"Paper-Contestations" and Textual Communities in England, 1640–1675


201 pages
Contains Photos, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-8020-3884-0
DDC 820.9'355




Reviewed by Laila Abdalla

Laila Abdalla is an associate professor of English at Central Washington University in Ellensburg, Washington, and former professor at McGill University.


The 1640s and 1650s saw an increase in the production and distribution
of printed materials; 1642 was also the year that the theatres closed,
prompting playwrights and theatregoers to turn their attention to such
printed materials as closet dramas and polemical pamphlets. In this
book, Elisabeth Sauer examines the mid-17th-century’s osmosis of
theatrical performance into print, and the subsequent culture of
readers, writers, and interpreters.

Sauer divides prior scholarship into two areas: the historic and the
revisionist. She accuses the former of practising an anachronistic
Marxism to argue that the era’s politics were full of contestation,
and the latter of marginalizing culture to contend that the political
arena was one

of consensus. Sauer perceives herself as post-revisionist, employing
what she suggests is a post-Foucauldian approach to reveal the period as
one in which a continuous power dynamic existed between contestation and
consensus, and between drama and politics. She uses a variety of
individual occurrences, or case studies, to illustrate how these two
epistemes informed each other.

While seeking to avoid dualities, Sauer’s study draws upon the
dualities of conformity and divergence, theatre and government. Chapter
4, for example, posits that while closet dramas indeed abided by the
parliament’s mandates to avoid the vulgar and seditious practices of
the stage, they nevertheless had a “transgressive nature” and
contained “cultural, polemical and political” messages.

Sauer’s thesis is convincing, but her book’s true value lies in the
extensively researched case studies. The text is theoretically informed
and well written (if somewhat impenetrable or dry at moments), and it
focuses on some fascinating instances within a turbulent period of
English history. Sauer labours, but she manages to discover some small
oases in an area normally considered arid by drama scholars.


Sauer, Elizabeth., “"Paper-Contestations" and Textual Communities in England, 1640–1675,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 16, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/15848.