Shakespeare's Universal Wolf: Studies in Early Modern Reification

By Hugh L. Grady | Go to book overview

2
'Mad Idolatry': Commodification and Reification in Troilus and Cressida

EARLY MODERN ANALOGY/LATE MODERN THEORY

In Troilus and Cressida Shakespeare presents something like a full thematic development of the complex I have identified as forming the basis of an implicit notion of Renaissance reification, presenting a complexly organized, mirrors-within-mirrors exploration of mutually metaphoring systems of power, desire, market-value, and instrumental reason.

The intricate interplay in this drama between love/lechery and honour/power is an invitation to critical interpretation impossible to resist, impossible to complete. The dizzying set of interactions possible to construe from the elaborate parallels and contrasts1 -- here and in Renaissance double-plotted plays generally -- is one crucial means of Renaissance analogical thinking; Shakespeare here demonstrates how it is possible to 'think' concepts analogically in poetry and drama that were not available in the (nascent) theoretical discourses of the time. Post-Enlightenment readers and critics are tempted to provide the 'translation' to post-Enlightenment theoretical discourse -- inevitably guided by our own mental habits, ideologies, and discourses, to be sure. If we are unwilling to leave these texts in the silence surrounding the space between this society and our own, however, we will have to surrender to the temptation, guided by theory, history, and the pragmatics of literary interpretation, and attempt an always incomplete (mis)reading of the interactions between the dualities of the play.

In the Greek camp, I argue, we will find a prescient exposition of the

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1
William Empson, Some Versions of Pastoral ( New York: New Directions, 1950), 34-42, made an early and influential case for the parallel. Other classic critical definitions of the relation between the two plots or 'worlds' of the play will be discussed below. Empson's still-relevant discussion in a chapter called 'Double Plots' argues that the relation between the two plots of Troilus and Cressida is built around a 'mutual comparison' of love and war. See also Richard Levin, The Multiple Plot in English Renaissance Drama ( Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1971), 160-8.

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