Theatres and Encyclopedias in Early Modern Europe

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In this 2003 book West explores what 'theatre' meant to medieval and Renaissance writers and places Renaissance drama within the influential context of the encyclopedic writings produced at the time. It was an encyclopedic culture, obsessed with sorting knowledge, and early encyclopedias presented themselves as textual theatres, in which everything knowable could be represented in concrete, visible form. Medieval and Renaissance plays, similarly, took encyclopedic themes as their topics: the mysteries of nature, universal history, the world of learning. But instead of transmitting authorized knowledge unambiguously, as it was supposed to be, the theatre created a situation in which ordinary experience could become a source of authority. West covers a wide range of works, from the encyclopedic texts of the Middle Ages and Renaissance to Marlowe's Dr Faustus, Jonson's The Alchemist, and Bacon's Novum Organum, to provide a fascinating picture of the cultural life of the period.