Closet drama in England includes a body of neo-Senecan unstaged tragedies beginning with Mary Sidney Herbert’s Antonius (1592) and ending with Elizabeth Cary’s Tragedy of Mariam (1613), together with pastoral drama, like Lady Mary Wroth’s Love’s Victory (1619). The closure of the theatres during the Civil War also forced Margaret Cavendish and John Milton to compose plays that were not necessarily designed for public performance, namely Samson Agonistes (1671) and Cavendish’s two volumes of printed plays (1662; 1668). Yet the distinction between closet drama and public theatres may be overrated, as it emphasises their social and aesthetic differences to the point of erasing any potential similarities or communications. The conference will examine the contiguity between closet drama and commercial theatres, the Continental sources of English Senecan tragedies, the development of another self-consciously elitist genre, the Masque, and the role of women, as they took a more active part in closet drama than in the commercial theatres, either as performers (though silent ones in the Masque) or as playwrights in closet drama.
Key-notes by Ramona Wray (University of Belfast) and Marion Wynne-Davies (University of Surrey).