Reading an entire year's worth of books on Tudor and Stuart drama is a burden, of course (enter here the usual tropes of agony and ordeal), but it has also been an enlightening privilege, and I have a few general observations to make. First, the high quality of so much of the work has been impressive, though one also wonders why some books were ever published. Certain approaches continue to dominate--historicist, feminist, performance and theater history--but I cannot say that I detected any particular new trend this year. In fact, the enormous variety of approaches and interests reminds those of us who work in a particular scholarly niche that there is much to learn from others who work in very different ways. Second, corollary to the first, some are born with humility, and some (all SEL reviewers) have it thrust upon 'em: the range of work is beyond anyone's ability to consider with authority. So caveat lector. Third, one of the real pleasures in doing this review is the unexpected discovery, the book whic h turns out to be revelatory. Several of these books were by authors whose names I hardly knew, but the year's work also brought books from some of the best-known names in the profession--Catherine Belsey, Richard Helgerson, Michael Neil--and it was a pleasure to follow their work in new directions.
Finally--and every SEL reviewer makes a similar comment--the categories of analysis I have employed are fairly arbitrary, as is the division between this review and the "non-dramatic" review in the previous issue by Heather Dubrow. I have appropriated the division between works "Primarily for Scholars" and "Primarily for Students or General Readers" introduced by last year's reviewer, Meredith Skura, though with different subcategories. As is traditional in this review, I have given more space to single-authored books than to collections of essays. I have also exercised editorial privilege in first presenting five books that struck me as unusually interesting--by Mary Bly, Lynn Enterline, Raphael Falco, R. B. Graves, and Helgerson; other readers would no doubt have made different choices. Thereafter, the works reviewed are in no particular order, though I have grouped together a few with similar concerns.
I. PRIMARILY FOR SCHOLARS
Commentary. Bly's wonderful book, Queer Virgins and Virgin Queans on the Early Modern Stage, seeks "to resurrect the operations of an obscure boys' company known variously as the King's Revels or the first Whitefriars, which performed for about nine months in 1607-8" (p. 2). She identifies eight plays written for the company, mostly by new playwrights who were also shareholders: Michael Drayton, Lording Barry, John Mason, Edward Sharpham, Lewis Machin, Gervase Markham, and Robert Armin (Thomas Middleton's The Family of Love was revived from an earlier performance). Bly argues that "the men who ran the Whitefriars syndicate controlled both the tenor and the plots of plays, resulting in a strikingly abnormal repertory"--seven comedies and one tragedy, with five of the comedies featuring "bawdy virgins in the lead role" (p. 3). Moreover, these plays are, she argues, distinctively marked by "a certain type of pun, a queer pun that constructs cross-dressed boy actors as sexually aware and sexually available" (p. 4 ). These puns, in contrast to those employed in other playhouses performing conventional romantic comedies, in effect respond to and also construct a particular type of audience, "an identifiable group of men, and ... when those men gathered together in the theatre, the nature of punning suggests that a sense of community formed around their shared laughter" (p. 5). This community is specific to the Whitefriars liberty, she observes, which was a notorious brothel district, and certainly not to towns outside London.
Bly's book thus takes up a number of provocative and interesting issues in theater history, performance theory, and queer theory. Her proposal for a company's unified commercial sensibility is very suggestive; even as the concept of the "sovereign author," she notes, has been displaced in recent theory, still "we tend to resist imputing strong control to a theatrical company" (p. 32). To make this case, she tries to show how the playwrights and shareholders of this company acted together, and-the textual proof-how the plays, especially the comedies, resemble one another not only in plot and character type (the lustful, rather than modest, romantic heroine), but in particular at the level of the pun. A great deal of her book is necessarily very close analysis of these puns, and though the analysis can be very dense at times, the results are invariably persuasive and-even though jokes are being explained at scholarly length-hilarious. These plays-Ram Alley, Cupid's Whirligig, The Dumb Knight-were truly, and ch eerfully, obscene. The King's Revels company was shortlived, expiring primarily because of plague-related closings and an inability to repay short-term debt. Bly traces the later careers of this odd group of playwrights. most of whom stopped writing after the company's collapse (Barry became a pirate; Mason was arrested for theft). Her book is a model of scrupulous research in the service of a provocative argument.
Enterline's The Rhetoric of the Body from Ovid to Shakespeare is a rich and complex study of Ovid and the Ovidian tradition in Petrarch, John Marston, and Shakespeare. She argues that "Ovid's rhetoric of the body--in particular his fascination with scenes of alienation from one's own tongue-profoundly troubles Renaissance representations of authorship" as well as what counted as "the difference between male and female experience" (p. 2); moreover, she asks "why Ovid's stories about lost voices or voices that fail to effect the change they seek draw to a close only when the body containing that voice is destroyed, dismembered, or raped" (p. 15).
Enterline begins with a provocative chapter on "Medusa's mouth" in the Metamorphoses, demonstrating how Ovid consistently forces together "the usually separated realms of sexuality and rhetoric" (p. 41). The Metamorphoses's repeated invocations of the mouth, lips, tongue, breath (breeze), and voice-particularly in the dissonant female voices of the Bacchae, Medusa, Syrinx, Echo, Daphne, Phiomela, and others-are "just as much surrogate figures for Ovid's narrator as those more tuneful voices attributed to Apollo, Pygmalion, Orpheus, or Pan. By remembering them, we come to see that Ovid's transgendered prosopopoeiae disturb the story of gender identity, difference, and desire that the poem's repeated narrative of rape produces" (p. 88). Following key Ovidian figures--Pygmalion, Orpheus, Phiomela, Medusa--Enterline addresses in subsequent chapters the rhetorical/libidinal relation in Petrarch's Rime Sparse and in Marston's Metamorphosis of Pigmalion's Image, which I will not summarize here. When she arrives at The Rape of Lucrece, Enterline shows how Shakespeare reverses the usual Ovidian formula, asking "what might happen if the chaste, resistant, stony lady [of the Ovidian tradition] were at last to speak back?" (p. 156). Noting that Lucretia does not speak in Ovid's Fasti, Enterline points out that Shakespeare's Lucrece does emphatically speak-after she has been raped; thus, in "making Ovid's virtually silent victim more truly Ovidian by imagining her as if she were speaking from either the Metamorphoses or the Heroides" (pp. 155-6), Shakespeare engages a critique of both Ovidian and Petrarchan rhetoric. Enterline's final chapter, on The Winter's Tale, moves beyond attention to the statue scene to a consideration of the female voice-to voice, generally-throughout the play. Most of Enterline's book does not concern drama, and one wishes that it had taken up Titus Andronicus in some significant way; nevertheless, this study will illuminate future inquiries into the Ovidian legacy in early modern drama.
Falco's Charismatic Authority in Early Modern English Tragedy has a provocative thesis, carried lucidly and often brilliantly throughout: "Tragedy is the preeminent discourse of the failure of charisma...because tragedy has a particular affinity for representing both leadership and social chaos, both equilibrium and entropy among groups of followers, it is an ideal showcase for the transformations and the dilutions of charismatic authority" (p. 1). Falco grounds his conception of charisma first in the Pauline charisms as outlined in 1 Corinthians, and then uses the work of Max Weber (and other Weberians) to theorize the concept. The wide-ranging introduction moves from suggestive generalizations to explore "subjectivity, the body politic, dynastic rule, eroticism, genealogy, and group membership" (p. 206), to name just some of the major topics. Falco sees the emergence of the charismatic subject-such as Tamburlaine--as at first thrilling, radical, and disruptive; because charisma is "a shared experience" (p. 2), the formation of a charismatic group following a leader "depends in varying degrees on the erotic undercurrent that binds members to a leader. As long as erotic needs remain activated but unrealized, regardless of whether they are homosexual or heterosexual in objective, they can act as the glue binding a group together" (p. 37). Falco's approach provides an excellent way to account for Tamburlaine's rise to power and is equally suggestive as a way to explain Tamburlaine's stagnation in Part 2. In chapter 2, Falco describes Shakespeare's Richard II and Bolingbroke as "charismas in conflict" (p. 65), and explains why the characters are both successful but also fail, in different terms. Richard's "true charismatic claim," Falco notes, "is dynastic, a diluted but effective form of charismatic domination. As a lineage king Richard bases his authority on hereditary charisma and postfeudal convention" (p. 66). The demystification of Richard's authority coincides with the emergence of Bolingbroke's more persona l, magnetic force: yet Bolingbroke's rebellion, Falco notes, "paradoxically offers political stability, official respect for lineage authority, and a return to traditional rulership" (p. 95). The contradictions in both characters' positions lead to their collapse.
Falco next moves to a chapter on Hamlet and Othello, arguing that Hamlet's delay constitutes his charismatic authority, but Hamlet abandons it "and accepts his lineage responsibility to avenge his father. This rationalized acceptance causes the emptying out of Hamlet's personal charismatic claim" (p. 117). Othello demonstrates his charismatic generalship in "his resistance to violence" (p. 122; my emphasis) when he reacts to Brabantio's charges. In marrying Desdemona, though, he has betrayed "his aim-inhibited sexual bond with the group for the sake of an exclusive, individualized sexual bond" (p. 134); Iago's use of jealousy thus becomes "the appropriate weapon to direct against someone whose crime is...a turning from group to individual ties" (p. 136). After a chapter on Samson Agonistes, Falco concludes with a chapter on "erotic charisma," in which he takes up the Cleopatra figure in plays by Samuel Daniel, Shakespeare, Charles Sedley, Thomas May, and John Dryden. What Falco terms the gradual "Romanizatio n of Cleopatra" eventually neutralizes her own authority and is part of the cause of her fall. Falco's book is ambitious and suggestive throughout.
The title of Graves's book--Lighting the Shakespearean Stage, 1567-1642-may suggest a merely technical, even prosaic work, but in fact it is a fascinating, thoroughly researched, and well-argued analysis of stage conditions, performance, and the uses of "evidence" in the drama of the period. Graves has examined a truly daunting variety of sources in an attempt to establish just how plays were illuminated-a simple-sounding question, but extremely tricky to demonstrate. Graves has gone so far as to produce experiments in various great halls and the New Globe to establish how much candle power actually was available at vanous times; he provides charts for sunset times throughout the year and drawings of angles of light depending on the direction a stage was oriented, surveys the vast, conflicting evidence about theatrical starting times, and invokes the physiology of perception. He separately considers the lighting options available in open theaters, private playhouses, great halls, and several different court venues. All this is certainly "technical," but it is always interesting and frequently has substantial critical implications for the plays in question. Graves concludes that "the staging at the indoor and outdoor playhouses may not have been so different in regard to an aspect [i.e., lighting] of stage production that one might have assumed would define the principal difference between them" (p. 232). He backs up this conclusion in a final chapter on the staging at the Globe and Blackfriars of The Duchess of Malfi (particularly IV.i, the "hand" scene). In effect, Graves has done for light what Bruce Smith did for acoustics a year ago. Graves's impressive work will change the ways in which I think about (and teach) the material conditions of the early modern theater.
The range and ambition of Helgerson's Adulterous Alliances: Home, State, and History in Early Modern European Drama and Painting, as the subtitle suggests, are considerable. It traces a "new interest in the non-aristocratic home" from English drama of the 1590s to French drama of the eighteenth century: "Again and again the home and the family on which it is based are disrupted by a sexually predatory intruder, an intruder who comes most often from the sphere of the state: a soldier, a courtier, a leading aristocrat, or even the king himself. And, almost as often, the state enters as a deus ex machina to resolve the problem it or its agents have themselves created. But whether disrupter or orderer (or both), the state is representationally and affectively outshone by the bourgeois or peasant home through which the state expresses its power." Thus, the non-aristocratic home "emerges not simply as an adjunct of state power but as an alternative to it" (pp. 3-4). Helgerson pursues this lucidly stated argument t hrough six chapters, each of which offers not only powerful readings of the texts it examines, but reaches as well to much larger claims about representation, gender, and history.
Helgerson begins with Arden of Faversham, contrasting Raphael Holinshed's suppression of certain events with what the play and other versions of the story make clear: the intervention of the state into the community, and the violation of the home. "Arden and Mosby," Helgerson demonstrates, "are rival twins in the service of the state and its network of court-centered patronage. Arden's appropriation of the abbey lands in Faversham finds its counterpart in Mosby's appropriation of Alice Arden's body. Thus, in at least a metaphorical sense, the two crimes of Arden of Faversham are one. Seen this way, adultery is no longer a purely private crime, 'impertinent' to the public matter of history. It is rather a vehicle for thinking about history" (p. 28). Helgerson further traces a transformation in what constituted "history"--a move from the political to the domestic, to oversimplify--in the second chapter, "Weeping for Jane Shore," which traces Jane Shore's appearances in texts of what …