Academic journal article DQR Studies in Literature

The Tempest Toss'd Ship: Twelfth Night and Emotional Communities in Early Modern London

Academic journal article DQR Studies in Literature

The Tempest Toss'd Ship: Twelfth Night and Emotional Communities in Early Modern London

Article excerpt

In his 1612 emblem book Minerva Britanna, a volume filled with allegorical images coupled with explanatory poems, Henry Peacham illustrates the stark contrast of emotionalism and emotional governance under the title "Nec igne, nec unda" ("Neither fiery, nor billowing").1 His allegory is fairly simple, offering icons of explicitly masculine emotional governance and an implicitly feminine emotional chaos. Central to the image stands a pillar of stone jutting out from a churning and turbulent sea. Peacham's poem explains that this stone, tall amongst the crashing waves and beneath a stormy sky "is Manlie Constancie of mind". As the poem explains, this stone endures without alteration despite the world's changeability and the forces (wind, lightning, sea) that would alter it. The stone is entirely barren, further suggesting that no change, even internal to itself, will reshape this pillar. Sailing through the storm, oriented as if it were suspended in the moments before smashing itself against the great stone, Peacham has placed a "goodly ship to drowne". This ship, ablaze with flames (intended to represent passions) and piloted by pride and desire, is Opinion. Held in opposition to the stern stone body, the ship offers the alternative which Peacham cautions against: a body in emotionally charged transformation. For him, such a body cannot help but come to wreckage, a victim as much of the world's influences as its own passion.

In her essay exploring emotional governance in the seventeenth century Katherine Rowe explains that the trope was fairly common at and around the time that Minerva Britanna was published, with notable instances occurring in Thomas Wright's The Passions of the Minde in Generall, as well as in Macbeth.2 In Shakespeare's play Ross urges a frightened Lady MacDuff to "school yourself", lamenting that they live in such a fearful state that:

... we hold rumor

From what we fear, yet know not what we fear,

But float upon a wild and violent sea

Each way and move -3

Peacham's stone offers an icon of emotional regulation capable of resisting all emotional input and remaining constantly its severe self in direct contrast to the emotionally volatile self which presented a danger to itself beyond help of any but God. Elsewhere, I have tried to demonstrate that this emblematic contrast is something of an artefact in which we can see competing valuations of emotion with direct implications for the early modern public theatre and those who participate (on stage or in the auditorium) in the performance.4 Here, I wish to further explore these notions of individualized emotional governance and chaotic emotional transformation as a way of exploring one of Shakespeare's best known plays about a shipwreck, Twelfth Night, alongside the emotional tensions within the culture that produced it in the hopes of illuminating both. The catastrophic destruction of a ship serves as catalyst for the plot of Twelfth Night, but the destruction of a vessel upon the wild waves of a raging storm also serves as an illuminating metaphor for the way Shakespeare constructs different forms of emotionalism in his play.

Whatever his intentions may have been, Peacham's image stands as emblematic of the tensions between emotional communities5 taking shape in early modern London. The emotional values of one, favouring relative stoicism and withdrawal from mass emotional experience, repeatedly formed central tenets drawn on by many of the polemics against public theatres. This same form of emotionalism increasingly influenced the authorities and coloured public policy with detrimental results for the theatres. Peacham's ship, on the point of floundering, stands as the implied opposition to this severe emotional self-governance. However, it could easily stand for the mind incapable of dampening emotional input from without, or even an emotionalism that seeks the communal emotional experience that the solitary stone denies itself. …

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