Current Issue Article Abstracts
Winter 2018, Vol. 18.1
The notion of an archetypal struggle between "the young" and "the old" has dominated the critical discussion of Lear's age in Shakespeare's tragedy. This essay argues instead that such trans-historical binary constructions have obscured how King Lear presents Lear's age as a contested space subject to specific, conflicting cultural definitions. Disparate representations of the life cycle, evident in early modern taxonomies of age, give Goneril and Regan the tools to recast Lear as a man in his second childhood or dotage, and thus to deny him the still powerful role he seeks to adopt as a figure in his "green old age." This framing of Lear and other older men in the play shows how an old man's physical decay might become a political fact before it was a biological one. The essay claims that King Lear—along with a handful of other plays by Shakespeare from the late 1590s to the early 1600s—reveals how vulnerable patriarchal authority could be in early modern England when older men were defined and classified in ways that disempowered them.
The Jacobean portrait of Cleopatra provides an opportunity to explore more fully the concept of female devisership. Previous identifications of the sitter as Elizabeth Throckmorton and Anne Clifford are problematic. This article explores Clifford's engagement with the figures of Cleopatra and Octavia, and the way in which these served as tropes in print and letters to refer to the troubled marriage of her parents. This essay then argues for an identification of the sitter as Venetia Stanley, Lady Digby, drawing upon the work of a number of writers and artists who used the figure of Cleopatra to represent and explore Stanley's character and reputation. Stanley has most famously been portrayed by Van Dyck, by Ben Jonson, and by her husband Kenelm Digby, along with more spurious commentary by John Aubrey. The Cleopatra portrait, interpreted through the concept of female devisership, allows for the possibility that Stanley provided her own response to the many representations of her that were circulating in seventeenth-century English culture.
Scholars have long debated the influence of Milton's monism on Paradise Lost, but they have rarely discussed its impact on the text's gender politics or its implications for our understanding of how Milton portrays companionate marriage. Addressing this oversight, this essay argues that Milton's monism leads him to advocate for "monist marriage"—a marriage wherein couples unite both body and soul for "mutual help" towards spiritual advancement. This essay demonstrates how Milton presents marriage as an ongoing process by repeatedly depicting Adam and Eve moving hand-in-hand through Eden. Furthermore, given Milton's monist belief that body and soul are merely two terms for the same substance, it is possible to read Adam and Eve's unity as "one soul" in marriage as monist and, potentially, egalitarian. Yet Milton's incorporation of Saint Augustine's gendered concept of the soul within his monism sanctions the poet's misogyny by enabling a reading of Eve as necessarily subordinate to Adam. The final image of Adam and Eve exiting paradise hand-in-hand, however, encourages Milton's readers to envision a future for marriage predicated on true gender equality. The U.S. Supreme Court's recent use of companionate language to argue for same-sex marriage further demonstrates how companionate marriage ideals continue to disrupt marriage norms.
This essay shows that in Spanish and French iterations of the early modern force of blood plot, the violence of rape is diffused within the bounds of interior spaces, where memory is constructed and then set aside. In his 1613 novella, La fuerza de la sangre, Cervantes builds the verisimilar story of rape on the framework of artificial memory, a structure superseded by the eventual delights of the marriage bed, shared by erstwhile rapist and victim alike. Such repetition of pleasure produces offspring who joyfully retell their parents' reframed story. Ultimately, the truth of that story is located in room and womb, both places of violence transmuted to sites of pleasure. In his dramatic adaptation of the novella, Alexandre Hardy stages a reenactment of the effects of rape, a source of traumatic memory for both victim and perpetrator. In the French tragicomedy, the Spanish heroine's "stolen jewel" of virginity is transformed into the material wages of the ravisher's sin. He clears his debt to the rape victim through a process of atonement and reimbursement that leads swiftly to negation of the past and obliteration of his crime. The act of forgetting privileges the future, giving free rein to Cupid and his ludic games of love, designated by the blindfold and mask that are also the sartorial accessories to abduction.
During the seventeenth century, Europeans intensified their study of skin and skin color. For these early modern researchers, skin "color" meant dark skin, and its blackness demanded explanation in a way that whiteness never did. Europeans sought to locate, conceptually and physically, the blackness upon which new legal categories and sources of profit depended. This new "anatomy of blackness" led physicians and scholars to examine human skin through the microscope. Building on the work of Robert Boyle and Marcello Malpighi, the Dutch-German anatomist Johann Nicolas Pechlin (1646–1706) carefully observed and clearly located the physical cause of dark skin in the rete mucosum, a mesh of pigmented vessels that lay between the epidermis and the dermis. Pechlin transformed the learned consensus on the physical site of skin color, but he also showed that this pigmented layer was entirely superficial. During the 1690s Pechlin's work was referenced by members of England's Royal Society when they discussed questions of climate, race, and skin color. This empirical approach (practiced by Pechlin and championed by the Royal Society) developed under constant pressure to fix dark skin firmly in African bodies and tie it to deeper or more innate characteristics. Thus, in the Atlantic world, blackness could never be understood as a superficial phenomenon, despite the evidence revealed by the scalpel and the microscope.
William Byrd II grew up on his father's slave plantation in Virginia, secured his place in the Royal Society through publishing an "Account of a Negro-Boy" in the Philosophical Transactions in 1697, and inherited the plantations in 1704. The "Account" and his later diaries provide evidence that natural philosophy was one means by which Byrd established his authority as a colonist. The earlier "Account" displays Byrd's unstable but determined efforts to distinguish between white and black, even though his analysis seems to call this distinction into question. Byrd apparently supports the climate theory when he describes the nameless young man's "White Spots" as "equal to the Skin of the fairest Lady," and when he predicts that "he may in time become all over white." His comparison to the "fairest Lady" also differentiates the young man from Byrd, a distinction Byrd affirms through his subsequent satire targeting the vanity of this stock upper-class figure. His later diary presents the science of skin color as a cultural ritual that reinforced the power of the slave owner. This article reveals, in the case of Byrd's "Account," a striking example of how the gathering of knowledge by European scientists in the colonies was also an effort to establish their right to rule over subjugated people.
Public displays, visual likenesses, and textual accounts of Black people with whitening skin brought the peripheral peoples who inhabited Atlantic World empires within the reach of White metropolitan audiences in the eighteenth century. John Bobey, the "Wonderful Spotted Indian" born to slaves in Kingston, Jamaica, made the rounds at London's Bartholomew Fair, while the infant George Alexander Gratton left his native St. Vincent for England, where he appeared in sideshows and at private residences. Portraits of Maria Sabina, a young girl with dappled skin who hailed from Cartagena, circulated around the Atlantic World. Meanwhile, a wealthy Boston merchant presented a wax likeness of Magdeleine of Martinique, another young girl with a similar condition, to Harvard's Medical School. Their visual and textual depictions both captivated and instructed White metropolitan audiences on matters related to racial difference. This article examines how the display and depiction of these Caribbean persons underscored their racial designation as Black. Examinations of their bodies by physicians and lay accounts that accompanied their display reveal that their bodies were used to amplify the differences between Black and White. Moreover, the back-stories embedded in the accounts describing these individuals emphasized their provenance from places were slavery dominated. Rather than being racially liminal, these individuals were staged, read, and categorized as fully Black.
pp. 221 - 223