Historical Social Research

Jennifer Holl:  "The wonder of his time": Richard Tarlton and the Dynamics of Early Modern Theatrical Celebrity [Abstract]

Taking the early stage clown Richard Tarlton as a case study, this article offers a historical inquiry into the dynamics of theatrical celebrity in early modern London. Specifically, this article argues that in early modern England, the multivalent term wonder encapsulated the modern concept of celebrity and that Tarlton's assignation as "the wonder of his time" spoke not only to his own remarkable celebrity, but to a robust culture of celebrity emanating from the era's theaters. This discussion centers on three gradually expansive sites of wonder – the theater, print and spoken discourse, and market relations – that correspond to three crucial elements of celebrity culture: identification, dissemination, and commoditization. This essay argues that despite current trends in celebrity studies that locate the birth of celebrity in the 18th century, the dynamics of theatrical exchange, the theater’s disseminating reach into other segments of the public, and the market relations of a proto-capitalist credit culture spurred an active trade in celebrity in the late 16th and early 17th centuries.

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