Shakespeare, Marlowe, and the Politics of France

Shakespeare, Marlowe, and the Politics of France

Shakespeare, Marlowe, and the Politics of France

Shakespeare, Marlowe, and the Politics of France

Synopsis

Taking a wide-ranging intertextual approach, Richard Hillman produces fresh readings of some familiar Early Modern English plays by setting them against political and cultural discourses concerning France, as the latter informed contemporary English consciousness. The English works explored go beyond those directly representing French affairs, on the premise that dramatic treatments of English historical topics, notably by Shakespeare and Marlowe, were inflected by events across the Channel.

Excerpt

Let me begin by setting up the (dis)appearing act that paradigmatically defines the Lacanian subject as a lens for viewing the evolution of Jack Wilton's role – a much-discussed phenomenon in The Unfortunate Traveller. Jack begins as an active and amoral practical joker, flaunting his membership in the Vice- and Trickster-club at the expense of common humanity. He ends as a largely passive observer and recorder, whose wide range of tonal positions – including those of the scorner, the idealist, the moral philosopher, and even the humanitarian – marks him as a variable product of changing circumstances. the narrator's increasingly “discrepant attitudes,” in G. R. Hibbard's phrase (179), notoriously fail to confer a unified perspective, but they do converge, from their various angles, to locate him at a distance from the increasingly raw material of his récit and, paradoxically, to incorporate him into humanity at large. Initially defined in terms of his superhuman agency and power to expose – “Gods scourge from above” (226), as he styles himself while still in France – Nashe's narrator-protagonist by stages becomes the helpless overseer of events beyond his control: the half-pitying spectator of the nonetheless justified slaughter of the Münster Anabaptists; the sorrow-stricken onlooker, locked in his upper chamber, at the rape and suicide of Heraclide (that epitome of feminine virtue who fails to deter Esdras with the threat of “a power aboue thy power” [289]); and, finally, the “[m]ortifiedly abjected and daunted” speaker of unspeakable executioners' torments. in this last capacity, he is reduced to pronouncing,

Vnsearchable is the booke of our destinies. One murder begetteth another: was neuer yet bloud-shed barren from the beginning of the world to this daie.

(327) . . .

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