Renaissance Colloquium

A Second Stride: Recalculating the Theatrical Sublime in Bernini, Molière, and Calderón
Apr 23, 2024, 4:30 pm6:00 pm


Event Description
William N. West

Nicolas Boileau is often credited with reintroducing the category of the sublime in 1674, but in fact he writes after nearly 300 years of explicit thought about the sublime in the tradition of Longinus, and still more of its inarticulated practices in performances. Yet despite this long tradition, modern readers of early modern drama sometimes find themselves out of sympathy with what early modern writers ask them to take as sublime. Often what is identified as sublime does not seem sublime at all, even its opposite — stiff, flat, bathetic. In this paper, William N. West suggests that we may be looking for the sublime in the wrong places and at the wrong things. West proposes another way to gauge the effect of sublimity in early modern performance — a different way to make it count — as well as suggesting three uncharacteristic aspects to consider: the mechanical, the comedic, and the metatheatrical.

William N. West studies, teaches, and thinks about early modern drama, poetry, and prose, mostly. He has taught on Shakespeare’s “theater of others”; on taking comedy seriously; speculative fictions of the Renaissance and post-millennial systems fictions; poetics and aesthetics from Aristotle to Kant; the story collection from ancient India to modern England; and other topics. 

His most recently authored book, Common Understandings, Poetic Confusion: Playhouses and Playgoers in Elizabethan England (U of Chicago P, 2021), was awarded the 2022 Joe A. Callaway Prize for Best Book on Drama and Theatre by New York University. He has recently written articles or book chapters on theater and speculation; secularity and early modern performance; Aby Warburg and the telling detail; Spenser, Ruskin, and times out of joint; and the life cycles of early modern players across Europe.

  • Department of English
  • University Center for Human Values
  • Lewis Center for the Arts