Rebecca Cepek

Defense Date


Graduation Date

Spring 2014


Immediate Access

Submission Type


Degree Name





McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts

Committee Chair

Anne Brannen

Committee Member

Laura Engel

Committee Member

Stuart M. Kurland

Committee Member

John E. Lane


audience response, Brome "Isaac", Chester Cycle, fourth wall, Knight of the Burning Pestle, York "Crucifixion"


Medieval theatrical audiences expected that dramatic performances would have some element of truth: they believed that what they saw performed was in some sense factual, and this belief was due in large part to their participation in the dramatic spectacle. By the end of the sixteenth century, however, audiences easily differentiated between reality and the fictional world of the stage. What became blurred was the difference between the fact of the performers' lives and the fictional roles they embodied on stage. I make clear the connections between these responses through an analysis of a variety of texts, including "The Pinners Play" (York), the "Sacrifice of Isaac" (Brome), the Chester Cycle, The Knight of the Burning Pestle, a variety of antitheatrical texts, elegies and other texts written in response to the death of famed early modern actor Richard Burbage, and the biography of eighteenth-century actor Lavinia Fenton. It is my contention that medieval, early modern, and eighteenth-century audiences responded to dramatic performances as experiences that created the reality they seemed only to reflect. Although these responses took different forms, they are fundamentally similar and related. This stems from the drama's function as a method of thinking about and processing reality. As such, audience response to drama assumes, on some generally unexamined level, that drama bears some relationship to reality, that it speaks some type of truth. Ultimately, this study reveals the connections between these very different times and provides an important point of departure for examining the role of belief and audience response in other genres and periods.