Thomas Shadwell’s the Virtuoso as an Assemblage Laboratory. A View from Installation Art

  • 1 Jagiellonian University, Cracow, Poland


The contemporary landscape of performing arts becomes more and more populated by hybrid genres or “artistic installations” (Rebentisch) which fuse traditional artistic, theatrical and performance practices with scientific procedures, political activism and designing new technologies (e.g. bioart, technoart, digital art and site-specific performance). In this context, theatre texts can no longer be perceived as autopoietic means of solely artistic expression but become part of an assemblage of different discourses and practices. As contemporary assemblage theory contends (DeLanda), assemblages are relational entities which change dramatically depending on relations between its different human and nonhuman elements and various contexts in which they function.

Taking the contemporary installation art as a vantage point, this paper aims to analyse a Restoration comedy The Virtuoso (1676) by Thomas Shadwell in an assemblage of theatrical, scientific and political discourses and practices of Early Modern England. Staged in Dorset Gardens theatre in London, the play mobilised a plethora of discourses of science (the status of experimental philosophy institutionalized in 1660 as the Royal Society), politics (Restoration of the monarchy under Charles II) and gender (the infamous heac vir or effeminate man). Drawing on contemporary new materialism, the paper focuses predominantly on Shadwell’s use of the laboratory as a site of emerging assemblages rather than objective matters of fact. In this context, the play itself becomes an assemblage laboratory where new ways of thinking and being are being forged and constantly negotiated.

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