The Media Players

Shakespeare, Middleton, Jonson, and the Idea of News
Stephen Wittek
News culture in England grew—not coincidentally—as a spectacular era of theatrical production and innovation reigned


The Media Players: Shakespeare, Middleton, Jonson, and the Idea of News builds a case for the central, formative function of Shakespeare’s theater in the news culture of early modern England. In an analysis that combines historical research with recent developments in public sphere theory, Dr. Stephen Wittek argues that the unique discursive space created by commercial theater helped to foster the conceptual framework that made news possible.

Dr. Wittek’s analysis focuses on the years between 1590 and 1630, an era of extraordinary advances in English news culture that begins with the first instance of serialized news in England and ends with the emergence of news as a regular, permanent fixture of the marketplace. Notably, this period of expansion in news culture coincided with a correspondingly extraordinary era of theatrical production and innovation, an era that marks the beginning of commercial theater in London, and has left us with the plays of William Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, and Thomas Middleton.

“Stephen Wittek’s The Media Players offers a fine and thought-provoking account of how early modern theater contributed to a proto-public sphere, within which a discernibly modern conception of ‘news’ took shape. His acute readings of The Winter’s Tale, A Game at Chess, and The Staple of News convincingly substantiate the argument.”
—Richard Dutton, The Ohio State University

“In The Media Players, Stephen Wittek shows us how present theater was in early modern life, how thoroughly integrated it was in an emerging and burgeoning ‘news’ culture, and how theater, news, and other media combined in the production of an early modern public sphere. Whether he is discussing Habermas or A Staple of News, The Winter’s Tale, or the Hispanic crisis that prompted Middleton’s A Game at Chess, Wittek writes with a lucidity and a fluency—in the period and its various media—that are admirable.”
—Steven Mullaney, University of Michigan

Cover: Title page from A Game at Chess. By permission of the Folger Shakespeare Library.

Stephen Wittek is a post-doctoral fellow at McGill University, where he received his PhD in Literature.

Praise / Awards

  • "Stephen Wittek’s The Media Players: Shakespeare, Middleton, Jonson, and the Idea of News argues that theater played a central role in the development of news culture and a proto-public sphere in seventeenth century England. This supplements recent work in history on the early seventeenth-century development of English news culture by Curtis Perry forcefully arguing for the importance of theater, even though it is also acknowledged that news is a 'massive public conversation' in which all manner of producers and consumers participate."
  • "In a clear and authoritative manner, Wittek succeeds in making accessible some complex ideas. His view of early modern theatre as a powerful and interconnected cultural driver of news media is compelling and thought provoking."

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Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 166pp.
  • 3 figures.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 2015
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-07281-1

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  • $84.95 U.S.

  • Paper
  • 2015
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-05281-3

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  • $34.95 U.S.

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  • Literary Studies, 16th and 17th Century Literature, 16th Century Literature, 17th Century Literature, Literary Criticism, Theater and Performance,