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.