Shared Borders

For our May Reading Group, we discussed Kristina E. Caton’s ‘Shared Borders: The Puppet in Ben Jonson’s Bartholomew Fair’ chosen by Sam Jermy. Sam prepared the following prompts to guide our reading.

In this article, Kristina E. Caton examines the place and status of early modern puppets. Caton is particularly interested in the “shared material borders” between puppets and humans (p. 64), and much of the article considers the ways in which puppets serve as extensions of the human body while also standing in tension with that body. In early modern performance, puppetry often blurs the boundaries between persons and stage objects. Yet they refuse to be merely props. Unlike other bodily things, puppets actually depict human bodies and so carry with them certain cultural functions and assumptions that provoke questions about materiality, the body, and the social construction of props, gender, and identity.

  • In what ways might puppet bodies augment, parody, and deconstruct our understanding of ‘the body’?
  • Caton discusses puppets alongside other transportable hand-held props such as gloves and handkerchiefs. How do we read the “shared material borders” of such objects? Are they always extensions of the body?
  • What other person-like things do you use in your research? How might we read these things alongside puppets? e.g. effigies, wax works, fragmented bodily parts.
  • “[A] prop like the glove, or the ‘corporeal site of agency’, not only receives action, but also participates in the action through the presence of an absent owner who both embraces and animates an inanimate object” (p. 56). What do you think about this proposed relationship between materiality and agency?

If you are short on time, then just reading pages 51-57 can help give a sense of the argument and issues at stake. Though the close reading of Jonson’s Bartholomew Fair (p. 61 onwards) is wonderful!

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