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The Theater of ExperimentStaging Natural Philosophy in Eighteenth-Century Britain$
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Al Coppola

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780190269715

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2016

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780190269715.001.0001

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“Bare Unfinish’d Histories”: The Rehearsal of Natural Philosophy

(p.23) Prologue
The Theater of Experiment

Al Coppola

Oxford University Press

This prologue offers a fresh critical approach to the distinct eighteenth-century genre of the rehearsal play, reading them as complex mediations of epistemic shifts brought on by the emergence of experimental science. The Duke of Buckingham’s Rehearsal (1671–75) exploited the rich scenario of an unfinished whole that fitfully and unsuccessfully comes into being in order to critique a signal innovation of emergent modernity in the long eighteenth century: a new epistemology grounded in “matters of fact.” In a Restoration culture that had come to place unprecedented faith in the self-evidence of certain forms of truth, Buckingham’s rehearsal play registered, in its ludicrous spectatorship and disjointed spectacles, the hopes and fears of a society transformed by its faithful attention to what Francis Bacon, in the New Organon, called “things themselves.”

Keywords:   rehearsal play, Buckingham, Dryden, Sprat, epistemology, experimental science, theater, Restoration

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