Holly Dugan deposited “To Bark With Judgement”: Playing Baboon in Early Modern London on Humanities Commons 1 week ago
Who or what played the baboon on early modern London’s stages? Such a question may seem as obscure as its answer obvious; I ask it, however, to foreground the long history of trained animal performers and their relationship to canonical English drama. The surprising presence of performing baboons in early modern London has been mostly forgotten or overlooked; yet a striking amount of plays between 1595 and 1616 mention their presence, suggesting that simians may have been more important to London’s stage history than we have realized. This forgotten aspect of the Renaissance English stage connects with some of the most celebrated aspects of the theater itself–its profound mimetic potential to represent real and imagined social spaces. It also gestures towards its underbelly: its harsh labor conditions, spectacular violence, and audiences who were seemingly willing to laugh at both. In this essay, I connect early modern cultural ideas about baboons with some of the valences of their performance history, arguing that both suggest early modern London’s stage baboons may have been more culturally relevant than we think.