Shakespeare Studies - Vol. 41

Shakespeare Studies - Vol. 41

Shakespeare Studies - Vol. 41

Shakespeare Studies - Vol. 41

Excerpt

Helkiah Crooke asserted in Mikrokosmographia (1615) that the face was the signifier of the human: “At the beholding of this face, all creatures are affrighted, because in it there shine foorth more beames of the divine Nature, than in all the body besides.” Following such precedents as Plato in the Timaeus, Crooke says that standing upright allows human beings not only a spatial access to the divine that distinguishes them from their bestial counterparts, but it also realigns the features and the sensory organs into a characteristically human frontality. He positions human erectness as a pivotal rupture that confers upon humanity a dominion over the animal, for although rendered vulnerable by their nakedness and lack of teeth, claws, fur, feathers, and shells, human beings are nevertheless endowed with rationality and with hands that transform them into toolmakers. If the face is the bodily location in which “the elegancy of the humane nature doth most appear,” the countenance also alters because it “bewraieth the disposition of the will”; it is, in other words, a mirror of the inner nature or character. Modern developmental psychology follows Crooke’s insight, acknowledging the face as a uniquely human marker of individual identity; the ability to recognize other faces is one of the first abilities infants acquire. Damage to the area of the brain called the fusiform gyrus can produce prosopagnosia or face blindness, an impaired ability to recognize faces that severely impedes social and familial interaction. The richness of our colloquial language (“face-to-face,” “twofaced,” “about-face,” “putting on one’s face,” “in your face,” “saving face”) registers the crucial role that facial identification plays and marks the visage as a synecdoche of human identity and social exchange.

The primacy of the human face and its capacity to reflect temperament or inner nature formed the basis of physiognomy, the ancient art of reading faces for signs of character. Giambattista della Porta’s signal early modern work on physiognomy, De humana physiognomonia libri IIII (1586), juxtaposes human and animal faces, producing striking zoomorphic resemblances that tug subversively at Crooke’s insistence on the supremacy of the human. One human face contrasts with a bovine head; della Porta’s description of the flattened nose correlates it with lying and verbosity. Another man’s portrait is coupled with a lion’s head to illustrate the ferocity of the puffed eyebrows. Della Porta’s portraits are meant to represent character traits or emotional propensities exemplified by the exaggerated features of an animal counterpart. The animal/human analogy, whose roots stretch back to Aristotle’s acknowledgment in Historia Animalium of the psychical characteristics human and animals share, are woven into literary culture through beast fables and bestiaries, testifying to the inextricable intertwining of the animal and human. In The Arte of English Poesie George Puttenham names prosopopeia, literally making a countenance or face (prosopon), as the figure that attributes “any human quality, as reason or speech to dombe creatures or other insensible things.” The tropological manufacturing of a face in prosopopeia bestows such cognate attributes of humanity as reason and speech, as if to give voice to the “dombe” animal to which Descartes influentially denies sentience in his Discourse on Method. Della Porta’s double portraits conjoin animal and human faces, and it is this mirroring, and the space or gap in between, the “interface,” that this Forum explores. Duncan’s negative construal of physiognomy in Macbeth, “There’s no art / To find the mind’s construction in the face” (1.4.12–13) could be adapted for our purposes: we might question, contra Crooke, what lies behind the human façade, whether in the supposed divinity of the visage, the assurance of the rational mind, or the fluency of language. What is the nature of the animal “mind” and consciousness and what is its relationship to the human?

The vehement humanist assertions of rational sovereignty attempt to efface the intermingling of human and animal, but the legacy of Plato’s appetitive lower soul in the Timaeus “bound … down like a wild animal which was chained up with man” (70e), and the “sensible or animal” Aristotelian soul that beasts and human share, haunt early modern literature. The hybridity of these psyches evokes the centrality of the Chimaera to Jacques Derrida’s essay “The Animal Therefore I Am,” that mythical creature with the head and body of a lion, the entrails of a goat . . .

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