Thursday, December 29, 2011

A Theory of the Early English Printing Firm

David R. Carlson discusses a new theory of William Caxton's printing work, beginning, not with his literary folios as many do, but with his jobbing. Explaining that jobbing was the way for a printer to start, and to maintain, some productivity, Carlson examines some of the extant pieces of Caxton's ephemera--a handbill advertising his own work, and an indulgence with blanks left for the purchaser's name. He considers briefly how the handbill reflects on and contributes to relations of production; it says "Don't pull this down" in Latin, using the innate authority of Latin to do the work of intimidating lower-classes from messing with it (reflecting on class struggle), while at the same time it is a piece of printing that is advertising for more printing (contributing to more production). In this moment, Caxton the printer was working for Caxton the publisher.

Ephemera were a good market for new printers; they were always being used and disposed of and people always needed more. But they were not using the productive capabilities of the new technology to the fullest, either. It has been assumed, Carlson says, that printing jobs was the potboiler for the real work, printing books, but he says it is probably the other way around: printing books on speculation was a way to make some money between jobs, which were paid up front.

Caxton also knew that the printing press was capable of more, so he tried to do more with it. However, he quickly learned that print could not compete with handmade books in the elite, literary, luxury book markets. So he learned to branch out and to create new markets of book-readers. He helped invent and exploit new markets for books, and to create new kinds of books. Caxton is partially responsible for Chaucer's title as the father of English literature; he began printing English literature which Continental printers were not doing much of.  He also worked in ecclesiastical and legal markets, which always needed new books; the English legal market especially had idiosyncrasies that were not being served by Continental printers. He also helped to create a sense of need for individual devotional books rather than books owned by an institution and shared among its members.

Caxton was never as financially successful in printing as his protege, Wynkyn de Worde and his partner Pynson. But these men built on and expanded models that Caxton was already working with. Carlson theorizes that Caxton worked this way because of the productive capacity of the new technology, not because of some innate and sentimental love of English literature. As he says, "all this the machines decided" (61).

The Word Made Print

In her article, "The Word Made Print: Luther's 1522 New Testament in an Age of Mechanical Reproduction," Jane Newman examines the paradox of scriptural authenticity in the early days of printing. While Luther (and others) were touting the need to rely on sola scriptura, the printing press made widespread dispersal and possession of a vernacular New Testament possible. In this way, everyone could rely on the words of the gospel for themselves and begin interpreting it themselves, which many church authorities did not like.

However, the same technology that made this possible also undermined it. Since it was so (relatively) easy to print a thousand copies of a vernacular New Testament, unauthorized translations were being created and disseminated, many with (no doubt) honest errors, and many with politically and religiously motivated differences from each other. This complicated the reassuring directive to rely on scripture alone; whose scripture should you rely on? How can you tell whose translation you're reading? If you can't, or aren't equipped to, compare different translations, how do you know if you're relying on words that were translated correctly? “For the public, however, it was difficult to distin- guish between authenticity and falsehood in printed Bibles, since all that they had in their hands was sola Scriptura, the text alone.”

Luther's New Testament is an interesting example of this. His name did not appear on any editions of his translation before the eighth. By then, his translation was such a big deal that it was being pirated by many printers and booksellers--and even other competing theologians went to great lengths to make their translations look like Luther's, so that people would buy theirs without knowing. Although he had a device created, "Luther's Rose," so that people would know it was an authorized copy of his translation they were buying, non-authorized translations were still printed and sold at a rate of 4 to 1.

Luther himself began to be frustrated with other's critiques of his work, as well. In one verse from Romans, he added the word "allein" (only) which was not in the original Greek and Latin versions from which he was translating. His excuse was that, like Paul speaking in koine Greek, he wanted to bring the Bible to people in common German, and given German grammar, this instance demanded the use of the word "allein"--otherwise (to paraphrase) it would sound funky to people and distance them from the text. He modeled himself after the apostle Paul, "a spiritual reproduction of the saint" that came about because of the literal printed reproductions of the New Testament.

The Materiality of the Shakespearean Text

This article, by Peter Stallybrass and Margreta de Grazia, begins with the fact that, from the eighteenth century until 1986, there was only one version of King Lear. Now we have three versions and a collation. The same is true of Hamlet, of Romeo and Juliet, of Macbeth. What does this fracturing of the works of $hakespeare do to our conception of his corpus, of his authorial position? For many years in $hakespeare studies, editors looked for an "authentic," an "original," what Stallybrass and deGrazia call "the thing itself." However, we have finally given this up and are beginning to see a multiplicity of texts. But is this better? Is this progress? Or is this just another editorial practice that is steeped in the particular history of the time, that later generations will look back on and criticize from their vantage point, as we criticize the 18th century collations and bastardizations that brought us $hakespeare? And, whether this is progress or not, if we choose to represent multiplicities of text, how do we represent that on the page?

The authors consider four categories that affect our understanding of $hakespeare: the work, the word, the character, and the author. For each of these, they provide examples of ways in which the material multiplicity of the texts undermine what we think of as a unified whole.

As regards works, King Lear has not only multiple texts but multiple names; how do we identify it? Is it a history, a true chronicle, or a tragedy? What makes $hakespeare's version a different work from its source, which might bear the same name? How many textual variants between two documents merit reproduction of "different" editions? And what gives First Folio rights of authenticity, when other collected versions of Shakespeare were attempted or completed? Even the current First Folio facsimile, the ur-text for many scholars, is a facsimile of thirty compiled copies of that book, when it is likely that due to collating errors, printing corrections, etc., no two copies were identical.

As regards words, what do we make of words like "weyward" which might signify "wayward" or, in another spelling, "weyard," might signify "weird"? The current OED entry for "weird" gives "weyward" as an alternate spelling of this word, but the only instance it cites is this play. Was $hakespeare quoting his source, which uses "weird," or was he re-characterizing the three sister witches?  If early modern readers/audience members might have heard "weyward" and registered both denotations, what does a modern editor do when the two words are no longer connotatively linked? "It is a semantic field and not a single word that needs to be retrieved," say Stallybrass and deGrazia--but how?

As regards character, character names were slippery, sometimes added to a script only after it was finished. Dramatis personae lists are irregular at best. Are we to regard $hakespeare's characterization, then, as Alexander Pope did (the first critic to read $hakespeare's plays with dramatis personae lists attached), remarking upon the unique individuation he gives the characters? I'm reminded of Tiffany Stern when she said that, sometimes, there is evidence that $hakespeare had a bit of poetry and just put it in the most convenient mouth, not really considering characterization that much. 

And the author himself: I have made a big deal of writing his name $hakespeare, to remind myself that what I am discussing is not the man, but the (marketable) institution. These authors make the same point, noting that sometimes his name is not attached at all (7 of his first 8 plays are anonymous) but other times it seems attached to a play to lend the play authority and value. Furthermore, we have 37 different spellings of his name, and the one we currently use might be a printerly intervention. The long S and the lowercase k characters tended to break when put next to each other, so printers often separated them with a neutral character, - or e, giving us "Shak-speare" or "Shakespeare" or sometimes "Shake-speare." Finally, our notion of $hakespeare, whether as a never-blotting genius or a thoughtful, revising poet, tends to leave out the agency of other authors, with whom he collaborated often.

They end by remarking that paper itself--a bunch of rags cobbled together, beaten to a pulp, expressed as paper, absorbing ink--is a good analogy for what we think of as the works of $hakespeare, with their (sometimes surprising) humble and multifarious beginnings and their necessarily collaborative production.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe

I know I'm probably supposed to love this book. It's a seminal work, comprehensive in scope, and about something I find really interesting. But the truth is, I hated this book. Reading it was terrible. And unfortunately, now I own a copy of it. Damn it.

Elizabeth Eisenstein makes the case that the impact of printing on "Western Christendom" (really? Are we still calling it Christendom in the 70's?) was colossal, a sea-change, and that it has gone unremarked upon by scholars. Practically every paragraph begins with some statement like "So few studies have really dedicated attention to X issue" or "Y issue deserves stronger emphasis" or "On Z issue, the existing scholarship is too restrictive." WE GET IT, Eisenstein; you're about to tell us something mind-blowing that we've never heard before.

But the frustrating thing is that she doesn't. No, it's not just that she doesn't tell me something new because, honestly, from where I sit in 2011, book history is a big deal and a lot of people pay attention to it . . . that I can get over because she was writing in 1979 and this book was filling a gap. It's that she never really states her point. She says, "we should consider the multiple ramifications of A and B," but doesn't say what they were! What were they, Eisenstein? What were they?

She does eventually get around to making her points, but her writing is so circular and timid that it is difficult to read all the way till she says her piece. Her basic points are that: printing was an enormous, overwhelming change and contemporary people noticed it; printing changed the way people thought, by making scribal innovations like indices, title pages, alphabetical order, etc., normative; printing "fixed" texts so that later editions are thought to be more authoritative and settled; printing "corrected" texts by making errors more visible to more eyes; printing contributed to an explosion of knowledge by making cross-referencing and broad, rather than deep, reading more widely available to scholars; printing contributed to literal revolutions (French, American) by getting people on the same page (pun intended) at the same time.

Adrian Johns, who argues with Eisenstein, tomorrow.

Renaissance Poetry

I picked this book up at the library because they didn't have the one I wanted and this looked like a pretty good intro. It is, and it isn't. It isn't a good intro to Renaissance poetry per se, coming from someone who doesn't know much about it and really needs a book that uses broad strokes to characterize the works and critical approaches to the works. But the introduction itself is an excellent brush-up on some major critical perspectives.

The editor starts by comparing new historicism (which is new) to New Criticism (which is old). New Critics (Eliot, Leavis, Brooks, etc.) seek for paradox, ambiguity, complexity, and unity in the poems. Looking for timeless, universal meanings embedded in the technical effects of the poetry, the New Critics overlooked political, social, and historical contexts which might be just as formative as the individual literary genius, the author. This kind of reading stresses the autonomy of art, of language, and of the literary genius, from historical circumstances.

New historicists and cultural materialists see literature as part of culture, participating in larger cultural practices which are always historically inscribed. But these readings do not seek for "real" events or "true" history as much as they seek the ways in which literature springs from a historical and cultural need or impetus. Literature and history are seen as open to interpretation, and history is not static but dynamic, the result of a clash of ideologies or powers. Culture is "not made up of abstract values, intellectual ideas, or creative achievements, but rituals, experiences and habits which structure daily life according to prevailing social norms" (5). Major critics include Geertz, who focuses on how culture is a symbolic expression of status; Althusser, who focuses on how culture is the means by which the ruling class maintains dominance; Williams, who focuses on how the dominant energy is always in struggle with an emergent energy, which may use or be opposed by residual energies; and Foucault, who focuses on culture as a way to create 'subjects' and gain power.

Using these critics, we can look at aspects of early modern culture, such as the court and the role of poets and poetry in the court, as ways that individuals, classes, or ideologies gain and maintain power . . . and ways in which that power is subverted and resisted.

Feminism questions many of the self-congratulatory myths about the Renaissance, even the term "Renaissance" itself, as being white upper/middle-class male centered, noting that there was no explosion of knowledge and art for upper and middle-class women at this time, whose freedom was arguably more curtailed than that of the medieval lady. The editors discuss the "strategies used by male courtiers to control Elizabeth" and ways in which the Petrarchan language of the poetry of the Elizabethan court both bolstered and undermined Elizabeth's power. They also discuss the silencing nature of the blazon, which dissects a woman and does not allow her a voice.

The editor also summarizes psychoanalysis, race studies, and lesbian/gay studies before discussing the organization of the volume, which is larger Spenser-based but also considers the English lyric "in terms of the development of early modern subjectivity" (23).

Reading this confirmed in my mind that I would like to figure out "what kind of critic" I am. I am really interested in Raymond Williams' theories of dominance, emergence, and residual energies, especially as they relate to carnival. But how will I ever say anything new if using that rubric? And I don't know a lot about economics and so many new historicists come out of a foundation in Marxism, which I don't have. I also really like feminism, but again, I'm not sure I have the background to be a feminist scholar. A friend of mine and I were discussing the difference between being a feminist politically and in your career; I don't know that I am cut out for it, career-wise. I love performance criticism and feel the most comfortable there; it feels natural to me. But don't I need some sort of ideological framework?

Women (and Others)

Celia Daileader opens the book Women and Others: Perspectives on Race, Gender, and Empire by discussing "the other woman," the woman who is not us, who is other-ed because she is like us (a woman) and unlike us (an unwelcome third). She is our competitor, our rival, sometimes our enemy. She is the anti-mother, whose destructive sexuality sets her apart from Angel in the House womanhood while at the same time encapsulating everything that is frightening and Other in a patriarchal society. Is she a whole (a whole person, with all her parts), or a hole (only one of the parts, or a lack of a part)?

Daileader points out that often the other women is other-ed racially, as well: "in the heyday of American slavery, the (white) wife's sexual "rival" was likely to be a woman of color" (4). In Shakespeare's sonnet sequence, there are two love objects--the innocent, lovely, fair young man, and the sexual dark lady who disrupts the relationship between the speaker and the young man. Traditional values of dark and light apply here, and are often applied between women to distinguish them from one another. White privilege is often constructed in literature by "aligning beauty, virtue, high rank, and white skin" (5), or, in the case of Oronooko, by giving him all the characteristics of white beauty without the whiteness (his Roman nose, his thin lips, his bright eyes).

The connection with Oroonoko is made here when Daileader points out that Behn, a woman, creates a black heroine, Imoinda, as beautiful and virtuous as any white heroine in "a rare moment of interracial woman-to-woman identification" (6).  She references Lady Mary Wortley Montagu's writings as being especially indicative of an openness to racial (and moral) otherness in her descriptions of and reactions to Turkish women she encounters. This ties into Daileader's initial question: how can women speak for/as each other, or can we only speak for/as ourselves?

Her answer is that, to encourage change, we may try to speak for others. But we must also listen, and cultivate other ways to listen. And we might look to other literatures--literatures that tell stories outside of white, middle-class, nuclear family America--for "emancipatory potential".

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Radical Tragedy

Jonathan Dollimore's book Radical Tragedy looks amazing. I am excited to read the whole thing, as I am with Greenblatt's Renaissance Self-Fashioning and Tiffany Stern's Shakespeare in Parts and Andrew Gurr's Playgoing and Gary Taylor's Reinventing Shakespeare. So many good books, so many introductions read and chapters left undiscovered. I think I can finish most of my reviews of books by Jan 5, though, and have the rest of January to read plays and articles and book-chapters.

Dollimore's introduction itself is a really great introduction to new historicism. Arguing against any view of literature as autonomous (something I'll get to later on), Dollimore sees Jacobean tragedy as created by and commenting upon the political and social realities of the era, an era characterized by the failure of the monarchy, the decline of the aristocracy, the rise in the gentry . . . ultimately, lowered confidence in existing authorities and sense of need for change in church and government. He compares this to Raymond William's idea of "a problem of order" and John Fekete's concept of "a telos of harmonic integration," only, instead of retreating from chaos and grasping at order as many modern artists and writers do/did, the Jacobean dramatists "confronted and articulated that crisis, indeed . . . actually helped precipitate it" (5).

He rejects the idea that $hakespeare and other authors bought into the "Elizabethan World Picture," an ideology founded on order and hierarchy. But he also rejects the idea that they rejected it wholesale. He argues, rather, that they disclosed ideology as misrepresentation from within, by dramatizing it and exposing its contradictions. He provides a really concise description of the ways in which Renaissance authors (often skeptics, whether politically or intellectually) discussed and understood ideology. Bacon, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Montaigne, even John Calvin, show a sophisticated understanding of an Althusserian definition of ideology, although they may refer to it as "custom" or "manners."

And time and again, Jacobean tragedians represent skepticism about ideology: they worry about cosmic decay, they destabilize ideas and representations of divine providence, they dramatize societies being destroyed from within. These dramatists do not denounce religious or political structures outright; they subvert them. Dollimore gives the example of the masque/anti-masque tradition, in which the elements of chaos and social destruction are staged (the anti-masque) and then overcome by elements of orthodox belief in order and hierarchy (the masque). Often the king himself would take part in the masque as the representative of Authority or God on earth, making all things right. Dollimore says, "The court masque was clearly an ideological legitimization of the power structure, as was the preliminary anti-masque" (27). But what about in The Revenger's Tragedy when the antimasque comes after the masque, superceding it and overturning all the order it provided? According to Dollimore, this is an example of Jacobean tragedy's radical possibilities, showing the court as "ineradicably corrupt" and rupturing "the aesthetic front which mystified its violent appropriation of power" from within.

What I am really looking forward to about this book is that the chapters are focused tightly on different plays and they are all really short.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Renaissance Self-Fashioning

Stephen Greenblatt's book Renaissance Self-Fashioning: From More to Shakespeare discusses the early-modern desire to manipulate or "fashion" the self using six important Englishmen from 1500-1600: Thomas More, William Tyndale, Thomas Wyatt, Edmund Spenser, Christopher Marlowe, and William Shakespeare. The work of self-fashioning might be internal (trying to better one's own nature) or external (trying to control the image of one that others see); it is always, though, a struggle between shaping and mastering one's own destiny, and having that identity shaped and mastered by cultural and social forces.

Greenblatt pairs these six figures off opposition to each other, with a third party as the reiteration or suspension of the tension created between the two. For instance, More and Tyndale are in conflict, with Wyatt as the transformation of that conflict. The conflict between Spenser and Marlowe takes shape in Shakespeare. The third party does not reconcile the conflict; rather, they are shaped by the "historical pressure" of the conflict of the other two.

The act of self-fashioning, Greenblatt argues, always takes place between an authority (or the shadow of an authority) and an alien, an Other, which represents chaos and disruption of the power of the authority. The identity achieved from this encounter has, within itself, the seeds of its own destruction, loss, or subversion.

More's self-fashioning is testified to in many accounts of More and in his own writings. He is interested in the idea of guises, of playing a part in order to gain power, and in allowing authority figures, such as kings, to believe they have ultimate power. He recognizes the fiction that is ultimate power but also recognizes that men go along with it even while they do not believe in it: "men must sometime for the manner sake not be aknowen what they know" (13). And as a primary counsellor to Henry VIII, he accomplished this for years, creating a character 'More' that Henry relied on. At the same time, his character in Utopia, Rafael Hythloday, rejects the idea of pandering to authority or tip-toeing around a king and More himself ultimately rejects it as he cannot give up his allegiance to the Catholic church and sign the Oath of Supremacy. Was this in response to a true self or was this More acting in accordance with the "More" character he had created? At any rate, this act was his undoing. Greenblatt characterizes these opposing forces as "self-fashioning and self-cancellation."

Tyndale represents an acquiescence to the absolute power, God, as opposed to More's allegiance to the king and the church. God in Tyndale's case, though, is represented by the Book, capital B. This book is both the English Bible (Tyndale's translation) and his book, The Obedience of a Christian Man. This second book is something unlike anything we've seen yet in English literature; it is personal, confessional, internal, while yet being a manual for Christian behavior and thought. And it is here, in the locus of the Book, that the self-fashioning takes place. It is internal and external at the same time; Tyndale remakes himself after Christ's model while also putting this work on display in order to inspire the same kind of self-fashioning in believing readers.

Wyatt is something else entirely, and I'm not really clear on how he's the third term in the opposition between Tyndale and More. Greenblatt focuses most closely on Wyatt's translations of the penitential psalms (David's confessional poems in the Old Testment) and his court poetry, especially his translation of "Whoso List to Hunt". Wyatt's writing, although it recycles stale tropes, is fresh and new because of how "internal" and heartfelt it seems. Greenblatt's main point is that he is not More, not completely controlled by court and church, nor is he Tyndale, given over to the Word entirely. He manages to negotiate political and sexual struggles at court without being absorbed into a court-identity. He is a diplomat, a skilled translator (of language and experience), who attempts to conceal his criticism of the court but whose pain is palpable. Greenblatt styles him as a master of "calculated recklessness" (139). Perhaps the thesis is that Wyatt, who is dependent on secular power in ways that More and Tyndale were not, uses "realism . . . and inwardness" in his writing to dominate in the court.

Even though I haven't gotten to the dramatic part of the book yet, I see a real connection between this discussion and one of Barish's prejudicial attitudes he discusses--the concern about how much it is a) possible, and b) moral, to change or shape one's own identity. If it isn't permissible to shave a beard, the idea of fashioning a self, an internal or external identity, must be extremely disconcerting to many.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Anti-Theatrical Prejudice

Jonas Barish's book Anti-Theatrical Prejudice discusses the history of anti-theatrical prejudice dating from ancient Greece until the current day. He introduces the topic by discussing all the negative epithets from theater that have made their way into our discourse: melodramatic, stagey, putting on an act, making a scene, making a spectacle, and, of course, theatrical. I wrote a paper on this subject, specifically Seventh-day Adventist prejudice against the theater, when I was a freshman in college so I was somewhat familiar with most of the arguments. I'll just list them, because that's what the book is about.


Poets/actors/painters are "sophists," making counterfeits that look like (but are not) truth.
Drama stirs up our feelings to subvert our judgment.
Imitation is formative, so we must not imitate things that we do not want to become.
Justice and right government involve citizens knowing their place. Any crossing of identity boundaries, even imaginary, can jeopardize this.
Art is slippery; it cannot be put under exact measurements or controls; it is not to be trusted.

Classical Rome:

Actors were foreigners, slaves, and prostitutes.
Entertaining made one ridiculous (ars ludicra).
The dissolution and extravagance of Rome was demeaning to Rome; theater was part of this.

Early Christianity:

Players and mimers might mime sacraments or holy people, thus devaluing religion.
Theater was, like gladiatorial events and beast shows, a decadent extravagance that eroded morality.
Theater aims to provoke frenzy.
Changing our appearance or our names or anything else is a lie against God and blasphemy to think that we can improve on God's work: ourselves (this extends to shaving, exercising, and wearing high heels).
The Lord permits emotion but not wallowing in emotion for its own sake.

Early Lollards:

Although in the medieval period most drama was church-sanctioned, a minority spoke out against miracle and mystery plays.
God hates laughter. Christ never laughed. Amusement is a sin.
When men weep at a story, it is not real so their tears are worthless.
When people see a Bible play enacted on stage and they know it is false, they will be persuaded to believe that the Bible story itself is false as well.


The Catholic church rituals partake of aspects of theater: spectacle, rehearsed lines, costuming.
Playgoing brings one into contact with all kinds of other low entertainments: gambling, bear-baiting, prostitution.
Theater involves cross-dressing, which is not only a lie against a man's identity, but is also proscribed in the Bible. It encourages effeminacy.
Acting is based on hypocrisy and lies.
Theater implies that God's own work has fallen short, if we need fictions and costumes to be satisfied.
If something is true, it is unchangeable; it does not change its appearance and identity at will (Proteanism). To change is to fall.
The early modern theater took people away from work.


Theater-goers are a low sort, uneducated. They either come to be seen in fine dress, or to laugh at dumb shows. They cannot appreciate real poetry.
Theater is impermanent. The experience of going to a play passes away; unlike a painting or a sculpture, it does not last.
Actors on stage are not simple and sincere; you cannot trust their bombast.

The rest of the book goes on with that stuff, but I thought I'd focus on the anti-theatrical feeling up to the early modern period.

Puritanism and Theatre

Margot Heinemann wrote Puritanism and Theatre: Thomas Middleton and Opposition Drama Under the Early Stuarts, a book which largely seeks to align Middleton with what she terms "Puritan Parliamentarianism." She argues that Middleton's plays are part of "opposition drama," a movement in later Jacobean theatre that was anti-establishment, anti-Laudian, anti-aristocratic. She attempts to reconcile the plays of his early career (satirical comedy) to those of his mid- and late career (tragi-comedy and tragedy, respectively) by seeking out a through-line motivated by religion and politics. She also asks how A Game at Chess could have possibly been approved by the censor and produced on stage when it was so obviously a satire on contemporary royal policy.

Her first chapter, "Time and Place," is great; a short and pithy introduction to the economic and political situations of the day and drama's place within them. Her second chapter covers, and dismantles, the traditional assumption that all Puritans were militant anti-theatricalists. The remaining chapters on Middleton discuss his plays, grouping them chronologically and connecting them to major themes and issues taken up by opposition drama, such as Popery, the hopeless state of the poor, the excess of the rich. Hengist, King of Kent seems to show, through the lens of a long-ago British history, the dangers of King James' dalliance with the Spanish, as well as the current wool over-production and how this affects the farmers and peasants.

I was not very convinced, though, by a chapter entitled "How Anti-Puritan are Middleton's City Comedies?" in which her major argument seems to be, When Middleton is making fun of Puritans, he is actually just making fun of all hypocrites, not Puritans especially. One of the reviews I read took her to task for that as well. Her book is also working on the assumption that Middleton is definitely Puritan, a view which Heller disagrees with. Finally, she disputes the authorship of The Revenger's Tragedy.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Animal Characters

Bruce Boehrer's book Animal Characters deals with, you guessed it, how animals are characterized in the early modern period. By doing this, he also deals with the notion of human character, positing that animal characters in early modern literature were a way of creating and developing distinctions between humans and animals.

He begins by discussing what a "character" is. Are characters, as Elizabeth Fowler says, "social persons" with overlapping "legal, civic, corporate, economic, kinship, and literary" identities? Are characters basic types representative of certain virtues, vices, traits, etc., as Aristotle might class them--a catalogue of observations about a certain type of object or creature? Can animals only be characters inasmuch as they remind us of humans? Or are animals denied "characterhood" altogether because, as Descartes would say, they cannot think and have "no mental powers whatsoever"--no memory, no agency, no reason.

These questions might be applied to the distinction between human and animal, as well; what makes humans humans, and not merely an animal called homo sapiens. According to Boehrer, these questions of character, and the ensuing ways in which character is used and portrayed in literature, are answers to these questions. As he traces it, the history of character began to privilege interiority in the 18th century, an interiority which we know that we as individuals possess, which we have substantial evidence that other humans possess, and which we have very few clues as to whether animals possess it. Around the same time, animals lost subjectivity in literature and, instead of being admired, began to be degraded.

Boehrer uses a pre-Cartesian (pre-cogito, pre-interiority) model of literary character and proceeds to create character studies for several different animals. The hauler: the horse, which signals backward to feudal and chivalric associations, the knight, the warrior, the Hotspur, and forwards to the man of leisure, the "effete ninny" that has the disposable wealth to keep a horse for hunting and riding, the French dauphin who writes sonnets to his horse. Or, if we read Milton, the horses that pull the chariots of God, beings spiritual in nature and utterly un-animal.

The companion: the parrot, which reminds us of rich people trading in on the exotic nature of their pet only to receive its connotations of parroting and empty-headedness (especially associated with Catholic elite and clergy, and "the mindlessness of prayer in ancient languages and set forms" (20).) Or the cat, also associated with Catholicism in the practice of cat-torture, because cats were believed to be agents of the devil. This practice continued in Protestantism, not because cats were associated with demonic forces anymore but merely to underline the superstition and stupidity of Catholics.

The food: the turkey, a New World bird who takes the place of the large roasting fowl at the grand banquet, but whose ease of breeding and cheap cost eventually makes it available for lower-class people as well. And the sheep, who is associated with Christ, with saved Christians, with the pastoral mode, and with "emergent literatures of animal husbandry and georgic nationalism" (21), and, of course, discourses about Lent and abstinence (as we see in Middleton's Chaste Maid).

A review by Kent Steel is here.

I wonder where we are today, especially as the Internet culture adores animals, especially animals doing human things. What does this mean? Is this a step backwards, condescending towards animals and only granting them worth when they act like us, or forwards, towards allowing them rights, subjectivity, a place in society?

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Performance Criticism 101

The first article I ever read on performance criticism was in L.M. Pittman's class at Andrews University. She assigned us to read a chapter from W.B. Worthen's Shakespeare and the Authority of Performance, a book which I still don't totally understand, but which I understand very differently today than I did then.

Worthen questions the idea of authority as something that any text or performance can have. How can any edition or production of $hakespeare be authoritative, be derived from the author? We might question the relevance of the modern author's presence to their works today; how much more so $hakespeare, who is, like the Scarlet Pimpernel, "demmed elusive"? Which is more authoritative, the written word or the enacted performance? For literary scholars, we see the meanings latent in the page and the stage as only a vehicle for expressing those meanings; for performers, we see the stage as the ultimate, animating reason for the writing. However, if we go back to Barthes, we question the meaning of the word "work" at all; he prefers the word "text" with its sense of intertextuality, a field of meaning, of playfulness of production.

But Worthen also questions text. What is a text? How do we know what Shakespeare's text was? He reminds me of Tiffany Stern when he says that "the conditions of production in the Renaissance playhouse militate against the final ascription of an ideal, coherent work to a single animating author" (8). He goes to editorial practice for his analogy to performance, reminding us (along with Gary Taylor) that any text (edited, produced) must be judged against its "proximity to [its] chosen goal" and its proximity to the goal of the reader/critic (17). Both are specific versions of a work in which a variety of possibilities of meaning are chosen and produced. For Worthen, the text produces the work as much as the production produces the work. Reading or acting are both acts of production.

In his final chapter on performance criticism and authority, Worthen begins with a rather depressing quote from G.W. Knight which suggests that performance criticism cannot do very much, because it is limited to a particular performance which can only have limited meanings and which "exhausts the play's 'dramatic quality' at the moment that the text is staged" (151). It becomes a meaningless enterprise which can offer neither the depth and range of textual criticism nor the immediacy of performance. So what should we, as critics, do, then? He goes over several works of performance criticism but doesn't really say what we should be doing, except for his last statement:

"Allowing Shakespeare such authority, we reify Shakespearean drama--and the past, the tradition it represents--as sacred text, as silent hieroglyphics we can only scan, interpret, struggle to decode. We impoverish, in other words, the work of our own performances, and the work of the plays in our making of the world" (191).

I need to read this book more thoroughly and deeply. This is why I don't really understand it. But it makes me ask myself what kind of critic I want to be. It asks me to look at my motives; was I hard on that production last night because it didn't live up to my idea of "Shakespeare"? I don't think so; I was hard on it because it wasn't coherent or, to my feminist sensibilities, very ethical. But this is why I write Shakespeare "$hakespeare"--to remind myself that he's not a he, he's not a body of work, he's an institution which many people are vitally invested in maintaining.

Time to Angst-Out and Vomit Some Feelings on the Internet

Alrighty, I've been blogging (and reading) steadily for a week now, and I want to talk about what's going on in my head. I'm reticent to over-share because I don't want to be judged by anyone who might read this blog. The speed at which I'm working, the way I'm working, the ultimate and intermediate deadlines I've set myself--all of these might open me up to judgment from invisible academic readers, my friends, my colleagues, my professors past and present. But by golly, I'm not even sure anyone except for my mom is reading this blog (and even she only skims, because, in her words, my blog used to be "much more interesting," which is true, thanks Mom), and I am so tired and messed-up that I need to write it out.

My written prelims are February 13, 14, and 15th. I take my orals on the 29th. For those of you unfamiliar with the jargon, "prelims" means my preliminary exams, a huge test I take after reading a book-list that is so long and daunting that it's sort of unbelievable. I have had since May to be reading for this test. From May to December, I underwent a program, long-tested by students of all stripes, of learning by osmosis. I tried to surround myself with fun and easy learning opportunities--listening to Stephen Greenblatt on audio book, downloading $hakespeare plays on iTunes, going to conferences and performances, watching The Tudors. I would like to respectfully ask my past-self, What the hell was your problem?

My excuse was, I was doing a lot of stuff that was educational. Presenting at two conferences, preparing to teach (and then teaching) a new class in the fall, going to a 3-week workshop on performing Shakespeare, directing and performing in a play. Also I moved. And my car got smashed, so I had to buy a new one. And there was grocery shopping and working out and socializing with my friends who, you know, won't be around forever because I'm not always going to be a grad student surrounded by like-minded people my own age, etc.

But now I'm actually doing it, I'm actually preparing for an exam that is about 2 months away, and I'm terrified and I feel like crying every day. My plan, which I've been told by some people is crazy and by other people that it will totally work and I'll be fine, is as follows: read and blog on 2 theoretical books a day until the end of December. This should give me a strong familiarity with all the secondary material. In January, I'll read and blog on one play a day, and maybe catch up on some articles related to the plays, or articles I had to skip in December. Then, for the first two weeks of February, I'll review, make notes, make charts, re-read my blog summaries, and sit and wait for the axe to fall.

One of the problems, though, is that I'm not really "reading" 2 books a day. I'm reading reviews of books, the introductory and closing chapters, and perhaps skimming especially pertinent chapters. Which means I get the thesis of each author's book but none of their examples. And although I am trying to save some books to read more thoroughly later on, especially the edited collections, I'm worried that I won't remember everything I skipped and meant to read later.

Reasons why it won't be so bad:
1) They want us to pass. Of course. It would be dumb if they didn't.
2) I'm really smart.
3) I read really fast.
4) I remember really well.
5) Each day I will be presented with several questions to choose from, so I can skip the scary ones and then prep them for the defense.
6) I'm really smart?

Reasons why I'm terrified:
1) Everyone else is smarter than me.
2) When I talk about what I'm doing, people seem worried.
3) I'm directing a play next semester, too. (I respectfully ask my future-self, WTF?!?!?)
4) My professors are going to think I'm an idiot and not even qualified to be in grad school.
5) There's supposed to be a "bad cop" in every defense, and I am very sensitive and might get scared and cry in front of them, like I almost did in the Fulbright interview.

Things I need to remember:
1) Acknowledge when I don't know something.
2) Make it a conversation.
3) Play to my skills.
4) Whatever, man. The worst that can happen is I don't pass. That might seem like the Doom of Moria, but it's not.

Humanism and Emotion in Tudor Drama

In his book Theater and Humanism: English Drama in the Sixteenth Century, Kent Cartwright corrects what he sees as an omission in the prevailing scholarship about the Tudor dramatists. Early 20th century scholarship read these plays as highly classical in influence and academic in nature, full of "neo-Aristotelian poetics, humanist rhetoric, and literary formalism" (3). Later scholars such as David Bevington, Robert Weimann, and Alan Dessen, argue that early Tudor plays to those of the University Wits are permeated by references to popular English morality and folk drama. While their studies have been helpful, even crucial, to an understanding of the drama of this time, Cartwright takes issue with an unhelpful dichotomy they seem to draw, which places the values of "popularity," "life and vitality," "humor and freedom" squarely with the morality, mystery, and folk plays, and the values of literariness, elitism, rigidity, and dullness with humanist drama.

Cartwright studies plays from the More-circle playwrights (Medwall, Rastell, Heywood, Redford), to the school plays written and performed by students, to the University Wits like Greene, Lyly, and Marlowe. He establishes that humanist plays are full of lively dramaturgy, audience engagement, and moving emotion. "Like popular theatre, humanist plays redound with an exploratory interest in acting, human physicality, material existence, and spectacle" (18). He takes issue with an idea of a humanist "essentialism" and "idealism," claiming that the humanist plays use the tension between knowledge and experience to introduce dynamism and doubt, not rigidity, into drama. "Drama tests the scripted and the felt, the conceived and the experienced, against each other . . . early plays, moreover, repeat sententia that their characters' fortunes may or may not confirm" (17).

His first chapter points to an interesting "actor's choice" moment that makes the Heywood play The Foure PP very enigmatic to a reader. The second chapter discusses the emotional capacity in Redford's Wit and Science, arguing that in it, "a student's progress in humanist education is like that of the morality hero toward salvation" (21). The third chapter posits an empathetic reaction from the audience towards Hodge, the protagonist of Gammer Gurton's Needle. This engagement of the emotions is not found in the play's obvious classical influences of Terence and Plautus. Other chapters draw connections between popular and humanist plays in the ways they use suspense; explore plays with female characters, arguing that these plays portray a range of female values promoted by Tudor humanists; and end with chapters on Lyly's Gallathea, Marlowe's Tamburlaine, and Greene's intertextual Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay.

The Impact of Feminism in English Renaissance Studies

This book, edited by Dympna Callaghan, attempts to find a middle ground between "revisionist" and "exclusionist" feminisms. The introductory essay by Callaghan herself poses the rite of marriage as a place that both revisionists and exclusionists could claim for themselves. The revisionists might claim marriage as a site in early modern culture where (most) women exercise choice and agency, where their cultural performance and action is a prerequisite for the existence and continuance of a "ritual on which the social order is founded" (2). The exclusionists might, rightly, remind us that "marriage is an institution not much associated with women's emancipation," a tool of the patriarchy that was often blunt and brutal.

Callaghan appreciates the fact that revisionists take a more comprehensive view of culture, allowing for women's roles in cultural performance where past scholarship has only focused on their absence in theatrical and literary performance. She takes issue, however, with the fact that revisionists are "oblivious to, or in denial about, the structural inequities in early modern . . . patriarchy" (6). A marriage of revisionism and exclusionism, or, as Callaghan calls it, a post-revisionist feminism, might create a more "nuanced picture of women's simultaneous participation in and exclusion from early modern culture" (7).
By taking into account the ways in which women participate in culture on multiple (and sometimes invisible) levels, by acknowledging that women as well as men have a stake in the patriarchy as the system which organizes not only their lives but also their world, and by integrating feminist scholarship with other modes of knowledge-making, this edition attempts to pioneer post-revisionist feminism.


Jonathan Gil Harris: This essay reclaims "material culture" scholarship, with its focus on objects and bodies, by engaging it with poststructuralism and Marxism. He makes connections between academics writing about the early modern female body and the authors of écriture feminine in the 1970's who "insist on a diachronic, dynamic conception of bodily materiality" that is missing from current "material culture" scholarship.

Heather Hirschfeld: This essay uses Freud to discuss misogyny in revenge tragedy, a genre which, Hirshfeld argues, necessitates "a spectacle of specifically female penitence" (17).

Sasha Roberts: This essay discusses the ways in which feminism and formalism might have common ground. Women writers, especially those of miscellanies, included misogynist tracts in their books, countered by a range of writing on women.

R.S. White: This essay looks at the way current cultural appropriations of Ophelia (as a victim of the patriarchy, as a woman with specific mental pathologies) represent a "botching" (a mending, patching) of the play for today's culture.

Jean Howard: This essay looks at the genre of city comedy as one more amenable to feminism; since tragedy and history have so few women characters, more "domestic" genres such as city comedy helps us re-chart the position of women in early modern period and then re-read tragedy and history through that lens. She looks at the terms "wife," "maid," and "whore" in brothel comedies and how these terms are not mutually exclusive or permanent.

Kate Chedzgoy: Women's lives were transformed by shifting of local and national boundaries; how did women deal with dislocation from one area to another?

Kimberly Anne Coles: Sometimes women writers write like women writers not because they are "essentially" feminine but because femininity is a performance that they might gain something from, as in the case of Amelia Lanyer writing specifically proto-feminist poetry in order to distinguish herself from male poets competing for the same patron.

Pamela Allen Brown: An essay about the indeterminability of a woman's pregnancy in a painting, and how we attribute certain sexual/gender stereotypes to her.

Patricia Parker: This essay argues that Shrew is about humanist arts and learning, and that Bianca may not be the perfect submissive daughter/wife all along that we have assumed, but that her mastery of music may indicate a mastery that Katherine is denied.

Frances E. Dolan: The lack of female ghosts in revenge plays may indicate the invisibility of the "specter of Catholicism" during the early modern period, an invisibility which we are beginning to see through as we see Catholics everywhere.

Deanne Williams: An article about Frances Yates, anti-feminist scholar, and intersections between her life and her scholarship on Elizabeth I which, despite her personal politics, is more amenable to feminist agendas than the remarks of Virginia Woolf, an actual feminist.

Natasha Korda: An essay about the ways in which women contributed to the economy of the theater.

Jennifer Panek: Widows remarried because they wanted to have sex. Really. But maybe not for the reasons early modern propaganda assumes they want to have sex.

Grace Ioppolo: A study of Penelope Rich's letters to QEI and Robert Cecil.

Gail Kern Paster: Sometimes women cry because of hormones. We are uncomfortable acknowledging this fact. Biology has been demonized in feminism.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Henry Five by Five

Tonight, three friends and I saw a senior thesis production of Henry V with an all-female cast. We were really excited to see it; we are English department academics who enjoy theater, love $hakespeare, and are interested in feminist-gender issues. And, in many ways, it didn't disappoint; several of the actresses were very good and no one was terrible; the script was cut heavily but it worked (with a few exceptions that made me sputter incomprehensibly); the aesthetic was provocative and interesting; and, the real thing theater has to do, the story done got told.

But the production as a whole just bizarre. Now, I like bizarre. One of my favorite productions of all time was a pretty BDSM version of The Duchess of Malfi. I enjoy people doing weird and wacky with theater; the medium not only allows, but also calls for it, so bring it on! But that production's aesthetic was clearly motivated by the text, and by issues of characterization and theme that the text brings up. This production's aesthetic, while a lot of care went into it, did not seem motivated.

The actresses were most costumed in black and grey, with color accents to denote what group (blue French, purple English, pink pub crowd, green enlisted soldiers) the character belonged to. Boots, fake tattoos, and metallic accents like chains and studs also dominated the English, who were supposed to appear "hard," I think. The French wore ripped tights, lace, bows, and sparkly stuff, even going so far as to put glittery love-marks on some of their faces. Bras and bra-straps, corsets, hotpants, and other typically feminine garments were highlighted. In short, the costumes were sexy and aggressive; most characters looked like Punk Barbies. The music went along with this--girl rock like "I Kissed a Girl," "Hollaback Girl," "Girls (Who Rule the World)."

But the direction (in general) didn't seem to want to touch any of the issues that this casting/costuming brings up--fetish culture, sexual objectification, homosexual relationships, etc. They just went ahead as if it was a normal Henry V. Nobody even kissed on the mouth which, c'mon, if you're going to go ahead and pander to titillation by costuming someone in lycra pants and a studded patent leather brassiere, at least make them kiss! 

So, all of that was pretty weird. And then came the Battle of Agg-in-court. At which point, I stopped taking notes because all I was doing was staring with my mouth open, scribbling circles on the page. 

The Battle of Agincourt (pronounced "Ah-zhin-koo-ur") is the major plot element of Henry V. It's when King Harry leads his men, exhausted, scared, outnumbered 3-1 by the French, to a resounding victory and conquers France. Yippee! (Sort of.) (If you overlook a bunch of stuff, like the ethics of conquering and Harry's dubious position on the English throne anyways and also what's all that stuff about giving God the glory for a bloody battle in which tons of people died?)

This battle of Agincourt was basically a dance-fight. Think strip club-meets-Fight Club, women down on their hands and knees snarling at each other, cat-walk cat-fight. The music began loudly and suddenly, and the entire cast was out on the floor, the English and French dance-killing each other with their dance-kicks and dance-punches and deadly grande jetés. (Which gives "Sweet moves, Napoleon!" a new double meaning.)

Now the dancing was cool. I freely admit that. It was fun to watch. And I can imagine a couple of ways in which this could have been more integrated into the theme of the play. If their costumes had been a little less blatantly stripper-ish, and the acting had created a stark divide between a female-dominated civil society and the unleashed aggression on the battlefield (I guess here I'm envisioning bland, sneering, icy cold women who transform into animals and Amazons); or, I guess, if Henry V had been set in two warring dance-studios. But as it was, it was distracting and unreal.

The one time where the dance fight started to win me over, I admit, was when Henry has defeated a circle of French enemies who then crawl over to her and begin to grasp her clothing and drag her down; that was pretty evocative.

I think the biggest problem I had with this production was that, while the aesthetic was defined, a clear and recognizable concept wasn't. This play, which deals with issues of betrayal, nation-making, leadership, masculine aggression, and class, does not have many women in it. Most of the play occurs in very gendered spaces--the king's throne-room, the battlefield. Casting only women brings up a whole host of issues that could make some interesting stage-time, such as:
  • Do women in leadership roles use similar leadership strategies as men? 
  • How do women display and enact aggression and violence? (Like cats? Really?)
  • Do female soldiers create "band of brothers" bonds like male soldiers are supposed to do? What would a "band of sisters" bond look like?
  • What does our culture tell us about how women act when they are betrayed, or when they betray? (The somewhat gendered word "backstabber" comes to mind.)
  • How does a woman court another woman? Does that add to the awkwardness between Harry and Kate at all? Could that be why Kate is reticent to kiss Harry?
I had a ton of other quibbles, too, like why the hell would you cut out all references to St. Crispin's Day in the most famous speech in the play which is known as the St. Crispin's Day speech, and yet leave references to Welsh leeks and other things that are equally irrelevant and generally unknown to modern society? Can't you just trust that, if your actors are good enough to sell the leek fight between Fluellen and Pistol, that Harry will be good enough to sell St. Crispin's Day?

One thing I gained from this production, though, was a discovery. The boy! The boy might be the moral center of this play that is so morally uncentered. And what a fabulous boy she was . . .

*My title is a reference to Faith, a character from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The actresses in this production were dressed sort of like her, and "five by five" is her favorite thing to say.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

The Woman Question

If I could travel 27 years back in time, I would tell Linda Woodbridge, "You go, girl." Because that's when her book Women and the English Renaissance: Literature and the Nature of Womankind, 1540-1620 was published. I was three years old. Weird.

This book provides context on the woman question, the age-old real-life and literary debate on the nature of womankind. Woodbridge works on several well-established assumptions. First, the formal debate about womankind is an actual genre with identifiable generic conventions, a genre strongly influenced by Agrippa and Castiglione. The essays foster a sense of genuine debate, drawing on oration and dialogue as forms; they argue a thesis with the help of logic and rhetoric; they address Woman in general, not specific women; they do, however, use exempla from classical and Biblical sources. Woodbridge argues that the works that fall into this category, however, do not necessarily mirror their authors' actual views on womankind. They were merely rhetorical exercises on a topic of sustained interest (like abortion and weed to our Freshman English students today). Just because a student decides to write a persuasive essay on abortion, does not mean that that particular student has actually had any contact with abortion in his or her real life (the same cannot always be said of weed, however). "There is not a scrap of evidence to suggest any connection with real life at all" (17). Finally, she believes that attacks on the nature of womankind were responses to defenses of womankind, and that the attacks are actually more in line with modern feminism than the defenses (which often followed a Patient Grissel line of reasoning).

There are, however, many works of literature that deal with the "woman question" that are not part of the formal genre, many of which do bear "a considerably clearer relationship to contemporary reality" (6). Many of these arose from the Hic Mulier/Haec Vir controversy over transvestitism in women beginning in the 1570's. This controversy was also linked with foppishness in men; both trends brought to mind the androgyne or the hermaphrodite, a fraught image in Renaissance society. For some, the hermaphrodite represented perfect unity, the "essential oneness of the sexes" (140). For others, the hermaphrodite became a symbol of effeminacy, impotence, and a lowering of human nature. Many times the hermaphrodite was linked to the monstrous. Woodbridge establishes these published arguments in relation to real-life events and people, and establishes later canonical Renaissance literature as having a similar relation. In these works, laudatory and satiric, women have power over men; "the quality of Renaissance misogyny was itself a tribute to the sturdiness of Renaissance women" (268).

She also discusses the stage misogynist, a stock character who is comic in nature and who hates women. This character has links to Vice characters from secular morality plays and the soldier who returns in peacetime to find that his warlike nature is inappropriate for civil society. He may hate women because he has been spurned by one particular woman. And he is generally unreliable as a narrative voice; we don't believe him because we know he's partial, and because we often see him proven wrong. Benedick falls in love. Bosola learns to admire the Duchess of Malfi. Hamlet's treatment of Ophelia was uncalled-for. This character may represent a distrust of civilian society in general, whose values are "hermaphroditic"; it may represent the adolescent fears of sex and becoming an adult. As Woodbridge says, out of the three dozen she examines, not one exists "whose misogynistic pronouncements are not undercut by context or deflated by humor" (297).

She ends her book by discussing the paradoxical nature of the woman question (Madonna/whore), of Renaissance views of women ("grafting female-dominated courtly love upon male-dominated marriage"), and of the Renaissance itself, a hermaphroditic age. This last bit gave me the most to think about, although the whole was delightful. Perhaps if I have to teach an "intro to the Renaissance" course, I will focus it around the idea of paradox and the image of the hermaphrodite.

Milton and the Sinful Nature of Metaphor

Stanley Fish's book Surprised by Sin: The Reader in Paradise Lost claims that Milton's poem alternately seduces and chastises the reader, thus "surprising" the reader with a discovery of their own sinful proclivities. The Satan character is so persuasive and attractive that the reader is lulled into admiring him, and then chastised by the epic voice which reminds us that Satan is a rebel whose "vaunting" we should not heed. We then go back and read Satan again, noticing this time not only the masterful rhetoric that drew us in but also the slippages in logic and truth that denote him "the father of lies." Paradise Lost, Fish says, is not only about Christian heroes but it also creates Christian heroes out of the imperfect readers who, then, become the perfect readers.

Fish argues that Milton values logic over rhetoric, which is why the Satan character is passionately rhetorical, while God is coldly logical: "Rhetoric is the verbal equivalent of fleshly lures that seek to enthral us and divert our thoughts from Heaven, the reflection of our own cupidinous desires, while logic comes from God and speaks to that part of us which retains his image." We can see Adam and Eve's fall into sin as their language becomes more redundant, equivocal, and metaphoric, while the language of Heaven is supposedly pure and perfect in which each word only refers to one referent.

A lot of people disagree with Fish because he takes such an outrageous stance, trying to redeem the poem from its flaws and blaming the reader instead. A really detailed (and thus really long) review of the book is here, written by an academic who self-publishes on his website and appears to be an Empson fan. Empson, by the way, took the opposite tack as Fish and said, "If you praise Paradise Lost as the neo-Christians do, what you are getting from it is evil."

I love Milton, and I love Paradise Lost, but I don't know yet if I would go so far as Empson or so far as Fish. Lucky for me, I don't have to make that decision; I can just enjoy the poem.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Making $hakespeare, Chapters 1-4

Tiffany Stern's book Making Shakespeare: From Stage to Page is awesome. I love it. I'm having a hard time stopping myself reading it to blog. But blog I must, so . . . here goes.

Her book, which discusses the process of and the influences on production of Shakespeare's plays, from the circumstantial (the size, shape, and location of playhouses, the actors in the company for which he wrote), to the authorial (the process of writing, revising, co-authoring, adapting, etc.), to the commercial (scribes and printing houses). She situates herself in a really interesting critical location in her prologue. The "stage-to-page" methodology she's using comes out of the new historicist school with its interest in textual indeterminacy (what is the text?, in both philosophical and practical senses) and de-centering the author (who is the author?, ditto); it also comes out of the established school of theater history and the more recent but just as militant school of book history. All of this stuff, by the way, I completely love and just go all nerdy-melty for, so I could tell that this book, from the very Prologue, is perfect for me.

A lot of stuff in here I already knew, but I'll just sketch out what the chapters are about. "Text, Playhouse, and London" begins by imagining the various approaches to the theater district in Bankside; across the Thames with the waterboatmen, or across the London Bridge, or, to the Blackfriars, through the Ludgate. These approaches and their sights, sounds, and smells would have been fresh in the eyes, ears, and noses of audience members; Stern traces references to and resonances with these locales in the plays. She also explores the ways in which the large, round, open-air theaters and the smaller, rectilinear, indoor theaters affected the plays; after the move to the Blackfriars, Shakespeare doesn't write plays that demand huge battles and booming cannons or drums, but more static plays that work with the "aesthetic of fixed things, painting, sculpture, stately dance, tableaux . . . "(32).

"Additions, Emendations, and Revisions" makes the point, first, that, contrary to Heminges and Condell, Shakespeare did revise his plays, marking out lines, etc. We can still see echoes of revision when there are repeated speeches, or speeches with nearly repeated lines; when there seem to be two endings, as in A Midsummer Night's Dream; when a character learns some information, but then later, seems not to know the same information anymore, as in Julius Caesar. Shakespeare seems to write in blocks, in chunks, that might later be moved around, given to different characters, used in different plays, or left out entirely, a hallmark of "a culture that works with commonplace books" (42). Differences between quartos, or a quarto and a folio version, may also indicate revision, which might have happened because a specific actor left, a specific audience member got pissed off at a reference that hit too close to home, a political change, or a change in censorship practice. It may indicate a difference in characterization, as in Othello when, in the folio version, Othello reacts more measuredly and with more self-control at Iago's allegations. And, as we know to be the case with our boy Middleton, revision may have occurred posthumously as another playwright adapts an earlier play.

"Rehearsal, Performance, and Plays" discusses all the ways in which a specific company of actors might influence a play's creation or revision. Preparing a production in this time had to happen very quickly, with little time for intense, method-acting reflection. There were no directors. Each actor was responsible for his part (literally, handed on a piece of paper, was his part with cue lines, not the whole play). Actors were often typecast: the senex (doddering old man), the king, the rebel, the romantic lady, the lover, the fool, much like actors today always play the hilarious and perpetually single best friend, or the miraculous aged black person. If an actor left, died, or fundamentally changed (as when boy's high voices lowered), parts that were written for him might be given to a different character entirely or future roles for a similar "type" might change, as the fool roles did when Will Kemp left and Robert Armin took over. Plays often gestured towards each other, as actors in new roles made references to past roles they played. Acting was also more formulaic than today; a set catalogue of gestures signified "the passions" (the major emotions, seven or more of which had been identified and codified). Certain tones of voice signified verse or prose.

On the whole, this is an extremely readable book full of a bunch of stuff I already knew, in theory. What makes it shine are the details, the anecdotes. Traitors par-boiled, pitch-blackened faces on pikes along London Bridge may have been in mind when audience members saw an actor, face blackened, play Othello. Shakespearean heroes compared themselves to baited bears beset by hungry dogs, calling to mind the imagery of the bear-gardens. While we care a great deal about characterization, Shakespeare may at times have been using a character as a mouthpiece for a particular piece of verse, and not really cared about which character said it, as in Romeo and the Friar. Italian names in non-Italian plays might indicate that Shakespeare originally set that play in Italy--or, as Stern says, that "Shakespeare thought that everywhere abroad was a version of Italy" (52). Middleton might have written the iconic "Double, double, toil and trouble" line of the witches in Macbeth. She writes some hilarious anecdotes about Richard Burbage, one where he gets propositioned by an audience member only to find that, when he shows up for the assignation, Shakespeare has got there ahead of him. Another where Burbage, as Hamlet, adds moans, groans, and other sounds after he's already said "The rest is silence" which, when I did it myself, created quite a funny effect.

So I didn't get through 2 books today, but I may still get to Surprised by Sin and if I don't, Stern was worth not being surprised by sin, I guess.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Stage, Stake, and Scaffold

In his book, Stage, Stake, and Scaffold: Humans and Animals in Shakespeare's Theatre, Andreas Höfele explores the ways in which the early modern theatre, bear-garden (and site of other animal blood-sports such as bull-baiting and lion-fighting), and public execution scaffold exchange meaning, imagery, performative process, and emotional resonance by calling upon a common "semantic field." He argues that this exhange informs the way $hakespeare constructs and explores the "nature and workings of humanness."

We must first understand the connection between the playhouse and the bear-garden. Physically, they shared similarities--a round, open-air viewing space surrounded by seats on scaffolding. They also shared geography--bear-gardens and playhouses were in the same district and sometimes the same building performed both functions. Practically, they served a similar purpose--paid, trained entertainment.

We must also understand the connection between the playhouse and the executioner's scaffold--sites of ritualized public activity which provided the protagonist/antagonist an opportunity for a last glorious speech in front of the eyes of the watching crowd.

But what is the connection between the bear-garden and the stake? First of all, Höfele says, "corporal punishment itself entails an element of animalization" (9). The convict is reduced to a certain level of animality; it is the flesh that is ultimately being punished, not the soul or spirit. Public executions also involved "ceremonies of humiliation" like whipping or pillorying which highlight the convict's sub-human status. The bear-garden spectacle might have brought to mind the many-against-one nature of punishment; as Höfele says, "the bear would have been perceived as the more human-like creature, yet it fell to the dogs to execute the violent impulses of the human audience" (10).

He contends that the similarity between the theatre, stake, and scaffold created a well of common, easily-recognizable, and "powerfully affective images and meanings" from which a playwright could draw. And, although bestial imagery was often used to denote someone lower on a social or moral hierarchy, this was not always or even usually the case. He says that, through a process of "seeing double," one can see the animal image overlaid on the human, or vice versa, and analogize between animal and human. In the Renaissance, human nature was the object of intense scrutiny and deciding what a human was like and unlike was one way in which a person might negotiate the boundary of human/inhuman, even within one human subject such as Richard III or Bottom.

Furthermore, the term "animal" is not used often, although multiple kinds of animal creatures are mentioned with regularity in $hakespeare's works, an observation which undermines a Cartesian dualism of animal/human. "Pre-Cartesian man is animal, but never just animal," he says.

Important quotes:

"Each of the three forms of spectacular performativity confers on the others its affective energies, its capacity for signification" (13).
"This uniquely priveleged being [the human] is always in danger of lapsing from human to beast" (27).
"Shakespeare's zoomorphic blendings open up larger spaces of inclusion beyond the narrowly circumscribed 'borders of the human'" (38).
"There is a much greater variety of possible roles and zoomorphic blendings than merely those that register a downward mobility on a normative social and/or moral scale" (39).
"What is designated as 'animal,' 'brute,' or 'bestial' in Shakespeare's culture . . . is a sphere beyond the reach of rational control and discursive order, no less strange and unfathomable than the so-called supernatural, but perhaps even more uncanny because it is closer to us" (51).


I think it's interesting that I don't feel the need to create a "human" label for this post, even though it is just as much about defining human as animal. "Human" is the understood, the privileged, therefore the invisible, category.

Höfele says that "the conclusion of Macbeth kills and removes the bestial tyrant even it refuses to oust the beast" (67). I wonder what this understanding of a beast as a bad person, a tyrant, a "monster" would do to my paper about Moll Cutpurse as an "untameable monster" in The Roaring Girl.

Subversion and Containment

In his essay, "Invisible Bullets," Stephen Greenblatt tests a theory of political (and theatrical) power, namely, that a system of power will both create and contain the seeds to its own destruction.

It's sort of Derridean in nature--instead of language that both signifies meaning and undermines meaning, we have systems of control that both enact power and undermine power. My tendency here is to begin spouting off words like "hegemony" and "social coercion" (and really, I'm well on my way by using "Derridean") but I'm going to try, instead, to summarize simply to make sure that I really understand what the hell I'm talking about.

Greenblatt begins by explaining the "totalizing" nature of Elizabethan England--that the queen was seen to have total control of the well-being of the nation and its subjects, and that God was seen to have to have total control of all, the queen included. Questioning these assumptions was either treason or atheism, and sometimes both. But such questioning wasn't impossible, especially if one had read Machiavelli, who challenges the absolute nature of both political and religious power. Politicians were not divinely ordained or naturally gifted with leadership; they were swift, cunning, and ruthless manipulators of image and word. Actually vulnerable in countless ways, they represented themselves as all-powerful and their subjects (most of them) accepted this idea (most of it) and believed it (most of the time).

According to Machiavelli, religion works the same way. By claiming all power and ultimate truthiness, and manipulating images and events to reflect these claims, religion gains control over the masses. Marx claimed this too, later on.

So, Greenblatt uses Thomas Harriot's 1588 book about the English colonists experiences with the Algonquin Indians in America, A Brief and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia to come up with a way that systems create and contain subversive energies. Harriot's report discusses in detail the ways in which the Algonquins understood the newcomers (as gods, as representatives of God, as bearers of technology which was miraculous, as harbingers of disaster which was divinely ordained) and the ways in which the colonists turned those understandings to their own benefit and to increase their own power. Harriot does not make explicit the ways in which this encounter between two civilizations brings into question the assumptions of total power that the Elizabethans had been working on. Greenblatt, though, reads the report as an account of a "test" of Machiavellian theories of power, one which exposes the fact that the absolute power of the queen and of God are contingent upon tricks and deliberate misunderstandings of phenomena. He systematizes this test into three phases: testing, recording, and explaining.

All of this is to work up to a reading of the Chronicles of Prince Hal--$hakespeare's 1 Henry IV, 2 Henry IV, and Henry V. These plays, Greenblatt says, show Prince Hal creating and managing his power out of the very elements that threaten to undermine it--"glorified . . .theft," betrayal, and violence. These elements put Hal on the throne, through the theft of Richard II's throne by Hal's father Bolingbroke; through Hal's betrayal of his friends Bardolph and Pistol and his most adoring (and adored, by us) friend Falstaff; through Hal's counterfeiting of a new glorious kingly self out of the dross of the old drinking, wenching self; and through Hal's allowed violence towards his own low-life citizens ("food for powder") and enacted violence towards the armies of France on the fields of Agincourt.

Each of these elements, subversive because they illustrate how Hal's power is not merited or ordained, but constructed and manipulated, is contained by an interpretation in which Hal is a good guy. As for Richard II, Bolingbroke took the throne because the people willed it; and besides, Hal has reinterred the corpse and paid five hundred poor to pray for Richard's soul twice daily. As for betraying his friends, the king of England could no longer act the fool anymore by wasting his time and money with thieves; besides, he had to show justice to everyone and not favoritism to criminals who happened to be old cronies. As for counterfeiting his new self, isn't everything a performance? Is there really a "true self" anyways? And as for the violence at Agincourt, God willed it and God saved the day for the righteous, deserving English.

Greenblatt doesn't provide examples of testing in these plays--perhaps the plays themselves are tests--but he discusses how the alien voices of the oppressed and subversive are recorded in the plays: in the characters of Falstaff, Pistol, and Bardolph; in the tapster Francis with his repeated "Anon"; in the "discarded unjust servingmen, younger sons to younger brothers, revolted tapsters, and ostlers trade-fall'n" who serves as cannon-fodder to quell the rebellion against Bolingbroke; in the deliberately grotesque portrayals of Welsh Fluellen, Irish Macmorris, and Scottish Jamy; and in the voices of the soon-to-be-conquered French. These voices, and the individual experiences they represent, call out like the voices of the dead, implicity rebuking Hal and the Bolingbroke claim to power.

He also provides examples of explaining in the plays: Hal's declaration that he will "falsify men's hopes" by proving better than his word; his stated intention to be a "sworn brother to a leash of drawers" who will, when he is king, "command all the good lads in Eastcheap"; Warwick's assurance to Henry IV that Hal studies his companions only to turn them into "a pattern" to reject later; Hal's insistence to himself that the burden of kingship is heavier than any that the poor carry, and that the poor sleep while he, the king, stays awake to watch; and that the English defeat the socially superior French because of English moral superiority.

Good quotes:

"The colonial power produced subversiveness in its own interest" (33).
"Theatricality, then, is not set over against power but is one of power's essential modes" (46).
"The "larger order" of Lancastrian state in this play seems to batten on the breaking of oaths" (52).
"That authority, as the play defines it, is precisely the ability to betray one's friends without stain" (58).
"The ideal king must be in large part the invention of the audience, the product of a will to conquer that is revealed to be identical to the need to submit" (63). (I don't get this one but I think it's important)
"What is for the state a mode of subversion contained can be for the theater a mode of containment subverted . . . " (65).
"Princely power originates in force and fraud even as they draw their audience toward an acceptance of that power" (65).

Greenblatt says that betrayals happen both to and for Prince Hal, much like the rogue in Middleton's comedies who cozens other and himself. Later, Greenblatt talks about an upper-class betrayal of the lower-class in order to eradicate it, which reminded me of Heller's argument that Middleton's cozening plays can still be moral, because the villain deserves his treatment because of his past crimes.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Middleton's Calvinism

So, I just read Penitent Brothellers by Jack Heller. Pretty good. He argues that critics need to begin taking into account Middleton's religious background as a Calvinist when we read his works. Middleton is often thought of as amoral, but, Heller points out, his plays are littered with references to theology, Calvinism specifically. While many today think that being a Calvinist and a playwright is a contradiction in terms, Calvin himself wrote positively about theater from time to time and used the theatrum mundi metaphor often to describe the world and man's role in it. Some of his followers wrote plays; even Stephen Gosson, the infamous anti-theatrical Puritan, wrote a play. And what religion Middleton was matters because, as Debora Shuger says, the English Renaissance was a religious culture through and through.

Heller examines Middleton's comedies through the lens of Calvinist theology, seeing "grace at work" and "redemption" everywhere. In almost every play, there is a call for repentance or conversion. In the comedies, this call is taken up by the protagonist; in the tragedies, it is denied. At the same time, Middleton associates drama and theater with deception and illusion; plays within plays and characters performing roles often happen when one character wants to cheat or cozen another. Furthermore, such instances and the characters who perform them, the rogues and cheats, are often implicitly approved by the tone of the play. How can Middleton purify the sinner while still reveling in the sin?

For Heller, this works two ways. First, the victims are never innocent; they are usually cheats and rogues, too. Secondly, the protagonist is usually caught in their own crime; they cozen themselves, the "biter bit" and all that. And thirdly, the rogue exemplifies "grace at work" by repenting or converting at the end.

Critics have a problem with this clash of genres, though, the hilarity of the madcap crimes and the seriousness of the call to repentance. Heller answers this by saying that his thesis that Middleton’s comedy is about portraying grace can be demonstrated in two points. First of all, are the conversions and repentances  coherent when applied to Protestant theology? Secondly, are the reprobate activities explained by the same theology? If so, Middleton’s plays and their seeming contradictions resolve in a theatrical representation of Christian belief. Finally, if there is skepticism in Middleton, his faith is the basis of this; Calvinist salvation and grace is unpredictable, and does not always go to the strongest or most likely candidate.

My friend and colleague, Arlynda Boyer, has an excellent theory that Middleton is deeply Calvinist but, believing in a limited election, sees himself as a "reprobate" and writes from the point of view of a believing reprobate--with much sympathy for other reprobates, but still with a determined moral ground.

Tamburlaine, by Christopher Marlowe

New rule: one post a day. It's not hard, it doesn't take that long, and if I do it right after I read/listen/watch something, I have more to say and it's not intimidating.

Christopher Marlowe is known for his "mighty line," his regular iambic pentameter whose rhetoric sort of sweeps you up and along in its grandiosity. He mastered and polished the use of blank verse which, I was reading on a writing blog, encourages verbosity because the line doesn't want to end. Maybe that's why his characters are such windbags! (Antony and Cleopatra are partially inspired by Marlowe, btw.)

Marlovian heroes are larger-than-life characters whose charisma and ambition are almost too much for the human container. They seek power . . . Faustus wants the power of knowledge, the Jew of Malta wants power of money, and Tamburlaine wants power of . . . well . . . power? These characters are often called "grand" or "haughty" but in the performance of Tamburlaine that I watched, Tamburlaine didn't seem haughty to me. James Keegan, who played him, has in the past played Falstaff and I caught some echoes of Falstaff in Tamburlaine. Granted, he takes himself wayyyy more seriously than Falstaff does, but his moods of laughter and celebration seemed just as gigantic as his moods of gloom and rage and he certainly appreciated coarse jokes as much as the giant jester.

The plot of Tamburlaine, Part One lacked conflict, though. It was basically Tamburlaine just conquering a bunch of nations one after another. Maybe the conflict comes in Part Two. Anyways, you see him woo a lady, win some nations, keep wooing his lady and winning more nations and beating up and imprisoning their rulers for fun, and then finally conquer the nation that his lady is from, even though she begs him to have mercy. There is no mercy from Tamburlaine. Probably because he's such a larger-than-life character. Larger-than-life characters have no room for mercy in their larger-than-life hearts.

As a whole, it was gorgeous and grand. Every new king's crown was more awesome than the last. The scenes where Tamburlaine takes over Damascus, white, then red, then black flags were hung all over the stage. And man, was it gory. Lots of blood. They mopped up fake blood from the stage three times. But it was still watching a bunch of non-relatable characters do and say things that I found completely uninteresting and unsurprising.

Okay, to be fair, there was one part where I related to the characters. The Turkish king Bajazeth (played by Rene Thornton, Jr.) and his wife Zabina (played by Allie Glenzer) are being kept prisoner by Tamburlaine, treated like slaves, made to eat scraps. While Tamburlaine is away, Bajazeth and his wife have a touching talk about how much they love each other; after Zabina leaves to get her husband some water, he kills himself by bashing his head on the side of the prison where he is kept. When Allie came back in as Zabina, she let out a sound that I had never heard before, lamenting her husband and her existence. She eventually kills herself, too. I was crying at the end; I'd never seen something so moving on stage.