2017 Palmer Award for Best New Essay

Barbara Palmer Award
Award Year: 

Winner: Tavares, Elizabeth E. “A Race to the Roof: Cosmetics and Contemporary Histories in the Elizabethan Playhouse, 1592–1596.” Shakespeare Bulletin 34, no. 2 (2016): 193–217.

Tavares shows deftly what can be done by combining a close reading of playtexts with a wide variety of archival materials, focusing in particular on the surviving records of the building and renovation of London’s playhouses in the 1590s, as well as on archaeological evidence provided by recent excavations of former theatre sites. She counters the common understanding that theatres were built and rebuilt to a standardized template and that what applied to one theatre can be assumed to apply to all. Her analysis of references to ‘heaven’ in the plays and the existence of a ‘heaven-roof’ shows marked differences between theatres, as does the evidence for the use of cosmetic black- or brown-face in plays featuring Jews, Turks, or other racialized characters.

Tavares’s study innovatively deploys recently discovered primary sources to offer a generative model for future work, demonstrating as it does how the unexpected juxtaposition of three quite disparate types of evidence—close readings of playtexts, accounts, and archaeological materials—can be brought together to illuminate a broader canvas of performance practice. In this, the essay exemplifies the legacy of Barbara Palmer, and we are most pleased to recognize it with this year’s award.

Award Committee: Erika T. Lin and David Klausner (chair). Awards announcement and presentation took place during the MRDS business meeting in May at the annual International Congress on Medieval Studies, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, Michigan.