Academic journal article Shakespeare Studies

Center or Margin: Revisions of the English Renaissance in Honor of Leeds Barroll

Academic journal article Shakespeare Studies

Center or Margin: Revisions of the English Renaissance in Honor of Leeds Barroll

Article excerpt

IN THE INTRODUCTORY CHAPTER to his Politics, Plague and Shakespeare's Theater: The Stuart Years (1991), Leeds Barroll lamented the tendency of biographies of Shakespeare to reify "presuppositions about historical causation," thereby resulting in "the freezing of the number of available viewpoints that might otherwise be brought to bear" (7). Barroll's call for the rereading of documents and for the rethinking of patterns of causation comes in the wake of Foucault's account of the "tactical polyvalence of discourses" (1) and of the range of theoretical positions that emphasized discontinuities, instabilities, and the exclusionary forces that underpin the operations of language. In the process, Barroll revisited, and augmented, the stock of those very documents that traditional (and even some revisionary) criticism has reduced to a "uniform" reading. It is precisely this openness, combined with an undiminished appetite for the reinvestigation and the reevaluation of what has hitherto passed for "fact" and critical "truth." that Lena Cowen Orlin's edited collection celebrates. It builds on what Barroll himself inveigled against when he spoke of the sketching of "historical figures making intelligent plans to implement intelligent decisions, experiencing consequences fully anticipated and hoped for" (ibid., 12). Indeed, his initiation and indefatigable editing of major journals such as Shakespeare Studies, and Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England, his founding of the Shakespeare Association of America, his presence at its annual conferences, combined with the regular appearance of his own further publications, all indicate an exemplary and continually adventurous intellectual energy. Meanwhile, the impressively well-organized Shakespeare Association of America continues to provide a major international focus for Shakespeare Studies, and has sustained its mission to encourage and provide a nurturing environment for young scholars, while Shakespeare Studies continues to adventure beyond the existing boundaries of the discipline. Orlin's collection is an appropriate way to honor the achievement of a major Shakespeare scholar, but it is also a testimony to those various avenues of critical and historical investigation that Barroll has been, in large measure, responsible for stimulating and encouraging.

This collection is organized under four headings, representing consecutively, the title of a paper, a graduate seminar theme, a chapter title of one of Barroll's seminal books, and a book title: "England at the Margins," "Researching the Renaissance," "The Human Figure on the Stage," and "Artificial Persons." In some cases, as in the opening essay by Peter Stallybrass under the heading "England at the Margins" it was one of Barroll's own Shakespeare Association of America seminars (Montreal, 2000) that provided both the occasion and the stimulus. But in others, the essays appear to have been specially commissioned for the volume, and have been grouped under one of these four headings: each group a testimony to the prescience of Barroll's own published work, and to the enduring challenge it continues to provide.

Peter Stallybrass's "Marginal England: The View from Aleppo" aims to perform a strategy familiar to readers of Barroll's writing: an adjustment of perspective, of the kind that some recent examples of postcolonial criticism have taken much further to the point of disturbing the hegemonic foundations of post-Enlightenment historiography. Stallybrass does not quite go that far, since, following a dialectic that he himself has been partly responsible for making familiar, of the relationship between marginality and symbolic centrality, his concern is with some of the ways in which "the Mediterranean figured centrally in the English imaginary" (29). The textual spur for his inquiry is the hero's final speech in Othello in which a suicide is figured as the resolution of a conflict "in Aleppo once" between "a Malignant and a Turband Turke" and "Venetian. …

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