Loughborough University

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Appropriations of the early modern banquet course and informal meals in the plays of Shakespeare and his contemporaries

posted on 2011-02-18, 09:10 authored by Tracy Su-Lin Thong
This thesis is a study of appropriations of the early modern banquet course in plays by Shakespeare and his contemporaries during the period 1590-1640. My interdisciplinary approach is evident in the range of sources used, including primary material such as accounts of entertainments, dietary literature, receipt books, household manuals and treatises on more broadly relevant topics. Secondary references consist of sources on hospitality, British culinary history, including studies on food and banqueting, and also a range of literary criticism. This work considers dramatic representations of the banquet consisting of wine and sweetmeats taken to aid digestion after a principal meal, and is not limited solely to an examination of banquet scenes in the plays. Other elements which pertain to the practice are also considered; these are progresses, the banquet itself, and the setting which supports the entertainment that usually accompanies it. The first section draws upon two broad definitions of `progress': as official visitation but also a more general definition which draws upon the notion that the `progress' of those seeking social advancement and inclusion constitutes a form of pilgrimage. This is used as a basis for its explanation of related social dynamics, including the interchangeability of the host-guest, patron-client and pilgrim-benefactor relationships. On these foundations, the thesis presents an argument for how conditions governing hospitality, particularly the tensions between its ideals of liberality versus the social exclusivity afforded by banqueting, manifest the patronage system. The next part considers rituals and functions of the banquet course, including the void, ' its corrective properties, and the display of taste, refinement and intellect through the edible, verbal and material conceits which constituted the sensual fare of this course. These functions supported the host's demonstration of mastery over nature to boost and maintain his social credit. Hence, the focus of the last section is the lord's creation of his banquet setting to fulfil this end; it includes his command over human intemperament, and the natural resources on his estate, which ideally represented a microcosm of the world. The purpose of this thesis is to evaluate the meanings of once common metaphors - particularly those pertaining to food and banqueting - which have become obscured over time, in order to produce substantial new readings of the plays.



  • The Arts, English and Drama


  • English and Drama


© Tracy Thong

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A Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the award of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.

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  • en