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Dr. Sabine Kalff


Institut / Einrichtungen:

Fachgebiet / Arbeitsbereich:

ERC-Projekt Early Modern European Drama and the Cultural Net (DramaNet)

Wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiterin

Stars on Stage – Astronomy and Astrology in Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century Drama

Astronomical objects made their appearance on stage frequently in the ‘long’ eighteenth century, equally at the levels of content, form and theatrical practices. Historical plays were strongly indebted to premodern historiography, which itself was based on astronomical and astrological concepts, thus providing a common framework for notions of time, fate, probability and necessity. While astronomy was indispensable to chronology and to setting a universal time frame, which was particularly important in this era with many competing chronological systems still in use, astrology figured as a semiotic technique by which astral messages referring both to collective and individual events could be deciphered. Astrological issues were not only prominent in Calderón de la Barca’s famous La vida es sueño (1636), but in a variety of 17th and 18th century plays as well. This was obviously the case in early Wallenstein plays (Vernulz, Glapthorne, Testi), as well as in plays about the Mogul emperor Tamerlane. Frequently, not only the dramatis personae, but the historical persons whom they were modelled after as well, related their rule to astronomical events, thus establishing a political hermeneutics of how certain celestial signs should be read. Based on the concept of similitudo temporis, early modern historical plays were not only concerned with Roman emperors, but also adapted many astronomical elements of their imperial cults, thus analogising early modern imperialism to Roman antiquity. The comparative approach of this project will enable investigation of Spanish, English and German drama as a means of mass communication through which important geopolitical issues were transmitted and negotiated. References to astronomical and astrological elements on stage were by no means independent from contemporary cosmological debates, and as far as literal ascents and descents of personae were concerned, such references were also related to technical premises. Hence, astronomical and astrological elements in drama will be considered against the background of contemporary scientific concepts and practices. To this end, early modern dramatic texts will furthermore be contextualized in relation to other popular genres such as almanacs, comet pamphlets and astrological diaries.