In this volume, subtitled "Print, Text, and Performance in Europe," Julie Stone Peters performs an admirable and outrageous task--attempting to look at the ways in which the rise of print affects the stage . . . in Europe . . . over 400 years. Yup. As has been noted by basically every reviewer, this topic can be and has been broken down into much smaller segments and treated more thoroughly by other scholars.
However, it's a good intro to the topic if, like me, you have to know about it and don't have time to read every other book. And she sets the scene well: "In the late fifteenth century, half-improvised farce, costumed civic festivals, biblical stories enacted on platforms, the songs of court poets, and the dancing of mummers were confronted by print--by a drama conceived in the fixed and silent forms of the text." The basic struggle she goes on to outline is that between the art of theater--dynamic, personal, sensual, improvisatory, diffuse--and the medium of text--static, impersonal, visual, fixed, and authoritative. As print became ubiquitous, the book became an authority, something that actors, theatre architects, set and costume designers, and even playwrights themselves would refer back to. "Did I get that line wrong? Let's look back at the text." "Is this scene set wrong? Let's look at the diagram." "How is my gesture of grief? Do I look like this illustration?" "Is this a comedy or a tragedy? It has to fit into a genre."
The theater, in some ways, rebels against this controlling force by appealing to a popular, largely-illiterate viewing-and-hearing audience, by continually creating new genres and breaking old rules like the unities, by allowing for improvisation and embodiment, and by not being completely controllable.
But the relationship isn't as tug-and-pull as this brief summary indicates. As Peters notes, the professional theatre and print grew up together. Without a rebirth of interest in classical drama, made possible by the printing press, would vernacular drama have become so popular as a literary (and experiential) drama? Without drawings and illustrations of classical theatres, would early modern theatres have been conceived? Without playbills and posters, would those theatres have any customers?
This is another of those books that I might have to read in-full or at least in large part later on in the process.