk was moved from the Portland Public Library to the Holiday Inn on Spring Street in Portland), by the variety (young/old/men/women), yet solidly conservative character of the audience.

35. Brooks Atkinson, "The Play" 35; and Edwin Melvin, "Elisabeth Bergner Starring in Revival of Webster Drama," 5.

36. Katherine Rowe, Dead Hands: Fictions of Agency, Renaissance to Modern (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999), 101.

37. Ben Brantley, "A 'Duchess' Returns, Engulfed by Depravity," New York Times, December 11, 1995, C11.