Associate Professor of History Carrie Beneš and Associate Professor of English Nova Myhill each published a book within the last month covering topics from urban legends in medieval Italy to the audience of 16th and 17th century theater.
In Urban Legends: Civic Identity and the Classical Past in Northern Italy, 1250–1350, Beneš focuses on how Italian city-states tried to assert their own autonomy and claimed their right to do so through history. “You get these actually rather funny situations sometimes where one city says, ‘Well, our city was founded by Julius Caesar and that makes us better than you,’” Beneš told the Catalyst. “And the next city says, ‘Well, our city was founded by Romulus and that makes us better than you because Romulus came before Julius Caesar.’ And so there are these kind of competing ideologies that bounce back and forth.
“What I’m really interested in is not the historical fact of how was this city founded — although that of course comes into it as a comparative aspect — but what is it people say about it and what does that show about their values, their interests and their priorities,” Beneš explained.
Myhill and Jennifer A. Low of Florida Atlantic University co-edited Imagining the Audience in Early Modern Drama, 1558-1642. The collection of essays focused on the relationship between the audience and performances through the work of Shakespeare and his contemporaries. “In terms of academic publishing it was actually a very quick project,” Myhill said. “It started at the Shakespeare Association of America Conference in 2009 and then it was out less than two years off from that.”
Although the collection itself was the result of the 2009 conference, Myhill’s fascination with the audience of 16th and 17th audiences began with her dissertation in 1997. “What I’m seeing is the relationship between play and audience is essentially collaborative rather than it being something that is just this kind of process of indoctrination where the play does stuff to the audience,” Myhill explained. “Especially this interests me because people are still interested int his question now. When people say, ‘Oh no, it is not appropriate to show movies like that or, for that matter, video games like that to children because they’re impressionable and they’re going to go out and kill people because they see people being killed on the screen and so they think it’s okay.’ I mean, this is exactly the same argument that people who were opposed to the theater are making in the late 16th century. It’s interesting to me that this argument never goes away. And it’s also interesting to me that the audience is never, ever that dumb. I mean, you can always find a few people who will say, ‘Well, you know this person was psychotic and they watched a lot of movies.’ So what’s the cause, what’s the effect?”
Both Urban Legends: Civic Identity and the Classical Past in Northern Italy, 1250–1350 and Imagining the Audience in Early Modern Drama, 1558-1642 are available through Amazon.com.