Northwestern Events Calendar


GLOBAL LUNCHBOX | A Conversation with Will West about his book Common Understandings, Poetic Confusion: Playhouses and Playgoers in Elizabethan England

When: Friday, May 13, 2022
12:00 PM - 1:00 PM CT

Where: Online

Audience: Faculty/Staff - Student - Public - Post Docs/Docs - Graduate Students

Cost: Free

Contact: Danny Postel  


Category: Global & Civic Engagement, Academic, Lectures & Meetings


Register for the event:

Please join us for the Global Lunchbox, a weekly forum convened by the Weinberg College Center for International and Area Studies at Northwestern University featuring conversations with scholars about their current research on a range of critical global issues.

This week we will be joined by Will West, Professor of English, Classics, and Comparative Literary Studies at Northwestern, for a conversation about his latest book, Common Understandings, Poetic Confusion: Playhouses and Playgoers in Elizabethan England.

About the book

What if going to a play in Elizabethan England was more like attending a football match than a Broadway show—or playing in one? In Common Understandings, Poetic Confusion, Will West proposes a new account of the kind of participatory entertainment expected by the actors and the audience during the careers of Shakespeare and his contemporaries. West finds surprising descriptions of these theatrical experiences in the figurative language of early modern players and playgoers—including understanding, confusion, occupation, eating, and fighting. Such words and ways of speaking are still in use today, but their earlier meanings, like that of theater itself, are subtly, importantly different from our own. Playing was not confined to the actors on the stage but filled the playhouse, embracing audiences and performers in collaborative experiences that did not belong to any one alone but to the assembled, various crowd. What emerged in playing was a kind of thinking and feeling distributed across persons and times that were otherwise distinct. Thrown apples, smashed bottles of beer, and lumbering bears—these and more gave verbal shape to the physical interactions between players and playgoers, creating circuits of exchange, production, and consumption.

About the author

Will West, co-editor of the journal Renaissance Drama, studies, teaches, and thinks about early modern drama, poetry, and prose. He has taught undergraduate courses on Shakespeare's “theater of others”; on taking comedy seriously; speculative fictions of the Renaissance; writing and reading the book of love; poetics and aesthetics from Aristotle to Kant; the story collection from ancient India to modern England; and other topics.

West is the author of Common Understandings, Poetic Confusions: Playhouses and Playgoers in Elizabethan England (2021), As If: Essays in As You Like It (2016), and Theatres and Encyclopedias in Early Modern Europe (2003). 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.

He is co-editor (with Helen Higbee) of Robert Weimann's book Author's Pen and Actor's Voice: Writing and Playing in Shakespeare's Theatre (2000) and (with Bryan Reynolds) a collection of essays honoring Weimann, Rematerializing Shakespeare: Authority and Representation on the Early Modern Stage (2005). He is currently working on a project exploring some of the afterlives of the idea of the Renaissance, how scholars and thinkers of subsequent periods have identified and disidentified with it in their own cultural projects.

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