Caitlin Hubbard

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Caitlin Hubbard is a PhD Candidate in English Literature. She is interested in uncovering how theatrical spectacle refracted and popularized the philosophical and political debates of seventeenth century England, while serving to facilitate England’s global mercantile and imperial ambitions.
In her dissertation, “Spectacle as Action and Idea in the British Theater, 1605-1705,” she argues that the visual rhythm created through sequencing and combining painted scenery, stage machines, costumes, and gesture became a principal driver of dramatic action in seventeenth-century English theater, starting with the Stuart court masques of Inigo Jones, and reaching prominence on the public stage of the Restoration. Early enlightenment theories of empiricism, especially those of Thomas Hobbes, directly inspired the prioritization of multi-sensory scenic spectacle in public drama as an aid to moral and political pedagogy.
These scenic spectacles are not static. They are moving pictures. The actors, the props, the scenery, all move in tandem to produce the action, and the changing of the scenery itself—something highlighted and glorified by lighting and music—is a propelling force for the action of the plot, rather than simply a frame. So far from ancillary, the scenography and other spectacular, sensory elements of pre-Civil War court masques and post-Civil War public dramas carried in themselves significant political and moral content that interacted with the plot and poetry for the purpose of instruction.
These pedagogical spectacles of action and movement were particularly prominent in plays and operas set in global locations, especially foreign empires, and ultimately played an important role in both popularizing England’s imperial ambitions and occasionally critiquing its violent global activities.