Previous Issue Article Abstracts
Volume 21.2 Spring 2021
Introduction: Character Beyond Shakespeare
The rise of "new character criticism" is a new chapter in a long story of love and loathing in Shakespeare and early modern English literary studies. Depending on one's perspective, character's recent "comeback" might seem like the final scene of a revenge tragedy, the redemptive end to a prodigal son tale, the refrain in a circuitous poem, or even the revelation of a psychodrama in which "we . . . have ineluctably been character critics all along, though in various states of being closeted" (Yachnin and Slights)
Formal Men: On Parody and Character
This essay argues that character is a form of parody; or, conversely, that parody is the device that discloses the formalizing logic of character. It does so by surveying a range of parodic characters—from the Theophrastan portraits of Joseph Hall, Thomas Overbury, and John Earle; the comic types of Ben Jonson's drama; the amphibious personae of Thomas Nashe's fiction—that thrived in England around the turn of the seventeenth century, when social changes called for new forms of classification. These characters, the essay suggests, draw out an impulse to self-classification at the heart of character generally. The first half of the essay examines the parodic logic of character as a device of typology: a way of construing persons, of making them readable, and of enacting them through habitual action. The second half turns to Nashe's Jack Wilton and Jonson's Mosca in order to consider a kind of character that disrupts this account of character—a kind defined precisely by its aptitude for parody. In treating the kinds that character articulates as alienable, such parodic subjects aim for an elasticity that eludes and dissolves characterization.
Character as Meme
Katherine Schaap Williams
This essay considers Eastward Ho, the 1605 collaboration between George Chapman, Ben Jonson, and John Marston, to explore how the play, and early modern city comedy more broadly, produces dramatic character at the scale of the phrase. Drawing upon meme theory, which tracks cultural replication and transmission, the essay argues that dramatic character operates as a vehicle through which the play sets loose familiar, often proverbial, expressions. Touchstone's signature phrase "work upon that now" coordinates repetition across verbal and visual registers, a concept of character that challenges critics to value familiar, expected, and conventional speech as a site of innovation. Eastward Ho models the theater as recording device for the circulation of textual sound bites, inviting us to consider and revalue how early modern drama activates generic form in the service of dramatic character.
This article examines the influence of Ovid's Heroides and ethopoeia on characterization in Christopher Marlowe's plays. In the sixteenth century, students often performed exercises in ethopoeia, "character making." In such an exercise, the schoolmaster placed a character from literature or history within a rhetorical situation, and students wrote speeches that reflected that character's emotions and social background. Ovid's Heroides, which features figures like Dido lamenting Aeneas's perfidy or Hero Leander's absence, exemplified this practice, and authors like Christopher Marlowe frequently employed characterization techniques learned from the Heroides as a model for ethopoeia. This article traces the development of his tragic characters from Dido Queene of Carthage (c.1586) to Doctor Faustus (c.1592), arguing that Marlowe uses techniques including ethopoeia's tria tempora structure and Ovid's speakers torn between the "voice of the self" and "the voice of the culture" to fashion a unique brand of "interiority" that invites empathic identification with his tragic protagonists. These protagonists consciously struggle against the narrative structures in which they are trapped by ethopoetically lamenting their frustrated desires and even repressing memories, and Marlowe invites his audience to sympathize regardless of the character's ethical decisions.
Repetitive, pious, and often mired in the less appetizing details of seventeenth-century life, Ralph Josselin's diary is inhospitable to any modern reader looking for titillating confession or exciting narrative development. Drawing on the widespread seventeenth-century analogy that likened spiritual self-examination to financial accounting, this essay argues that the diary is not meant to be confessional by revealing the self as it is; rather, it is aspirational, a performance of the self the diarist hopes to become. Josselin provides a model of character in which the manipulation of lived experience and the performance of gratitude are earnest and sincere endeavors. The raw materials of seventeenth-century existence are, in Josselin's diary, parts of God's inscrutable plan to be accreted, recorded, reviewed, and (possibly) understood. Meticulous repetition and performance—in the sense of both physically acting and consciously pretending—aim to ensure that the recognition of God's mercies and the resulting posture of gratitude become, quite literally, habits of thought. The diary is an exercise, and its purpose, over time, is not to reveal, but to create, the self.
This essay challenges the traditional historical narrative of character focused on Shakespeare's epochal "inward turn." It offers an alternative history that re-shapes the story of character around the cultural and commercial impact of so-called "non-Shakespearean" and "pre-modern" characters. Investigating intersections between the neo-Theophrastan "Character," commercial drama, and news culture in seventeenth-century England, the essay traces the augmentation of character as a word and a concept. Character was a key noun and verb in a shifting lexicon of identity, a new generic brand inaugurated and appropriated by Ben Jonson and John Webster, and a rhetorical technology for estranging and trade-marking forms of humanity. The essay argues that the impact of the English Character-sketch—on theatre and performance, on news and print culture, and on the cult of the author—marked a historical turning point in consumer relations with virtual humanity. Character became a popular method of transforming persons, fictional and real, into coherent units of cultural value, from dramatis personae to scandalized court figures to Shakespeare and Jonson as historical authors. In offering this new story about character, the essay suggests that history and its agents are inevitably shaped by the characterological screens through which we view early modern culture, and through which the early moderns increasingly viewed themselves.
Critics' selective reading has produced a widespread, long-lasting equation of Shakespearean characterization with naturalism, depth, complexity, interiority, and individuation. This critical consensus is worth challenging to reconsider the history and merits of alternative models of characterization that were current in early modern drama and attractive to the author most singled out as superseding them. In fact, across his career, Shakespeare amply employs "artificial" rhetoric, "shallow" characters, and speaking styles or narrative parallels that connect multiple "individuals." These characterizations undercut the character effects in which Shakespeare's literary strengths purportedly lie but nonetheless yield theatrical dividends, including appealing non-naturalistic psychologies and narratives. This essay outlines how such examples reveal the value of under-examined period representational norms often seen as "non-Shakespearean" that Shakespeare shared with his contemporaries. It notes the breadth, frequency, and utility of such characterization in Shakespeare. It then examines Shakespeare's use of Lylian characterization to de-individuate characters, connecting them through overlapping styles of thought in The Two Gentlemen of Verona. Finally, it argues that Lylian techniques persist well beyond Two Gentlemen, in plays later in Shakespeare's career (As You Like It), more popular (Richard III), and universally admired for their characters' alignment through improbably similar experiences (King Lear).
Shakespearean Intersections: Language, Contexts, Critical Key Words by Patricia Parker (review)
Volume 21.1 Winter 2021
This essay proposes that early colonial (sixteenth-century and early seventeenth-century) narratives of the conquest of Mexico offer a prism through which to view the meeting of chromatic perceptions from both Indigenous Mesoamerican and Spanish cultures, particularly as those perceptions apply to gold and skin. Recent literature on the pre-Hispanic cultures of Mesoamerica has provided important new understandings of the social and cosmological meanings of specific body paints among Indigenous Mesoamerican communities. Meanwhile, medievalists have increasingly focused on visual and literary expressions of epidermal colorism—the racialized perception of skin color—in premodern Christian Europe. Scholars of colonial Latin America have also studied expressions of epidermal colorism in the meeting of Old World and New World populations, yet those studies largely take as their point of departure the visual articulation of a castas regime in the eighteenth century. However, in Mexico's early conquest narratives, written in Spanish and Nahuatl, observations regarding the color of skin and precious materials attest to a confluence of Spanish and Mesoamerican ways of seeing color. From this confluence of chromatic perspectives, a critical Indigenous positionality emerges in relation to the narrow valorization of gold and whiteness.
This essay examines Thomas Dekker's The Shoemaker's Holiday (1599) and the ways that it dramatizes the ideological emergence of the early modern citizenry in London. Looking through the dual lens of modern genre theory and Marxist literary criticism, the essay argues that the early modern history play is a precursor to the city comedy form and that The Shoemaker's Holiday is a hybrid play drawing on aspects of both genres. The play exhibits not just this generic shift but also the economic and ideological tensions between the aristocracy and early bourgeoisie that this shift represents. Ultimately, the essay argues that greater scholarly flexibility in defining genres and understanding their evolution can yield further insight into the similarly flexible and sometimes undefined nature of social relations in early modern England.
This essay proposes a fresh approach to New English accounts of Barbary captivity—one that considers how captivity and enslavement in North Africa influenced peripheral subjects' sense of Englishness during the construction of a "new" England in North America. Juxtaposing narratives of New English former captives with those written by their metropolitan counterparts, the article argues that Barbary captivity catalyzed the estrangement between the colony and the metropole as early as the seventeenth century. The article analyzes Barbary captivity narratives within a metropole-colony-North Africa triangulation rather than employing binary oppositional models based on Edward Said's theory in his discussion of Orientalist discourse. This triangular model reveals that, rather than engaging in an identity formation defined against North African Muslims, Anglo-Americans began questioning the consequences of their creolization when faced with the threat of Barbary captivity. In other words, the metropole's indifference to its peripheral subjects' sufferings as captives in North Africa fomented the process of a "new" English identity formation. This process subverted the metropolitan perception of the colonists as less White, less Christian, and ultimately less English.
In 1630, the Stationer Richard Hawkins began selling an edition of Shakespeare's Othello from "his shoppe in Chancery-Lane, neere Sergeants-Inne" (Othello 1630 title page). This edition, identified by modern scholars as Q2, is remarkable as the first edition to fully conflate existent quarto and folio texts of a Shakespeare play. Scholars have remarked on the process that brought Q2 into being—but the question of why a seventeenth-century publisher/bookseller would invest the time and money to create such an edition remains to be considered. This article decenters the author to reconsider Q2's place among the people and ideas of the area in which it was published and sold: the Serjeants' Inn in the heart of the Inns of Court area of London. The article examines how Hawkins fashioned the books sold in his shop to entice this local readership. Literary and textual evidence from the Quarto is then reconsidered in the light of this new readership, providing fresh insights into the construction of this unique quarto and its place in modern editorial practice. This article also highlights the extent to which individual members of the book trade in the early seventeenth century engaged with local readerships and looks at the value of second-plus editions to that market.
Impressive Shakespeare: Identity, Authority and the Imprint in Shakespearean Drama by Harry Newman (review)
Art, Allegory and the Rise of Shiism in Iran, 1487–1565 by Chad Kia (review)
Volume 20.4 Fall 2020
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.
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.
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.
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)
Volume 20.3 Summer 2020
Franciscus van den Enden (1602–1674) was an Amsterdam Latin school owner, radical egalitarian, and enigmatic figure in Spinoza’s circle. Among his sparse publications is the Brief Account of New Netherland (1662), a design for a democratic settlement in North America. Although Brief Account does not mention Spinoza by name, it is in many ways reminiscent of his naturalist philosophy. This article explores how Spinozist ideas function in Van den Enden’s utopia, focusing on the notion of “sovereignty,” the full right and power of a governing body over itself. The first part of the article demonstrates how Van den Enden’s representation of Native American society functions as a model for his self-governing settlement. The representation in projecting Spinozist ideas of sovereignty on Native American society can be considered a radical—if covert—critique of European state power as well as a typical case of Eurocentrism. The second part aims to reconcile Van den Enden’s critique of European state power with the fact that his design for a settlement is implicated in the overseas extension of Dutch sovereignty. The article concludes that Brief Account conveys an ambivalent view of colonialism as both an extreme expression of and an opportunity for escape from European state power.
This article considers the work, reputation, and afterlife of Laurence Eusden, an English poet laureate (1718–1730) pilloried by Alexander Pope. Eusden chiefly wrote panegyric and occasion poems, which were prominent genres of eighteenth-century poetry but have fallen out of favor with modern readers. An examination of his reputation and afterlife reveals how and why his work was so quickly devalued and suggests that public relationships to state poetic propaganda were changing in the years after 1714. This article argues that Eusden’s success and his subsequent decline in reputation exemplify the conflicts between patronage and commercial print, high and low art, and politics and poetics in early eighteenth-century Britain.
Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra repeatedly stages scenes of historical knowledge-making, often foregrounded through two devices: historical mini-narratives and the use of messengers. These devices, over the course of the play, articulate three successive models of the exchange and circulation of historical knowledge. These models effectively explain how we make sense of historical information and, in Cleopatra’s eulogy of Antony, project a sophisticated understanding of historical subjectivity. Enobarbus’s Venus speech, as one model of historiography, emerges from the discourse of interpersonal credibility. His narration of past events is underscored by conditions that legitimize his claims of historical knowledge. Through the play’s imagining of counterfactual history, this essay considers how its representation of Emperor Antony as a “path not taken” in Roman history challenges teleological assumptions that underlie traditional historical narrative. The article shows how Cleopatra’s ironic deconstruction of the myths formed around the dead Antony affords her agency over the making of history. While mocking the pretensions of historical authority, her manipulation of messengers provides a fresh construction of temporality and narrativity. Finally, this essay turns to the ways in which Antony and Cleopatra’s mediations on historiography might inform and complicate a scholarly intervention in contemporary “alt-right” appropriations of early modern culture.
Although we have about seventy extant letters written by Catherine of Aragon—most of them in her hand—there has been virtually no treatment of this queen consort’s epistolary voice. This neglect may stem from a scholarly tendency to privilege women letter writers with a reputation for transgression or independence over those, like Catherine, with a reputation for modesty and deference. Such perspectives overlook how Catherine—like many early modern women letter writers—actively and assertively scripted her reputation for modesty and conjugal loyalty. This essay considers how Catherine, over a period of thirty-five years, learned to move from writing expressive and original, but largely ineffective, letters to using the nuanced dialogic possibilities within letter-writing conventions so as to shape constructive epistolary networks. Her ability to skillfully navigate such networks allowed her to enlist powerful male allies whose active interventions forced Henry VIII to delay the annulment of his marriage to Catherine by five years. And Catherine’s rhetorical self-presentation as Henry’s pious, loyal, deferential wife was so successful that it has dominated our cultural memory for the last five hundred years—despite active efforts by Henry and his allies to portray her as Henry’s foreign, treacherous, and illegitimate spouse.
Rethinking Feminism in Early Modern Studies: Gender, Race, and Sexuality ed. by Ania Loomba and Melissa E. Sanchez (review)
Willnide E. Lindor
Women on the Edge in Early Modern Europe ed. by Lisa Hopkins and Aidan Norrie (review)
Volume 20.2 Spring 2020
Poet in the Making: How Hester Pulter Read the Digital Age Leah Knight, Wendy Wall
"Revolution," writes seventeenth-century poet Hester Pulter, "Is the preserving of the universe / From dissolution."1 Pulter's words seem prescient since her poems, hidden away and unread for over 250 years, were brought to light only in 1996, when the University of Leeds Library undertook a digital cataloguing project of its manuscripts: a revolutionary transformation of their material form. Since that time, Pulter has been gradually gaining international attention at scholarly conferences, in publications, and in classrooms, a process greatly facilitated by Alice Eardley's 2014 print edition of her works. Composed in the tumultuous middle decades of the seventeenth century, these poems reveal that a woman who described herself as homebound on a rural estate in Hertfordshire was also a prolific writer passionately involved in the latest trends in science, politics, religion, and literature.
Hester Pulter's Dunghill Poetics
Frances E. Dolan
Hester Pulter frequently mentions dunghills, often using the word as an adjective to describe the earth. The dunghill might not appear to require much glossing, but its seventeenth-century meanings were more nuanced—literally, layered—than we might expect. While some of Pulter's contemporaries used "dunghill" to describe what we might call a dump—the final destination of garbage—they most often used the words "dunghill" and "muckheap" to describe repositories where organic matter of various kinds was gathered and transformed into compost to enrich soil. In the seventeenth century, this kind of dunghill—a matrix as well as a grave—was revalued and promoted as part of a larger reconsideration of waste as resource. The generative dunghill models Pulter's poetic process (recombining, ruminating, and revising) as well as the accretive and collaborative process that is the online edition called The Pulter Project. Seeing the dunghill as a creative process challenges divisions between elite poetry and agricultural labor, figural and literal, and even this life and the next. This essay's inquiry into the material history and figural resonances of the dunghill aspires not just to deepen our understanding of one of Pulter's keywords but also to interrogate the principles behind glossing and assembling "curations" for the online Pulter Project.
In Defense of Indulgence: Hester Pulter's Maternal Elegies
Elizabeth Zeman Kolkovich
Hester Pulter's elegies for her twenty-year-old daughter Jane (ca. 1645) represent a mother's grief as excessive and expansive. Attention to the materiality of Pulter's manuscript reveals the importance of one of her main motifs—the circle—to her processes of grief and poetic composition. Her Jane poems expose the limitations of cultural ideas about moderate mourning and embrace a gendered style of grieving and parenting that Pulter calls "indulgent," as they insist that maternal elegies can be both emotional and intellectual. Pulter's manuscript shows evidence of her own "indulgent" return to the subject of Jane's death and allows us to read one of her elegies in two stages of its composition. In "Upon the Death of My Dear and Lovely Daughter, J. P.," a nine-line addition transforms a poem about individual loss into a royalist lament. Pulter's Jane elegies are especially salient examples of the way her poems frequently echo and expand upon one another as they play with literary allusion and demonstrate the centrality of recycling and revisiting to her authorial process.
This article argues that Hester Pulter's physics—her philosophy of matter and the cosmos—is inextricable from her poetics. The essay offers an overview of Pulter's varying, sometimes conflicting assumptions about the most fundamental particles of nature, from "atoms" to "dust" to "causes"—while also showing that her physics appears not only in the content of her poems, but in how they are written. Reading Pulter requires an attentiveness to the physics discussed in her poems as well as a mode of connective reading that this physics both generates and requires. The first part of the essay explores Pulter's philosophy of substance via an intertextual analysis of her devotional lyric "Dear God, from thy high throne look down"; the second part analyzes the contrasting forces of involution and dissolution as physical concepts throughout her poetic corpus. Involution in particular is a key concept in her physics, and while she characterizes the dissolution of her body and of the universe as a potentially liberating dispersal of matter, involution allows her to conceptualize a joyful self-obliteration. Through involution, Pulter simultaneously theorizes the makeup of the cosmos and her own poetic practice.
Hester Pulter's poetry engages deeply in the mode of complaint, the amplified, open-ended expression of woe that marks the Ovidian-inflected poetry of Spenser, Drayton, Shakespeare, and others. Pulter's Civil War political lyrics are taking a central place in critical literature on women writers of female-voiced complaint, but her poetry draws attention to another lacuna in discussions of the mode: the exploration of religious versions of early modern complaint. This article reads Pulter's devotional lyrics in relation to their poetic models and precedents, especially the Sidney Psalms and the devotional lyrics of George Herbert. It seeks simultaneously to explore Pulter's devotional lyrics as complaints, and to trace the affective function of complaint in the mid-seventeenth century devotional lyric, in which complaint so often gives way—or is actively turned—to praise. Pulter's devotional complaints, it argues, correlate closely to those of George Herbert, whose influences are verbal, formal, and affective. Extending Herbert's sense of "Complaining" in his lyric of that name, and his imagery of winged ascent and heavenly song, Pulter's devotional lyrics move repeatedly through an affective fall and flight, and from the virtuosic amplification of woe to the anticipation of "heavenly lays" without end.
Hester Pulter's Well-Wrought Urns: Early Modern Women, Sonnets, and New Criticism
Accounts of Hester Pulter's life often open with John Milton's poem to her sister, Margaret Ley. Yet the form in which he wrote—a sonnet—was not one Pulter chose to write in, and indeed relatively few seventeenth-century women did so. In her essay "Where had all the flowers gone?: The Missing Space of Female Sonneteers in Seventeenth-Century England," Diana Henderson suggests that we read as sonnets many poems by women that have some sonnet qualities. Pulter's short poems, including "The Circle ," "Immense Fount of Truth," and "The Hope," draw the reader into a dizzying landscape of circles, revolutions, centers, stairs, and urns. These material forms represent Pulter's deep and rebarbative interaction with the sonnet tradition. Reading Pulter's poems in this way challenges versions of literary history that suggest women did not write sonnets for a century after Mary Wroth. This essay will suggest that seeing Pulter's poems as critical sonnets also allows us to place her work in dialogue with the New Critics. While Cleanth Brooks, of course, never read Hester Pulter, her metaphors of form provide a proleptic criticism of the New Critics' own use of formal metaphors to write literary history.
Hester Pulter's poetic manuscript opens with a remarkable metaphysical poem, "The Eclipse," that depicts both a lunar and a solar eclipse. This essay argues that this poem provides the foundation of Pulter's "eclipse poetics," a cosmopoetic discourse focused on time rather than space. The eclipse is an event that encourages reflection on temporal concepts, including duration, repetition, and sequence, because of how it conjoins temporal continuity and discontinuity. An eclipse is simply the result of the alignment of the earth and moon in a particular configuration, but it is experienced as a moment of rare sublimity. Pulter uses this temporal duality to explore tensions between the mundane, the everyday rhythms of life and death, and the sublime, the potential transcendence of temporality itself. The essay explores Pulter's eclipse poetics in "The Eclipse" and other astronomical poems by examining "Black Monday," a predicted total solar eclipse that may have provided a model for Pulter's poem. The final section of the essay proposes that Pulter's eclipse poetics expands the possibilities for thinking about the intersection of science and poetry by providing a model for understanding women's reception of scientific discovery and by expanding what it means to think literature and science together.
In several poems, seventeenth-century writer Hester Pulter depicts freedom as only possible after death; but in Poem 38, she claims her "fancies" allow her spirit to leave her gendered body until, she writes, "Methinks I play at football with the stars" (ll. 8–12). Depicting the Earth as a sphere, a ball, and even a football is not uncommon for writers of the day, but Pulter's image makes us rethink the significance of what we might call the astronomy poem and its possible relationship with proto-feminist protest poetry. Is her speaker kicking the football that is the Earth alongside the personified stars or planets? For Pulter's speaker to join those celestial women suggests a shaking off of her suffering, maternal body, but also reconfigures her body in space, on a cosmic scale. This article argues that female poets like Pulter, Anne Southwell, and Margaret Cavendish use metaphysical conceits in astronomy poems to give their female speakers temporary power over their environment. Pulter, however, fuses this fantasized control to a violent sport that women were not depicted as playing during this period, offering a proto-feminist statement about her immobility on Earth.
Winter 2020, Vol. 20.1
The Apocalyptic Spanish Race
José Juan Villagrana
This essay shows how a late sixteenth-century English polemic racialized Spaniards not only in terms of their perceived tincture of Moorish and Jewish blood but also in terms of their partly European Gothic otherness. Medieval and early modern Spanish chronicles created a positive pedigree from the figures of Tubal and Magog from the Noachic Table of Nations in Genesis. For Spaniards, these figures represented a pure, original Spanish or Gothic ancestry variously used to underwrite the reconquista of the Iberian Peninsula, assert blood purity against anxieties of Jewish and Moorish miscegenation, and justify Spain's claim to colonial dominance in the sixteenth century. For its part, this English polemic fastened Spain's pedigree to a sinister version of Magog described in Ezekiel and Revelation to explain Spanish cruelty and to qualify English claims to Spanish possessions. This essay uncovers the broader racial contours of the Black Legend through an approach centered on critical race studies and intellectual history.
Early modern medical discourse regarding gender and reproduction defined women as naturally inferior to men. Those who accepted Aristotle's theorization of male and female differentiation regarded the female body as an imperfect or monstrous copy of its male counterpart. This essay examines two novellas from María de Zayas's Desengaños amorosos (1647), in which Zayas confronts such patriarchal ideologies. Zayas's work has commonly been understood to challenge patriarchal norms that reinforced male dominance. This essay, however, offers a new interpretation of Zayas's resistance to misogyny by exploring her fifth and ninth desengaños through the critical discourse of disability studies. It argues that the literal blindness of Zayas's female protagonists in these stories combines with the metaphorical blindness of the men who determine women's roles within society in order to dismantle the logic upon which the social constraints placed on women were based. In these novellas, Zayas redefines the category of "monstrous" women as she rejects the idea of natural female impairment.
English domestic recipe manuscripts make clear that early modern households required a great deal of water, and these texts offer surprising glimpses into the significance placed on the sources of that water. Recipe manuscripts allow us not only to see how households used water, but also how—and why—compilers envisioned it as a key ingredient. The qualities of different waters mattered, and references to specific types of water help us determine not just where a recipe originates, but the varying environments a compiler inhabited at different points in her life. These manuscripts underscore the changes that movement from one household to another brought for early modern women, as well as the influence that natural and commercial spaces surrounding a compiler's home exercised over the medical recipes in her collection. This sensitivity to physical mobility is felt in recipe compilations even as they reflect traces of the Hippocratic notion that an individual's place of birth determines where he or she can experience optimal health. Using the College of Physicians of Philadelphia manuscript 10a214 as a case study, this essay shows how water in recipe manuscripts reveals the function of both physical location and social network in early modern domestic practice.
This essay focuses on the interactions between Dido and Cupid in Christopher Marlowe's Dido, Queen of Carthage. Unlike Marlowe's source material, Marlowe's play focuses on the way Dido pretends to be the mother of Cupid, constructing herself as a kind of surrogate mother. These interactions reflect the fraught status of surrogate children, who were at increased risk of exploitation even as they were viewed as a potential threat to their adoptive parents. The performance conditions of the play exacerbate this unease as Dido was performed by a group of child actors who were viewed as surrogate children to the theater manager. Like a surrogate child, the boy player was both a commodity to be exploited and a threat because he occupied a liminal space between boyhood and adulthood. Drawing on broader cultural unease concerning surrogate parent-child relationships, Marlowe uses Cupid's status as surrogate son who is both a sexual plaything and a sinister threat to highlight anxieties about the agency of boy players on the cusp of manhood. The discrepancy between Cupid's boyish appearance and his crafty manipulation of Dido reminds the audience that the actor playing Cupid will also one day possess the full sexual and political agency of an adult.
Fall 2019, Vol. 19.4
Introduction: Early Modern Trans Studies
Simone Chess, Colby Gordon, Will Fisher
When it comes to trans politics, one pervasive assumption can be found broadly diffused through such disparate media as pop culture and evangelical sermonizing. This assumption is present in reactionary conservatism as much as left-wing scholarship: that trans people are a recent phenomenon, the product of cutting-edge medical technology and manifesting a psychological complexity that would have been inconceivable before the advent of modernity. The essays collected here take aim at the misguided supposition that transition was unthinkable until the development of hormone therapies and surgical interventions that, in some quarters, define trans experience.
Toward a Trans Philology
This essay charts the circuitous trajectory of the words "transfeminate" and "transexion" as they travel from their textual origin, Thomas Browne's Pseudodoxia Epidemica (1646), through various lexicons, both early modern and modern. Thomas Blount's Glossographia (1656) defines "transfeminate" as "to turn from woman to man, or from one sex to another," a definition that subsequent lexicographers repeat until 1883, when Charles Annandale's revision of John Ogilvie's The Imperial Dictionary of the English Language inverts Blount's definition and defines the word as "to change from a male to a female." The essay argues that the inversion of the definition of "transfeminate" is symptomatic of an epistemological shift in the sex/gender system in the late nineteenth century, one that rendered the notion of trans-femininity possible. Juxtaposing this lexical shift with the contemporaneous sexological work of Havelock Ellis, the general editor of the original Mermaid Series of non-Shakespearean early modern English drama, the essay argues that recent "new" and "queer" philologies are key tools for understanding the history of transgender. The essay thus offers some conceptual and methodological propositions for a movement toward a specifically trans philological practice—one that can, in particular, confront the intertwining of the philological history of "trans" with both early modern and modern genres of racism.
Transgender Capacity in Thomas Dekker and Thomas Middleton's The Roaring Girl (1611)
The essay proposes nine philologically driven strategies for enlivening the transgender capacities circulating in The Roaring Girl. It proposes a trans-hermeneutic for reading the soma-semantics of gender and for seeing the ways in which, at the semantic level, the play refuses to produce classificatory clarifications regarding gender. Methodologically, the essay practices critically kaleidoscopic engagements with the play's gender-expansive figurations, directing attention to the processual and temporally on-going nature of gender non-conformity. Animating the transgender capacities of The Roaring Girl entails both thinking with the period's own logics of gender non-conformity and reexamining the utility and limitations of past scholarly evocations of hermaphroditism as an epistemological framework for characterizing the titular character. The article concludes with a re-reading of the triangulated kissing scene, arguing that it directs attention to as-yet open questions regarding trans-erotics on the early modern stage, and that silent editorial interventions have risked blunting transgender capacity on the printed page.
This article argues that Milton's Paradise Lost (1667) and Lucy Hutchinson's Order and Disorder (1660–4, publ. 1679) share an interest in the "common ground" out of which human beings are made, an indifference to any ontologically meaningful status for human sexual difference, and creative investments in the transubstantial, rather than fixed or bounded, capacities of human bodies. While critics have addressed the relationship between the mobile and intra-active materialism of Milton's created universe and his radical sense of angelic and human gender and sexuality ("for among unequals what society/Can sort"), comparatively little attention has been paid to Hutchinson's similarly vitalist and anti-dualist vision of creation, let alone her equal indifference, if not outright resistance, to any claim for the primacy or relevance of sexual difference as a defining or ontologically meaningful aspect of the human story. Yet Order and Disorder continually draws attention to the ways in which human bodies are part of a transubstantial and transhistorical materiality, and to the ways in which sexual difference is written as a form of tyrannical control. A trans* reading of these two poems invites us to consider them not as his and hers versions of the creation story, nor as etiological stories of sexual difference and hierarchy, but rather as similar projects of Christian materialist philosophy, each of which envisions the softened boundaries of embodied selves.
Transdevotion: Race, Gender, and Christian Universalism
Melissa E. Sanchez
This essay examines biblical and early modern discourses of Christian universalism promising the incorporation of racialized and gender-nonconforming believers. One such figure is the eunuch. In biblical and premodern thought, eunuchs would have brought together gender nonconformity and racialized difference as figures in Western Christian writing for the miraculous potential of divine grace. The article emphatically takes the eunuch not as an ancestor of the modern nonbinary or transgender person, but rather as a historically and geographically specific instance of the violent erasure that occurs when racialized and gender-nonconforming persons are treated as figures of the particularity that Christian universalism (or neoliberal inclusivity) transcends. The valorization of the fair male body is especially pronounced in early modern devotional lyrics, which draw upon biblical depictions of transdevotion—the ecstatic transcendence of the black and gender-nonconforming body to achieve a white and masculine soul—to conceptualize the experiences of faith, penitence, and salvation. This kind of poetry reveals the imbrications of racial and gender nonconformity that provide the parameters of universalist discourses past and present.
Early Modern Eunuchs and the Transing of Gender and Race
This article explores various early modern figurations of the eunuch as a part of trans history as they featured prominently in the Ottoman court and on the English stage. It specifically focuses on the figure of the black eunuch within the gender and racial economy of the Mediterranean world in which not all eunuchs were marked as the same. The Ottomans maintained and promoted the visibility of eunuchs, and contributed to the proliferation of the eunuch imagery in early modern Europe. The Ottomans also separated eunuchs racially as black and white. In parallel to this separation emerged an essentializing anti-black racism in the Ottoman elite's writing that relegated black Africans to the bottom of an established racial hierarchy while marking whiteness as the ideal. These figures further circulated within a racialized hierarchy throughout Europe via chronicles, travelogues, and stories, and eventually appeared on the English stage as well-known oriental theatrical figures. This essay shows that eunuchs of the past not only denaturalize dichotomous gender models and upset phallocentric gender signification, they also illustrate how gender and race are mutually constitutive in the making of normative bodies on a global scale.
The pervasive figure of the Amazon cannibal woman in early modern travel writing is depicted as animalistic, hyper-sexualized, and predominately a racialized "other." Using early modern travel literature like Sir Walter Raleigh's The Discoverie of Guiana and the illustrations of Theodor De Bry, this essay argues that the Amazonian cannibal woman is a transmasculine figure, serving as a platform for white European thinkers to reshape their ideologies around race and gender. Through trans and critical race theory, this essay reimagines early modern representations of indigenous women as part of the work of recovering transhistoricity. By taking up intersectional feminist calls to attend to gender as an inherently racialized project, this essay considers travel writings and visual materials as a space in which white European ideals of gender and sexuality can be constructed through the vilification of (and desire for) people of color's bodies and behaviors.
This essay places into conversation early modern trans studies and critical plant studies. It theorizes a transplant poetics that accompanies and expands upon the tranimal in trans studies. It identifies as vegetable blazons early modern poems that employ plant figures to depict the human form. It further explores those traditions in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream and in the portraits of Giuseppe Arcimboldo. Both examples of transplant poetics cross human flesh with vegetable figure; they unsettle typical coordinates of gender presentation; and they put a halt to the cyclicality of the seasons by arranging the produce of all four seasons simultaneously. Transplant poetics thus expresses these faces of trans embodiment as still life.
Early Modern Tranimals: 57312*
This essay analyzes 57312*, a seventeenth-century manuscript that is part of the British Library's additional manuscript collection, as evidence of trans experience in the past. Its design includes a series of images of humans and animals that change and transform through manipulation of the flaps of its parchment. In this way, 57312* is part of what Jacqueline Reid-Walsh identifies as the history of playable media; its content, however, deviates from these traditions in unique and surprising ways. Combining Protestant ephemera with images drawn from bestiaries, 57312* does not reflect the norms and traditions invoked in these source materials. Its movable images provide evidence of what Eva Hawyard and Jami Weinstein identify as tranimality. Tranimality signals postmodern and posthuman states of being that resist historically defined categories of difference; tranimals are posthuman, but because their affective work, their representational significance, and their social agency stem from the very frameworks of harm that they resist, they are often intertwined and attached with trans experience. The pliability and design of 57312* operates in this way and thus participates in an expansive history of gender.
This article offers a new interpretation of John Webster's tragedy The Duchess of Malfi (ca. 1613). It treats The Duchess of Malfi's stable of creatures, which includes grave-robbing werewolves, hermaphroditic hyenas, and vermiculated corpses, as an early experiment in trans-animality that emerges in the text's fixation on prodigies. According to religio-medical tracts of the Renaissance, prodigies were portentous signs of divine anger that included sweating statues, speaking animals, human-animal hybrids, and monstrous births, particularly hermaphrodites. As rigid distinctions between gender roles become unmoored, the category of the human also frays, a process culminating in Ferdinand's descent into hysterical lycanthropy. With an eye to the creaturely transformations threaded through the text, this article considers how the play's hermaphroditic imagination erodes the boundaries between human and nonhuman forms of life to explore what Mel Chen calls "the transness of animals."
This article argues that Helkiah Crooke's 1615 Mikrokosmographia provides early modern trans theory, and trans theory more broadly, with a unique way of understanding the sexed nature of material bodies. While much of trans theory has returned to the material body in order to interrogate its relationship to a constructed or felt sense of self, these theories tend to see the material as subordinate to more malleable immaterial forces. They view the materials of the body as containing possibilities for a new politics, but only possibilities that emerge when bare material is used in relation to gender expression or self-conception.
Crooke, on the other hand, takes bodily materiality as his primary focus and, by not centering agency, provides a more radical theorization of bodily materiality for trans studies. Ultimately, this article sees Crooke's discussions of sexual distinction, which look to the unruliness of materiality itself, as allowing trans studies to move into a place where "trans" itself becomes indistinguishable from "cis," where male and female are revealed not to be performed identities buttressed by embodiment but instead positions untethered from any distinct political or embodied position.
Queerness, especially in performance, can be covert, unwritten, ephemeral. And yet it is legible to certain audiences and readers, some of the time. Drawing on the concepts of the ephemera and residue of queer and camp performance articulated by Jos. Mu.oz, this essay argues that certain boy actors who performed important female roles on the early modern stage later carried a "queer residue" with them into their adult careers, often performing trans feminine, androgynous, or otherwise queer "men's" roles that carried their gendered performance history into new plays. Young boy actors have long been at the center of discussions about male-male attraction and androgyny, but evidence from adult casting shows that some boy actors in early modern England were especially nonbinary, and that they did not always grow out of these trans genders. Using the careers of Richard Sharpe, Richard Robinson, and Edward Kynaston as case studies, this essay finds evidence that their on-and off-stage personas informed the queer performances they staged throughout their careers. More than just claiming any particular individuals as trans ancestors, these case studies offer a method for reading theater history with a deeper recognition of the lingering ephemeral residue of queer personas, performances, and pleasures that inform that history.
Shakespeare's plays have long been viewed as a space where the boundaries of binary gendered sex, sexuality, and desire become murky. However, the contemporary social justice call for trans/gender-inclusivity has been ambivalently integrated into standing conventions of the Shakespeare theater. This essay close reads reviews and advertising materials to argue that contemporary Shakespeare performance is space in which a public makes meaning of gender nonconformism; as such, it is vital for performance institutions to become self-aware of their role in potential education or misrecognition. Recent productions at the African-American Shakespeare Company, the Pittsburgh Public Theater, and the California Shakespeare Theater offer examples of complex and holistic strategies for engaging transgender themes through staging, casting, and outreach programming.
"Perhaps John Lyly was a trans woman?": An Interview about performing Galatea's Queer, Transgender Stories
Emma Frankland, Andy Kesson
This is a discussion between the UK theater maker Emma Frankland and early modern scholar Andy Kesson of their upcoming production of John Lyly's Galatea, which they have been exploring with a cast of queer, transgender, Deaf, and racially diverse performers from a range of performance backgrounds often excluded from classical theater. This dialogue takes the form of a reflective two-way interview as they move toward a full production of the play, and encompasses their focus on inclusivity, the play's queer potential, and the importance of getting practitioners and scholars into creative dialogue in which both sides are equal parts of the conversation. As such, this feature in the special issue is not a traditional scholarly article, but an attempt to represent in print a live conversation about a work-in-progress production.
Passing to América: Antonio (Née María) Yta's Transgressive, Transatlantic Life in the Twilight of the Spanish Empire by Thomas A. Abercrombie (review)
Summer 2019, Vol. 19.3
Knowing Mary Wroth's Pamphilia
This essay uses Mary Wroth's poetic representation of the female body to explore the material intersections of early modern literature and science. Reading Wroth's poetry (Folger manuscript V.a.104) alongside representational practices employed by Renaissance anatomists, this essay argues that Wroth uses the materiality of her poetic pages to critique and respond to violent treatment of the female body in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century English lyric conventions. Wroth's poetry is centrally concerned with how to represent, and thereby know, the female body on the poetic page. Consequently, readings of Wroth's manuscript need to account for how poetry and page work together to facilitate the reader's knowledge of Pamphilia. By drawing on early anatomical methods for translating fleshly body to flat page, this essay shows how Wroth's innovative use of the poetic page results in a new kind of encounter among writing, reading, and textual bodies. More broadly, this essay raises questions about how the material practices of Renaissance anatomical culture transformed relations between body and page.
This essay notes a discrepancy between the literary form of Thomas More's Utopia (1516), characterized by sophisticated, ironic play, and the quite restrictive rubrics of mandatory labor that govern life in the book's utopian polity. The discrepancy suggests two things: one, that in the nascent decades of the historic transition to a capitalistic economy in England, it has become possible to conceive of play as a form of productivity; and two, that More has a class investment in demonstrating his own value to the post-feudal economy by defending his authorial play as productive or useful labor. In spite of its communistic rejection of private property and searing critique of enclosure, Utopia is invested in the ambiguities of what it means to play or labor so that it can better construct the idealized, hyperproductive bodies of colonialist expansion, consonant with the New World environment that is the site of the text's political fantasy. What this affirms is that the colonialist imaginary cannot be disentangled from capitalist accumulation, owing in large part to emerging affective discourses around the body as a site of ever-present contestation between industry and idleness
This essay explores real and imagined upward mobility in Spanish Naples through a comparison of the Kingdom of Naples's archival record and Lope de Vega's El perro del hortelano (The Dog in the Manger), which was composed from 1613–1617. It contends that the study of the Siglo de Oro has casually marginalized Naples, the largest city of the Spanish Empire, treating it as an exotic background and emblematic site for commedia palatina—the theater of love in no place. The rapidly growing viceregal capital, in fact, provided an ideal setting for a play about social alchemy. Re-centering Naples sheds new light on long-forgotten ties, illuminating an imagined geography that runs counter to modern notions of political boundaries.
Blanching the Corporate Blush: Corporate Language in the Seventeenth-Century Public Sphere
Liam D. Haydon, William A. Pettigrew
This article examines English publications relating to the international trading corporations active during the seventeenth century. It includes those directly authored by the corporations, alongside those supporting or attacking them. It considers the way in which these corporations engaged in the public sphere: How did companies speak? Why did they speak? What personas did they establish? And how did companies, and their opponents, conceive of the public sphere in which they were engaged? Combining quantitative data analysis with qualitative reading of the 177 corporate pamphlets written during the seventeenth century affords insight into the benefits and disadvantages of corporate public speech, and deepens our understanding of the development of the public sphere. Corporate writing enabled companies to construct a separate public personality. Such a personality—coupled with the anonymity inherent in their legal form—allowed corporations and their supporters to utilize the mechanisms of public opinion for private pleading.
Abraham Ortelius's Pulmonary Cordiform Map
Maps have often served as tools of political propaganda, particularly in the reign of Francis I (1515–1547). Cartography, as a highly flexible mode of representation, could encode any number of spiritual or political messages. Abraham Ortelius exploited this possibility by giving his world map of 1564 the distinct shape of a lung, which evoked both a 1541 map by Gemma Frisius and, indirectly, the philosophy of the heretical anatomist and cartographer Michael Servetus. This article describes the context in which Ortelius lived and worked: in Antwerp during the turbulent reign of Philip II of Spain, where he witnessed the Catholic king's repressive policies in the Low Countries. This article draws on the scholarship that connects the cartographer to the Family of Love in order to argue that Ortelius's spiritual beliefs were expressed through his world maps. Rather than attempting a definitive investigation of Ortelius's theology, this essay shows how Ortelius's work as a cartographer participated in the religious and political discourses of post-Reformation Europe.
This article examines in comparative terms the transformation in the thinking of early modern Englishmen toward the Irish, Amerindians, and Africans between roughly 1560 and 1680. During the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, English rulers and officials decided to exert more authority over regions within their own kingdom and also became participants in the quest to expand and acquire colonies in Ireland and the New World. These ventures were intended to provide more security and wealth for the English state but sometimes required actions that exceeded conventional legal and moral boundaries—including seizing land and possessions in Ireland and North America on the basis of conquest and necessity rather than law, slaughtering many in Ireland and North America who resisted, and enslaving Africans.
The Johannine Renaissance in Early Modern Literature and Theology by Paul Cefalu (review)
James A. Knapp
Courage and Grief: Women and Sweden's Thirty Years' War by Mary Elizabeth Ailes (review)