Renaissance Drama and the Institutionalisation of the Early Modern Child
There is a gap in studies of the Shakespearean child which have neglected to explore how cultural institutions that exchange, traffic, and exploit children, shape the presentation of children and childhood on stage. By delving into the socio-political identity and agency of boy actors and their familial, dramatic, and public positioning, my research will demonstrate how their lives and the representation of children on stage were shaped by institutions such as education, apprenticeships, the law, impressment, marriage, and the family. Michael Shapiro’s and Dympna Callaghan’s investigations of the practices of impressment in early modern theatre, highlight a need for research that further explores child labour in early modern society. Human trafficking of children has not yet been explored to the same degree as sexual fascination and the potential oppression of boy actors. Early modern society’s acceptance of this precarious trade in bodies affects our perception of the treatment of children, their roles, and their saleability as malleable youth. My thesis will explore a range of children and adult company drama from the 1580s to the 1620s, and examine the impact on boy actors and child characters of institutionalisation in early modern culture.