Current Issue Article Abstracts

Volume 20.4 Fall 2020


Passing as Morisco: Concealment and Slander in Antonio Mira de Amescua’s El mártir de Madrid
Melissa Figueroa

This essay analyzes the notion of “passing” in Antonio Mira de Amescua’s play El mártir de Madrid (1610) and how it unveils the effects of concealment and slander in a hegemonic Christian society dealing with religious, ethnic, and gender anxiety in the aftermath of the expulsion of Moriscos from Spain (1609). Drawing upon contemporary studies on the concept of passing, the essay reflects on what happens when pretending to belong to a religious affiliation, an ethnic group, or the opposite sex yields negative consequences for the character trying to pass. Besides examining different instances of passing related to ethnicity, religion, and gender, the essay pays attention to the historical events that inspired Mira de Amescua’s play; that is, the martyrdom of the Spanish Pedro Navarro in North Africa (1580) after having passed as Muslim and returned to Christianity. In addition, the essay identifies several contemporary sources and puts them into dialogue with the play.

“Mislike Me Not for My Complexion”: On Anti-Black Racism and Performative Whiteness in William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice
Jamie Paris

This essay provides an anti-racist reading of the way Black and tawny characters are treated by white characters in William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice (ca 1600). It gives particular attention to the role of racism in the treatment of an unnamed “negro” woman and the Prince of Morocco. The juxtaposition of these two characters allows the essay to address how issues of gender, class, and race impact the way anti-Blackness is performed in the text. This essay is situated within the emerging discourse of premodern critical race studies, and it argues that the anti-Black racism in the play makes the performance of whiteness visible. Whiteness, this essay argues, is performed through acts of anti-Black exclusion and racism designed to protect the property and privilege of whiteness while maintaining the illusion of white innocence. Making whiteness visible is essential if critics are to deconstruct the logic and structural privileges of white supremacy in early modern texts.

Slumbery Agitations: Sleep Deprivation in Macbeth
Brian Chalk

This essay explores how Shakespeare assimilates the confusion among sleeping, dreaming, and waking in key moments in Macbeth as a means of structuring the play and to emphasize sleep’s role in binding together the categories that dissolve over the course of the plot. Early in the play, Lady Macbeth encourages a form of radical wakefulness in her husband common among Shakespeare’s monarchs that enables him to murder the sleeping Duncan and become king himself. Following the murder, however, the restorative sleep both characters long for becomes a curative to which neither has access. The play, in this way, deviates from Shakespeare’s earlier depictions of monarchs afflicted with insomnia by dramatizing the wide-ranging consequences of its effects. The killing of Duncan, this essay suggests, obscures for the Macbeths the boundaries between not only waking and sleeping but also interior and exterior experience. To provide context, this essay consults early modern health manuals that diagnose the deleterious consequences of sleep deprivation that Macbeth manifests as the play progresses.

Shakespeare, Jack Cade, and “Kentish men”: England’s Earliest Working-Class Rebel-Heroes?
Chris Fitter

The mass of impoverished commoners in Shakespeare’s period (as opposed to the prosperous middling sort) experienced daily conditions of extraordinary distress. Sketching their miseries, this essay affirms Shakespeare’s surprising degree of sympathy with plebeian suffering. In Kent, many plebeians were indicted for longing for a Spanish invasion, as liberation from “slavery.” Kent had for many centuries a reputation for rebelliousness, and in the later sixteenth century emerged a discourse of “Kentishmen” as oppositional and unsubdued. Shakespeare’s fiery rebel Jack Cade, in Henry VI Part Two, was the culmination of this discourse. Portrayed by Shakespeare as both comically inept and heroic, Cade embodied a radical class anger hidden from sight in medieval rebellions by the “principal parishioners” who strategically managed the face of insurrection, but now visible in risings, as the middling sort rejected risings. Shakespeare’s Cade is thus the inexperienced subaltern as de facto rebel leader: as in the Oxford Rising, and again in the Midlands Revolt. Embodying the insurgence of the leaderless, post-medieval bloc of impoverished commoners created by the secession of the middling sort, the charismatically oppositional “Kentishman,” a term circulating before “Digger” and “Leveller” were coined, was arguably the earliest English signifier for a “working-class” rebel-hero.


Infrastructures of Race: Concentration and Biopolitics in Colonial Mexico by Daniel Nemser (review)
Kelly S. McDonough

Teaching Social Justice Through Shakespeare: Why Renaissance Literature Matters Now ed. by Hillary Eklund and Wendy Beth Hyman (review)
James Kuzner