Current Issue Article Abstracts

Volume 21.3 Summer 2021



Samson's Lockean Person: Prefigurations of Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understanding in Milton's Samson Agonistes
Ayelet Langer

This essay proposes that in Samson Agonistes (1671) Milton represents Samson's development of self as a psychological process that is conditioned on Samson's capacity to change his initial Hobbesian idea of self as a spatial construct to an understanding of himself as self-constituted by acts of consciousness. Samson's process of self-constitution is, it is suggested, very similar to Locke's theory of personal identity, published twenty-three years later in the second edition of his An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1694). Further, the connection Milton makes between personhood and freedom is strikingly similar to Locke's understanding of the way in which these terms are linked. For Milton, as for Locke, only persons can become full-fledged agents. In Samson Agonistes, Milton offers the reader an opportunity to experience the process by which Samson develops into person, his choice not to respond to divine call, and, consequently, his failure to become a free agent. In Milton's representation, Samson's failure to achieve free agency results in a violent act that destroys both the Philistines and himself.


Stage Devilry: Knowledge, Pleasure, and Antitheatricality on the Eighteenth-Century English Stage
Daniel Froid

This essay discusses the figure of the devil in eighteenth-century theatrical works, focusing on two pantomimes based on the Faust legend: John Thurmond's Harlequin Doctor Faustus; with the Grand Masque of the Heathen Deities and John Rich's The Necromancer; or, Harlequin Doctor Faustus. Both pantomimes premiered in 1723 and were among the most successful theatrical works of the century. The devils that appear in these pantomimes embody the fears of antitheatrical discourse, which emphasized the pernicious effects of theatergoers' pleasure-seeking. This essay argues that stage devils serve as a self-reflexive mechanism by which theatrical texts stage the act of seeking theatrical pleasure and, thereby, engage with criticisms of the genre's moral and epistemological possibilities.


Intimate Creations: Margaret Cavendish and the Violent Desires of Fandom
Emily Griffiths Jones

This essay considers Margaret Cavendish as a pre-modern reader and writer engaged with the concerns of what we have come to call fandom. Cavendish offers an early model of what it looks like to read and write for the sake of intimate affective attachment to texts and characters. A standout among other early modern writers, she draws attention to the emotional, even erotic bonds that may form between readers, writers, and characters; she begins to theorize the creative process of worldbuilding as a complex emotional and ethical act; and she articulates her participation in these practices in ways that anticipate how certain later fans and authors would come to speak about their identities and creations. Notably, these articulations may not mesh with the optimism that characterizes much seminal scholarship on fandom. This essay examines how Cavendish models the formation of fannish identity and desiring subjectivity through her affectively engaged reading and writing, as well as how she participates in the creative, communal act of worldbuilding. It then turns to how these affective engagements are intimately entwined with conflict and violent desire, both internal to Cavendish's constructed worlds and inherent in the relationship between certain writers and their fans in ways that resonate with twenty-first-century fannish controversies. 


Half-Persuaded Converts and Partial Turns in Fletcher's The Island Princess
Emily C. George

In the final act of John Fletcher's The Island Princess (c. 1619–21), the heroine Quisara takes on a familiar role: the non-Christian, foreign woman converted by her love of a Christian man. Critics, including Ania Loomba, Dennis Austin Britton, and Lieke Stelling, describe Quisara's turn as part of early modern theater's pattern of presenting desirable, successful converts to Christianity as fair-skinned, virtuous women, more integrable because of these supposedly Christian qualities and because their identities can be subsumed by their Christian husbands. However, although The Island Princess draws on many of the conversion paradigms of medieval and early modern romance and drama, which offer paths for converts to become confirmed members of their new religious communities, it ultimately fulfills none of them, letting Quisara linger mid-conversion. Diverging from recent scholarship that has emphasized ways that early modern drama invests in ideologies of religious stability or ironizes conversion as false or doubtful, this essay argues that in the context of emerging Western European colonial evangelism, protracted reformations, and doctrinal debates within Protestantism, The Island Princess invites audiences to imagine religious identity as something that might be compromised and evolving, yet still apparently genuine. 



Spa Culture and Literature in Early Modern England, 1500–1800 ed. by Sophie Chiari and Samuel Cuisinier-Delorme (review)
Susannah Lyon-Whaley

Shakespeare's First Reader: The Paper Trails of Richard Stonley by Jason Scott-Warren (review)
Stacie Vos