Research Musings: Disappearance and Reappearance

I wrote last week about the idea that a production can be judged or received separately from a script. In speaking about this with my supervisor, we bridged  into a discussion about the idea of a script as the record or memory of performance, with reference to the “bad” Hamlet quarto. Hamlet paved the way for a discussion about The Changeling’s 1653 quarto; Kate noted that it was first published during the Commonwealth, after the theatres were closed in 1642. I had not noticed the date’s significance before, and this discovery sparked a memory about the play being revived as part of the first season of plays produced at the Restoration in 1660. Kate and I both feel that there is something significant about The Changeling being among the very first plays to be revived after the Commonwealth. A theme of The Changeling disappearing and reappearing began to emerge.

We agreed that a focus on the play’s various disappearances and reappearances was a logical next step. These include: its appearance among the first plays remounted at the Restoration; its disappearance from 1660/1 until the late eighteenth century; its disappearance from the stage during the nineteenth century, despite its continued popularity among academics; and its reappearance on British stages in the late 1940s. Its twentieth-century life is slightly more difficult to speak of in terms of disappearances and reappearances, but the play does seem to repeatedly become very popular for a brief period of time and then return to the fringes again. This can be seen most clearly in the multitude of productions done in 1978.

As Tracy C. Davis says, ‘Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence’; unfortunately, researching absence is, predictably, much more difficult than researching presence, precisely because of the aforementioned ‘absence of evidence’. In trying to meet the challenge of investigating and researching The Changeling’s long disappearances, Kate encouraged me to ask: ‘what is the cultural work of the play’s absence?’. The answer at the moment is “I have no idea”, of course. But I am glad that some kind of focus is finally emerging out of all my reading around!




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