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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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The Spectacle of Experiment

The Spectacle of Experiment

The Politics of Virtuoso Satire in the 1670s

(p.32) 1 The Spectacle of Experiment
The Theater of Experiment

Al Coppola

Oxford University Press

This chapter analyses the anti-virtuoso satire of the Restoration as a key site of resistance to experimental science, and particularly to the ideology of the “modest witness” that this emergent practice required. Royal Society virtuosi such as Robert Boyle cultivated exquisite states of affective enthrallment to spectacular natural phenomena as part of a new form of life that shaped emergent scientific practice, but which also influenced the organization of public life and domestic relations. Two plays from the mid-1670s, Thomas Shadwell’s The Virtuoso and Thomas D’Urfey’s Madam Fickle, show how even if these playwrights radically disagreed about what might be alarming about the figure of the virtuoso, the virtuosi’s claims to modest and circumspect observation were as widely challenged as the new forms of masculinity they embodied.

Keywords:   Boyle, Shadwell, virtuoso, satire, modest witness, Royal Society, masculinity, Restoration, theater

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