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The Oxford Handbook of Shakespearean Comedy (Oxford Handbooks)
 9780198727682, 0198727682

Table of contents :
Half title
The Oxford Handbook of Shakespearean Comedy
List of Figures
List of Contributors
Introduction: Encountering Shakespearean Comedy
Part I Settings, Sources, Influences
1. Encountering the Elizabethan Stage
2. Encountering the Past I: Shakespeare’s Reception of Classical Comedy
3. Encountering the Past II: Shakespearean Comedy, Chaucer, and Medievalism
4. Encountering the Present I: Shakespeare’s Early Urban Comedies and the Lure of True Crime and Satire
5. Encountering the Present II: Shakespearean Comedy and Elizabethan Drama
Part II Themes and Conventions
6. Shakespearean Comedy and Early Modern Religious Culture
7. Shakespearean Comedy and the Early Modern Marketplace: Sympathetic Economies
8. Shakespearean Comedy and the Early Modern Domestic Sphere
9. Place and Being in Shakespearean Comedy
10. Shakespearean Comedy and the Question of Race
11. Farce and Force: Shakespearean Comedy, Militarism, and Violence
12. Water Memory and the Art of Preserving: Shakespearean Comedy and Early Modern Cultures of Remembrance
13. The Humours in Humour: Shakespeare and Early Modern Psychology
14. Shakespearean Comedy and the Senses
15. Green Comedy: Shakespeare and Ecology
16. The Laws of Comedy: Shakespeare and Early Modern Legal Culture
17. Comedy and Eros: Sexualities on Shakespeare’s Stage
18. Queer Comedy
19. The Music of Shakespearean Comedy
20. Gender and Genre: Shakespeare’s Comic Women
21. The Architecture of Shakespearean Comedy: Domesticity, Performance, and the Empty Room
22. Poor Things, Vile Things: Shakespeare’s Comedy of Kinds
Part III Conditions and Performance
23. Stage Props and Shakespeare’s Comedies: Keeping Safe Nerissa’s Ring
24. Shakespearean Comedy and the Discourses of Print
25. Imagining Shakespeare’s Audience
26. Comedy on the Boards: Shakespeare’s Use of Playhouse Space
27. Adapting Shakespeare’s Comedies
28. Brexit Dreams: Comedy, Nostalgia, and Critique in Much Ado About Nothing and A Midsummer Night’s Dream
29. Shakespearean Comedy on Screen
Part IV Plays
30. Holy Adultery: Marriage in The Comedy of Errors, The Merchant of Venice, and The Merry Wives of Windsor
31. Comedies of Tough Love: Two Gentlemen of Verona, Love’s Labour’s Lost, The Taming of the Shrew, and Much Ado About Nothing
32. Comedies of the Green World: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, As You Like It, and Twelfth Night
33. Problem Comedies: Troilus and Cressida, Measure for Measure, and All’s Well That Ends Well

Citation preview

T h e Ox f o r d H a n d b o o k o f


The Oxford Handbook of




3 Great Clarendon Street, Oxford, ox2 6dp, United Kingdom Oxford University Press is a department of the University of Oxford. It furthers the University’s objective of excellence in research, scholarship, and education by publishing worldwide. Oxford is a registered trade mark of Oxford University Press in the UK and in certain other countries © The various contributors 2018 The moral rights of the authors‌have been asserted First Edition published in 2018 Impression: 1 All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of Oxford University Press, or as expressly permitted by law, by licence or under terms agreed with the appropriate reprographics rights organization. Enquiries concerning reproduction outside the scope of the above should be sent to the Rights Department, Oxford University Press, at the address above You must not circulate this work in any other form and you must impose this same condition on any acquirer Published in the United States of America by Oxford University Press 198 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10016, United States of America British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data Data available Library of Congress Control Number: 2018931183  ISBN 978–​0–​19–​872768–​2 Printed and bound by CPI Group (UK) Ltd, Croydon, CR0 4YY Links to third party websites are provided by Oxford in good faith and for information only. Oxford disclaims any responsibility for the materials contained in any third party website referenced in this work.


I am grateful to all the contributors who gave their time and energy to this enterprise. Many thanks are due to Arthur Kinney for inviting me to edit this volume and for supporting my efforts as it came to fruition. Many thanks are also due to the editors at Oxford University Press, particularly Jacqueline Baker and Aimee Wright, who offered guidance both practical and conceptual. This project has benefited from the generosity of the University of Tennessee College of Arts and Sciences, Office of Research, Humanities Center, and Department of English. English Department heads Stanton Garner, Jr, and Allen Dunn in particular offered great support over the time the volume took shape. I  owe special thanks to my research assistant, Emily Roberts, who proved an invaluable resource at critical moments in the process.


List of Figures  List of Contributors  Introduction: Encountering Shakespearean Comedy  Heather Hirschfeld

xi xiii 1

PA RT I   SE T T I N G S , S O U RC E S , I N F LU E N C E S  1. Encountering the Elizabethan Stage  James P. Bednarz


2. Encountering the Past I: Shakespeare’s Reception of Classical Comedy  Robert S. Miola


3. Encountering the Past II: Shakespearean Comedy, Chaucer, and Medievalism  Helen Cooper


4. Encountering the Present I: Shakespeare’s Early Urban Comedies and the Lure of True Crime and Satire  Kirk Melnikoff


5. Encountering the Present II: Shakespearean Comedy and Elizabethan Drama  Andy Kesson


PA RT I I   T H E M E S A N D C ON V E N T ION S 6. Shakespearean Comedy and Early Modern Religious Culture  Kenneth J. E. Graham


viii   Contents

7. Shakespearean Comedy and the Early Modern Marketplace: Sympathetic Economies  Amanda Bailey


8. Shakespearean Comedy and the Early Modern Domestic Sphere  Catherine Richardson


9. Place and Being in Shakespearean Comedy  Kent Cartwright


10. Shakespearean Comedy and the Question of Race  Geraldo U. de Sousa


11. Farce and Force: Shakespearean Comedy, Militarism, and Violence  Simon Barker


12. Water Memory and the Art of Preserving: Shakespearean Comedy and Early Modern Cultures of Remembrance  Julie Sanders


13. The Humours in Humour: Shakespeare and Early Modern Psychology  Matthew Steggle


14. Shakespearean Comedy and the Senses  Kevin Curran


15. Green Comedy: Shakespeare and Ecology  Steve Mentz


16. The Laws of Comedy: Shakespeare and Early Modern Legal Culture  263 Carolyn Sale 17. Comedy and Eros: Sexualities on Shakespeare’s Stage  Judith Haber


18. Queer Comedy  David L. Orvis


19. The Music of Shakespearean Comedy  Erin Minear


20. Gender and Genre: Shakespeare’s Comic Women  Michelle M. Dowd


Contents   ix

21. The Architecture of Shakespearean Comedy: Domesticity, Performance, and the Empty Room  Anne M. Myers


22. Poor Things, Vile Things: Shakespeare’s Comedy of Kinds  Laurie Shannon


PA RT I I I   C ON DI T ION S A N D P E R F OR M A N C E  23. Stage Props and Shakespeare’s Comedies: Keeping Safe Nerissa’s Ring  Lina Perkins Wilder


24. Shakespearean Comedy and the Discourses of Print  Frederick Kiefer


25. Imagining Shakespeare’s Audience  Jeremy Lopez


26. Comedy on the Boards: Shakespeare’s Use of Playhouse Space  Erika T. Lin


27. Adapting Shakespeare’s Comedies  Katherine Scheil


28. Brexit Dreams: Comedy, Nostalgia, and Critique in Much Ado About Nothing and A Midsummer Night’s Dream  Bridget Escolme 29. Shakespearean Comedy on Screen  Douglas M. Lanier

455 470

PA RT I V   P L AYS  30. Holy Adultery: Marriage in The Comedy of Errors, The Merchant of Venice, and The Merry Wives of Windsor  John Parker


31. Comedies of Tough Love: Two Gentlemen of Verona, Love’s Labour’s Lost, The Taming of the Shrew, and Much Ado About Nothing  Joanne Diaz


x   Contents

32. Comedies of the Green World: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, As You Like It, and Twelfth Night  Lisa Hopkins


33. Problem Comedies: Troilus and Cressida, Measure for Measure, and All’s Well That Ends Well  Oliver Arnold




List of Figures

I.1 First Folio, Catalogue, in Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies (London, 1623). By permission of The Folger Shakespeare Library.  3 4.1 Title page, A Notable Discovery of Coosenage (London, 1592). Courtesy of The Huntington Library, San Marino, California. 


4.2 Title page, A Quip for an Upstart Courtier (London, 1592). Courtesy of The Huntington Library, San Marino, California. 


8.1 Early modern urban houses in Faversham, Kent. Courtesy of Catherine Richardson.  144 9.1 Ptolemy’s world map. © The British Library Board. IC. 9304. 


9.2 Molyneux Globe. © National Trust Images/​Andrew Fetherston. 


11.1 Detail from The Arte of Warre, written first in Italia[n]‌by Nicholas Machiauel, sig. Ee1. Courtesy of The Huntington Library, San Marino, California.  201 27.1 Sally Dexter as Titania in Henry Purcell’s The Fairy-​Queen. © Glyndebourne Productions Ltd/​ArenaPAL. 


27.2 In a peapod boat, in Henry Purcell’s The Fairy-​Queen. © Glyndebourne Productions Ltd/​ArenaPAL. 


28.1 Wedding of Claudio and Hero from Love’s Labour’s Won (Much Ado About Nothing), 2014. © Royal Shakespeare Company. Ref. 19094. 


28.2 Hero, Claudio, Beatrice, and Benedick from Much Ado About Nothing, 1976. © Royal Shakespeare Company. Ref. 78168. 


32.1 Detail of an embroidery depicting Diana and Actaeon on a framed cushioned cover in the Drawing Room at Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire. © National Trust Images/​John Hammond. 


List of Contributors

Oliver Arnold is Associate Professor of English at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the author of The Third Citizen: Shakespeare’s Theater and the Early Modern House of Commons (2007) and the editor of Julius Caesar: A Longman Cultural Edition (2010). Amanda Bailey, Professor of English at the University of Maryland, is the author of Of Bondage:  Debt, Property, and Personhood in Early Modern England (2013); Affect Theory and Early Modern Texts:  Politics, Ecologies, and Form, co-​edited with Mario DiGangi (2017); Masculinity and the Metropolis of Vice, 1550–​1650, co-​edited with Roze Hentschell (Palgrave, 2010); and Flaunting: Style and the Subversive Male Body in Renaissance England (2007). Her essays have appeared in Criticism, Renaissance Drama, English Literary Renaissance, and Shakespeare Quarterly, as well as in numerous collections, including A New Companion to Renaissance Drama and The Oxford Handbook of Shakespeare and Embodiment: Gender, Sexuality, and Race. Her current book project, tentatively titled A Natural History of Politics:  Shakespeare, Sympathy, and the Stars, examines early modern conceptions of political affinity. Simon Barker is Professor of English Literature at the University of Chichester. His books include an edition of John Ford’s ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore in the Routledge English Texts series; Thomas Deloney’s The Gentle Craft for Ashgate Press; Shakespeare’s Problem Plays for Palgrave Macmillan; The Routledge Anthology of Renaissance Drama (edited with Hilary Hinds); War and Nation in the Theatre of Shakespeare and his Contemporaries for Edinburgh University Press; and Literature as History for Continuum. James P. Bednarz is Professor of English at Long Island University, specializing in Shakespeare and English Renaissance culture. His work focuses primarily on issues of historical intertextuality concerning Shakespeare and his contemporaries. His first book, Shakespeare and the Poets’ War (2001), was selected as an ‘International Book of the Year’ by The Times Literary Supplement. His second book, Shakespeare and the Truth of Love: The Mystery of ‘The Phoenix and Turtle’ (2012), which explores Shakespeare’s collaboration on the Poetical Essays in Love’s Martyr, received the Krasnoff Award for Scholarship. His articles on early modern literary relations have appeared in a wide range of publications which include ELH, Shakespeare Studies, Shakespeare Survey, Renaissance Drama, Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England, Comparative Drama, The Huntington Library Quarterly, Spenser Studies, The Ben Jonson Journal, Notes and Queries, The Cambridge Companion to Christopher Marlowe, and The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare’s Poetry.

xiv   list of Contributors Kent Cartwright is Professor of English at the University of Maryland. He is the editor of The Comedy of Errors, Arden Shakespeare, Series Three (2017) and the author of, among other works, Theatre and Humanism: English Drama in the Sixteenth Century (1999). His academic career has included service as a trustee of the Shakespeare Association of America, department chair, and president of the Association of Departments of English. Helen Cooper is Emeritus Professor of Medieval and Renaissance English at the University of Cambridge. She holds Emeritus and Honorary Fellowships at University College, Oxford, and a Life Fellowship at Magdalene College, Cambridge. She has particular interests in the cultural continuations across the medieval and early modern periods. Her books include Pastoral:  Mediaeval into Renaissance (1978); Oxford Guides to Chaucer: The Canterbury Tales (1989); The English Romance in Time (2004); Shakespeare and the Medieval World (2010); and an edition of Malory’s Morte Darthur for Oxford World’s Classics (1998). She also co-​edited (with Ruth Morse and Peter Holland) Medieval Shakespeare: Pasts and Presents (2013). Kevin Curran is Professor of Early Modern Literature at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland and editor of the book series ‘Edinburgh Critical Studies in Shakespeare and Philosophy’. He is the author of Shakespeare’s Legal Ecologies: Law and Distributed Selfhood (2017) and Marriage, Performance, and Politics at the Jacobean Court (2009). He is the editor of Shakespeare and Judgment (2016) and co-​editor, with James Kearney, of a special issue of the journal Criticism on ‘Shakespeare Phenomenology’ (2012). In 2017, Curran was named Distinguished International Visiting Fellow at the Centre for the History of Emotions in Australia. He is the founder and Director of the Lausanne Shakespeare Festival. Joanne Diaz is Associate Professor of English at Illinois Wesleyan University, where she teaches courses in literature and creative writing. She is the author of two poetry collections—​My Favorite Tyrants and The Lessons—​and with Ian Morris, she is the co-​editor of The Little Magazine in Contemporary America. Her work on using early modern archives with undergraduates has appeared in Pedagogy. She is the recipient of fellowships from the Illinois Arts Council, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Bread Loaf Writers Conference, and the Sustainable Arts Foundation.  Michelle M. Dowd is Hudson Strode Professor of English and Director of the Hudson Strode Program in Renaissance Studies at the University of Alabama. She is the author of Women’s Work in Early Modern English Literature and Culture (2009), which won the Sara A. Whaley Book Award from the National Women’s Studies Association, and of The Dynamics of Inheritance on the Shakespearean Stage (2015). She has co-​edited Genre and Women’s Life Writing in Early Modern England with Julie E. Eckerle (2007); Working Subjects in Early Modern English Drama with Natasha Korda (2011); Early Modern Women on the Fall: An Anthology with Thomas Festa (2012); and Historical Affects and the Early Modern Theater with Ronda Arab and Adam Zucker (2015), and her articles on early modern drama and women’s writing have appeared in such journals as Modern

list of Contributors    xv Philology, English Literary Renaissance, Renaissance Drama, and Shakespeare Studies. Her current book project is tentatively titled Shakespeare’s Working Words. Bridget Escolme is Reader in Drama at Queen Mary University of London, where she researches and teaches early modern drama in performance, histories of emotion, and histories of costume and clothing. Her published work, particularly Talking to the Audience (2005), has explored the relationship between performer and audience in Shakespeare production, and her monograph, Emotional Excess on the Shakespearean Stage: Passion’s Slaves (2013) examines the ways in which theatre reflects, produces, regulates and celebrates extremes of emotion. Her research is underpinned by theatre practice: she has published work on her promenade production of Coriolanus in Shakespeare Survey and has worked as a dramaturge, a director, and a Theatre in Education practitioner. She is co-​editor of two book series—​Shakespeare in Practice with Palgrave and Shakespeare in the Theatre with Arden Shakespeare. Her next book, Shakespeare and Costume in Practice, will explore how costume produces and critiques constructions of the past and will be published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2018. Kenneth J. E. Graham is Professor of English at the University of Waterloo, where he co-​organizes the Shakespearean Theatre Conference, a collaboration with Canada’s Stratford Festival. He is author of The Performance of Conviction: Plainness and Rhetoric in the Early English Renaissance (1994) and Disciplinary Measures from the Metrical Psalms to Milton (2016). With Philip Collington, he edited Shakespeare and Religious Change (2009). His current research focuses on Shakespeare’s religious language. Judith Haber is Professor of English at Tufts University. She is the author of Desire and Dramatic Form in Early Modern Drama (2009) and Pastoral and the Poetics of Self-​ Contradiction: Theocritus to Marvell (1994). She has published articles on early modern texts in numerous anthologies and journals, including Renaissance Drama, English Literary Renaissance, Representations, and Shakespeare Studies. She is currently working on a book-​ length manuscript, tentatively entitled Adoptive Strategies:  Imagining Paternity in Early Modern England. Heather Hirschfeld is Professor of English at the University of Tennessee. She is the author of The End of Satisfaction:  Drama and Repentance in the Age of Shakespeare (2014) and Joint Enterprises:  Collaborative Drama and the Institutionalization of the English Renaissance Theater (2004). Her essays have appeared in journals including PMLA, Shakespeare Quarterly, Renaissance Drama, ELH, The Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies, and The Review of English Studies and in collections including Shakespeare and Textual Studies and The Oxford Handbook of Early Modern Theatre. Her new Introduction to the New Cambridge Series Hamlet is forthcoming. Lisa Hopkins is Professor of English at Sheffield Hallam University. She is a co-​editor of Shakespeare, the journal of the British Shakespeare Association, of the Arden Guides to Early Modern Drama, and of Arden Studies in Early Modern Drama. Her

xvi   list of Contributors most recent publication is From the Romans to the Normans on the English Renaissance Stage (2017). Andy Kesson is a Reader in Renaissance Literature at the University of Roehampton, London. He is the author of John Lyly and Early Modern Authorship (2014) and, with Emma Smith, the co-​editor of The Elizabethan Top Ten: Defining Print Popularity in Early Modern England (2013). He is currently leading a project on London’s earliest Elizabethan playhouses: essays, documents, and films from the project can be consulted at Frederick Kiefer is University Distinguished Professor at the University of Arizona. His work includes Fortune and Elizabethan Tragedy (1983), Writing on the Renaissance Stage (1996), Shakespeare’s Visual Theatre (2003), Masculinities and Femininities (2009), and English Drama from ‘Everyman’ to 1660: Performance and Print (2015). Douglas M. Lanier is Professor of English at the University of New Hampshire, where he teaches courses in early modern drama, performance and adaptation, literary theory, and film history. He is author of Shakespeare and Modern Popular Culture (2002), as well as many articles on Shakespearean adaptation in modern mass media. From 2016–17 he served as the Fulbright Global Shakespeare Centre Distinguished Chair. He is currently completing two projects, one on screen adaptation of Othello, the other on The Merchant of Venice for the Arden Language and Writing series. Erika T. Lin is an Associate Professor in the PhD Program in Theatre and Performance at the Graduate Center, CUNY. She is the author of Shakespeare and the Materiality of Performance (2012), which won the 2013 David Bevington Award for Best New Book in Early Drama Studies. She is currently writing a book on seasonal festivities and early modern commercial theatre, a project supported by an Andrew W. Mellon Long-​Term Fellowship at the Folger Shakespeare Library. In addition, she is co-​editing a volume of essays on early modern games and theatre. She serves on the Board of Trustees for the Shakespeare Association of America and as the Book Review Editor for Theatre Survey. Jeremy Lopez is Professor of English at the University of Toronto, and the editor of Shakespeare Quarterly. His publications include Theatrical Convention and Audience Response in Early Modern Drama (2003), Constructing the Canon of Early Modern Drama (2014), and numerous essays on the drama of Shakespeare and his contemporaries. Kirk Melnikoff is an Associate Professor in the Department of English at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and President of the Marlowe Society of America. He is the author of Elizabethan Book Trade Publishing and the Makings of Literary Culture (2018) and has edited four collections of essays:  Writing Robert Greene (2008), with Edward Gieskes; Robert Greene (2011); Edward II:  A Critical Reader (2017); and Christopher Marlowe, Theatrical Commerce, and the Book Trade (2018), with Roslyn L. Knutson. He is a 2013 winner of the Hoffman Prize for Distinguished Publication on Christopher Marlowe, and his essays have appeared in a number of journals and

list of Contributors    xvii essay collections. He is currently editing Robert Greene’s James IV for The Routledge Anthology of Early Modern Drama and Selimus for Queen’s Men Editions. Steve Mentz is Professor of English at St John’s University in New York City. His most recent book is Shipwreck Modernity: Ecologies of Globalization, 1550–​1719 (2015). He is the author of two earlier monographs, At the Bottom of Shakespeare’s Ocean (2009) and Romance for Sale in Early Modern England (2006), and also editor or co-​editor of four collections: The Sea in Nineteenth-​Century Anglophone Literary Culture (2017), Oceanic New York (2015), The Age of Thomas Nashe (2013), and Rogues and Early Modern English Culture (2004). He has written numerous articles on ecocriticism, Shakespeare, and maritime literature and curated an exhibition at the Folger Shakespeare Library, ‘Lost at Sea: The Ocean in the English Imagination, 1550–​1750’ (2010). He blogs at The Bookfish, Erin Minear is Associate Professor of English at the College of William & Mary. She is the author of Reverberating Song in Shakespeare and Milton: Language, Memory, and Musical Representation (2011), and has written articles on topics including music and gender in Troilus and Cressida, memory and subjectivity in Shakespearean comedy, and eavesdropping and interpretation in Othello. Her current project examines the intersection of dramatic and narrative modes in Shakespeare’s plays. Robert S. Miola is the Gerard Manley Hopkins Professor of English and a Lecturer in Classics at Loyola University Maryland. He has edited Macbeth (2004) and Hamlet (2011), Ben Jonson’s Every Man In His Humour (2000) and The Case is Altered (2012), among other plays. On the reception of classical antiquity he has published Shakespeare’s Rome (1983), Shakespeare and Classical Tragedy (1992), Shakespeare and Classical Comedy (1994), an edition of Chapman’s Iliad (2017), as well as articles on Aristophanes, Homer, and the Greek tragedians in later incarnations. He has also published Early Modern Catholicism: An Anthology of Primary Sources (2007) along with articles on Robert Southwell, Mary at the foot of the Cross, Jesuit publications, and Catholic manuscript and print poetry. His second edition of Hamlet is forthcoming (2018). Anne M. Myers is Associate Professor of English at the University of Missouri, where she teaches courses in British Literature including Shakespeare and Milton, as well as Renaissance poetry and drama. She is the author of Literature and Architecture in Early Modern England (2013), and her essays have appeared in edited collections as well as ELH and ELR.  David L. Orvis is Professor of English at Appalachian State University. He is editor, with Linda Phyllis Austern and Kari Boyd McBride, of Psalms in the Early Modern World (2011), and, with Ryan Singh Paul, of The Noble Flame of Katherine Philips: A Poetics of Culture, Politics, and Friendship (2015), and author of essays on Shakespeare, Lyly, Marlowe, Herbert, and Milton. His current book project focuses on the legacy of Anteros in classical, medieval, and early modern literature and culture.

xviii   list of Contributors John Parker is Associate Professor of English at the University of Virginia. He taught at Harvard University (2001–​6) and Macalester College (2007–​8), and was a winner of the Rome Prize from the American Academy in Rome (2008–​9). He is the author of The Aesthetics of Antichrist: From Christian Drama to Christopher Marlowe (2007), along with several book chapters, articles, and reviews. Catherine Richardson is Professor of Early Modern Studies at the University of Kent. She has published books on theatre and material culture, including Domestic Life and Domestic Tragedy in Early Modern England (2006), Shakespeare and Material Culture (2011) and, with Tara Hamling (University of Birmingham), A Day at Home in Early Modern England: Material Culture and Domestic Life, 1500–​1700 (2017); with Tara she has also edited Everyday Objects: Medieval and Early Modern Material Culture and its Meanings (2010) and (also with David Gaimster) The Routledge Handbook of Material Culture in Early Modern Europe (2016). Carolyn Sale is Associate Professor in the Department of English and Film Studies at the University of Alberta (Canada). Her work on Shakespeare’s engagement with the law includes chapters in The Law in Shakespeare (2007; paperback, 2010), Shakespeare and the Law (2008), and Shakespeare and Judgment (2017). Her most recently published work is ‘The Literary Thing:  The Imaginary Holding of Isabella Whitney’s “Wyll” to London (1573)’ in The Oxford Handbook of English Law and Literature, 1500–​1700. She is currently completing the book manuscript ‘The Literary Commons: The Law and the Writer in Early Modern England, 1528–​1628’. Julie Sanders is Professor of English Literature and Drama and Deputy Vice-​Chancellor at Newcastle University. She has published widely on early modern literature and has previously edited works by Ben Jonson, James Shirley, and Richard Brome. Her monograph The Cultural Geography of Early Modern Drama, 1620–​1650 (2011) won the British Academy’s Rose Mary Crawshay Prize for international women’s scholarship in 2012 and she also co-​authored Ben Jonson’s Walk to Scotland with James Loxley and Anna Groundwater (2014). Her current project is provisionally entitled ‘Making Spaces in Early Modern Drama’ and aims to think through material objects and their modes of production to understand the presence of lived practice and experience on the page and stage in the period. She is co-​editor with Garrett A. Sullivan, Jr of the Oxford University Press series on Early Modern Literary Geographies. Katherine Scheil is Professor of English at the University of Minnesota. She is the author of Imagining Shakespeare’s Wife: The Afterlife of Anne Hathaway (2018); She Hath Been Reading: Women and Shakespeare Clubs in America (2012); and The Taste of the Town: Shakespearian Comedy and the Early Eighteenth-​Century Theater (2003). She co-​ edited, with Randall Martin, Shakespeare/​Adaptation/​Modern Drama (2011). Laurie Shannon is Franklyn Bliss Snyder Professor of Literature at Northwestern University. She has chaired the MLA Division on Shakespeare and served as a trustee of the Shakespeare Association of America. Her first book, Sovereign Amity: Figures of

list of Contributors    xix Friendship in Shakespearean Contexts, concerns Renaissance uses of the classical trope; her second book, The Accommodated Animal: Cosmopolity in Shakespearean Locales, charts the creaturely dispensation against which Cartesianism intervened, arguing that early modern thinkers drew on natural history and Genesis to place animals within the privileged language of politics. In a new project entitled ‘Hamlet’s Kindness’, she is turning back to consider a dethroned figure of ‘human being’ from the comparative perspective afforded by early modern natural history. Geraldo U. de Sousa is Professor of English at the University of Kansas. His research fo­cuses on Shakespeare, early modern British Studies, gender and race, social justice, the Mediterranean region, and the cross-cultural experience. His publications include At Home in Shakespeare’s Tragedies (2010), Shakespeare’s Cross-Cultural Encounters (1999), and numerous articles. He served as editor of the journal Mediterranean Studies for ten years and has published on Luso-Brazilian, Mediterranean, and Global Studies. For many years, he also helped organize the international congresses of the Mediterranean Studies Association, and he has travelled extensively. Matthew Steggle is Professor of Early Modern English Literature at the University of Bristol. He has published four books on early modern drama, and worked as a contributing editor to scholarly editions including The Cambridge Works of Ben Jonson (2012) and the Norton Shakespeare, third edition (2015). He is co-​editor, with Roslyn L. Knutson and David McInnis, of the Lost Plays Database (; and co-​ general editor, with Martin Butler, of the AHRC-​funded The Complete Works of John Marston, forthcoming from Oxford University Press. Lina Perkins Wilder is Associate Professor of English at Connecticut College and the author of Shakespeare’s Memory Theatre: Recollection, Properties, and Character (2010) as well as co-​editor, with Andrew Hiscock, of The Routledge Handbook of Shakespeare and Memory (2017). Her essays have been published in Shakespeare Quarterly, Renaissance Drama, and Modern Drama. Her current book project is on shorthand and recording technology in seventeenth-​century England.

I n t rodu ction Encountering Shakespearean Comedy Heather Hirschfeld

Since 1598, when Francis Meres compared him to Plautus and Terence and proclaimed him ‘the most excellent’ among English writers of comedies for plays such as The Two Gentlemen of Verona, The Comedy of Errors, and Love’s Labour’s Lost, audiences have tangled with Shakespeare’s comic enterprises. They have attended to the plays’ experiments with mistaken identity, their manipulation of disguise and the gender-​disruptive possibilities of cross-​dressing, and their self-​reflexive meditations on the nature of acting. They have laughed at their wordplay as well as their antic clowns. They have observed the dramas’ insistence on the spiritual as well as secular rewards of festivity, their alignments and re-​alignments of friends and family members, their championing of witty heroines, and their nearly tragic flirtations with disaster, violence, and death. They have witnessed the plays’ presentations of antagonisms as well as affections across social class and their treatments of law and commerce in locales foreign and domestic, landed and marine. They have grappled with the plays’ promise of forgiveness and restitution, their visions of community formation and dissolution, and their exposure of human passions ranging from anger to fear to grief to love. And finally, juggling the expectations of form and language inherited from ancient traditions of comedy, they have noted, following John Dryden, both Shakespeare’s ‘irregularity’ as well as his ‘greater wit’.1 The contributors to this Handbook consider these and the other features of Shakespeare’s comedies that made them—​and continue to make them—​compelling, even urgent, to historical and contemporary audiences. They do so from multiple perspectives, representing some of the most recent methodological approaches to Shakespeare, genre, and early modern drama. Some essays take up firmly established topics of inquiry—​Shakespeare’s source materials, gender and sexuality, hetero-​and homoerotic desire, race, religion—​and reformulate them in the kinds of materialist,


John Dryden, Of Dramatick Poesie: An Essay (London, 1668), 46, 50.

2   Heather Hirschfeld formalist, phenomenological, or revisionist terms of current scholarship and critical debate. Others explore subjects—​ecology, cross-​species interaction, humoral theory—​ that have only relatively recently become pressing concerns for sustained scholarly interrogation. Still others, informed by increasingly sophisticated approaches to the material conditions and embodied experience of theatrical practice, speak to a resurgence of interest in performance, from Shakespeare’s period through the first decades of the twenty-​first century. And others investigate distinct sets of plays from unexpected and often polemical angles, noting connections between the comedies under inventive, unpredicted banners such as the theology of adultery, early modern pedagogy, global exploration, or monarchical rule. The chapters that follow treat in detail thirteen of the plays that, since the publication of the First Folio in 1623, have been identified as Shakespeare’s comedies: The Two Gentlemen of Verona (1589–​91), The Taming of the Shrew (1590–​1), The Comedy of Errors (1594), Love’s Labour’s Lost (1594–​5), A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1595), The Merchant of Venice (1595–​6), The Merry Wives of Windsor (1597–​8), Much Ado About Nothing (1598–​9), As You Like It (1599–​1600), Twelfth Night (1601), Troilus and Cressida (1602), Measure for Measure (1603–​4), and All’s Well That Ends Well (1606–​7).2 (See Figure I.1.) This group excludes two plays categorized under the banner of comedy in the Folio’s Catalogue, The Winter’s Tale (1609–​10) and The Tempest (1610–​11), which are given their full due (along with Pericles, Cymbeline, and The Two Noble Kinsmen) in a Handbook on Shakespearean Romance, their more modern generic home. (Multiple contributors do, however, offer brief discussions of these so-​called late plays as they inform their arguments.) The volume includes some Folio-​identified comedies—​All’s Well, Measure—​ that are often treated separately by scholars as ‘problem plays’ due either to their later composition dates or to the ironies and tensions of their conclusions.3 And it addresses the enigmatic Troilus and Cressida, also considered a ‘problem play’, which does not appear at all in the Folio catalogue, is printed as the first of the tragedies, and exists in some quarto editions with the title of ‘history’ and a prefatory epistle that praises the play among Shakespeare’s comedies: ‘So much and such savored salt of witte is in his Commedies, that they seeme . . . to be borne in that sea that brought forth Venus. Amongst all there is none more witty than this.’4 The choice of texts for inclusion here reflects theoretical as well as pragmatic principles. The elimination of the romances sharpens the temporal range of the plays under consideration, concentrating on those framed by the last decade of Elizabeth I’s reign and the first years of James I’s succession. But the selection still showcases the fluidity 2 

Dates follow Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor, gen. eds., The Oxford Shakespeare, 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), pp. ix–​x. All references to Shakespeare’s plays are from this edition. 3  For the problem plays, see W. W. Lawrence, Shakespeare’s Problem Comedies (New York: Macmillan, 1931); E. M. W. Tillyard, Shakespeare’s Problem Plays (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1949); and Robert Ornstein, Discussions of Shakespeare’s Problem Comedies (Boston, MA: Heath, 1961). Oliver Arnold challenges this category in Chapter 33. 4  William Shakespeare, The Famous Historie of Troylus and Cresseid (London, 1609), ¶2r.

Introduction   3

Figure I.1  First Folio, Catalogue, in Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies (London, 1623). By permission of The Folger Shakespeare Library.

and flexibility of Shakespeare’s work with the comic, including his tendency, as multiple contributors note, to linger on its tragic potential. At the same time, however, the Handbook’s authors often return to the structural and substantive consistency of this group of plays even as they chart fresh conceptual and performance patterns across eighteen years of Shakespeare’s career. They thus explain the plays in ways that challenge the standard developmental model (according to which Shakespeare’s earlier comedies ‘affirm that men and women can find happiness and that the world is a comprehensible and benevolent place’, while his later ones ‘come to seem less joyous and more inflected with irony and potential failure’).5 In the process, they expose untapped features of the long-​recognized categories of intrigue comedy and romantic comedy, or apprentice play, festive play, and problem play.6 Each chapter of the Handbook is distinct in its understanding of the meanings and cultural significance of the plays. None, like the volume as a whole, pretends to comprehensiveness. But all, again like the Handbook as a whole, are oriented by the concept of the encounter as either a hermeneutic for exploring the plays or as a feature of their 5 


Russ McDonald, The Bedford Companion to Shakespeare, 2nd ed. (New York: Palgrave, 2001), 83. Lawrence Danson, Shakespeare’s Dramatic Genres (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 58–​9.

4   Heather Hirschfeld dramaturgy. In the first half of this Introduction, then, I look to recent work in critical philology to establish the semantic resonances of the ‘encounter’ in Shakespeare’s time and in our own. I then consider the term’s interpretive purchase for engaging both with Shakespeare’s comedies and with the critical tradition that has shaped our reception of them. I conclude by identifying the unique ways in which the term informs the approaches or arguments of each of the essays.

Critical Semantics A recent brand of philological study—​what Roland Greene calls ‘critical semantics’—​ has stressed the crucial relationship between early modern words, worlds, and world-​ views. Particular ‘key words’, that is, and ‘the concepts that shadow them’, serve as indices of the period’s explicit values and internal contradictions. As Greene explains, words are ‘dense with semantic and cultural implications’; they are ‘implicated in an intellectual fabric’, and ultimately ‘inseparable from the unresolved issues of the age’.7 In a related vein, Jeffrey Masten argues that the study of pivotal categories of early modern thought—​ in his case, sex and gender—​ is ‘necessarily a philological investigation’, requiring attention to ‘the etymology, circulation, transformation, and constitutive power of some “key words” within early modern lexicons and discourses’.8 And Paul Yachnin, addressing Shakespeare specifically, argues that the playwright is able to ‘give voice to the complex meanings inside words’, allowing him, particularly in his use of metaphor, to ‘project patterns from one domain of experience in order to structure another domain of a different kind’.9 This Handbook frames its multiple approaches to Shakespearean comedy as an issue of critical semantics, specifically the concept of the encounter. An encounter—​as its etymology suggests—​is a meeting or moment of contact marked by confrontation, opposition, or conflict as well as by the possibility or potential for future negotiation, amity, and even affection. (The English ‘encounter’ derives from the late Latin incontrāre, which combines the prepositions in, in or into, and contra, against.)10 Shakespeare’s own use of the term preserves the dynamism of its origins; he turns to it to identify interactions complicated by either (or both) amorous or aggressive intent. At the beginning of Much Ado, for instance, a play that delights in the correspondences of love and war, Don Pedro suggests that he woo Hero on Claudio’s behalf: ‘I will assume thy part in


Roland Greene, Five Words: Critical Semantics in the Age of Shakespeare and Cervantes (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2013), 12. 8  Jeffrey Masten, Queer Philologies: Sex, Language, and Affect in Shakespeare’s Time (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016), 5. 9  Paul Yachnin, ‘Introduction’, Shakespeare’s World of Words, ed., Paul Yachnin (London: Bloomsbury, 2015), 31. 10  OED, ‘encounter, n.’

Introduction   5 some disguise /​And tell fair Hero I am Claudio, /​And in her bosom I’ll unclasp my heart /​And take her hearing prisoner with the force /​And strong encounter of my amorous tale’ (1.1.304–​8). In a singular scene in Measure, a different Claudio, this time on behalf of his sister Isabella, imagines meeting death itself as a female lover: ‘If I must die, /​I will encounter darkness as a bride, /​And hug it in mine arms’ (3.1.81–​3). It serves as the term by which Shakespeare understands the complications of the bed-trick: in All’s Well Helena consoles Diana’s mother that she see it lawful, then: it is no more, But that your daughter, ere she seems as won, Desires this ring; appoints him an encounter; In fine, delivers me to fill the time, Herself most chastely absent: after this, To marry her, I’ll add three thousand crowns To what is passed already. (3.7.30–​6)11

In I Henry IV, Shakespeare uses ‘encounter’ to refer both to Hal and Falstaff ’s trickery at Gadshill (2.2) and to the clash of monarchical forces with the Percy rebels at the end of the play (5.1). And in a tragic instance with hints of comic possibility, Polonius proposes to Claudius that they observe Hamlet and Ophelia: ‘At such a time I’ll loose my daughter to him. /​Be you and I behind an arras then. /​Mark the encounter’ (2.2.164–​6). As these examples suggest, for Shakespeare an encounter refers to meetings of acquaintances, intimates, and recognized enemies. Or as the lexicographer Robert Cawdry puts it succinctly in his Table Alphabetical, the verb form means to ‘set against, or to meete’.12 But for late twentieth-​and early twenty-​first-​century scholars of Shakespeare and early modern England, the concept of the encounter has become a particularly significant, even polemical, way to name a range of meetings between strangers or others—​Europeans and non-​Europeans, Christians and non-​Christians, English and non-​English. Such contact, and the power dynamics it entailed, was of course enabled by increasing global trade and territorial exploration and expansion. As Lisa Bailey, Lindsay Diggelmann, and Kim M. Phillips write, ‘English speakers along with the inhabitants of all the countries of Western Europe were experiencing “encounters” with places and peoples across the shrinking globe, vicariously or through texts’.13 Such studies recall, either explicitly or implicitly, Mary Louise Pratt’s work on eighteenth-​and nineteenth-​century European colonialism and her language of the 11 

Encounter is also part of the vocabulary of the bed-trick in Measure; the Duke tells Isabella they will ‘advise this wronged maid to stead up your appointment, go in your place; if the encounter acknowledge itself hereafter, it may compel him to her recompense’ (3.1.251–​4). 12  Robert Cawdrey, A Table Alphabetical (London, 1604), D6r. 13  Lisa Bailey, Lindsay Diggelmann, and Kim M. Phillips, ‘Introduction’, in Lisa Bailey, Lindsay Diggelmann, and Kim M Phillips, eds., Old Worlds, New Worlds: European Cultural Encounters, c.1000–​ 1750 (Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2009), 1.

6   Heather Hirschfeld ‘contact zone’, the ‘space of colonial encounters, the space in which peoples geographically and historically separated come into contact with each other and establish ongoing relations, usually involving conditions of coercion, radical inequality, and intractable conflict’.14 ‘Encounter’ for Pratt is part of a vocabulary meant to unsettle long-​held assumptions, underwritten by an earlier language of ‘discovery’, about the agency of cross-​cultural contact. Rather than privileging European hegemony in the Americas, as discovery does, the term ‘attempt[s]‌to invoke the spatial and temporal copresence of subjects preciously separated by geographical and historical disjunctures, and whose trajectories now intersect’ and to ‘foreground the interactive, improvisational dimensions’ of this copresence. Stephen Greenblatt shares this vocabulary in his Introduction to New World Encounters, in which he explains the unequal intersection of European and indigenous peoples as ‘an encounter between peoples who do not understand each other’ but who ‘tr[y] to make sense of the other’s actions’.15 More recently, Kumkum Chatterjee and Clement Hawes have argued for ‘register[ing] the limits of European agency’ as well as for the ‘unpredictability’ of the ‘slippery world of early modern encounters’.16 As all of these scholars make clear, the terminology is not meant to erase the imbalances, asymmetries, and inevitable potential for violence embedded in European enterprises in the New World; it cannot, that is, redress ‘the remorseless tide of dispossession and destruction that marked a large part of the relation between [European] and indigenous peoples’.17 Nor does it provide equal access to the subjective experience of each of the two sides—​particularly the indigenous side—​in any given contact. But the term is used both to emphasize new ways of thinking about agency as well as to call attention to the various intellectual and affective responses to the ‘stark incommensurability’, in Anthony Pagden’s words, of cross-​cultural interaction. European conquerors and colonizers, he explains, were ‘preoccupied with the difficulties involved in encountering other worlds and their often fiercely “other” inhabitants’,18 and their responses included wonder, fear, ambivalence. They also included a recalibrating of the past and the known in the fresh light of the novel and unexpected, the pre-​modern version of the ‘shock of the new’.19 14  Mary Louise Pratt, Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation (New York: Routledge, 1992), 6. 15   Stephen Greenblatt, New World Encounters (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1993), viii, x. 16  Kumkum Chatterjee and Clement Hawes, ‘Introduction’, in Kumkum Chatterjee and Clement Hawes, eds., Europe Observed: Multiple Gazes in Early Modern Encounters (Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 2008), 5, 6. 17  Philip D. Morgan, ‘Encounters between Britain and “Indigenous” Peoples, c.1500–​1800, in Mark Daunton and Rick Halpern, eds., Empire and Others: British Encounters with Indigenous Peoples, 1600–​ 1850 (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999), 52. 18  Anthony Pagden, European Encounters with the New World: From Renaissance to Romanticism (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1993), 23. 19  See Anthony Grafton with April Shelford and Nancy Siraisi, New Worlds, Ancient Texts: The Power of Tradition and the Shock of Discovery (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992).

Introduction   7 Because of the semantic range and affective associations of the term, scholars of early modern England have relied on it to discuss the place of the nation—​and its stage—​ in both colonial and non-​colonial exploration and trade. They are of course highly conscious that these exchanges are not synonymous; as Jerry Brotton warns, ‘it is not possible to emplot the narratives of encounter, conquest and domination, which have characterized the Renaissance story of the Americas’, across territories in the Mediterranean and other areas in the east. But they do rely on the idiom to express the frictions and energies of cross-​cultural contact. Jyotsnah Singh describes the development of English culture and commerce in ‘an expanding global world, one which includes the discovery of America to the west, growing interactions and encounters with the east ranging from the Ottoman Empire on Europe’s borders to the far east, forays into north and sub-​Saharan Africa, and even explorations to the North Seas’.20 Jean Howard identifies the pressure on English merchants to ‘travel to Spain, Aleppo, and to the Moluccas, . . . to live among strangers in these polyglot entrepots, and . . . to bring back to England the products of their trading encounters’.21 Alison Games chronicles the ways in which cosmopolitan English traders, travellers, and ambassadors were ‘often able to encounter those unlike themselves with enthusiasm and curiosity’ from the Mediterranean to Virginia.22 And Geraldo U. de Sousa, specifically addressing Shakespeare’s ‘interest in a multi-​cultural environment of foreign commercial transactions and cross-​cultural interactions’, places the dramatist ‘at the center of a cultural debate about Europe’s encounters with and colonial domination of foreign lands and alien peoples’.23 As this brief survey suggests, the modern scholarly use of ‘encounter’ depends upon, even as it shifts or expands the semantic emphasis of, the early modern meaning of the term. For Shakespeare, the encounter named a meeting between known entities, whether friends or enemies, involving various degrees of aggression, desire, wonder, and fear. For recent critics, the term has been used to refer to a variety of cross-​cultural exchanges, in which the constituents are often markedly different or alien, in which the principal affects are not only fear and wonder but also the shock of the new or incommensurable, and in which the positive potential of contact is undercut by potential calamity. Or as Brotton suggests: ‘the encounters with those territories depicted on the globe . . . produced a whole new range of social and political possibilities, as well as problems. How were such encounters to be incorporated into contemporary systems of knowledge? What were the mechanisms by which sovereigns legitimately laid claim to such territories? How were the immense and complex commercial ramifications of such


Jyotsnah Singh, ‘Introduction’, in Jyotsnah Singh, ed., A Companion to the Global Renaissance: English Literature and Culture in the Era of Expansion (Malden, MA: Wiley-​Blackwell, 2009), 5. 21  Jean E. Howard, ‘Introduction’, Shakespeare Studies 35 (2007), 20. 22  Alison Games, The Web of Empire: English Cosmopolitans in an Age of Expansion: 1560–​1660 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 9. 23  Geraldo U. de Sousa, Shakespeare’s Cross-​Cultural Encounters (London: Macmillan, 1999), 3.

8   Heather Hirschfeld encounters to be marshalled for maximum financial benefit, and what impact would the experience of these commercial exchanges have on early modern society?’24 The Handbook of Shakespearean Comedy is oriented by these various significations and questions. Such an approach to a set of canonical plays and their conventions may seem to risk ‘domesticating’ the term’s present-​day polemical implications. But the mentalité of the encounter was itself being domesticated in Shakespeare’s England and Europe. As Pagden attests, ‘it became increasingly difficult, even for Europeans with no direct experience of America, to ignore the sheer presence of its novelty’.25 The term thus effectively designates a conceptual horizon, what Joseph Loewenstein has called in a different context, a ‘range of possible thoughts and conceivable actions’ as well as the ‘fantasies made possible by the knowledge, the conditions, the full habitus’ of the period.26 This horizon depended upon the kinds of fictional and first-​hand reports and displays of the far-​flung that we recognize as the literature of travel and colonialism.27 It also depended upon exposure to—​and enjoyment of—​imported goods whose global origins and modes of production were simultaneously acknowledged and concealed in their consumption.28 Finally, it infused even mundane events and activities with a sense of the new or unpredictable. Or in Samuel Daniel’s formulation, ‘the opening of a new world’ in the sixteenth century ‘strangely altered the manner of this [one]’.29 The early modern English theatre spoke to this horizon in multiple ways, and not simply because, as George Puttenham remarks: ‘art is, as it were, an encounterer and contrary to nature, producing effects neither like to hers, nor by participation with her operations, nor by imitation of her patterns, but makes things and produceth effects altogether strange and diverse’.30 As scholars have long attested, the theatre of this period dramatized for its audience—​an audience which ‘for the most part do not travel much, but prefer to learn foreign matters and take their pleasures at home’—​a world of international exchange, exploration, and travel.31 In its stage properties and other 24  Jerry Brotton, Trading Territories: Mapping the Early Modern World (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1997), 21. 25 Pagden, European Encounters, 23. 26  Joseph Loewenstein, Ben Jonson and Possessive Authorship (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 12. 27  See for instance Andrew Hadfield, Literature, Travel and Colonial Writing in the English Renaissance, 1545–​1642 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998). 28  Linda Levy Peck, Consuming Splendor: Society and Culture in Seventeenth-​Century England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005). 29  Samuel Daniel, The First Part of the Historie of England (London, 1612), A3v. 30  George Puttenham, The Art of English Poesy: A Critical Edition, ed., Frank Whigham and Wayne A. Rebhorn (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2007), 384. 31  Thomas Platter, Thomas Platter’s Travels in England, 1599, trans. Clare Williams (London: Jonathan Cape, 1937), 168. Platter’s observation follows his recollection of seeing a ‘play in which they presented diverse nations and an Englishman struggling together for a maiden’ (167). Singh offers a useful summary of the English stage as a ‘site for re-​enactments of . . . global issues and geopolitics’ (‘Introduction’, 23). Among the many important contributions to this field, see Valerie Forman, Tragicomic Redemptions: Global Economics and the Early Modern English Stage (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008); Claire Jowitt, Voyage Drama and Gender Politics, 1589–​1642: Real and Imagined Worlds (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2003): and Daniel

Introduction   9 infrastructure, it also participated materially in this exchange.32 Used with care, then, the encounter offers a compelling vantage for thinking about the form and content of Shakespeare’s comedies:  their pointed interest in geographically diverse settings and allusions, their staging of unsettling contacts between characters of different classes, races, nationalities, genders, and species, their innovative uses of linguistic style and earlier sources, their place or function in the developing institution of the early modern theatre. Even more pointedly, the term offers the Handbook a historically apt interpretive strategy, a hermeneutic of defamiliarization meant to encounter—​to see anew, to see as new—​Shakespeare’s comedies.

Encountering the Critical Tradition Of course, seeing anew is always conditioned by the ways we, and others, have seen before. We have already witnessed two early modern instances of viewing Shakespeare’s comic output: Meres’s commentary and the First Folio Catalogue. Those samples took their cues from theories and practices of theatrical genre inherited from the ancients, according to which comedies are ‘composed to imitate life and resemble manners’.33 These practices were taught through the curriculum of the early modern schoolroom and reformulated by early modern writers and thinkers, who supplied relatively consistent definitions of comedy as didactically oriented fiction about private, often common, people and events.34 (Though modern scholars are careful to note that the plays were far less didactic in practice than in theory.) Sir Philp Sidney noted that ‘Comedy is an imitation of the common errors of our life, which [the poet] representeth, in the most ridiculous & scornefull sort that may be. So as it is impossible, that any beholder can be content to be such a one.’35 Similarly, Puttenham, in his Arte of English Poesie, explained that ‘comical poets’, among whom he names Menander, Aristophanes, Terence, and Plautus, ‘set forth, in shows [and] pageants accompanied with speech, the common behaviors and manner of life of private persons and such as were the meaner sort of men’.36 The anti-​theatricalist Philip Stubbes is far more judgemental, decrying ‘the matter and

Vitkus, Turning Turk: English Theatre and the Multicultural Mediterranean (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003). 32 

Jean Howard’s study of the performing monkey in Eastward Hoe observes the theatre’s ‘implicat[ion] in the cultural expropriation that accompanied the expansion of global trade and traffic’ (‘Bettrice’s Monkey: Staging Exotica in Early Modern London Comedy’, in Global Renaissance, 337). 33  Donatus, ‘The Fragment from On Comedy and Tragedy’, in Michael J. Sidnell, ed., Sources of Dramatic Theory 1: Plato to Congreve (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 79. 34  See Leo Salingar, Shakespeare and the Traditions of Comedy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1974). 35  Sir Philip Sidney, The Defence of Poesie, ed., Elizabeth Porges Watson (London: Everyman, 1997), 105. 36 Puttenham, Art of English Poesy, 115.

10   Heather Hirschfeld ground’ of comedies as ‘love, bawdry, cozenage, flattery, whoredom, adultery; the persons or agents, whores, queans, bawds, scullions, knaves, courtesans, lecherous old men, [and] amorous young men, with such like of infinite variety. If I say there were nothing else but this, it were sufficient to withdraw a good Christian from the using of them’.37 Despite their distinct attitudes, and despite their neglect of contemporary ‘court comedies’ that featured aristocratic characters, all three of these descriptions hint at what has become a standard definition of comic form and a standard recitation of its key practices and conventions. Comedy is a ‘problem-​solving story’ which, having tackled complications primarily of the domestic sphere or the marketplace, ‘ends in resolution and order normally symbolized by marriage’.38 Its principal tropes include:  intrigues of desire running up against familial and social obstacles; disguise or deceit leading to various complications of identity, which are sorted out in a moment of recognition; concern with the body so as to emphasize its materiality; linguistic experimentation with both sound and sense; active, witty female characters; juxtaposition of worldly accident with magical or divine intervention; and an atmosphere of holiday spirit, even transgression, that acknowledges the absurdity of human foibles at the same time that it promises their resolution.39 Subsequent editors, critics, and performers of Shakespeare have assessed his comedies in light of such definitions and against early English stage traditions. The result has been the massive widening and complicating of our understanding of the plays; in particular, scholars and practitioners have elaborated their signature elements and the ways in which these elements match, stretch, or violate generic expectations. They have also debated whether or not these elements present a unified comic vision (‘Shakespearean comedy’) and have argued about comedy’s ideological force, the ‘cultural work’ it does. Early versions of these interpretive tactics are visible in major eighteenth-​and nineteenth-​century editions and commentaries. As Emma Smith has carefully chronicled, these commentaries almost uniformly praised the comedies for the variety of their plots, the fully realized diversity of their characters, and, with their linguistic power and accuracy, the ability to leave a ‘powerful impression on the moral feeling’.40 Such analyses have been thoroughly reconfigured in the past century under the influence of theories and methodologies including Marxism, Russian formalism, structuralist linguistics and anthropology, semiotics, Foucauldian historiography, New Historicism and materialism, and feminism. These approaches have buttressed several signature accounts of the plays, and it is largely in relation to their paradigms and claims that we encounter Shakespeare’s comedies and comedy today. 37 

Philip Stubbes, Anatomy of Abuses, in Tanya Pollard, ed., Shakespeare’s Theater: A Sourcebook (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004), 120. 38  Alexander Leggatt, English Stage Comedy, 1490–​1990: Five Centuries of a Genre (London: Routledge, 1998), 4. 39  Penny Gay, The Cambridge Introduction to Shakespeare’s Comedies (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 1–​15. 40  Emma Smith, ‘The Development of Criticism of Shakespeare’s Comedies’, in Emma Smith, ed., Shakespeare’s Comedies (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004), 4–​24, quotation on 16.

Introduction   11 Perhaps the most influential have been the accounts Northrop Frye and C. L. Barber. They apply to the shared elements of Shakespeare’s comedies’ anthropological and psychoanalytic sensibilities that converge in the notion of comic festivity: a drive toward communal celebration, the knitting together of individuals into a larger whole, and the reconcilement of this new social whole with an older one. As Frye describes in A Natural Perspective, ‘the structure [of Shakespearean comedy] begins with an anticomic society, a social organism blocking and opposed to the comic drive, which the action of the comedy evades or overcomes’.41 This structure is accommodated by a play’s movement into a ‘green world’, the opposite of the ‘normal world’ and understood as a real or imagined place of enchantment and dreams. Barber considers the arrangement ‘saturnalian’, the dramatization of holiday license that affords audience members ‘clarification through release’, or a recognition of their relationship to natural and social environments. The effects of such clarification can be seen as ideologically conservative: the revelry of festive comedy provides an outlet for psychological and political energies which, having been discharged, no longer threaten the status quo. As Barber himself notes, misrule mocks but also depends upon or even reinforces a sense of established, hierarchical order: ‘a saturnalian reversal of social roles need not threaten the social structure, but can serve instead to consolidate it’.42 It is possible to understand much subsequent criticism as encounters or negotiations with the festive model, as critiques of its substantive claims about individual plays and conventions, as antidotes to its blind-​spots, and as challenges to its depiction of a unified, conservative Shakespearean comedy that ends with the recognition of self in relation to others and the world. Relying largely on historicist and materialist methods, some scholars have rethought the nature of the festive itself, either by casting it as potentially destabilizing or by connecting it explicitly to Reformation religious controversy and thus to ‘mirth and revelry explicitly identified with early modern Catholicism’.43 Others have refashioned, using psychoanalytic paradigms, the festive emphasis on clarification, suggesting instead that Shakespearean comedy is a particularly rich source of psychological or social misrecognition rather than conventional anagnorisis.44 Students of Shakespeare’s language have made compelling cases for the ways in which the comedies’ 41  Northrop Frye, A Natural Perspective: The Development of Shakespearean Comedy and Romance (New York: Columbia University Press, 1965), 73. 42   C. L. Barber, Shakespeare’s Festive Comedy: A Study of Dramatic Form and Its Relation to Social Custom (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1959), 245. 43  Phebe Jensen, Religion and Revelry in Shakespeare’s Festive World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 22. See also Michael Bristol, Carnival and Theater: Plebeian Culture and the Structure of Authority in Renaissance England (New York: Methuen), 1985; Francois Laroque, Shakespeare’s Festive World: Elizabethan Seasonal Entertainment and the Professional Stage (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991). 44  See Barbara Freedman, Staging the Gaze: Postmodernism, Psychoanalysis, and Shakespearean Comedy (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1991); Jonathan Hall, Anxious Pleasures: Shakespearean Comedy and the Nation-​State (Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1995). Ejner Jensen also challenges the interpretive emphasis on endings in Shakespeare and the Ends of Comedy (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1991).

12   Heather Hirschfeld ‘extraordinary metadiscursive density’ is the real subject of the plays rather than festive release; and they push against earlier conservatism by insisting that Shakespeare’s ‘exploration of linguistic concerns . . . can be seen as a powerful response to the most important epistemological crisis of the Elizabethan age’.45 Others have critiqued the ideological underpinnings of what the earlier critics saw as Shakespeare’s largely benevolent green world, seeing in it threats and dangers that result from dark human drives or from socio-​economic or racial inequity.46 And others have addressed the kinds of social and sexual energies neglected in the conservative festive model, exploring the ways in which Shakespeare ‘discovered how to use the erotic power that the theater could appropriate, how to generate plots that would . . . draw it out, develop it, return it with interest’.47 Finally, various modes of feminist scholarship have tackled, with increasingly nuanced interpretations of gender, genre, and power, the oversimplified accounts of female characters and the centrality of matrimony in the festive model. Monographs from the 1970s and 1980s suggested that Shakespeare’s female heroines either served as his ‘natural allies’ in the creation of his comedy or supported the interests of Elizabethan ideology.48 In the past thirty years, however, the most prominent accounts have contextualized issues of gender and sexuality through other lenses: of early modern science and pedagogy, of cross-​dressing and anti-​theatrical prejudice, of early modern domesticity, of international trade and colonialism, or of the fluidity of homoerotic as well as heteroerotic desire. The bibliography is formidable; an exemplary sampling from the past three decades might include Gayle Greene’s treatment of Cressida’s split subjectivity in Troilus; Karen Newman’s reading of the erotics and economics of Merchant; and Jean Howard’s study of anti-theatrical discourse in Much Ado as a way of both securing and threatening class and gender order. It might also include Valerie Traub’s analysis of As You Like It and Twelfth Night in terms of their explorations of homoeroticism ‘as an expression of non-​hegemonic desire within the confines of conventional comedic restraints’; Laura Levine’s interrogation of sexual violence and theatre in Midsummer; Lisa Hopkins’s diagnosis of Shakespearean marriage as ‘both redemptive and painful, a


Keir Elam, Shakespeare’s Universe of Discourse: Language Games in the Comedies (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), 22. See also Lynne Magnusson, ‘Language and Comedy’, in Alexander Leggatt, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Shakespearean Comedy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 156–​78. 46   See Rene Girard, A Theater of Envy: William Shakespeare (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991); Jan Kott, Shakespeare Our Contemporary, 1st ed. (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1964); William Carroll, The Metamorphoses of Shakespearean Comedy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1985); Louis Montrose, ‘ “The Place of a Brother” in As You Like It: Social Process and Comic Form’, Shakespeare Quarterly 32, no. 1 (1981), 28–​54; Ania Loomba, ‘The Great Indian Vanishing Trick—​Colonialism, Property, and the Family in A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, in Dympna Callaghan, ed., A Feminist Companion to Shakespeare (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2000), 161–​84. 47  Stephen Greenblatt, Shakespearean Negotiations: The Circulation of Social Energy in Renaissance England (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1988), 88. 48  See Linda Bamber, Comic Women, Tragic Men: A Study of Gender and Genre in Shakespeare (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1982); Marilyn Williamson, The Patriarchy of Shakespeare’s Comedies (Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 1986).

Introduction   13 state which may well be socially indispensable but is not . . . “natural” ’; Natasha Korda’s materialist explanation of Shrew as an exercise in taming Katherine into a consumer of household goods; Kathryn Schwarz’s concern with the paradoxes of female will and consent in All’s Well and Measure; and Pamela Allen Brown’s focus on women’s agency through jesting and laughter in Merry Wives.49

Encountering Shakespearean Comedy As even this brief survey suggests, the critical landscape is defined by numerous traditions and trends, all of which map in distinct ways the features and ideological effects of the comedies. It is the project of the Handbook to encounter—​sometimes explicitly, sometimes implicitly—​this critical tradition as well as the features and effects the tradition records. For Part I of the essays, this involves recognizing the dynamic sensibilities in the ‘settings, sources, influences’ of the comedies. In Chapter 1, James P. Bednarz re-​thinks the early modern London theatre as a ‘field of cultural production’ whose various material as well as aesthetic imperatives shaped Shakespeare’s engagements with comedy. In Chapter 2, Robert S. Miola sees in Shakespeare’s use of classical comic models—​particularly his flirtations with violence—​the emotional ambivalences of the encounter. In Chapter 3, Helen Cooper measures Shakespeare’s comedies against the literary and stage conventions of the Middle Ages, arguing that Shakespeare did not approach or encounter earlier texts and contexts under the static banner of ‘the medieval’ but rather


Gayle Greene, ‘Shakespeare’s Cressida: “A Kind of Self ” ’, in Carolyn Ruth Swift Lenz, Gayle Greene, and Carol Thomas Neely, eds., The Woman’s Part: Feminist Criticism of Shakespeare (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1983), 133–​49; Karen Newman, ‘Portia’s Ring: Unruly Women and Structures of Exchange in The Merchant of Venice’, Shakespeare Quarterly 38, no. 1 (1987), 19–​33; Jean E. Howard, ‘Renaissance Antitheatricality and the Politics of Gender and Rank in Much Ado About Nothing’, in Jean E. Howard and Marion F. O’Connor, eds., Shakespeare Reproduced: The Text in History and Ideology (London and New York: Routledge, 1987), 163–​87; Valerie Traub, Desire and Anxiety: Circulations of Sexuality in Shakespearean Drama (London: Routledge, 1992), quotation on 118; Laura Levine, ‘Rape, Repetition, and the Politics of Closure in A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, in Valerie Traub, M. Lindsay Kaplan, and Dympna Callaghan, eds., Feminist Readings of Early Modern Culture: Emerging Subjects (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 210–​28; Lisa Hopkins, The Shakespearean Marriage: Merry Wives and Heavy Husbands (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1998), 9; Natasha Korda, Shakespeare’s Domestic Economies: Gender and Property in Early Modern England (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002), 52–​75; Kathryn Schwarz; What You Will: Gender, Contract, and Shakespearean Social Space (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011), 105–​28, 155–​80; Pamela Allen Brown, Better a Shrew than a Sheep (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2003). See also Mihoko Suzuki, who suggests that in Much Ado and Twelfth Night the ‘harmony’ of comic form idealized by critics such as Frye and Barber is designed to ‘repress anxieties about unruly women [and] to displace them onto male scapegoats’, (‘Gender, Class, and the Ideology of Comic Form: Much Ado About Nothing and Twelfth Night’, in Dympna Callaghan, ed., A Feminist Companion to Shakespeare [Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2001], 121, 130).

14   Heather Hirschfeld as ‘part of a continuing living tradition’. Kirk Melnikoff in Chapter 4 pursues a different kind of tradition informing the comedies, the popular crime narratives of the late sixteenth century. Melnikoff imagines Shakespeare in the London bookshops of the late sixteenth century, where he became an ‘energetic reader’ of these narratives, which he translated into the comic worlds of Errors and Shrew. Andy Kesson re-​orients the discussion in Chapter 5, focusing on the kinds of comic experimentation practised by playwrights in the 1580s. As he suggests, the genre of comedy in this decade was ‘a less secure conceptual category’ than we now assume it to be, and Shakespeare’s comedies need to be evaluated against the unpredictable tropes of plays such as The Three Ladies of London (1581), Campaspe (1583), Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay (1589), and Mucedorus (1591). His essay can thus be seen as a direct challenge to, or encounter with, some of the premises of the Handbook. The chapters in Part II, ‘Themes and Conventions’, work both to re-​engage well-​worn topics and to introduce new ones to the list of Shakespeare’s comic concerns. Kenneth J.  E. Graham, in Chapter  6, explores carefully the multiple religious dimensions of Shakespeare’s comedies and the ways in which they stage social, as well as doctrinal, encounters within souls and communities. In Chapter 7, Amanda Bailey suggests that Shakespearean comedy, like the early modern economy, is only superficially governed by a ‘logic of even-​handed exchange’. Rather, comic closure and economic rationality are undermined by ‘random decisions, spontaneous accidents, and the complex unfolding of events’; in the drama, this kind of unpredictability makes the plays both enticing and disorienting for audiences. In Chapter 8, Catherine Richardson evaluates the role of domestic stability—​the desire for it, the elusiveness of it—​in shaping Shakespeare’s comic form. Her essay surveys a range of staged domestic interactions, ‘from the passing of a platter to the reconstitution of a family’, that are part of the period’s concern with the ‘proper nature of domestic encounters’ as they were represented on stage and practised in the home. And in Chapter 9, Kent Cartwright, tracking the geographic reach of the comedies, observes Shakespeare’s interest in the displacement of his characters as they move around the globe, simultaneously evoking and then undercutting cultural and national stereotypes. Geraldo U. de Sousa is also concerned in Chapter 10 with stereotypes, specifically racial and ethnic ones, as he explores the intersections of comedy and race. Ranging widely across the plays as well as across historical and theoretical accounts of racial difference, de Sousa thinks through Shakespeare’s comedy with the intent to resist some of the assumptions of white privilege often reproduced in Shakespeare studies. De Sousa proposes that Shakespeare’s comedies ‘afford us glimpses of the world’s ethnic, racial, and cultural diversity’ in ways that acknowledge fears of racial and ethnic difference even as they ultimately ‘affirm all humans’ fundamental dignity’. In Chapter 11 Simon Barker addresses a relatively neglected feature of the comedies: the shadows of war that linger around the edges of plays such as Much Ado and LLL. Here Barker makes the case that Shakespeare’s comedies, precisely because they are comedies, ‘ha[ve] the potential to invite subversive views of the orthodoxies of a military hegemony that was being consolidated during the Elizabethan and early Stuart period’. In Chapter 12 Julie

Introduction   15 Sanders demonstrates the role of memory and memorializing practices in shaping the language as well as events of the comedies, from Olivia’s tearful grieving for her dead brother to Antipholus of Syracuse’s search for his lost twin. In a striking turn, she also demonstrates the role of comedy in enabling memory; as she says, the genre ‘is not just about the humour of the moment but at its most powerful is a repository of folk practice and at its edges is shaded with the loss and longing of its dramatic and generic opposite, tragedy’. Sanders emphasizes the ways in which remembrance in the early modern period was a matter of material practice, involving the body and its fluids, as much as it was a matter of abstract thinking. Matthew Steggle, in Chapter 13, is also interested in principles of embodiment, specifically period theories of the humours and their relation to early modern notions of the self. He makes clear that Shakespearean comedy takes humoral theory seriously in so far as it allows for a model of embodied selfhood that is both mutable and liquid. In Chapter 14 Kevin Curran considers similar issues of bodies and selves in specifically phenomenological terms, looking at the ways in which the plays both question and reaffirm the role of the senses in communal life. He concludes by proposing an ethics of Shakespearean comedy grounded in Emmanuel Levinas’s understanding of subjectivity as relational, a matter ‘of the self ’s encounter with, extension towards, and welcoming of the other’. And in Chapter 15 Steve Mentz brings the imperatives of contemporary eco-​criticism to bear on the comedies in a methodological encounter with Frye’s model ‘green comedy’. Rather than simply privileging stability and stasis, Mentz argues, Shakespeare offers in his comedies a dynamic image of the natural world—​including versions of ‘blue oceanic disorder’—​best understood in terms of ‘post-​equilibrium’ ecological scholarship. In Chapter 16, Carolyn Sale advocates provocatively for the function of Shakespearean comedy in ‘cultivating’ the audience in the ability to reason necessary for participation in the common law tradition. In her supple readings of Errors, Measure, and Merchant, she shows that the fact that they are comic fictions allows the plays to provide ‘the experience of an active relation to the legal that establishes or renews individual audience members’ relation to law to affirm the legal capacity of audience members in their aggregate as the people by whom the law is made’. Judith Haber, in Chapter 17, is equally concerned with Shakespeare’s use of form on the audience. Only for her the playwright works not to train his spectators but to destabilize them, exposing them to the unpredictable powers of erotic desire that often evade comic closure. And in Chapter  18, David L. Orvis argues for the structural and formal, as well as affective, queerness of Shakespearean comedy, as he charts the ways in which the plays, even one as seemingly heteronormative as Much Ado, display an ‘irreducible antagonism toward dominant attitudes and beliefs’. Erin Minear puts the concept of the encounter—​here, between characters, music, and the meaning of that music—​front and centre in Chapter 19. With her sensitive observation that Shakespeare’s characters often wish to hear songs that they have already heard, she suggests that questions about ‘musical meaning become particularly pressing in comedy’ as songs and instrumental accompaniments can symbolize both authentic

16   Heather Hirschfeld and unearned harmony. In Chapter 20, Michelle M. Dowd takes up the crucial question of the representation of women in the comedies from a distinctly economic angle. Her attentive readings of LLL, Merchant, As You Like It, and Twelfth Night suggest that ‘Shakespeare depicts female characters through their encounter with their physical and economic environment’, and she ultimately argues that the strength and vitality so often attributed to his comic heroines ‘is complexly interwoven with the material conditions of their historical moment’. Anne Myers’s treatment of architectural space in Chapter 21 is also in many ways about gender. Myers argues that the plays complicate commonplace associations of buildings and female bodies, so that the staged entry into the former does not guarantee entry into the latter. Part II closes with a chapter on genre and creaturely species, with Laurie Shannon’s deft study of the comedies’ staging of encounters between human ‘poor things’ and nonhuman ‘vile things’. Weaving together Pliny’s natural history and Hobbes’s political theory, Shannon argues in Chapter 22 that Shakespearean comedy ‘articulates . . . its own taxonomic classification of humankind’ in relation to nonhuman kinds. The chapters in Part III address the potential for encounters in the material conditions of comic performance. In Chapter 23, Lina Perkins Wilder surveys signature stage properties—​particularly objects such as rings and letters, which circulate over the course of the play—​and their contribution to a sense of comic fragility. Frederick Kiefer, in Chapter 24, is similarly interested in stage letters, particularly as they gesture to the kinds of print and manuscript cultures on which Shakespeare’s theatre depended. In Chapter 26 Erika T. Lin examines the dynamics of spectatorship in relation to period theories of sight, calling attention to Shakespeare’s comic strategies for ‘enabling pleasurable transgression of both social and corporeal boundaries’. Jeremy Lopez’s essay on Shakespeare’s audience complements these concerns, investigating not necessarily what spectators saw but what they laughed at. In Chapter 25 he suggests that for audiences of both the past and present laughter is an occasion for self-​reflection on our own abilities and failures to match Shakespeare’s comic intentions. Part III concludes with three penetrating accounts of aspects of the reception or performance of Shakespeare’s comedies. Katherine Scheil, in Chapter 27, treats the 400-​ year history of Shakespearean adaptation as a version of encounter. Moving with grace from John Fletcher’s reworking of Shrew in The Tamer Tam’d (1611) to the reworkings of Errors in Dari Persian as part of the Globe to Globe Festival of 2012, she demonstrates the ways in which writers and actors transformed the plays ‘in response to various cultural, historical, and social changes, and in reaction to various aesthetic concerns, including theatre personnel, literary fashions, and stage features’. Bridget Escolme captures in Chapter 28 the polemical and political urgency of Shakespearean comedy by analysing recent performances in England of Much Ado and Dream as symptoms of the kinds of cultural nostalgia that might breed votes for Brexit. And Douglas M. Lanier’s Chapter 29 closes this part of the essays with a global survey of Shakespearean comedy on the big screen, looking at its appeal to the film cultures of Mexico, Spain, Hungary, Italy, and India.

Introduction   17 Part IV features essays on the plays. Rather than offering readings of each comedy on its own, contributors were invited to look at them in groups and to consider the ways in which the plays might ‘encounter’ one another. Their analyses represent some of the most striking discoveries of the volume. In Chapter 30, John Parker connects three plays customarily associated with urban life—​Errors, Merchant, and Merry Wives—​in terms of adultery plots and their echoes of medieval drama. In Chapter 31, Joanne Diaz studies Shakespeare’s penchant for mixing eros and violence; she links the scenes of ‘tough love’ in Two Gentlemen, LLL, Shrew, and Much Ado to Shakespeare’s absorption of, and critical commentary on, the tactics of early modern pedagogy. Lisa Hopkins, in Chapter 32, tackles explicitly the ways in which the familiar green worlds of Dream, As You Like It, and Twelfth Night can be read as first contact narratives, dramatizations of the potential gains and harms as ‘diverse ethnic and cultural groups shed light on each other’. And in the book’s final chapter, Oliver Arnold disputes the utility of the category of problem play for classifying Troilus, Measure, and All’s Well, suggesting instead that their shared preoccupations with law, government, and monarchy are better understood under the banner of ‘comedies of rule’. As I hope readers will find, the chapters of the Handbook have been enlivened rather than overdetermined by the governing conceit of the encounter. Perhaps most important, the conceit enabled, I believe, the contributors’ unique insights into form. All of the chapters speak, implicitly or explicitly, to the ways in which particular sources and contexts shaped Shakespeare’s encounters with, and re-​shapings of, comic conventions and expectations. Indeed, I want to conclude the Introduction with a note on Shakespeare’s relation to the genre of comedy. Scholars often worry about the dangers of ‘seeking [a]‌unity’ that would tie together Shakespeare’s comedies into a whole, into something like ‘Shakespearean comedy’, the title of this volume. Most skirt this concern by subdividing the plays based on ‘family resemblances’ or by diagnosing patterns in a single or couple of comedies that apply broadly to the whole.50 But here is where the vocabulary of the encounter may be particularly effective in alleviating the threat of the ‘flattening’ of the plays in the pursuit of a comprehensive thesis.51 The term, as we have seen, insists on exchange or interaction. Applied to the concept of genre, it suggests a way of understanding the relation between specific and general—​here, between Shakespeare’s comedies and Shakespearean comedy—​as a dynamic encounter, in which each pole is made and seen anew in the ‘endless jar’ between them (Troilus and Cressida, 1.3.117). But the term also gives us a way to argue for a new kind of relation between the single play and the generic category. The encounter, that is, may mark the point where, as Alenka Zupančič suggests, ‘one of the two terms [specific and general] would generate the other from within itself, and become this other’.52 In other words, the comic encounter rehearses the difference between the individual play and the genre in a way that allows the 50 Leggatt, Shakespeare’s Comedy of Love (London: Methuen, 1974), xii. 51 


Kiernan Ryan, Shakespeare’s Comedies (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005). Alenka Zupančič, The Odd One In: On Comedy (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2008), 35.

18   Heather Hirschfeld two to become mutually constitutive. None of the chapters of the Handbook offers a final definition of these difficult categories. But our encounters with the plays demonstrate the persistent, although unpredictable, validity and vitality of all three: a Shakespeare comedy, Shakespeare’s comedies, and Shakespearean comedy.

Suggested Reading Elam, Keir, Shakespeare’s Universe of Discourse: Language Games in the Comedies (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984). Ghose, Indira, Shakespeare and Laughter:  A Cultural History (Manchester:  Manchester University Press, 2011). Mangan, Michael, A Preface to Shakespeare’s Comedies: 1594–​1603 (London: Longman, 1996). Jensen, Ejner, Shakespeare and the Ends of Comedy (Bloomington, IN:  Indiana University Press, 1991). Jensen, Phebe, Religion and Revelry in Shakespeare’s Festive World (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 2008). Leggatt, Alexander, English Stage Comedy, 1490–​1990:  Five Centuries of a Genre (London: Routledge, 1998). Ryan, Kiernan, Shakespeare’s Comedies (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005). Teague, Fran, ed., Acting Funny: Comic Theory and Practice in Shakespeare’s Plays (Rutherford, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1994).

Pa rt  I


Chapter 1

E nc ounteri ng t h e Eliz abethan Stag e James P. Bednarz

The business of early modern English theatre—​driven by the pursuit of what Hamlet calls ‘reputation and profit’ (2.2.332)1—​shaped Shakespeare’s encounter with Elizabethan comedy as it did the experience of his first audiences. The period during which Shakespeare wrote, Jean-​Christophe Agnew observes, saw the commercialization of various social and cultural realms at the same time as ‘the residual boundaries separating market from other forms of exchange were rapidly dissolving’.2 This development had significant results for the professionalization of drama, including the creation of modern audiences, communities of cultural consumers who were familiar not only with the plays they watched but were also conversant with the backstage culture of the writers and actors who produced them. It was also at this time that writers began to conceive of themselves as occupying what Pierre Bourdieu has famously called ‘the field of cultural production’.3 This chapter draws attention to the network of interrelated contemporary practices in governance, politics, economics, entertainment, literature, and publishing that shaped the new phenomenon of playgoing in early modern London. It surveys the material and conceptual conditions of early modern English theatre, with a focus on the development of acting companies and their repertories, as a context for better understanding the production of Shakespeare’s comedies and their reception by a growing class of avid playgoers.


All references to Shakespeare’s plays are from Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor, gen. eds., The Oxford Shakespeare, 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005). 2  Jean-​Christophe Agnew, Worlds Apart: The Market and the Theater in Anglo-​American Thought, 1550–​1750 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), xi. 3  Pierre Bourdieu, The Field of Cultural Production (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993), 16.

22   James P. Bednarz

The Advent of Commercial Theatre An unmistakable sign of the rise of professional theatre in London at the end of the sixteenth century was the construction in the outskirts of the city of some of the first purpose-​built, open-​air public playhouses in Europe since antiquity. The growth of a new kind of dedicated audience was fostered by the building of the Red Lion (1567) at Mile End; Newington Butts (1576) in Newington; the Theatre (1576) and Curtain (1577) in Shoreditch; the Rose (1587), Swan (1595), and Globe (1599) in Southwark; and the Fortune (1600) in Cripplegate. By 1590, different professional acting companies had begun to be associated with or attached to specific playhouses, and the localization and permanence of their playhouses put incredible pressure on them to satisfy the demand for new drama they had created. While itinerant acting companies could succeed by repeating in different places a small inventory of plays, those with an established urban-​ based clientele were, instead, compelled to acquire larger and more differentiated repertoires—​including diverse and innovative comedies—​in order to satisfy the expectations of inveterate theatre-​goers who could choose among competing venues. In doing so, the companies simultaneously developed new ceremonies to welcome audiences, collect admissions, and regulate the experience of playgoing. Theatre historians have assembled details from scattered evidence concerning what this multisensory experience was like. A  contemporary drawing of the Swan shows the theatre’s flag flying from the hut above the stage canopy. Performances began at the Globe with three trumpet blasts and concluded with a formal jig danced by actors at the end of both comedies and tragedies. The vendors who sold food (pippins and nuts) and drink (water and ale) during performances must have been only one of the many distractions of sight, sound, and smell the milieu afforded. Here, on what was mainly a bare stage, a group of adult male and boy actors, often doubling roles, occasionally dressed in expensive costumes, using a few props, entertained for about two to three hours an audience of men, women, and even children. Musical accents were an added feature of performance, with voice and instrumental insets providing counterpoints to dialogue. Leading actors, such as Richard Burbage, and outstanding clowns and fools, such as William Kemp and Robert Armin, were among the most famous actors in Shakespeare’s company, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, until 1603 and the King’s Men subsequently. Their performances were crucial in determining the impression his comedies made on spectators. Printed comedy could never recreate the delightful chaos achieved onstage by actors who personalized their roles in ensembles that brought their own considerable skills to the issue of interpretation. As a member of a repertory company, Shakespeare had to keep its talent in mind, and this is particularly apparent in the case of the two very different clowns. Kemp, who joined the Lord Chamberlain’s Men with Shakespeare at its inception in 1594, presented himself as being foremost a man of the people. He was an athlete, musician, actor, and jig-​maker who gained fame as a sponsor of festive mirth. Shakespeare played with his comic persona by casting him as ‘Bottom’, ‘Lancelot’,

Encountering the Elizabethan Stage    23 and ‘Dogberry’. Once Armin replaced Kemp sometime in 1600, Shakespeare fashioned the more cerebral ‘Touchstone’, ‘Feste’, and ‘Thersites’ roles that emphasized Armin’s sharp wit. In the process, Kemp’s malapropisms ceded to Armin’s elaborate wordplay, as the russet fool gave way to the professional jester in motley in a move that allowed Shakespeare greater latitude in investigating more deliberate forms of ‘wit’ capable of fostering a different mode of philosophical self-​awareness. The industry’s popularity is indisputable. It is estimated that in 1594 the Lord Chamberlain’s Men and the Lord Admiral’s Men, its leading competitor, were visited approximately 15,000 times each week, during a period when London had 200,000 inhabitants.4 By 1599, the Globe alone—​which probably featured performances beginning at 2 o’clock in the afternoon, six days a week, all year long, except for Lent—​could accommodate around 800 groundlings, standing around a canopied thrust stage and perhaps another 2,000 seated spectators in its three-​tiered galleries. (Seated customers composed the majority.) At maximum capacity, that was potentially 16,800 visits a week for one theatre alone. But popularity did not necessarily bring respectability. Some vocal Elizabethans despised, feared, and denounced the emerging entertainment industry for theological or philosophical reasons. John Northbrooke, one of the public theatre’s most vitriolic opponents, saw no harm in permitting scholars ‘to play good and honest Comedies’, but warned readers that all the public theatre could teach them was ‘how to be false and deceive your husbands, or husbands their wives’ and ‘how to disobey and to rebel against Princes’.5 Comedies were a particularly frequent subject for attack. ‘When the soul of your plays is either mere trifles, or Italian bawdry, or wooing of gentlewomen, what are we taught?’ Stephen Gosson pointedly asked.6 Others, from a more pragmatic point of view, condemned the public theatres as generators of crime and disease. These amphitheatres were built in the suburbs at the behest of London’s civic authorities, who upheld what they saw as their responsibility to protect citizens against riot, pickpocketing, prostitution, and plague by refusing to allow them to operate within their jurisdiction. Plays continued to be acted at a few London inns, but the placement of the large public theatres attests to a compromise between the mayor and alderman, on the one hand, and the Privy Council, on the other, which permitted acting companies to conduct business in the areas to the north and south of the city. One unintended result of this civic planning decision was to intensify the sense of escape from the everyday world entailed in the adventure of playgoing. In travelling to the amphitheatres—​by foot, horse, boat, or later coach—​audiences left the quotidian behind. One commentator saw this as a cheap substitute for foreign adventure: ‘It was at the theatre’, the Swiss tourist Thomas Platter observed, that ‘the

4  Andrew Gurr, The Shakespearean Stage 1574–​1642, 4th ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 260. 5  John Northbrooke, A Treatise Against Dicing, Dancing, Plays and Interludes, with Other Idle Pastimes (London, 1577), M2r. 6  Stephen Gosson, The School of Abuse (London, 1579), C6r.

24   James P. Bednarz English pass their time, learning at the play what is happening abroad’.7 Language and gesture were the principal means of transport. Such virtual travel in the realm of comedy was potentially limitless, unbound by time or place, with audiences as likely to find themselves in Shakespeare’s ancient Ephesus or Athens if not in contemporary Padua, Verona, or Vienna. In comedy, as C. L. Barber has indicated, Shakespeare commodified ‘holiday custom’.8 Only once—​in The Merry Wives of Windsor—​did he deny them a trip abroad. Having arrived at the playhouse, theatre-​goers who attended Shakespeare’s comedies might then find themselves further ushered into secondary fantastical worlds-​ within-​worlds, such as the enchanted ‘green worlds’ of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and As You Like It, to encounter fictional problems that strangely resembled their own. Here, these same theatre-​goers could similarly find themselves entertained by comedies such as Twelfth Night, which dramatized the ‘role-​playing’ implicit in ordinary experience. Stephen Mullaney has argued that these theatres’ cultural geography, situated on the margins rather than at the centre of municipal life, provided a sense of ‘liberty that was at once moral, ideological, and topological—​a freedom to experiment with a wide range of available ideological perspectives and to realize, in dramatic form, the cultural contradictions of its age’.9 Although subject to government licensing, the performance of plays in the suburbs imparted both an air of inconsequence and an outsider status that enabled them to generate wide-​ranging, opinionated discourses that enacted and addressed fundamental social issues through performance. Some of Shakespeare’s contemporaries, seeing public theatre as a dangerous innovation, wanted to abolish it. The fact that the theatrical profession was never completely vindicated as a legitimate industry (with a separate guild of its own) does not, however, mean that it did not have strong advocates and admirers. Despite the sustained attack on the stage, there was nevertheless a new perception by some producers and consumers within the emerging theatrical community that commercial drama might be included among those significant cultural activities that Thomas Nashe in the late 1580s called ‘the endeavors of art’.10 It is true that to some ‘Elizabethans who thought seriously on the question, Elizabethan drama was a bastard child of poetry, an unmistakably illegitimate offspring’.11 But others were more sanguine about its status. Michael Drayton recalls the thrill of striving for Apollo’s ‘Lawrell’ within the ‘Circuit’ of a commercial theatre in Idea 47:


Thomas Platter, Thomas Platter’s Travels in England, 1599, ed. and trans. Donald Beecher (Binghamton, NY: Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies, 1992), 170. 8  See C. L. Barber’s still influential Shakespeare’s Festive Comedy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1952). 9  Steven Mullaney, The Place of the Stage: License, Place, and Power in Renaissance England (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1988), ix–​x. 10  Thomas Nashe, The Works of Thomas Nashe, ed. Ronald B. McKerrow, 5 vols (Oxford: Blackwell, 1958), 3:315. 11  Richard Helgerson, Self-​Crowned Laureates: Spenser, Jonson, Milton, and the Literary System (Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 1983), 150.

Encountering the Elizabethan Stage    25 IN PRIDE of Wit, when high desire of Fame Gave Life and Courage to my lab’ring Pen, And first the sound and vertue of my Name Wonne grace and credit in the Eares of Men; With those the thronged Theatres that presse, I in the Circuit for the Lawrell strove: Where, the full Prayse I freely must confesse, In heat of Bloud a modest mind might move.12

The public theatre was a place, Drayton reminisces, in which audiences realized the ‘vertue’ of his ‘Name’. The arena in which he competed was filled with those who knew his name from having heard his drama; he encountered the stage as a site of poetic aspiration in which his ‘Name’ gained ‘grace and credit in the Eares of Men’. Audiences did not always have to wait to read dramatists’ names printed on the forthcoming title pages of their plays to know who had written them. Publication credit apparently lagged behind performance recognition of the same authors. Ben Jonson was such a recognizable presence at the public theatre in 1601 that Thomas Dekker observed how he would ‘venter on the stage’ when his play had ended, ‘to exchange curtezies, and complements with Gallants in the Lordes rooms’ (the expensive box seats adjoining it) in order ‘to make all the house rise up in Armes, to cry . . . that’s he, that’s he, that’s he’.13 Nashe had been equally impressed by the majesty of London’s theatres, which he defended against their detractors. ‘What talke I to them of immortalitie, that are the onely underminers of Honour, and do envie any man that is not sprung up by base Brokerie like themselves?’ he asks. ‘All Artes to them are vanitie’ (1:212–​13). Theatre was never better, even in ancient Rome, he marvels: ‘our Sceane is more statelye furnisht than ever it was in the time of Roscius, our representations honourable, and full of gallant resolution’ (1:215). Such praise would culminate in Thomas Heywood’s formal Apology for Actors.14 Shakespeare nevertheless famously denigrates his work. Puck’s epilogue to Dream apologizes for its ‘weak and idle theme’, and in Sonnet 111 the poet-​player memorably characterizes the stigma of his profession as the stain of ‘the dyer’s hand’.15 But lest we take such self-​effacing statements at face value, it is important to recognize how deeply rooted in the medieval rhetorical tradition of ‘affected modesty’ such expressions might be.16 Authorial submission to the audience’s opinion, and even the assumption of failure, 12  Michael Drayton, The Works of Michael Drayton, ed. William Hebel, 5 vols (Oxford: Shakespeare Head Press, 1961), 2:334. 13  Thomas Dekker, Satiromastix, or the Untrussing of the Humorous Poet in The Dramatic Works of Thomas Dekker, ed. Fredson Bowers, 4 vols (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1953), I:389. 14  Thomas Heywood, An Apology for Actors (London, 1612). 15  The early modern sense of shame associated with theatre is amply documented by Gerald Eades Bentley in The Profession of Dramatist in Shakespeare’s Time, 1590–​1642 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1971), and The Profession of Player in Shakespeare’s Time, 1590–​1642 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984). 16  See Ernst Robert Curtius, European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1953), 83–​5.

26   James P. Bednarz might be understood paradoxically as the proper humble Chaucerian stance to assume in attempting to secure a dramatic as well as a ‘literary’ reputation. For some Elizabethan audience members the identity of who wrote the plays they viewed mattered, and this curiosity was addressed through advertising. There is convincing evidence that early modern audiences could on occasion find dramatists’ names posted for prior examination and that an author’s bad reputation could cause a play to fail. In Histriomastix, or the Player Whipt, which John Marston probably revised in 1599, Gutt, one of the actors, observes that the name of their company’s new dramatist (Posthaste), displayed on or near a public playhouse’s door, will cause theatre-​goers to flee his bad writing. ‘It is as dangerous to read his name at a play-​door’, Gutt laments, ‘As a printed bill on a plague door’.17 Despite frequent collaboration among playwrights, it was apparently possible for an outstanding writer to achieve a reputation as a commercial dramatist and, in doing so, to aspire to a status that we now refer to as ‘literary’. It is sometimes assumed that publishing plays attributed to authors legitimized such texts and their composers by dissociating them from the disreputable commercial playhouses. Yet the difference between the modalities of performance and print did not seem to some early modern commentators as extreme as it is currently imagined. Some of those who attended Shakespeare’s comedies at the Globe frequented the bookstalls as well, where they could have purchased copies of plays they wanted to know better. Already by 1600, Lukas Erne points out, ‘fifteen or all but five of the first twenty plays’ Shakespeare wrote ‘were in print’ and that ‘more than half of them had reached at least a second edition’.18 Although his histories were his bestsellers, five of Shakespeare’s comedies were available in quarto by 1602. A lost edition of Love’s Labour’s Lost, published in 1597, was probably the first of his plays to advertise his name on its title page.19 Recalling performances of Shakespeare’s drama in their address ‘To the great Variety of Readers’ at the opening of the Folio in 1623, John Heminges and Henry Condell claim that Shakespeare’s plays had already been judged through their repeated theatrical success: ‘These Plays have had their trial already, and stood out all Appeals’ (A3r). The first Folio was the climax—​not the origin—​of an ongoing process of authorial canonization that began in the public playhouses erected in the suburbs of London at the end of the sixteenth century. According to current usage, the terms ‘poet’, ‘novelist’, and ‘playwright’ denote different kinds of writers. But for Elizabethans and Jacobeans, verse and prose as well as non-​dramatic and dramatic ‘kinds’ were generally conflated under the rubric of ‘poetry’. In a period in which some of his contemporaries, such as his 17  Quoted from H. Harvey Wood, The Plays of John Marston (London: Oliver and Boyd, 1934–​9), 3:285. 18  Lukas Erne, Shakespeare as Literary Dramatist (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 56. 19  Arthur Freeman and Paul Grinke, ‘Four New Shakespeare Quartos?’, The Times Literary Supplement, 5 April 2002, 17–​18. This article brings to light Philip Tandy’s mid-​1630s library catalogue reference to ‘Loves Labours Lost by W: Sha: 1597’. The title page of the extant second edition of the comedy, printed for Cuthbert Burby in 1598, confirms this discovery, since it claims to have been ‘Newly corrected and augmented/​By W. Shakespeare’. Burby indicates that there was a prior edition, but his boast of Shakespeare’s direct involvement with his quarto’s production seems misleading.

Encountering the Elizabethan Stage    27 friend and rival Ben Jonson, began to prepare their plays for publication with paratexts dedicating and introducing their work to readers, Shakespeare never individually positioned his printed plays in the cultural marketplace. Yet during the first part of his career he and his acting company began to participate in the process that brought his drama from stage to page by periodically selling it for publication. By the time that the First Folio was published in 1623, more than forty editions of his plays had already been printed by London stationers. If each of these editions was issued in a minimum of 750 copies, roughly 30,000 copies of Shakespeare’s plays would have been produced for contemporary readers. Shakespeare, who constantly frequented booksellers to find new material to convert into drama, would have seen some of his plays printed in multiple quarto editions. Although he did not take an active role in the publication of his drama, Shakespeare and his company colleagues must have taken pride in the fact that he had become one of the most thoroughly published ‘poets’ in Elizabethan England. And he might also have hoped that his printed plays would entice quarto readers to visit the playhouse to see them performed.

A Blending of Popular and Elite Cultures Although the stage in some ways occupied a position of cultural marginality, one’s encounter with plays in the new amphitheatres also involved what Douglas Bruster identifies as an ‘institutional development which transcended geographical boundaries’ based on its new and far-​reaching political and economic foundations.20 The players’ status, as opposed to their regular place of business, was in one regard far from marginal. The fact that Shakespeare’s company regularly performed at court before Queen Elizabeth and King James indicates their simultaneous proximity to the centre of national political power. The most significant political relationship that his company enjoyed was aristocratic and royal patronage at a time when the public theatre’s existence was threatened by civic authorities. Direct financial assistance to Shakespeare’s company from court patrons was less important than the prestige and protection such affiliation brought to the business of playing. The establishment of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men under Henry Carey, Lord Hunsdon, in 1594, and the company’s subsequent elevation as the King’s Men under James I, in 1603, made them, in title, household retainers, entitled to wear their patron’s livery. As a prominent member of the King’s Men and consequently a Groom of the Chamber, Shakespeare occasionally appeared at public events with his sovereign, but the title mainly involved participating in productions staged at royal palaces during the holiday season from Advent to Shrovetide as well as for special events. 20 

Douglas Bruster, Drama and the Market in the Age of Shakespeare (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 10.

28   James P. Bednarz Under Elizabeth and James, Shakespeare’s company appeared at court at least 254 times, between 1594 and 1612, to entertain the two monarchs, their entourages, honoured guests, and foreign dignitaries. Patronage was especially vital to Shakespeare because of his dual roles as a theatrical entrepreneur: a ‘sharer’ (or ‘stock holder’) in his acting company since 1594 who became a ‘housekeeper’ (or partial owner) of the lease on the Globe in 1599. An infamous statute against ‘rogues and vagabonds’ passed by Parliament in 1572 classified actors as beggars unless they had one nobleman or two members of the judiciary confirm that they were not masterless men. In 1592, legislation further restricted theatrical patronage to the nobility. ‘Comedians and stage-​players of former times were very poor and ignorant in respect of this time’, Edmund Howes noted in 1615, and having ‘now grown very skilful and exquisite actors for all matters’ were ‘entertained into the service of diverse lords’.21 But despite noble patronage, the challenge of financing the company always remained a prime responsibility of its shareholders. This legal arrangement, which permitted the players to professionalize, minimized costs for the crown since it provided entertainment for royal occasions at the lowest possible cost. Even though Shakespeare’s company was based in the suburbs of early modern London, the same plays they acted, with few alterations, were originally performed by special request in the great halls of royal palaces, the residences of noblemen, and at the Inns of Court. On tour, they were also acted in town halls, guild halls, and inns. The business model of the Lord Chamberlain’s and King’s Men thus involved both patronage and market economies. Through them, the pursuits of ‘reputation and profit’ were inextricably combined. One reason for Shakespeare’s enduring success is that his dramatic repertoire effectively synthesized courtly and popular modes in ways that effectively appealed to a wide range of audience members. The comedies selected for performance at court were tested in the commercial theatre. By the late 1590s, however, the company contemplated performing solely for their wealthiest and best-​educated patrons. This strategy was based on James Burbage’s estimation that he and the Lord Chamberlain’s Men (of which his son Richard was a principal actor and sharer) could make just as much or more money by having the company perform indoors before a smaller audience—​of hundreds, not thousands—​willing to pay at least six times more for the cheapest seats.22 Once James Burbage, who had built the Theatre, was certain that his landlord Giles Allen would not renew the lease on the land beneath his playhouse (set to expire on 13 April 1597), he secured on 4 February 1596, for £600, use of the so-​called Parliament Chamber of the Upper Frater in the Blackfriars complex in the upscale liberty of the Blackfriars, a wealthy neighbourhood within the city, near the Inns of Court, between 21 

Edmund Howes makes this remark in his expanded version of John Stow’s Annales or Generall Chronicle of England (London, 1615), 697. 22  See John H. Astington, ‘Why the Theatres Changed’, in Andrew Gurr and Farah Karim-​ Cooper, eds., Moving Shakespeare Indoors: Performance and Repertoire in the Jacobean Playhouse (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 15–​31.

Encountering the Elizabethan Stage    29 London and Westminster. He renovated it at great cost so that it could serve as the sole theatre for his son Richard Burbage’s troupe. Burbage wagered that the enclosed, or indoor, Blackfriars theatre, which held an audience of approximately 500 people, would be an excellent location to attract a suitable committed clientele. It is only because Burbage’s plan was blocked by a petition to the Privy Council from powerful residents concerned about the threat of noise and unruly crowds that the Lord Chamberlain’s Men were prevented from being the first ‘public’ or amphitheatre company to become exclusively ‘private’ or indoor.23 Up to that point, only chorister companies, composed of child actors, had been allowed to perform in the Blackfriars complex, where they held scheduled performances once or twice a week. It was a novel proposition to have an adult acting company move permanently indoors. Blocked from going ‘private’, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men built the Globe in 1599 as an expedient second choice. What James Burbage’s sizeable real estate investment reveals is the extent to which he saw his company’s future in meeting the tastes and interests of an educated elite whose presence validated what might be called the ‘art’ or ‘literary status’ of some products of commercial theatre. Ironically, the failure of Burbage’s plan to go completely upscale had an important, beneficial consequence: it encouraged Shakespeare to continue to produce complex plays that met the needs of both general audiences and ardent theatre-​goers. He did so by interleaving his drama with multiple levels of significance, incorporating up-​market metatheatrical elements that did not alienate the mass audience he continued to attract. This dual strategy guaranteed that his comedies would continue to be focused on satisfying both general and elite tastes. Around 1609, the company, now the King’s Men, had become so comfortable with both settings that they decided to divide their season between the Globe and Blackfriars. Shakespeare’s stages continued for this reason to serve as a dynamic public forum—​akin to but distinct from the institutions of church and state—​for collective self-​reflection. This general public included privileged audience members who could have watched the company perform at court or at the Inns of Court as well in an amphitheatre. In either case, their approval or disapproval would have had a decisive impact on the company’s reputation and profit. The dynamic system of limited court patronage and commercial exchange that resulted shaped the nature of the company’s repertoire, as producers and consumers on all levels influenced each other in multiple ways. The professional theatrical community mimicked fraternal elements of the established guilds (with which some actors were affiliated), which regulated such professions as grocers or drapers, but it was also infused with the spirit of capitalist entrepreneurship. In debunking an older myth of cutthroat competition in the theatre industry, we should consequently avoid the error of providing a simplistic alternative based on the communal rapport of The Shoemaker’s Holiday.24 23 

Details of the circumstances surrounding the petition circulated by Elizabeth Russell to prevent the Lord Chamberlain’s Men from occupying the theatre are supplied by Chris Laoutaris in Shakespeare and the Countess: The Battle That Gave Birth to the Globe (London: Penguin Books, 2014), 270–​87. 24  A version of this misleading theory is advanced by Roslyn Knutson in Playing Companies and Commerce in Shakespeare’s Time (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001).

30   James P. Bednarz The business of theatre was a ‘venture’ that risked borrowed capital in a volatile and competitive industry recurrently threatened with—​and subjected to—​extended periods of closure. It involved cooperation and collaboration as well as competition and rivalry, as do most professions. One significant result of theatrical commercialization was an ongoing struggle for market share that influenced Shakespearean comedy, a genre that proved to be consistently successful in addressing the multi-​layered and changing sensibilities of its heterogeneous audience.

The Modalities of ‘Public’ and ‘Private’ Performance Competition spurred innovation, dialogue, and debate through the invention of new comic paradigms contrived to address changing cultural conditions and perspectives. Susceptible to infinite variations, comedy was produced and consumed in generic clusters that followed shared traditions and trends. Emergent literary fashions, stimulated by economic risk-​taking as well as intellectual position-​taking, periodically challenged, transformed, or overturned dominant generic conventions. The marketplace of early modern drama was more dynamic than some repertory studies suggest. While the customary comedy ended with a turn away from despair to joy, Shakespeare experimented with unexpected forms of closure, from the suspended conclusion of LLL, projected past the play’s epilogue, to the multiple endings of Twelfth Night that dissolve into Feste’s musical complaint of how ‘the rain it raineth every day’ (5.1.388), another stanza of which the Fool utters in King Lear (3.2.75–​8). Although Shakespeare focused on marital courtship, his protean comedy actively assimilated new trends. The surge in the popularity of published verse satire in the late 1590s and early 1600s, for example, is witnessed in the stronger satiric tone in Shakespearean comedy as it evolves from Dream to Measure for Measure. One manifestation of this change is evident in what Dekker called the ‘poetomachia’ or ‘Poets’ War’, an extended metatheatrical debate, from roughly 1599 to 1601, through which Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, John Marston, and Thomas Dekker considered the question of what contemporary theatre was and should be.25 At the turn of the seventeenth century, Shakespeare’s festive romantic comedy responded in complex ways to three especially challenging generic experiments: Ben Jonson’s comical satire, John Marston’s tragicomedy, and Thomas Middleton’s city comedy. For all Shakespeare’s versatility in adapting to changing fashions, his company was fortunate in having as their ‘ordinary poet’ a writer whose comedies aged particularly well. They were still able to stage The Comedy of Errors for James I in 1604, a decade after it was scheduled to be performed at the chaotic Christmas festivities held at Grey’s Inn. 25 

See James P. Bednarz, Shakespeare and the Poets’ War (New York: Columbia University Press, 2001), 5.

Encountering the Elizabethan Stage    31 The contents of Shakespeare’s drama, like that of his peers, was subject to a system of licensing and censorship that required all scripts to be cleared for performance by the Master of the Revels, an official under the jurisdiction of the Lord Chamberlain. As Annabel Patterson notes, ‘there were conventions that both sides accepted as to how far a writer could go in explicit address to the contentious issues of his day, how he could encode his opinions so that nobody would be required to make an example of him’.26 Knowing these conventions, however, did not prevent a few daring playwrights such as Jonson from testing the limits of what might be said through political satire. Two of the comedies on which he collaborated, The Isle of Dogs (1597) and Eastward Ho! (1605), led to his arrest and imprisonment. Shakespeare usually avoided engaging in such risky behaviour, but even he was forced to change one of his most popular comic character’s names from ‘Sir John Oldcastle’ to ‘Sir John Falstaff ’, based on an accusation that it too was pointedly satirical.27 Such intervention on the part of the government was relatively rare. The institutionalized distinction between ‘public’ and ‘private’ production was one of the most significant social divisions that structured the performance of commercial theatre in London during the period in which Shakespeare composed his comedies. In his influential study of this professional bifurcation, Shakespeare and the Rival Traditions, Alfred Harbage stereotyped their difference as consisting of an essential split between the patriotic and healthy ‘theatre of a nation’, embodied by adult actors, who performed before heterogeneous audiences in ‘public’ amphitheatres, and the satiric ‘private’ drama, performed by child actors for elite, morally jaded audiences in smaller ‘private’ indoor theatres.28 Richard Helgerson, however, rightfully insists that: ‘Subsequent studies have cast considerable doubt on the sharp distinction Harbage makes between the public theatres and their repertories and the private theatres and theirs.’29 Andrew Gurr has offered in its place a more nuanced characterization of the private theatres with their child actors that acknowledges their dramatic range, one enlarged by decades of dialectical engagement with their public, adult counterparts.30 From one perspective, professional ‘private’ and ‘public’ theatrical traditions and venues seem difficult to confuse. The former consisted of performances indoors by child actors, especially adept at music, before audiences perceived to be of the middle or upper classes, whose general admission was significantly higher than at the public theatre. The latter involved performances, mainly by adults, with a lower initial admission to stand in the yard and higher ones to be seated in the galleries. Although the public theatres were apparently more diverse, a significant segment of their audiences overlapped because elite 26 

Annabel Patterson, Censorship and Interpretation: The Conditions of Reading and Writing in Early Modern England (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1984), 11. 27  See James P. Bednarz, ‘Biographical Politics: Shakespeare, Jonson and the Oldcastle Controversy’, The Ben Jonson Journal 11 (2004): 1–​20. 28  This well-​known formulation is the main premise of Alfred Harbage, Shakespeare and the Rival Traditions (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1952). 29 Helgerson, Self-​Crowned Laureates, 197. 30 Gurr, The Shakespearean Stage, 59–​72.

32   James P. Bednarz playgoers frequented the relatively inexpensive public theatres as well as dominating the significantly more expensive private venues. The distinction between ‘private’ and ‘public’ theatres originated as a legal fiction, based on the contention that the child acting companies were not operating commercial enterprises but were instead staging rehearsals for court performances (for which they charged a fee). But the inflated admission charged by the private theatres indicates a more exclusive, committed clientele. Shakespeare was aware of both places of performance as well as their thoroughly interrelated traditions, and he capitalized on and deftly combined elements of each. Shakespeare did not have to write for the private stage to have it be a lasting influence on his comedy. John Lyly, the English dramatist who had the most profound formative impact on his early comedy, worked exclusively for the child acting companies of the private theatre. It is estimated that over 85 per cent of professionally performed plays acted by the children companies were comedies, and Lyly was one of their best writers.31 In ‘To the memory of my beloved, The Author, Mr. William Shakespeare’ in the Folio, Jonson listed Lyly as one of the three greatest contemporary dramatists—​the peer of Thomas Kyd and Christopher Marlowe—​whom Shakespeare had overshadowed. There was no need, Jonson states, to prove how: ‘thou didst our Lily out-​shine,/​Or sporting Kid, or Marlowes mighty line’ (lines 29–​30). From 1584 to 1590, Lyly had been associated with several companies—​including Oxford’s Boys, the Children of the Chapel, and Paul’s Boys—​that performed his witty comedies to acclaim at court. Two Gentlemen of Verona, The Merchant of Venice, As You Like It, and Twelfth Night show the influence of Lyly’s gender-​bending comedy Gallathea. They also show the impact of his masterfully designed plot symmetries, sculptured rhetoric, verbal sparring, delight in mythology, and fascination with the psychology of love. Lyly’s stature becomes even greater when one realizes that Jonson thought that Shakespeare’s greatest work was in comedy, not tragedy. In commendatory verses at the start of the Folio, Jonson states that if he could call Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides and Seneca ‘to life againe’ as an audience of near equals to ‘heare thy Buskin tread, /​And Shake a Stage’, their approval of the poet-​player (symbolically dressed in the boots of a classical actor of tragedy), would affirm Shakespeare’s stature. But when his ‘Sockes were on’ (in the footwear of a Roman comedian), Jonson continues, ‘Leave him alone for the comparison /​ Of all, that insolent Greece, or haughtie Rome /​ sent forth, or since did from their ashes come’ (lines 33–​40). He exceeded the abilities of Aristophanes, Plautus, and Terence as well as Lyly. In writing comedy—​here imagined symbolically as acting it before an audience—​Shakespeare was unmatched. This was particularly generous praise from Jonson, whose comedies were some of his best work. Shakespeare superseded Lyly in the act of subsuming him. Lyly’s comedy was part of a field of dramatic and non-​dramatic influences in prose and poetry that blended high and low motifs and formats with a seemingly casual disregard for hierarchy. Another prestigious dramatic model for Shakespearean comedy was the Italian commedia

31 Harbage, Shakespeare and the Rival Traditions, 85.

Encountering the Elizabethan Stage    33 erudita, a sixteenth-​century dramatic movement that grounded contemporary practice in ancient theory for an elite audience for whom ‘neoclassicism was an innovation’.32 ‘Shakespeare’s new drama’, as Bart van Es notes, ‘fused classical and Italian influence in a way likely to appeal to elevated taste’.33 When he wrote Errors he consulted Plautus’s Menaechmi and Amphitryon as well as George Gascoigne’s The Supposes (1566), a translation of Ludovico Ariosto’s I Suppositi (1509). He would glance at the latter again in The Taming of the Shrew. Epic poetry is often ranked among the highest literary ‘kinds’, while vernacular staged comedy is placed much lower. Yet when Edmund Spenser sent an early draft of The Faerie Queene to Gabriel Harvey in 1580, Italian comedy had become so prestigious that Harvey informed Spenser that he might more readily achieve fame through his (now lost) Nine Comedies, which were similarly indebted to Ariosto: I am voyde of al judgement, if your Nine Comoedies . . . come not nearer Ariostoes Comoedies, eyther for the finesesse of plausible Elocution, or the rareness of Poetical Invention, than that Elvish Queene doth to his Orlando Furioso. . . . Besides that you know, it hath bene the usual practice of the most exquisite . . . wittes in all nations, and specially in Italie, rather to shewe, and advaunce themselves hat way, than all other . . . with great admiration, and wonderment of the whole contrey.34

Harvey’s spectacularly bad advice reveals how much he measured the stature of English comedy against the standard of contemporary Italian comedy as a means of exciting the nation’s ‘admiration’ and ‘wonder’. John Manningham’s reaction to the Lord Chamberlain’s Men’s performance of Twelfth Night at the Middle Temple on 2 February 1602 uses a similar international context to evaluate that play. Twelfth Night, he writes in his commonplace book, reminded him of Errors, Menaechmi, and an early modern Italian comedy called Gl’Inganni.35 Manningham, a member of the Middle Temple, was the kind of erudite theatre-goer the company was especially interested in attracting to the Globe. Shakespeare’s dramaturgy, however, continued to be rooted in popular culture, as it assimilated heterogeneous material in unexpected ways. In describing his appreciation

32  Louise George Clubb, Italian Drama in Shakespeare’s Time (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1989), 31. 33   Bart van Es, Shakespeare in Company (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 57. 34  Harvey’s letter appears in The Works of Edmund Spenser: A Variorum Edition, ed. Edwin Greenlaw, C. G. Osgood et al., 11 vols (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1932–​57), 10:471–​2. 35  The Diary of John Manningham of the Middle Temple 1602–​1603, ed. Robert Parker Sorlien (Hanover, NH: University of New England Press, 1976), 133. Manningham seems to have mistaken Nicolò Secchi’s Gl’Inganni for Gl’Ingannati, a comedy written and produced by the Academy of the Intronati in Siena in 1531 and published in 1537 and 1554. Only Gl’Ingannati has strong parallels to Twelfth Night. It influenced Shakespeare indirectly, through Barnabe Rich’s prose version (subsequently cited above). Although Rich claims that his tale of separated twins was original, he found it in the fifty-​ninth story of the fourth volume of Histoire Tragiques (1570), a French translation by François de Belleforest of Matteo Bandello’s story of Nicuola and Latantio, the thirty-​sixth story of the second part of his Novelle (1554). Bandello’s story was based on Gl’Ingannati.

34   James P. Bednarz of Twelfth Night, Manningham might not have known the comedy’s primary popular inspiration: the tale of Apolonius and Silla in Barnabe Rich’s novella collection Farewell to Military Profession (1581). High and low cultural elements were already fused in the material of Shakespeare’s art. One of the ways he achieved a more comprehensive vision of drama was by re-​mediating printed prose fiction as stage comedy. Rich’s tale provided an elaborate plot line with thin characterization upon which he brilliantly improvised. Shakespeare was especially moved by love stories such as Rich’s, set in foreign lands with problems that either were, or could be, resolved through improbable, irrational, or marvellous revelations. The audience’s encounter with the shipwrecked Viola and Sebastian in the Illyria of Twelfth Night was made possible by such shifting boundary crossings, which characterize all of Shakespeare’s comedies. The balance the company was forced to strike between court and city, between elite and popular culture, provided the conditions for the development of a unique series of dramatic encounters with the world that were, in the final analysis, an exploration of selfhood which stressed the versatility and flexibility of human identity, witnessed in the roles men and women assume in their daily lives. The return home for some Elizabethan audience members, it might be deduced, had already occurred when the first actor began to speak his lines from the stage. Was its effect powerful or powerless? Did it change their lives instead of just entertain them? Did it pacify or provoke? Because of their close affiliation with the courts of Elizabeth and James, Paul Yachnin characterizes the Lord Chamberlain’s-​King’s Men as purveyors of a ‘populuxe’ theatre that retailed luxury goods to a mass audience in making court spectacle public.36 And because of Shakespeare’s long association with the public theatre, Jeffrey Knapp stresses Shakespeare’s firm identification with ‘mass entertainment’.37 A  more comprehensive approach, however, recognizes that the cultural hybridity of early modern English comedy invites an interstitial perspective. What early modern English playgoers, who so infrequently discuss their personal reactions, carried away with them—​in all its multiplicity—will never be satisfactorily known. At best we can deduce—​from the evidence of Shakespeare’s plays—​that it would have been possible to find in them many of the same questions we encounter in them today.

Suggested Reading Agnew, Jean-​Christophe, Worlds Apart:  The Market and the Theater in Anglo-​American Thought, 1550–​1750 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986). Barber, C. L., Shakespeare’s Festive Comedy: A Study of Dramatic Form and Its Relation to Social Custom (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1972). Barton, Anne, Shakespeare and the Idea of the Play (New York: Barnes and Noble, 1962).

36  Anthony Dawson and Paul Yachnin, The Culture of Playgoing in Shakespeare’s England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 38–​65. 37  Jeffrey Knapp, Shakespeare Only (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2009), 4.

Encountering the Elizabethan Stage    35 Bednarz, James P., Shakespeare and the Poets’ War (New  York:  Columbia University Press, 2001). Chambers, E. K., The Elizabethan Stage. 4 vols (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1923). Gurr, Andrew, Playgoing in Shakespeare’s London (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987). Gurr, Andrew, The Shakespearian Playing Companies (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996). Gurr Andrew and Farah Karim-​Cooper, eds., Moving Shakespeare Indoors: Performance and Repertoire in the Jacobean Playhouse (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014). Ingram, William, The Business of Playing: The Beginnings of the Adult Professional Theater in Elizabethan London (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1992). Van Es, Bart, Shakespeare in Company (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013). Whitney, Charles, Early Responses to Renaissance Drama (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006). Wilson, Jean, The Archaeology of Shakespeare:  The Material Legacy of Shakespeare’s Theatre (Phoenix Hill, KY: Sutton, 1997).

Chapter 2

E nc ounterin g t h e  Past  I Shakespeare’s Reception of Classical Comedy Robert S. Miola

The surviving Latin plays of Plautus (twenty-​one including some fragments) and Terence (six) are all fabulae palliatae, ‘plays in Greek dress’ (i.e. comedies that imitate the themes, characters, costumes, and stage-​settings of Greek originals, now largely vanished). Roman comedy incorporates nearly invisible native traditions as well—​ Fescennine verses, Atellan farce, dramatic satura, and Graeco-​Roman mime.1 Still called ‘New Comedy’ after two millennia in order to establish separation from the raucous, bawdy, and satirical ‘Old Comedy’ of Aristophanes, Plautus’s and Terence’s plays bequeathed to the West stock characters, plots, and themes. Figures such as the senex (old man), virgo (girl), servus (slave), miles gloriosus (braggart soldier), leno (pimp), parasitus (parasite), matrona (wife/​mother), adulescens (youth), and meretrix (courtesan) appear in many later transformations. Likewise ubiquitous and varied are the elements of New Comedic plot structure—​prologue, protasis (introduction), epitasis (confusion), catastrophe (resolution), and epilogue. Later playwrights put to many diverse uses standard dramatic devices such as the lock-​out, disguise, and eavesdropping, as well as familiar New Comedic configurations—​the braggart soldier and courtesan; the blocking father, nubile girl, importunate lover; the clever slave and dim-​witted master. Shakespeare drew upon New Comedy throughout his career. He also translocated to other genres New Comedic characters and configurations: the miles gloriosus, simply represented by 1  Still valuable is George E. Duckworth, The Nature of Roman Comedy: A Study in Popular Entertainment (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1952). See also Sander M. Goldberg, Understanding Terence (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1986); Erich Segal, Roman Laughter: The Comedy of Plautus (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987); and C. W. Marshall, The Stagecraft and Performance of Roman Comedy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006). I cite Terence from Comoediae, Robert Kauer, Wallace M. Lindsay, Otto Skutsch, eds., Oxford Classical Texts (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1926, rpt. 1979); Plautus from Comoediae, W. M. Lindsay, ed., Oxford Classical Texts, 2 vols (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1904–​5, rpt. 1989). Unless otherwise noted, all translations are my own.

Encountering the Past I   37 Armado, for example, in Love’s Labour’s Lost, interrogates the entire ethics of honour in the person of Falstaff and deeply supplies the tragic catastrophe of Othello. Polonius, Ophelia, and Hamlet re-​enact with a difference the familiar senex-​virgo-​adulescens triad. Beginning with eighteenth-​century editors and continuing through T. W. Baldwin and Wolfgang Riehle, commentators assessed influence by charting verbal echoes and other borrowings.2 New Comedy directly and indirectly shaped Shakespeare’s errors plays (The Comedy of Errors and Twelfth Night); intrigue plays (The Taming of the Shrew and Much Ado about Nothing); alazoneia (boasting) plays (The Merry Wives of Windsor and All’s Well That Ends Well); and romances (Pericles and The Tempest). In the last few decades, however, scholars have reconceived the relationship between ancient texts and later readers and writers:  tabulations of verbal echo and structural or thematic borrowing have given way to reception studies, explorations of the diachronic transformations of ancient texts in later times and alien cultures.3 Originating in the work of Wolfgang Iser, Hans-​Robert Jauss, Hans-​Georg Gadamer, and others, reception theory does not consider the classical text to be a static and unchanging artefact, a deposit handed over or bequeathed to later generations as source, tradition, or legacy. Instead, the classical text functions in a fluid and dynamic relationship with later re-​imaginings that are sometimes far removed, sometimes almost unrecognizable adaptations. Relying less on verbal iteration and the parallel passage, reception study is ‘concerned with investigating the routes by which a text has moved and the cultural focus which shaped or filtered the ways in which a text was regarded’.4 The migration of the text through time, impelled and transformed by the shaping and filtering agencies of various cultures and cultural agenda, naturally results in dissonance, in discrepancies and discordances between ancient texts and later translations, appropriations, and reincarnations. These dissonances sound loudly as later Christian cultures received the plays of Plautus and Terence, wherein characters routinely indulge their lusts and practise deceit to satisfy earthly and often unholy desires. New Comedy certainly furnished Shakespeare with laughable characters, plots, dramatic situations, and devices, but he and his audiences read Plautus and Terence with post-​classical 2 

T. W. Baldwin, William Shakespere’s Small Latine and Lesse Greek, 2 vols (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1947); also his, Shakspere’s Five-​Act Structure (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1947); Wolfgang Riehle, Shakespeare, Plautus, and the Humanist Tradition (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1991); Robert S. Miola, Shakespeare and Classical Comedy: The Influence of Plautus and Terence (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994). All references to Shakespeare’s plays are from Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor, gen. eds., The Oxford Shakespeare, 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005). 3  See Robert C. Holub, Reception Theory: A Critical Introduction (London: Methuen, 1984); Charles Martindale, Redeeming the Text: Latin Poetry and the Hermeneutics of Reception (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993); also his, with Richard F. Thomas, Classics and the Uses of Reception (Oxford: Blackwell, 2008); Lorna Hardwick and Christopher Stray, eds., A Companion to Classical Receptions (Oxford: Blackwell, 2008). A number of volumes under the title The Oxford History of Classical Reception in English Literature have appeared as well as a number of issues of the excellent Classical Receptions Journal (2009–​). 4  Lorna Hardwick, Reception Studies, Greece & Rome, New Surveys in the Classics, no. 33 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 4.

38   Robert S. Miola values and reflexes and transformed stock characters and situations to serve later moral and theatrical purposes. Charles Martindale, a doyen of reception theory, famously observed, ‘Meaning . . . is always realized at the point of reception’.5 Three specific and pervasive points of dissonance here claim our attention as Shakespeare receives and refigures New Comedic rage, prostitution, and rape in his comedies. In Shakespeare’s receptions the rage of the senex iratus, ‘angry old man’, becomes variously expressed and interrogated, sometimes simply serving as a plot device and sometimes integrated into the thematic and moral schemes of his plays. New Comedic prostitution supplies Shakespeare’s depictions of gender conflicts as well as male sexual struggles and fantasies; prostitution becomes a central and pervasive metaphor for the human condition in Troilus and Cressida, that cynical exposé of human vanity and vice. Finally, and most eristically, Shakespeare transforms New Comedic rape in a number of plays, even domesticating and legitimizing rape into a bed-​trick that, contrarily, empowers women and disempowers men.

Rage The senex or ‘old man’ appears in all but four of Plautus’s plays and in all of Terence’s, often in multiple variations. Although the old man in classical comedy can be lenis or amans (‘soft’ or ‘loving’), the senex iratus remains a standard character type. Niall W. Slater comments, ‘the fact that the senex is iratus is a theatrical given: it is in his mask’.6 Or, more precisely, his masks. According to T. B. L. Webster, the broad, square mask for the Leading Old Man has a tight roll of hair, raised brows (or brow), a furrowed forehead, a full beard, and a gaping mouth. The mask for the Long-​Bearded, Wavy-​Haired Old Man is rounder with beetling brows and a tapering beard.7 Both masks make the wearers look to be frowning and shouting. In Plautus’s Bacchides the slave cheekily pays homage to the stock character when he says of the raging father Nicobulus, saluos sum, iratus est senex (772, ‘I am safe; the old man is angry’). Terence, who consistently varied the figure to show complex and sympathetic old men, included the iratus senex in his list of worn-​out theatrical figures mentioned in the prologue to Heauton Timorumenos (37). Still, the angry old man served authors of New Comedy and their many European descendants as a blocking figure, as Northrop Frye famously observed:

5 Martindale, Redeeming the Text, 3. 6 

Niall W. Slater, Plautus in Performance: The Theatre of the Mind, Greek and Roman Theatre Archive (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1985), 109n. 7  T. B. L. Webster, Monuments Illustrating New Comedy, 3rd ed. rev. by J. R. Green and A. Seeberg, 2 vols (London: Institute of Classical Studies, 1995), 1:9–​12. Of the nine masks for old men Webster discusses, these two are most pertinent to the senex iratus.

Encountering the Past I   39 The humorous blocking characters of comedy are nearly always impostors, though it is more frequently a lack of self-​knowledge than simply hypocrisy that characterizes them. . . . Central to the alazon group is the senex iratus or heavy father, who with his rages and threats, his obsessions and his gullibility, seems closely related to some of the demonic characters of romance, such as Polyphemus.8

The classical senex iratus often blocks a marriage, usually as the son’s father who opposes the match because the girl is a courtesan, slave, or non-​Athenian (Plautus’s Mostellaria, Terence’s Andria, Adelphoe), or because he wants her for himself (Plautus’s Mercator, Casina). He threatens, fumes, and storms. Of course, the bluster adds to the fun as the slaves and sons outwit the old fools. Egeus in A Midsummer Night’s Dream presents a simple version of the senex iratus, intent on blocking his daughter’s choice for marriage, angry at her threat to his authority: Full of vexation come I, with complaint Against my child, my daughter Hermia. (1.1.22–​3)

Preferring Demetrius to her Lysander, accusing Lysander of witchcraft, he threatens death for her disobedience: As she is mine, I may dispose of her, Which shall be either to this gentleman Or to her death, according to our law Immediately provided in that case. (1.1.42–​5)

To escape him and the law of Athens the lovers resort to the forest, where the magic of Puck and Oberon increases the confusions but ultimately resolves the problems. Egeus appears briefly later, still angry, still threatening the law of Athens on the lovers (4.1.154). But Theseus just overbears his will, the threat evaporates, and the senex iratus as such simply vanishes from the play.9 Though significantly portraying the senex iratus as having a daughter, not a son, Shakespeare follows the general New Comedic pattern here as the father loses and the lovers win. Paternal rage serves as the obstacle over which comedic action triumphs. The tragic possibilities in the conflict, however, appear as ghostly adumbrations in the Pyramus and Thisbe play, where paternal opposition leads to error and death by double suicide. Initially Peter Quince casts Tom Snout the tinker as Pyramus’s father and himself as Thisbe’s father (1.2.57–​9), but these blocking figures never appear, hovering, like 8  Northrop Frye, Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1957), 172. 9  In Q1 the character does not reappear; in the Folio, however, Egeus reappears in 5.1.

40   Robert S. Miola Egeus himself, in the background. In the play-​within-​the-​play Pyramus addresses the wall that stands ‘between her father’s ground and mine’ (5.1.173), another reminder of patriarchal opposition and power. Though the performance of Quince and company dissolves the Pyramus and Thisbe story into wonderful comedy, Shakespeare fully dramatizes the opposing absent fathers in Montague and Capulet of Romeo and Juliet. In As You Like It Duke Frederick, usurper of the kingdom from his brother, the exiled Duke Senior, again plays the senex iratus, though here his anger is magnified into tyrannical caprice. We hear some ominous rumblings about his sudden ‘displeasure’ with Rosalind: this Duke Hath ta’en displeasure ‘gainst his gentle niece, Grounded upon no other argument But that the people praise her for her virtues And pity her for her good father’s sake. And, on my life, his malice ‘gainst the lady Will suddenly break forth. (1.2.267–​73)

In the very next scene the Duke accuses Rosalind of treachery, banishes her on pain of death, and cuts off his daughter’s attempt at defence with, ‘You are a fool’ (1.3.86). Shakespeare portrays this outburst of anger as motivated by popular praise of Rosalind’s virtue and pity for her plight, and not by the practical political considerations he found and ignored in his source, Lodge’s Rosalynde. There Duke Torismond exiles Rosalynde lest the peer of France who eventually marries her turn against him in defence of his wife’s right to power.10 Duke Frederick, by contrast, exiles his niece in a sudden, irrational fit of malicious rage, one that, once again, sends the daughters scurrying into the nearby forest. In the theatre the rage has been potent and moving, whether enacted as Mark Dignam’s (1957) ‘disturbing malevolence’ or Tony Church’s (1961) ‘sinister ferocity’ ‘with an incisive touch of neurosis’; reviewers described John Rhys-​Davies (1977) in the role as a ‘Caucasian Idi Amin’, Bruce Purchase (1980) as ‘a tyrant to be feared, twitchy, irrational, hovering on the brink of madness yet capable of snuffing out the lives of the play’s innocents at a word’, and Colum Convey (1996) as ‘tiny, pink and nasty, like a rabid prawn’.11 However interpreted on stage, Shakespeare replays this anger with a difference. Here he adopts the standard New Comedic device of doubling and contrasting characters, evident, for example, as the main structural principle of Terence’s Adelphoe, ‘The Brothers’, which features two fraternal senes, the harsh Demea and lenient Micio. Duke

10  Geoffrey Bullough, ed., Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1968), 2:176. 11  Robert Smallwood, As You Like It, Shakespeare at Stratford (London: Thomson Learning, 2003), 26, 31, 33, 42.

Encountering the Past I   41 Frederick’s opposite number, his exiled brother Duke Senior, lives happily in the forest of Arden, finding ‘tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, /​Sermons in stones, and good in everything’ (2.1.16–​17). He castigates the self-​appointed satirist Jacques for having ‘been a libertine’ (2.7.65), and figures centrally in the series of recognitions and reconciliations that conclude the play and return him to power. Shakespeare complicates the picture further by including the ghostly presence of another father, the ‘good’ (2.7.195) Sir Rowland de Bois, who gets invoked by name no fewer than nine times in the play. The ‘spirit’ of Sir Rowland, whom the world esteemed as ‘honourable’ (1.2.214), grows strong in Orlando and prompts his rebellion against the unjust servitude of his brother Oliver. These two old men put into sharp contrast the vicious rage of Duke Frederick. The play does not simply overrule this anger onstage but cancels it offstage in a surprising volte-​face that is reported by Jaques de Bois, second son of Sir Rowland, who appears for the first and last time to announce the change. Leading troops into the forest to kill his brother, Duke Frederick met ‘an old religious man’: After some question with him was converted, Both from his enterprise and from the world, His crown bequeathing to his banished brother, And all their lands restored to them again That were with him exiled. (5.4.158, 159–​63)

The rage disappears as suddenly and inexplicably as it first appeared. The classical senex iratus, we are asked to believe, moves from a familiar stereotype with a specific and predictable plot function to a figure capable of repentance, conversion, and renunciation. Shakespeare here again departs from his source, wherein the Orlando figure kills the usurping duke in order to restore the rightful one (not, by the way, the usurper’s brother) to power. Shakespeare chooses instead to accomplish these ends by abrupt negation and exclusion:  Duke Frederick is simply neither duke nor (recognizably) Frederick anymore. In a single stroke the Christian reception of antiquity here forcibly annihilates the objectionable rage and the man himself, with little concession to credibility, character development, or plot logic.12 Shakespeare creates a more complicated senex iratus in Leonato of Much Ado and a more comprehensible progress from rage to reconciliation. In the first part of the play Leonato welcomes the conquering soldiers to his home, provides the entertainment of the masked ball, hopes for a good match for his daughter Hero, and participates in the comic plot to unite Beatrice and Benedick. But confronted with the charge of Hero’s infidelity at her wedding, he erupts in grief and anger. Leonato does not block the nuptials, as do Egeus and the usual stereotypes, but rages because he believes his daughter’s 12 

Juliet Dusinberre well notes that pastorals often featured a hermit’s conversion of someone in the forest, As You Like It (London: Thomson Learning, 2006), 94–​5.

42   Robert S. Miola infidelity has done so. Hero’s swoon ignites his rage: ‘O fate, take not away thy heavy hand. /​Death is the fairest cover for her shame /​That may be wished for’ (4.1.115–​17). He threatens to ‘strike’ (128) at her life himself, rants about her ‘foul tainted flesh’ (144), and bids the others to leave her, ‘Hence from her, let her die’ (155). ‘In numerous productions’, John F. Cox observes, ‘Leonato has threatened to strike Hero, restrained sometimes by Benedick, the Friar or Antonio’.13 In Branagh’s film (1993) Leonato drags her by the hair and throws her to the ground. This raging Leonato pointedly opposes the father in Shakespeare’s source, Lionato de’ Lionati in Bandello’s Novelle, who immediately rejects the charge, stands by his daughter, and blames the accuser Timbreo for slandering his daughter so as to prevent an alliance with a poorer family.14 After the Friar intervenes and persuades everyone to the plan of Hero’s rumoured death, Shakespeare remarkably casts Leonato in a second senex iratus scene. Another senex, again a contrasting brother, Antonio, begins 5.1 by counselling patience, but Leonato rejects the advice: ‘I pray thee peace, I will be flesh and blood, /​For there was never yet philosopher /​That could endure the toothache patiently’ (34–​6). But Leonato has undergone an internal metamorphosis: ‘My soul doth tell me Hero is belied, /​And that shall Claudio know’ (42–​3). The angry father promptly directs his rage now at Claudio, calling him a villain, challenging him to a duel: ‘Thou hast killed my child. /​ If thou kill’st me, boy, thou shalt kill a man’ (78–​9). To our surprise Antonio suddenly gets into the act, playing a second senex iratus, spewing insults, ‘Boys, apes, braggarts, jacks, milksops!’ (91), threatening that some ‘will smart’ (110) for ignoring his brother. The scene teeters precariously between seriousness and laughter, especially as the old men know full well (as do we) that Hero lives.15 But this is surely the point. Antonio’s theatrical rage forces Leonato to witness the senex iratus in all his folly, in effect, to change places with him. He attempts the counsel of restraint in a series of ineffectual and broken apostrophes, ascending to a comic anti-​climax: ‘Brother’, ‘Brother Antony–​’, ‘But brother Antony—​’ (86, 92, 101). The realization of Hero’s innocence and the witness of his brother’s ridiculous rage move Leonato beyond the stereotype and prepare for the reconciliation. After Borachio’s confession and Claudio’s and Don Pedro’s protestations of grief and contrition, he orders them to participate in a penitential ritual and promises his ‘niece’ to Claudio; ‘And so dies my revenge’ (5.1.284). He makes Claudio take his bride before he sees Hero’s face—​fit penance for one who mistook the evidence of eyes in the masked ball and outside Hero’s chamber. He even brings Benedick and Beatrice together for a concluding kiss, in a line usually and wrongly assigned to Benedick, ‘Peace, I will stop your mouth’


John F. Cox, ed., Much Ado About Nothing, Shakespeare in Production (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 182. Claire McEachern notes an increasing emphasis on Leonato in eighteenth-​ century depictions of the scene, beginning with the ‘indistinguishable’ figure in Nicholas Rowe’s edition (1709) and ending with Edward Francis Burney’s ‘virtually Lear-​like’ depiction (1791) (Much Ado About Nothing [London: Thomson Learning, 2006], 88–​91). 14 Bullough, Narrative and Dramatic Sources, 2:118–​19. 15  See Cox, Much Ado, 205–​9.

Encountering the Past I   43 (5.4.97).16 The senex iratus has purged himself and the play of rage and presides over the final reconciliations.

Prostitution Shakespeare variously engages New Comedic prostitution by re-​presenting the meretrix or courtesan. In Roman comedy these characters, based on accomplished Greek hetaerae and distinguished from the common scortae (streetwalkers), are often shrewd, deceitful, and mercenary.17 Cleareta, a Plautine procuress, tersely provides the motto for the latter type, opera pro pecunia (Asinaria 172, ‘work for wages’). Similarly, Phronesium in Plautus’s Truculentus says she loves her soldier-​lover better than herself, dum –​id quod cupio inde aufero (887, ‘provided I get what I want from him’). Theatrical masks survive with braided hair, earrings, and ribbons, implying an attractive, uniform character,18 but Terence’s meretrices play against expectations in surprising ways. Both Thais in Eunuchus and Bacchis in Hecyra prove to be noble and generous: Thais seeks to restore Pamphila to her true identity and family; Bacchis forgives the desertion by Pamphilus and speaks well of his marital reunion. Recognizing Terence’s innovative variation, Donatus called Bacchis a bona meretrix (‘good courtesan’) who behaved contra officium meretricis (‘against the office of the courtesan’).19 Shakespeare directly imports a New Comedic courtesan into Errors, an early, skilful adaptation of Plautus that transfers emphasis to the wife. In Merry Wives, under the influence of Miles Gloriosus, ‘The Braggart Soldier’, chaste wives variously play the role of courtesan to abash and expose a braggart soldier. In All’s Well braggart soldiers cast chaste women as meretrices, only to suffer the consequences of the collapsed fictions. Troilus and Cressida features Shakespeare’s most sustained engagement with New Comedic prostitution as he ponders deeply and cynically the connections between sexual desire and military honour. In probably his first encounter with Plautus, Shakespeare refashions the Roman playwright’s Menaechmi and Amphitryo into Errors. Menaechmi features Erotium the meretrix, an astute businesswoman: amanti amoenitas malost, nobis lucrost (Men. 355, ‘A pleasant place means misfortune for a lover, a fortune for us’). She accepts the palla 16 

See Alan C. Dessen, Rescripting Shakespeare: The Text, the Director, and Modern Productions (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 214–​15. 17  Sometimes they are girls who love an adulescens (e.g. Philaenium in Asinaria, Selenium in Cistellaria). 18  See Webster, Monuments Illustrating New Comedy, 1:45–​9; on the role of the meretrix in New Comedy, see Anne Duncan, Performance and Identity in the Classical World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 124–​59; in Shakespeare, Ariana Traill, ‘Shakespeare and the Roman Comic Meretrix’, in Dorota Dutsch, Sharon L. James, and David Konstan, eds., Women in Roman Republican Drama (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 2015), 213–​31. 19  Quoted by Duckworth, The Nature of Roman Comedy, 259.

44   Robert S. Miola (mantle) Menaechmus stole from his wife, arranges the meal, and prepares to host the (straying?) citizen twin. After entertaining the wrong twin, she shuts the frustrated citizen out of her house, represented by one of the two opposing doors on stage. Thus she provides the initial scene of confusion and constitutes the forbidden alternative to matrona, or the wife, residing behind the other door. In Errors Shakespeare reconstitutes the Plautine opposition between meretrix and matrona: he writes down the courtesan and writes up the wife. Significantly unnamed in the play, Courtesan makes her first appearance on stage late, in 4.3, comically cued by the exasperated travelling twin, Antipholus of Syracuse, ‘Some blessèd power deliver us from hence’ (4.3.44). She wants her ring back and decides to lie to Adriana to get it, ‘For forty ducats is too much to lose’ (4.3.96). Another victim of the identity confusions, Courtesan presents a comic version of the stereotypical meretrix, materialistic and mendacious. The Plautine matrona, however, becomes the complicated Adriana, eloquent on marriage, beset by jealousy, endowed with an unmarried sister Luciana. Adriana, not Courtesan, hosts the lunch and wrong twin, thus setting off the confusions. (If this hosting includes sexual intercourse, as many modern productions suggest, Shakespeare’s change in emphases becomes comically ironic.) Adriana discourses on marriage and finally learns a hard lesson about the ‘venom clamours of a jealous woman’ (5.1.70). Betrayed to her own reproof by the various errors, she participates in the drama of losing and finding and in the final familial reunion, which Shakespeare expands to include the long-​lost parents of the twins, Egeon and the Abbess. This transference of attention from courtesan to the wife, from prostitution to marriage, continues in other comedies, especially those inspired directly or indirectly by Miles Gloriosus. Here another New Comedic courtesan, Acroteleutium, impersonates a married woman who is passionately in love with Pyrgopolynices, the titular braggart. Supremely confident in her ability to be bad and deceitful (880, aut mala esse aut fraudulenta), she promises to team up with her servant Milphidippa to make a fool of the blustering military man: ubi facta erit conlatio nostrarum malitiarum, /​hau uereor ne nos subdola perfidia peruincamur (942–​3, ‘when we have joined together our talents for wickedness, I have little fear of being conquered in sly treacheries’). She triumphantly displays her rhetorical and dramatic talents in a scene of false eavesdropping, wherein she pretends not to notice the concealed Pyrgopolynices overhearing her pine away for him. She yearns, flatters, complains, despairs, swoons, begs—​all in a bravura performance designed to set the soldier up for exposure, ridicule, and an eventual beating. Shakespeare replays Acroteleutium and Milphidippa’s imposture in the deceits of Mistress Ford and Mistress Page in Merry Wives. The title of Yasunari Takahashi’s adaptation, The Braggart Samurai (1991) wonderfully acknowledges the deep Plautine source.20 As in Errors, the courtesan’s actions and methods get transferred to the wife, or wives in this case. Like their classical predecessors, the wives merrily lead on the braggart 20  This play is mentioned by Giorgio Melchiori, ed., The Merry Wives of Windsor (London: Thomson Learning, 2000), 104.

Encountering the Past I   45 soldier, delighting in his gullibility and in their arts of deception. Both female pairs trick the soldier into entering the home of a jealous husband (pretended in Plautus); both enjoy his discomfiture, expanded in the later play to a series of humiliations: Falstaff hides in a dirty laundry basket and gets dumped into a river; disguised as an old woman, he gets beaten; garbed as Herne the Hunter, he endures pinching, burning, and ridicule in front of the whole town. Unlike the disadvantaged courtesans in Plautus, whose sexual wiles, wits, and abilities comically turn the social order upside down, these chaste wives actually confirm the societal institution of middle-​class bourgeois marriage. They team up against the forces that would threaten the status quo. Shakespeare expands the trickery and the impostures in All’s Well, wherein Helen the wife and Diana play out another imposture to discomfit the bragging soldier Bertram. Bertram pursues Diana, whose name suggests her chastity: he tries to arrange a sexual encounter, agrees to a price (his ring), and then slanders her as meretrix, ‘a fond and desp’rate creature /​Whom sometime I have laughed with’, an ‘impudent’ and ‘common gamester to the camp’ (5.3.180–​1, 190–​1). Bertram portrays Diana as the classical wily courtesan, angling for him, having ‘inf ’nite cunning’, and finally getting his ring in exchange for ‘that which my inferior might /​At market price have bought’ (5.3.219, 221–​2). The revelations at the end collapse this fiction and lead to Bertram’s exposure and humiliation. His charges, however, register as true in ways he cannot hear or guess at. Like the bona meretrix Bacchis in Terence’s Hecyra, Diana presents the lover with his ring, helps reveal that the sexual encounter actually occurred between him and his present wife, and provides for recognition and resolution. And like Acroteleutium, she functions to expose the amorous pretension of the lying braggart soldier. Again Shakespeare transfers the tricks and functions of the New Comedic courtesan to a woman conspicuously and defiantly chaste. Diana vows, after all, to ‘live and die a maid’ (4.2.75). And again the New Comedic action tends to the creation and recreation of marriage. The line between prostitutes and virtuous women is hard to draw in Troilus and Cressida, Shakespeare’s most cynical and searching recollection of New Comedic figures and actions. Thersites tersely summarizes the casus belli, Paris and Helen’s affair: ‘all the argument is a whore and a cuckold’ (2.3.71). The word ‘whore’ and derivatives such as ‘whoreson’ and ‘whorish’ resound fully 17 times in this play, far more than in any other comedy. (Measure for Measure is a distant second with five occurrences.) The reduction of the war to a quarrel over a ‘whore’, indicating a change in emphasis from the socially refined New Comedic Courtesan, echoes in Diomedes’s bitter rebuke to Paris: He [Menelaus] like a puling cuckold would drink up The lees and dregs of a flat tamèd piece; You like a lecher out of whorish loins Are pleased to breed out your inheritors. Both merits poised, each weighs nor less nor more, But he as he: which heavier for a whore? (4.1.63–​8)

46   Robert S. Miola Shakespeare’s play begins with a typical New Comedic action, the importunate adulescens complaining of his unrequited love. Instead of speaking to a clever slave like Palaestrio in Miles Gloriosus, however, Troilus confides in Pandarus, Shakespeare’s version of the classical leno or pimp. About to attain his desire through Pandarus’s offices, Troilus is as delirious as any classical lover about the prospect of sensual pleasure: I am giddy. Expectation whirls me round. Th’imaginary relish is so sweet That it enchants my sense. (3.2.16–​18)

To depict Troilus’s crash from these heights, Shakespeare refashions an early scene from Miles Gloriosus, wherein an onlooker sees a woman kissing another man. He is tricked into believing that he has actually seen the girl’s twin sister and says etsi east, non est ea (532, ‘this is and is not her’). This scene distantly inspires 5.2 in Troilus and Cressida, wherein Troilus sees Cressida, who has just sworn love to him, kissing the Greek Diomedes. Thersites comments, ‘A proof of strength she could not publish more /​Unless she said, “My mind is now turned whore” ’ (115–​16). The anguished onlooker, unrelieved by any deception, resists this conclusion, echoing Plautus: ‘This is and is not Cressid’ (5.2.149). Colin Burrow observes well that, ‘Shakespeare turned the physical trickery in Plautus into a psychological crisis in which what Troilus sees and what he wants to believe are completely at odds with each other’.21 If what he has seen is true, Troilus reasons, all women are discredited; all are whores: Let it not be believed, for womanhood. Think: we had mothers. Do not give advantage To stubborn critics, apt without a theme For depravation to square the general sex By Cressid’s rule. (5.2.131–​5)

Are all women by nature unfaithful opportunists? Is there really no difference between meretrix, matrona, and virgo? Cressida, erstwhile virgo, herself indicts her gender as naturally inconstant: Ah, poor our sex! This fault in us I find: The error of our eye directs our mind. What error leads must err. O then conclude: Minds swayed by eyes are full of turpitude. (5.2.111–​14) 21 

Colin Burrow, Shakespeare and Classical Antiquity. Oxford Shakespeare Topics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 156–​7.

Encountering the Past I   47 Earlier, appraising her sexual attractiveness as a commodity to be carefully marketed, she reasons as coolly and crassly as any New Comedic meretrix: Yet hold I off. Women are angels, wooing; Things won are done. Joy’s soul lies in the doing. That she beloved knows naught that knows not this: Men price the thing ungained more than it is. That she was never yet that ever knew Love got so sweet as when desire did sue. Therefore this maxim out of love I teach: Achievement is command; ungained, beseech. (1.2.282–​9)

And yet, as many modern critics and productions have reminded us, Cressida, like the stolen Helen, must live in a world created and dominated by male lust and egoism. Joseph Papp’s 1965 New York production featured Cressida as a victim ‘of men, their wars, their desires and their double standards’.22 Juliet Stevenson (1985) also played Cressida sympathetically, lost in a world of ‘war and male violence’, as did Amanda Root (1990), ‘an emotionally damaged refugee’, and many later performers. Cressida and Helen in such interpretations have to play meretrices to survive the milites gloriosi, braggart soldiers. Paris steals Helen and then blusters absurdly about having the ‘soil of her fair rape /​Wiped off in honourable keeping her’ (2.2.147–​8). Troilus calls Helen ‘a theme of honour and renown, /​A spur to valiant and magnanimous deeds’ (2.2.198–​ 9)—​all claims that the play’s relentless exposure of human desire and delusion denies. Pyrgopolynices is flattered into thinking himself superior to Achilles in Plautus’s play; the blockish Ajax, who struts ‘like a peacock’ (3.3.244), is similarly flattered in Troilus and Cressida. Achilles himself sulks and imagines himself much greater than he is. Again Burrow notes astutely: ‘Shakespeare massively extends the pride of Plautus’ braggart soldier, transforming physical deception and simple flattery into a more or less universal condition of mental deception and self-​persuasion’.23 Even Hector, who argues for the return of Helen, betrays his own intellect when seduced by what the play reveals to be the empty ideal of honour. The group beating of Pyrgpolynices that ends Miles Gloriosus Shakespeare refashions into the group killing of Hector by the Myrmidons at the end of the play. Honour is a mere scutcheon, a commodity to be bought and sold, ‘whored’ to the highest bidder, and prostitution a universal condition, as Pandarus closes the play by bequeathing his diseases to the audience.

22  Papp as quoted in David Bevington, ed., Troilus and Cressida, rev. ed. (London: Bloomsbury, 2015), 108–​9. The references below to productions are on pp. 114, 118–​19. See also Frances A. Shirley, ed., Troilus and Cressida, Shakespeare in Production (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 208–​16. 23 Burrow, Shakespeare and Classical Antiquity, 158.

48   Robert S. Miola

Rape Rape occurs frequently as a standard plot device in Greek and Roman New Comedy, appearing, for example, in Menander’s Epitrepontes and Samia, Plautus’s Aulularia and Cistellaria, and in half of Terence’s surviving plays—​Adelphoe, Hecyra, and Eunuchus. Delirious with joy, Chaerea in Eunuchus dismisses his rape as paullum quiddam (856, ‘a mere trifle’), and, while some authors allude to the suffering woman, most ignore the victim and excuse the violation as a youthful indiscretion incited by wine or the night. The general pattern of presentation, as described by Karen F. Pierce, features a rape resulting in a pregnancy that disrupts a marriage or planned marriage until the parties discover that the rapist is the woman’s husband or fiancé, ‘though neither of them had previously recognized the other. A happy reconciliation will ensue.’24 Early and late in his career, Shakespeare recalled Chaerea’s rape in Eunuchus, one of his favourite Terentian plays. The play features a braggart soldier (Thraso), male lovers (Chaerea and Phaedria), a witty slave (Parmeno), a kind courtesan (Thais), and a lost Athenian girl (Pamphila). In one plot Chaerea disguises himself as a eunuch to gain access to Pamphila and then rapes her. After discovering that she is a lost Athenian citizen, he agrees to make amends by marrying her. In his recollections Shakespeare re-​channels the dark energies of this plot line and reconstitutes its gender and power balances: in Merry Wives, Shrew, All’s Well, and Measure for Measure, he transforms the New Comedic paradigm to disempower the men and empower the women. Some verbal echoes of Terence’s play in Shakespeare’s canon work toward this first reversal. Edmond Malone first cited Eunuchus to gloss Othello’s exclamation of joy:25 CHAEREA. iamne erumpere hoc licet mi gaudium? Pro Iuppiter, nunc est profecto interfici quom perpeti me possum, ne hoc gaudium contaminet vita aegritudine aliqua. (550–​2) Now may this joy of mine break out? O God! Now is the time I could endure death lest my life contaminate this joy with some woe. OTHELLO. If it were now to die ‘Twere now to be most happy, for I fear My soul hath her content so absolute That not another comfort like to this Succeeds in unknown fate. (2.1.190–​4)

Chaerea celebrates his sexual conquest while Othello unwittingly forecasts his own sexual jealousy and destruction in the ‘unknown fate’ the audience sees rushing toward 24  See Karen F. Pierce, ‘The Portrayal of Rape in New Comedy’, Susan Deacy and Karen F. Pierce, eds., Rape in Antiquity (London: Duckworth, 1997), 163. 25  Edmond Malone, ed., The Plays and Poems of William Shakespeare, 16 vols (Dublin, 1794), 15:268.

Encountering the Past I   49 him. Chaerea’s lines, T.  W. Baldwin observed, also echo in Falstaff ’s protestation to Mistress Ford:26 Have I caught thee, my heavenly jewel? Why, now let me die, for I have lived long enough. This is the period of my ambition. O, this blessed hour! (3.3.39–​41)

Dressed in a ridiculous disguise, soon to be humiliated, the would-​be Shakespearean lover again unwittingly forecasts his own (this time comic) downfall. Edmond Malone also noted another verbal reminiscence of Eunuchus in Merry Wives, namely, Chaerea’s notorious attempt to excuse the rape by appealing to divine precedent:27 ibi inerat pictura haec, Iovem quo pacto Danaae misisse aiunt quondam in gremium imbrem aureum. egomet quoque id spectare coepi, et quia consimilem luserat iam olim ille ludum, inpendio magis animu’ gaudebat mihi, deum sese in hominem convortisse atque in alienas tegulas venisse clanculum per inpluviam fucum factum mulieri. at quem deum! ‘qui templa caeli summa sonitu concuti.’ ego homuncio hoc non facerem? ego illud vero ita feci—​ac lubens. (584–​91) In there was this painting, showing how Jove sent a golden rain onto Danae’s bosom, just as the story goes. I began to stare at it, and because that one had already played a similar game long ago, my spirit rejoiced all the more greatly. A god had turned himself into a man and come secretly on to another’s roof tiles to deceive a woman through a rain shower! And what a god! ‘He who shakes the highest temples of heaven with his thunder!’ Was I, a mere mortal man, not to do likewise? I did so do likewise—​and gladly!

The amorous fat knight also looks to Jove’s exploits to justify his liaison in Windsor forest: The Windsor bell hath struck twelve; the minute draws on. Now the hot-​blooded gods assist me! Remember, Jove, thou wast a bull for thy Europa; love set on thy horns. O powerful love, that in some respects makes a beast a man; in some other, a man a beast! You were also, Jupiter, a swan, for the love of Leda. O omnipotent love! How near the god drew to the complexion of a goose! A  fault done first in the form of a beast—​O Jove, a beastly fault!—​and then another fault in the 26 Baldwin, Five-​Act, 554–​7. 27 

Malone, ed., The Plays and Poems, 3:292.

50   Robert S. Miola semblance of a fowl—​think on’t, Jove, a foul fault! When gods have hot backs, what shall poor men do? (5.5.1–​12)

Chaerea’s self-​exculpating question, ego homuncio hoc non facerem?, echoes in Falstaff ’s ‘When gods have hot backs, what shall poor men do?’ But Chaerea’s words again resound ridiculously in the mouth of the old knight, disguised as Herne with large horns on his head, heading to his final and climactic humiliation. Falstaff ’s reference to Jove’s heavy descents into mortal forms for love comically sets up his inevitable comeuppance. The echo of Eunuchus inflates the balloon to provide a more dramatic bursting. The implied shift in power and gender relations here becomes more explicit elsewhere. In Twelfth Night, for example, Viola initially decides to disguise herself as a ‘eunuch’ (1.2.52, 58) to gain entrance to Orsino’s house; she thus reprises Chaerea’s strategy as a mechanism of self-​ protection and self-​ advancement. Shrew features an extended encounter with Eunuchus and a more radical revision of that source’s women. Shakespeare models the Lucentio-​Bianca story on Gascoigne’s Supposes, itself a version of Ariosto’s Gli soppositi, which openly acknowledges indebtedness to Chaerea’s disguise in the prologue: Vi confessa l’autore hauere in questo & Plauto & Terentio seguitato, che l’uno fece Cherea per Doro, & l’altro Philocrate per Tindaro et Tindaro per Philocrate, l’uno nello Eunucho, l’altro nelli Captiui sopponersi.28 The author confesses to you that in this he has followed both Plautus and Terence, in that the one made Chaerea substitute for Dorus, and the other Philocrates for Tyndarus and Tyndarus for Philocrates, in Eunuchus and Captivi, respectively.

Evoking Eunuchus by direct quotation, Shakespeare’s Tranio advises the pining Lucentio: Redime te captum quam queas minimo (1.1.160), ‘Ransom yourself from captivity as cheaply as you can’ (cf. Eun. 74, ut te redimas captum quam queas minimo).29 Tranio then chooses a disguise for the helpless lover: You will be schoolmaster And undertake the teaching of the maid. That’s your device. (1.1.189–​91)

Terence’s predatory eunuch becomes a harmless Latin teacher. The sexual desire and rape in the original here become transformed to love and courtship. The silent Pamphila, moreover, merely a function in the dramatic action, becomes Bianca, endowed with her own voice, capable of wilfulness and surprise. The virgo here 28 Ariosto, Gli soppositi (Venice, 1525), Aiv-​Aii. 29 

The line also appears in Lily’s popular grammar; see Miola, Shakespeare and Classical Comedy, 70n.

Encountering the Past I   51 does not suffer rape but instead commands the Latin lesson and the on​stage wooing, firmly taking charge of the wrangling suitors: Why, gentlemen, you do me double wrong To strive for that which resteth in my choice. I am no breeching scholar in the schools. I’ll not be tied to hours nor ’pointed times, But learn my lessons as I please myself. (3.1.16–​20)

When Lucentio reveals his intention by misconstruing two lines from Ovid’s Heroides, Bianca artfully plays his game: Now let me see if I can construe it: ‘Hic ibat Simois’, I know you not—​‘hic est Sigeia tellus’, I trust you not—​‘hic steterat Priami’, take heed he hear us not—​‘regia’, presume not—​ ‘celsa senis’, despair not. (3.1.40–​3)

From a subordinate position Bianca wields real power. Her skilful playing of the societal role enables her to enjoy freedom and autonomy. Bianca’s self-​assertion achieves final expression in her refusal to demonstrate the wifely submission her husband wagered on: LUCENTIO. The wisdom of your duty, fair Bianca, Hath cost me a hundred crowns since supper-​time. BIANCA. The more fool you for laying on my duty. (5.2.132–​4)

Independent, autonomous, unmastered by courtship or matrimony, Bianca appropriately gets the last word. As Barbara Hodgdon has observed, ‘Bianca’s role constitutes a major link between the wooing plots: by controlling her competing suitors (3.2, 4.3), she gains a mastery over them that results in her own metamorphosis, countering Katherina’s, from “good girl” to “proto-​shrew” ’.30 Repugnant to later sensibilities, New Comedic rape reappeared in early modern Italian and English literature wholly reconstituted as the bed-​trick, wherein a woman secretly substitutes herself for an intended paramour to trick a man into marriage.31 In All’s Well, for example, Helen takes Diana’s place in the bed of Bertram, her errant husband who swore cruelly not to live with her until she showed him his ring and ‘a child begotten’ (3.1.58) of her body. The bed-​trick accomplishes both objectives


Barbara Hodgdon, ed., The Taming of the Shrew (London: Methuen, 2010), 66. Of course this is only one version of the bed-​trick; Marliss C. Desens surveys others in The Bed-​Trick in English Renaissance Drama: Explorations in Gender, Sexuality, and Power (Newark, DE: University of Delaware Press, 1994). 31 

52   Robert S. Miola while strikingly rewriting the rape in Terence’s Hecyra, which underlies Boccaccio’s tale of Giletta, Shakespeare’s source for the play. In Terence’s play a drunken young man rapes and impregnates a girl whom he later unwittingly marries; at the discovery of her pregnancy he rejects her but then, upon discovering that he is the father, happily welcomes wife and baby to his home. Shakespeare’s transformation reverses the classical poles of power: the man becomes the victim; the helpless virgo uses sex to attain mastery. She does not need to have her identity discovered later but claims and creates identity through a wilful act of intercourse. The encounter results not in accidental pregnancy but in the intended consummation of a marriage lawfully contracted. Not an indiscretion justified ex post facto, the sexual action becomes the desired consummation for the woman that creates her wife and mother, while correcting the false male and returning him to his proper social and ethical role as husband. The bed-​trick in Measure for Measure accomplishes these same ends in a more complex moral framework. Mariana dupes Angelo by substituting for Isabella in his bed. The Duke comments on the propriety of the switch: ‘He is your husband on a pre-​contract. /​To bring you thus together ’tis no sin’ (4.1.70-​1). The bed switch here makes Angelo commit the very crime for which he condemned Claudio, measure for measure; it also exposes the lust and hypocrisy of the would-​be extortionist and Puritan rapist. Though Angelo is guilty of more serious crimes than Bertram, his abandoned fiancée Mariana desires ‘no other, nor no better man’ (5.1.423). Despite five years of rejection, Angelo’s public slander, and his lust for Isabella, Mariana consummates her marriage, then kneels and asks Isabella to join her in begging the Duke to spare Angelo’s life. In this moment, the moral climax of the play, Isabella practises the very virtue of mercy she begged from Angelo earlier, though he has tried to force her into a sexual encounter and though she thinks he has executed her brother. The moment can be moving on stage: Peter Brook famously told Barbara Jefford, his Isabella, ‘to pause each night until she felt the audience could take it no longer’. The pause created ‘a silence in which all the invisible elements of the evening came together, a silence in which the abstract notion of mercy became concrete for that moment to all present’.32 When Isabella finally kneels, the measure she returns, Christian mercy, exceeds all measure. Mariana wins her unworthy husband: ‘They say best men are moulded out of faults, /​And, for the most, become much more the better /​For being a little bad’ (5.1.436–​8). Defeated and publicly shamed, Angelo surrenders; Mariana and Isabella remain true and forgiving. Shakespeare’s revision of New Comedic subtexts does not merely reverse the polarities of gender power but exposes male vice and extols female virtue, both imagined in distinctly post-​classical Christian terms.


Peter Brook, The Empty Space (New York: Athenaeum, 1978), 89.

Encountering the Past I   53 Shakespeare’s reception of New Comedy, particularly his eristic reworking of rage, prostitution, and rape, fits well into the larger humanist project, the re-​presentation of classical comedy as dulce et utile to Christian readers. Grammarians, editors, commentators, and imitators all sought to manage, interpret, and re-​package the immorality on full display. Richard Bernard began his translation of Terence (1598) with the standard defence: New Comedy shows readers what not to do: He [Terence] will tell you the nature of the fraudulent flatterer, the grim and greedy old sire, the roisting ruffian, the mincing minion, and beastly bawd, that in telling the truth by these figments, men might become wise to avoid such vices and learn to practice virtue; which was Terence purpose in setting of these comedies forth in Latin, mine in translating them into English.33

Before each scene Bernard presented moral theses for his readers; after, memorable Latin sententiae. He prefaces 3.5, for example, the scene wherein Chaerea exults in his rape, with this sober observation: Adolescentes calore iuvenili & voluptatum illecebris adducti, mire vel in ipsa turpitudine sibi placent & gestiunt (K3, ‘Young men, led by the heat of youth and the allurements of pleasures, please themselves and delight even in indecency itself ’). After the scene, wholly unconscious of the irony, Bernard draws Chaerea’s sputtering defence of his behavior (604–​6) into a general axiom: Datam occasionem & optatam non amittamus (K4v, ‘Let us not miss any given and pleasant opportunity’). The impulse to bland moralization, to rhetorical and atomistic commentary on passages entirely removed from context, often leads commentators to such ludicrous contradictions of themselves and the action. These impulses inform a long tradition of more aggressive re-​purposings of classical comedy—​of Terence moralisé, specifically—​wherein writers from Hrosvitha of Gandersheim to Cornelius Schonaeus presented biblical stories in New Comedic form and language. This transformative hermeneutic, mutatis mutandis, inflects Shakespeare’s reception of classical comedy, even as he follows the general path of reception first travelled by Italian authors of novella and the commedia erudita.34 These writers—​Boccaccio, Bandello, Giraldi Cinthio, Dolce, Della Porta, Bibbiena, and others—​expanded the role of the virgo into a central, sometimes miraculous, donna angelica, substituted amor for the blunt eros of Plautine and Terentian originals, and recast the plays to exhibit virtues and vices acceptable to Christian audiences. Following their example, Shakespeare’s reworkings of rage, prostitution, and rape actively convert the moral and dramatic dissonances he found in ancient plays into new harmonies.

33  Richard Bernard, Terence in English (Cambridge, 1598), ¶2v. Web, Early English Books Online, accessed July 2014. 34  See Louise G. Clubb, Italian Drama in Shakespeare’s Time (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1989).

54   Robert S. Miola

Suggested Reading Baldwin, T. W., William Shakespere’s Small Latine and Lesse Greek, 2 vols (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1947). Burrow, Colin, Shakespeare and Classical Antiquity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013). Clubb, Louise G., Italian Drama in Shakespeare’s Time (New Haven, CT:  Yale University Press, 1989). Hardwick, Lorna, and Christopher Stray, eds., A Companion to Classical Receptions (Oxford: Blackwell, 2008). Marshall, C. W., The Stagecraft and Performance of Roman Comedy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006). Miola, Robert S., Shakespeare and Classical Comedy:  The Influence of Plautus and Terence (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994). Riehle, Wolfgang, Shakespeare, Plautus, and the Humanist Tradition (Cambridge:  D.  S. Brewer, 1991). Slater, Niall W., Plautus in Performance: The Theatre of the Mind, Greek and Roman Theatre Archive (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1985). Webster, T. B. L., Monuments Illustrating New Comedy, 2 vols (3rd edn, rev. by J. R. Green and A. Seeberg, London: Institute of Classical Studies, 1995).

Chapter 3

Enc ou ntering t h e Past  I I Shakespearean Comedy, Chaucer, and Medievalism Helen Cooper

Drama in England enjoyed a vibrant life long before its Greek and Latin vocabulary—​ comedy, tragedy, theatre, drama itself—​entered the English language. Classical and humanist definitions and descriptions—​such as that comedy should follow the classical unities, and should restrict itself to lower-​born characters and low style—​were familiar from the works of those schoolroom staples Plautus and Terence; but such prescriptions scarcely impinged on the vernacular medieval stage in any of its forms, of saints’ plays or Biblical plays, interludes or moralities, or more informal entertainments such as May games or Christmas or midsummer shows. Fools and jesters in private houses offered the equivalent to modern stand-​up comedy, and were absorbed into the generous embrace of the early modern stage. The cycle plays offered a model of stagecraft that emphasized expansiveness of time, space, and generic and social inclusiveness; moralities could lay their stress either on the riotousness of misbehaviour or the fearfulness of damnation without altering their generic focus. May games might take the form of Robin Hood plays or shows, contemporary satire (though that was always risky), or more informal activities. Christmas was the primary season for mummings, and for indoor performances by household servants or groups of travelling players.

The Invention of Genre All of these theatrical forms were picked up by Shakespeare to a greater or lesser degree. Most of his comedies work with a striking freedom of stagecraft; with a mix of social classes and correspondingly of dramatic styles; with elements of moral satire; and with a regular role for the fool or clown. Records show groups of travelling histriones, players or entertainers under aristocratic patronage, active from the late fourteenth century as they were in the sixteenth, and they are put on stage in the frame of The Taming of the

56   Helen Cooper Shrew.1 The movement of the ritual year (or half-​year: its festivals concentrated in the season from Christmas to midsummer) shows itself in some of the titles he chose for his plays, Twelfth Night and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in his mention of Pentecost pageants and ‘Whitsun pastorals’, and the evocation of Robin Hood in his greenwood play As You Like It.2 The animal heads sometimes used in mummings may be recalled in Falstaff ’s buck’s head in The Merry Wives of Windsor and in Bottom’s ass’s head.3 The rival principles of fast and feasting are there too in Sir Toby Belch’s famous ‘Dost thou think because thou art virtuous there shall be no more cakes and ale?’ in a way that recalls the dual potential within the moralities, of both riotousness and discipline (Twelfth Night 2.3.110–​11). The elimination of many holidays, holy days, from the Anglican calendar encouraged an active nostalgia for festivity. Theatre was itself associated with carnival-​like release from labour into play, to the disgust of the more strictly Calvinist members of society. To their still greater disgust, it was also associated with Catholicism, that form of religion—​not so long gone, and indeed in many areas of the country still lively—​that mainstream Anglican propaganda labelled as the relic of an age both superstitious and barbaric.4 The traditions of vernacular comedy that emerged in England in the late Middle Ages had thus owed little or nothing to learned or humanist conceptions. The all-​embracing term for English drama was ‘play’, a word that encompassed not only formal theatre but also entertainment, time out, potentially the festive, and which overrode any attempts at generic purity.5 Where humanist theory emphasized such purity, medieval and early modern drama delighted in mixture. The black humour of the soldiers in the Crucifixion pageants of the mystery cycles is not so very far from Goneril’s mocking of Gloucester 1 

There are numerous examples in the Records of Early English Drama project: for an early instance (1362–​3), see Alan Nelson, ed., Cambridge (Toronto and London: University of Toronto Press, 1989), I:7. 2  All references to Shakespeare’s plays are from Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor, gen. eds., The Oxford Shakespeare, 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005). For these instances see The Two Gentlemen of Verona, 4.4.155–​6; The Winter’s Tale, 4.4.134; As You Like It, 1.1.111. The classic study of the festive elements in Shakespeare is C. L. Barber’s Shakespeare’s Festive Comedy: A Study of Dramatic Form and its Relation to Social Custom (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1959). For a revised account of seasonal festivity in early modern England, see Phebe Jensen, Religion and Revelry in Shakespeare’s Festive World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008). 3  The evidence for the use of animal heads in England is thin but suggestive. A marginal illumination in Oxford MS Bodley 264, f. 21v, shows players wearing buck’s, hare’s, and horse’s heads, though the artist was Flemish, and such practices seem to have been more widespread on the continent. See further Ronald Hutton, The Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), 90–​3, which includes a discussion of the Abbots Bromley Horn Dance; the analogous custom of carrying antlers on the head after a hunt is noted in As You Like It, 4.2. For a parallel hypothesis associating the ass’s head worn by Bottom with that used for the talking ass of the Chester play of Balaam, see Helen Cooper, Shakespeare and the Medieval World (London: Methuen, 2010), 219–​20. 4  A usefully nuanced survey of contemporary objections to the theatre, including some from the Catholic side against what were perceived as its abuses, is given by Alison Shell, Shakespeare and Religion (London: Methuen, 2010), esp. 89–​106. 5  On the implications of play and playing, see Tom Bishop, ‘The Art of Playing’, in Ruth Morse, Helen Cooper, and Peter Holland, eds., Medieval Shakespeare: Pasts and Presents (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 159–​76.

Encountering the Past II    57 as he is blinded; the Porter’s speech in Macbeth echoes the comic devils of the Corpus Christi plays, not least perhaps the especially famous devil presented at Coventry, not far from Stratford-​upon-​Avon.6 There was in addition a disjunction between the term ‘comedy’ and drama. When the former word made its first cautious entry into English from Latin a couple of centuries before Shakespeare, it had no necessary connection with the stage. Chaucer was probably the first person to use it, or to make the first recorded usage, but for him the term meant a story with a happy ending, just as ‘tragedy’ for him meant a story with an ending in disaster: the account of a man of ‘high degree’ who falls at the hands of Fortune, probably with an element of divine or poetic justice added.7 Definitions of comedy were much briefer. What seems to have been the widest understanding, for those familiar with the term at all, is probably the one offered by John Lydgate early in the fifteenth century: A comedie hath in his gynnyng, At prima face, a maner compleynyng, And afterward endeth in gladnes.8

He defines comedy as a counterpart to its tragic opposite, just as Chaucer had expressed a wish that after writing the ‘tragedie’ of Troilus and Criseyde he might compose ‘some comedie’.9 What both writers have in mind is not fabliau, the comic and often bawdy ‘churls’ tales’ of the ‘Miller’s Tale’ variety, but romance, for which a happy ending is almost as much a part of its definition as it is for comedy. Classical or humanist comedies did not need to be funny;10 and although romances did not take themselves entirely or consistently seriously and were often light-​hearted, it was an essentially serious form that encompassed a good deal of suffering before the ‘gladnes’ of its ending was reached. A second classical definition of comedy related it more closely to satire: it was, in Sir Philip Sidney’s terms, ‘an imitation of the common errors of our life’ (‘common’ carrying with it a strong class connotation), represented in ‘the most ridiculous and scornful sort that may be’.11 That would link more closely with medieval fabliaux, Chaucer’s included, than with romance, but although such stories continued as a narrative genre,

6  See The Four PP, in Richard Axton and Peter Happé, eds., The Plays of John Heywood (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1991), 830–​2. 7  ‘The Monk’s Tale’, Canterbury Tales, in The Riverside Chaucer, gen. ed. Larry D. Benson (Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 1987; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988), VII.1991–​8. 8  Robert R. Edwards, ed., John Lydgate, Troy Book: Selections (Kalamazoo, MI: TEAMS, 1998), II:847. 9  Troilus and Criseyde, in The Riverside Chaucer, 5.1786–​8. Aristotle’s Poetics was little known in the Middle Ages, and then only by way of a Latin version of an Arabic commentary that had itself been written without any knowledge of drama: see H. A. Kelly, Ideas and Forms of Tragedy from Aristotle to the Middle Ages (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993). 10  As noted by Sir Philip Sidney: see The Defence of Poesy, in Gavin Alexander, ed., Sidney’s ‘Defence of Poesy’ and Selected Renaissance Literary Criticism (London: Penguin, 2004), 47. 11 Sidney, Defence of Poesy, 27.

58   Helen Cooper sometimes explicitly in imitation of Chaucer,12 the bawdiness was not made central on the public stage. Early modern playwrights, Shakespeare included, frequently presented low-​class characters as inherently comic and potentially or actually ridiculous; but that kind of comedy dominates much more in the city comedies of Jonson and others than in Shakespeare, who generally relegates it to his subplots. Definitions were necessary because of the unfamiliarity of generic terms to English readers and spectators, though neither Chaucer nor Lydgate was inventing the pairing of comedy and tragedy as antonyms. It was present in the classical world too, and was especially widely disseminated through the Latin grammarian and commentator Donatus, widely used down the centuries as a school text. Thomas Heywood, in 1612, is still quoting him as his authority: In Comedies, turbulenta prima, tranquilla vltima, In Tragedyes, tranquilla prima, turbulenta vltima, Comedies begin in trouble, and end in peace; Tragedies begin in calmes, and end in tempest.13

The apparent stability of the idea over the centuries disguises more radical differences, not least the loss in the Middle Ages of the terms’ link with drama. Until the mid-​sixteenth century, the use of the generic labels in their dramatic sense was largely restricted to the classical texts that were read or declaimed in the schoolroom; and it was only in the 1580s and 1590s that their primary meaning shifted from story to stage. Whether narrative or dramatic, however, the sad or happy ending connoted more than just the trajectory of the story. The Donatus formula and its descendants stress a change of state, which in the case of tragedies was most often emblematized as Fortune, and the normal conclusion to such misfortune was death. The happily ending counterpart of the generic duo showed a triumph over adversity, and was often accompanied by some counterbalance to tragedy’s impulse towards death: most frequently marriage, with its associations of progeny, of an extension of life forwards to future generations. Very often, not least in Shakespeare, this movement involved a return from apparent death, a symbolic resurrection. Behind the impulse towards resurrection lay the influence of Christian doctrine, not least in its Catholic form; and that had its own dramatic incarnation in the Corpus Christi cycles, many of which were still being acted well into Elizabeth’s reign.14 More specifically relevant for Elizabethan comedy, however, was romance, which typically shared that pattern of turbulenta prima (including the threat of death), tranquilla ultima (often in the form of love leading to marriage, with an accompanying restoration of moral or political order). Romance also provided a cast of higher-​class characters than classical comedy had deployed, and with that came the expectation that their spoken idiom would similarly rise to a higher style, blank verse 12  Narrative examples include the anonymous Cobbler of Canterbury (London, 1590), of which Robert Greene was suspected to be the author, and his own Greenes Vision (London, 1592). 13  Thomas Heywood, An Apology for Actors (London, 1612), F1v. 14  For a summary, see Cooper, Shakespeare and the Medieval World, 54–​62.

Encountering the Past II    59 rather than prose therefore becoming the norm for such characters on the Renaissance stage. Romance carried the most significant cultural weight of all the secular genres for several hundred years after its emergence in the twelfth century, and its continued flourishing in the early modern period was helped by its expansion from narrative to its vibrant parallel life in the theatre. Many of the romance texts known and printed in quarto in the Elizabethan age were indeed medieval in origin, and a good number of them were dramatized.15 Humanist complaints testify to the ubiquity of such texts; many households, both urban and provincial, were likely to have had a collection of them in the corner of a cupboard, and there is no reason why Stratford should have been an exception—​Shakespeare indeed refers to five of them.16 In the early seventeenth century romance in its dramatic form was often redefined as tragicomedy, or indeed, in the modern classification of Shakespeare’s late plays, romance itself. His earlier comedies, however, often similarly skirted death—​Egeon in The Comedy of Errors, Hero in Much Ado, Antonio in The Merchant of Venice, Sebastian in Twelfth Night: a movement intensified at the end of his career. The threatened or apparent deaths here are inherently serious, but ultimately invoke joy—​unlike the mock deaths, for instance, of Falstaff at Shrewsbury, which invite laughter.

Shakespeare’s Chaucer The majority of comedies in the Shakespeare canon draw at least some element of their plots or subplots from medieval texts, either from the major names of the medieval pantheon or from anonymous works. Chaucer, Gower, and Lydgate formed a canon of English poetry analogous to the classical poets, and Shakespeare drew on them all, Chaucer in particular. Pericles and The Two Noble Kinsmen, both discussed at greater length in a separate volume, are the most dependent on medieval antecedents; Troilus and Dream only marginally less so. Pericles is a direct dramatization of the story of Apollonius of Tyre as retold by John Gower, who is given his own role within the play as chorus and presenter.17 It advertises its medieval origins in the very first line of its 15 

On the dramatizations, see Helen Cooper, The English Romance in Time: Transforming Motifs from Geoffrey of Monmouth to the Death of Shakespeare (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), esp. 409–​ 29. They included Guy of Warwick, where the stage hero’s sidekick comes from Stratford-​upon-​Avon and may have Shakespearean resonances (Cooper, ‘Guy of Warwick, Upstart Crows and Mounting Sparrows’, in J. R. Mulryne and Takashi Kozuka, eds., Shakespeare, Marlowe, Jonson: New Directions in Biography (Ashgate, 2006), 119–​38). It is edited by Helen Moore, Guy of Warwick, Malone Society (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2007), though she queries the Shakespeare hypothesis on different grounds. 16  The five are Guy of Warwick, Bevis of Hampton, Sir Eglamour, The Squire of Low Degree, and the prose Valentine and Orson, in addition to versions of Apollonius of Tyre: see Cooper, Shakespeare and the Medieval World, 176–​7. 17  The story itself may be as old as the third century, and probably existed first as a Greek romance; it was known in the sixteenth century, however, as a medieval story. There were several versions in English

60   Helen Cooper prologue, as ‘a song of old was sung’, and insists that its audience take its antiquity as an additional attraction. It is also the play of Shakespeare’s that ignores the classical unities most comprehensively, with its action set on land and sea around the Aegean over the course of two generations. The closest parallel to its stagecraft appears in the play of Mary Magdalene of c.1500 (and possibly performed as late as 1562),18 which stages sea-​ journeys even more widely around the Mediterranean. Pericles has some claim to being a foundational work of medievalism, that is, a text that does not so much exemplify the survival of the medieval as an integral part of everyday life, but that offers itself as an active revival of something valuable that its own modern age is in danger of losing.19 The Prologue to Kinsmen, a dramatization of Chaucer’s ‘Knight’s Tale’, is even more expansive on the virtues of its Chaucerian origins, praising him in its Prologue (perhaps written by Fletcher, but presumably with Shakespeare’s endorsement) as the best poet ‘’twixt Po and silver Trent’ (Prol. 12), and so sweeping in all the poetry from Petrarch to Shakespeare himself.20 The play is, however, something of an anomaly within both the ‘romance’ category commonly used for Shakespeare’s late plays and the ‘tragicomedy’ that its entry in the Stationers’ Register declares it to be: it is very explicitly a play that balances what might be categorized as a happy ending, Palamon’s marriage to Emily, with a fully tragic one, Arcite’s death. As with Troilus and Cressida, which owes the love half of its plot to Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde, Chaucer for Shakespeare meant incipient or actual tragedy as much as comedy. Arcite’s death, like those of Troilus in Chaucer and Hector in Shakespeare, is final. Although both the ‘Apollonius’ and Chaucer’s ‘Knight’s Tale’ had to wait until late in his career for a full dramatization, they seem to have been active within Shakespeare’s mind and imagination for a couple of decades before that. Errors is the most classical, and the most humanistically correct, of all his comedies, as is indicated by the unique incorporation of ‘comedy’ into its title and its use of Plautus’s Menaechmi as its model. It is framed, however, by an adaptation of Gower’s ‘Apollonius’. The action is transferred to Ephesus, where Apollonius had met up with his long-​lost wife, as the Errors’s Egeon does (and as the eponymous Pericles was to do); and Shakespeare picks up from Gower

that Shakespeare could, or did, use in addition to Gower; one of these, Lawrence Twine’s Patterne of Painfull Adventures (1594), was itself based on the medieval Latin version in the Gesta Romanorum (the story was not included in the English prints of the work: see Geoffrey Bullough, Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare, 8 vols [London: Routledge; New York: Columbia University Press, 1966–​75], VI:351–​5). On the history of the story, see Elizabeth Archibald, Apollonius of Tyre: Medieval and Renaissance Themes and Variations (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1991). 18  John C. Coldewey, ‘The Digby Plays and the Chelmsford Records’, Research Opportunities in Renaissance Drama 18 (1975), 103–​21. 19  See further Bart van Es, ‘Late Shakespeare and the Middle Ages’, in Morse et al., Medieval Shakespeare, 37–​51. 20  Of editions of The Two Noble Kinsmen, Lois Potter’s (London: Methuen, 1997) gives the fullest discussion of its Chaucerian origins.

Encountering the Past II    61 too her translation from priestess to abbess.21 The play’s time frame of a single day, repeatedly insisted on in the action as the time allowed between Egeon’s arrest and his threatened execution, is thus given a back story that extends well beyond those passing hours, just as its single location is broadened by his opening account of the shipwreck that has taken himself and his family to different corners of the eastern Mediterranean. For all its dependence on Plautus, the play thus implies an expansiveness of space and time alien to its classical original and which derives from medieval romance traditions. Chaucerian echoes may be first perceptible in Shakespeare’s work in his play of the clash between love and friendship, The Two Gentlemen of Verona; in The Rape of Lucrece, composed in Chaucerian rhyme royal, and already the subject of one of Chaucer’s ‘legends of good women’; and perhaps in such things as the songs of the cuckoo and the owl at the end of Love’s Labour’s Lost, in so far as it echoes the birds’ song welcoming the coming of spring after winter at the end of the Parliament of Fowls.22 The earlier poet enters Shakespeare’s comic drama most decisively, however, in the Dream.23 The most important single source here is not Ovid or Apuleius or Plutarch’s Life of Theseus, though all of those make their contribution too: it is rather the ‘Knight’s Tale’. A summary of the two plots shows how closely Shakespeare follows the ‘Tale’: Duke Theseus of Athens is newly married to Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons. He has in his jurisdiction two almost indistinguishable young men who are both in love with the same woman. Their love-​rivalry leads them to fight in the woods outside the city, where they are found by Theseus in the course of a hunt. Unknown to them, however, they are under the control of a parallel set of capricious supernatural beings, who take it upon themselves to sort out the love-​triangle.

The closeness of the connection between the works has tended to be underestimated even by those editors and critics who recognize its existence. One reason for this is that within that broad outline Shakespeare goes his own way with the story so as to make it

21  Egeon’s wife is so called in both the speech headings and the text; for Gower, see Confessio Amantis VIII.1849 (excerpted from the early print in Bullough, Narrative and Dramatic Sources, I:10–​11, 50–​54). Twine’s Pattern makes her a nun in the temple of Diana but not an abbess (Bullough VI:471–​3). 22  The sixteenth-​century editions of Chaucer contained a different version of the Parliament song (an eight-​line stanza as against the more familiar roundel created by W. W. Skeat), but the key lines are the same. See also Theresa M. Krier, ‘The Aim was Song’, in Krier, ed., Refiguring Chaucer in the Renaissance (Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 1998), 165–​88. 23  See in particular E. Talbot Donaldson, The Swan at the Well: Shakespeare Reading Chaucer (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1985), 7–​49; David Wallace, Chaucerian Polity: Absolutist Lineages and Associational Forms in England and Italy (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1997), 114–​24; and Cooper, Shakespeare and the Medieval World, 211–​20. Editors have been more cautious about the links; Peter Holland takes the fullest note, in his 1994 edition for the Oxford Shakespeare. Bullough places the ‘Knight’s Tale’ first in his account of the sources of the play, Narrative and Dramatic Sources, I:367–​84, but only as a ‘probable source’.

62   Helen Cooper decisively different from Chaucer’s version.24 A second reason is that he avoids direct verbal borrowings, both here and in his other Chaucerian plays, at most offering a loose paraphrase.25 The connection would not, however, have been overlooked by its original audience. Not only was Chaucer widely known, with three folio editions of his complete works printed and two more to follow at the end of the century,26 but four performances of a dramatization of the ‘Knight’s Tale’ entitled Palamon and Arsett are recorded by Philip Henslowe in September to November 1594. This may have been an adaptation of Richard Edwards’s two-​part Palamon and Arcyte that was played before the Queen at Oxford in 1566,27 or it may have been a new dramatization; but either way, its performance means that Dream’s audience would have been primed to recognize the origins of the play. Shakespeare’s company, furthermore, had been operating in association with Henslowe’s in the summer of 1594.28 The exact date of Dream is subject to debate: the favoured year is 1595, but estimates vary from late 1594, contemporary with the last recorded performances of Palamon, to early 1596. The opening lines of the Dream emphasize its Chaucerian connections: its Theseus is duke of Athens, his bride Hippolyta (as neither is in the classical sources), and he has a courtier named Philostrate, the name assumed by Arcite when he returns to the court in Chaucer’s original. That Shakespeare is working from Chaucer rather than from a dramatized Palamon is shown by the appearance in the play of a number of other motifs and ideas from the Canterbury Tales. His Theseus, like Chaucer’s, is the figure of rational authority, his darker classical side kept in the background.29 Oberon and Titania are supernatural beings, unseen by any of the main characters, who yet control their actions just as the gods do in the ‘Knight’s Tale’; but they have still more in common with the Pluto and Proserpina of the 24 

That it is not only different from but irreconcilable with Chaucer’s version is emphasized by Helen Barr: see her discussion of both Dream and Kinsmen in terms of their ‘intratemporality’ in her Transporting Chaucer (Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 2014), 140–​65. 25  Shakespeare’s closest verbal echoes of Chaucer across the whole range of his plays, most particularly Troilus and Kinsmen, are noted by Ann Thompson, Shakespeare’s Chaucer: A Study in Literary Origins (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1978); for Dream, see 90–​4. 26  That these were read as well as bought is demonstrated by the hundreds of allusions collected in Caroline Spurgeon, ed., Five Hundred Years of Chaucer Criticism and Allusion 1357–​1900, 3 vols (1908–​17; repr. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1925), and Jackson Campbell Boswell and Sylvia Wallace Holton, eds., Chaucer’s Fame in England: STC Chauceriana 1475–​1640 (New York: Modern Language Association of America, 2004). 27   R. A. Foakes, ed., Henslowe’s Diary, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 19–​20; and on Edwards’s Palamon, Ros King, The Works of Richard Edwards: Politics, Poetry and Performance in Sixteenth-​Century England (Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 2001), 63–​85. 28  Henslowe’s Diary, 21; Andrew Gurr, The Shakespearian Playing Companies (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), 68–​7 1, 279; Park Honan, Shakespeare: A Life (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), 199–​201, who notes that Shakespeare had probably joined the Chamberlain’s Men before the summer. 29  This was deliberate recasting on Chaucer’s part, not ignorance of any alternative ways of presenting him: see his much more critical Legend of Medea in the Legend of Good Women. There were numerous classical variants of the legend of Theseus, and Boccaccio/​Chaucer add a new one that effectively replaces other accounts for the purposes of all the narratives of Palamon and Arcite. See Peter Holland, ‘Theseus’s Shadows in A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, Shakespeare Survey 47 (1994), 139–​52.

Encountering the Past II    63 ‘Merchant’s Tale’, gods of winter and spring paralleling the January and May of the tale, who are themselves redefined as fairies and who are having their own marital squabble. Shakespeare picks up that redefinition, emphasized by his use of the medieval name of Oberon for the fairy king; and he keeps both the seasonal associations, through the confusion of the seasons that his Titania describes, and their parallel with his own human characters, though with Theseus and Hippolyta rather than the lovers. The play of Pyramus and Thisbe, so awful as to be a work of genius and given correspondingly different receptions by its fictional and its real audiences, has its principal (almost its only) forerunner in the pilgrim Chaucer’s own similarly dire ‘Tale of Sir Thopas’, which even the Host, as master of the tale-​telling, finds insufferable. ‘Pyramus’ delightedly mocks the conventions of drama, ‘Sir Thopas’ of narrative romance. Sir Thopas, furthermore, dreams of having an elf-​queen as his mistress; Bottom dreams likewise, or comes to believe he has only dreamed it—​but the audience, in a manner of speaking, knows better. The group of mechanicals, each with his different craft, recalls in a lower-​class key both the varied professions of the Tales’ ‘General Prologue’, and the urban craft guilds that acted the cycle plays. The result is a kind of riff on the Canterbury Tales transposed into dramatic mode, and goes far beyond the usual parameters of source study. The Dream suggests that Shakespeare learned metadrama from Chaucer’s metanarrative: not just by producing an inset example of the same form, but writing it so that the audience’s make-​ believe is deliberately broken in a way that intensifies the credibility of the enclosing fiction or performance. Starveling as Moonshine, with his lantern and dog, confirms the audience’s belief in the moonlight in which the action itself claims to be bathed; the dreadfulness of the pilgrim Chaucer’s Sir Thopas confirms that the other pilgrims must indeed have composed their own tales. The Tales, moreover, is set up as a story-​ competition, a form designed to call attention to the excellence of the writing across the whole imaginative and stylistic variety of genres contained in the work; Dream makes a bid to match or overgo them. If Chaucer was known as the master of what English poetry could do, Dream establishes Shakespeare as the master of drama, in a process that may well have been fully deliberate. Chaucer was however for Shakespeare a poet at least as much tragic in import as comic. He was a poet who invited reinterpretation, and if in Dream that reinterpretation moves towards the joyful, in Troilus and Kinsmen the movement is strongly in the other direction. Dream is unique in its cheerfulness among Shakespeare’s Chaucerian ‘borrowings’, if such a term can be used about something so creatively transformed. The darknesses of the world and the imagination are hinted at, but the plot offers a resolution. The story is given a different trajectory from its original—​not least in that the addition of a second woman resolves the men’s love-​rivalry and so enables the happy ending in marriage expected of romance and comedy. When Shakespeare returned to the ‘Knight’s Tale’ for Kinsmen, he deepened the darkness of tone already present in its original, and he omitted the metaphysical resolution that Chaucer’s Theseus attempts to offer. His Troilus, extensively based on Troilus and Criseyde, is similarly darkened in his treatment, to a point that defies generic labelling. Chaucer described his own poem as a tragedy; Shakespeare’s version notoriously foils any attempts to make it fit humanist

64   Helen Cooper generic categories. Its quarto epistle firmly claims it for comedy; it appears in the First Folio as The Tragedie of Troylus and Cressida; and its dominant mode is satire. It is, as its Prologue claims, unquestionably a play, in that undervalued medieval descriptor that frees the dramatist from any need to observe theoretical limitations. The widespread designation of it as a problem play misrepresents it in so far as it suggests that the problem lies in the difficulty of fitting it into any regular generic slot; but Shakespeare may well always have intended it to do so, just as he rejected the classical heroics associated with the story. He was helped in that by his use of medieval sources. His Troilus draws solely on Chaucer for its main plot concerning the lovers, complete with the designation of Pandarus as Cressida’s uncle. The part of the play concerning the war is predominantly taken, not from Chapman’s Homer (which was only partly available in print when the play was written, and which directly contributes comparatively little), but from Caxton’s Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye, a work translated in the fifteenth century from a French redaction of a thirteenth-​century Latin prose account that drew on a still earlier French poem: a thoroughly medieval source. The Recuyell remained the most widely disseminated English account of the Trojan War down to the eighteenth century. Shakespeare, moreover, used not its 1596 updating, but the original unmodernized edition last printed in 1553:30 a small but significant indicator of his readiness to work with older editions of medieval texts, such as he might have read when he was growing up. The edition of Chaucer he used was similarly not Speght’s of 1598, which sparked a whole run of Chaucerian plays,31 but as his use of it in the Dream shows, one of 1561 or earlier. If Troilus takes many of its elements from medieval works, however, it transforms them in the process.32 Chaucer’s Troilus is an idealist in a mutable world, its mutability embodied in the woman he loves; his Criseyde is well-​meaning but with less self-​knowledge than she imagines; Diomede is the most dangerous of the key characters, a smooth talker who regards Criseyde as an amusement to pass the time. It was Chaucer who transformed Pandarus from a young warrior to Criseyde’s uncle, making him eager to promote the lovers’ happiness but with a self-​consciousness about his role as pimp (as ‘pandar’, as Sidney noted) and with a touch of the voyeur about him—​how strong a touch varying with the critic. Henryson’s Testament of Cresseid, printed as an anonymous sequel in all the complete sixteenth-​century editions of Chaucer, presents Criseyde’s abandonment by Diomede, her descent into prostitution, her affliction with leprosy, and her death, and the play prepares the way for the first two of those processes. Shakespeare also turns Troilus’s idealism into sensual fantasy and Pandarus into a sex-​ obsessed moral monster with venereal disease. His Cressida was for centuries accepted at Ulysses’s valuation of her as a strumpet, and she has only recently begun to be the object of critical rehabilitation. One thing that the two works have in common is an acute perception of the position of women as commodities traded between men, and 30 Bullough, Narrative and Dramatic Sources, VI:83–​215 (p. 94 for the edition of the Recuyell). 31 

On these see Thompson, Shakespeare’s Chaucer, 16–​58. Criticism that focuses on the Chaucerian connections includes Donaldson, The Swan at the Well, 74–​118, and Cooper, Shakespeare and the Medieval World, 221–​7. 32 

Encountering the Past II    65 the impossibly difficult position in which this places them. Chaucer’s Hector claims that the Trojans do not sell women, but Criseyde is traded none the less; Shakespeare’s endless playing with the concept of ‘worth’, as moral value or as commodity, empties her of any value she might have in or to herself. On the epic front, the constant repetition of the warriors’ names, often in their own mouths, similarly empties them of their heroic associations, just as the corpse in gilded armour turns out to be a ‘putrefied core’ (5.9.1), in a scene perhaps taken from another item in Shakespeare’s medieval reading, the Troy Book of John Lydgate. The potential gulf between reputation and moral worth is one of the themes of Chaucer’s House of Fame, another item that seems likely to have been on Shakespeare’s reading list, and which shares with the play an acute consciousness of the unverifiability of the past, the gulf between what people are reported to be and what they actually were.33 Chaucer ends his Troilus with a Christian prayer; Shakespeare ends his with Pandarus at his most cynical and disease-​ridden worst. The play is as radical a reinterpretation of its original as is Dream, but where that transforms Chaucer’s tragicomedy into comedy, Troilus muddies any potential tragic sublimity into a kind of sick farce.

A Genealogy of Stories If the plays based on Chaucer and Gower are immediate descendants of their medieval sources, other of Shakespeare’s plays come further down the genealogical line. This is evident in the case of those tragedies and histories based on Holinshed’s reworking of Geoffrey of Monmouth or early chronicles, but it is less obvious where comedy is concerned. Cymbeline has a very distant origin in Geoffrey, and it derives its plot of the wager on the heroine’s chastity from other medieval sources.34 Thomas Lodge’s Rosalynde (1590), the source for As You Like It, bases its story of the dispossessed younger son on the ballad-​style romance of Gamelyn, never printed but available to Lodge in some manuscripts of the Canterbury Tales. In addition, its love interest possibly draws on a pastoral episode concerning an heiress dispossessed by her usurping uncle in William Warner’s Albions England (1589), Warner in turn having adapted the story from the chronicle version of the thirteenth-​century romance of Havelok.35 The story of Rosalind and her father is one of dispossession and recovery: a key political theme in the Middle Ages in the centuries after the acceptance of primogeniture as equivalent to there being a rightful ruler and heir approved by Providence, and which reappears forcefully in the late plays. 33 

Benedick’s allusion to ‘Lady Fame’ (Much Ado 2.1.200–​201) may be another allusion to the poem. Helen Barr offers a detailed argument for the connection with Troilus, Transporting Chaucer, 198–​229. 34  Most immediately Frederyke of Jennen, a variant on Boccaccio’s reworking of a longstanding folktale motif: see Bullough, Narrative and Dramatic Sources, VIII:12–​20, 63–​78. 35 Cooper, English Romance, 264–​5.

66   Helen Cooper Rosalind’s feistiness as a heroine also owes much to medieval romance. The idea that women should be chaste, silent, and obedient may have been much promoted by homilists, but romance heroines rarely followed the injunctions, and clearly received generous audience support for their readiness to follow their own desires. Much Ado’s Beatrice is unusual in her readiness to speak in mixed company (even Rosalind famously goes silent once she is back in woman’s dress), but obedience to her disapproving parents is not a characteristic of a heroine of either a medieval romance or a Shakespearean comedy. The one non-​negotiable virtue was chastity, but chastity in the sense of a single-​minded, faithful, and deeply passionate pursuit of the man on whom she has set her heart (hence Spenser’s incarnation of Chastity in the woman-​ warrior Britomart, questing to find the man with whose image she had fallen in love in a magic mirror); and not uncommonly, as with Britomart, it is the woman who does the pursuing. The eager Thaisa of Pericles is a thoroughly medieval heroine; and although neither the Julia of Two Gentlemen nor the Helena of All’s Well have Middle English sources, their actions take place within a broader context that was already sympathetic to the wooing woman.36 Young women in love also had a long tradition in English romance of speeches expressing their desire, again with an assumption of audience approval. This is neither classical, though Ovidian heroines may express extremes of illicit and potentially tragic passion, nor Petrarchan, where the language of what being in love feels like is limited to the man. It is heroines such as these who help to bring about the happy outcomes of the romances in which they appear, and in due course of romance-​based plays too. The happy ending may on occasion be frustrated, as it is for Juliet and the Jailer’s Daughter of Kinsmen, but more often such women are able to turn around plays that might seem to be heading for disaster—​to turn potential tragedy into comedy. The unsettling ending of Measure for Measure, and its felt distance from romance, is at least in part a consequence of Isabella’s never for a moment imagining such a role for herself. Audience expectations would suggest that she should experience a last-​minute epiphany in favour of marriage, and individual productions sometimes incorporate that; but the absence of any textual support for such a response is both disorienting and an anomaly within the canon. These plays of passionate heroines have their dark twin, however, in the plays of women falsely accused of unfaithfulness, where tragedy is invoked much more forcefully. The assumption of audience sympathy for young love does not in any way deny the parallel and deeply entrenched habits of anti-​feminism. Terror of a wife’s unfaithfulness, not just as shameful for the husband but as undermining the very basis on which the descent of title and property was grounded, was all too familiar a mindset, and Shakespeare takes that up too; but he does not accept its premise of women’s inherent fickleness. Medieval romance is often associated in modern criticism with adultery, 36  See Judith Weiss, ‘The Wooing Woman in Anglo-​Norman Romance’ (Anglo-​Norman being much closer to the later norms of Middle English than it was to French), in Maldwyn Mills, Jennifer Fellows and Carol Meale, eds., Romance in Medieval England (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1991), 149–​61, and Cooper, English Romance, 221–​51, 260–​8.

Encountering the Past II    67 but that was very rare indeed within Middle English; it is largely a French phenomenon (an emphasis continuing into the French novel). The most famous English examples of adulterous lovers, Tristram and Lancelot, are adapted directly from French, and scarcely figure in English romances before the late fifteenth century. Adultery was more often the subject of fabliau, as in the ‘Miller’s Tale’, than of romance, which leant strongly towards rewards for virtue, including the faithful and passionate love in the woman after she was married as well as before. The young heroine’s passion can however turn into a trigger for jealousy in a suspicious husband, as it does with tragic consequences in Othello. Unfaithful wives are very rare in Shakespeare: as in earlier English romances that follow the later progress of a married couple, the accused wife is in fact faithful, and the husband’s suspicions are an aberration in the eyes of both the other characters of the story and, by implication, the audience too. So even Shakespeare’s merry wives, two middle-​class women who in their Italian source manage to hoodwink their husbands into believing them chaste, are altered by him to conform to the medieval English romance pattern of faithfulness. It is the bringing of the man to a recognition of that virtue that enables the happy endings of all but one of Shakespeare’s plays of jealousy: Merry Wives itself, Much Ado, The Winter’s Tale, Cymbeline.37 Othello, of course, learns too late. One could work through many of Shakespeare’s other comedies pointing out further episodes with medieval sources, from the Nine Worthies (a fourteenth-​century invention) whose pageant, already showing its age, is played in LLL, to the casket scene in Merchant.38 With the exception of the plays drawing directly on Chaucer and Gower, however, his specific medieval sources are generally less important than the shaping over the preceding centuries of the broad cultural context in which he was working. The medieval, whether that took the form of the representational freedom of the stage or of such plot elements as primogeniture or female faithfulness, was an integral part of his own world, not just an import from the past: ‘the medieval’ indeed did not exist as a category in sixteenth-​century England.39 Those elements of his comedies that owe their existence to that past were part of a continuing living tradition. His trajectory as an author of comedies shows an increasing readiness to move such qualities to the forefront, emblematized by the shift of the Apollonius story from the margins of the classical Errors to its unashamed centrality in Pericles. In its Prologue’s singling out of the medieval past as something to be valued in and for itself, Shakespeare moved from investing


See further Cooper, English Romance, 273–​92. The immediate source of the casket scene is the Gesta Romanorum, a fourteenth-​century collection of exemplary tales whose Middle English version was frequently reprinted in the sixteenth century. Bullough, Narrative and Dramatic Sources, I:513–​14, gives a text taken from an edition of a manuscript; the printed editions give an essentially similar version but one slightly closer to Shakespeare. See also Rebecca Krug, ‘Shakespeare’s Medieval Morality: The Merchant of Venice and the Gesta Romanorum’, in Curtis Perry and John Watkins, eds., Shakespeare and the Middle Ages (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 241–​61. 39  The earliest appearances of the idea of a ‘middle age’ occur in John Foxe, in a religious context, and William Camden, in a cultural context: see Bruce R. Smith, ‘Shakespeare’s Middle Ages’, 19–​36 (esp. 22–​ 5), and van Es, ‘Late Shakespeare’, 43–​4, both in Morse et al., Medieval Shakespeare. 38 

68   Helen Cooper in the canon of past English literature into an explicit embrace of what we would now call medievalism.

Suggested Reading Barber, C. L., Shakespeare’s Festive Comedy: A Study of Dramatic Form and its Relation to Social Custom (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1959). Bishop, T.  G., Shakespeare and the Theatre of Wonder (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 1996). Cooper, Helen, The English Romance in Time: Transforming Motifs from Geoffrey of Monmouth to the Death of Shakespeare (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004). Cooper, Helen, Shakespeare and the Medieval World (London: Methuen, 2010). Donaldson, E. Talbot, The Swan at the Well:  Shakespeare Reading Chaucer (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1985). Jensen, Phebe, Religion and Revelry in Shakespeare’s Festive World (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 2008). Thompson, Ann, Shakespeare’s Chaucer:  A Study in Literary Origins (Liverpool:  Liverpool University Press, 1978). Weimann, Robert, Shakespeare and the Popular Tradition in the Theater: Studies in the Social Dimension of Dramatic Form and Function, ed. Robert Schwartz (Baltimore, MD:  Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978). Wickham, Glynne, Early English Stages 1300–​1660, 3 parts in 2 vols (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul; New York: Columbia University Press, 1959, and reprints).

Chapter 4

E nc ounteri ng t h e Presen t  I Shakespeare’s Early Urban Comedies and the Lure of True Crime and Satire Kirk Melnikoff

When not writing or performing, Shakespeare in his early London days must have spent much of his time at the city’s many bookshops. As a voracious reader of what was probably limited economic means, he would have found these open venues with their varying holdings irresistible.1 In the stalls around St Paul’s churchyard, the Royal Exchange, and along Paternoster Row, he would have been able to hear the latest news as well as browse London’s newest publications and sift through dusty stacks for religious, historical, and literary titles of interest.2 Loitering around these bookshops, he might also have first encountered his name in print, derided in 1592 as ‘the onely Shake-​scene in a countrey’ in Greene’s Groatsworth of Wit (1592).3 1 

For accounts of Shakespeare’s reading, see Robert S. Miola, Shakespeare’s Reading (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000); Kenneth Muir, The Sources of Shakespeare’s Plays (London: Methuen, 1977); and Geoffrey Bullough, Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare, 8 vols (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1957–​75). For Shakespeare’s reading of popular Elizabethan prose, see David Margolies, ‘Shakespeare and Elizabethan Popular Fiction’, in Stuart Gillespie and Neil Rhodes, eds., Shakespeare and Elizabethan Popular Culture (London: Arden, 2014), 112–​35. 2  For a provocative description of the early modern bookshop as popular meeting-​place, see Gary Taylor, ‘Making Meaning Marketing Shakespeare 1623’, in Peter Holland and Stephen Orgel, eds., From Performance to Print in Shakespeare’s England (New York: Palgrave, 2006), 55–​72. See also James Shapiro, 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare (London: Faber and Faber, 2005), 190–​1. Charles Forker, in ‘How Did Shakespeare Come by his Books’, Shakespeare Yearbook 14 (2004), 109–​20, speculates that Shakespeare ‘was a regular customer’ (118) at London’s bookshops. 3  Greene’s Groatsworth of Wit (London, 1592), F1v. Most commentators have taken the 1592 barb to be directed at Shakespeare by Robert Greene. For the possibility that this pamphlet was in fact written by Henry Chettle, see John Jowett, ‘Johannes Factotum: Henry Chettle and Greene’s Groatsworth of Wit’, Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America 87, no. 4 (December 1993), 453–​86.

70   Kirk Melnikoff By late 1592 or early 1593, Shakespeare’s interest in the titles of London’s bookshops expanded from that of a browser and reader to that of a print author, as it was in these months that he took his first manuscript to market.4 The initial publication of Venus and Adonis appears to have been a joint project.5 The printer Richard Field entered it in the Stationers’ Register on 18 April 1593 and brought it to press sometime before the end of the year.6 The bookseller John Harrison then handled the poem’s distribution, storing and wholesaling unbound copies in his shop at the sign of the White Greyhound in St Paul’s churchyard. Field was almost certainly a child acquaintance of Shakespeare: the printer was born in Stratford-​upon-​Avon in 1561, residing there until 1579, and his tanner father was a business associate of Shakespeare’s father, John Shakespeare.7 Familiarity probably brought Shakespeare and Venus and Adonis to Field; poetic penchants and practicalities possibly led Shakespeare to the White Greyhound. While Shakespeare likely frequented a number of different bookshops in the early 1590s, it stands to reason that his early connection with Field and what was Field’s long-​standing connection with Harrison would have made him a regular at the White Greyhound both before and after his first narrative poem hit the stalls.8 There, in negotiating terms for Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece with the seasoned publisher Harrison, he might have been pleased to discover an extensive collection of Ovidian titles.9 There, he might have kept tabs on sales, elated as Venus and Adonis reached a second edition in 1594, a third in 1595, and a fourth in 1596. And there, if not in London’s many other bookshops, he might have had some of his first encounters with the bestselling pastimes of the day. From the second half of 1592 into 1593, it was true crime and satire that dominated London’s market for recreational reading. Advertised on posts, stacked in sheets at almost every bookshop, titles that promised to lay bare England’s rampant criminal culture and target urban iniquity were financed by a host of publishers and eagerly read by a significant number of Elizabethans. Shakespeare was paying attention. As this chapter will show, both The Comedy of Errors and The Taming of the Shrew provide strong evidence that Shakespeare was an energetic reader of texts that anatomized criminality and that targeted the pride and avarice of the urban classes; he was well acquainted with their bestselling titles and recurrent themes.10 To be sure, part of Shakespeare’s interest 4  See Katherine Duncan-​Jones and H. R. Woudhuysen, eds., Shakespeare’s Poems (London: Arden Shakespeare, 2007), 13. 5   Adam Hooks, ‘Shakespeare at the White Greyhound’, Shakespeare Survey 64 (2011), 266. 6  Edward Arber, A Transcript of the Registers of the Company of Stationers of London, 1554–​1640 A.D., 5 vols (London, 1875–​94), 2:630. 7  For an overview of Field’s family and career, see A. E. M. Kirwood, ‘Richard Field, Printer, 1589–​ 1624’, The Library, 4th ser., no. 12 (1931), 1–​39. 8  Hooks notes, ‘Shakespeare’s fame was made at the White Greyhound, not in a single moment of ambition, inspiration or dedication, but over a number of years and a number of sought-​after reprints’ (‘White Greyhound’, 267). 9  Hooks, ‘White Greyhound’, 269–​7 1. 10  The Comedy of Errors is usually dated between 1588 and 1594, The Taming of the Shrew between 1590 and 1592. For reasons that will become clear, my assumption here has been that each play was written in late 1592 or after.

Encountering the Present I    71 had to do with the trendiness, with the cultural currency of this early 1590s material. As a working dramatist, Shakespeare was continually tasked with producing commercially successful plays, and throughout his career he turned to London’s booksellers for sure-​fire material. It was no coincidence, in other words, that when he adapted Rosalind into As You Like It in the late 1590s, Thomas Lodge’s pastoral romance had just reached a fourth edition; or that when he transformed Pandosto into The Winter’s Tale around 1610, Robert Greene’s tale of jealousy, shipwreck, and reunion had just gone into its fifth. Shakespeare may not have found pre-​fab fodder for plots in true crime and satire, but the former contributed significantly to his early experiments with characterization and plotting while the latter inspired his own thinking about urban identity and afforded him ready-​made templates for a number of inset comic routines.

True Crime In 1592, the year that Shakespeare was called out in print as upstart and jack-​of-​all-​ trades, London’s book market was witnessing the runaway popularity of the coney-​ catching pamphlet.11 Conjured by the popular pamphleteer and playwright Robert Greene a year earlier out of the embers of rogue pamphlets by John Awdeley and Thomas Harman, this subgenre of Elizabethan fiction combined urban intrigue with the tongue-​in-​cheek didacticism of Greene’s repentance pamphlets and medley structure of his story collections.12 The bookseller Thomas Nelson struck gold with Greene’s first coney-​catching pamphlet A Notable Discovery of Coosenage (1591). (See Figure 4.1.) The five-​sheet quarto reached a third edition within a year, and it quickly spawned the sequel The Second Part of Coney-​Catching in 1591. By the end of 1592, the fourth edition of A Notable Discovery and the second edition of its sequel were available at bookshops like Harrison’s White Greyhound along with the second edition of Greene’s Third and Last Part of Coney-​Catching; the first edition of his Black Book’s Messenger; the first edition of his Disputation between a He Coney-​Catcher and a She Coney-​Catcher; and the second edition of The Defence of Coney Catching.13 This craze in 1592 for all things coney-​ catching inspired the bookseller William Barley to publish a revised fourth edition of

11  In these pamphlets, ‘coney-​catching’—​a scam involving cards—​is in fact just one of a number of different ‘coosenages’. 12  For the coney-​catching pamphlet, see Lawrence Manley, Literature and Culture in Early Modern London (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 341–​55. For overviews of Awdeley’s and Harman’s 1560s and 1570s titles, see William Carroll, Fat King, Lean Beggar: Representations of Poverty in the Age of Shakespeare (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1996); and Linda Woodbridge, Vagrancy, Homelessness, and English Renaissance Literature (Urbana and Chicago, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2001). For recent critical approaches to Greene, see Kirk Melnikoff and Edward Gieskes, eds., Writing Robert Greene: Essays on England’s First Notorious Professional Writer (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008). 13 While The Defence of Coney-​Catching is signed by one ‘Cuthbert cony-​catcher’ who vows ‘to haue a bout with this R.G.’ (A4v), most commentators have ascribed the pamphlet to Greene.

72   Kirk Melnikoff

Figure 4.1  Title page, A Notable Discovery of Coosenage (London, 1592). Courtesy of The Huntington Library, San Marino, California.

Harman’s A Caveat or Warning for Common Cursetors Vulgarly Called Vagabonds. Newly impressed under the title The Groundwork of Coney-​Catching, the pamphlet assures readers that, ‘All there playing their coossenings in their kinde are here set downe, which neuer yet were disclosed in anie booke of Conny-​catching’.14 In A Notable Discovery, Greene established many of the conventions that would come to define the coney-​catching pamphlet. There, London’s streets, inns, and taverns ever loom as hunting grounds for the city’s teeming population of setters, versers, nippes, foists, bawds, and trulls. And most at risk in the face of this criminal scene is the ‘plaine country fellow’ newly arrived in the city. Whether come ‘to the Tearme to trie his right, and laieth his land to morgadge to get some Crownes in hys purse to fee his Lawyer’ or ‘walking from his inne to perform some busines’, the farmer or yeoman is often represented as vulnerable in an urban environs of sophisticated ways and means.15 Beyond him are not simply the elaborate scams and stings but also the city’s extensive networks

14  15 

Thomas Harman, The Groundwork of Coney-​Catching (London: William Barley, 1592), *1r. Robert Greene, A Notable Discovery of Coosenage (London: Thomas Nelson, 1591), B1v, A3r, D2r.

Encountering the Present I    73 of criminal collaboration.16 According to Greene, London’s thieves work as a ‘generall fraternitie’ (B2v), sharing both a specialized vocabulary and an ethos centred around what one coney-​catcher calls ‘gaine and ease’ (C3v), and their schemes routinely involve multiple agents working in coordinated harmony. Thus the card scams of coney-​ catching commonly involve a threesome of ‘setter’, ‘verser’, and ‘barnacle’; the blackmail of ‘cros-​biting’ a ‘traffique’, a ‘simpler’, and ‘cros-​biters’.17 Inevitably, these villainies require much theatre as well, a successful ‘purchase’ dependent on costumes, role-​playing, and improvisation.18 ‘[A]‌pparelled like [an] honest ciuil Gentlem[a]n’ (B1v), for example, a setter accosts his prey in the street; if the targeted coney is reluctant to make his acquaintance and share a drink, he then calls in the verser, who uses his accomplice’s smattering of gathered information to lower the coney’s guard: ‘What goodman Barton? how fares all our friends about you? you are wel met, I haue a pint of wine for you, you are welcome to the Towne. . . . Why I am such a mans kinsman your neighbour not farre off: how doth this or that good Gentleman my friend? good Lorde that I should bee out of your remembrance, I haue beene at your house diuers times’ (B2r). As Greene imagines it, the verser’s side of this interview is pure theatre, and it usually defies resistance. And once hooked, conies are quickly drawn into a carnivalesque world of play and excess that not only drains them of money but of any stable sense of self. As Greene has it, these long ploys are ‘able to drawe . . . a man of great iudgement to consent to his owne confusion’ (A2v).19 Most critical assessments of the coney-​catching pamphlets have identified what Virginia L.  Macdonald has called a ‘double tone’ in their response to urban criminality.20 While Greene’s villains and knaves may be condemned as a ‘discredit of the estate of England’ (A3r), they are also positioned with their ingenuity, industry, and sociability at the empathetic centre of the pamphlets’ descriptions and anecdotes. At the same time, their quarry, the farmers, yeoman, merchants, and apprentices waylaid in Fleet Street, Holborn, or the Strand, are routinely indicted by their own self-​serving motives that inevitably emerge even as they are being fleeced of all they have. As Karen Helfand Bix has argued, by presenting the various forms of cozenage as ‘tenable if deviant form[s]‌’ of work, the coney-​catching pamphlets ‘endorse alternative assessments of labor that assimilate new methods of creating wealth, and . . . support the principle of reward for 16 

See, for instance, Karen Helfand Bix, ‘ “Masters of Their Occupation”: Labor and Fellowship in the Cony-​Catching Pamphlets’, in Craig Dionne and Steve Mentz, eds., Rogues in Early Modern English Culture (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2004), 171–​92. 17  For a glossary of Greene’s language of urban criminality, see Notable Discovery, C4r–​v. 18  Anupam Basu, ‘ “Like Very Honest and Substantial Citizens”: Cony-​Catching as Social Performance’, English Literary Renaissance 44, no. 1 (2014), 36–​55. 19  For instance, in The Second Part of Coney-​Catching (London, 1591), ‘these caterpillers resemble the nature of the Syrens, who sitting with their watching eies vpon the rockes to allure Sea passengers to their extreame preiudice, sound out most heauenlie melodie in such pleasing cords, that who so listens to their harmony, lends his eare vnto his owne bane and ruine’ (B2v). 20  See, for example, Virginia L. Macdonald’s ‘Robert Greene’s Innovative Contributions to Prose Fiction in A Notable Discovery’, Shakespeare Jahrbuch, 117 (1981), 127–​37; and ‘The Complex Moral View of Robert Greene’s A Disputation’, Shakespeare Jahrbuch, 119 (1983), 122–​36.

74   Kirk Melnikoff industry, even as they interrogate the multiple mystifications of self-​interest in fashionable vocational rhetoric’.21 Greene’s foray into true crime, in other words, played to the values of London’s fast-​emerging middle class even as it pushed back against them. It is of course impossible to know whether Shakespeare had himself perused the full array of Greene’s coney-​catching pamphlets by the end of 1592, or was himself able to affirm Barley’s bold advertisement that his book’s ‘coossenings . . . [were] never yet disclosed’. We do, however, have evidence from the plays that he was thinking about conies and coney-​catchers in his early years as a London dramatist. His engagement is perhaps most explicit in Shrew. There, early on, a newly disguised Tranio aligns himself with the coney-​catcher in imagining his besting of Gremio as a suitor in terms of a cards bluff: ‘A vengeance on your crafty withered hide! /​Yet I have faced it with a card of ten’ (2.1.400–​1).22 Two acts on, waiting for his master to arrive back home with his new wife, Petruccio’s servant Curtis complains of Grumio’s reluctance to share news by accusing him of the tricks and evasions of the coney-​catcher: ‘Come, you are so full of cony-​ catching’ (4.1.38). Later, in an intervention towards the conclusion of the play, Gremio cautions Baptista not to mistake Lucentio’s real father for a ‘mad knave’. ‘Take heed’, he warns, ‘lest you be cony-​catched in this business. I dare swear this is the right Vincentio’ (5.1.85, 91–​3). In Errors and Shrew, the threat of crime materializes early on at the threshold of the city. In this way, Shakespeare re-​enacts the anxiety-​invoking urban sorties of the coney-​ catching pamphlets, and he does so even as he reimagines their particular workings and effects.23 Searching for his mother and twin brother, Antipholus of Syracuse enters the restricted city of Ephesus at the start of Errors only to be quickly put on his guard by an encounter with what he thinks is his servant Dromio. Faced with what appears to be the theft ‘of all [his] money’ from his minion, he immediately worries about ‘cozenage’: Upon my life, by some device or other The villain is o’er-​raught of all my money. They say this town is full of cozenage, As nimble jugglers that deceive the eye, Dark-​working sorcerers that change the mind, Soul-​killing witches that deform the body, Disguisèd cheaters, prating mountebanks, And many suchlike libertines of sin. If it prove so, I will be gone the sooner. (1.2.95–​103)


Bix, ‘ “Masters” ’, 182. All references to Shakespeare are from Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor, gen. eds., The Oxford Shakespeare, 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005). 23  Cf. Martin Van Elk, ‘Urban Misidentification in The Comedy of Errors and the Cony-​Catching Pamphlets’, Studies in English Literature 43, no. 2 (2003), 323–​46. 22 

Encountering the Present I    75 Here, Antipholus of Syracuse does not fret about simple theft.24 Like Greene, he assumes a complicated scam (‘some device or other’) practised by collectives of ‘jugglers’, ‘Disguisèd cheaters’, and ‘prating mountebanks’.25 And like Greene, he fears too that these crimes will not simply lead to a loss of money but that they will ‘change the mind’ of those that are targeted. Personal transformation, metamorphosis as Ovid has it, of course, looms as a recurrent theme throughout Shakespeare’s work. In having Antipholus of Syracuse conflate knaves with ‘Dark working sorcerers’ and ‘Soul-​killing witches’, he raises the potential stakes of Greene’s ‘coosenage’. Antipholus of Syracuse’s imaginings of an Ephesian criminal underworld never materialize in Errors. Instead, the play gives us an easily unsettled world of confused identities, domestic disharmony, and circulating debt populated by ducal officers readily prepared to arrest defaulters. What we do get is Antipholus of Syracuse acting the coney, and as the play progresses we witness a number of scenes in which he ‘consent[s]‌ to his owne confusion’. In Greene’s coney-​catching scenarios, such ‘consent’ explicitly comes at various points: when the coney readily talks to a stranger, assents to a shared drink, and agrees to play at cards. It comes too when he consents to learn and then participate in what he is told is a foolproof card scam against what he believes to be an easy mark. In this, the coney—​at least for the time before he himself is tricked—​becomes coney-​catcher (‘Now gramercy sir for this tricke saith the Connie, Ile domineere with this amongst my neighbors’), and this confusion of identity leads him finally, as Greene has it, to an introspective depression: ‘beeing out of doores, poore man, goeth to hys lodging with a heauie heart & watry eyes, pensiue & sorrowfull, but too late’ (Notable Discovery, B4r, C1v). Antipholus of Syracuse may be more wary than most of Greene’s conies, but he is no less willing to participate in the intrigues that he is presented with. When he is confronted with a wife and ordered back to dinner to a home that he is told is his own, he at first balks but then quickly resolves, ‘I’ll say as they say, and persever so, /​And in this mist at all adventures go’ (2.2.218–​9). Later, after accepting a gold chain in the middle of the street with only the barest of objections, he muses, ‘What I should think of this I cannot tell. /​But this I think: there’s no man is so vain /​That would refuse so fair an offered chain. /​I see a man here needs not live by shifts, /​When in the streets he meets such golden gifts’ (3.2.185–​9). Urban ‘shifts’ may at this point still be on Antipholus of Syracuse’s mind, but here he is ready to believe that his recent acquisition is a ‘golden gift’ from a utopian city without crime. All of this culminates in the middle of Act 4 when Antipholus of Syracuse enters raving about Ephesus’s hospitality. ‘There’s not a man I meet but doth salute me /​As if I were their well-​acquainted friend’, he marvels, ‘And every one doth call me by my name. /​Some tender money to me, some invite me, /​Some other give me thanks for kindnesses. /​Some offer me commodities to buy’ 24 

Cf. ‘The Seruing-​man sent with his Lordes treasure, looseth oft times most part, to these worms of the common wealth’ (Notable Discovery, C2r). 25  William Warner’s 1595 translation of Plautus’s Menaechmi has Messenio warn his master Menechmus that ‘this Towne Epidamnum, is . . . as full of Ribaulds, Parasites, Drunkards, Cathpoles, Conycatchers, and Sycophants, as it can hold’ (qtd. in Bullough, Narrative and Dramatic Sources, I:17).

76   Kirk Melnikoff (4.3.1–​6). Musing that this all may be the ‘imaginary wiles’ of ‘Lapland sorcerers’ (4.3.10–​ 11), never in the speech does he suggest that he has not played along. In the play’s final two acts, Antipholus of Syracuse’s consent leads to confusion and then to full-​on paranoia. Overwhelmed by the prospect of a heretofore unknown self that is married, wealthy, sociable, and involved with a courtesan, he finally succumbs to the supernatural explanation of witches and fiends. He and his servant try to flee the city only to be chased into a priory. When he enters again as a ‘man much wronged’ (5.1.332), though, his few lines serve the basic dictates of a comedic ending, unravelling misunderstandings and bolstering the requisite happy mood. Though not as explicitly as he does with Hermia’s ‘Methinks I see these things with parted eye, /​When everything seems double’ or Helena’s ‘And I have found Demetrius like a jewel, /​Mine own and not mine own’ in A Midsummer Night’s Dream (4.1.188–​9, 190–​1), Shakespeare does give us at the end of Errors a hint of such sombre introspective inklings in the face of confusion. In turning to Luciana, Antipholus of Syracuse promises to ‘make good’ ‘[w]‌het I told you then’, but only ‘[i]f this be not a dream I see and hear’ (5.1.378, 377, 379). In Shrew, like Errors, Shakespeare begins at the edges. At the start of the play proper, Lucentio enters Padua with his servant Tranio. Not a farmer but a citizen’s son from Pisa, he has come to the university town ‘as he that leaves /​A shallow plash to plunge him in the deep, /​And with satiety seeks to quench his thirst’ (1.1.22–​4). Though reminiscent of Antipholus of Syracuse’s oft-​quoted opening reverie that ‘I to the world am like a drop of water /​That in the ocean seeks another drop’ (1.2.35–​6), Lucentio’s yearning leads not to anxiety in the face of crime; instead, it runs first to spying and then to Tranio’s ‘device’ of Lucentio ‘be[ing] schoolmaster /​And undertak[ing] the teaching of the maid’, which in turn necessitates Tranio playing the ‘master . . . in [Lucentio’s] stead’ (1.1.189–​91, 200). This turns out to be the scheme that will end in Gremio’s warning to Baptista not to ‘be cony-​catched in this business’ (5.1.91–​2). Here, at the threshold of the city, Shakespeare turns Greene’s ‘plaine country fellow’ into student, student into cozener, and cozener into romantic hero. As Greene describes it, coney-​catcher theatre requires a troupe, costuming, and plotting; its success also depends upon both the improvisational and oratorical skills of its players. The setter, for example, must quickly adapt his opening gambit according to the information immediately gleaned from his quarry: ‘Why sir, saith the Setter, gessing by his toong what cuntryman he is, are you not a Yorkshire man or such a cuntryman? if he say yes, then he creepe vpon him closely; if hee say no, then straight the Setter comes ouer him thus’ (Notable Discovery, B1v). Once the coney is drawn into a tavern for a quart of wine, seamless teamwork is then required, one coney-​catcher either taking the lead or following the subtle cues of another without missing a beat. When a coney’s suspicions are not entirely allayed even after a shared quart, it falls to ‘one, either the Verser, or the Setter, or some of their crue . . . [to] steppeth before the Conie as he goeth, and letteth droppe twelue pence in the high way’ (Notable Discovery, B2r–v). Greene is explicit about the parallel importance of oratory when he promises to unveil the coney-​catchers’ ‘new deuices’ in The Second Part of Coney-​Catching. There, he contends, ‘seeking with the Orators Beneuolentiam captare [to capture goodwill], and as they

Encountering the Present I    77 vse rethoricall tropes and figures, the better to drawe their hearers with the delight of varietie: so these moathes of the Common-​wealth, apply their wits to wrap in wealthy farmers with straunge and vncoth conceits’ (B2v–​B3r). The improvisations of coney-​ catchers keep the game afoot; their facility with language keeps the coney ‘wrap[ped] in’ or interested. Shrew contains more cozeners than just Lucentio, Tranio, and the Lord; according to the terms delineated by Greene, though, none is more coney-​catcher-​like than Petruccio. In this, Curtis’s complaint that Petruccio’s servant Grumio is ‘so full of cony-​catching’ misses the real mark. Unlike the other suitors, Petruccio is motivated almost entirely by gain, and his modes of wooing—​‘taming’ as he calls them—​are all schemes: his initial confounding first interview (e.g. ‘If she do bid me pack, I’ll give her thanks’ [2.1.177]); his indecorous wedding; and his ‘kill[ing of] a wife with kindness’ (4.1.194) at home. Upon being recruited by Hortensio as accomplice in his own scheme to marry Bianca, Petruccio immediately assents and extemporaneously plays his part in introducing his disguised friend to Baptista with the addition of a name and place of birth: ‘Accept of him, or else you do me wrong. /​His name is Licio, born in Mantua’ (2.1.59–​60). Coupled for the first time with Kate, he also is shown to be versatile with language, with witty banter and pleasing words (what Kate in the scene calls ‘goodly speech’ [2.1.257]). Petruccio’s ability to match words with Kate was earlier predicted by his servant Grumio. ‘She may perhaps call him half a score knaves or so’, he prophesies to Hortensio, ‘Why, that’s nothing; an he begin once he’ll rail in his rope-​tricks. I’ll tell you what, sir, an she stand him but a little he will throw a figure in her face and so disfigure her with it that she shall have no more eyes to see withal than a cat’ (1.2.109–​14). Aptly reconfiguring ‘rhetoric’ as ‘rope-​tricks’, Grumio’s sense of his master’s agile, aggressive, and blinding use of language—​rendering Kate with no ‘eyes to see withal’—​vaguely recalls Greene’s own sense of coney-​catcher oratory. The twist in all of this, of course, is marriage. When all is said and done, Kate is not fleeced of a purse but conjoined to a husband. Coney here becomes partner of coney-​ catcher. Understood with this result in mind, many of Petruccio’s schemes can be seen to function as much as training as taming.26 Through them, Petruccio models the rhetorical and theatrical dexterity of his ‘generall fraternitie’, preparing Kate to participate in their devices. No scene more clearly demonstrates this training than the famed sun and moon scene late in Act 4. There, Petruccio not only teaches Kate to follow his lead, even if that means saying with him of the sun ‘I know it is the moon’ (4.6.17), but also to improvise when necessary. Kate may resist this lesson at first, but in being faced with her first potential coney, Lucentio’s father Vincentio, she is able to turn on a dime from concurring with Petruccio that he is a ‘[y]‌oung budding virgin’ to asking forgiveness for 26 

Cf. Amy L. Smith, ‘Performing Marriage with a Difference: Wooing, Wedding, and Bedding in The Taming of the Shrew’, Comparative Drama 36, no. 3/​4 (2002), 289–​320; and Frances E. Dolan, ‘Household Chastisements: Gender, Authority, and “Domestic Violence” ’, in Patricia Fumerton and Simon Hunt, eds., Renaissance Culture and the Everyday (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999), 179–​213.

78   Kirk Melnikoff her mistake: ‘Pardon, old father, my mistaking eyes /​That have been so bedazzled with the sun /​That everything I look on seemeth green. /​Now I perceive thou art a reverend father’ (4.6.38, 46–​9). All is not deference here, however, for Kate amends Petruccio’s unseemly description of Vincentio as ‘old, wrinkled, faded, withered’ (4.6.44), thus keeping the patriarch ‘wrapped in’. In the final scene of the play, after the couple’s first onstage kiss, training becomes trial for Kate when Petruccio introduces the possibility of gain by responding to a dispute between Kate and Hortensio’s widow with the cue ‘A hundred marks my Kate does put her down’ (5.2.37). After the wives exit, Petruccio again proposes a bet: ‘Let’s each one send unto his wife, /​And he whose wife is most obedient /​To come at first when he doth send for her /​Shall win the wager which we will propose’ (5.2.68–​7 1). On the face of it, Petruccio’s proposition is ludicrous, and it draws both Lucentio and Hortensio in, the former echoing Petruccio’s earlier wager in finally proposing ‘[a]‌hundred, then’ (5.2.77). Wagers that appear to be foolproof are the hallmark of coney-​catching; they inevitably cap off the long scams perpetrated on Greene’s conies. Like the ‘Barnackles Carde com[ing] forth  . . .  [to strike] a cold humor to [the coney’s] heart’ (Notable Discovery, C1v), then, Petruccio’s wager ends with the entrance of Kate. And as money has been at stake, she does not balk when asked by her husband to ‘tell these headstrong women /​What duty they do owe their lords and husbands’ (5.2.135–​6). What follows is pure misogyny delivered with powerful oratory, enough to ‘wrap in’ Lucentio and Hortensio and guarantee delivery of her and Petruccio’s hundred.

Satire When Greene’s true crime came to dominate the print market for recreational reading in 1592, it also helped precipitate the emergence of prose satire as a popular genre in the later months of that same year in London’s many bookshops.27 As early as A Notable Discovery, coney-​catching had always had a satiric edge. Its cautionary tales of cross-​ biting, ‘courbing’, and lifting routinely included satiric portraits of overconfident criminals and greedy conies. These depictions appealed to a reading public already familiar with the witty children’s plays of John Lyly (staged between 1584 and 1590) and with the many energetic and aggressive prose pamphlets of the Marprelate Controversy (1588–​9).28


Alan B. Farmer and Zachary Lesser, in ‘What is Print Popularity? A Map of the Elizabethan Book Trade’, in Andy Kesson and Emma Smith, eds., The Elizabethan Top Ten: Defining Print Popularity in Early Modern England (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2013), 19–​54, have calculated that prose fiction and satire would constitute 4 per cent of all speculative editions published in England between 1592 and 1602, up from 2.1 per cent between 1559 and 1591. 28  For an overview of the Marprelate Controversy, see Joseph L. Black, ed., The Martin Marprelate Tracts: A Modernized and Annotated Edition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), i–​cxvi.

Encountering the Present I    79

Figure 4.2  Title page, A Quip for an Upstart Courtier (London, 1592). Courtesy of The Huntington Library, San Marino, California.

It was satire that again drew Shakespeare to Greene. England’s first notorious professional writer died in September 1592, and the public furor that his demise inspired likely had much to do with the continued popularity of his coney-​catching pamphlets that year.29 But as popular as many of these titles proved, none of them would match the success of A Quip for an Upstart Courtier, Greene’s satire ‘Wherein is plainely set downe the disorders in all Estates and Trades’.30 (See Figure 4.2.) On 21 July 1592, the printer John Wolfe entered the title in the Stationers’ Register.31 By the end of the year, Wolfe’s sixty-​ page quarto had reached a sixth edition, making it the first runaway prose bestseller of the 1590s. Part re-​tread, part contemporary exposé, A Quip is framed as a dream vision.32 It begins when ‘[D]‌amped with a melancholy humor’ (B1r) Greene falls asleep 29  For the many print publications that emerged in response to Greene’s demise, see Kirk Melnikoff, Robert Greene (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2011), pp. xvii–​xviii. 30  Robert Greene, A Quip for an Upstart Courtier (London, 1592), title page. 31 Arber, 2:617. 32  Fashioned as an Estates Satire in the vein of Chaucer’s ‘General Prologue’, A Quip also draws heavily from F. T.’s The Debate between Pride and Lowliness (1577?).

80   Kirk Melnikoff in a vale. In his slumbers, he encounters two sets of walking and talking breeches, ‘Veluet breeches’ of the latest Italian fashion and ‘Cloth breeches’ of the ‘old antient yeomanrie’ (B4v). These entities immediately fall into a debate over their pedigree and worthiness as denizens of England. To keep them from blows, Greene intervenes as judge, promising to gather a jury to hear the dispute. Much of the pamphlet’s remaining pages are taken up with jury selection, the disputants arguing over inclusion of sixty candidates, each a representative of a different occupation from lawyer to player. That the jury of twenty-​ four will in the end strongly side with Cloth breeches is never in doubt. Building upon Veluet breeches’s own complaints, Greene’s colourful, often extended denunciations of various occupations for their avarice and slipshod, self-​serving practices dominate A Quip’s pages. Not only do they endorse consumer-​class concerns about urban knavery but they also advance what Jeremy Dimmick has described as ‘a striking—​indeed strident—​social and political concern for traditional Englishness’.33 Shakespeare’s debt to A Quip’s satiric portraits of potential jurors is perhaps most apparent in Errors.34 There, in a relatively long, railing description, Dromio of Syracuse rants about the malevolent ways of the Officer who has just arrested what Dromio of Syracuse thinks is his master for debt. According to him, Antipholus of Syracuse is in Tartar limbo, worse than hell. A devil in an everlasting garment hath him, One whose hard heart is buttoned up with steel; A fiend, a fairy, pitiless and rough; A wolf, nay worse, a fellow all in buff; A back-​friend, a shoulder-​clapper, one that countermands The passages of alleys, creeks, and narrow launds; A hound that runs counter, and yet draws dryfoot well; One that before the Judgment carries poor souls to hell. (4.2.32–​40)

In the next scene, Dromio of Syracuse continues his tirade against the Officer, and his collection of anecdotes, epithets, and puns borrow heavily from Greene’s description of and Veluet breeches own complaints against the sergeant in A Quip. There, among other things, the sergeant brings ‘Gentlemen to Limbo’ (E1v); has a ‘slouenly carkase . . . framd by the diuill, of the rotten carion of a woolfe’ (E2r); is dressed in a ‘buffe leather ierkin’ (D4v); has ‘worne his mace smooth . . . clapping it vpon my shoulder’ (E1v); and drags men ‘to the counter without respect of manhood or honestie’ (E2r). Taken together,

33  Jeremy Dimmick, ‘Gower, Chaucer, and the Art of Repentance in Robert Greene’s Vision’, Review of English Studies 57, no. 231 (September 2006), 457–​73. 34  For this I am heavily indebted to Kent Cartwright and his Arden edition of The Comedy of Errors. In an Appendix, Cartwright points out that Greene ‘employed a new and different style in offering the first sustained satirical description of a sergeant as venal and cruel, with his corruption manifested in his appearance and behaviour. Nothing comparable precedes it.’

Encountering the Present I    81 Dromio of Syracuse’s accusations against the Officer in 4.2 and 4.3 constitute an entertainment in and of itself, satiric fulminating as interlude. A Quip can also be vaguely sensed in Shrew’s depiction of the tinker Christopher Sly as well as in the brief appearances of the tailor and haberdasher at Petruccio’s country house. None of these occupations had proven acceptable to Cloth breeches.35 He rejects the tinker as a ‘drowsie, bawdy, drunken companion’ (G3r); the haberdasher as ‘to[o]‌ subtle’ because ‘he trims vppe olde felts and makes them verye fayre to the eie . . . and so abuseth vs with his coosenage’ (G4v); and the tailor as being primarily a purveyor of ‘silke lace, cloth of gold, of siluer, and such costly stuffe’ (D1v).36 In Shrew, though, the comparable satiric portraits are ultimately tempered. The play’s open frame suggests the possibility of Sly’s transformation. And its cutting criticisms of the tailor and the haberdasher are thoroughly mitigated by the scene’s dramatic irony. As Petruccio suggests in a soliloquy two scenes earlier, his violent railings—​on behalf of Kate—​are concocted, part of his method ‘to kill a wife with kindness’ (4.1.194). Just as he was one of the many readers of satire in the vein of Greene in 1592 or 1593, Shakespeare was also drawn to the satiric voice of Thomas Nashe. Less than a month after Wolfe entered A Quip, his contemporary Richard Jones entered Nashe’s Pierce Penniless His Supplication to the Devil in the Stationers’ Register.37 Reprinted twice in the final months of 1592, once in 1593, and once more in 1595, this prose pamphlet was initially almost as successful as Greene’s, and it would easily prove the most popular title that Nashe would write.38 Years earlier Nashe had introduced his satiric pen to London anonymously as an anti-​Martinist in the Marprelate Controversy, but it was in Pierce Penniless that his satiric prose style and vision came to be a bestselling London sensation. There, as the disaffected Pierce, driven to extremes by the failure of literary patronage, Nashe delivers a supplication that decries the ubiquity of the seven deadly sins in urban London even as it offers an earnest defence of poetry and play-​going. At its beginning is Nashe’s well-​quoted description of Dame Niggardize who stands ‘in a sedge rugge kirtle . . . a coarse hempen raile about her shoulders, borrowed of the one end of a hop-​bag, an apron made of Almanackes out of date . . . & an old wiues pudding pan on her head, thrumd with the parings of her nailes, sate barrelling vp the droppings of her nose, in steede of oyle to saime wool withall, and would not aduenture to spit without halfe a dozen porrengers at her elbow’.39 Directed to ‘the high and mightie Prince of Darknesse, Donsell dell Lucifer’ (A4r), the appeal is fraught with irony, so much so that 35 

Sly describes himself as born a pedlar who then turned tinker (Induction 2.16–​20). Cloth breeches, like Shakespeare, links the pedlar with the tinker, complaining, ‘the pedler and the Tinker, they are two notable knaues, both of a haire, and both cosen Germaines to the Deuill’ (Quip, G3r). 36  For the play’s comparable representations of the haberdasher, see 4.3.64–​8, esp. ‘trick’ (4.3.67); and the tailor, see esp. ‘masquing stuff ’ (4.3.87). 37 Arber 2:619. 38  For the complicated publication history of Pierce Penniless, see Lorna Hutson, Thomas Nashe in Context (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989), 176–​80. 39  Thomas Nashe, Pierce Penniless his Supplication to the Devil (London, 1592), A4v. All quotations taken from this second edition.

82   Kirk Melnikoff many commentators have suggested that Nashe is ultimately more interested in the energetic and excessive style with which it is written than with social critique.40 This was a unique prose style in 1592, characterized by wildly compounded, alliterative syntax; by colloquial diction; by neologisms; and by grotesque bodily imagery that was meant to inspire both laughter and revulsion in its audience.41 Shakespeare’s engagement with Nashe and the satiric style of Pierce Penniless—​what Nashe in his Lenten Stuff will famously call ‘Pierce a-​Gods name’—​is manifold in his early urban comedies.42 Like his simulation of Greene’s in Dromio of Syracuse’s description of the Officer, Shakespeare at times conjures Nashe’s satiric voice in inset, one-​off performances. In Shrew, Biondello proffers one of these in his long description of soon-​ to-​enter bridegroom Petruccio.43 There, with Nasheian compound phrases and colloquial diction, Petruccio is introduced in an ‘old jerkin’ and ‘breeches thrice-​turned’ (3.2.44), while his horse’s body is painted with extensive details of age and disease: ‘possessed with the glanders and like to mose in the chine, troubled with the lampass, infected with the fashions, full of windgalls, sped with spavins, rayed with the yellows, past cure of the fives, stark spoiled with the staggers, begnawn with the bots, weighed in the back and shoulder-​shotten . . .’ (3.2.49–​55). Taken together, Biondello’s ‘old news’ (3.2.30) of Petruccio, his ‘lackey’ (‘a monster, a very monster in apparel’ [3.2.63, 67–​8]), and his horse traffics in Nasheian contradictions, with the extremes of mirth and disgust. It also sets up a tension between the imagistic force of language and the practicalities of the professional theatre as Petruccio’s spectral horse is only described, not actually brought on stage. Halfway through, Errors presents a comparable satiric routine when Dromio of Syracuse, with imagery reminiscent of Dame Niggardize’s nose ‘droppings’, complains to his master of Luce, Adriana’s kitchen maid, and her leaky female body. Dromio’s opening panic about emasculation in this episode, that he is ‘a woman’s man, and besides myself ’ (3.2.77–​8), parodies Antipholus of Syracuse’s own latent fears about being forcibly turned husband by Adriana and being ‘made . . . traitor to myself ’ (3.2.168) by his love for Luciana. According to Dromio, Luce is ‘all grease’, so much so that he ‘know[s]‌not what use to put her to but to make a lamp of her, and run from her by her own light’ (3.2.97–​9). She also ‘sweats’ so much that ‘a man may go overshoes in the grime of it’ (3.2.104–​5). Continuing to be cued by Antipholus of Syracuse’s questions, Dromio concludes with an

40  Cf. Jonathan V. Crewe, Unredeemed Rhetoric: Thomas Nashe and the Scandal of Authorship (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982), 38–​9; Hutson, 180; C. S. Lewis, English Literature in the Sixteenth Century (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1954), 416; and David Landreth, ‘Wit without Money in Nashe’, in Stephen Guy-​Bray, Joan Pong Linton, and Steve Mentz, eds., The Age of Thomas Nashe (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2013), 135–​42. 41  See Neil Rhodes, Elizabethan Grotesque (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1980), 18–​26. 42  Thomas Nashe, Nashe’s Lenten Stuff (London, 1599), A4v. Charles Nicholl, in A Cup of News: The Life of Thomas Nashe (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1984), has argued that Nashe is a strong influence on Shakespeare’s early ‘sense of raillery’ (205). 43  Brian Morris, in his 1981 Arden edition of The Taming of the Shrew, has connected Biondello’s description here with the account both of Dame Niggardize and Greediness in Pierce Penniless (225).

Encountering the Present I    83 outlandish blazon, comparing various parts of her ‘spherical’ figure to different places of the world, from the ‘bogs’ of Ireland to the unmentionable ‘low’ countries of Belgium and the Netherlands (3.2.116, 121, 144). Dromio’s national-​anatomical analogies prove so unsettling that at the end of the interlude, Antipholus of Syracuse concludes, ‘Tis time, I think, to trudge, pack, and be gone’ (3.2.159). In this, Dromio’s railing is shown quickly and effectively to trump Antipholus of Syracuse’s vow minutes earlier to Luciana that ‘Thee will I love, and with thee lead my life’ (3.2.67). Nasheian satire—​misogynist and xenophobic—​are thus constituted, at least for the moment, as inimical to romantic union and romantic comedy. Shakespeare’s encounter with Nashe yields more in his early urban comedies than anxious one-​off routines. As Charles Nicholl and more recently Georgia Brown have pointed out, Shrew’s many scenes of verbal combat—​its ‘raillery, insult, verbal violence’—​are strongly reminiscent of the ‘scoffs of Nashe’.44 Some of these mocks can be found in the pages of Pierce Penniless. Katherine’s angry accusation that Petruccio is but ‘half-​lunatic, /​a madcap ruffian and a swearing Jack’ (2.1.282–​3), for example, has an analogue in Pierce’s various descriptions of the prideful upstart. There, the figure is compared to ‘a mad Ruffion on a time, being in daunger of shipwrack by a tempest’ and to a ‘dapper Iacke, that hath beene but over at Deepe, wring his face round about, as a man would stirre vp a mustard pot, and talke English through the teeth’ (B2r, B1v). Brown has suggested that ‘[b]‌oth Katherina and Petruchio are reworkings of Nashe which allow Shakespeare to explore the nature of invective and the destructive and creative potential of verbal wit’.45 Rootless, oppositional, and alienating, Nasheian vitriol is aligned by the play with the emergent market economy of the city. Ultimately built upon the skills of improvisation, performance, and wit, the romantic coupling of a shrew and a rakehell is, argues Brown, Shakespeare’s ‘productive’ response to ‘the specific challenges and delights of London’.46

Later Encounters Shakespeare’s interest as a comic dramatist in true crime and satire did not entirely disappear after Errors and Shrew. It has long been thought that in Love’s Labour’s Lost, he returned to Nashe with Mote, Don Armado’s witty page.47 Fittingly dubbed ‘my 44 Nicholl, Cup of News, 204. 45 

Georgia Brown, ‘Sex and the City: Nashe, Ovid, and Problems of Urbanity’, in Stephen Guy-​Bray, Joan Pong Linton, and Steve Mentz, eds., The Age of Thomas Nashe: Texts, Bodies and Trespasses of Authorship in Early Modern England (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2013), 23. 46  Brown, ‘Sex and the City’, 26. 47  Nashe was first identified with Mote/​Moth by Frederick Gard Fleay in 1884 (Nicholl, 314 n.21). For Mote’s function in the play, see William C. Carroll, The Great Feast of Language in Love’s Labour’s Lost (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1976), 52–​5. For Nashe’s influence on the characterization of Falstaff in 1 Henry IV and 2 Henry IV, see Rhodes, Elizabethan Grotesque, 89–​130.

84   Kirk Melnikoff tender juvenal’ (1.2.8) by his master, Mote lays bare the pretensions—​rhetorical and otherwise—​of the characters around him through wordplay and witty routines.48 The satiric drive of Mote, however, is ultimately reappraised at play’s end when Biron and company’s derisive witticisms at the expense of the Nine Worthies are brought to an unsettling end by Don Armado’s affective plea to ‘beat not the bones of the buried’ (5.2.664) and by news of the French King’s death.49 Here again, an instinct towards ‘form confounded’ (5.2.516) is shown to be contrary to the communal impulses of love and romantic comedy, this as Nashe had enlarged his profile as London’s resident satirist with two more titles: Strange News in late 1592 and The Unfortunate Traveler in late 1593.50 Shakespeare would return as well to Greene’s landscape of conies and coney-​catchers in The Merry Wives of Windsor. Beginning with the doltish Slender complaining of the ‘cony-​catching rascals, Bardolph, Nim, and Pistol’ (1.1.117–​18), the play’s farcical plot is launched by Sir John Falstaff, who commits himself to the swindling of Master Ford and Master Page with ‘There is no remedy: I must cony-​catch, I must shift’ (1.3.29–​30). Falstaff ’s civic transgressions, however, in this case only offer a buffoonish and narcissistic echo of the cooperative knavery variously outlined in both Errors and Shrew, and Falstaff is ritually scapegoated at the end in favour of what Neil Rhodes has described as the play’s ‘bourgeois piety’.51 In this, Shakespeare’s fascination with coney-​ catching may have ebbed as the popularity of true crime tailed off. After 1592, no new editions of Greene’s coney-​catching pamphlets would appear until the second edition of A Disputation between a He Coney-​Catcher and a She Coney-​Catcher was republished in 1615.

Suggested Reading Bix, Karen Helfand, ‘ “Masters of Their Occupation”:  Labor and Fellowship in the Cony-​ Catching Pamphlets’, in Craig Dionne and Steve Mentz, eds., Rogues in Early Modern English Culture (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2004), 171–​92. Carroll, William, Fat King, Lean Beggar: Representations of Poverty in the Age of Shakespeare (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1996). Farmer, Alan B., and Zachary Lesser, ‘What is Print Popularity? A Map of the Elizabethan Book Trade’, in Andy Kesson and Emma Smith, eds., The Elizabethan Top Ten: Defining Print Popularity in Early Modern England (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2013), 19–​54. Forker, Charles, ‘How Did Shakespeare Come by his Books?’, Shakespeare Yearbook 14 (2004), 109–​20. 48 

His mocking description of Don Armado’s performance of love, for example—​‘your hat penthouse-​ like o’er the shop of your eyes, . . . your arms crossed on your thin-​belly doublet like a rabbit on a spit, . . . your hands in your pocket like a man after the old painting’ (3.1.15–​19) is pure Nashe, recreating the satiric voice of Pierce. Rhodes calls this speech a ‘pastiche of Nashe’ (95). 49  H. R. Woudhuysen, in his Arden, third-​series edition of the play (1998), describes the lords’ treatment of the Nine Worthies as ‘mocking cruelty’ (40). 50  Love’s Labour’s Lost is usually dated between 1594 and 1596. 51 Rhodes, Elizabethan Grotesque, 127.

Encountering the Present I    85 Hooks, Adam, Selling Shakespeare (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016). Hutson, Lorna, Thomas Nashe in Context (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989). Melnikoff, Kirk, and Edward Gieskes, eds., Writing Robert Greene: Essays on England’s First Notorious Professional Writer (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008). Rhodes, Neil, Elizabethan Grotesque (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1980). Taylor, Gary, ‘Making Meaning Marketing Shakespeare 1623’, in Peter Holland and Stephen Orgel, eds., From Performance to Print in Shakespeare’s England (New York: Palgrave, 2006), 55–72.

Chapter 5

Enc ou nteri ng t h e Presen t  I I Shakespearean Comedy and Elizabethan Drama Andy Kesson

The Elizabethans were fond of the classical proverb that wine induced truth-​telling: in vino veritas. ‘I perceive sober men tell most lies’, one of John Lyly’s characters explains, ‘for in vino veritas. If they had drunk wine, they would have told the truth’.1 Other Lyly speakers express the same idea more succinctly: ‘Grapes are mind-​glasses’; ‘Wine is the glass of the mind’.2 Shakespeare’s Christopher Sly, in the Induction to The Taming of the Shrew, drinks ale rather than wine, but it seems to have the same effect. Certainly, when Sly is promised that he will see ‘a pleasant comedy’ which will ‘frame your mind to mirth and merriment’, he asks a question which may have as much truth in it as ale: ‘Is not a comonty /​A Christmas gambol, or a tumbling trick?’ Sly does not recognize the word ‘comedy’, and is able neither to pronounce it nor pin down its meaning, which is eventually done for him when one of the actors defines it with recourse to what is now considered an entirely different generic category: ‘It is a kind of history’ (Induction 2.126, 131, 133–​4, 136).3 In vino veritas: at least one drunk Elizabethan, albeit fictional, did not know what comedy was, whilst his presumably sober interlocutor thought it was a kind of history. This suggests a very different sense of the genre than the one usually intended by the phrase ‘Shakespearean comedy’ in contemporary criticism and conversation. 1  John Lyly, Mother Bombie, ed. Leah Scragg (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2010), 3.3.33–​5. 2  John Lyly, Sappho and Phao, in G. K. Hunter and David Bevington, eds., Campaspe and Sappho and Phao (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1991), 2.4.90; John Lyly, Euphues and His England, in Leah Scragg, ed., Euphues: The Anatomy of Wit and Euphues and His England (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2003), 226. Further references to Sappho and Phao are from the Hunter and Bevington edition. 3  All references to Shakespeare’s plays are from Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor, gen. eds., The Complete Oxford Shakespeare (London: Guild Publishing, 1989).

Encountering the Present II    87 In 1623, the majority of Shakespeare’s plays were collected in the anthology now most often called the First Folio. The book’s real title, however, made reference to the author’s perceived generic range: Mr. WILLIAM SHAKESPEARES COMEDIES, HISTORIES, & TRAGEDIES About thirty years after the writing of Shrew, then, comedy was understood as sufficiently unlike history for the two words to be listed on a title page as part of a triad of early modern dramatic genres. The logic of a list, after all, depends on the assumption that each item is discrete and separate; it would cause havoc to your shopping list if you found yourself wondering what apples are, and someone told you they were like oranges. But within the First Folio, comedies do turn out to be like histories, at least in Shrew. And Shrew is not the only case of Folio genre-​slippage: as many scholars have noted, the 1623 Folio ascribes new genres to old plays, so that The Most Excellent History of the Merchant of Venice (1600) becomes a comedy, the True Chronicle History of King Lear (1608) a tragedy. Troilus and Cressida is an especially notorious example, since it was published in 1609 in a quarto edition that names it a history on its title page but a comedy in its prefatory epistle (comparing it to Plautus and Terence), was then intended to be placed amongst the Folio histories but, in John Jowett’s words, ‘ended up in a ghetto between the Histories and Tragedies’. Jowett suggests that ‘A bibliographically aware reader of the Folio might wonder whether some subtle point was being made about the play’s ambiguous genre.’4 Perhaps instead these various generic reshufflings bespeak both an increasing need to read plays via genre and their continuing resistance to such readings. Christopher Sly suggests to us that comedy was a less secure conceptual category in the Elizabethan period, when Shakespeare was writing the majority of his comedies, than when it was practised and formulated thirty years later. Sly, of course, is drunk, but grapes are mind-​glasses: might he be clueing us into a shift in the meaning and practice of comedy between the earlier and later periods of early modern drama, a shift that has been occluded by the subsequent canonization of the First Folio and its generic distinctions? This chapter proposes an exploration of the pre-​Folio history of folly, asking what happens to our sense of Elizabethan comedy and comedic practice if we set aside the Folio title page’s listing of three genre names as though they were comprehensive, self-​ evident, and discrete. In the process, it reveals the transformative effect on the conceptualization of genre that Shakespeare himself produced in his 1590s work, and celebrates 4  John Jowett, Shakespeare and Text (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 64–​5. Lawrence Danson, Shakespeare’s Dramatic Genres (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 5–​7 is also extremely useful on the perceived genre of Troilus and Cressida.

88   Andy Kesson the very different generic plurality of the decade before, which, as the example of Ben Jonson and even Troilus and Cressida show us, Shakespeare’s later contemporaries and even Shakespeare himself could continue. The fact that some of Shakespeare’s post-​1590s plays are called ‘problem comedies’ perhaps suggests how unproblematic his 1590s plays have come to seem; the more obviously mixed nature of Measure for Measure, Troilus and Cressida, or All’s Well That Ends Well, much like the romance plays that Shakespeare wrote towards the end of his career, seem much less strange if seen next to 1580s, pre-​ Shakespearean practice.

The Tragicomical History of Comedy Comedy is a subject that has historically made scholars nervous. John Russell Brown, for example, noted that the ‘light-​hearted’, ‘capricious’, ‘inconsequential’ appearance of Shakespeare’s comedies can make ‘the probing questions of the critic seem ludicrously inapposite. The critic is afraid of taking them too seriously.’5 Russell Brown’s formulations are helpful in pinpointing some of comedy’s expected characteristics:  scholars expect it to be fun, impulsive, and unimportant, though we might note the potentially contradictory note struck by the word ‘capricious’, with its intimations of whimsical but also wayward unpredictability. Alexander Leggatt suggests that ‘The Roman comedy of confusion takes place in a practical world, where nothing is inexplicable’, but again the tension between confusion and explication is important: whatever the narrative experience of the audience, characters are confronted with inexplicability often during a play.6 Certainly classical practice and theory confirmed that comedy generally focused on ordinary people as opposed to the gods and monarchs of tragedy (though ‘ordinary’ was, as so often, defined from the point of view of the relatively wealthy and relatively powerful); it moved in structure from an undesirable opening situation, via much confusion, to concluding resolution (again, as defined by characters already in a relatively empowered social position). But comedy could also be defined as tragedy’s opposite: where tragedy deals with gods and rulers, moves towards disaster and was often mythical or historical in subject, comedy concerns ordinary people, moves towards resolution, and offers fictional stories involving social stereotypes. In the Roman comedies with which Shakespeare and his contemporaries would have been most familiar, such resolution often manifests itself in marriage, which Leggatt calls ‘that most traditional of comic endings’.7 Terence, the Roman playwright most often taught in schools, ended four of his six plays in this way: Adelphoe (‘The Brothers’), Andria (‘The Lady of Andros’), Heauton Timorumenos (‘The Self-​Tormentor’) and 5 

John Russell Brown, Shakespeare and his Comedies (London: Methuen, 1957), 12. Alexander Leggatt, Shakespeare’s Comedy of Love (London: Methuen, 1974), 3. 7  Alexander Leggatt, ‘Preface’, in Alexander Leggatt, ed., Cambridge Companion to Shakespearean Comedy, xiii–​xvi, citation on xiv. 6 

Encountering the Present II    89 Eunuchus (‘The Eunuch’). For J. A. Bryant, comedy is ‘the most comprehensive form of literary art’, making it especially resistant to definition, ‘but all the forms we now call comic retain some thing of the recognizable sweep of their ancient source in that they too celebrate the renewal of the race in its perpetual displacement of the decadent and dying with a vigorous if callow youth’.8 Bryant goes on to claim that ‘the action that has distinguished comedy since the Renaissance [is] the mating game of the young’.9 As Lawrence Danson puts it, ‘For Shakespeare, it seems, a comedy is a play whose plot aims to achieve marriage and social harmony’.10 Danson goes on to point out that Ben Jonson, a writer of both plays and theories of writing, wrote very different comedies and very differently about comedy, and asks ‘whether we [might] take Shakespeare’s plot or Jonson’s for the generic norm’.11 But perhaps the point is that Jonson has no norm: Epicoene seems to play directly against Shakespearean expectations of marriage by ending in an annulment, The Alchemist ends instead with a happy outcome—​but only for the exploitative and charlatan—​and Bartholomew Fair, a play which goes further than most to avoid attaching narrative to a central protagonist encountering obvious progressions in a story, ends when fairground puppets lift up their tunics to reveal their lack of genitals. Where comedy ends with the promise of heterosexual sex for Shakespeare, sex is often absent in Jonson, sometimes overtly so. Perhaps the very idea of asking for a ‘generic norm’, as Danson does, demonstrates how firmly Shakespeare dominates our aesthetic expectations of form. Even in Terence’s plays that end in marriage, prologues point to the fact that not only the stories but also the plotting itself involves arbitrary or contingent choices. Such prologues discuss their plays’ composition, making clear that it is the result of a dynamic, highly negotiable, and creative form of translation: in the prologue to Andria, for example, Terence says that he has mixed two Menander plays together. ‘Anything that [Terence] found suitable in the latter he owns that he transferred to the former, making free use of it’, doing so even though the two plays are ‘not very different in the plot, but there is a difference in the sentiment and the style’.12 In Heauton Timorumenos, Terence explains that he has used one source, but gone out of his way to change it ‘from a single into a double plot’, and he makes clear that his contemporaries have criticized his playwriting technique for ‘combin[ing] many Greek plays and writ[ing] few Latin ones’, a charge Terence enthusiastically embraces.13 In the prologue to Eunuchus, Terence explains that ‘nothing is said that has not been said before. So you should recognize facts and pardon new playwrights if they present what their predecessors presented before them’.14 An Elizabethan schoolboy reading these plays would note the following about 8 

J. A. Bryant, Jr., Shakespeare and the Uses of Comedy (Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 1986), 2. 9 Bryant, Shakespeare, 3. 10 Danson, Shakespeare’s Dramatic Genres, 3. 11 Danson, Shakespeare’s Dramatic Genres, 3. 12  Terence, trans. John Sargeaunt, 2 vols (London: William Heinemann, 1912), I.7. 13  Terence, I.119. 14  Terence, I.239.

90   Andy Kesson playwriting as a form of authorship: (1) it is based on a model; (2) it departs from that model at the author’s will, either by expanding or diversifying its source; and (3) such departures are a sign of the author’s will, an imposition of creative newness on older material. Terence was therefore being taught as a model for Latin diction but offered, paradoxically, a model for innovating on the model. As a Jonson character puts it in Every Man Out of His Humour, classical comic playwrights ‘have utterly excluded the chorus, altered the property of the persons, their names, and natures, and augmented it with all liberty. . . . I see not, then, but we should enjoy the same licentia, or free power, to illustrate and heighten our invention as they did.’ The speaker here, Cordatus, is described by Jonson as ‘The author’s friend’, and his refusal to ‘observe all the laws of comedy’, because he ‘can discern no such necessity’, therefore carries particular weight: the voice of Terence’s prologue has effectively been imbricated within the dialogue of the play.15 Very occasionally, Terence’s characters themselves offer thoughts that might be reflections on the structural pressures of their plays: ‘They bore me to death with their anxieties over all the ceremonies of the wedding’, Aeschinus complains.16 Meanwhile, if early modern playwrights had read Plautus, the other Roman writer of comedies, they might have encountered Amphitryon, whose prologue is delivered by Mercury, who calls the play a ‘tragi-​comedy’ and boasts that he can ‘convert this same play from tragedy to comedy, if you like, and never change a line’.17 Classical practice thus offered contradictory and explicitly mixed thoughts on how to build a play (which is what the word ‘playwright’ means), and represented the act of mixing and rule breaking as the pivotal act of authorship. One of the complexities of discussing the reception of classical, especially Roman, comedy in Shakespeare’s lifetime is that, by this period, comedy had come to also mean a story of any kind, and especially a play, as it continues to do in modern Spanish. Since Shrew suggests that we pay particular attention to the intersection between comedy and history, we should therefore note that both ‘comedy’ and ‘history’ could simply mean ‘a narrative, a story’ in the sixteenth century. This is the dominant meaning recorded for ‘history’ in the OED, but ‘comedy’ could also serve as a synonym for ‘story’ or ‘play’, as seen in the printed titles to John Bale’s 1530s plays, A brefe comedy or enterlude of Johan Baptystes preachynge and A brefe comedy or enterlude concernynge the temptacyon of our Lorde and Saver Jesus Christ.18 Even the most enthusiastic admirer of either John the Baptist or Jesus Christ would presumably have to concede that neither man is principally known for their comedy in any received sense of the term. The shared propensity for ‘comedy’ and ‘history’ to mean a story or narrative with no predetermined outcome


Ben Jonson, Every Man Out of His Humour, ed. Randall Martin, in gen. eds., David Bevington, Martin Butler, and Ian Donaldson, The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Ben Jonson, 7 vols (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 1: Induction 229–​54; ‘Characters’, 87. 16  Terence, I.313. 17  Plautus, trans. Paul Nixon, 5 vols (London: William Heinemann, 1916), 1: 9–​11. 18  OED, ‘history’, I. See also David Galbraith, ‘Theories of Comedy’, in Alexander Leggatt, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Shakespearean Comedy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 3–​17.

Encountering the Present II    91 at its conclusion helps to explain why, for all their distinction on the title page of the 1623 Shakespeare collection, within the book’s content from the 1590s the two terms could collapse into one another. Indeed, where the word ‘comedy’ is used without immediate reference to ‘tragedy’, it is important to remember that it may have no generic implication whatsoever. Since ‘comedy’ could mean ‘story’ or ‘play’ (just as ‘comedian’ could mean ‘actor’ or ‘player’), it was regularly used in the Elizabethan period to denote plays that are now called or considered tragedies. Crucially, such plays were also called tragedies, making clear that in this early period of the professional theatre, comedies and tragedies were not distinct and were certainly not opposites: if ‘comedy’ functioned as synonym for ‘play’, that means that tragedy was simply a subset of comedy. Thus the full title of Nathaniel Woodes’s The Conflict of Conscience (printed 1581), is An excellent new Commedie, Intituled: The Conflict of Conscience. CONTAYNINGE, The most lamentable example, of the dole-​full desperation of a miserable world-​linge, termed, by the name of PHILOLOGVS, who forsooke the trueth of Gods Gospel, for feare of the losse of lyfe, & worldly goods. The play ends when its protagonist renounces God’s forgiveness and kills himself in anticipation of his damnation. It is difficult to square this with any commonplace or modern definition of comedy. The front matter uses the word ‘comedy’ twice, going on to explain how best ‘to show this Comedie in priuate houses, or otherwise’, thus confirming that the word ‘comedy’ is simply a technical term for a performance script, with no implications for story or thematic content. The prologue’s two descriptions of the play as a ‘Historye’ (it also calls the play ‘the treatise’) functions similarly. Indeed, in another issue of the play, also in 1581, it is called An excellent new Commedie . . . CONTAYNINGE, The most lamentable Hystorie . . . .19 William Wager’s Enough is a Good as a Feast (printed c.1568) is described on its title page as A Comedy or Enterlude . . . very fruteful godly and ful of pleasant mirth, and its protagonist, Worldly Man, ends the play dead, his body carried off to hell by Satan. It cannot be said often enough that three of the most celebrated plays of the early playhouses—​Tamburlaine, Doctor Faustus, and The Spanish Tragedy—​were all described as comedies by contemporaries.20 If The Spanish Tragedy, which features the hanging of two characters and ends with no fewer than four dead bodies on stage, can be called a comedy, it is surely worth reconsidering the rigidity of the three genres set out on the Shakespeare First Folio title page in favour of the generic indeterminacy of this earlier period. Or, perhaps more disturbingly, it is necessary to dispense with the assumption that ‘comedy’ must always imply specific plots and contents. Comedy was a classical practice and concept studied in Elizabethan schools in plays by writers such as Plautus and Terence and in commentaries on them. As we have seen, classical definitions of comedy are notoriously prolix, which should give us pause in seeking to reduce them too formulaically. Nevertheless a number of authoritative 19  Nathaniel Woodes, The Conflict of Conscience, ed. Herbert Davis and F. P. Wilson (Oxford: Malone Society, 1952), xiii–​xv. 20  Martin Wiggins, in association with Catherine Richardson, British Drama 1533–​1642: A Catalogue: Volume 2: 1567–​1589 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 369, 375, 419.

92   Andy Kesson voices, usually commenting at a later date on much earlier classical practice, give us the scope for sketching out the early generic meanings of the word ‘comedy’. Such theorizing voices are as important as classical practice itself: as David Galbraith puts it, ‘The principal justification . . . for emphasizing the classical tradition and its subsequent elaborations is simply that it is in these sources that we find the most sustained accounts of the genre at the level of conceptual generality that we associate with the idea of theory’.21 As Galbraith goes on to show, whilst Shakespeare’s references to genre implicitly take note of such theorists’ discussions, his contemporaries Stephen Gosson, Thomas Lodge, Ben Jonson, and Thomas Heywood routinely and explicitly base their discussion of genre on theorists rather than playwrights themselves. For the fourth-​century grammarian Donatus, Greek comedy was ‘an episode of private affairs, which contains no danger’.22 It was from its origins defined by its distinctions from tragedy, grounded in the life of villages rather than the royal courts of tragedy. This distinction is made repeatedly in Donatus: ‘ “Drama” is a general term; its two main parts are tragedy and comedy’.23 For another fourth-​century theatrical commentator, Evanthius, comedy could be defined still more precisely: In comedy the fortunes of men are middle-​class, the dangers are slight, and the ends of the action are happy; but in tragedy everything is the opposite—​the characters are great men, the fears are intense, and the ends disastrous. In comedy the beginning is troubled, the end tranquil; in tragedy the events follow the reverse order. And in tragedy the kind of life is shown that is to be shunned; while in comedy the kind is shown that is to be sought after. Finally, in comedy the story is always fictitious; whilst tragedy is often based on historical truth.24

These descriptions depict a genre highly self-​conscious of its own narrative content and form, which is perhaps why Alexander Leggatt describes it as ‘at once socially aware and highly formalized’.25 According to the model of classical plays and commentary based on them, comedy was expected to incite laughter, to provide delight in a conclusion structured around recognition and resolution, and to inculcate happiness for both characters and audience. Classical theory and practice also depended on class distinctions that saw tragedy as aristocratic and comedy as bourgeois. This is, inevitably, a very brief sketch of the classical concepts of comedy encountered by Elizabethan schoolboys, but it does at least show us that such concepts existed. But it is less often recognized that they


Galbraith, ‘Theories of comedy’, 4. Michael J. Sidnell, ed., Sources of Dramatic Theory, 1: Plato to Congreve (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 79. 23 Sidnell, Sources of Dramatic Theory, 81. 24 Evanthius, De fabula, trans. O. B. Hardison, Jr, in Alex Preminger et al., eds., Classical and Medieval Literary Criticism: Translations and Interpretations (New York: F. Ungar, 1974), 305. 25  Alexander Leggatt, English Stage Comedy 1490–​1990: Five Centuries of a Genre (London: Routledge, 1998), 2. 22 

Encountering the Present II    93 existed alongside the potentially more predominant use of the word ‘comedy’ to mean a play of any sort.

Celebrating a Pre-​Shakespearean Mingle-​M angle Shakespeare started writing for the theatre during a vibrant time in which many new plays were being written, but only a very small number of them were printed and have consequently survived. These include an even smaller number of plays now identified as comedies written for the commercial playhouses before or as Shakespeare started writing. They are, with rough dates and in roughly chronological order, The Three Ladies of London (1581), Campaspe (1583), Sappho and Phao (1584), Gallathea (1584), Endymion (1588), The Woman in the Moon (1588), The Three Lords and Three Ladies of London (1588), Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay (1589), Mother Bombie (1589), Midas (1589), Love’s Metamorphosis (1590), Fair Em (1590), Mucedorus (1591), and The Old Wives’ Tale (1592).26 It is possible to organize these fourteen plays in various ways, one of them authorially: this reveals the astonishing fact that more than half of them, eight, are by John Lyly (Campaspe, Sappho and Phao, Gallathea, Endymion, The Woman in the Moon, Mother Bombie, Midas and Love’s Metamorphosis). The rest of the plays are by Robert Wilson (Three Ladies and Three Lords), Robert Greene (Friar Bacon), George Peele (Old Wives’ Tale), while the remaining two are anonymous (Fair Em and Mucedorus). But these plays are also striking in their unconscious failure to conform to the strictures of comedy, as defined by classical and modern theorists, not least in their introduction of insurmountable danger. In four of them (The Three Ladies of London, Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay, Love’s Metamorphosis, and Mucedorus) people die, onstage in three plays, immediately after leaving the stage in one. After killing off a character provocatively named Hospitality, for instance, The Three Ladies of London ends in utter futility: its three title characters are convicted of moral and civic crimes and sent variously to prison or to hell. If these plays operate in defiance of rules often assumed to be the precondition of comedic writing, John Lyly’s eight plays offer an alternative site from which to explore the surprisingly non-​comedic practice of these so-​called Elizabethan comedies. Taken as a whole, Lyly’s plays are noticeable for their refusal to allow their central lovers sexual satisfaction, thus failing to conform to many classical and most modern formulations of comedy, by which such plays should end with successful courtship and conclude in marriage. Instead Lyly’s work is dedicated to resisting such courtship and consummation: in 26  These dates are taken from what Martin Wiggins calls a ‘best guess’ from within each play’s more definite dating parameters: see the respective entries for each play in Wiggins, British Drama 1533–​ 1642: A Catalogue.

94   Andy Kesson Campaspe, Alexander the Great fails in his attempt to coerce the title character into bed; in Sappho and Phao the two title characters both resist Venus and Cupid’s attempt to make them marry or have sex; and in Endymion the title character once again fails to court his queen, the moon-​god Cynthia. The Woman in the Moon is especially astonishing in its sexual praxis, since the title character marries one man but happily has sex with several others, and the play ends with her apotheosis as a follower of the moon-​god, her husband forced into slavery by her side. Only two Lyly plays end with successful courtship, but of these Love’s Metamorphosis can be read as a complaint about the very idea of forced marriage, since it ends with three women marrying against their previous wishes and all making clear that any future unhappiness in the marriage will be the fault of those who arranged it (especially their husbands-​to-​be). It is surely a surprise for our sense of comedy in this period that the only Lyly play to end with a happy marriage centres on the love of two cross-​dressed girls for one another, and though Venus makes clear that one girl will be turned into a boy as they get to church, the audience watches as queer a union as Elizabethan theatre permitted leave the stage. In its focus on an ‘amiable’ queen who ‘therefore must be pierced’, Sappho and Phao is perhaps clearest in its articulation of Lyly’s interest in the evasion of enforced heterosexual union, and Sappho’s triumphant promise at the end of her play to make love ‘a toy made for ladies, and I will keep it only for ladies’ makes Lyly’s choice of the woman who gave the word ‘lesbian’ its modern meaning to be his virgin-​queen heroine particularly provocative (1.1.52, 5.2.104–​5). Gallathea was in some measure written as a sequel to this play, and as we have seen it does indeed make love a toy only for ladies. Across his work, then, Lyly is either unaware of or consciously playing against the convention of comedy’s movement towards heterosexual marriage. It ought therefore to be a surprise to discover that Lyly’s plays are now universally accepted and described as comedies by early modern scholars, an assumption that in turn shapes their reading of his work. In the first scholarly monograph on Lyly, for example, John Dover Wilson promised that ‘the title of father of English comedy may be given him without the least reserve or hesitation’.27 Muriel Bradbrook’s The Growth and Structure of Elizabethan Comedy described Lyly as ‘a foundation for other men to build upon’, a writer who ‘set a standard, and shaped a model’, whilst Marco Mincoff thought that ‘we are justified in giving [Lyly’s] name to English court comedy in general’: ‘It was Lyly who opened the door for Shakespeare, and when he was forced to abandon the Lylian view he abandoned comedy’.28 Marlowe’s work has occupied a similar position in scholarly discourse with regard to tragedy, and it is in this context that Suzanne Gossett has recently described Shakespeare’s early work as ‘models of the traditional forms’.29 The evidence might make us wonder if such traditional forms worked in the way that 27 

John Dover Wilson, John Lyly (Cambridge: Macmillan and Bowes, 1905), 125. Muriel Bradbrook, The Growth and Structure of Elizabethan Comedy (London: Chatto & Windus, 1955), 61; Marco Mincoff, ‘Shakespeare and Lyly’, Shakespeare Survey 14 (1961), 15 and 24. 29  Suzanne Gossett, ‘Middleton and Genre’, in Suzanne Gossett, ed., Thomas Middleton in Context (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 235. 28 

Encountering the Present II    95 has been assumed. It is certainly true that Lyly was thinking about Terence and Plautus as he wrote the subplots of his plays, with their punning, subversive page boys and servants, but then so too was Marlowe when he wrote Dr Faustus: Roman comedy is written into the structures of many pre-​Shakespearean plays, whether or not contemporaries or modern scholars would think of them as comedies.30 In his plays’ addresses to the audience, Lyly made two statements about genre, both of which denied that he was conforming to generic confines. The prologue to Endymion says categorically that, ‘We present neither comedy, nor tragedy’, a statement that surely needs to be taken into account in studies of the period’s genre, whilst the prologue to Midas goes even further: Gentlemen, so nice is the world that for apparel there is no fashion, for music no instrument, for diet no delicate, for plays no invention but breedeth satiety before noon and contempt before night. . . . At our exercises, soldiers call for tragedies, their object is blood; courtiers for comedies, their subject is love; countrymen for pastorals: shepherds are their saints. . . . Time hath confounded our minds, our minds the matter, but all cometh to this pass: that what heretofore hath been served in several dishes for a feast is now minced in a charger for a gallimaufry. If we present a mingle-​mangle, our fault is to be excused, because the whole world is become an hodgepodge.31

This prologue is rich in evidence, depicting different parts of the audience with a highly developed and personalized sense of genre, and it reinforces the notion that the practice of theatre-going, just as much as playwriting, used genre as a form of self-​definition. But as the prologue makes clear, the contradictory demands of audiences and theorists required playwrights to be flexible and protean in their generic practice. Generic theory, we might say, as the Midas prologue suggests we should, made strict generic conformity impossible. The printed paratextual material of his plays reinforces Lyly’s own generic indeterminacy either by offering no generic markers at all or, less frequently, by employing an even more diverse range of generic signifiers. Lyly’s first play, Campaspe, was published in three editions in 1584, two of which gave it no generic label on the title page, and one of which called it a comedy. All three of these editions, however, called the play ‘A tragicall Comedie’ in the running titles, the text at the top of every page of the book. This designation has been overlooked by scholars of tragicomedy, but it surely disrupts traditional narratives about early theatre genre. It also gives us further cause to beware of plays designated as comedies in this period, as well as the assumption that tragedy is the 30  T. W. Baldwin explores Lyly’s use of the structures of Roman comedy, particularly in Campaspe, in Shakspere’s Five-​Act Structure: Shakspere’s Early Plays on the Background of Renaissance Theories of Five-​ Act Structure from 1470 (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1947), 497. 31  John Lyly, Endymion, ed. David Bevington (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1996), 78; John Lyly, Midas, in George K. Hunter and David Bevington, eds., Midas and Gallathea (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2000), 152–​3.

96   Andy Kesson opposite of comedy. Only one other Lyly play, Love’s Metamorphosis, is given a genre on its title page, where it is called a witty and courtly pastoral. All other Lyly plays are published without a generic label. This changed in 1636 when Edward Blount collected together and published six Lyly plays under the title of Sixe Court Comedies. This collection has many similarities with the Shakespeare 1623 Folio: the two collections both impose generic boundaries on plays which appear to have been free from them; they share a publisher, Edward Blount; and they both shaped the subsequent reception of their authors. Indeed, Lyly’s current and apparently inescapable association with comedy can be traced back to Blount, as can his association with the court and the queen.32 We have seen Mincoff claim that ‘we are justified in giving [Lyly’s] name to English court comedy in general’; in fact, it is the name of court comedy that has been given to Lyly’s plays. One of the few writers to refer to Lyly in the later seventeenth century calls him ‘a Writer of several old fashion’d Comedy and Tragedies’, but Lyly’s subsequent readers seem uniformly to come to his work—​and its generic identity—​via Blount.33 This identification of Lyly with Elizabethan comedy threatens our ability to see both Lyly and comedy effectively. The idea that his plays were comedies has encouraged scholars to see happy endings where there are instead major challenges for early modern audiences and modern readers. David Bevington and G. K. Hunter have both described Lyly’s Sappho and Phao, for example, as a play which concludes with its characters returning to the state of happiness with which they began.34 In this play, as we have seen, Venus is offended by the queen Sappho’s virginity, and forces her to fall in love with the local ferryman Phao. Sappho moves Phao into her court as a courtier but eventually overcomes her love by kidnapping Cupid and forcing him to cure her. Neither Sappho nor Venus nor Cupid seem to remember Phao as the play ends, but the play’s final scene makes sure that audiences remember him, showing him forgotten and still in love at the end of the play, preparing for exile and hoping for death. This is a disturbing story: at a time when Elizabeth was beginning to identify herself as a virgin queen but continued to define her relations with courtiers in sexual terms, the play articulated the very problems that defined the lives of the people who watched it.35 Lyly’s epilogue describes the story as ‘an end where we first began’, prompting Bevington to call this play ‘static’, ‘the very opposite of narrative drama’, and both he and Hunter understand Lyly’s ending to be comic in its imposition of final happiness and order.

32  For more on Blount’s importance for Lyly’s reception, see the final chapter to Andy Kesson, John Lyly and Early Modern Authorship (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2014), 175–​210. 33  Edward Phillips, Theatrum Poetarum (London: Charles Smith, 1675), xxii. 34  In G. K. Hunter and David Bevington, eds., Campaspe and Sappho and Phao (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1991), 17, 189. 35  For a fuller exploration of this play, see Andy Kesson, ‘ “They that tread in a maze”: Movement as Emotion in John Lyly’s Prose’, in Richard Meek and Erin Sullivan, eds., The Renaissance of Emotion: Understanding Affect in Shakespeare and His Contemporaries (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2015), 177–​99.

Encountering the Present II    97 This might be true for Sappho, who begins and ends the play as queen, though even she undergoes a major shift in status when she takes possession of Cupid from Venus. But the play goes out of its way to emphasize that its other title character has been changed irrevocably by giving him its first and final scenes, each of which reflects on his current position and thus articulates his transformation. He begins the play celebrating his position as a humble ‘ferryman’ who is therefore ‘a free man’, by which he means someone free from courtly worry (1.1.1). But after events in the play force him into the court and eventually into exile, the man who celebrated ‘content’ and ‘quiet’ at the start leaves the stage at the end in order to ‘Range rather over the world’ and ‘entreat for death’ (1.1.1–​2; 5.3.16–​17). It is difficult to square exile and death with classical calls for comedy to end happily. By treating it as a conventional comedy with a happy ending, Hunter and Bevington offer a fundamental misreading of a play that insistently moves one of its protagonists towards exile and thoughts of death. And they certainly privilege the experience of an aristocratic protagonist over that of a working-​class one. Underlying their reading is the assumption, originating with Blount, that this play is a comedy. So it is worth repeating that it was published—​twice in 1584 and once in 1591—​ with no generic label. With its interest in love and courtship, the play might be taken as a prototype of the plays written in the 1590s, the sort Andrew Gurr has in mind when he describes ‘the social and comedic resolution of marriage, sex under the license of law’, an imitation of the Roman form that sees comedy as a sanctioning of sex.36 Indeed, it is an important source for Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, which is also set on Sicily, reprises the idea of non-​lovers falling in love against their will, recycles Sappho and Phao’s language of reluctant courtship, and is equally ambivalent about the classical confines of comedy. But in its refusal to allow its lovers satisfaction, Sappho and Phao, like Lyly’s work as a whole, shows no interest whatsoever in the conventional signs of comedy, successful courtship and concluding marriage. Or, rather, it shows an interest in these issues only to refuse and overthrow them. Lyly’s work defied Evanthius’s stipulation that comedy should be middle  ​class in focus, preferring to mix working-​class and elite or even divine characters in Sappho and Phao and Gallathea. Indeed, where the central romance in Gallathea is shocking in its defiance of heterosexual norms, the equivalent romance in Sappho and Phao is surprising precisely because it turns on the two lovers’ polarized class status. Lyly’s work routinely avoids the happy ending that Evanthius calls for, and it is difficult to see how his plays indicate the kind of life that traditionally ought to be sought after. In this respect Gallathea seems remarkably relaxed about same-​sex relationships, whilst Sappho and Phao seems puzzled by the possibility of different-​sex relationships. If Love’s Metamorphosis is advocating anything in life, it seems to be counselling against being turned into a tree, a rock, a bird or a flower, advice that it is hoped the readers of this chapter will never need.


Andrew Gurr, The Shakespearian Playing Companies (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996), 14.

98   Andy Kesson Contemporary critical assumptions about genre rest on the theoretical writings of the early modern period, which assumes that theorists wrote to record, rather than change, contemporary practice. But Philip Sidney, for example, would only have sought to theorize genre if he thought that no such forms existed amongst current theatre companies, and indeed he makes clear that this corrective purpose animates his writing: all their plays be neither right tragedies, nor right comedies, mingling kings and clowns, not because the matter so carrieth it, but thrust in clowns by head and shoulders, to play a part in majestical matters, with neither decency nor discretion, so as neither the admiration and commiseration, nor the right sportfulness, is by their mongrel tragi-​comedy obtained.37

Scholars often take Sidney’s words as an indication of the basic theory underwriting theatrical practice in the period, as though companies, playwrights, and actors strove towards the right kind of writing advocated here but were unable to quite do it. But as the didactic drive of this passage makes clear, Sidney strove to purify and delimit generic practice; far from giving witness to contemporary theatre, Sidney wrote to change it. In describing right tragedies and right comedies, Sidney set out to right wrong writing. Similarly, George Whetstone’s theorization of the genres in 1578 worries about the ‘decorum’ of a work whose ‘ground’ is ‘unperfect’ and ‘working indiscreet’ because ‘many times, to make mirth, they make a clown companion with a king’. Whetstone’s didactic impulse can be seen in his adoption of the subjunctive mood, a grammatical way of insisting that genre ought to reflect social hierarchies: ‘to work a comedy kindly grave old men should instruct, young men should show the imperfection of youth, strumpets should be lascivious’, and so on.38 Scholars have tended to see the period’s culture through the eyes of Sidney and Whetstone, as though the practices they were recommending were already in action. Instead, both writers testify to a theatrical culture that did not operate according to these rigid generic distinctions and prescriptions. Of all the plays discussed thus far, Mucedorus is most explicit in its attempt to articulate a theory of comedy. Published as A Most pleasant Comedie of Mucedorus . . . with the merie conceites of Mouse in 1598, at which point the play was about ten years old, the play’s title not only invokes the term comedy, but qualifies it as pleasant and merry.39 The play does further work for us by opening with Comedy as a character who enters the stage with a highly hermeneutic sense of fashion: ‘Enter Comedy joyfully with a garland of bays on her head’ (Induction, 0.1). She speaks to the audience and, in doing so, offers us a definition of herself:


Sir Philip Sidney, An Apology for Poetry (or The Defence of Poesy), ed. Geoffrey Shepherd, rev. and expanded by R. W. Maslen (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2002), 112. 38  George Whetstone, Promos and Cassandra (London, 1578), Aii-​Aiiv, italics mine. 39  Mucedorus, in C. F. Tucker Brooke, ed., The Shakespeare Apocrypha (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1908), 103.

Encountering the Present II    99 Why so? Thus do I hope to please! Music revises and mirth is tolerable: Comedy, play thy part and please, Make merry them that comes to joy with thee: Joy then, good gentles, I hope to make you laugh. . . .  Comedy is mild, gentle, willing for to please And seeks to gain the love of all estates, Delighting in mirth, mixed all with lovely tales, And bringeth things with treble joy to pass.40

Different elements of the playtext back one another up here: comedy is ‘pleasant’ and ‘merry’ on the title page; it is ‘willing for to please’ and ‘delighting in mirth’ in the play. The stage direction calls Comedy ‘joyfull’, and she herself claims that she ‘bringeth things with treble joy to pass’. Mucedorus thus confirms for us that early commercial comedy could be theorized in coherent and consistent ways. But the play soon stages a problem with its own efforts, as Comedy’s self-​definition is quickly broken off by Envy, who threatens to ‘interrupt your tale /​And mix your music with a tragic end’. The audience soon hears noises of battle and cries of assault: ‘Sound drumes within and crie, “stab! stab!”’ (Induction 9–​10, 23.1). Comedy’s merriness and pleasure turn out to be parodic, an attack upon the sanctity of easy definitions and proscriptive answers. The noise of battle, injury, and perhaps death mix into the most pleasant Comedie of Mucedorus elements that might more readily be associated with tragedy. Indeed, as already mentioned, people die onstage during Mucedorus, just as they do in Robert Greene’s Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay, another play traditionally defined as a romantic comedy. Philip Sidney would have been furious; since Mucedorus is perhaps in part a response to Sidney’s Arcadia, one is tempted to speculate, that is the point. We have already seen that only fourteen pre-​Shakespearean plays written for the commercial playhouses and now identified as comedies have survived in print. Once we discount Lyly’s work from this list, along with the plays that depart from classical convention by killing off their characters, our list gets shorter still: The Three Lords and Three Ladies of London, Fair Em and The Old Wives’ Tale. We should note the obvious paucity of evidence, then, for pre-​Shakespearean drama associated with comedy, but we might also note the important point that the three plays to have survived our inquiry into pre-​ Shakespearean comedy are comparatively late in our early period: our list of fourteen plays spanned the ten-​year period from c.1581 to 1591, whilst our three remaining plays were all written after 1588. Whilst we might take note of the surprisingly slight evidence for comedy as a genre just before Shakespeare began writing, we might also note that the evidence increases just as his own dramatic output began. 40  Mucedorus, in Jonathan Bate and Eric Rasmussen, eds., William Shakespeare & Others: Collaborative Plays (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), Induction, 0.1–​5, 37–​40. Compare the induction to A Warning for Fair Women, ed. A. F. Hopkinson (London: Sims, 1904).

100   Andy Kesson

Reconsidering Shakespearean Comedy What, then, can we say about comedy at the time that Shakespeare started to write it? Discussing Shakespeare’s relationship with Lyly’s earlier plays, Janette Dillon suggests that We find the musings of lovers on their own feelings, the mockery of their folly by others, the careful plotting of the game of love all very familiar in Shakespearean comedy; but it is Lyly who first introduces this kind of subject matter into English drama.41

Dillon’s description of the content of Lyly’s work is useful, but it omits the most distinctive element of Lyly’s presentation of love, namely the regularity with which Lyly’s lovers fail to woo one another successfully. We might want to ask whether any of the characteristics Dillon identifies should be associated with the name of comedy before Shakespeare. Sally-​Beth MacLean and Scott McMillin have taught us that the repertory of the Queen’s Men, active in London and the provinces in the 1580s, is grounded in a mixed genre aesthetic: ‘it cannot be thought of as history, tragedy, or comedy—​it is medley or it is nothing’. MacLean and McMillin advance this description as ‘the best way to grasp the style of the Queen’s Men’,42 but in fact it confirms exactly Sidney’s and Lyly’s point: drama of the long 1580s cannot be thought of as history, tragedy, or comedy (which is why MacLean and McMillin are so close to paraphrasing Endymion), and it is to the detriment of our understanding of the 1590s that this has been overlooked. Mary Bly has recently warned that, ‘When scholars limit themselves to Shakespeare, the oddness of Renaissance culture is unnoticed’.43 The opposite is also true: Shakespeare’s endings of plays now identified as comedies were themselves unusual in the context of Lyly’s earlier work. Shakespeare’s later contemporaries, particularly Jonson in plays such as The Alchemist, also suggest we treat Shakespeare’s repeated narrative movement towards successful heterosexual courtship as odd. In other words, Shakespeare may have been emulating classical practice and theory more than he was continuing contemporary playwriting style. Jonson’s famous criticism of Shakespeare’s lack of classical language skills may have made it harder for us to see just how classically minded his own praxis was. Working at a time when plays seem to have been written either with little reference to generic conventions or as a deliberate conflation of conventional separate genres, Shakespeare seems to have approached his work with an unusual sensitivity and

41  Janette Dillon, ‘Elizabethan Comedy’, in Alexander Leggatt, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Shakespearean Comedy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 47–​63, citation on 51. 42  Scott McMillin and Sally Beth-​MacLean, The Queen’s Men and Their Plays (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 124. 43  Mary Bly, ‘Defining the Proper Members of the Renaissance Theatrical Community’, Renaissance Drama 40 (2012), 113.

Encountering the Present II    101 dedication to classical genre. His effect on contemporaries may be gauged by Francis Meres’s celebrated praise for Shakespeare as the Plautus and Seneca of his generation (that is, best for writing both comedy and tragedy); despite the fame of this description, it has often been taken as axiomatic for how early modern readers judged contemporaries, but in fact this is the first time a professional playwright was judged with reference to genre. We might consider this at the level of Shakespeare’s play titles. Given all that has been said here about the early modern indeterminacy of the word ‘comedy’, Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors might be taken simply to mean ‘a play or story about errors’. But Shakespeare’s highly realized classical structure suggests otherwise. The play is an adaptation of Plautus’s Menaechmi, but some of its departures from its source material, such as the doubling of the number of twins, seem rather to magnify and perpetuate effects associated with classical comedy. In exacerbating the danger at the start of the play, moreover, Shakespeare makes Plautus conform even more to Evanthius’s definition, aiming for a troubled beginning and consequently an even happier ending. In other words, where Shakespeare departs from his classical models, he does so in highly classical ways. All pre-​Shakespearean plays now associated with comedy are named after one or more of their characters (the ‘Love’ of Love’s Metamorphosis presumably refers to Cupid just as much as it refers to the passion over which he presides). Shakespeare’s Errors appears to be the first such play to depart from this naming praxis, and Shakespeare followed this example in much of his later work, with A Midsummer Night’s Dream and his oddly long sequence of plays with proverbial or pseudo-​proverbial titles: Love’s Labour’s Lost, Love’s Labour’s Won, Much Ado About Nothing, As You Like It, Twelfth Night or What You Will, Measure for Measure, All’s Well that Ends Well and The Winter’s Tale (the latter less often recognized as a proverb but invoked as such in two Lyly plays). There is no precedent for this in extant pre-​Shakespearean drama performed at the playhouses. Where Shakespeare does refer to characters in his play titles, he does so by identifying only their number and class (The Two Gentlemen of Verona, to which compare The Three Ladies of London) or by invoking the character’s provocative personality and the way it will be solved (The Taming of the Shrew). Once again, this latter title reinforces Evanthius’s model of a problematic opening situation to be solved—​here tamed—​in the course of the play. When Shakespeare named an early play The Comedy of Errors, then, he may have used ‘comedy’ in a way that was innovative in its very return to classical praxis. This point is underlined by the fact that in this play Shakespeare adapted Plautus but doubled the number of twins, just as Terence claimed to have turned his source ‘from a single into a double’ in Heauton Timorumenos. He thus applied the technique of one Roman comedy writer to the other. Perhaps most explicitly, Love’s Labour’s Lost asks us to think about what our expectations of comedy are, and to do so from its title to its conclusion. If love’s labours are indeed lost, that is an explicitly non-​classical turn of events, and classical comedy is if nothing else about the successive and satisfactory turn of events. Famously, Biron observes at the end of the play that

102   Andy Kesson Our wooing doth not end like an old play. Jack hath not Jill. These ladies’ courtesy Might well have made our sport a comedy. (5.2.861–​3)

These lines have often been taken to be a comment on and confirmation of standard comic practice by Shakespeare’s early contemporaries, the need to conclude a comedy with a marriage. But, as we have seen, no such standard practice can be determined by the drama surviving from this period. When Shakespeare said ‘old’, it looks like he really meant it, rooting his sense of comedic structure in classical paradigms rather than those of the current commercial theatre.

Suggested Reading Bly, Mary, ‘Defining the Proper Members of the Renaissance Theatrical Community’, Renaissance Drama 40 (2012), 113–​23. Danson, Lawrence, Shakespeare’s Dramatic Genres (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000). Dillon, Janette, ‘Elizabethan Comedy’, in Alexander Leggatt, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Shakespearean Comedy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 47–​63. Ingram, William, The Business of Playing: The Beginnings of the Adult Professional Theater in Elizabethan London (London: Cornell University Press, 1992). Kesson, Andy, ‘Playhouses, Plays, and Theater History:  Rethinking the 1580s’, Shakespeare Studies 45 (2017), 19–​40. Knapp, Jeffrey, Shakespeare Only (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2009). McCarthy, Jeanne, The Children’s Troupes and the Transformation of English Theater 1509–​1608 (New York: Routledge, 2017). Saccio, Peter, The Court Comedies of John Lyly: A Study in Allegorical Dramaturgy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1969). Scragg, Leah, The Metamorphosis of ‘Gallathea’: A Study in Creative Adaptation (Washington, DC: University Press of America, 1982). White, Paul Whitfield, ‘Playing Companies and the Drama of the 1580s: A New Direction for Elizabethan Theatre History?’, Shakespeare Studies 28 (2000), 265–​84.

Pa rt  I I


Chapter 6

Shakespearea n C ome dy and Early Mode rn Religious Cu lt u re Kenneth J. E. Graham

Challenged during the surprise ending of Love’s Labour’s Lost to use his wit to comfort the sick, Biron protests that ‘it is impossible. /​Mirth cannot move a soul in agony’ (5.2.842–​3).1 The opposition that this suggests between comedy and the ‘reformation’ of the ‘spirit’ that Rosaline then proposes as an alternative course of action may seem to some a fair reflection of the relationship between religion and comedy (5.2.853–​ 5). But if, as recent studies have contended, religion was one of the inescapable facts of early modern English life, permeating many aspects of culture, then it is likely that Shakespearean comedy has more to do with the soul than Biron supposes. This chapter makes the case for the closeness of that connection. After surveying the contemporary religious landscape, it explores the significance for Shakespeare’s comedies of five key aspects of early modern religion: doctrine, festivity, social reformation, the treatment of outsiders, and conversion. How does Shakespeare present, question, and participate in the religious ferment of his time, and how have critics approached the religious dimension of his comedies? Some in Shakespeare’s England feared that literary fiction created a false world, one full of lies and therefore hostile to religious truth. But as Biron says in excusing his decision to woo when he had vowed celibacy, ‘even that falsehood, in itself a sin, /​Thus purifies itself and turns to grace’ (5.2.767–​8). If the comedies concede that there is sometimes sin in laughter, they surely suggest that it is more likely to be a source of purification and grace.


All references to Shakespeare’s plays are from Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor, gen. eds., The Oxford Shakespeare, 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005).

106    Kenneth J. E. Graham

Religion In Shakespeare’s England Shakespeare’s generation inherited an unsettled and confusing religious landscape. The events we know as the Protestant Reformation, which had begun in 1517 with the German theologian Martin Luther’s attack on the Roman Catholic sacrament of penance in his Ninety-​Five Theses, continued to reshape Western Christianity. Luther’s belief that justification was the unmerited gift of God’s grace undermined numerous Catholic beliefs and practices, including the necessity of penitential satisfaction, the selling of papal indulgences, prayers for the dead, and Purgatory. Indeed, the Protestant beliefs that found expression in the slogans sola fides (faith alone), sola scriptura (scripture alone), and the priesthood of all believers threatened to erode the institutional authority of a priestly hierarchy responsible for administering God’s grace through the sacraments—​themselves reduced in number from seven to two by Protestants—​since Christians needed only faith in God’s Word to be saved. The Protestant Reformation spread quickly, provoking a Roman Catholic Counter-​Reformation that began when the Council of Trent (1545–​63) reformed Catholic doctrine and institutions and clarified the continuing grounds of Catholic opposition to Protestant beliefs. These twin reformations would remain locked in battle for a century, producing many different histories and outcomes across Europe. In the middle of the sixteenth century, England repeatedly changed religious directions, careening from Henry VIII’s limited embrace of the Reformation in the 1530s, when he closed the monasteries and formally broke with Rome, to his later reaction against it, to the ambitious Protestant programme of Edward VI’s reign (1547–​53), to the equally aggressive Catholicism of Mary’s (1553–​8), and finally to the moderate Protestantism of Elizabeth I after the Religious Settlement (1558–​9). Elizabeth knew that after two decades of religious violence and upheaval she governed a divided nation. English Protestants who had fled to the Continent during Mary’s reign returned with an English translation of the bible richly annotated from a distinctively Calvinist perspective—​the Geneva Bible—​and an ambitious programme for reforming the everyday practices of the church that they would continue to promote for decades to come. On the other side, many remained loyal to the old religion, and after 1570 their cause would be bolstered when the Counter-​Reformation established a mission to England, sending Jesuit priests to serve, reinforce, organize, and lead the Catholic community. Elizabeth’s policies were in many ways a compromise designed to allow as many as possible to coexist in the English Church, of which she, like her father, would be supreme head. Her church’s doctrinal beliefs, formally stated in the Thirty-​ Nine Articles of Religion (1563), were essentially Protestant, but its governing structure, its legal system, and its liturgy maintained many points of continuity with the pre-​Reformation church. For more than half a century, through not only Elizabeth’s reign (1558–​1603) but that of James I  (1603–​25), the compromise held, though with difficulty, since it satisfied neither the hotter sort of Protestant nor the more zealous

Shakespearean Comedy and Religious Culture    107 type of religious traditionalist. The Elizabethan Religious Settlement, it has been said, settled nothing. While some English people adopted firmly rooted confessional identities and strove for consistency in their beliefs and practices, others fell uncomfortably and uncertainly in what Arthur Marotti has aptly termed the ‘muddled middle’.2 The layered, hybrid identities found here define this historical moment as much as does the polarization found at the extremes. Church papist, prayer-​book Protestant, parish Anglican, and moderate Puritan are among the labels that have been applied to those who tried to accommodate themselves to the prevailing religious orthodoxy, whether they were partly opposed or wholly indifferent. A willingness to overlook differences and to focus on areas of agreement in order to maintain social cohesion was probably more common than the aggressive proselytizing and persecution that spurred conflict and made headlines, then and now. The full spectrum of Christian belief and practice could be encountered in Shakespeare’s London. In any given week one could choose from perhaps 100 sermons, mostly delivered by university-​educated, ‘mainstream’ Protestant divines, who might emphasize the necessity of grace and the comfort brought by the assurance of salvation, but were just as likely to exhort parishioners to perform the good works made possible by faith. Outdoors at Paul’s Cross, one might hear a more political brand of pulpit oratory notable for its strong anti-​popery. In strongly Puritan parishes, firebrands like Stephen Egerton preached jeremiads excoriating the nation’s vices and openly longed for a congregational discipline of the sort housed in London’s Stranger churches. These Dutch and French Reformed congregations followed the more fully reformed forms of worship seen on the Continent, where a combination of clergy and elected lay elders governed the church, but were officially off limits to the English. For those whose desire for such forms precluded remaining within the English Church, a Separatist underground beckoned—​and often led to prison. In the other direction, court sermons, some of which were delivered in the open air at Whitehall, appealed as early as the 1590s but more frequently under James to the desire for a traditionalist form of ceremonial worship. The Mass was celebrated openly by foreign Catholics at their embassies—​the equivalent for Catholic practice of the Stranger churches—​and secretly by English recusants in makeshift chapels in private residences, another corner of the London underground. If caught, these secret Catholics, too, might find their way to prison—​or, as was often the fate of Jesuit missionaries, to the gallows. In a country where there was considerable regional variation in religion, London was a city rich in religious diversity.3


Arthur F. Marotti, ‘Shakespeare and Catholicism’, in Richard Dutton, Alison Findlay, and Richard Wilson, eds., Theatre and Religion: Lancastrian Shakespeare (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2003), 219. 3  For an excellent overview of London’s religious scene, see Felicity Heal, ‘Experiencing Religion in London: Diversity and Choice in Shakespeare’s Metropolis’, in David Loewenstein and Michael Witmore, eds., Shakespeare and Early Modern Religion (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015), 57–​78.

108    Kenneth J. E. Graham

Comic Drama and Religious Doctrine One prominent approach to religion in the comedies, as elsewhere in Shakespeare, is to identify and explore the elements of theological doctrine that they express or assume. Older doctrinal readings had two main characteristics. First, they tended towards a Christian universalism, seeing the plays as illustrations of broadly Christian themes, such as sin and redemption, nature and grace, and justice and mercy. Confessional differences and matters of theological controversy were generally overlooked. Second, these readings frequently tended towards the allegorical, treating characters as representations of or metaphors for theological abstractions. Newer readings, in contrast, more often highlight the immediate historical contexts of the plays’ religious elements, seeking out exactly the post-​Reformation religious diversity that earlier critics sidestepped; religion, or more specifically Christianity, is seen not as a timeless universal but as subject to historical variation and as fraught with explosive potential. We can find a brief illustration of these different tendencies in critical responses to some lines of Claudio’s early in Measure for Measure. As he is led to prison for impregnating his fiancée, Claudio reflects on the power of ‘the demigod Authority’, which can ‘Make us pay down for our offence, by weight, /​The bonds of heaven. On whom it will, it will; /​On whom it will not, so; yet still ’tis just’ (1.2.112–​15). His lines echo St Paul’s words in Romans 9:15, ‘Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth’ (AV). In Shakespeare’s Problem Plays (1950), E. M. W. Tillyard noted the allusion, which he thought raised the question of whether Claudio might ‘represent unregenerate mankind’.4 Though he in fact rejected the idea that the play’s characters could be read so allegorically, Tillyard saw in Shakespeare’s use of Paul’s words a reference to the universal problem of sin and regeneration. In sharp contrast, recent readings of the speech have probed the contemporary resonances of Paul’s text. For Musa Gurnis, Claudio’s speech raises the theological question of what was known as ‘double’ predestination: some (the elect) are predestined to salvation, and some (the reprobate) are predestined to damnation. The play, she argues, explores the consequences for self-​knowledge and social judgements of the impossibility of knowing who is who.5 For Thomas Fulton, the speech’s reference to a favourite predestinarian text comments ironically on contemporary Protestant understandings of political theology, or the relationship between divine power and civil authority.6 The difference is typical of a change in critical method that has brought a much more fine-​grained historicism to the study of religion in the plays, as to many other aspects of them. 4  E. M. W. Tillyard, Shakespeare’s Problem Plays (1950; rpt Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1971), 122. 5  Musa Gurnis, ‘ “Most Ignorant of What He’s Most Assured”: The Hermeneutics of Predestination in Measure for Measure’, Shakespeare Studies 42 (2014), 141–​69. 6  Thomas Fulton, ‘Shakespeare’s Everyman: Measure for Measure and English Fundamentalism’, Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 40, no. 1 (2010), 119–​47.

Shakespearean Comedy and Religious Culture    109 Studies of All’s Well That Ends Well and The Comedy of Errors furnish fuller examples of the tendencies of doctrinal criticism. Helena’s initial role in All’s Well as a meritorious healer explicitly linked to divine grace has long invited allegorical readings of the play in terms of sin, grace, and redemption. Finding in the play ‘the theological doctrine of man’s depravity unaided by divine grace’, Tillyard claimed that Helena and Bertram ‘represent heavenly grace and natural, unredeemed, man respectively’.7 Later critics complicated this reading somewhat by noting that Helena was associated with nature and merit as well as grace, and by concluding that she represented an ideal balance between the two.8 The most problematic aspect of the plot, Helena’s deception of Bertram when she takes Diana’s place in bed, has been seen as a possible ‘analogue for the divine comedy of man’s redemption’, since God took man’s place and deceived the devil.9 The universalizing tendencies of such readings have also been supported in the case of All’s Well by an anthropological strain of criticism that ties Helena’s healing of the sick King of France to the myth of the Fisher King.10 Even when it refers to specific post-​Reformation beliefs, criticism of this sort has still tended to overlook controversy and to offer universal claims, as when R. G. Hunter states that the ‘Elizabethan audience believed’ in grace ‘not as a theological abstraction, but as an everyday psychological possibility’.11 Recent readings of grace in All’s Well begin by challenging Hunter’s assumption of unanimity in Shakespeare’s audience. David Beauregard, for instance, painstakingly outlines the differences between Protestant and Roman Catholic understandings of grace and merit, surveying doctrinal statements by the Council of Trent, the Church of England, and key theologians on both sides. Focusing on Helena’s merit, he concludes that the play ‘precisely and coherently reflects a Roman Catholic theology of grace’, while also containing Catholic ideas of pilgrimage, confession, intercessory prayer, penitential satisfaction, and miracles.12 A second recent reader, Maurice Hunt, also carefully delineates the differences between Protestant and Catholic doctrines, and notes many of the same Catholic beliefs that Beauregard finds in the play. Unlike Beauregard, however, Hunt argues that the play’s plot de-​emphasizes and qualifies Helena’s merit, finally rendering it ambiguous. In Hunt’s view, the play is neither consistently Protestant nor exclusively Catholic in its outlook; rather, it is both, containing moments ‘when


 Tillyard, Shakespeare’s Problem Plays, 108. For example, Eric LaGuardia writes that ‘Helena is a figure who represents the proper commerce between the world of the spirit and the world of nature’; see Nature Redeemed (The Hague: Mouton, 1966), 160. 9  Frances M. Pearce, ‘In Quest of Unity: A Study of Failure and Redemption in All’s Well That Ends Well’, Shakespeare Quarterly 25, no. 1 (1974), 85. 10  See Peggy Muñoz Simonds, ‘Sacred and Sexual Motifs in All’s Well That Ends Well’, Renaissance Quarterly 42, no. 1 (1989), 33–​59. 11  Robert Grams Hunter, Shakespeare and the Comedy of Forgiveness (New York: Columbia University Press, 1965), 131. 12  David N. Beauregard, Catholic Theology in Shakespeare’s Plays (Newark, DE: University of Delaware Press, 2008), 51. 8 

110    Kenneth J. E. Graham Shakespeare articulates a ground for agreement, or consensus, among early modern English Protestants and Catholics warring over doctrine’.13 Another example of a change in doctrinal readings is provided by scholarship on The Comedy of Errors, whose setting in the New Testament city of Ephesus has led editors to list the Bible among the play’s sources. Older studies which found the familiar Christian concepts of sin, redemption, law, and grace thematized in Errors have been called into question by Richard Strier’s recent reading of the play as dramatizing and defending a specifically Protestant sense of the holiness of everyday activity against a series of largely Catholic threats. These readings differ on point after point. Where Glyn Austen sees in the play’s references to witchcraft and magic a reminder of the depiction of Ephesus in Acts 19:18–​19, Strier stresses the ‘recognizably Protestant skepticism’ with which the play treats such references.14 Where Austen understands Pinch’s exorcism as ‘an overtly Christian rite’, Strier concludes that Pinch is ‘marked as a specifically Catholic figure’ by his prayer to ‘all the saints in heaven’ (4.4.55).15 And where older readings of marriage in the play emphasize Luciana’s ‘biblical piety’16 and find unimpeachable the religious authority with which Emilia as Abbess instructs or catechizes Adriana on wifely duties, Strier sees the play as supporting Adriana’s defence of companionate marriage against Luciana and Emilia, finally presenting it as a form of holiness preferable to the monastic, Catholic holiness represented by the Abbess. While he acknowledges that companionate marriage was not an exclusively Protestant idea, Strier notes that in this area ‘the so-​called Puritans took the lead’.17 When it comes to doctrinal controversy, then, many critics no longer see Shakespeare as above the fray.

Theatre and Religious Festivity Shakespeare’s contemporaries were divided not only in what they believed, but in how they believed it. Although important aspects of religious practice continued from one side of the Reformation to the other, there were also key changes. The most important of these was the introduction of the Book of Common Prayer, which prescribed English-​language ceremonies for religious use. While English Protestants agreed on many points of doctrine, matters of liturgy and church government often proved more 13 

Maurice Hunt, Shakespeare’s Religious Allusiveness: Its Play and Tolerance (Aldershot and Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2004), 47. 14  Richard Strier, The Unrepentant Renaissance: From Petrarch to Shakespeare to Milton (Chicago, IL and London: University of Chicago Press, 2011), 175. 15  Glyn Austen, ‘Ephesus Restored: Sacramentalism and Redemption in The Comedy of Errors’, Literature and Theology 1 (1987), 59; Strier, Unrepentant Renaissance, 175. 16  Roy Battenhouse, ‘The Comedy of Errors: Comment and Bibliography’, in Battenhouse, ed., Shakespeare’s Christian Dimension: An Anthology of Commentary (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1994), 58. 17 Strier, Unrepentant Renaissance, 174.

Shakespearean Comedy and Religious Culture    111 controversial, provoking discontent among both those wishing for further Protestant reform and those wishing for increased latitude to practise traditional rituals and customs. Should, for example, one kneel while praying? Was it permissible to pray to the saints? Should priests make the sign of the cross during baptism? What type of robes, or vestments, should clergy wear? What direction should the altar, or communion table, face? How should the Sabbath be observed? Were such matters essential to salvation or indifferent to it, and, if the latter, could the authorities demand conformity, or should the choice be left to individual believers or congregations? On such questions, as elsewhere, there was little agreement and much diversity and change, with the result that very different styles of piety flourished in different English regions and towns at different moments. Among the religious issues in play was the status of play itself. Traditional pastimes, many of which were tied to the church calendar, had been the subject of religious controversy long before the Reformation. The Reformation intensified these disputes, and Maypoles, church ales, feasts, dancing on the village green, and numerous other forms of religiously licensed revelry came under renewed attack, a target not only of some Protestant reformers but of some post-​Tridentine Catholic reformers as well. At issue was the devotional significance of festivity: were festive pastimes a legitimate expression of religious piety, or were they antipathetic to true reverence? Many of the more radical Protestants adopted the latter position, and Protestant authorities took the lead in separating such entertainments from religious culture, moving them into the secular realm and placing them in the service of the state. Partly in response to such efforts, an attachment to traditional forms of festivity became part of how much of the English Catholic community defined its identity. Early modern debates about the theatre’s relation to religion can be understood as part of this larger concern with festivity’s devotional status. Plays were an important part of traditional English religious festivals. In the twentieth century, most theatre critics and historians saw the relationship between religion and drama after the Reformation as adversarial. Although English Protestants had initially embraced theatre as a means of religious education and/​or propaganda, over time the Reformation ended the traditions of civic religious drama that had flourished well into the sixteenth century. When professional theatres grew in popularity, preachers fumed that many citizens of London chose to ‘hear’ plays rather than sermons, thronging to the playhouses on Sundays instead of to the churches. Puritans like Stephen Gosson and Philip Stubbes published vitriolic attacks on the theatres as godless dens of iniquity, and the theatres sometimes fought back with satirical portraits of hypocritical Puritans who, like Tribulation Wholesome and Zeal-​of-​the-​Land Busy in Ben Jonson’s The Alchemist and Bartholomew Fair, pursued their own secret sins while denying others their legitimate pleasures. Shakespeare’s more restrained contribution to the type is Twelfth Night’s Malvolio. Neither a hypocrite nor notably religious in outlook, Malvolio appears to deserve being labelled ‘a kind of Puritan’ by Maria only because he rejects festivity, wishing, as Toby suggests, that ‘there shall be no more cakes and ale’, the standard fare at church ales (2.3.135, 111). Such stage Puritans have contributed much to the still-​common view that

112    Kenneth J. E. Graham the theatre was a secular institution free from, or even antagonistic to, religious commitments and concerns.18 More recently critics have acknowledged the religious dimension of published defences of the stage, such as Thomas Heywood’s Apology for Actors (1612), have argued that Protestants did not entirely abandon drama as a vehicle of reformation, and have re-​examined the relationship between stage plays and traditional festive culture in light of new understandings of the continuing vitality of traditional religion as a whole. The early modern theatre in general is now often seen as a place where issues of public importance could be debated and differing views expressed. These issues included religion, and while religious questions were rarely debated explicitly, the theatre gave voice to numerous religious perspectives and portrayed a variety of religious experiences in a way that might lead a thoughtful audience to reflect on their significance for contemporary life. In particular, Shakespeare’s festive comedies contributed to the debates about festivity’s devotional meaning. We can see the interaction of festivity and religion in As You Like It. The Forest of Arden is both a place of merriment and home to a meditative, quasi-​religious life that, Duke Senior says, ‘Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, /​Sermons in stones, and good in everything’ (2.1.16–​17). When the characters enter this pastoral environment, one of their first needs is food. Celia’s need leads Corin to suggest that ‘deeds of hospitality’, including poor relief, might set one on ‘the way to heaven’ (2.4.80–​ 1), and when Orlando and Adam arrive shortly thereafter the hospitality of the Duke’s merry band prompts Orlando to associate feasting with churchgoing. The Duke’s reply strengthens the association: True it is that we have seen better days, And have with holy bell been knolled to church, And sat at good men’s feasts, and wiped our eyes Of drops that sacred pity hath engendered. And therefore sit you down in gentleness, And take upon command what help we have That to your wanting may be ministered. (2.7.120–​6)

Holy bell, feasts, and sacred pity join together to describe ‘better days’, and their combined spiritual suggestiveness also draws out the religious sense of ‘ministered’. The controversial practice of feasting is here depicted as a valid part of a religious life. In this romantic comedy, however, love itself is the chief festive activity examined for its religious properties. Religion speaks playfully against romantic love in the person of

18  In a series of powerfully argued essays, Anthony B. Dawson has contended that the theatre secularized religious materials. See especially ‘The Secular Theater’, in Kenneth J. E. Graham and Philip D. Collington, eds., Shakespeare and Religious Change (Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), 238–​60.

Shakespearean Comedy and Religious Culture    113 Rosalind’s presumably imaginary ‘old religious uncle’ (3.2.333–​4), who, like the medieval anti-​feminist tradition, reads lectures against women’s vices. But more often religion enjoins romantic love, as in Orlando’s poem (termed a ‘tedious homily of love’ by Rosalind) about the ‘heavenly synod’ that enslaved Orlando to Rosalind’s love by making her the ‘quintessence of every sprite /​Heaven would in little show’ (3.2.136–​53). By presenting marriage as a fusion of religious ritual and festive delight, the wedding ceremonies that end the play allow us to see more in such poetry than the conventional language of the religion of love. In these closing scenes the play echoes the Prayer Book’s wedding ceremony twice, first as a game, and then (within the fiction of the play) in earnest, as if to show that exchanging vows can be both playful and spiritually meaningful, both a festive occasion and a religious event. Marriage, suggests Hymen, sets things right by bringing people together, perhaps as Christ’s Atonement brought God and man together: Then is there mirth in heaven When earthly things made even Atone together. (5.4.106–​8)

The fact that Hymen is not part of any Church of England rite, but rather the dramatist’s invention, implies that theatre might supplement or contribute to liturgical practices; as Phebe Jensen argues, Hymen ‘both replicates and replaces religious ritual in a clearly artificial form, enforcing the link between drama, festivity, and ritual as he joins both the couples and the community in the wedding ceremony’.19 ‘Proceed, proceed’, says Duke Senior in the last words spoken before the play concludes with a wedding dance and the epilogue. ‘We’ll so begin these rites /​As we do trust they’ll end, in true delights’ (5.4.195–​6). Love might be both ‘holy’ (3.5.100), as Silvius says, and fun. And so might theatre.

Taming Wild Nature If Shakespeare’s comedies sometimes reflected upon and even helped to shape the religious politics of holiday pastimes, they also sometimes stood in the same relationship to the reformation of manners, an aspect of early modern religious culture that is in some respects the antithesis of festivity. Defined by historian Peter Lake as ‘a process of both spiritual and temporal reform to be achieved by an alliance of the powers of the minister and magistrate’, the reformation of manners reached across Europe, aiming to reform


Phebe Jensen, Religion and Revelry in Shakespeare’s Festive World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 145.

114    Kenneth J. E. Graham such common vices as drunkenness and adultery.20 The magistrate was understood to reform crime externally, through the use of the law to restrain and punish the body of the offender; the minister aimed at spiritual reformation, to be brought about internally by methods known traditionally as the cure of souls and to many Protestants as church discipline. The reformation of manners, or the disciplinary revolution, as Philip Gorski calls it, was both Protestant and Catholic, as much a project of the Counter-​Reformation as of the Reformation, and it extended from the domestic realm to the public sphere.21 In The Taming of the Shrew, Petruccio’s ‘sermon of continency’ (4.1.169) to Kate allows his efforts to be seen for a moment as a demented version of domestic discipline. The challenges and uncertainties of domestic discipline are also reflected in the dialogue that takes place between Adriana and Emilia, in her role as Abbess, near the end of Errors. Emilia first argues that Adriana should have ‘reprehended’ her husband ‘roughly’, both ‘in private’ and ‘in assemblies too’ (5.1.57–​62). When Adriana protests that she did exactly this, Emilia changes course and claims that Adriana’s ‘upbraidings’ hindered ‘his sports’ and ‘Sweet recreation’, driving him mad (5.1.74–​9). The exchange glances at contemporary debates about how discipline should be practised—​roughly or gently, publicly or privately—​and about who should practise it, in this case a person holding religious office or a wife.22 Shakespeare’s most sustained reflection on the reformation of manners comes in Measure for Measure, the biblical title of which signals its deep engagement with religious concerns. The play’s Vienna is populated with conspicuous saints and notorious sinners. The saints include the novice Isabella, whose renunciation of worldly goods leads Lucio to regard her ‘as a thing enskied and sainted’ (1.4.33–​4), and Angelo, who initially sees himself as ‘a saint’ whom the ‘cunning enemy’ tempts with the saintly Isabella (2.2.185–​6). Angelo is also called ‘precise’ (1.3.50) by Duke Vincentio—​Precisian being synonymous with Puritan—​and his harsh condemnation of the sins of others even as he gives his own ‘sensual race the rein’ (2.4.160) is precisely what some in Shakespeare’s audience feared would result from Puritan government. The sinners are many, ranging from Barnardine, labelled a ‘reprobate’ by the Provost (4.3.71), to those who work in the sex trade, to those who, like Claudio, are ‘condemnèd for a fault alone’ (2.1.40). In portraying its sinners, the play sometimes gives expression to a dark view of human nature that perhaps resembles Calvinist notions of total depravity more closely than traditional ideas of Original Sin. As Claudio bitterly says, Our natures do pursue, Like rats that raven down their proper bane, A thirsty evil; and when we drink, we die. (1.2.120–​2)


Peter Lake (with Michael Questier), The Antichrist’s Lewd Hat: Protestants, Papists and Players in Post-​Reformation England (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2002), 622. 21  See Philip S. Gorski, The Disciplinary Revolution: Calvinism and the Rise of the State in Early Modern Europe (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2003). 22  On these debates and their significance for English poetry, see Kenneth J. E. Graham, Disciplinary Measures from the Metrical Psalms to Milton (New York: Routledge, 2016).

Shakespearean Comedy and Religious Culture    115 The difference between the holiness of a saint and the ‘natural guiltiness’ (2.2.143) of a sinner seems to Angelo to be a matter of grace, that central term of religious controversy: ‘Alack, when once our grace we have forgot, /​Nothing goes right; we would, and we would not’ (4.4.32–​3). According to Lucio, ‘Grace is grace despite of all controversy’ (1.2.24): whatever it is exactly, it remains itself, and no human power can change it. The challenge that the reformation of manners faced was how to harness this power to make sinners at least a little bit more saintly. The play glances at many ways of achieving reconciliation and a ‘penitent heart’ (5.1.474), the chief ends of ecclesiastical discipline. The agent of reformation is sometimes ministerial, sometimes communal, and sometimes individual. Disguised as a friar, the Duke instructs Juliet on how to ‘arraign [her] conscience, /​And try [her] penitence’ (2.3.22–​3), and she confesses her sin to him in what is usually taken to be a representation of Catholic penitential discipline, though auricular confession remained available upon request in the English Church. In contrast, Huston Diehl writes that the final scene of the play ‘stages another kind of confession, a public and communal rehearsal of mutual guilt that conforms much more closely to Calvinist than to Roman Catholic rituals of confession’.23 According to Diarmaid MacCulloch, the disciplinary practices of some Protestant churches themselves constituted ‘a theater of forgiveness’ in which an entire congregation publicly forgave sin and sought reconciliation.24 Self-​discipline, another form associated with Protestants though by no means unique to them, can be seen to be illustrated by the conscientious self-​examination of Angelo’s tortured soliloquies. Along with these representations of human disciplinary practices are reminders of God’s own remedy for sin. Isabella argues that this is simply mercy: Why, all the souls that were were forfeit once, And He that might the vantage best have took Found out the remedy. (2.2.75–​7)

But there are also suggestions in the play of a theology of affliction, of making ‘heavenly comforts of despair’ (4.3.107), of ‘a physic /​That’s bitter to sweet end’ (4.6.7–​8). More exactly, these references to the Duke’s ‘strange’ means of solving problems suggest a theology of affliction if one credits something like the allegorical readings of the Duke as Divine Providence that were once generated by Angelo’s claim that Vincentio is ‘like power divine’ (5.1.366). If not, they are more likely to suggest the cruelty of a governor who abuses his power and manipulates his subjects while implementing a reformation of manners that does more harm than good.


Huston Diehl, ‘ “Infinite Space”: Representation and Reformation in Measure for Measure’, Shakespeare Quarterly 49, no. 4 (1998), 408. On the range of confessional and disciplinary practices in the play, see also Claire Griffiths-​Osborne, ‘ “The terms for common justice”: Performing and Reforming Confession in Measure for Measure’, Shakespeare 5, no. 1 (2009), 36–​51. 24  Diarmaid MacCulloch, The Reformation (New York: Viking Penguin, 2003), 578.

116    Kenneth J. E. Graham

Religious Outsiders Religion performed an important social function in Shakespeare’s world as a cornerstone of local, national, and international identities. As such, it was closely tied to changing understandings of nation and ethnicity, and to inchoate early modern ideas of race. Positively, as we saw in As You Like It, religion joined communities not only through church worship and formal belief but also through hospitality and shared festivities. Charitable impulses nourished by religion sometimes also extended to visitors from the wider European community and beyond, in keeping with biblical injunctions to welcome the stranger. Negatively, religious divisions contributed to suspicions of outsiders, and helped to set families, communities, and nations against each other. Religion’s social function is most visible in Shakespeare’s comedies when it contributes to the mistreatment of his most famous outsider, Shylock. Religious festivities and the reformation of manners aimed to enrich and improve the lives of Christians. But the other main Abrahamic religions played a part in the religious imagination of Shakespeare’s England that was out of proportion to their numbers. On rare occasions, such as the visit by the Moroccan ambassador in 1600–​1, one might catch sight of a free Muslim in the streets of London. Despite their formal expulsion in 1290, there is evidence that Jews also lived in post-​Reformation England, though many were Marranos, Spanish or Portuguese Jews forced by the Inquisition to convert to Christianity, who may have continued to practise their religion secretly, like some Catholics. Shylock’s case is different. He is openly Jewish, part of a community who worship in a synagogue in what would historically have been part of the Venetian ‘ghetto’, where Jews were forced to live. Most of the time, everyone in the play agrees that he is different from the play’s Christians, but the nature of that difference is extremely complex. It is partly a cultural matter: Shylock, who refers habitually to his ‘nation’ and sometimes to his ‘tribe’, shares many aspects of life with the Christians around him, but he is also separated from them by customs of dress and diet. He tells Bassanio: ‘I will buy with you, sell with you, talk with you, walk with you, and so following, but I will not eat with you, drink with you, nor pray with you’ (1.3.33–​5). At such a moment prayer may seem an afterthought, one more custom that, like Shylock’s ‘Jewish gaberdine’ (1.3.111), might easily be changed, or at least overlooked. But the play also suggests that the differences between Christians and Jews are rooted in belief. The Christians’ objections to Shylock’s usury—​a hugely controversial practice at the time—​ emerge from a commercial ideology of venturing or risk-​taking that is itself defended as a willingness to abide by God’s providential design. More explicitly, the courtroom choice between justice and mercy appeals to conventional understandings of Jews as an Old Testament people who worship God through the merely external observances of the Law, failing to understand that true righteousness is attainable only through

Shakespearean Comedy and Religious Culture    117 Christ. So Portia’s speech on mercy lectures Shylock on the basic points of Christian theology: Therefore, Jew, Though justice be thy plea, consider this: That in the course of justice none of us Should see salvation. (4.1.194–​7)

But while the play’s comic plot depends on the application of these Christian understandings of God’s power and mercy to business and legal practices respectively, many have felt that The Merchant of Venice also betrays an ambivalence about its own denouement. Compared to other stage Jews, Shylock is given a measure of dignity by Shakespeare, most famously in his ‘Hath not a Jew eyes’ speech (3.1.54–​68). Here the differences that elsewhere loom so large are subsumed by a common humanity that makes the treatment of Shylock seem tragically harsh.

Comic Conversions In a fluid religious environment featuring several confessional options and an often aggressive evangelism, conversions between faiths were both an imagined fear and an everyday fact. One might convert to Christianity, like St Paul on the road to Damascus; from Catholicism to Protestantism, like John Donne; from Protestantism to Catholicism, like Ben Jonson, before he converted back to Protestantism; or away from a Christian faith, ‘turning’ Jew or Turk—​that is, converting to Judaism or Islam—​ as Othello fears the Christian garrison of Cyprus has done. Against this background, it is not surprising that conversions come in many forms in Shakespearean comedy. The word conversion itself—​etymologically denoting a turning around—​could be used in a non-​religious sense to indicate a metamorphosis or radical transformation in character. So it is in Much Ado About Nothing, for example, when Benedick, observing the changes love has brought to Claudio’s behaviour, asks: ‘May I be so converted, and see with these eyes?’ (2.3.21–​2). Actual religious conversions receive widely varying treatments within the plays, ranging from sweet to sour. In As You Like It, the charitable ethos of the forest community, represented by Orlando’s ‘kindness’ in saving his brother Oliver from the lioness, brings about Oliver’s sudden ‘conversion’, which ‘sweetly tastes’ (4.3.129, 137–​8). Less well explained—​and somewhat more melancholy—​is the miraculous conversion of Duke Frederick, who, converted by ‘an old religious man’ on the outskirts of the forest, renounces his stolen title and lands and ‘put[s]‌on a religious life’ (5.4.158, 179). While Oliver’s conversion makes possible his incorporation into the

118    Kenneth J. E. Graham community through marriage to Celia, Duke Frederick’s appears to precipitate his withdrawal from society—​or so it is suggested when the melancholy Jaques resolves to depart the wedding celebrations in favour of joining the ‘convertites’ (5.4.182). The conversions from Judaism to Christianity in The Merchant of Venice are still less sweet, as well as more problematic. Jessica’s conversion, a condition of a marriage tainted by theft and an ‘unthrift love’ (5.1.16), may seem more opportunistic than authentic. The sourest Shakespearean conversion of all, Shylock’s, forced upon him as the alternative to death, strikes few today as an example of Christian mercy, and would have been seen as suspect even by some in Shakespeare’s time.25 The most anticipated comic conversion in Shakespeare falls outside this spectrum because it never takes place. The great comic creation of Shakespeare’s history plays, Falstaff, does indeed talk a good deal about turning his life around: ‘Well, I’ll repent, and that suddenly, while I am in some liking. I shall be out of heart shortly, and then I shall have no strength to repent. An I have not forgotten what the inside of a church is made of, I am a peppercorn, a brewer’s horse—​the inside of a church! Company, villainous company, hath been the spoil of me’ (1 Henry IV, 3.3.4–​10). But he never abandons that company or visits that church, for which audiences are grateful: in his case, conversion would have meant not only a severe curtailment in the consumption of ‘sack and sugar’ (2.5.475), but also the death of comedy. More generally, there is often a religious dimension to the wonderful transformations that occur as the plots of Shakespeare’s comedies approach their resolution. In Much Ado About Nothing, the discovery of Don John’s plot to disgrace Hero changes Claudio’s understanding both of Hero and of his own actions, triggering the language of penitence. ‘Impose me to what penance your invention /​Can lay upon my sin’ (5.1.265–​6), Claudio says to Leonato, and Don Pedro adds that ‘to satisfy this good old man /​I would bend under any heavy weight /​That he’ll enjoin me to’ (5.1.268–​70). Shakespeare then devotes a scene to the penitential ritual that Claudio vows to perform yearly (5.3.23). This scene also anticipates the return of Hero, believed dead by Claudio and Pedro, casting it in a supernatural light as a memory of the stage resurrections once common in medieval drama: ‘Graves yawn, and yield your dead’ (5.3.19).26 Among the emotions Hero’s reappearance itself elicits from some of those onstage and perhaps from the audience are ‘amazement’ and ‘wonder’ (5.4.67, 70), emotions long associated with both religion and drama.27 But while Claudio can be seen as ‘converted’ by what is for him a deeply moving experience of loss, penitential mourning, and recovery, the mood soon changes. 25  On contemporary criticism of forced conversion, see Marianne Novy, ‘The Merchant of Venice and its Pressured Conversions,’ in her Shakespeare and Outsiders (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013). 26  Elizabeth Williamson explores the resurrection tradition in relation to Much Ado About Nothing and other plays in ‘Things Newly Performed: The Resurrection Tradition in Shakespeare’s Plays’, in Graham and Collington, eds., Shakespeare and Religious Change, 110–​32. 27  The relationship between wonder and Shakespearean drama has frequently been explored. See especially J. V. Cunningham, Woe or Wonder: The Emotional Effect of Shakespearean Tragedy, in Tradition and Poetic Structure (Denver, CO: Alan Swallow, 1960), and Tom Bishop, Shakespeare and the Theatre of Wonder (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996).

Shakespearean Comedy and Religious Culture    119 Beatrice and Benedick, whose ‘conversions’ into faithful lovers were the product of trickery, are finally united by a ‘miracle’ (5.4.91) of a very different sort than that of Hero’s resurrection—​the revelation of the romantic poetry they wrote. Shakespeare playfully contrasts the conventional religious feeling of the Claudio–Hero plot with the sceptical intelligence that has always, in this play, made Beatrice and Benedick the more appealing couple. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare again explores faith and scepticism while playing with both the negative and the positive possibilities of miraculous transformations or conversions. On the one hand, the play is haunted by fears of malignant spirits, some of whom might break their graves to turn human lives upside down. As day approaches, Puck warns Oberon that the time is short, since ghosts, wand’ring here and there, Troop home to churchyards; damnèd spirits all That in cross-​ways and floods have burial Already to their wormy beds are gone. (3.2.382–​5)

After the mortals leave the stage, he anticipates the re-​emergence of those same spirits: Now it is the time of night That the graves, all gaping wide, Every one lets forth his sprite In the churchway paths to glide. (5.2.9–​12)

On the other hand, the play flirts with the medieval tradition of the dream vision, a source of spiritual insight with the power to change lives. Titania and the four lovers, amazed by their dreams—​both the visions they have brought and the transformations they have wrought—​exit the stage anticipating further discussion, so the final word is given to Bottom, who is himself said to have been ‘changed’, ‘translated’, and ‘transported’ (3.1.109, 113; 4.2.4). Never at a loss for words, Bottom boldly expresses the inexpressible: I have had a most rare vision. I have had a dream past the wit of man to say what dream it was. Man is but an ass if he go about t’expound this dream. Methought I was—​there is no man can tell what. Methought I was, and methought I had—​but man is but a patched fool if he will offer to say what methought I had. The eye of man hath not heard, the ear of man hath not seen, man’s hand is not able to taste, his tongue to conceive, nor his heart to report what my dream was. I will get Peter Quince to write a ballet of this dream. It shall be called ‘Bottom’s Dream’, because it hath no bottom. (4.1.202–​13)

120    Kenneth J. E. Graham An interpreter faces as daunting a task capturing the tone of this speech as Bottom faces in expounding his dream. The speech reworks 1 Corinthians 2:9, ‘But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him’ (AV), and it is not wrong to call it a parody. But it is a gentle, affectionate parody that, as Russ McDonald has written, ‘manages to evoke the emotional potency of the real thing’.28 Bottom’s speech combines comedy with the sense that the events of the play are, as Hippolyta says in response to Theseus’s rational view of imagination, both ‘strange and admirable’ (5.1.27). ‘Admirable’ here means worthy of admiration or wonder, so it seems that Shakespeare anticipated that his story would evoke both scepticism and wonder.29 In the end, the fairies carry out an important liturgical function in blessing the house where the newlyweds lie abed: With this field-​dew consecrate Every fairy take his gait And each several chamber bless Through this palace with sweet peace. (5.2.45–​8)

Whether one believes that the transformative ‘power’ (4.1.163–​4) in the play is imagination, festivity, chance, Providence, love, or laughter, it has brought a fortunate outcome that includes a religious dimension. Especially in Shakespeare’s darker comedies, mirth may appear powerless to move the souls of men who, like Angelo, Shylock, and Malvolio, are driven by destructive passions they can neither understand nor control. In the more festive comedies, the strange, improbable events that resolve the plot may seem less a true solution than another version of the heretical choice that Lysander at one point finds his former love of Hermia to be: as the heresies that men do leave Are hated most of those they did deceive, So thou, my surfeit and my heresy, Of all be hated, but the most of me. (2.2.145–​8)

But even at its darkest, Shakespearean comedy probes the doctrines and practices of grace, repentance, and forgiveness that pervaded post-​Reformation English life. In its lighter moments, meanwhile, it implies its own power to bring about Rosaline’s 28 

Russ McDonald, ‘Introduction’, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in Stephen Orgel and A. R. Braunmuller, gen. eds., William Shakespeare: The Complete Works (New York: Penguin, 2002), 251. 29  For different approaches to the question of belief in the play, see R. Chris Hassel, Jr, ‘ “Most Rare Vision”: Faith in A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, in Faith and Folly in Shakespeare’s Romantic Comedies (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1980); Richard C. McCoy, Faith in Shakespeare (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 52–​76; and Alison Shell, ‘Delusion in A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, in Loewenstein and Witmore, eds., Shakespeare and Early Modern Religion, 81–​95.

Shakespearean Comedy and Religious Culture    121 proposed spiritual reformation through words that are, as Nathaniel the Curate says in LLL, ‘strange without heresy’, and through an art that is, according to As You Like It’s Rosalind, magical ‘yet not damnable’, resembling the bottomless dreams of stage clowns (5.1.6; 5.2.59).

Suggested Reading Battenhouse, Roy, ed., Shakespeare’s Christian Dimension:  An Anthology of Commentary (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1994). Graham, Kenneth J.  E., and Philip D. Collington, eds., Shakespeare and Religious Change (Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009). Hassel, R. Chris, Jr, Faith and Folly in Shakespeare’s Romantic Comedies (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1980). Jensen, Phebe, Religion and Revelry in Shakespeare’s Festive World (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 2008). Loewenstein, David, and Michael Witmore, eds., Shakespeare and Early Modern Religion (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015). Shapiro, James, Shakespeare and the Jews (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996). Shell, Alison, Shakespeare and Religion (London: Methuen, 2010). Shuger, Debora Kuller, Political Theologies in Shakespeare’s England: The Sacred and the State in Measure for Measure (Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave, 2001).

Chapter 7

Shakespeare a n C ome dy an d the Early Mode rn Marketpl ac e Sympathetic Economies Amanda Bailey

Re-​Thinking Comic Closure In early modern England finding and losing money introduced profound instability into people’s lives, and late sixteenth-​and early seventeenth-​century comedies exploited the chaotic energy of reversals of fortune. At the same time, this genre, which has been long recognized for magically solving its seemingly intractable dramatic dilemmas, worked to neutralize money’s destabilizing effects. Accordingly, the tidy resolutions that mark the ends of comedies by William Shakespeare and his contemporaries, typically exemplified by promises of marriage and communal festivity, restore homeostasis in accordance with arrangements of compensation and restitution.1 Everyone is repaid in kind (literally or figuratively). As comforting as comic closure may be, critics have questioned whether this generic hallmark allows comic form to realize its aesthetic, psychological, and emotional potential.2 A  counter tradition has grown up among literary scholars who 1 

C. L. Barber famously argues that the Saturnalian disruption that erupts over the course of a comedy always gives way to the re-​imposition of order and reassertion of traditional values. See Shakespeare’s Festive Comedy: A Study of Dramatic Form and Its Relation to Social Custom (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1959). 2  For instance, the issue of lack of satisfaction at the endings of Shakespearean comedies such as The Merchant of Venice and Measure for Measure has dominated critical discussions of these plays. See Ejner Jensen, Shakespeare and the Ends of Comedy (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1991), 1–​22, and Jean E. Howard, ‘The Difficulties of Closure: An Approach to the Problematic in Shakespearean

Shakespearean Comedy and the Marketplace    123 argue that not all turbulence is calmed at the end of early modern comedy, but rather ‘conflicting generic codes and cultural norms . . . resist easy harmonization’.3 More broadly, we may wonder whether any resolution based on reparation can be anything more than what Brian Massumi describes as ‘deintensifying’.4 As Massumi suggests, the homeostasis achieved by a system of exchange ‘hold[s]‌the contrariety of contrasts in tension’ and, by suspending the tension, ends up dulling or ‘losing the contrasts’.5 The premise of this essay is that our understanding of early modern comic form as constrained by the genre’s compensatory logic is directly related to an understanding of the early modern economy as contained by a dynamic of exchange that establishes the equivalence of two values. While comic closure ensures restitution, the genre simultaneously refuses to adhere to its own reparative logic. Plays by Shakespeare and his contemporaries stage an alternative means of achieving satisfaction via participation in a sympathetic system. In this instance, each individual is enmeshed in the random, and often disorderly, flow of people and things moving through his or her world. In the place of economic rationality, we are confronted with the unknowability of a diffuse and productive force that primes, incites, and orients (and disorients) people. In Measure for Measure (first performed in 1604 and published in 1623), Shakespeare showcases ‘every private nook and cranny of experience’ of a wide cross-​section of Vienna,6 as the play offers a window onto a subculture of urban dwellers who function as nodal points in a process of symbiosis, a term that means ‘living together’.7 The capricious rhythms of the marketplace infiltrate all aspects of peoples’ lives, and Shakespeare’s depiction of a complex system driven by ‘an infinite number of accidents occurring at the ground level’ fuels the vitality of the play.8 By representing economic and political agency as outgrowths of tendencies and impulses, Measure for Measure anticipates recent discussions of free-​market capitalism that see potential in the economic actor who hovers in a state of ‘nonconscious “sub-​threshold latency” ’ or bare activity that ‘churn[s]‌with the intensity of a mutually inclusive range of potentials’ marked by Comedy’, in A. R. Braunmuller and J. C. Bulman, eds., Comedy from Shakespeare to Sheridan (Newark, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1986), 113–​28. 3 

Howard, ‘The Difficulties of Closure’, 144. Brian Massumi, The Power at the End of the Economy (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2015), 72. 5 Massumi, Power at the End of the Economy, 72. 6  Kiernan Ryan, ‘Measure for Measure: Marxism before Marx’, in Jean Howard and Scott Cutler Shershow, eds., Marxist Shakespeares (New York: Routledge, 2001), 233. 7  Recent textual research has established a posthumous collaboration that dislodges the idea that Shakespeare was the sole author of Measure for Measure, finding evidence for the contributions of Thomas Middleton circa 1621. On Measure for Measure as Shakespeare and Middleton’s collaboration, see Richard Wilson, ‘As Mice by Lions: Political Theology and Measure for Measure’, Shakespeare 11, no. 2 (2015), 159. On symbiosis, see John P. Watkins, ‘Towards a Reconsideration of Social Evolution: Symbiosis and Its Implications for Economics’, Journal of Economic Issues 32, no. 1 (March 1998), 95. See also, R. A. Lewin, ‘Symbiosis and Parasitism: Definitions and Evaluations’, BioScience 32, vol. 4 (April 1982): 254–​60. 8 Massumi, Power at the End of the Economy, 3. 4 

124   Amanda Bailey productive suspense.9 As Measure for Measure charts the wayward currents of goods, services, bodies, and information, we obtain insight into ways that ‘decisions move through [characters], rather than being legislated by [an] all-​too-​cognitive . . . “rational” I’; the play traces modes of capitalist intercourse that are not governed by any one individual or institution but rather are characterized by a headlessness.10 The stakes of my argument are at once aesthetic and historical. While we may be tempted to claim that Measure for Measure is unique in its representation of the economy as a sympathetic system that encourages non-​deliberative immersion, we can access the broader context of Shakespeare’s ideas about circulation and communication by linking them to theories about impersonal and spontaneous networks that dominated natural philosophy in the period. Paracelsus, for instance, identified sympathetic tendencies in all matter as ‘everything naturally is endued with a power of affecting another thing with its own qualities’.11 Dispersed sympathetic forces accounted for involuntary experiences that breached the boundaries of any one body. Unlike the passions or humours that were regarded as disturbances visited upon the subject, sympathetic identifications were (knowingly or unknowingly) sought out by an entity, who—​or which—​inclined him or itself toward the trajectory inherent to all material substance.12 Humans exhibited sympathy, a ‘generic force, more like heliophilia than an interhuman recognition initiated and enacted in psyches’, when they were impressionable and thus inclined to go with the flow or move toward already existing propensities.13 Craig Muldrew has familiarized us with early modern England’s ‘economy of obligation’, a skein of interpersonal transactions premised on lending and borrowing.14 In rural areas, the commercial extension of neighbourliness involved credit, but in larger towns as well transactions between tradesmen conducted with fellow 9 Massumi, Power at the End of the Economy, 20; the phrase ‘sub-​threshold latency’ is Niklas Luhmann’s, Trust and Power, with an Introduction by Gianfranco Poggi (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1979), 73. See also, William E. Connolly, The Fragility of Things: Self-​Organizing Processes, Neoliberal Fantasies, and Democratic Activism (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2013); Rachel Greenwald Smith, Affect and American Literature in the Age of Neoliberalism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015); and Dierdra Reber, Coming to Our Senses: Affect and an Order of Things for Global Culture (New York: Columbia University Press, 2016). 10 Massumi, Power at the End of the Economy, 36; Dierdra Reber, ‘Headless Capitalism: Affect as Free-​ Market Episteme’, differences 23 vol. 1 (2012), 75. 11  Paracelsus, as in Jane Bennett, ‘Of Material Sympathies: Paracelsus, and Whitman’, in Serenella Iovino and Serpil Oppermann, eds., Material Ecocriticism (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2014), 243. 12  For the distinction between sympathies and humours, see Mary Floyd Wilson, Occult Knowledge, Science, and Gender on the Shakespearean Stage (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 6–​11. On the idea of the passions as powerful forces beyond human control and linked to the idea of passivity, especially as related to Augustine’s idea of passion as perturbation, see Susan James, Passion and Action: The Emotions in Seventeenth-​Century Philosophy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 11. 13  Bennett, ‘Of Material Sympathies’, 241. 14  Craig Muldrew, The Economy of Obligation: The Culture of Credit and Social Relations in Early Modern England (London: Basingstoke, 1998).

Shakespearean Comedy and the Marketplace    125 townspeople were also based on credit. The activities of common consumers revolved around joint indebtedness, and, at the upper end of the social scale, aristocrats were entangled in credit arrangements. In a society in which the 500 per cent increase in the demand for coins could not be met by the 63 per cent increase in supply, sales credit and personal loans could only be periodically reckoned and settled in coin.15 This economy of obligation was built keeping on one’s word, but this was increasingly impossible to guarantee in a context of a shortage of ready money.16 Thus, however well intentioned parties may have been, everyone at some point in his or her life would have been unwilling or unable to honour his or her bonds. Market relations may have been perceived less as active investment in one’s personal friend and more as passive participation in an impersonal web contoured by the opaque decisions of strangers and unexpected occurrences that unfolded beyond one’s town, city, or country. If Muldrew bases his analysis of the early modern economy on the classical conception of homo economicus as an autonomous, self-​interested creature of contract, Adam Smith offers instead a conception of homo economicus as a being imperceptibly caught in the flow of capital, which circulates freely throughout the social body. Buoyed by a wayward current, capital meanders along a horizontal field whose parameters are not delimited by any one authoritative source, such as the Crown. Moreover, Smith saw a top-​down apparatus as impeding its flow. The ideal subject of capitalism was thus imagined by Smith as akin to what Massumi has described as an ‘immanent oscillatory point’ in ‘a machine-​flow complex’. In the Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759), Smith identifies sympathy as the necessary condition for living together: How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortunes of others, and render their happiness necessary to him. . . . Of this kind is pity or compassion, the emotion we feel for the misery of others, when we either see it, or are made to conceive it in a very lively manner. That we often derive sorrow from the sorrow of others is a matter of fact too obvious to require any instances to prove it; for this sentiment, like all the other passions of human nature, is by no means confined to the virtuous and humane, though they perhaps may feel it with the most exquisite sensibility.17

In his paean to fellow-​feeling Smith regards sympathy as a ‘matter of fact’; it is a capacity that resides within and extends beyond any one particular human subject, as Smith acknowledges that any one person’s satisfaction is always dependent upon an infinite number of occurrences, some of which he or she can never foresee or control. 15  Craig Muldrew, ‘ “Hard Food for Midas”: Cash and Its Social Value in Early Modern England’, Past and Present 170, no. 1 (2001), 78–​120. 16 Muldrew, The Economy of Obligation, 95. 17 Smith, Theory of Moral Sentiments, 13, as in Reber, ‘Headless Capitalism’, 72.

126   Amanda Bailey

Flow and Overflow Nowhere is the vitality and complexity of the comic impetus more readily apparent than in Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, a play that, according to some critics, ‘urges the need for an alternative view of comedy’.18 On first blush it appears its redemptive logic propels us toward the play’s comic resolution. Measure for Measure has been described as ‘Shakespeare’s Das Kapital’, a ‘deep rumination on the economy of desire and sacrificial logic of substitution’.19 The play’s retributive logic looms large: notably, Angelo’s request that Isabella offer her maidenhead in exchange for her brother’s head; the Duke’s reliance on the bed-​trick; and a comic ending that hinges on the substitution of a pirate’s head for that of Isabella’s brother’s. The crux of the play, with its imposing title and stern conclusion (‘Haste still pays haste, and leisure answers leisure; /​Like doth quit like, and measure still for measure’ [5.1.402–​3]), invokes the quantitative precision of meting out resonant with the taut biblical proverb, ‘Judge not, that ye be not judged, /​For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again’ (Matthew, 7.2).20 This logic of compensation maps neatly onto the economic process of exchange. But our presumption that cultural representations of the economy appear only at the moment of exchange has blinded us to a recurrent set of tropes that fall outside the play’s apparent preoccupation with weighing, assessing, and exactitude. We can discern another logic, one guided by the principle of flow, as Shakespeare shows individuals embedded within networks, such that one’s advantage or disadvantage is linked to that of another’s through the random decisions, spontaneous accidents, and the complex unfolding of events. The play’s understanding of capitalism as non-​totalizable and dispersed undermines its overarching logic of even-​handed exchange. In fact, the play is premised on the inefficiency of the exchange, as made evident by the failed equivalency between the Duke and Angelo, whose character does not mirror but exceeds that of the Duke. Moreover, the idea of an absolutist monarch, whose style of governance is imagined as analogous to the transcendent mind attempting to govern the unruly body, proves to be impractical. The play opens with the Duke’s stepping down from his position to pursue ‘the life removed’ (1.3.8). Here Shakespeare suggests that when self-​mastery is associated with sovereignty, the only way to preserve both is by withdrawing from the public realm altogether, where one is inevitably subjected to forces beyond one’s control. The Duke and his substitute, Angelo, respectively represent an early modern culture of rule based on an uncompromising self-​sufficiency that associates the masses with an infectious licentiousness, which, in turn, threatens the moral 18 Jensen, Shakespeare and the Ends of Comedy, 17. See also Harriet Hawkins, Measure for Measure

(Brighton: Harvester New Critical Introductions to Shakespeare, 1987). 19  Wilson, ‘As Mice by Lions’, 163. 20  All references to Shakespeare’s plays are from Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor, gen. eds., The Oxford Shakespeare, 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005).

Shakespearean Comedy and the Marketplace    127 well-​being of the ruler as well as that of the body politic. Characterizing himself as immune to the hysteria of those swept up by political charisma, the Duke explains: ‘I love the people, /​But do not like to stage me to their eyes. /​Though it do well, I do not relish well /​Their loud applause and aves vehement; /​Nor do I think the man of safe discretion /​That does affect it’ (1.1.66–​72). He emphasizes that he holds at an ‘idle price’ visits to those ‘haunt[ing] assemblies where youth and  . . .  witless bravery keep’ (1.3.8–​10). A ruler, the Duke cautions, should reject the relishes of loud applause and vehement cheers as ideally he has ‘a complete bosom’, one that cannot be pierced even by the dart of love (1.3.2–​3). Angelo goes above and beyond the duke in his abstemiousness. He is so ‘precise’ he ‘scare confesses /​That his blood flows, or that his appetite /​Is more to bread than stone’ (1.3.50, 51–​5). He is ‘a man whose blood /​Is very snow-​broth; one who never feels /​The wanton stings and motions of the sense, /​But doth rebate and blunt his natural edge’ (1.4.56–​9). Notably, rumour has it that ‘when he makes water, his urine is congealed ice’ (3.1.356). Shakespeare’s focus on stymied bodily fluids such as frozen blood and urine serves to emphasize that absolutist authority is an impediment to free circulation and ultimately starves disparate parts of the body politic, threatening its vitality. Angelo as the embodiment of the court is ‘motion ungenerative’ (3.1.356), and at the turning point of the play, marked by his internal conflict over his erotic yearnings for the novice Isabella, he admits that in pleading for her brother’s life, she speaks ‘such sense, that my sense breeds’ (2.2.144–​5). Even as he tries to pray in an effort to obtain willpower, Angelo can only harp on ‘the strong and swelling evil of [his] conception’ (2.4.6–​7). The ruler, it turns out is not impenetrable but, like the Duke’s venerable second-​in-​ command, Escalus, may be made ‘pregnant’ (1.1.11). In this instance, the Duke uses the word ‘pregnant’ to describe Escalus as fully informed of the city’s institutions and procedures. But ‘pregnant’ also suggests that the ideal statesman has the capacity of bringing something new into the world. Tragically, for Angelo, the swelling of conception and its attendant rush of blood anticipate only stenosis: the clogging and eventual stopping of the heart. In an extended biopolitical metaphor Angelo muses on asphyxiation as he associates the rush of blood with the crowding bodies of the foolish throng: Why does my blood thus muster to my heart, Making both it unable for itself, And dispossessing all my other parts Of necessary fitness? So play the foolish throngs with one that swoons—​ Come all to help him, and so stop the air By which he should revive—​and even so The general subject to a well-​wished king Quit their own part and, in obsequious fondness, Crowd to his presence, where their untaught love Must needs appear offence. (2.4.20–​9)

128   Amanda Bailey In this description, Angelo can only imagine the collective as that which induces claustrophobia, as his subjects, infected by hysteria born of their ‘obsequious fondness’, create an intransigent block that suffocates him. Despite his ‘breeding’ sense, Angelo confesses that he remains ‘unpregnant’ (4.4.19) and ‘dull to all proceedings’ (4.4.20). At the same time, elsewhere in the play people find themselves entangled in complex webs that at once elude human mastery and expand definitions of the social. These activities are characterized as neither self-​contained nor self-​governing, but as constituting the wellspring of ‘adventure, irrational hopes, [and] foolish enterprises’.21 As quasi-​ professional and extra-​legal associations, the monastery and the convent, the brothels, and the prison form a ‘mesh’, what Timothy Morton describes as a ‘nontotalizable, open-​ ended concatenation of interrelations that blur and confound boundaries at practically any level’.22 The horizontal articulation of relationships among these otherwise disparate collectives is suggested by the repetition of the word ‘house’: ‘House’ has many different connotations in the play: ‘hot-​house’, ‘ill-​house’, ‘bawd-​ house’, ‘naughty-​house’, ‘tap-​house’, ‘house of profession’, ‘houses of resort’. Twenty times during the play ‘house’ signifies brothel and perhaps it is not accidental that Angelo’s place is twice called a ‘garden-​house’.23

Despite Angelo’s attempts to regulate what he perceives as the abject bodies of Vienna, a ‘crazy vitality’ persists as members of various communities assemble to speak and act on the irrepressibility of appetite.24 On first blush, this would appear to be consumerism standing in for citizenship. Yet, I want to suggest that despite being outgrowths of the economic engine of the state, these various ‘common houses’, in which the ‘good people in [the] commonweal . . . use their abuses’ (2.1.42–​3) are evocative of Hannah Arendt’s ‘spaces of appearance,’ sites where the definition of freedom is not exhausted by the demands of the state, as the notion of the citizen transcends the subject of law. One salient scene of association takes shape around the otherwise inexplicable extended exchange about stewed prunes in the second act of the play. This exchange offers no generalized programme of action but a coming-​into-​being with others, all of whom are primed with a set of desires expressed by the actions of eating and fornicating and eating as fornicating. The scene revolves around a suit brought to Escalus by the constable, Elbow. As Pompey the pimp, who serves as second-​in-​command to the city’s shadow ruler Mistress Overdone, explains, Elbow’s wife, ‘great with child’, was drawn to the brothel as she was ‘longing . . . for stewed prunes’ (2.1.81–​2). Once there, she finds ‘two in the house’, standing, ‘as it were, in a fruit dish’ (2.1.84–​5). Here Pompey describes


Nigel Thrift, Knowing Capital (London: Sage, 2005), 1. Timothy Morton, Ecology Without Nature: Rethinking Environmental Aesthetics (Harvard, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007), 102, and ‘Queer Ecology’, PMLA 125, no. 2 (March 2010), 275–​6. 23  Jan Kott, ‘Head for Maidenhead, Maidenhead for Head: The Structure of Exchange in Measure for Measure’, En Torno A Shakespeare (Valencia: Instituto Shakespeare, 1980), 101. 24 Thrift, Knowing, 10. 22 

Shakespearean Comedy and the Marketplace    129 Elbow’s wife discovering two remaining prunes in a fruit dish, but as ‘fruit dish’ is also slang for female genitals (2.1.n.7), the implication is that she finds two clients engaged in sexual intercourse with prostitutes. At the same time, the gentleman, Master Froth, is also compelled to visit the brothel, where he devours the stewed prunes for which Elbow’s ‘great-​bellied’ wife had been ‘longing’ (2.1.91). He also engages the services of a prostitute for which he pays ‘very honestly’ (2.1.93). Frequent mention of Elbow’s ‘great-​ bellied’ wife recalls the Duke’s earlier references to Escalus as ‘pregnant’, at the point at which Duke describes his second-​in-​command as knowledgeable and with the potential to bring something new into the world. No one can articulate why he or she is suddenly drawn to stewed prunes, as those who share no points of social overlap, the wealthy Froth, the lower-​class bawd Pompey, the constable Elbow, Elbow’s pregnant wife, the Provost, and the Mistress become enmeshed in the symbiotics of appetite. As they recount the scene, they reflect on the various forms of satiety that are, in turn, offered in the form of food, sex, justice, and remittance demonstrating that the vitality of fleshly life exceeds the legal-​political norms of Vienna, as disparate characters with competing intentions and contradictory needs find a common home at the ‘hot-​house’, ‘ill-​house’, ‘bawd’s-​house’, ‘naughty-​house’, and ‘respected’, meaning a suspicious or suspected-​house (2.1.60, 61, 69, 70, 145). As one character points out, the reason vice is so difficult to extricate is because it is ‘of a great [extensive] kindred, it is well allied [connected]’ (3.1.348–​50). Unimpeded flow is also associated throughout the play with the disruptive potential of overflow. Stephen Deng has written about Measure for Measure’s preoccupation with coining, which is likened to ‘theft, illicit procreation, and the usurpation of divine authority’.25 Critics have commented on the play’s economic vocabulary and metaphors, and its general interest in the improper relation of the original to its substitute. Angelo’s own name is a pun on the angel, a gold coin, and he functions as a token of ducal authority whose worth or ‘metal’ [mettle] is untried (1.1.48) as he ‘bear[s]‌’ the ruler’s image like a coin (1.1.16). Coining leads to unlawful minting associated with both the illegal generation of money and the illegal generation of children by those who ‘do coin God’s image in stamps that are forbid’ and ‘put metal in restrained moulds’ (2.4.45–​9). Women, rulers, and coins ‘bear’ false impressions (1.1.16). If women are ‘credulous to false prints’ (2.4.129), the result is not only unwanted pregnancy but the spread of venereal disease, compared to acquiring French crowns (1.2.46), a reference to the syphilitic sores associated with the commerce of the brothel. Lending of money and prostitution are characterized as the ‘two usuries’ (3.1.263). Such overflows are signalled by the play’s interest in stamping, pressing, and minting as alternative modes of economic and social circulation.26 The fantastic Lucio’s propensity for gossip deprives the Duke of ‘monopolistic control over the economy of poetic 25  Stephen Deng, Coinage and State Formation in Early Modern England (New York: Palgrave, 2011), 104. 26  Julia Reinhard Lupton, Afterlives of the Saints: Hagiography, Typology, and Renaissance Literature (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1996), 117.

130   Amanda Bailey exchange that equates coining with other heinous crimes’.27 As Deng observes, Lucio’s loquaciousness exposes the impossibility of establishing any stable measure of value in regard to monetary and juridical systems. Prone to logorrhoea, Lucio realizes the Duke’s worst fears that those of high rank and ‘greatness’ risk ‘millions of false [judging] eyes’ becoming fixed ‘upon thee’, while ‘volumes of report /​Run with their false and most contrarious quest /​Upon thy doings’ (4.1.59–​62). Indeed, the reason the Duke has assigned a substitute to begin with grows out of his phobia of becoming the object of slander. As he explains, Angelo ‘may, in th’ ambush of my name, strike home, /​And yet my nature never in the fight /​To do in slander’ (1.3.41–​3). Importantly, the play’s resolution rests on an open debate in the public square, whereby ‘desert speaks loud’ and is no longer ‘lock[ed] . . . in the wards of covert bosom’ (5.1.9–​10). The obverse, ‘let[ting]’ the people see and know ‘outward courtesies’ that otherwise would ‘keep within’, is collective protest (5.1.12–​16). As the Duke himself admits, ‘what king so strong can tie the gall [rancour] up in the slanderous tongue?’ (3.1.417–​18). As the play represents wayward economies of talking heads, coins, maidenheads, and sovereigns, multiplicity does not present a series of choices subject to judgement. Rather it signals the unruly impulses that threaten to overtake the contained dynamic of exchange as ‘the chain of substitution and analogy binds everyone in the play to each other, playing havoc with official social and moral distinctions’.28 We are presented, then, with an alternative to lex talionis whose draconian logic is made evident by Angelo’s threat to Isabella when she resolves to make public his attempted rape. He warns, ‘My unsoil’d name, th’austereness of my life’ and ‘place i’th’ state’ will ‘overweigh’ her accusations against him (2.4.155–​7). He stresses that ‘my false o’erweighs your true’ (2.4.170). Measure for measure, as Angelo presents it, is a closed system, like the surfeit that ‘fathers . . . much fast, so every scope, by the immoderate use, turns to restraint’ (1.2.105–​7). Isabella insists that she cannot exchange her maidenhead for her brother’s head because she ‘cannot weigh our brother with ourself ’ (2.2.129). And the play takes her position, in that the Duke cannot be represented by his substitute, so long as the economies of money, justice, and desire are too precise. However, in a parallel, counter-​zone of the play we meet the subject who does not decide because non-​decisionism produces him as a subject. The most marginalized character in the play comes into focus as a key figure of the symbiotic polity. Notably the head of the perpetual prisoner Barnardine cannot be entered into a system of exchange as he is, metaphorically, already headless.29 Barnardine resides in a lively jailhouse teeming with cross-​sections of urban life, those figures that once frequented the brothels and loitered on the streets, such as the commodity scammer, the gallant indebted to his tailor, and an assortment of brawlers and drunkards. Despite the vibrant 27 

Stephen Deng, Coinage and State Formation, 104. Ryan, ‘Measure for Measure: Marxism before Marx’, 242. 29  Barnardine, as Julia Reinhard Lupton notes, has the ‘sole purpose of not-​taking-​the-​place-​of another’, and he is exempt from the play’s strict substitutional logic of redemption. Lupton, Afterlives of the Saints, 139. 28 

Shakespearean Comedy and the Marketplace    131 atmosphere, Barnardine describes himself as ‘sleepy’, and as someone who ‘apprehends death no more dreadfully but as a drunken sleep: careless, reckless, and fearless of what’s past, present, or to come’ (4.2.125–​7). We learn that he would not even try to escape if he could. He is immune to the threat of punishment and the promise of pardon alike and such sublime indifference confounds both the Duke and Angelo’s devices. His impassivity recommends him as a proto-​Bartleby the Scrivener who, in uttering his cryptic ‘I prefer not to’, ‘does not consent, but neither does he simply refuse to do what is asked of him’.30 In this way, Barnardine pries open the political potential of ‘keep[ing] possibility suspended between occurrence and non-​occurrence, between the capacity to be and the capacity not to be’.31 Significantly, only the already decapitated head of a deceased pirate can be substituted for the head of Isabella’s brother. Functioning as the outer sign of the play’s inner drive, the pirate’s head invokes the vitality of headless circulation epitomized by a complex, global shadow-​economy, based on the contingencies of far-​flung international networks and accidents of maritime theft and risk. In accordance with an extemporaneous logic that contradicts the Duke’s tidy compensatory wrap-​up—​‘An Angelo for Claudio, death for death  . . .  like doth quit like, and measure still for measure’ (5.1.401–​2)—​the play swerves toward comic resolution by showing that it is the very condition of headlessness that energizes the collective flow. The almost paradoxical excess of commensurable relations is exemplified by Lucio the gossip, who imagines multiple equivalences between himself and the Duke. These imagined equivalences index the intersubjective nature of desire, as the two characters share ‘some feeling [for] the sport’ of enjoying prostitutes (3.2.119–​20). Lucio’s emphasis highlights how the disguised Duke had functioned in effect as a bawd when he procured Marianna for Angelo and promised to ‘frame’ ‘the maid’ so as to give Angelo the utmost satisfaction (3.1.246). And when the disguised Duke is later accused of having slandered the state in the final act, this character shades into the figure of treason. Yet, as the finite economy of exchange gives way to the multiplicity of change, the finality of execution is deferred by the extensive, mysterious chains of substitutions whose terms of equivalence continually shift. Measure for Measure has been described as a ‘twisted, queasy comedy’,32 in large part because its final scene revolves around a series of coerced marriages.33 Yet, what connects this final scene to earlier scenes that elaborate the desire for prostitutes or stewed prunes, is that once again characters discover themselves to be already integrated into the collective. The multiple meanings of the word ‘know’, a term that registers at once


Giorgio Agamben, ‘Bartleby, or on contingency’, in Agamben, Potentialities: Collected Essays in Philosophy, trans. Daniel Heller-​Roazen (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1999), 256. 31  Agamben, ‘Bartleby, or on contingency’, 267. 32  Ryan, ‘Measure for Measure: Marxism before Marx’, 230. 33  Howard, ‘The Difficulties of Closure’, 119. Dollimore writes that Measure for Measure, more than any other Shakespeare play, demonstrates ‘the effectiveness and complexity of the ideological process of containment’. Qtd. in Ryan, ‘Measure for Measure: Marxism before Marx’, 231.

132   Amanda Bailey as a cognitive and carnal impulse, suggest that individuals have been functioning according to a sub-​threshold latency all along. The movement of the play’s conclusion is to make public conscious and unconscious orientations, affinities, and propensities, demonstrating the relations between and among things that would otherwise remain unacknowledged despite government vigilance and intervention epitomized by Angelo’s regulatory impulses. In this case, what comes to light are the affinities among state-​sanctioned matrimony and various enterprises like prostitution and bastardy, associated with the bawdy houses, and even the masochistic pleasures of martyrdom, associated with the houses of religion, as Lucio describes his connubial fate as akin to ‘pressing to death, whipping, and hanging’ (5.1.520–​1). Angelo marries Mariana because, aware of it or not, he is already married to her; his body knew her body. As Mariana explains: ‘and that is Angelo, /​Who thinks he knows that he ne’er knew my body, /​But knows, he thinks, that he knows Isabel’s’ (5.1.198–​200). Lucio equivocates on the word ‘know’, as does the Duke when he says to Lucio, ‘You, sirrah, that knew me for a fool’ (5.1.494), but Lucio has known the prostitute whom he now must marry (5.1.210). Isabella too comes to understand that even though she did not choose intimacy with the Duke, she has been compelled towards him all along:  ‘O, give me pardon, /​That I, your vassal, have employed and pained your unknown sovereignty’ (5.1.377–​80). This comedy concludes, as expected, with the promise of three marriages, but rather than ordain marriage as an instrument of punishment, Shakespeare presents these matrimonial arrangements as akin to the various houses of Vienna insofar as they offer another instance of spontaneously generated connection that emerges without the conscious assent of participants. Moreover, these marriages offer a mechanism for reminding us that the greatest good may be attained for the greatest number when each individual actor remains in dark. One of the play’s concluding images invokes the disruptive potential of overflow as in the final moments, we are invited to imagine Vienna reduced to the ‘boil and bubble’ of an ‘o’errun . . . stew’ (5.1.317) and, by implication, of what can flourish in unexpected places in unexpected ways. This closing image returns us to the brothel, stewed prunes, and the spontaneous world-​building of headless flow and overflow—​all of which stand in contrast to the congealing properties of Angelo’s blood, as we are reoriented away from the ‘ungenerative’ head of the body politic. Through a series of entendres, the stewed prunes and their association with the brothel herald salutary purgation (prunes were known as a cure for syphilis) and the communal expression of inchoate desires, as the sovereign head is exposed as inert and unnecessary.

Teeming Terrain By now it is a critical truism that early modern comedy is the genre of burgeoning commercial capitalism, but have we explored the implications of this claim in light

Shakespearean Comedy and the Marketplace    133 of an expansive approach to the day-​to-​day experiences of the early modern market economy?34 Rather than viewing Shakespearean comedy as a vehicle for replicating a harmonious, even-​handed, self-​regulating system of exchange, I  have used Measure for Measure as a case in point to argue that efforts to find comic closure encourage a reductionism that ‘gelds and splays’ the genre itself.35 Measure for Measure appears to invite us to assimilate the action that unfolds in accordance with a generic compensatory logic. At the same time, the play demonstrates the failure of this compensatory logic, especially as characters like the Duke and Angelo aim to embody its rigid principles. Considered Shakespeare’s only city comedy, the action of this play takes place in a sprawling urban environment inflected by quotidian commercial activities. As such, the play showcases a concatenation of interrelated, competing forces whose intersections and overlaps set the stage for spontaneous outcomes and unintended effects. Critics have described the world of Measure for Measure as indescribably varied, a ‘teeming terrain’ that ultimately cannot be captured by a tidy ending and whose vibrancy exceeds the schematic demands of the genre.36 The immanent polities of the various houses, the always mutating, ‘self-​assembling sets of interrelations’ based upon both willed and involuntary momentum, prevail in the end.37 While establishing the proper balance would seem to set things right, Shakespeare ultimately tips the scale in favour of prying open a common, if not consensual, world, in which characters come to terms with their bare activity, the ‘nonconscious sub-​threshold latency’ by which they have been operating. At this historical juncture, Shakespeare reveals the revolutionary genesis and potential of a form of urban capitalism that looks to the collective body as a new site and source of economic and political power. Far from being a well-​regulated, predictable totality, the market resists any assimilative order that attempts to guide it. Once we recognize the complexity, unpredictability, and vitality of the economy, we can then see the full potential of comic form.

Suggested Reading Bruster, Douglas, Drama and the Market in the Age of Shakespeare (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992). Deng, Stephen, Coinage and State Formation in Early Modern England (New  York: Palgrave, 2011). Massumi, Brian, The Power at the End of the Economy (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2015). 34  See Douglas Bruster, Drama and the Market in the Age of Shakespeare (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), Karen Newman, Fashioning Femininity and English Renaissance Drama (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1991), and Adam Zucker, The Places of Wit in Early Modern English Comedy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011). 35 Jensen, Shakespeare and the Ends of Comedy, 129. 36  Harriet Hawkins, qtd. in Jensen, Shakespeare and the Ends of Comedy, 120. 37  Morton, ‘Queer Ecology’, 277–​8.

134   Amanda Bailey Muldrew, Craig, The Economy of Obligation: The Culture of Credit and Social Relations in Early Modern England (London: Basingstoke, 1998). Newman, Karen, Fashioning Femininity and English Renaissance Drama (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1991). Reber, Dierdra, Coming to Our Senses:  Affect and an Order of Things for Global Culture (New York: Columbia University Press, 2016). Thrift, Nigel, Knowing Capital (London: Sage, 2005). Zucker, Adam, The Places of Wit in Early Modern English Comedy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011).

Chapter 8

Shakespearea n C ome dy an d the Early Mode rn D om estic Sph e re Catherine Richardson

In what forms does the domestic appear in Shakespeare’s comedies, and what is the broader relationship between households and early modern comedy as a genre? This essay argues that domestic stability is a major, motivating issue behind early modern comic form: that the lack of such stability provides its fears and its humour but also that, on a more fundamental level, exploring what it means to relate to one another indoors and the ways in which human beings might best live their everyday lives gives comedy the fundamental political impetus which lovers of tragedy have always told us it lacks.1 That does not necessarily mean that comedy aims at, or always tends towards, stability, but that it is informed by the deep desire for constancy that motivates considerable contemporary social effort. We all have views on what it means to live in a house—​if you have ever been part of a group of humans doing that, or wanting to do that, then you have something to say about comedy and the household.

Staging the Household The domestic sphere appears in many guises in these plays. It is present as the physical house with its material goods and practices of cooking, eating, and dressing; it is 1  Scholars have been more eager to write about the domestic in Shakespeare’s tragedies, and at the most to see the lyrical significance of the darker side of its meanings in his comedies. See e.g. Heather Dubrow, Shakespeare and Domestic Loss (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999); on what the genres share see Catherine Richardson, ‘Domestic life’, in Arthur Kinney, ed., The Oxford Handbook of Shakespeare (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 202–​18; for admirable attention to both genres see Wendy Wall, Staging Domesticity: Household Work and English Identity in Early Modern Drama (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002).

136   Catherine Richardson represented by the different domestic roles which characters take on, as servants and masters, as children and parents, as husbands and wives; it is present in the changing emotions through which those characters journey, from love through lack to satisfaction, or from anger to content; it enters the ears of the audience as a poetry of fundamental human longing for a place of safety which gives one identity and accommodates the things one holds dear. All these on​stage appearances of the domestic are filtered through the social, political, religious, and economic situations of an early modern society experiencing multiple structural and ideological changes. Of particular significance is the post-​Reformation valorization of the family (as monastic celibacy lost its prominence as the ideal human state). It resulted in both close attention to the role of women in the household, partly because of the need to understand the joint rule of husband and wife within companionate marriage, and an insistent modelling of other forms of authority, most obviously monarchical, against the roles of the patriarchal household—​the monarch ruled his realm as the husband did his household, and the roles of authority and submission which were learned at home allowed the country to function. Equally important was the massive and unprecedented expansion in the goods and decorative objects through which households could represent familial status, as markets opened up to the new world and beyond, and ‘fashion’ stormed through the domestic interior.2 As this swift and potted history of change in the household shows, ‘the domestic’ as a term points our attention to the conjunction of people and the spaces in which they live—​the way each influences and imprints itself on the other. On the stage, such a conjunction invites us to connect up props, gestures, and the physical structures of the playhouse to consider how they make a household. It also asks us to trace relationships between the full range of high and low poetry, emotions, and characters’ thought processes as they represent various domestic encounters:  at one pole, we have the utterly material level of Dromio of Ephesus’s listing of a domestic disaster—​ ‘The capon burns, the pig falls from the spit’ (1.2.44). At the other, there are the most thought-​provoking investigations of human community, such as Portia’s movement from the distance-​producing statement, ‘That light we see is burning in my hall’ as she returns to Belmont for her triumphant finale of restitution, to her more meditative, ‘How far that little candle throws his beams! /​So shines a good deed in a naughty world’ (5.1.898, 90–​1).3 Nerissa’s reply, ‘When the moon shone we did not see the candle’, 2 

On companionate marriage see Kathleen M. Davies, ‘Continuity and Change in Literary Advice on Marriage’, in R. B. Outhwaite, ed., Marriage and Society (London: Europa, 1981); on political theories of household rule see Susan Dwyer Amussen, An Ordered Society (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988), c­ hapter 2, and Lena Cowen Orlin, Private Matters and Public Culture in Post-​Reformation England (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1994), c­ hapter 2; on the material household see Catherine Richardson, Domestic Life and Domestic Tragedy in Early Modern England (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2006), c­ hapter 2, and Tara Hamling and Catherine Richardson, A Day at Home in Early Modern England (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2017). 3  References to Shakespeare’s plays are from Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor, gen. eds., The Oxford Shakespeare, 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005).

Shakespearean Comedy and the Domestic Sphere    137 then permits Portia to make the patriarchally inflected point, ‘So doth the greater glory dim the less /​A substitute shines brightly as a king /​Until a king be by’ (5.1.92, 93–​5). Such contemplative meditations on the comforts of home and the structures of society sit productively alongside the types of bawdy banter with which the play ends: ‘while I live I’ll fear no other thing /​So sore as keeping safe Nerissa’s ring’ (5.1.306–​7); working them together is Shakespeare’s way of exploring the household. A domestic encounter, then, could be anything from the passing of a platter to the reconstitution of a family, and studying such encounters means exploring the way those different types of activity might take shape and relate to one another on the stage. Some plays deal both literally and metaphorically with the way these human and material aspects of the household work together. The kinds of punning that go on around Katherine’s name in Taming of the Shrew, for instance, make the connections between women as ‘household goods’ and as daughters and wives. The shift which the play charts in her identity from Baptista’s daughter to Petruccio’s wife begins with the couple’s aggressive wooing scene: ‘I knew you at the first /​You were a moveable’ (2.1.196–​7), she says to him, allying his presumed lack of constancy with the type of furniture which can be shifted from one place to another. But Petruccio ends the exchange with a triumphant flourish of conviction: ‘For I am he am born to tame you, Kate /​And bring you from a wild Kate to a Kate /​Conformable as other household Kates’ (273–​5), punning on the relationship between her name and choice foods—​household ‘cates’ meaning domestic delicacies.4 This moment addresses the confusions of interest which patriarchy had in household property and people through the complexities of comic linguistic patterning. Shakespeare’s subtle exploration of the dynamics of authority and intimate living are undertaken, in other words, not only in the mode of high poetic interiority through soliloquy, but also through dialogic exchange and quotidian process. Working out how people relate to each other happens in comedies in the language and presence of material objects and in terms of the dynamics of staged interactions—​how and when people encounter each other on a daily basis. Such domestic issues were differently important in early modern England to the way familial matters might be considered today, because of the political significance of the household. The early modern house was not primarily a place of leisure, and certainly not a secure refuge from the world—​not a place to ‘be yourself ’ away from prying eyes and public roles as we might see it now—​God and one’s neighbours oversaw all domestic encounters, especially the morally suspect ones (‘Gods eie is a piercing eie, and can see much foulnesse, where to mans eie all things seeme very faire’)! 5 On the contrary, it was the centre of religious and political education and its relationships provided an explicitly


Work on the (gendered) relationship between individuals and property sheds interesting light on these connections, e.g. Natasha Korda, Shakespeare’s Domestic Economies: Gender and Property in Early Modern England (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002); Katharine Eisaman Maus, Being and Having in Shakespeare (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013). 5  William Gouge, Of Domesticall Duties (London, 1622), 165.

138   Catherine Richardson and complexly articulated model for public life. The household was the primary space of social control in early modern England, and the relationships forged there were seen as analogous to all other bonds of authority and subjection: ‘every man is a king in his own house’, and ‘Lord of all’ said the sixteenth-​century humanist Juan Luis Vives, and he must therefore act like one: ‘as it beseemeth a king to excel the common people in judgement and in example of life’.6 As a primary responsibility of the householder was the religious instruction of his whole household (including his family and all his servants), he also had other, even loftier models for his actions: ‘The husbands dutie is, to loue their wiues as themselues, of which loue, the loue of Christ toward his Church is a liuely paterne.’ If he got his domestic role right, his household practice would be excellent preparation for, and evidence of his ability to, rule the state; his skill as a result would be ‘not onely honoured within the doores’. He could be assured that it ‘also shineth and extendeth it selfe into the Citie’ leading him to be ‘reckned worthy to rule a common-​wealth, that with such wisedome, discretion, and iudgement, doth rule and gouerne his owne house’.7 This relationship between domestic and national rule ensured that ‘a conscionable performance of houshold duties, in regard of the end and fruit thereof, may be accounted a publike worke’.8 The domestic sphere was not just about family life, it was an essential element in the ordering of a Christian patriarchal society—​where England’s hierarchies of gender and social status were learned.

Domestic Interactions The stakes, then, were high for comedy’s depiction of household life, and Shakespeare uses the conventions of the genre to test out appropriate and inappropriate domestic encounters; to explore the tipping points of excess and frustration between husbands and wives, fathers and children, and masters and servants. His comedies staged these kinds of interactions in a period in which significant numbers of texts were circulating about such issues, and similar arguments about proper behaviour could be heard in spoken form from the pulpit. Some of the writing around this subject is comic, some admonitory, some reasoned with rhetorical complexity, some downright offensively misogynistic; it provides an essential context for understanding how prominent thinking about the household was within early modern culture. There was clearly a need and an appetite for such material, mainly because this was a society that believed that domestic roles did not come naturally but had to be learned, and there are many points of consonance between its concerns and those of the plays. Katherina’s final speech in Shrew, for instance,

6  Kate Aughterson, ed., The English Renaissance, An Anthology of Sources and Documents (London: Routledge, 1998), 433. 7  Robert Cleaver, A Godly Forme of Houshold Government (London, 1621), L7v. 8  William Gouge, Domesticall, 1622, 18.

Shakespearean Comedy and the Domestic Sphere    139 becomes, in the context of these other types of writing, a fascinatingly intertextual oration which takes its form and content from the sermon of a preacher and sets it in the mouth of a reformed female character played by a male actor. The prominence that domestic issues have in these plays is striking. Comedy’s commitment to addressing anxious moments in patriarchy is often a key element of the plot, as well as being afforded a significant position in the action. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, for instance, Theseus’s meditations on his upcoming wedding are interrupted by Egeus, who barely pauses to salute his duke appropriately before revealing the reason for his appearance: ‘Full of vexation come I, with complaint /​Against my child, my daughter Hermia’ (1.1.22–​3). The play thereby announces itself as working through a narrative that tests the relative authority of fathers and daughters and the duties of each to the other. Egeus claims that Lysander has ‘Turned her obedience, which is due to me, /​To stubborn harshness’ (1.1.37–​8), and Theseus reminds her that ‘To you your father should be as a god, /​One that composed your beauties, yea, and one /​To whom you are but as a form in wax/​By him imprinted’ (1.1.47–​50). As You Like It begins with a rather different proposition, the also-​problematic relationship between older and younger brothers. Orlando enters into conversation with Adam about his father’s will, which ‘charged my brother on his blessing to breed me well’, complaining that he in fact ‘keeps me rustically at home or, to speak more properly, stays me here at home unkept’ (1.1.3–​7). Homes are not appropriate places to keep men, and Oliver is effectively treating Orlando like a woman. The tensions between the positions of authority and subjection are, in both plays, the matter which hems in the characters’ choices and the emotional progress of their relationships, and in both cases they are expressed through the claustrophobia of the family, and eventually defeated by stepping outside the bounds of the household. By addressing them at the very opening of the play, Shakespeare gives these tense domestic encounters the status of the subject for debate—​a ‘what if ’ which the rest of the narrative plays out, and upon which it offers a wide variety of perspectives. So how does the household appear materially, on the stage, in Shakespeare’s comedies? What angles do we get on domestic life, and what kinds of social encounter do his ‘staged houses’ foreground? As Dream and As You Like It indicate, in many cases, his domestic environments are defined in opposition to the built house. In 2.1 of Love’s Labour’s Lost, for instance, we never even step inside. The Princess of France enters with three ladies and three lords in attendance, as an embassy from her father ‘To parley with . . . Matchless Navarre’ (2.1.5–​7). She waits outside the ‘silent court’ which has ‘made a vow, /​Till painful study shall outwear three years /​No woman may approach’ (2.1.22–​4). Shortly afterwards, her messenger returns with his answer as she stands in front of ‘his forbidden gates, /​To know his pleasure’ (26–​7), bringing back the unwelcome knowledge that: He rather means to lodge you in the field, Like one that comes here to besiege his court, Than seek a dispensation for his oath To let you enter his unpeopled house. (2.1.86–​9)

140   Catherine Richardson When Navarre enters, the Princess points out that ‘ “welcome” I have not yet. The roof of this court is too high to be yours, and welcome to the wide fields too base to be mine’ (2.1.92–​4). The scene offers us a definition of the hospitable household in negative:  Navarre gives no real welcome because he will not let her in, and his house is ‘unpeopled’, unprovided with servants and therefore incapable of entertaining guests. Indeed, he has ‘sworn out housekeeping’, as she puts it, or given up maintaining his household and the ‘action of running it’ (OED), including entertaining visitors and offering hospitality, with the many different processes this requires. This parley in the middle of a field takes on overtones of war rather than diplomacy, its unhoused location immediately inappropriate and destabilizing to the types of domestic encounter that make social connections and reinforce social hierarchy. In the Induction to Shrew, Shakespeare does stage the domestic, but the audience in fact watch a parody of the way a household might come together. The Lord determines to ‘practice’ on the drunken tinker, creating ersatz domesticity in his own ‘fairest chamber’, hung with ‘all my wanton pictures’, scented with the smoke of aromatic woods and filled with the ‘heavenly sound’ of music (Induction 1.42–​6), to see if he ‘would then forget himself ’ (Induction 1.37). The Induction explores, in other words, the way environment shapes identity, and the extent to which the things of the household can generate behaviour in and of themselves. Later in the play, Petruccio leads his new bride back to her marital home, and the scene is a parody of hospitality, centred around the warmth of the fire and the provision of food and comfort which are removed from her at every stage: ‘As with the meat’, Petruccio confides in the audience, ‘some undeserved fault /​I’ll find about the making of the bed, /​And here I’ll fling the pillow, there the bolster, /​This way the coverlet, another way the sheets’ (4.1.180–​3). Using household environment to remake or offer resistance to a seemingly established identity—​fitting Kate’s temperament to the fine things her status requires, or negotiating her marriage through the social valence of the objects with which she will be surrounded—​is a large part of the material project of this play and others too.9 This is how we are frequently to understand the household in Shakespeare’s comedy: through its absent, incomplete, deserted, or peculiarly constituted opposite. It is a space whose lack is often felt physically, but also in terms of behaviour, as disobedience and abandonment leave characters outside the nurturing spaces and relationships of home. Even when domestic space is realized in concrete terms on stage, it is often as one side of a pair of modes of existence that define one another through contrast. For instance, Ann C. Christensen identifies the distinctions in Errors’s ‘comic clashes between household and mart, inside and outside, local and stranger’ which register ‘a historical


On the play’s materiality see Orlin, ‘The Performance of Things in The Taming of the Shrew’, The Yearbook of English Studies 23 (1993), 167–​88.

Shakespearean Comedy and the Domestic Sphere    141 moment of social transition and dislocation within the not-​yet distinct public and private spheres’.10

Home, Journeying, and Identity Deficient domesticity is part of comedy’s project of investigating key moments for the transfer of patriarchal control. Just as histories are interested in exploring the tipping point between one king’s rule and another’s, so comedies consider the formation of new households through marriage, and the way one generation might succeed the previous one as household leaders. As a result, many male characters are on the move in these plays, and the sands of domesticity shift as they leave home to seek their fortune elsewhere. In both Two Gentlemen of Verona and Shrew, it is seen as crucial that young men should have a spell away from home in order to find out about the world and discover themselves in the process. ‘Such wind as scatters young men through the world /​To seek their fortunes farther than at home, /​Where small experience grows’ has caused Petruccio’s arrival in Padua (1.2.48–​50), while Valentine opens his play with his assertion that ‘Home-​keeping youth have ever homely wits’, and that he would entreat Proteus to join him and ‘see the wonders of the world abroad’ rather than ‘living dully sluggardized at home’ (1.1.2, 5, 7). These are journeys, in other words, which are predicated on their distance from and return to the household. Travel from Venice to Belmont can also be seen in these terms, for Bassanio fairly straightforwardly, but also for Jessica, whose elopement evades the household and the face-​ to-​ face, identity-​ defining practices of a father who does domestic things differently to the Christians. Even Sir Anthony Aguecheek in Twelfth Night is off seeking his fortune, if much less successfully than the more marketable young men from other plays: when he reels into 5.1 calling for a surgeon after Sebastian has ‘broke my head across’, his anguished cry concludes, ‘I had rather than forty pound I were at home’ (173, 175–​6). ‘Home’ signals locatedness, as seen from the perspective of movement. The negative definition of the domestic sphere is easiest to see in the ‘green world’ plays. The central stretches of Dream in the wood outside Athens, for example, give many interesting angles on what it means to live in a household. In 2.2 Lysander and Hermia try to figure out the proprieties of sleeping together in a wood which has no domestic demarcations tending towards modesty: ‘Find you out a bed, /​For I upon this bank will rest my head’ (2.2.39–​40) she says to him, to be met by his rather more enthusiastic ‘One turf shall serve as pillow for us both’ (2.2.41). His rationale is that their emotional closeness and dedication to one another should determine their nocturnal


Ann C. Christensen, ‘ “Because their business still lies out a’ door”: Resisting the Separation of the Spheres in Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors’, Literature and History 5, no.1 (Spring 1996), 21.

142   Catherine Richardson arrangements in a space without walls or beds—​‘two bosoms and a single troth. /​Then by your side no bed-​room me deny, /​For lying so, Hermia, I do not lie’ (2.2.49–​51). The patterning of emotional and physical proximity is made even more explicit when seen in relation to the sleeping Titania, whose bower—​the ‘bank where the wild thyme blows, /​Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows’ (2.1.249–​50)—​is apparently still on stage while this scene goes on. The most fully realized and carefully located space in the wood, its flowery softness (in language if not performance) contrasts with the hard floor of the wooden stage on which the lovers are forced to lie. In later scenes, as Robin leads the lovers up and down, mentions of beds continue. Demetrius announces that ‘Faintness constraineth me /​To measure out my length on this cold bed’ (3.2.428–​9), and Titania insists on her bower as a ‘flowery bed’ (4.1.1). The quest for ‘bed room’ is about comfort and stability, but also implicitly about how civility and morality might be measured outside the household. The play indirectly questions the forms non-​domestic community might take, and how threatening the lack of the controlled space of the domestic is to women’s reputations in particular. The threat of rape and abandonment hang over these domestic instabilities, giving the comedy of confusion a sharp leading edge. These placeless areas which are haunted by ideas of the lost household and in which human action is made difficult by the absence of settled, ‘accommodated’ living, can also be seen in comedies without a green world. The wandering of the twins in Errors, one unknown and yet recognized, his connections to a household constantly called into question, and the lonely arrival of Viola on the shores of Illyria, positioned just outside the courts of her future admirers, both give that sense of a domestic sphere which is importantly absent. Its want frequently offers the placelessness within which identities can be reformed or solutions found. Antipholus of Ephesus sends (the wrong) Dromio to his wife, instructing him to ‘Give her this key, and tell her in the desk /​That’s covered o’er with Turkish tapestry /​There is a purse of ducats’ (4.2.103–​5). The security that the precision of his image indicates is radically undercut by the confusion of masters and servants, and his Syracusian counterpart in the end longs to take to a ship, to lie ‘safe and sound aboard’ (5.1.149) in a way he could not on the supposedly more stable land. Several of these comedies end when groups of people previously held off from one another by an imagined tract of houseless wilderness finally make the trip into one another’s space: when Orsino arrives within the purview of Olivia’s court, when Oliver and Duke Frederick permeate the transformational fringes of the wood, or when Theseus goes hunting just outside Athens. And at these moments, the plays call on the characters’ origins, the potted biographies which suddenly place individuals in terms of their parentage and nativity, and thereby bring spaces and people definitively into conjunction with one another. In Twelfth Night and Errors in particular, the revelation of paternity and nativity clarifies identity and brings the household back as echoes of a settled past to resolve a turbulent present. At the end of Errors the Abbess urges, ‘Speak, old Egeon, if thou beest the man /​That hadst a wife once called Emilia’, which, as the Duke points out, ‘begins his morning story right’ (5.1.343–​4, 348). Even these key scenes of resolution and reunion, however, are not staged in recognizable, materially realized spaces. The action in Shakespeare’s comedy, in other words, does

Shakespearean Comedy and the Domestic Sphere    143 not depend on its location in named rooms or sites. We do not tend, in these plays, to see the fraught and claustrophobic domestic spaces which are so apparent in the tragedies, like the bedchambers in which Desdemona and Imogen are watched with threateningly close attention in Othello and Cymbeline, for example, or the closet in which Hamlet, his mother, and his father’s ghost share with the body of Polonius a space imagined as uncomfortably small.11 The domestic spaces of Shakespearean comedy are generated rather differently, not through the intense interaction between characters and the silences and suppressions in their communication, but rather more through action: space produced by the kinds of frenetic quotidian activity associated with domestic process. Only in the silent house around which the fairies slip at the end of Dream, ‘Through this palace with sweet peace’ (5.1.404), do we get that sense of an echoing space which exists semi-​ independently of the characters and which shapes their behaviour. The relationship between observation and action in comedies is much more heavily weighted in favour of the latter.

Standing Outside: Household Façades and Hospitality The key household location for these plays, the one that best characterizes the relationship between people and spaces in the comedies, is probably the façade. In very different ways in Two Gentlemen, Merchant, Shrew, Errors, and Much Ado About Nothing, the audience join the characters outside, denied entry, looking up at the window. Valentine first informs Proteus that, ‘I must climb her window, /​The ladder made of cords’ in the second act (2.4.177–​8), and the idea is rehearsed again in Proteus’s lonely musings about his guilty love, pondering ‘celestial Silvia’s chamber window’ (2.6.34); it is repeated by him to the Duke in 3.1 and repurposed by Valentine in response to the Duke’s trap later in that scene, after which the ladder itself is discovered under his cloak. In 3.2, Proteus gives his own love advice to the foolish Thurio, telling him to ‘Visit by night your lady’s chamber window /​With some sweet consort; to their instruments /​Tune a deploring dump’ (3.2.82–​4), advice which he himself follows in a later scene: ‘I thank you for your music, gentlemen’ (4.2.83). Sylvia responds, ‘Who is that that spake?’, to which Proteus replies, ‘One, lady, if you knew his pure heart’s truth, /​You would quickly learn to know him by his voice’ (4.2.84, 85–​6). Standing below and singing up at the window comes to symbolize spatially the arm’s reach of courtship—​not yet within the household—​and the social and emotional distance of hope or disdain. Less insistently, the façade appears again in later comedies. In Merchant 2.6, Graziano and Salerio wait under the penthouse with Lorenzo (i.e. under the upper stage, 11 

For more on this scene as domestic space see Catherine Richardson, Shakespeare and Material Culture (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), C ­ hapter 3.

144   Catherine Richardson representing the jettied top story of a building), as Jessica enters above and throws down the casket of her father’s jewels. In Much Ado, Borachio and Conrad stand ‘close then under this penthouse, for it drizzles rain’ in the third act, while the former recounts how he has ‘tonight wooed Margaret, the lady Hero’s gentlewoman, by the name of Hero. She leans me out at her mistress’ chamber window; bids me a thousand times good night’ (3.3.100, 138–​42). We get a similar view in Errors as Antipholous of Ephesus finds himself unable to enter his own house while his wife dines with his Syracusian equivalent ‘above’, and in Shrew when the real Vincentio finds the entry that fits his status as father of the groom frustrated by the presence inside of his fraudulent counterpart. This view emphasizes the impermeability of the households of others and the liminal position of those who wish, physically or metaphorically, to enter. Such focus on the outside, on doors and windows, uses stage space to represent visually the processes of inclusion and exclusion around marriage, and the social, economic, and emotional negotiations that eventually allow individuals to move inside. (See Figure 8.1.) The plays also use this focus on the façade to emphasize the importance of hospitality in the processes of binding the relationships between new social units. Both Much Ado and Merry Wives employ the invitation inside to dinner to consider the socially uncomfortable business of courtship. Beatrice enters to Benedick with little tact (‘Against my will, I am sent to bid you come in to dinner’) and they discuss her pleasure and pain at having been made to do so (2.3.235–​6). Despite her protestation that it gave her as much

Figure  8.1  Early modern urban houses in Faversham, Kent, showing jettied overhang and upper windows. Courtesy of Catherine Richardson.

Shakespearean Comedy and the Domestic Sphere    145 pleasure as ‘you may take upon a knife’s point’, he spies love in her words and concludes, ‘I will go get her picture’ (2.3.242–​3, 251). Anne Page is stuck in Merry Wives, trying to encourage inside Master Slender, a considerably less intellectually and emotionally subtle suitor, in a hideous scene of over-​mannered courtesy which sees them virtually stuck in the door together in their effort to leave the stage last. During some forty lines of negotiations over whether or not he is hungry, what relevance his answer might have when everyone else is waiting, and, finally, who should go in first, the text suggests that he is bundled off the stage: ANNE.             The dinner attends you, sir. SLENDER.  I am not a-​hungry, I thank you, forsooth. ANNE.             I may not go in without your worship. They will not sit until you come. SLENDER.  I’faith, I’ll eat nothing. I thank you as much as though I did . . . SLENDER.  Mistress Anne, yourself shall go first. ANNE.             Not I, sir. Pray you keep on. SLENDER.  I will not go first, truly, la. I will not do you that wrong. ANNE.             I pray you, sir. SLENDER. I’ll rather be unmannerly than troublesome. You do yourself wrong, indeed, la. (1.1.250–​93)

In these (relatively) economical moves, Shakespeare clears the stage and suggests an interior space in which acceptance and the working through of domestic issues takes place: a world whose conditional permeability is shown by the fact that the audience is not privy to the goings-​on there. An inclusive version of such actions can also conclude comedies: the Dromios leave for a ‘gossips’ feast’ at the end of Errors, ‘hand in hand, not one before another’, and the cast of Merry Wives go home to ‘laugh this sport o’er by a country fire, /​Sir John and all’ (5.1.430–​1, 5.5.233–​4).12 The difficult domestic encounters which properly occupy such liminal ‘doorstep spaces’ are interestingly related to the kinds of rudeness which some of Shakespeare’s comedies stage. Orlando’s entrance into Duke Senior’s woodland court, for instance, is distinctly ungentlemanly. Ordering the whole court, ‘Forbear and eat no more!’, he is asked by the Duke whether he is ‘thus boldened, man, by thy distress? /​Or else a rude despiser of good manners’, and admits that ‘the thorny point /​Of bare distress hath ta’en from me the show/​Of smooth civility’ (2.7.88, 94–​6). In an analogously purposeful show of unnaturally bad manners, Viola as Cesario argues with Olivia, refusing her refusal of admittance in such a way that Olivia, when she finally does get to speak with her, points out that ‘you began rudely’ (1.5.203). In both cases the importance of their suits, coupled with concern about being barred admittance, necessitates going beyond courtesy, resulting in a curiously remote or detached domestic encounter (in relation to its location 12 

Ann C. Christensen explores the significance of the ‘gossips’ feast’ in ‘Because their business still lies out a’ door’, 19–​37.

146   Catherine Richardson deep within ‘household’ space) between settled householder and intruder, one which explicitly aims to shortcut the usual long processes of gradual entry by degree and invitation over an extended period of time. These vignettes of bad behaviour show how the plays test the strength of the boundaries of their domestic spheres, and explore the question of what it takes to gain admittance. Such elite entrants are placed socially on the back foot by circumstances outside their control, and problems with admittance alter the nature of their initial domestic encounters in ways that allow them to demonstrate their natural resourcefulness and the strength of their intent to change the situation.

Domestic Encounters: Good and Bad Behaviour Now we have to step fully inside the house, and explore more unsettling encounters still—​types of rudeness within everyday interaction, between members of the household itself. These are at the heart of the plays’ exploration of domestic stability. Encounters between these groups, who are often over-​familiar with one another to the point of tension, have the greatest potential to offer forms of disrespect and therefore tend towards patriarchal instability. Turning to the household manuals here enables us to appreciate the subtleties of early modern standards of appropriate behaviour, and to calibrate more finely what constitutes a threat to the structures of authority and submission. Because the household was the fundamental location of patriarchal practice, it was also the place where the contradictions and confusions in its structures were made most obvious, and dealing with these complications provided a significant part, both of the impetus for the production of all this advice literature and the appeal of the plays. Although the structures of patriarchy are shown in the advice texts as clear and orderly—​the role of the husband in relation to his household maps onto that of the mayor in his town, the monarch in his country, and Christ in his church in ever larger spheres—​many of the frustrations and confusions are generated by the bits which do not fit. We can see these difficulties reflected in the large amount of bad behaviour that is staged in Shakespeare’s comedies, and the range of strategies that characters use to deal with it. Most significant here is the curious relationship between husbands and wives. Many writers agreed that the married couple headed the household together, supporting one another as ‘two eies see more then one, especially when one of those is more at hand, and in presence, as the wife is in the house’. But here already is a distinction—​some household roles are more appropriate to one party than the other: as for the husband to meddle with the great and weightie affaires of the family (as performing Gods worship, appointing and setling good orders, prouiding conuenient house-​roome, and other necessaries for the family:  keeping children when they . . . waxe stubborne, in awe: ruling men seruants, . . .). And for the wife

Shakespearean Comedy and the Domestic Sphere    147 to meddle with some lesse, but very needfull matters, as nourishing and instructing children when they are young, adorning the house, ordering the prouision brought into the house, ruling maid seruants.13

As a result, the wife was much more closely connected to the house than the husband: ‘it is a charge laid upon wives: guide the house; whereby it appeareth that the business of the house appertain and are most proper to the wife’, and she is ‘like a Tortoise under her shell, ever bearing her house upon her back’.14 These texts explore the nature of the wife’s particular relationship with the house in material terms, but also in terms of her authority: over maidservants, kitchen, and household stuff, ‘the husband giueth ouer his right vnto his wife’.15 Because of this devolved authority, the husband became his wife’s ‘instrument’, through which she could vocalize her thoughts to the wider world: ‘And as the voice of him that soundeth a trumpet, is not so lowd, as the sound that it yeeldeth: so is the wisedome and word of a woman, of greater vertue and efficacie, when all that she knoweth, and can doe, is as if it were said and done by her husband’.16 It is important to stress that women did not in reality stay within the household—​ they went to market as vendors or purchasers, washed clothes at local water sources, or moved between residences and to and from the court if they were elite. The texts insist on a relationship between a woman’s moral identity and her commitment to spending as much time as possible indoors, minding her own business, and the rub between proscription and practice was exactly what provoked the urgency of the advice, and what made domestic encounters such fertile material for stage plays. The honesty of the merry wives of Windsor, for instance, is repeatedly called into question by Master Ford, who feels he is missing illicit activity while his back is turned. The play flirts with the domestic forms which such adultery might take by having Falstaff hide himself behind the arras and then having him conveyed secretly from Ford’s house, first in a buck basket covered in laundry and then disguised as an old woman. Throughout the play, however, the audience are privy to the real situation, and the wives stay firmly at home, offering a performance of domestic stability which can be set against the lower-​status Mistress Quickly’s depiction, always within or on her way to the houses of others in her roles as housekeeper to Dr Caius (‘I keep his house, and I wash, wring, brew, bake, scour, dress meat and drink, make the beds, and do all myself ’) and errand-​runner for the wives (1.4.91–​3). What the audience see, as opposed to being told about, and where they see action situated, is crucial to our understanding of the moral dynamics of the plays. Attending to the way Shakespeare’s comedies locate their action and their characters—​ the households which appear frequently on stage and the way the women in particular move between them—​shows us just how directly they employ domestic locations as a way of structuring women’s honesty. 13 

William Gouge, Domesticall Duties, 259. Alexander Niccholes, A Discourse of Marriage and Wiving (London: 1615), 228. 15 Cleaver, Godly Forme, 176. 16 Cleaver, Godly Forme, 226. 14 

148   Catherine Richardson Shakespeare uses various elements of comic form to reflect and interrogate problematic elements of household relationships. William Gouge writes, for instance, that a key aspect of domestic behaviour was ‘to abstain from many and high words, and to speak little and low’, a quality directly opposed by the ‘shrewish’ behaviour of others, whose ‘tongues seldome lie still: but they are euer chiding vpon euery small occasion. . . . What can be said of such tongues, but that they are set on fire of [by] hell?’17 We can connect this type of verbal contrast fairly obviously to the different forms of dialogue that Shakespeare uses. Comparing Beatrice’s first entrance in Much Ado with Katherine’s in Shrew, for instance, we can see that Beatrice’s takes the form of a debate, even if the subject matter is her mockery of Benedick, whereas Katherine’s is, in the first instance, violent towards her sister who enters with her hands bound, and in the second instance aggressively rude of tongue. ‘Minion, thou liest’ (2.1.13), she addresses Bianca, which is bad enough, but she is similarly direct and disrespectful to her father: ‘What, will you not suffer me [let me have my way]?’ (2.1.31). These two forceful entrances work in very different ways. Beatrice is funny, informal but not inappropriate because, crucially, unlike Kate, not uncontrolled. The form of her comic dialogue, in other words, gives an intellectual and linguistic shape that allows audiences to laugh with her as a wit rather than at her as a shrew, and comic form therefore articulates and expands upon early modern concerns with excessive and uncontrolled speech.18 Although ordered speech should be a feature of all relationships, domestic writers were agreed that there were distinctions in the expression of both authority and submission which led to particular dynamics for different domestic encounters: ‘There is one rule to gouerne the wife by, another for children, another for seruants. One rule for yong ones, another for old folkes’.19 The balance and interrelationship between the languages of superiority and inferiority were essential as they underpinned domestic order. Writers were clear that the forms of obedience followed the domestic hierarchy: ‘this is not so to be taken as if no difference were to be made betwixt the carriage of a seruant, or childe, and a wife: or as if a wife should bow at euery word that she speaketh to her husband’.20 Men and women were prepared to read beyond the words themselves to gestures, observing them very carefully as evidence not so much of feelings, but of a willingness to toe the line—​a woman’s attitude could be read from ‘the eye, the brow, the nostrils, the hands, the feet, the shoulders’ as well as her speech, which must be ‘clad in the livery of dutifulnesse’.21 We might imagine a range of such gestures being used by the male actors of female parts in these plays, in order to develop a hierarchy of female obedience.

17 Gouge, Domesticall Duties, 653; quoting James 3:6.

18  For a full analysis of Taming and women’s speech see Lynda E. Boose, ‘Scolding Brides and Bridling Scolds: Taming the Woman’s Unruly Member’, Shakespeare Quarterly 42, no. 2 (1991), 179–​213. 19 Cleaver, Godly Forme, 17. 20 Gouge, Domesticall Duties, 279. 21 Whateley, A Bride-​bush: or, A Direction for Married Persons (London: 1619), 205.

Shakespearean Comedy and the Domestic Sphere    149 Comedy’s unique interest in the relationship between speech and physical interaction is also important to its representation of domestic encounter. Arriving at Hortensio’s house in 1.2 of Taming, Petrrucio orders: PETRUCCIO. Here, sirrah Grumio, knock, I say. GRUMIO. Knock, sir? Whom should I knock? Is there any man has rebused your worship? PETRUCCIO. Villian, I say, knock me here soundly. GRUMIO. Knock you here, sir? Why, sir, what am I sir, that I should knock you here sir? PETRUCCIO. Villain, I say, knock me at this gate, And rap me well, or I’ll knock your knave’s pate. (1.2.5–​12)

The verbal/​physical connections explored in this exchange—​the movement between knocking at the door (which Grumio should do for Petruccio as his servant) and knocking at the head (which is the end result of his master’s frustration at his inability to understand or render service)—​are connections inherent in the very nature of the comedy of control, service, and masculine frustration. Through the medium of these confusions, Shakespeare explores how men might legitimately exercise their authority; how verbal and physical submission relate to verbal and physical authority. Shrew, although offering perhaps the most obvious parallel, is not alone in exploring such issues; Maurice Hunt traces the critical history of the social significance of the abuse the Dromios suffer in Errors, for instance, and the relationship between farce and social commentary.22 The consonance of those various conversations about persuasion through words and persuasion through blows ensures that they are connected in dramatic debate. Such exchanges with servants also comment on the unquiet and unchecked behaviour that appears in the encounters between husbands and wives, in a period in which the relationship between verbal and physical chastisement was under discussion. While clerical writers largely agreed that physical abuse of a wife was demeaning and illogical (‘God saith nay: thou maist not hate thy wife: for no man hateth his owne flesh’; ‘Did God at first take the wife out of mans side, that man should tread her vnder his feet?’), they did admit that ‘the common sort of men doth judge, that such moderation should not

22  Maurice Hunt, ‘Slavery, English Servitude, and The Comedy of Errors’, English Literary Renaissance 27, no.1 (December 1997), 31–​56. Early modern service is thoughtfully and extensively explored in Frances E. Dolan, ‘Household Chastisements: Gender, Authority and “Domestic Violence” ’, in Patricia Fumerton and Simon Hunt, eds., Renaissance Culture and the Everyday (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999), 204–​25; Michelle M. Dowd, Women’s Work in Early Modern English Literature and Culture (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009); Judith Weil, Service and Dependency in Shakespeare’s Plays (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005); David Schalkwyk, ‘Love and Service in Twelfth Night and the Sonnets’, Shakespeare Quarterly 56, no. 1 (2005), 76–​100.

150   Catherine Richardson become a man . . . they think that it is a man’s part to fume in anger, to fight with fist and staff ’.23 Petruccio and Katherine’s various types of verbal and physical violence with each other and with servants and tutors work as a form of comic deliberation—​not necessarily funny—​in which domestic encounters comment on one another. The intersection of the arcs that their behaviour trace from juvenile aggression to a more mature bridling of the emotions is seen against the backdrop of these other types of service and its rejection, allowing us to understand them in relation to one another. At the end of the play, Shakespeare explores specific gestures that are acknowledged as problematic for women. One ‘particular instance of a wiues readinesse to yeeld vnto her husbands commandement’, for instance, is ‘to come to her husband when her husband requireth it, either by calling her, or sending for her’; but the contrary behaviour is also listed, ‘when wiues thinke and say, it is a seruants part to come when they are called or sent for, and they will neuer yeeld to be their husbands seruants, to come at his command’.24 These actions are apparently the cause of tension because they explicitly address the points where the behaviour of wives comes close to that of servants, where it is harder to spot the authority which wives too were supposed to display in public in domestic encounters, and where their roles as both rulers and themselves subject to the rule of a husband come into most obvious conflict with one another. Presenting such a range of behaviours of authority and submission within the same play allows Shakespeare to stage concerns with their connection and distinction and invite comparison and discussion. Using comedy’s blend of physical and verbal violence, he explores ways of dealing with frustration, and probes the points at which subjection becomes baseness and authority becomes tyranny. Shakespeare’s comedies are part of a common and urgent interest in the proper nature of domestic encounters which connects different contemporary discussions to stage practice. Staging gestures which are a source of specific comment and dissension in other types of texts enables Shakespeare’s comedies to put the often abstract proscriptive advice of a range of admonitory literature into a precise social situation—​to show how it might work, or not, in practice. Seeing these very specific material connections between his plays and wider social debates makes it clear that his comedies are set right at the nub of moments of conflict, confusion, and contradiction within patriarchal structures, and demonstrates the purchase which his staging of domestic encounters had on current political debates about the forms of behaviour which sustained or undermined social order.

Suggested Reading Amussen, Susan Dwyer, An Ordered Society (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988).

23 Cleaver, Godly Forme, O2r; Gouge, Domesticall Duties, 358; Certaine Sermons Or Homilies appointed to be read in Churches, In the time of the late Queene Elizabeth of famous memory (London, 1623), chapter XVIII. 24 Gouge, Domesticall Duties, 317–​8.

Shakespearean Comedy and the Domestic Sphere    151 Boose, Lynda E., ‘Scolding Brides and Bridling Scolds: Taming the Woman’s Unruly Member’, Shakespeare Quarterly 42, no. 2 (1991), 179–​213. Christensen, Ann C., ‘ “Because their business still lies out a’ door”: Resisting the Separation of the Spheres in Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors’, Literature and History 5, no. 1 (Spring 1996), 19–​37. Dowd, Michelle M., Women’s Work in Early Modern English Literature and Culture (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009). Hamling, Tara, and Catherine Richardson, A Day at Home in Early Modern England (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2017). Korda, Natasha, Shakespeare’s Domestic Economies:  Gender and Property in Early Modern England (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002). Orlin, Lena, ‘The Performance of Things in The Taming of the Shrew’, The Yearbook of English Studies 23 (1993), 167–​88. Richardson, Catherine, Shakespeare and Material Culture (Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 2011). Wall, Wendy, Staging Domesticity:  Household Work and English Identity in Early Modern Drama (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002). Weil, Judith, Service and Dependency in Shakespeare’s Plays (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005).

Chapter 9

Pl ace and Be i ng i n Shakespeare a n C ome dy Kent Cartwright

‘[To] exist in any way’, observes Edward Casey, ‘is to be somewhere’; ‘place is an a priori of our existence on earth’.1 How strange, then, is Shakespearean comedy, where place is not a given but a question. Hamlet may ask, ‘Who’s there?’ (1.1.1), but Twelfth Night ponders, ‘What country, friends, is this?’ (1.2.1).2 The a priori of comic existence is not emplacement but displacement. Shakespeare’s comic characters are in motion and typically a bit lost. As travellers, they arrive in strange cities or depart familiar ones, wander in woods, escape from threatening locales, wash up on alien sea-​shores, and wonder where they are. In comedy, where turns out to have much to do with who, for the nature of place may change one’s sense of self, as if place had agency. To lose one’s sense of self is to lose one’s sense of place: ‘Am I in earth, in heaven, or in hell? /​Sleeping or waking? Mad or well advised? /​Known unto to these, and to myself disguised?’ (The Comedy of Errors, 2.2.213–​ 5), asks Antipholus of Syracuse. Antipholus may be more willing than he acknowledges to lose his sense of place and self. Although he fears dislocation, he also desires it for reunion with his brother and, prospectively, for conjunction with his romantic other self (Luciana). Behind Antipholus’s question is what Kristen Poole describes as ‘the almost ubiquitous understanding [in the Renaissance] that the universe is organized according to a homologous and interconnected relationship between body and world’.3 In the comedies perhaps more than in Shakespeare’s other plays, identity and locale act upon each other.

1  Edward S. Casey, The Fate of Place: A Philosophical History (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1998), ix, x. 2  All references to Shakespeare are from Stephen Greenblatt et al., eds., The Norton Shakespeare, 3rd ed. (New York: Norton, 2016). 3  Kristen Poole, Supernatural Environments in Shakespeare’s England: Spaces of Demonism, Divinity, and Drama (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 12.

Place and Being in Shakespearean Comedy    153 Many of Shakespeare’s comic characters discover who they are in Italy. ‘Italy’, as an imaginative construct, expresses heightened civility and enables receptiveness to new possibilities for the self and for social relations. That imagined Italy stands for the non-​ realistic and psychological dimensions of Shakespearean comedy. In the tragedies and histories, places retain stability and reflect the fixed conditions of the worlds in which characters find themselves. But in comedy, place is mixed and palimpsestic, a changeable taffeta. Comedy constitutes the Shakespearean genre most self-​conscious about geography, and its action typically proceeds by movement between locales of opposing potentialities, such as the court or city and a zone of nature. Because of its metaphoric richness, place in Shakespearean comedy functions as crucial but a bit opaque. The seven sections of this chapter take up four interconnected topics: (1) competing Renaissance perceptions of place as undifferentiated or as magical and ‘poetical’; (2) Italy as a poetical locale and the metaphoric home of Shakespeare’s comedies; (3) regulative and protean places within those comedies; and (4) causality in protean sites.

Measurable and Magical Geographies Shakespeare was writing at a time when two notions of place were coming into conflict, an older view in which some locales could be magical or possess unique properties, and an emergent one that saw place and space as quantitatively measurable as well as qualitatively undifferentiated. Illustrative of that second view, in the early fourteenth century, European maps began to appear that were marked with charted routes, navigable by magnetic compass, across bodies of water such as the Mediterranean.4 Mapmaking advanced exponentially with the recovery, circa 1400, of a copy of Ptolemy’s Geographia, which demonstrated how the earth’s curved surface could be represented two-​dimensionally and divided linearly with ‘a crosshatch of coordinates’—​latitudes and longitudes.5 (See Figure 9.1.) Thinkers such as Nicholas of Cusa, in the fifteenth century, moved correspondingly away from a vision of space as bounded and hierarchical and towards a vision of it as infinite and homogenous.6 Transformatively, in 1543 Nicolaus Copernicus published his finding that the sun, rather than the earth, constituted the centre of the universe. In England in 1592, Emery Molyneux manufactured his first globes. (See Figure 9.2.) Thus Kristen Poole sees at the end of the sixteenth century a notion of natural space—​ ‘absolute’ and ‘rigorously geometric’—​posed against one of supernatural space—​‘labile, fluid, and plastic’.7 Naturalistic and heliocentric concepts worked against the religious 4  This and the subsequent summary of scientific advances rely on Alfred W. Crosby, The Measure of Reality: Quantification and Western Society, 1250–​1600 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996); see esp. 95–​108, 227–​40. 5 Crosby, Measure of Reality, 98. 6  See Casey’s magisterial The Fate of Place, esp. 1–​129. 7 Poole, Supernatural Environments, 9.

154   Kent Cartwright

Figure 9.1  Ptolemy’s world map. © The British Library Board. IC. 9304.

and cultural view of space as hierarchical and of place as potentially numinous. That residual view recalls the enchanted woods, sacred springs, haunted grounds, and talking trees that abound in Malory’s Morte d’Arthur, Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso, and Spenser’s The Faerie Queene. Different conceptions operated side by side.8 According to John Gillies, for example, Renaissance maps were still deeply poetical, reflecting an axis of bounded, normative centres (cities, homes) and threatening margins or fluid borderlands populated by barbarians and grotesques, a ‘poetical geography’ (Gillies adopts the term from Giambattista Vico).9 These binaries reenact a hierarchical medieval view of 8   On the contrast of old and new, see Garrett A. Sullivan, Jr, ‘Shakespeare’s Comic Geographies’, in Richard Dutton and Jean P. Howard, eds., A Companion to Shakespeare’s Works, Vol. III: The Comedies (Oxford: Blackwell, 2003), 182–​99. 9  John Gillies, Shakespeare and the Geography of Difference (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994). Gillies’s work draws him close to recent French theorists of place, several of whom he cites approvingly (1994:4). See Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space, trans. Maria Jolas (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1994; orig. pub. in French, 1958; first pub. in English 1964); Michele Foucault, ‘Of Other Spaces: Utopias and Heterotopias’, Architecture /​Mouvement/​ Continuité 5, trans. Jay Miskowiec (October, 1984), 46–​9; orig. delivered as a lecture in French, March 1967; quotations are taken from the internet transcription,​allanmc/​www/​foucault1.pdf; Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space, trans. Donald Nicholson-​Smith (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1991; first pub. in French 1974); Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, trans. Steven Rendall (Berkeley, CA: University of California

Place and Being in Shakespearean Comedy    155

Figure 9.2 Molyneux Globe. © National Trust Images/​Andrew Fetherston.

the four-​cornered world, with Jerusalem as its spiritual, moral, and geographical centre and with corruption and wildness increasing as one moves progressively away from it (as in John Mandeville’s Travels, circa 1357). Shakespeare’s geographies, in this view, are ‘conceptual structure[s]‌’,10 ways of thinking, whose import is in their metaphoric, symbolic, and characterological meanings.

Shakespearean Comedy and the Fascination With Italy Metaphorically speaking, the home of Shakespearean comedy is Italy. Although certain of Shakespeare’s other plays (Romeo and Juliet, Othello, Cymbeline) employ Italian Press, 1984). For a critique of these theorists, see Casey, Fate of Place, 285–​330; also, from the perspective of early modern drama, Lloyd Edward Kermode, ‘Experiencing the Space and Place of Early Modern Theater’, Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies, 43, no. 1 (2013), 1–​24. 10 

Sullivan, ‘Comic Geographies’, 182.

156   Kent Cartwright settings and although only a minority, five (The Two Gentlemen of Verona, The Taming of the Shrew, The Merchant of Venice, Much Ado About Nothing, and All’s Well That Ends Well), of Shakespeare’s some thirteen comedies are set entirely or partly there, Italy still functions as their emotional and conceptual motherland. Yet Shakespeare possessed no first-​hand knowledge of Italy; likewise, it was for Elizabethans a country intensely real but also intensely imagined. No surprise, then, that Shakespeare makes erroneous statements about Italian geography.11 Some locales are lightly sketched. Messina in Much Ado lacks characterizing physical features almost entirely, as does Milan in Two Gentlemen. Although a patina of factual accuracy was typically sufficient to Shakespeare, certain places do receive noticeable detailing. Venice in Merchant blossoms forth as realistically concrete: the city lies near Padua and its law school; gondolas and traghettos (or ‘traject[s]‌’ [3.4.53]) ply its canals; the government extends cosmopolitan hospitality to foreign merchants; gabardine-​clad Jewish moneylenders await the latest business news on the Rialto, where banking transactions for shipping expeditions historically took place; golden ducats are the coin of the realm; and even the play’s overall sense of ‘hazarding’ befits this great port of international trade that thrives on sea ventures.12 Elizabethans attached special value to Venice because of its republicanism, expansive sea trade, openness to outsiders, religious tolerance, resistance to the Papacy, and courtesans (thousands, according to Thomas). It was one of the Italian locales most visited by Shakespeare’s countrymen. For young Englishmen of means, Italy was a focus of what would become known as ‘the grand tour’, that finishing school of worldly education.13 Understandably so, since Italy stood as the birthplace of humanist letters and the fountainhead of sophistication and manners. The Italophilic William Thomas celebrates it as the international destination for pleasure and study.14 (Thomas’s History of Italy, published in 1549, was 11  For example, he mentions a nonexistent salt-​water river between Verona and Milan, and hills in Mantua in Two Gentlemen; he locates Padua in Lombardy rather than the Veneto in Shrew; in All’s Well, he sends Helen from Roussillon, France to St James Compostela in Spain by way of Florence; and in Merchant, his Venetian ships range anachronistically as far as Mexico. 12  Shakespeare’s knowledge of Venice aligns with the description in Gasparo Contarini’s The Commonwealth and Government of Venice, trans. Lewis Lukenor (London, 1599); See John Drakakis, ed., The Merchant of Venice, The Arden Shakespeare, Third Series (London: Methuen, 2010), 5; also Gillies Geography of Difference, 123–​4. Aspects of Merchant reflect specific Italian sources, including Boccaccio’s Decameron (c.1351) and Giovanni Fiorentino’s Il pecorone (Milan, 1558; available to Shakespeare only in Italian). Merchant, however, does not mention the Jewish Ghetto, and it is unclear whether Shakespeare knew of its existence. It is not noted in either William Thomas’s important The History of Italy (London, 1549) or in Lukenor. Shaul Bassi, however, argues that ‘the Ghetto is presupposed in The Merchant of Venice’ as the basis of the play’s exclusionary practices; see Shakespeare’s Italy and Italy’s Shakespeare: Place, ‘Race’, Politics (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016), 150. 13  See, among others, Edward Chaney, The Evolution of the Grand Tour: Anglo-​Italian Cultural Relations Since the Renaissance, rev. ed. (Abingdon: Routledge, 2000); Sara Warneke, Images of the Educational Traveller in Early Modern England (Leiden: Brill, 1995). 14  Thomas’s suggestive phrase is ‘vnder pretence of studie’ (A1v). Andrew Hadfield describes Thomas’s History as ‘undoubtedly the central influence on English perceptions of Italy’ during the sixteenth-​ century; ‘Shakespeare and Republican Venice’, in Laura Tossi and Shaul Bassi, eds., Visions of Venice

Place and Being in Shakespearean Comedy    157 the first history in English to describe the Italy of his time; the next year he produced the first Italian grammar book in English, Principle Rules of the Italian Grammar). Italian Renaissance literature and treatises—​Petrarch, Boccaccio, Castiglione, Ariosto, Machiavelli—​were being translated into English and were strongly influencing Tudor writers. In drama, at least three Italian cinquecento comedies received English adaptations;15 others were undoubtedly known. Between 1579 and 1595, the London printer John Wolfe ‘issued twenty-​five texts in Italian, fourteen in Latin written by Italian authors, and five English translations from Italian’, according to Michael Wyatt.16 This English fascination with Italy infected Shakespeare. He apparently learned Italian (perhaps under the influence of John Florio) in the mid-​1590s, and he read sources in Italian for plays such as Merchant and Much Ado.17 For Shakespeare and his countrymen, ‘The idea of Italy’, as Wyatt puts it, ‘took on a life of its own’.18 Life in Shakespeare’s comic Italy is essentially urban. Places consist largely of piazzas and campos (city squares, marts, undifferentiated public venues), houses, gardens, and occasional streets19—​Shakespeare’s pastoralism is more English than Italian. The fictional city is cosmopolitan (especially so in Merchant), and includes foreigners and Italians from other cities. It is located primarily in the north (Venice, Verona, Milan, Florence), the single exception being Much Ado’s featureless Sicilian Messina. In the generic Italian city dwell prosperous merchants, aristocrats, some outsiders, and various servants; its elite characters include fathers, eligible daughters, and youthful suitors (but few mothers). (Anachronistically, the speeches of the lower-​class characters—​such as Lance, Speed, Grumio, Lancelet, and Dogberry—​seem to place them in England.20) Political conflicts between city-​states or between a region and its foreign overlord largely recede from view. In The Taming of the Shrew, the Paduan interdict against Mantuans is

in Shakespeare (Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate, 2011), 67–​82, at 68. Hadfield also argues that Shakespeare’s Merchant was influenced by Thomas’s History. For a case study of English attending Italian universities, see Jonathan Woolfson, Padua and the Tudors: English Students in Italy, 1485–​1503 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1998). For a helpful overview of Tudor England’s growing knowledge of Italy, see the Introduction in George B. Parks, ed., The History of Italy (1549) by William Thomas (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1963). 15  Adaptations include John Jefferay’s (?) manuscript comedy The Bugbears (c.1564), based on Anton Francesco Grazzini’s Spiritata (c.1561); George Gascoigne’s Supposes (1566), adapted from Ludovico Ariosto’s influential I suppositi (1509); and Anthony Munday’s Fidele and Fortunio (1584), drawn from Luigi Pasqualigo’s play, Il fedele (1576). 16  Michael Wyatt, The Italian Encounter with Tudor England: A Cultural Politics of Translation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 196. 17  On Shakespeare’s knowledge of Italian, see Jason Lawrence, ‘Who the Devil Taught Thee So Much Italian?’: Italian Language learning and literary Imitation in Early Modern England (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2005), 118–​76. On the Italian community in London, see Wyatt, Italian Encounter. 18 Wyatt, Italian Encounter, 7. 19  Jack D’Amico, Shakespeare and Italy: The City and the Stage (Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2001), 3. 20  D’Amico makes this point variously; see 5, 59, 63, 66–​7, 95, 131.

158   Kent Cartwright only a hoax, and in Much Ado, Don John’s defeated insurrection has no consequences, while the deep historical problems of the Spanish occupation of Italian Sicily, which form the play’s background, are virtually invisible, even though they figure importantly in the source material and in an analogue work such as Giambattista della Porta’s comedy Gli duoi fratelli rivali (c.1590). When conflict arises between the Sicilian governor Leonato and his overlord, the Spanish Prince of Aragon, it never takes a political turn or makes bitter recourse to national stereotypes. Even an Italian comedy as politically charged as The Merchant of Venice retains a conceptual dimension: what is justice, what mercy? There is something abstract about this Italy. Why, then, does Shakespeare make Italy the metaphoric home of comedy? For an answer, we might consider two complementary characteristics: Italy’s contradictions and its openness to change and transformation.

‘A Paradise Inhabited by Devils’ In the Elizabethan imagination, Italy was a vivid but precarious land of extreme contradictions, from internecine strife and personal vice to nascent utopianism. In Shakespeare’s time, it existed as a group of wealthy and intensely competitive city-​states jealous of their local identities and autonomy but also periodically overrun by Turks, Spanish, and French. One of the sub-​themes of Italian cinquecento comedy—​from Cardinal Bibbiena’s La calandra (1512) to Alessandro Piccolomini’s L’alessandro (1543) to della Porta’s Gli duoi fratelli rivali at the end of the century—​is the displacement of people because of piracy, conflict, and war. (Italian comedies, like Shakespeare’s, are full of travellers.) Elizabethans saw Italy as divided qualitatively between extremes, a paradoxical combination of enlightenment and monstrosity, idealism and upheaval.21 As Shakespeare and Kierkegaard understood, the contradictions of human behaviour are at the heart of comedy; thus Italy’s moral capaciousness serves Shakespeare’s purposes well. On the positive side, Italy was perceived as the birthplace of humanist learning, the cradle of fine arts, the training-​ground for the cultivation of manners, the heart of cosmopolitanism, and the home of glittering wealth, elegant women, and ‘marvelous’ sites (variations of marvel occur repeatedly in Thomas’s History). On the negative side, it was perceived as the seat of demonic Catholicism (with the Pope as Antichrist), unmanly foppishness, labyrinthine political treachery, sensational violence and cruelty (as in Thomas Nashe’s The Unfortunate Traveler [1594]), and sexual lasciviousness and transgression (as likewise in Nashe). It could resemble, as Sir Henry Wotton said famously about Florence in 1592, ‘a paradise inhabited by devils’.22 This Italy’s corrosive 21  Jonathan Bate, ‘The Elizabethans in Italy’, in Jean-​Pierre Marquerlot and Michèle Willems, eds., Travel and Drama in Shakespeare’s Time (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 55–​75. 22  Logan Pearsall Smith, ed., The Life and Letters of Sir Henry Wotton 2 vols (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1907) 1:281; noted in Bate, ‘Italy’, 56.

Place and Being in Shakespearean Comedy    159 influence is famously denounced in Roger Ascham’s The Schoolmaster (1570), Nashe’s The Unfortunate Traveler, and numerous other works;23 likewise on stage the Machiavel made for a figure of monstrosity. Yet Italy’s equal power to civilize emerges in writings such as Thomas’s History or Castiglione’s influential The Courtier (trans. Sir Thomas Hoby, 1561).24 Thomas’s History emphasizes the ill effects of tyrannical government, but it also attends to the endearing civility, customs, manners, and style of Italian living. Italy is a country of ‘pleasure’ (A2r), gustatory delight, and cultivated hospitality, helping to make it ‘the infinite resorte of all nacions’ (A2v). For commerce, it is ‘the principall place of recourse of all nacions’ (A2r). Through it flows the exotic merchandise of the East, and there one meets ‘Iewes, Turkes, Grekes, Moores and other easterly merchauntes’ (A2r). Thomas celebrates Italy’s commercial goods, its wine and food (especially the fruit), and even its temperate weather. In Thomas’s surveys of regional violence, the struggle for liberty and against tyranny emerges as a key through-​line. He praises the justice and piety of Cosimo di Medici and the fidelity to friendship (at great personal risk) of Duke Frederick of Parma. He notes the civic-​minded street-​planning in Ferrara, the respect for public oratory in Florence, the striking freedom of speech allowed to women in Genoa. The importance of civic ‘liberty’ is one of the most recurrent ideas in Thomas’s History. Within the narrative’s record of turmoil, glimpses appear of an Italian communal harmony that seems apt for Shakespearean comedy. This Italy demands a complex response. Of Italian morals, Thomas remarks, ‘For wheras temperance, modestie, and other ciuile vertues excell in the numbre of the Italian nobilitee, more than in the nobilitee of any other nacion that I knowe: so vndoubtedly the fleshely appetite with vnnaturall heate and other thynges in theim that be viciouse, dooe passe all the termes of reason or honestie’ (A4v). The appreciation of the double dimensions of Italy leads Thomas to cultivate a double perspective—​a reflection of that humanist quality of thinking in utramque partem, on both sides of the question. In his discussion of the customs of Venice, Thomas cites a stranger’s criticism of its citizens’ covetousness and niggardliness, followed by a Venetian speaker’s rebuttal: ‘If I be spare of liuyng, it is because my common wealth alloweth no pompe, and measure is holesome’ (Y4r). Parsimoniousness turns out to be communalism by another name. Such works perhaps encouraged Shakespeare to see Italy as the quintessential place where one must observe with ‘parted eye /​When everything seems double’ (Dream, 4.2.187–​8). Shakespeare’s comedies often toy with the possibility of tragedy, more so than do the comedies of his peers; for that purpose, the dark volatility of Italy, its latent


On the potentially corrupting influence of Italy as represented in books, see Michael J. Redmond, Shakespeare, Politics, and Italy: Intertextuality on the Jacobean Stage (Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate, 2009), 29–​46. 24  On the duelling images of Italy, see, among others, George B. Parks, ‘The Decline and Fall of the English Renaissance Admiration of Italy’, Huntington Library Quarterly 31 (1968): 341–​57; Murray J. Levith, Shakespeare’s Italian Settings and Plays (New York: St Martin’s Press, 1989), 1–​11; Pfister, 298; Bate, ‘Italy’; and especially D’Amico, Shakespeare and Italy, 1–​20.

160   Kent Cartwright capacity for the monstrous, seems important. Yet the comedies still emphasize the positive (more so the early comedies, less so the late ones). In an oft-​cited essay, Mario Praz notes that Shakespeare largely avoids ‘the usual horrors and thrills’ of Italy employed by other dramatists, preferring instead its ‘pure and noble’ aspects.25 According to Levith, Machiavellianism may leave its traces, as in Don John’s cruel duplicity in Much Ado and Claudio’s vicious pride,26 but Shakespeare’s comic depiction of Italy is largely favourable—​possibly more so than for the Elizabethan public in general.

‘Transform Me Then’ Jack D’Amico helpfully argues that, ‘Shakespeare’s Italy was a society uniquely open to exchange and transformation’, yet one familiar enough to be suggestive for the author’s own urban world; ‘Through Italy  . . .  Shakespeare could imaginatively project the promise and danger of a more open society’ than that of his homeland.27 The ‘openness’, the relative social freedom, of this comic world shows in the prominence of its women: Julia and Sylvia, Katherine, Portia and Jessica, Beatrice, Helen. These females move about their worlds unimpeded, even if sometimes in disguise; they speak up with wit and intelligence more than equal to the men’s; they are learned, pragmatic, and sensible. Italian sixteenth-​century comedy contains certain empowered female characters, such as Lelia in Gl’ ingannati; likewise, that sourcebook of manners, The Courtier, has the organizing force of Lady Elisabetta Gonzaga and the wit of the Lady Emilia Pia. But Shakespeare’s empowered women surpass these continental exemplars in their initiative and their impact on the action—​as if Shakespeare had taken a premise of Italian literature and extended its implications. Italy’s literary image of openness for women sorts well with its reputation for cultivating transformative worldly experience and learning. Characters set out to learn, often with surprising results. Valentine will venture from Verona to Milan so that he might begin to ‘see the wonders of the world abroad’ (Two Gentlemen, 1.1.6). Likewise, Proteus’s father worries that his son ‘cannot be a perfect man, /​Not being tried and tutored in the world’ (1.3.20–​1); their Milanese adventure will be the refining fire for their values and sensibilities. Lucentio, having left Pisa and Florence behind, expresses his enthusiasm at arriving in ‘fair Padua, the nursery of the arts’, where he will study (so he claims) the philosophy of ‘[v]‌irtue’ as the source of ‘happiness’ (Shrew, 1.1.2, 18, 19). In response Tranio argues, ‘No profit grows where is no pleasure ta’en’ (39), and the play proceeds to question the motivation for, and process of, learning. Padua, Shrew’s opening locale, contained one of the oldest and greatest universities in Europe, a


Mario Praz, ‘Shakespeare and Italy’, in The Flaming Heart (New York: Norton, 1958), 146–​67, at 148.

26 Levith, Italian Settings, 78.

27 D’Amico, Shakespeare and Italy, xi, 1.

Place and Being in Shakespearean Comedy    161 beacon to outsiders; Italy as a whole was replete with other such renowned institutions. Thus, Italian courts and cities provide Shakespeare with the apt setting for the theme of education—​often treated ironically—​that forms a fundamental trope in his comedies. In many of the early comedies, the action critiques conventional learning, as male would-​be students—​Proteus, Valentine, Lucentio, Narvarre and his friends—​reject the study of books in favour of the study of women (citing book-​wisdom to justify their abdication). Conversely, the collapse of the woefully inadequate male world—​be it academic, courtly, military or rhetorical—​before the more complex and captivating world of women constitutes an Italianate backbone of Shakespearean comedy. Social freedom and cosmopolitan wit establish the Shakespearean conditions for personal transformation. Italy’s freedom and openness help to underwrite that possibility, along with the Ovidian sense of metamorphosis that so interested Shakespeare.28 The widespread image of Italy as a land of the artful performance of social roles, of sprezzatura, as in Castiglione’s The Courtier and Sidney’s Defense of Poesy (1595), deepens the sense of transformability in the Italian character.29 In Shakespeare’s conceptual Italy, sudden moments of transformative insight can rock characters. Early in the comic oeuvre, Proteus will be psychologically floored when he recognizes Julia in the final act of Two Gentlemen; at the far end of the canon, Bertram, having passed through Italy, will eventually have his own transformation, albeit belated and qualified. Comic metamorphosis in Shakespeare draws resonance not only from Ovid but also from the Protestant interest in a transformative newness of life (as in St Paul’s Letter to the Romans). Comic metamorphosis is personal—​but not exactly private, not a lone encounter with a burning bush on the road to Damascus. Rather, it is something more communal and Catholic-​tinged. The ‘sympathizèd one day’s error’ that the (necessarily Catholic) Abbess describes in Errors identifies an apparently providential occurrence shared by all the main characters, who seem equally to have drunk from ‘Circe’s cup’ (5.1.399, 270). A similar, unsettling instance of ‘minds transfigured so together’ occurs in Dream (5.1.24). While comic transformation may sometimes come in a flash of recognition, it typically arises from a participatory social experience. Herein lies one of the secrets of Italy for Shakespeare: it facilitates a combination of English Protestant and Ovidian individual transformation, but within the social context of an intense, quasi-​ Catholic communalism. The transformational potential of this Italy entails a dark side, for its inhabitants possess a plasticity that can yield to monstrous and destructive impulses. In Milan, Proteus’s desire for Sylvia alters him instantaneously into a mini-​Machiavel, ready to betray his best friend and mentally to kill off his formerly beloved Julia; Shylock

28  On Shakespeare and Ovid, see, among others, William C. Carroll, The Metamorphoses of Shakespearean Comedy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1985); Jonathan Bate, Shakespeare and Ovid (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994), esp. 118–​70; Sean Keilen, ‘Shakespeare and Ovid’, in John F. Miller and Carole E. Newlands, eds., A Handbook to the Reception of Ovid (London: Wiley-​Blackwell, 2014), 232–​45. 29 Bate, Shakespeare and Ovid, 61–​3.

162   Kent Cartwright devolves, from rage and frustration, into a merciless version of the beast that the racist Venetians already believe him to be; Claudio in his violent anger needlessly shames Hero in public; Beatrice, in response, importunes Benedick to ‘kill Claudio’ and ‘would eat his heart in the marketplace’ (Much Ado 4.1.285, 301–​2; I retain the traditional ‘Benedick’ as opposed to Norton 3’s ‘Benedict’); anger-​filled Orsino is ready to murder Cesario-​Viola, the thing he loves; Helen in Florence decides suddenly, despite her pledge, to force herself on Bertram through trickery. Italian openness of expression and fluidity of being allow characters to elevate or to compromise themselves (with Helen it is unclear which). Indeed, in Much Ado powerful passions and the clear field of play that an ‘open’ society gives them, as in the ‘merry war’ between Beatrice and Benedick, threaten at multiple moments to send the comedy hopelessly off the rails. As part of its otherness and even its quasi-​Catholicism, Shakespeare’s Italy always retains an aura of spiritual or magical values. Comic characters will metaphorically return from the dead, as do Julia, Hero, and Helen, while Katherine rises transformed (for better or worse) from the carnivalesque purgatory of Petruccio’s household. The same theme plays out, in subtle ways, in Merchant (where Portia herself functions as a kind of revenant). At the end of Errors, magic or an intervening providential grace remain active possibilities, despite the Duke’s rationalist sorting out of identities and personal histories; so too in Dream. A residual Catholic numinosity lingers over Shakespeare’s Italian and other comedies, so that Italy as a place of humanistic enlightenment and pseudo-​Protestant transformation intermingles with Italy as the heir of Ovidian magic and the breeding ground of Catholic sorcery.

The Dialectics of Comic Geography Like Italy’s rationalism and magic, a principle of opposing values typically organizes the comedies’ internal geography. We may roughly group the plays by their uses of place for peregrination or intrusion. Certain ones require the protagonists to journey from the city or court to a wood, forest, or retreat and typically back again; those include Two Gentlemen, Dream, Merchant, and As You Like It. Others are launched by an outsider or outsiders who intrude upon a specific locale; those are Errors, Shrew, LLL, Merry Wives, Much Ado, and Twelfth Night. But such distinctions are not hard and fast: in Shrew, for example, the protagonists also peregrinate; Merchant entails Portia’s intrusion into Venice; and in Much Ado the outsiders make recourse to the orchard as an alternative site. In Errors and Twelfth Night, furthermore, some protagonists regard the locale as normal while others find it enchanted or mad: the same place, rival conceptions. Scholars have constructed theories of place and movement in Shakespearean comedy. In perhaps the most fertile essay ever written on the subject, Northrop Frye, using Two Gentlemen as a prototype, argues that ‘the action of the comedy begins in a world

Place and Being in Shakespearean Comedy    163 represented as a normal world, moves into the green world, goes into a metamorphosis there in which the comic resolution is achieved, and returns to the normal world’.30 In Frye’s view, Shakespeare adopts John Lyly and Robert Greene’s model of romantic comedy but transforms it by infusing it with the spirit of medieval, festive folk ritual, which celebrates life and spring over death and winter. Frye’s ‘green world’ is a quasi-​ dream world that symbolizes summer, resurrection, abundance, matriarchy, and nostalgic utopianism. Shakespeare’s introduction of the green world makes his comedies original in their form, veering away from the legacy of Roman New Comedy, whose heir was Jonson. Stanley Cavell sees its modern afterlife in the Hollywood comedies of the 1930s and 1940s.31 C. L. Barber follows Frye but emphasizes comedy’s aura of holiday and introduces an influential psychological formula for festive transformation: ‘from release to clarification’.32 François Laroque connects comic motifs with specific aspects of Elizabethan festivity. He argues, for example, that in Dream, Shakespeare associates ‘the popular May Day festival with a disordering of the senses and a loss of consciousness’ related to potentially ‘ridiculous’ erotic events.33 Phebe Jensen likewise explores comic festivity, emphasizing its religious and spiritual dimension.34 In a later essay, Laroque frames differently the dichotomy of Shakespeare’s comic topographies:  ‘real places’ versus ‘dream-​like backgrounds’35 (although ‘real’ might merit qualification). Angela Locatelli sees in Shakespearean geography a sharply drawn ‘double axis’ of ‘information and utopia, social criticism and idealisation, . . . description and prescription’.36 A few critics have invoked Michele Foucault’s notion of ‘heterotopias’ to describe alternative

30  Northrup Frye, ‘The Argument of Comedy’, in Paul Lauter, ed., Theories of Comedy (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1961), 450–​60, on 454; reprinted from English Institute Essays 1948, ed. D. A. Robertson (New York: Columbia University Press, 1949), 58–​73. Alexander Leggatt refers to Frye’s ‘still-​influential analysis of Shakespearean comedy’; English Stage Comedy: 1490–​1990: Five Centuries of a Genre (London: Routledge, 1998), 75. See also Northrup Frye, Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1957), esp. 163–​86. 31  Stanley Cavell, Pursuits of Happiness: The Hollywood Comedy of Remarriage (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1981), 1. 32  C. L. Barber, Shakespeare’s Festive Comedy: A Study of Dramatic Form and its Relation to Social Custom (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1959); see 3–​15. For a critique of Frye and Barber, see François Laroque, Shakespeare’s Festive World: Elizabethan Seasonal Entertainment and the Professional Stage, trans. Janet Lloyd (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 192–​6. 33 Laroque, Shakespeare’s Festive World, 216. 34   Phebe Jensen, Religion and Revelry in Shakespeare’s Festive World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008). From a more sociological perspective, see also Robert Weimann, Shakespeare and the Popular Tradition in the Theater: Studies in the Social Dimension of Dramatic Form and Function, ed. Robert Schwartz (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978); and, although not about Shakespeare, Mikhail Bakhtin, Rabelais and His World, trans. Helen Iswolsky (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1984). 35  François Laroque, ‘Shakespeare’s Imaginary Geography’, in Andrew Hadfield and Paul Hammond, eds., Shakespeare and Renaissance Europe (London: Thomson Learning, 2005), 193–​219, at 193. 36  Angela Locatelli, ‘The Fictional World of Romeo and Juliet: Cultural Connotations of an Italian Setting’, in Michele Marrapodi, A. J. Hoenselaars, Marcello Cappuzzo, and L. Falzon Santucci, eds., Shakespeare’s Italy: Functions of Italian Locations in Renaissance Drama (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1993), 69–​86, at 72.

164   Kent Cartwright sites.37 John Gillies reads Merchant in terms of ‘a primal drama of identity, difference and transgression’.38 Antonio stands for the tight, interlocking communal values of an Aristotelian city-​state, and Shylock, the other, represents, at least for Antonio, a hated race, the Jews, and, generically, a species of barbarian: ‘More than just a “Jew”, Shylock is a “stranger”, an “alien” and an “infidel” ’.39 The two represent the geographic centre and the margin. (Belmont, in this discussion, falls out of view.) For Gillies, Shakespeare shows enormous ambivalence about those dichotomies by humanizing Shylock and likening Antonio to him in various ways.40 Those treatments yield a flood of adjectives to describe the geographical oppositions in Shakespearean comedy: normal, normative, quotidian, everyday, workaday, central (with associated attributes such as law, hierarchy, reason, rule, patriarchy, and the state) versus enchanted, playful, chimerical, allegorical, paranormal, holiday, marginal (with associated values such as disorder, inversion, passion, permeability, metamorphosis, and the individual). They suggest variations on the differences between reason and fantasy in Alma’s representatively Renaissance tripartite division of the mind (The Faerie Queene, 2.9.48–​54), or psychologically, the super-​ego in contest with the id. Although the opposing comic locales produce Wittgensteinian families of terms, perhaps we might use ‘regulative’ versus ‘protean’ to stand for the two general categories. ‘Regulative’ locales display rule, consistency, normality, familiarity, and custom, while ‘protean’ ones suggest instability, mutability, plasticity, and multiplicity.

The Regulative, the Protean, and Their Discontents As Gillies and many others warn, we should avoid seeing exclusionary oppositions in those categories, for they can overlap and share qualities: racism, materialism, and patriarchy, for example, touch not only Venice but also Belmont. Or they can exchange qualities: Arden Forest exhibits more civility and less violence than does Duke Frederick’s court. Likewise, as we shall see, each kind of locale can contain its own inconsistencies and instabilities, and each undergoes comic critique. Emphasis on the comic


For example, Laurel Moffatt, ‘The Woods as Heterotopia in A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, Studia Neophilologia 76.2 (2004): 182–​7. Peter G. Platt applies ‘heterotopia’ to Venice but concentrates on Othello; ‘‘The meruailouse Site’: Shakespeare, Venice, Paradoxical Stages’, Renaissance Quartely 54.1 (2001): 121–​54, esp. 123–​4. Heterotopias (from hetero-​topia as ‘other-​where’) are real places that appear set off as ‘counter sites’ where a culture’s other real sites are ‘simultaneously represented, contested, and inverted’; they create a displacing mirror-​effect, as with cemeteries, reflecting in a way that is both real and unreal and that confers destabilizing potential; Foucault, 46–​9. 38 Gillies, Geography of Difference, 12. 39 Gillies, Geography of Difference, 128. 40 Gillies, Geography of Difference, 122–​37.

Place and Being in Shakespearean Comedy    165 dichotomies of place tends, unfortunately, to marginalize the problem comedies, where the regulative world dominates and the protean world loses much of its oppositional distinctiveness (in Measure for Measure, the protean world is the prison, which might be considered heterotopian; in All’s Well it is Florence and its martial field). The regulative world is typically that of the civilized city or court, while the protean world makes its home in bordering nature: woods, forests, and orchards. In Shakespeare’s comedies, the civilized centre is exposed as calcified, closed off, or distorted in specific ways—​far from ideal or ‘normal’. The patriarchy in Dream, for example, stifles youthful love, as it also does in Two Gentlemen. In As You Like It, proper relations within families have succumbed to envy and paranoid authoritarianism. Similarly, the equilibrium of Merry Wives is thrown off-​kilter by male sexual jealousy and parental rigidity. Tyranny in law and lust drive the Viennese governor Angelo in Measure for Measure. In Merchant’s Venice, commerce, law, and religio-​ethnic exclusiveness operate with cruel agency. Characters in Shrew build marriage contracts on the basis of conventional female stereotypes that the action blows sky-​high. LLL and Much Ado present male worlds, one of monastic scholarship, the other of pseudo-​military aggressiveness, that fail to accommodate or comprehend women (or even the male characters’ full range of emotions). In Errors, Ephesus represents a world of humdrum commerce and troubled marriage, with no place for the quasi-​magic recursions that will afflict it. Sites of regulation fail according to an Aristotelian ethic, for the city (or court or home) has lost its moderation and equilibrium and suffered a perversion of its proper values. A breakdown of sufficient depth can dim the possibility of complete social healing. Some corruptions derive from individual characters, such as Duke Frederick. Some reveal the bias and blindness of a class or group, as with the gallants of Much Ado. Some reflect pervasive cultural practices increasingly under scrutiny, such as the father’s tyrannical power in Dream. Worse, others seem resiliently systemic, as in the early modern capitalism of Venice. Consequently the outcasts of As You Like It can be easily restored by Duke Frederick’s abrupt forest conversion, while the social problems that linger at the end of Merchant threaten to persist. In the protean world, characters will be changed, but whether the power of their transformations can truly reform the regulative world often remains in doubt. Thus, the geography of Shakespearean comedy sets up polarities that might actually defeat moral reconciliation. That difficulty helps to explain why Shakespeare’s problem comedies largely dispense with the protean, or green, world, whose values may seem fragile or evanescent compared to the intransigence of a city such as Vienna or even a character such as Bertram. Renaissance comedy as a form often raises social problems that are greater than any individual play can solve. Rather than being answers, comedies are provocations to thinking. In that respect, the dialectic of the regulative and the protean goes far to illuminate the conceptual tensions within Shakespearean comedy. In contrast to the regulative world stands its Ovidian opposite (or obscure double). The protean world exists at the margin of, or at a slight remove from, the city and court. It can be, following Frye, the Forest of Arden in As You Like It, or the Athenian Wood in Dream, or the wood outside Milan in Two Gentlemen, or Windsor Forest in Merry

166   Kent Cartwright Wives. The ‘orchard’ or ‘garden’ in Much Ado serves the same purpose (1.2.8, 5.1.172), as does the field outside the court in LLL. In Merchant, Belmont (‘beautiful mountain’) constitutes the metaphoric protean (or golden) world, as profuse in riches as Venice is cash-​strapped. In Shrew, the world of transformation might be identified as Petruccio’s country estate near Verona, or even that in-​between place, the road running from Verona to Padua. In the larger context of Christopher Sly’s ‘flatt’ring dream or worthless fantasy’ (Induction 1.40), however, the green world is the play-​within-​the-​play itself. An equally complicated pattern is evident in Errors and Twelfth Night, where regular worlds are disrupted by the intrusions of strangers. In the former play, the ‘normal’ world and fantasy world are the same, for Ephesus, viewed from different perspectives, appears to be either bourgeois or supernatural. In the latter play, Viola brings her transgressiveness into a place that is already a little mad, as in the melancholy of Olivia’s upstairs and the misrule of Sir Toby’s downstairs. Like Ephesus, Illyria—​suggesting illusion, lyricism, Elysium, and delirium—​41 functions as its own protean world. Proteanism brings into comedy certain human values and potentials that almost unfold one from another: resurrection, magic, metamorphosis, youth, sexuality, love, femininity, spring, nature, and nostalgia for the utopianism of the Golden Age. Here fairies might cast enchantments, or a bloodthirsty duke might encounter ‘an old religious man’ and instantly abandon all worldly ambitions (As You Like It, 5.4.151); the normal rules do not apply. The comedies express a politics of fecundity against the regulative restraints of legalism or patriarchal tyranny. While each experiment in comic geography is different, protean locales are, as a whole, sites of wish-​fulfillment—​conscious and unconscious, and not always flattering. Belmont, as Walter Cohen observes, constitutes an anti-​capitalist fantasy-​site where wealth drops like manna and one finds relief from the crushing anxieties of the mercantile world.42 In Dream, the lush wetness and darkness of the Athenian Wood make it feel drenched with the sexuality blocked in Athens. The wood gives expression, as well, to dark, repressed desires of masochism and sexual violence. The protean world can be dangerous—​an interesting place to visit, but one might not want to live there. But what about a site such as the orchard or garden in Much Ado, which exudes only a whiff of greenness? What might it have to do with fantasy or desire? It exists close to the glittering courtly scene, as a peripheral place of private conversation or withdrawal, away from the more formal, communal spaces in Leonato’s Messinan palazzo. Antonio (‘Anthony’ in Norton 3) hints at its atmosphere in the phrase ‘the thick pleached alley in mine orchard’ (with ‘pleached’ meaning ‘Enclosed by trees with intertwining boughs’ [1.2.8], presumably identical with the ‘arbor’ to which Benedick later retires [3.2.32]). The orchard is where Claudio and Don Pedro are overheard planning the courtship of Hero;43 where Benedick and Beatrice are separately tricked into believing that each 41 Laroque, Shakespeare’s Festive World, 211.

42  Walter Cohen, ‘The Merchant of Venice and the Possibilities of Historical Criticism’, English Literary History 49, no. 4 (1982): 765–​89. 43  There is some confusion here, for Antonio reports the conversation as overheard in his ‘orchard’ (1.2.8), while Borachio describes hearing it in ‘a musty room’ (1.3.48).

Place and Being in Shakespearean Comedy    167 loves the other; and where, less remarked, Don John brings Don Pedro and Claudio to witness the duplicitous and catastrophic window scene. (The ‘orchard’ is mentioned five times, from 1.2 to 5.1, so that it is persistently, if subtly, brought to consciousness; ‘garden’, ‘arbor’, and ‘bower’ each occur once; the place is also likened to the Garden of Eden [5.1.171–​2]). The orchard is a site of intimate conversation, eavesdropping, deceptive intrigue (as hinted in its ‘pleached’ trees), and transformation (for good or ill). Benedick goes there to read and contemplate, while his deceivers follow ostensibly to appreciate the ‘still’ evening and to enhance its ‘harmony’ with music (3.3.34, 35). Here characters are unusually vulnerable to suggestion. The orchard lacks the psychological depths of the Athenian Woods; instead, its lies very close to Messina’s social surface and thereby illustrates how easily (and willingly) characters in the social world can go astray or be misled, even benevolently, in an unguarded moment. It approaches Foucault’s heterotopia, as a reflection, a revelation of the character of the regulative world, and yet sufficiently apart to offer the possibility of change. The most fully realized marginal locale in Shakespearean comedy is the Forest of Arden in As You Like It. The forest, as critics observe, invokes overt nostalgia for a prelapsarian golden world of ‘liberty’ (1.3.134); there men ‘live like the old Robin Hood’ (1.1.101–​2) in communitarian brotherhood, free from political strife, and in harmony with nature. Arden combines an overarching pastoralism with the pre-​Reformation popular festivity of the merry men in Sherwood Forest (the English countryside often colours the protean world).44 No ‘perils’ from the ‘envious court’ exist there, says Duke Senior; rather, the forest’s cold winds ‘feelingly persuade me what I am’ (2.1.4, 11). Yet the forest is not an unambiguous utopia. As Alexander Leggatt notes, the different characters who come to Arden ‘find in it reflections of themselves’. Even more, the forest world is ‘touched with thoughts and images’ of the court world, even as the court world is touched by it.45 The forest mirrors back the minds of its inhabitants; it is not the sui generis world-​apart that it seems. Nor is the forest the place of simple truth that Duke Senior claims, for his men’s sentimental pastoralism, brotherly utopianism, and anthropomorphizing of creatures are stretched so far as to seem self-​parodying. The forest’s liberties, such as the liberty to love in the springtime of youth, are utterly consuming and simultaneously a little ridiculous, as Rosalind so vibrantly shows.46 What the forest gives back is the power—​really, the experience—​of multiple perspectives, wound to the highest pitch, a way of being transported to the fullest of one’s passions and of embracing, too, the probable absurdity of the experience. The personal metamorphosis available in these woods arises not only because of its liberty but because it engenders an open acceptance of transcendent paradox. In the spirit of multiple perspectives, As You Like It also repeatedly calls attention to the theatricality of events in Arden, to its constructed, disguise-​happy, posturing play-​world.47 In Arden, we know love to be real 44 

See Jensen, Religion and Revelry, 117–​48.

45 Leggatt, English Stage Comedy, 80.

46 Barber, Shakespeare’s Festive Comedy, 222–​39. 47 Leggatt, English Stage Comedy, 80–​1.

168   Kent Cartwright because it turns out to be much like going to a play. For Shakespeare’s comic travellers, a change of place becomes a map to undiscovered parts of themselves and others. Even in the most optimistic comedies, they depart a bit uncertain about where they have been, as in Dream, with their recent experiences now ‘small and undistinguishable, /​Like far-​ off mountains turned into clouds’ (4.2.185–​6). What they take with them is not information but the capacity to see ‘double’ (187, 188).

Geography and Agency The critical models of transformative comic geography invite one to question whether places cause certain outcomes to happen. In comedy, some things can occur only in a given place: you must go to the Athenian Wood, for example, to find ‘ “love-​in-​idleness” ’ (Dream, 2.1.168). Certain places seem to radiate psychological, transformational, and even magical powers that are associated only with them. While, scientifically, that may not be the case, it reflects the human inclination to behave as if objects or places possessed essences (consider the power of Italy in Elizabeth Von Arnim’s 1922 Enchanted April).48 But what then of human agency? Are the denizens of comedy simply acted upon by external forces? The evidence is mixed, and the answer can vary with one’s perspective. Laroque teases out one way that Shakespearean comic transformation might work: ‘Under the influence of festivity, words begin to bubble and fizz like a fermentation’; language becomes playful, intoxicated, and ‘stumble[s]‌in unexpected directions’, so that a wit-​game can open up a character’s consciousness. In this atmosphere, the outpouring of verbal dexterity corresponds to ‘the dawning of a new awareness’. For Laroque, however, causal power resides more in festivity than in place per se: ‘Festivity . . . produces an intoxication endowed with the power of metamorphosis’.49 But bubbling wit in Shakespearean comedy is not always an expression of place, and not all comic transformations—​Demetrius’s for example—​are prompted by verbal ingenuity. Let us map out some possibilities for the power of place to effect transformation. At the negative end, in the late comedies the magic of place decreases. All’s Well’s locale of potential change is faraway Florence and its field of honour. There a game of deception—​as embarrassing as it is humorous—​publicly exposes the truth about Paroles. Helen reverses and reinvents her intentions in Florence. There Bertram learns about Paroles’s dishonourableness, but discovers nothing about his own. Only when Helen metaphorically returns from the dead at the French court will Bertram undergo

48  On what psychologists consider the instinctive and universal characteristic of humans to treat things (here locales) and people as if they had hidden, invisible essences, see Paul Bloom, How Pleasure Works: The New Science of Why We Like What We Like (New York: Norton, 2010). 49 Laroque, Shakespeare’s Festive World, 195, 196, 198.

Place and Being in Shakespearean Comedy    169 an apparent conversion. This comedy seems disturbing in part because of the limited efficacy of its peripheral places. In some comedies, more positively, the festive locale operates as a condition for transformation but not as the direct cause. In Shrew, Petruccio needs the freedom of his home to work his device for subduing Katherine, that device itself being a form of aggressive festivity. The topsy-​turvydom of his household makes it an appropriate staging-​ground, but the relationship between place and transformation is mainly opportunistic. The orchard in Much Ado possesses affective powers not obvious but insidious. It functions, as we have noted, as the retreat for intimacy and music, where characters are susceptible to suggestion and deception because the locale itself puts them in a receptive mood, with guards down. Here place facilitates, if not exactly causes, the change associated with a freeing of perspective. If the orchard is the place of conspiracy, as between Claudio and Don Pedro to woo Hero, it is also the place of complicity, the unacknowledgeable complicity of Benedick with his deceivers, and of Beatrice with hers, the tricksters fabricating and the gulls willing to believe extravagant fantasies. The orchard allows the lovers to act. What may surprise about the orchard is the scale of transformational power that it unleashes in comparison to the slightness of its difference from other spaces in the play, for only in the orchard can Benedick and Beatrice instantly reverse themselves and embrace the categorical idea of love and the specific love objects that, before, they had obdurately opposed. This surprise of scale fits with a play whose protagonists are given repeatedly to overreactions. In Two Gentlemen, place has even more causal power. Proteus turns would-​be rapist in the forest, but there, too, the Duke, on the merest pretext, gives over his resistance to Valentine as a suitor, and the outlaws are suddenly rehabilitated as ‘men endued with worthy qualities’, ‘reformèd, civil, full of good’ (5.4.150, 153). Metamorphosis here seems related to locale and equally to a change in perspective. Finally, in Shakespearean comedy, place might sometimes be itself the product of characters’ desires.50 In As You Like It, the characters remark on properties of Arden Forest that, as we have noted, often reflect their perspectives or obsessions. Likewise, we might think of the wood in Dream as called forth by the sexual desires of the young lovers. They not only dream in the wood, but the wood itself is their dream manifested. It is dewy and moist, full of snakes, lions, and bestiality, always somewhat preternatural and expressive of the mental images of its sleeping characters. If so, then desire might exercise some agency over place, and not just vice versa. A similar claim might be made about Windsor Forest in Merry Wives. It functions as the place of symbolic exorcism, where child-​fairies pinch Falstaff black and blue, but it also may give expression to the unspeakable sexual fantasies of the chaste wives, Mistresses Page and Ford, for it is there that the mythical pagan woodsman, Herne the Hunter, displays his great horns and lurks about his immense oak tree. The etiology of place varies as Shakespeare explores different comic possibilities. It is striking, however, that locale operates richly or insidiously in some of his most popular comedies, such as Dream or Much Ado. Perhaps, in


See Carroll, Metamorphosis, passim.

170   Kent Cartwright the place of the theatre, we are eager to embrace the transformational power of place in drama.

The Comedies’ Other Places By way of conclusion, let us acknowledge a few other locales in Shakespeare’s comedies not captured by dualisms. One of those places is the world offstage. The capacity of comic characters to evoke in a few verbal brushstrokes an active world just behind the frons scenae helps to give the comedies’ abstract sense of place concreteness and definition. Thus, in Errors, when Ephesian Dromio urges the baffled Syracusan Antipholus to hasten home because ‘The capon burns, the pig falls from the spit, /​The clock hath stricken twelve upon the bell; /​My mistress made it one upon my cheek’ (1.2.44–​6), he calls into existence the domestic life out of which Adriana will step in the next scene. Much later, when the Goldsmith has Antipholus of Ephesus arrested for debt, he will be accompanied by a merchant ‘bound /​To Persia’ (4.1.3–​4) and in need of cash. To pay his debt, Antipholus will send Dromio home with the instruction that ‘in the desk /​That’s covered o’er with Turkish tapestry /​There is a purse of ducats’ (103–​5). Bustling mealtime preparations, trade by sea voyage to the exotic east, Turkish coverlets in luxury homes, purses filled with ducats: such strategic details call exotic worlds into imaginative being. Another imminent place is London. There is truth in the familiar claim that Shakespeare’s comic cities and centres—​Ephesus, Milan, Athens, Venice, Vienna, and the like—​are intermittently stand-​ins for London, the unspoken place that hovers in the background of the comedies. London life may be alluded to critically or satirically, as when Dromio of Syracuse riffs in 4.2 and 4.3 about the horrors of arrest for debt, or when Pompey in Measure for Measure confronts the audience with the houses of prostitution that were a feature of the Thames’s south bank. But more often, London becomes less delimited as a place than newly invested with magical possibilities. In Shakespeare’s comedies, the more concrete the place is, the more opaque it becomes. In this regard, the abstract, allegory-​friendly openness of the Elizabethan stage—​so different from Sebastiano Serlio’s architecturally detailed, prototypical city of Renaissance Italian comedy—​found its perfect realization in Shakespeare’s wide-​ranging, imaginary geographies.

Suggested Reading Barber, C. L., Shakespeare’s Festive Comedy: A Study of Dramatic Form and its Relation to Social Custom (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1959). Bate, Jonathan, ‘The Elizabethans in Italy’, in Jean-​Pierre Marquerlot and Michèle Willems, eds., Travel and Drama in Shakespeare’s Time (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 1996), 55–​75.

Place and Being in Shakespearean Comedy    171 D’Amico, Jack, Shakespeare and Italy: The City and the Stage (Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2001). Frye, Northrup, ‘The Argument of Comedy’, in D. A. Robertson, ed., English Institute Essays 1948 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1949), 58–​73. Gillies, John, Shakespeare and the Geography of Difference (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994). Kermode, Lloyd Edward, ‘Experiencing the Space and Place of Early Modern Theater’, Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 43, no. 1 (2013), 1–​24. Laroque, François, Shakespeare’s Festive World: Elizabethan Seasonal Entertainment and the Professional Stage, trans. Janet Lloyd (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991). Marrapodi, Michele, A.  J. Hoenselaars, Marcello Cappuzzo, and L. Falzon Santucci, eds., Shakespeare’s Italy:  Functions of Italian Locations in Renaissance Drama (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1993). Poole, Kristen, Supernatural Environments in Shakespeare’s England:  Spaces of Demonism, Divinity, and Drama (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011). Praz, Mario, ‘Shakespeare and Italy’, in The Flaming Heart (New York: Norton, 1958), 146–​67. Thomas, William, The History of Italy (1549) by William Thomas, ed. George B. Parks (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1963).

Chapter 10

Shakespeare a n C ome dy and the Qu est i on of Rac e Geraldo U. de Sousa

American writer James Baldwin (1924–​87) remembers ‘a loveless education’ he experienced as a youth, the awe he felt for Shakespeare’s ‘monstrous achievement’, and a feeling that Shakespeare was a chauvinist: ‘I condemned him as one of the authors and architects of my oppression’.1 Years later, however, Baldwin recognized that his ‘relationship to the language of Shakespeare’ was ‘nothing less than my relationship to myself and to my past’.2 Baldwin discovered that Shakespeare thought ‘the lives of people’ to be ‘mysteriously and inexorably connected’.3 In addition, Shakespeare, according to Baldwin, sought ‘to defeat all labels and complicate all battles’, and help ‘all people’ to find validation for and affirmation of their own lives.4 Although Shakespeare has often been seen by critics as complicit in the prevailing racializing and ‘othering’ tendencies in the period, I submit that Baldwin may be right in bearing witness to the promise that, on matters of race and representation of humanity, Shakespeare was progressive, forward-​looking, and not a retrograde thinker. Indeed, I  propose that, in the comedies, Shakespeare affords us glimpses of the world’s ethnic, racial, and cultural diversity and affirms all humans’ fundamental dignity. He brings to the stage representatives of racial, ethnic, and cultural minorities, even if sometimes solely through evocative allusion to distant lands and foreign cultures, whose emissaries may have a dual dimension as stereotypes and as minorities in a dominant European culture. This does not occur without eliciting strife, conflict, and ethnic, racial, or religious prejudice; yet 1 

James Baldwin, The Cross of Redemption: Uncollected Writings, ed. Randall Kenan (New York: Pantheon Books, 2010), 56, 53. 2 Baldwin, Cross of Redemption, 56. In ‘Stranger Shakespeare’, Shakespeare Quarterly 67, no.1 (2016): 51–​67, Ruben Espinosa writes about similar obstacles Latino/​a students face in their initial engagement with Shakespeare as a cultural icon and their own struggles with how ‘to negotiate cross-​ cultural identity and pressures of assimilation’ (52). 3 Baldwin, 56. 4 Baldwin, 56.

Shakespearean Comedy and Race    173 Shakespeare intimates intertwined destinies and an inescapable fundamental connection between human beings. In its customary trajectory to a happy ending, comedy strives to amuse and evoke laughter in spectacles of human mistakes, failures, foolishness, pretences, shortcomings, and misunderstandings. In particular, Shakespearean comedy offers a range of representational modes, from the serious and quasi-​tragic in the problem comedies, with their unstable, problematic endings, to the festive in the romantic Green World comedies, and to the burlesque, satirical, and farcical in others. Across these registers, Shakespeare effects complex tonal contrasts in ethnic difference and cross-​cultural encounters, but of course eschews irresolvable tragic conflicts. (The Merchant of Venice is an obvious exception inasmuch as it approximates the tragedies in the depth of the Shylock–Antonio conflict and the hard-​edged nature of its resolution in Shylock’s forced conversion and debasement.) In the tragedies, racial conflicts entail the loss of life. In Othello, for example, vindictive and racist Iago engineers the destruction of his foreign black general; for Aaron in Titus Andronicus, blackness defines every aspect of his character, and ‘he reaches deeply into the unconscious of his Roman oppressors, where he discovers cruelty, pillage, violence, precisely what the Romans associate with blackness’.5 Aggrieved, slighted, angry, and revengeful, Aaron embodies the evil the Romans associate with the colour black, provoking him to seek revenge by mutilating and destroying his enemies. Unlike Othello or Titus Andronicus, in which racial clashes result in destruction, the comedies, while raising questions of race, xenophobia, and prejudice, affirm reconciliation and harmony, or at least offer a respite from fight. In different ways, Shakespeare raises the question of whether a culturally and racially diverse world can transcend the tragic forces inherent in racial, ethnic, and religious strife and therefore imagine a different social paradigm. The question of race in the comedies, I submit, requires a five-​fold approach that entails a discussion of race and racism, caricature and humour, the aggression of language, the centrality and prominence of images of whiteness, and a sense of global interconnectedness intertwined with fear of foreign influence. The question of race in the comedies raises the potential for inclusion in exclusion and the potential for exclusion in inclusion.

Definitions of Race Race is a notoriously unstable and unreliable concept. Scientific and popular ideas provide contradictory perspectives. Popular concepts of race are often based on geographical or national origin and superficial or external characteristics, as for example skin colour, hair texture, and facial features. Definitions of ethnicity and race remain fuzzy, as


See Geraldo U. de Sousa, Shakespeare’s Cross-​Cultural Encounters (Houndmills, Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave, 2002), 105.

174   Geraldo U. de Sousa a matter of perception, tradition, family association, or self-​identification. In addition, they may vary widely across cultures. In the field of contemporary science, maps of the human genome and studies of genetic variation show that, ‘Human genetic sequences are 99.9 per cent identical; of the 0.1 per cent of the human genome that varies from person to person, only 3 per cent to 10 per cent of that variation is associated with geographic ancestry’.6 DNA tests demonstrate that visible, external signs of difference, such as skin colour, hair colour and texture, shape of one’s eye, and other markers often used for purposes of ethnic and religious stereotyping and racial profiling are notoriously unreliable markers of geographical ancestry. However, genetic studies and statistical analysis have shown that ‘highly variable markers’ can be successfully isolated to reveal ‘affinity clusters on the basis of similarities between individuals in their genotypes’. Yet these studies have also shown that ‘many individuals had ancestry from two or more of the clusters, and some clusters showed a great deal of multiple ancestry, a signature of past migrations or conquests or of the continuity of genetic variation in space’.7 The genetic clusters underscore the complexities and mysteries of past migrations and contact of populations across the millennia. In contrast, Jonathan Marks argues that current popular concepts of race, which rely basically on such factors as visible signs of difference, family lore, self-​identification, or labelling of others, stem from ‘the encounter of early modern Europeans with exotic peoples and the new esteem accorded to naturalistic, scientific explanations of the meaning of the diversity represented by those people in relation to their “discoverers” ’.8 In our own time, these ideas persist in ‘prevailing cultural attitudes and beliefs’ about physical characteristics and human diversity.9 Race becomes a cultural construction, ‘a worldview’: ‘Race is a shorthand term for, as well as a symbol of, a “knowledge system”, a way of knowing, perceiving, and interpreting the world, and of rationalizing its contents (in this case, other human beings) in terms that are derived from previous cultural-​historical experience and reflect contemporary social values, relationships, and conditions’.10 In the early modern period, as Sujata Iyengar succinctly puts it, race, like our own popular concept, may have meant ‘perceived bodily differences between groups of persons associated with a particular part of the world’; yet the concept ‘connoted geographical origin, skin color, humoral complexion, behaviour, morality, and many other social as well as medical categories’.11 According to ‘heliotropic

6  Barbara A. Koenig, Sandra Soo-​Jin Lee, and Sarah S. Richardson, eds., ‘Introduction’, Revisiting Race in a Genomic Age (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2008), 1. 7  Marcus W. Feldman and Richard C. Lewontin, ‘Race, Ancestry, and Medicine’, in Koenig, Lee, and Richardson, Revisiting Race, 91. 8  Jonathan Marks, ‘Race: Past, Present, and Future’, in Koenig, Lee, and Richardson, Revisiting Race, 22. 9  See Audrey Smedley and Brian D. Smedley, Race in North America: Origin and Evolution of a Worldview, 4th ed. (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2011), 12. 10  Smedley and Smedley, Race in North America, 13. 11  Sujata Iyengar, Shakespeare’s Medical Language: A Dictionary (London and New York: Continuum, 2011), 289.

Shakespearean Comedy and Race    175 theories’, the visible markers of difference, including dark and light skin and hair texture, were caused by action of the sun’s rays in drawing fumes and vapour humours in the human body.12 At the same time, race was also ‘a social or moral category’, whereby even the proverbial black Ethiop could be washed white in the love of Christ.13 Further, Shakespeare uses the word ‘race’, in its etymological sense of Latin radix (‘roots’), to mean ‘lineage’ and those qualities inherited from one’s parents.14 He thus uses the term to suggest that everyone comes out of a family and belongs to a community, even if they appear as sole emissaries from regions not clearly specified or unknown, like Othello or Aaron. Racism may be easier to define than race. Francisco Bethencourt defines ‘racism’ as ‘prejudice concerning ethnic descent coupled with discriminatory action’, at once ‘ethnic prejudice’ and the ‘practice of discrimination and segregation’.15 Racism denies human interconnectedness and turns into displays of force to separate, isolate, and assail. Racism entails the desire to reject principles of equality, to deny access and opportunity to those deemed different, and to exclude some from the benefits and privileges of a society. Like other scholars, Bethencourt aptly underscores the shifting meanings of the word ‘race’ over the centuries. In the Middle Ages, he points out, race meant ‘caste’; it acquired an ‘ethnic meaning’ with implied ‘impurity of blood’, when applied to Jews and Muslims in the period of the Iberian Reconquista. Yet later it was put to other uses in the racialized systems of classification of human subspecies in the nineteenth century.16 Popular notions of race combine earlier meanings associated with ‘the lineage or continuity of generations in families’ which were associated more recently with the concept of ‘ethnic group’.17 The noun ‘ethnic’ itself had a particular meaning in the earlier periods: ‘A person who is not Christian or Jewish; a heathen, a pagan’ (OED). In the nineteenth century, the word acquired a broader meaning of those sharing a common ‘national or cultural origin or tradition’ (OED). One must calibrate this array of meanings as we interpret Shakespeare’s comedies for our own age. Such a calibration also involves connecting definitions of race with instances of racism. Kim Hall makes a compelling case for refusing to divorce racism from a discussion of race; in particular, she advises us to heed the call of black feminist criticism to seek ‘an 12 Iyengar, Shakespeare’s Medical Language, 289. 13

 Iyengar, 290. Iyengar, 290. See also Margo Hendricks, ‘ “Obscured by Dream”: Race, Empire, and Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, Shakespeare Quarterly 47 (1996): 37–​60; and Margo Hendricks and Patricia Parker, eds., Women, ‘Race’, and Writing in the Early Modern Period (London and New York, Routledge, 1994), 2. 15  Francisco Bethencourt, Racisms: From the Crusades to the Twentieth Century (Princeton, NJ and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2013), 1. 16 Bethencourt, Racisms, 6. In Race: The History of an Idea in the West (Washington, DC: The Woodrow Wilson Centre Press, 1996), Ivan Hannaford traces the meanings of ‘race’ in several languages (5). See also Peter Erickson, ‘Representations of Blacks and Blackness in the Renaissance’, Criticism 35.4 (1993), 499–​527. 17 Hannaford, The History of an Idea, 5–​6. 14 

176   Geraldo U. de Sousa ongoing connection between the lived experience of black women and critical practice’, focusing not only on ‘black women’s texts’ but also uncovering the lived experience of Others through early modern texts.18 Doing so, she adds, we might be able to resist what she terms, ‘White privilege in Renaissance studies, the luxury of not thinking about race—​hence duplicating racism in writing and professional relations’.19 I find these suggestions to be productive in our attempts to bring our own encounters with and even revulsion at overt or covert acts of exclusion, racism, prejudice, and white supremacist ideology to bear upon the Shakespearean text.

Caricature and Humour Literature of the early modern period trades in stereotypes, in preconceived, oversimplified, and exaggerated ideas of what constitutes distinctive national, ethnic, religious, or racial traits. The anthropologist James A. Boon draws attention to the caricatures that cultures tend to create of one another and of themselves: ‘every culture appears, vis-​à-​ vis every other exaggerated’ and, therefore, a cross-​cultural perspective tends to underscore ‘an exaggeration of differences’.20 In Shakespeare’s comedies, the distortions and caricatures that cultures create of one another often serve the purposes of humour. Yet there is no doubt cultures meet in a culturally, politically, and psychologically problematic space. While caricature may preclude finding validation for the lives of others and may serve to belittle and coerce, it not only serves the purposes of entertainment but also reveals ‘a restless search for knowledge’ of the world’s diversity of customs, laws, institutions, ways of living, religious practices, and so forth.21 More clearly than ever before, in Shakespeare’s time Europeans were realizing that there was no ‘tranquilizing uniformity’, and that ‘From one point of view or another no two “nations” conducted their lives along similar lines’.22 In fact, Montaigne concluded that, ‘There is nothing


Kim F. Hall, Things of Darkness: Economies of Race and Gender in Early Modern England (Ithaca, NY and London: Cornell University Press, 1995), 255–​6. Hall’s epilogue, provocatively titled ‘On “Race”, Black Feminism, and White Supremacy’, is an eloquent manifesto for the power of knowledge ‘to create new ways of thinking about difference’: ‘Teaching Shakespeare a good place to begin disrupting the language of white supremacy’, (266). 19 Hall, Things of Darkness, 255. The Shakespeare Association of America, for example, has made strides in affirming racial, geographical, and institutional diversity, although these strides have not translated into substantially greater diversity of the SAA elected officers. 20  James A. Boon, Other Tribes, Other Scribes: Symbolic Anthropology in the Comparative Study of Cultures, Histories, Religions, and Texts (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982), 22, 26. See also Sousa, Shakespeare’s Cross-​Cultural Encounters, 2. 21  See ‘The Ark of Noah and the Problem of Cultural Diversity’ in Margaret T. Hodgen, Early Anthropology in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1964), 207. 22 Hodgen, Early Anthropology, 206.

Shakespearean Comedy and Race    177 so extreame and horrible, but is found received and allowed by the custome of some nation’.23 Stephen Greenblatt explains the role of ‘representative anecdotes’ as ‘a culture’s representational technology, mediators between the undifferentiated succession of local moments and a larger strategy toward which they can gesture’.24 A short, pithy anecdote can shape a seemingly indelible characteristic of an entire nation or an ethnic group. Herodotus, for example, refers to Egypt as a land of inversion of manners and customs and gender roles for men and women, whereas Mandeville portrays Africa as a land of monsters and fantastical phenomena.25 Even Leo Africanus, who travelled extensively in North Africa, describes the people of Cairo as having ‘a merrie, jocund, and cheerful disposition, such as will promise much, but perform little’.26 Andrew Boorde (c.1490–​1549), in his 1542 and subsequent editions of The Fyrst Boke of the Introduction of Knowledge, offers a compendium of various nations and ethnic groups.27 In her Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entry on Boorde, Elizabeth Lane Furdell writes: ‘Using rhyme, dialect, and other amusing techniques Boorde provided delightful details about the fashions, foods, costumes, weather, and business of dozens of continental regions from Norway to Greece.’28 I do not find these details so delightful, and neither, I suspect, would the Spaniards, Jews, French, or Italians that Boorde laughs at. A more accurate assessment of Boorde’s approach comes from the preface of the 1814 reprint edition: ‘In his various publications [Boorde] seems to have courted popularity by the jocoseness of his style, and which, it must be confessed, often degenerates into buffoonery’.29 In other words, although ‘racialism in the familiar nineteenth-​and twentieth-​century sense of the term was all but non-​existent’, stereotypes underscored distinctive ‘national virtues’ and ‘national vices’.30 To write of the world was to venture into a sense of interconnectedness of all humanity, even as formulations of ethnic differentiation suggested separation.31 23  Montaigne, ‘Of Coaches’, quoted in Hodgen, 209. Hodgen suggests that ‘Throughout the past, Europeans, or at least some of them, have known of the existence of far more differing peoples than have ever been mentioned or listed’ (211). 24  Stephen Greenblatt, Marvelous Possessions: The Wonder of the New World (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1991), 3. 25  See Sousa, Shakespeare’s Cross-​Cultural Encounters, 131–​2. 26  Leo Africanus, The History and Description of Africa, trans. John Pory, 3 vols (London, 1600); ed. Robert Brown (London: Hakluyt Society, 1894), I: 313. 27  Andrewe Boorde, The First Boke of the Introduction of Knowledge, ed. F. J. Furnivall (London, 1870). See Sousa, Shakespeare’s Cross-​Cultural Encounters, 89. 28  Elizabeth Lane Furdell, ‘Boorde, Andrew (c.1490–​1549)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 (​view/​ article/​2870, accessed 2 August 2017). 29  Andrew Boorde, The Boke of the Introduction of Knowledge, ed. William Upcott, reprint edition (London: R. and A. Taylor, 1814), p. i. See British Library Shelf mark 71.d.15. 30 Hodgen, Early Anthropology, 213. 31  Hodgen, 222. See Hodgen’s discussion of the monogenetic or single human creation, and polygenetic or multiple human creations, as environmental explanations for the diversity of the human population (222–​51).

178   Geraldo U. de Sousa Yet, caricature dies hard. The Portuguese-​ born Brazilian entertainer Carmen Miranda (1909–​55), the so-​called ‘Brazilian Bombshell’ with her outrageous fruit hat and Bahia outfit inspired by the dress worn by Afro-​Brazilian descendants in the north-​ eastern state of Bahia, fixed an embarrassing image of Brazilians and Latin America for a generation of North Americans. There is real harm in such blatant exploitation. Boorde trades in similar stereotypes, with witty but cutting remarks. Boorde defines ‘the natural disposition’ of national types.32 Even the English do not escape his sharp pen. His Englishman, obsessed with fashion, describes his main obsession, ‘All new fashions be plesaunt to me’ (A3v), and his true nature: ‘And to father, mother and freende, I wyl be unkynde’ (A4r). The Danes are ‘subtle-​witted’ (G2r); Saxons are opinionated (sig. G2v); Sicilians ‘love no new fashions’ (H3r); Venetians, however, are ‘sober and sage’ (I2r); Spaniards live Spartan lives: ‘In my country I have very poore fare /​And my house and my lodging is very bare’(L1r). Egyptians, whom he confuses with the Romany, are ‘swarte’ and ‘lyght fingerd’, but ‘pleasant dansers’ (N2r). A Moor from Barbary to be bought in a market advertises his talent: ‘Yet wyll I be a good dylygent slave’ (M4r). Boorde’s Jew describes himself: ‘I am a Hebrycyon, some call me a Jew /​To Jesu Chryst I was never trew’ (N2v). Portia’s foreign suitors in The Merchant of Venice fall prey to a similar kind of caricature.33 The Neapolitan speaks only of his horse and boasts he can shoe the horse himself, about which Portia concludes: ‘I am much afeard my lady his mother played false with a smith’ (1.2.39–​43); the County Palatine frowns, unable to smile in his ‘unmannerly sadness’ (1.2.45–​52); the Frenchman is a gallant dancer and always ready to fence (1.2.59–​62); the Englishman Falconbridge cannot speak any foreign language and like Andrew Boorde’s Englishman, he loves foreign fashions: ‘I think he bought his doublet in Italy, his round hose in France, his bonnet in Germany, and his behaviour everywhere’ (1.2.71–​5). The Scotsman likes to fight the Englishman, and the Saxon, nephew to the Duke of Saxony, is a drunkard, whom Portia hopes to trick by placing ‘a deep glass of Rhenish wine on the contrary casket’ (1.2.95). Arrogance marks Prince of Aragon’s nature: ‘I will not jump with common spirits /​And rank me with the barbarous multitudes’ (2.9.30–​2). Morocco’s difference is racial, which he tries to counter: ‘Mislike me not for my complexion, /​The shadowed livery of the burnished sun’ (2.1.1–​2). Mary Floyd-​Wilson argues that ‘geohumouralism’ offered a theory to explain how climate creates temperamental and racial difference in a fixed logic of interdependent inversion:  ‘if the southerner is hot and dry, then the northerner must be cold and moist; if the southerner is weak and wise, the northerners must be strong and witless’.34 32 

Andrew Boorde, The Fyrst Boke of the Introduction of Knowledge (London, 1562?), STC 3385, A2v. All quotations from Boorde are from this edition. 33  All quotations from Shakespeare, unless indicated otherwise, are from Stephen Orgel and A. R. Braunmuller, eds., The Complete Works (New York and London: Penguin Books, 2002). Quotations from Love’s Labour’s Lost are from the World’s Classics, ed. G. R. Hibbard (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1994). 34  Mary Floyd-​Wilson, Ethnicity and Race in Early Modern Drama (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 3.

Shakespearean Comedy and Race    179 According to Floyd-​Wilson, geohumouralism trapped the English into trying to figure out how external forces shaped their bodies and national character; therefore, ‘the environment—​whether that meant the air, temperature, diet, and terrain, or the effects of education, rhetoric, or fashion—​necessarily produced and destabilized early modern English selves’.35 Scientific explanations were sought for black skin before such geohumouralist approaches were displaced by other theories of racial difference.36 In Merchant, then, caricature serves to undermine the suitors’ legitimate attempt to win Portia’s hand. Morocco refers to a connection between climate and skin colour to explain his ‘complexion’: ‘Mislike me not for my complexion, /​The shadowed livery of the burnished sun, /​To whom I am neighbour and near bred’ (2.1.1–​3). What darkened his skin has infused bravery in his blood to approach ‘the fairest creature northward born, /​Where Phoebus’s fire scarce thaws the icicles’ (2.1.4–​5). He says he would not ‘change his hue, /​Except to steal’ Portia’s thoughts (2.1.11–​12). Other comedies gesture to the world as a patchwork of difference. In The Comedy of Errors, Dromio of Syracuse compares the kitchen maid, his twin brother’s lover, as ‘spherical, like a globe’, and her body is like a human atlas. He can find the bogs of Ireland in her buttocks, the barrenness of the Scottish landscape in her hands, the war-​like nature of France in her forehead; the ‘chalky cliffs’ of England in her teeth; the ‘rubies, carbuncles, sapphires’ of America in her nose (3.2.114–​37).37 The association between specific countries and parts of the body seems deeply grounded in geohumouralism and theories about how climate affects not only temperament but racial diversity and cultural difference.

Aggression of Language Hamlet purposes to speak ‘daggers’ to his mother ‘but use none’ (3.3.399); Gertrude momentarily feels Hamlet’s intent: ‘These words like daggers enter in my ear’ (3.4.95). As both Hamlet and Gertrude recognize, words can wound and inflict pain, whether hurtful words come from bullying in school playgrounds or locker rooms, police profiling, gender stereotyping, or racial slurs and insults hurled at others. In a 2013 landmark case in Brazilian jurisprudence, the Brazilian courts found the journalist Paulo Henrique Amorim guilty of racism and sentenced him to 20 months in prison, in part for referring to another as a ‘negro de alma branca’ (black man with a white soul); the courts rejected Amorim’s defence based on freedom of speech and determined that Amorim had resorted to racism and therefore had caused ‘injúria social’ (social insult), irreparable offense to the fundamental dignity of another human being.38 Whether one 35 

Floyd-​Wilson, 3–​4. Floyd-​Wilson, 5. 37  François Laroque, ‘Shakespeare’s Imaginary Geography’, in Andrew Hadfield and Paul Hammond, eds., Shakespeare and Renaissance Europe (London: Arden, 2005), 198–​202. 38  Jennifer Roth-​Gordon, Race and the Brazilian Body: Blackness, Whiteness, and Everyday Language in Rio de Janeiro (Oakland: University of California Press, 2017), 1–​2. In this superb book on race 36 

180   Geraldo U. de Sousa agrees or disagrees that ‘injúria moral’ should trump freedom of speech, ‘power takes shape in language’ and ‘language exercises its will-​to-​power’.39 Stephen Greenblatt writes of the ways in which language and linguistic colonialism go hand in hand, language becoming a weapon of empire.40 Greenblatt underscores the fact that ‘reality for each society is constructed to a significant degree out of the specific qualities of its language and symbols. Discard the particular words and you have discarded the particular men.’41 In Shakespeare’s time, ‘violent speech’, as Kirilka Stavreva argues, ‘was renounced in sermons and pamphlets, vigorously disputed in courts of law, and dramatized in often contradictory ways in stage plays, ballads, and letters to religious communities’.42 In the comedies, language rather than swords or daggers becomes the tool of aggression. What we consider racist and ethnic slurs abound, such as when Dumaine in Love’s Labour’s Lost writes that Jove would deem Juno to be an ‘Ethiop’ in comparison to the beautiful Katherine (4.3.116). Similarly, in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Lysander insults the brunette Hermia: ‘Away, you Ethiope!’, referring to her also as a ‘Tawny Tartar’ (3.2.257, 263). In As You Like It, Rosalind-​Ganymede speaks of Phoebe’s letter: ‘Ethiop words, blacker in their effect /​Than in their countenance’ (4.3.36–​7); and she explains to Silvius that, although she has discouraged Phoebe, Phoebe remains defiant ‘Like Turk to Christian’ (4.3.33–​4).43 In The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Proteus refers to Silvia as ‘fair,’ whereas Julia becomes ‘a swarthy Ethiope’ (2.6.25, 26), a black African. Proteus echoes Eurocentric standards of beauty and Petrarchan tropes of desirable qualities. Shakespeare uses the word ‘negro’44 only once, in the context of Lorenzo making fun of Launcelot Gobbo in Merchant for ‘the getting up of the Negro’s belly’; he adds: ‘The Moor is with child by you, Launcelot’(3.5.38–​40). In his reasoning to reject the gold casket, Bassanio dreads that a ‘beauteous scarf ’ might ‘[veil] an Indian beauty’ (3.2.98–​9); that is, something beautiful can hide something ugly and ‘entrap the wisest’ (101). In All’s Well that Ends Well, Lavatch evokes the commonplace representation of the Devil as a black man: ‘The Black Prince, sir, alias the prince of darkness, alias the devil’ (4.5.42–​3).45 In Merry Wives of Windsor, the French Doctor Caius speaks in broken English, and the relations in Brazil, Roth-​Gordon discusses this example in detail, and she also indicates that Brazil’s Superior Tribunal de Justice (Superior Court of Justice) upheld the sentence on appeal (1). 39  Patricia Palmer, Language and Conquest in Early Modern Ireland: English Renaissance Literature and Elizabethan Imperial Expansion (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 20. 40   Stephen J. Greenblatt, Learning to Curse: Essays in Early Modern Culture (New York and London: Routledge, 1990), 16–​17. 41 Greenblatt, Learning to Curse, 32. 42  See Kirilka Stavreva, Words Like Daggers: Violent Female Speech in Early Modern England (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2015), xv. 43  See Ian Smith’s discussion of this passage in Race and Rhetoric in the Renaissance (Houndmills, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan 2009), 15. 44 In Queen Anna’s Nevv VVorld of Words, or Dictionarie of the Italian and English Tongues (London, 1611), John Florio offers the following definition: ‘Negro—​blacke, swart, darke’ (330). 45  See ‘Satan’s Livery’, in Anthony Gerard Barthelemy, Black Face, Maligned Race: The Representation of Blacks in English Drama from Shakespeare to Southerne (Baton Rouge, LA and London: Louisiana State University Press, 1987), 1–​17.

Shakespearean Comedy and Race    181 Host mocks him and hurls insults at him, including ‘my Ethiopian’ (2.3.24). Even if notions of race are not fixed in a system of classification, as would become the case in the nineteenth century, these references have a cumulative corrosive effect. As I will discuss below, they occur in relation to either implicit or explicit comparison to whiteness. In such contexts, white spaces imply comfort and familiarity, as well as assumptions and practices, not yet precisely defined but suggestive of privilege and inequitable access to resources and exclusive rights.46 A 1993 Brazilian production of Merchant subtly but powerfully underscored the nexus of race and social status,47 reflecting the complex dynamics of Brazilian society. The production underscored Shylock’s dignity, humanity, and emotional depth as an outsider in a Christian society; downplayed Morocco’s racial difference by foregrounding, instead, his boastful nature and personal eccentricities in speech, demeanour, and dress; made more subtle Portia and Nerissa’s mocking of the suitors as national caricatures; and set apart the Italian characters, like the Brazilian audience, as lovers of carnival. Shylock, played by the renowned actor Edney Giovenazzi, spoke Portuguese with a foreign accent but with dignity and aplomb. Unable to articulate the abundant nasals of Portuguese, Shylock seemed trapped in the interstices of cultures. The suitors, speaking in the distinctive Northeast Portuguese dialect, associated in Southeast Brazil with migrant labourers and domestic servants, became upstarts aspiring to marry a rich heiress well above their station. The Italians, however, resembled their upper-​class Brazilian counterparts in the audience, and comported themselves in the flippant, shallow, and formulaic style of the popular Brazilian telenovelas on Globo TV network. The producers of the Brazilian Merchant of Venice ‘subtly suggested that Venetian society, under the guise of mocking individual difference, hid intense racial and religious prejudice’.48 Shakespeare’s uses of language, as Ian Smith aptly notes, can become ‘powerful racial marker[s]‌—b ​ lacker in their effect—​than the somatic signs of skin colour or complexion’. And, as the examples from the comedies illustrate, language serves ‘to codify racial identities’ in subtle ways.49

The Question of Whiteness In their introduction to the 2016 Shakespeare Quarterly special issue on early modern race, editors Peter Erickson and Kim F. Hall find ‘the use of the term “race” to mean only black or “of color” [to be] unsatisfactory’, and they call for work ‘in the area of early

46  I am echoing the words of Roth-​Gordon, Race and the Brazilian Body, in describing white privilege in Rio de Janeiro’s society (71). 47  See Roth-​Gordon, 71. 48  Geraldo U. de Sousa, ‘The Merchant of Venice: Brazil and Cultural Icons’, Shakespeare Quarterly 45 (1994), 472. 49 Smith, Race and Rhetoric, 15.

182   Geraldo U. de Sousa modern white studies’.50 As Ian Smith writes, white European authors ‘lay the rhetorical foundation of a chromatic culture of difference’ and therefore, like skin colour, ‘the African’s language in the Renaissance is an equally important site that mediates the racial fictions of differential identities’.51 I suggest that the centrality and prominence of white as a metaphor have the ability to, at the very least, displace to the sidelines the stories of Others in the comedies. ‘White’ has historically carried a wide range of definitions and connotations. In the early modern period, these definitions ranged from paleness from illness, fear, or cowardice, to ‘free from malignity or evil intent’ (OED). In reference to skin hue or complexion, white was seen as ‘a conventional attribute’ of female beauty, implying avoidance of the sun and manual labour (OED). Shakespeare generally does not represent whiteness as something negative, except with reference to paleness associated with fear, cowardice, other emotions, or illness. I am foregrounding whiteness as a question of race not to suggest that whiteness is a problem per se, but rather to contextualize the nature of dualistic thinking in the comedies. Yet, as Kate Lowe proposes, for ‘a racial definition of whiteness to crystallise in Europe’, paradoxically Europeans had to encounter sub-​Saharan black Africans in the flesh rather than rely on imaginary or legendary figures.52 Binary thinking entails a law of symmetry. Michelle Wallace writes, ‘There is no question in my mind that the unrelenting logic of dualism, or polar oppositions—​such as black and white, good and evil, male and female—​is basic to the discourse of the dominant culture and tends to automatically erase black female subjectivity’.53 But dualistic thinking does more: it tends to erase the subjectivity of the Other, at least insofar as foregrounding the concerns of whites and relegating Others to the sidelines. Hall suggests that ‘the language of blackness has been a shaping force in black lives’, whereas ‘a language based on a hierarchy of black and white perpetuates racism’; she adds: ‘the language of dark and light is part of a white supremacist ideology and persists as a common way of marking peoples of the African diaspora as inferior’.54 In usage dating to 1398 and certainly available in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, ‘white’ meant ‘Belonging to or denoting a light-​skinned group of people, esp. one of European origin or descent’ (OED, def. 5a). In opposition to black, ‘white’ also signified ‘free from malignity or evil intent’ (OED, def. 7b). From a modern scientific perspective, ‘the quality of being white is due to the equal reflection or emission of all wavelengths of the visible spectrum of light’, lacking ‘any distinctive hue’ (OED, def. 1A1a.). The American Heritage Dictionary adds this telling comment: ‘white 50 

Peter Erickson and Kim F. Hall, ‘ “A New Scholarly Song”: Rereading Early Modern Race’, Shakespeare Quarterly 67, no.1 (2016), 7. In the same volume, Arthur L. Little, Jr., in ‘Re-​Historicizing Race, White Melancholia and the Shakespearean Property’, addresses how ‘whiteness’ in the early modern period became ‘a racial property of those whom we would later formally reference as white people’ (88). 51 Smith, Race and Rhetoric, 15. 52  Kate Lowe, ‘The Stereotyping of Black Africans in Renaissance Europe’, Black Africans in Renaissance Europe, ed. T. F. Earle and K. J. P. Lowe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 47. 53  Quoted in Hall, Things of Darkness, 264. 54 Hall, 266.

Shakespearean Comedy and Race    183 appears always to depend upon contrast’.55 Like the references to black or dark bodies discussed above, references to fairness, whiteness, and white as a metaphor seem pervasive. To cite a few examples, Two Gentlemen contains twenty references to ‘fair’; LLL, fifty-​four; Much Ado About Nothing, sixteen; Errors, fourteen. We hear of Portia’s ‘golden fleece’ (1.1.170) and ‘golden locks’ (3.2.92); of ‘golden hairs’ (Errors, 3.2.48); and of a ‘golden head’ (Dream, 1.1.170). There are also references to white hands and white cheeks. As Matthieu Chapman aptly notes, ‘Notions of whiteness as pure and blackness as sin in religious doctrine predate discourse on whiteness and blackness as racialized categories’.56 Arthur Little suggests that one particular passage in Dream encapsulates a fantasy of whiteness for Shakespeare: Puck’s blessing of the newlyweds—​‘the blots of Nature’s hand /​Shall not in their issue stand’ (ll. 409–​10)—​refers to revulsion at racial miscegenation and therefore raises an important question of race.57 Modern productions have found ways to neutralize the implied black-​white binary, such as the practice of colour-​blind or non-​traditional casting, the use of all-​black or all-​Hispanic casts, or the adaptation of the plays to local contexts around the world. In a review of the 2017 Theatre for a New Audience production of Measure for Measure, directed by Simon Godwin, Jesse Green writes that the production ‘soars just as it should into that uniquely Shakespearean plane where absolutely opposing philosophies are given equally compelling expression’.58 Shakespeare’s texts offer blueprints for neutralizing whiteness and blackness as loaded metaphors and suggest a more racially inclusive and culturally diverse and tolerant world than was the case in the early modern period.59 In other words, Shakespeare offers ways to avoid privileging white over black.

Global Versus Local In the comedies, Shakespeare represents a world on the move. The rise of what we recognize as a global ‘core’ can no doubt be traced to the emerging forces of colonialism in the early modern period. European colonial powers tapped human, economic, and environmental resources on a global scale, while they also began to erect barricades to separate

55   Mark Boyer, et al., eds., The American Heritage Dictionary, 2nd College Edition (Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 1986), 1378. 56  Matthieu Chapman, Anti-​Black Racism in Early Modern English Drama: The Other ‘Other’ (New York and London: Routledge, 2017), 7. 57  Little, ‘Re-​Historicizing Race’, 94. Little also suggests that this passage points to ‘the limitation of racial whiteness, its failure to create an “imagined community”, to fully vest it without the introjection of the blotted or blackened body’ (95). 58  Jesse Green, ‘Odd Birds on a Collision Course’, New York Times, 26 June 2017, C1. Isabella and her brother Claudio were played by black actors. 59  See Arthur L. Little, Jr.’s informative and thoughtful review essay of Colorblind Shakespeare: New Perspectives on Race and Performance, a collection of essays edited by Ayanna Thompson (New York: Routledge, 2006) in Shakespeare Studies 37 (2009), 296–​306.

184   Geraldo U. de Sousa core from periphery.60 The comedies represent at least in part what Charles H. Parker identifies as ‘four central forms of interaction in the early modern period’: ‘new commercial exchange networks, large-​scale migration streams, worldwide biological exchange, and transfers of knowledge across oceans and continents’.61 Here I want to focus on the sense of mobility and global interconnectedness, alongside efforts to erect walls to bar foreign migration and influence.62 This contradictory double gesture has clear implications for the question of race in the comedies and the ‘development of ideologies of racial difference.’63 In other words, Shakespeare explores fears of things foreign and suspicion of interconnectedness in a globalized world. We live in an age of nationalistic isolationism, travel bans, promise of building walls, separating insiders from outsiders, and erecting or fortifying borders of exclusion. As in Shakespeare’s time, we seek for security and refuge in and affirmation of the local, even as our lives seem increasingly subject to and affected by global forces beyond our control. Notorious amidst the documentary evidence of such developments are Queen Elizabeth’s letters of 1596–​7 and 1601 ordering the deportation of ‘blackamoors’, who were to ‘be exchanged for Englishmen imprisoned by the Spanish’.64 In the 1601 letter, ‘Licensing Caspar van Senden to Deport Negroes’, Queen Elizabeth complains of ‘the great number of Negroes and blackamoors’ and threatens punishment to those ‘possessed of any such blackamoors that refuse to deliver them in sort aforesaid’.65 Emily Bartels interprets these orders in the context of the Anglo-​Spanish conflict and the fact that ‘privateering ventures’ resulted in an increased number of Africans in England.66 Bartels argues that ‘whatever its ideological bearings, Elizabeth’s plan to reverse that immigration served as a practical means for reclaiming English prisoners from Spain’.67 Borders fascinate Shakespeare. In the comedies, Shakespeare frequently returns to the Mediterranean region, known as a crossroads of ethnicities and one of the most racially and culturally diverse regions of the world. The often unspecified or blurred time period allows for Shakespeare’s audience to imagine the implied cultural, linguistic, ethnic, and racial diversity of this region, temporally and geographically both distant and near. The comedies suggest a great deal of mobility: changing locations, diversity 60 

For early uses of the vocabulary of core and periphery, see Immanuel Wallerstein, The Modern World System I (New York: Academic Press, 1974). See my discussion of this matter in ‘ “My hopes abroad”: The Global/​Local Nexus in The Merchant of Venice’, in Ruben Espinosa and David Ruiter, eds., Shakespeare and Immigration (Aldershot, UK, and Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2014), 37–​57. 61  Charles H. Parker, Global Interactions in the Early Modern Age, 1400–​1800 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 3. 62  Sousa, ‘Global/​Local Nexus’, 37. 63  Ania Loomba and Jonathan Burton, Race in Early Modern England: A Documentary Companion (Houndmills, Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), 1. 64  Loomba and Burton, Race in Early Modern England, 135–​6. 65  Loomba and Burton, 158–​9. 66  Emily Bartels, Speaking of the Moor: From Alcazar to Othello (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008), 102. 67 Bartels, Speaking of the Moor, 102. Bartels offers a nuanced reading of the context for the deportation (100–​17).

Shakespearean Comedy and Race    185 of nationalities, Europe on the borders of Africa, Christians on the borders of other religions. In their own distinctive ways, the Albanian/​Illyrian backdrop in Twelfth Night, the Turkish/​Anatolian region of Ephesus in Errors, or the Sicilian landscapes of Much Ado come into focus. In Errors, for example, Shakespeare focuses on the movements of Egeon’s family set adrift on the ‘wild wat’ry seas’ (2.1.21) of the Eastern Mediterranean. Egeon’s family become migrants and refugees, torn between Syracuse and Ephesus, rival maritime states. Some family members thrive, whereas others undertake a long voyage in search of the lost family members. Syracuse and Ephesus want to define precise national borders, passing laws to exclude citizens from each other’s domain. In LLL, Ferdinand, King of Navarre, and his courtiers put on a masque consisting of ‘blackamoors with music’ and of Russians (5.2.57, sd), who state that they have travelled far to dance with the French ladies (5.4.184–​5). After tricking the men to woo the wrong partner, the Princess of France bids them farewell: ‘Twenty adieus, my frozen Muscovites, /​Are these the breed of wits so wondered at’ (5.2.265–​6). Foreign identities provide courtly entertainment. In the imagination of French courtiers, Moors and Muscovites carry intertwined degrees of foreignness and identities determined in a fixed logic of climatological, geohumouralist inversion. In All’s Well That Ends Well, Shakespeare presents a different situation. Helena, for example, can travel vast distances from France to Galicia to Florence and back to France seemingly encountering no border checkpoints or any linguistic or cultural difference. Yet in the trick that the French Lords and Bertram play on Paroles, Paroles is ambushed by soldiers pretending to be ‘a band of strangers’ (4.1.14). Paroles instantly assumes that these are members of the Muscovites’ regiment (69); unable to speak Russian, he readily volunteers to betray his fellow soldiers: ‘If there be here German, or Dane, Low Dutch, /​Italian, or French, let him speak to me, /​I’ll discover that which shall undo the Florentine’ (4.1.71–​3). They speak gibberish, pretending to be Russian. These examples underscore how the foreign and the domestic appear so near. In the courtly entertainment in LLL and in the joke played on Paroles, Shakespeare shows how easily one can step from the domestic into the foreign, and thus across or against national and racial identities. Here I want to focus in more detail on two plays, Dream and Merchant, which explicitly address a globalized world preoccupied with either taking down or erecting border walls, and thus trafficking in what now look like racialized categories. In Dream, the Athenian woods do not only represent simply a kingdom of shadows on the edge of the city, or a fictional world of a masque or of a practical joke. They also represent, I want to suggest, a globalized world without limits, without borders. In this play, the Amazons combine both notions of symbolic inversion and reversal of gender roles, and they serve to mark the unstable frontier between European and alien.68 But before the play begins the Amazons were defeated on the battlefield, and Hippolyta possesses only a


For a detailed discussion of this matter, see Sousa, Shakespeare’s Cross-​Cultural Encounters, 12–​25.

186   Geraldo U. de Sousa partial memory of her former identity as an Amazon, before she became Theseus’s bride. Unlike the Amazons, the fairies cannot be defeated because they inhabit the night world of dream and the realm of human imagination and desire. If the Athenians of the play seem bent on conquering and subjugating others and establishing a patriarchal world, the fairies have the potential to disrupt all of this and turn the world upside down, into a place where daughters can disobey their fathers and get away with it. They can also redirect and refocus desire, and bring about metamorphosis. In Dream, the fairies are Romany-​like travellers, camping out on the outskirts of Athens. They represent a different ethos, alternative ways of thinking and living. They engage in sexual promiscuity, situated as they are in a different kind of family. They are clearly not tied down to any particular location, and they move across cultural, sexual, geographical boundaries. In their interactions with humans, they can alter perception and take away free will. Puck reports that Oberon and Titania are fighting over a lovely changeling boy, ‘stolen from an Indian king’ (2.1.22); Oberon wants to raise the boy to become a ‘Knight of his train, to trace the forests wild’ (2.1.25). The vast globe seems to come into view. Titania asks Oberon: ‘Why art thou here, /​Come from the farthest steep of India [?]‌’ (2.1.68–​9). She refers to ‘the mazed world’ (2.1.113), both bewildering and amazing but also full of trails and vast routes to farthermost regions. She recounts in vivid detail a scene set ‘in the spiced Indian air’ (2.1.124) with the changeling boy’s mother: Full often hath she gossiped by my side, And sat with me on Neptune’s yellow sands, Marking th’embarked traders on the flood; When we have laughed to see the sails conceive And grow big-​bellied with the wanton wind, Which she, with pretty and with swimming gait Following (her womb then rich with my young squire), Would imitate, and sail upon the land, As from a voyage, rich with merchandise. But she, being mortal, of that boy did die, And for her sake do I rear up her boy, And for her sake I will not part with him. (2.1.125–​37)

The scene evokes the image of a child born to a same-​sex couple, and of a vast world of difference. Oberon’s last words in the play also suggest a world without borders: ‘Trip away, make no stay, /​Meet me all by break of day’ (413–​4). By contrast, in Merchant, Shakespeare stages religious, racial, and ethnic conflict in the context of border protection and immigration. Yet, difference becomes a form of resistance. An outsider in Venice, Shylock fights to be accepted, to be included, but inward-​looking Venetians resist. They brand him. The word ‘Jew’ is used upward of fifty times, often as a way of branding him and stigmatizing his difference. Venetians evoke a panoply of images and associations to make sure that he remains excluded.

Shakespearean Comedy and Race    187 He refers to his ‘sacred nation’ and to his fellow Jews as a ‘tribe’ (1.3.45, 48, 54); and to his patient ‘suff ’rance’ of Antonio’s repeated insults as ‘the badge of all our tribe’ (1.3.107). Venetians coalesce around their self-​interest to protect one another, to form new alliances, to foster a sense of ‘social capital’ in which networks of connections are paramount in protecting and defending one another’s interests. ‘Social capital’ is ‘the coordinated collective . . . based on trust in others, a belief that facilitates the initiation of affiliations and “networking”, producing collective action and effective civic activity to achieve shared goals’.69 The benefits of social capital are numerous in building networks of cooperation and assistance among the Venetians to the exclusion of outsiders. Portia defends Antonio against Shylock. Antonio and Portia straddle a global world:  he is a global merchant and she a global bride. Together, they ensure that Venetian interests and the interests of the governing elite come first.70 At the same time, they isolate Shylock, defeat him in the courtroom, confiscate and redistribute his properties, and force him to convert to Christianity. These outcomes signal a failure to bridge social capital in Venice of the play: trust decreases and voluntary associations are denied. Shylock does not achieve equality in Venice; rather, Shylock is violently yanked out of his community and thrust into another community that does not respect his difference. Inclusion in a new community signifies exclusion from another. Shakespeare, one might conclude, illustrates the difficulty of fostering social capital across racial, ethnic, national, and cultural boundaries, providing a sharp contrast to the relative ease with which dominant homogenous groups, such as the Venetians of the play, build networks of connections, encourage trust among themselves, and build and enjoy social capital by sharing similar interests and goals. Tellingly, upon his legal defeat and compulsory conversion in Act IV, Shylock leaves the courtroom and exits the play. But even here, the Venetians allow him to retreat to what he had referred to earlier as his ‘sober house’ (2.5.36). Act V, set in Belmont, creates geographical and emotional distance from Shylock’s defeat and the Christians’ double-​ edged sword of mercy in sparing his life but confiscating his properties. Yet, Shakespeare gives Shylock multiple opportunities to assert and defend his humanity, as for example, in his extended speech, ‘I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes?’ (3.1.54–​67). Likewise, Tubal’s report that Jessica has traded her late mother’s engagement ring for a monkey (3.2.109–​ 110, 112) invites the audience’s sympathy for the feelings of a father deeply hurt by the actions of an insensitive, uncaring daughter. Shylock cannot, of course, take wings, like the fairies of Dream, at the break of a new day and settle down at the farthest limits of land 69 

John C. Pierce, Nicholas P. Lovrich, Jr., and William Budd, ‘Social Capital, Institutional Performance and Sustainability in Italy’s Regions: Still Evidence of Enduring Historical Effects?’ Social Science Journal 53 (2016): 271–​81. I am grateful to my friend John C. Pierce for helping clarify for me the concepts of social capital, trust, and the socio-​economic consequences when societies fail to bridge social capital. 70  See Stephen J. Dubner, ‘Trust Me’, Freakonomics Radio, produced by Greg Rossalski, aired on 10 November 2016. http://​​podcast/​trust-​me/​, accessed 20 August 2017. For a detailed discussion of this matter, see Sousa, ‘Global/​Local Nexus,’ 37–​57.

188   Geraldo U. de Sousa or sea. But, poignantly, about to leave the courtroom in Act IV, Shylock makes clear that he wants to seek shelter in the inner sanctum of his home, begging the Venetians: ‘I pray you give me leave to go from hence; /​I am not well. Send the deed after me, /​And I will sign it’ (4.1.393–​5). The home represents a refuge from the hostile outside world and becomes a powerful symbol of Shylock’s humanity and dignity. For Shakespeare, in the comedies, the question of race comes down to the ways that the lives of human beings are intertwined, sometimes in violent clashes, as is the case of Shylock and the Venetians. Undoubtedly, Shakespeare lived in a society divided by race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, creed, and status that defined borders of the permissible and allowed the inclusion or exclusion of specific persons or groups, and the comedies reflect this dark side of human interaction. Writing of contemporary Europe, Uli Linke and Danielle Taana Smith argue that ‘European border regimes are encoded by a cultural logic of othering that sustains the fortifications of Europe as a hegemonic white space’.71 They argue that this ‘regime of borders’ becomes ‘a violent process of exclusion’.72 At most, one might argue, in the comedies Shakespeare offers us a fragmentary rather than a systematic view of such a regime of borders and the complex processes of exclusion that could and would be deployed. Concepts of race were unstable and the markers of difference were only beginning to coalesce into the full-​blown forces embodied in colonialism and the repugnant African slave trade. Shakespeare’s comedies do not, for example, depict white-​on-​black violence, as is the case in the tragedies, nor do they articulate a white supremacist ideology, although they offer ethnocentric perspectives, plenty of ethnic caricature and national stereotyping, aggressive language, privileging of whiteness, and fear of foreign influence, violently so in the treatment of Shylock. I want to offer the example of niello as an analogy for Shakespeare’s more gentle prevailing approach in the comedies, as opposed to the tragedies. Archaeological sites from ancient Greece, Egypt, and Cyprus have provided us with exquisite examples of the metallurgical technique known as niello: ‘any of several black metallic alloys, composed of sulphur and either copper, silver, or lead, heated and used to fill designs incised in the surface of other metals, esp. silver’ (OED). The OED adds, ‘once cooled and polished, the contrast between the black niello and the metallic surface creates an attractive decorative effect’. Indeed ancient, medieval, and later craftsmen recognized ‘the aesthetic value of touches of colour or of black in their gold and silverware’.73 Touches of the niello ‘provided that strong note of black or dark-​grey which is found to be so valuable in a lighter colour scheme’.74 Shakespeare approaches racial issues and ethnic contrasts not 71 

Uli Linke and Danielle Taana Smith, Cultures of Fear: A Critical Reader (New York: Pluto Press, 2009), 10–​11. 72  Linke and Smith, Cultures of Fear, 11. 73  Herbert Maryon, Metalwork and Enamelling: A Practical Treatise on Gold and Silversmiths’ Work and Their Allied Crafts (New York: Dover Publications, 1971), 161. See Chapter 19, ‘Niello’, 161–​8. 74 Maryon, Metalwork and Enamelling, 161. In the ancient world, ‘the niello seems to have been composed of copper and silver sulphides,’ although in later periods different metals were used to create the black alloy (161).

Shakespearean Comedy and Race    189 as a decorative technique but to suggest subtle connections in contrasts, and the cultural forces of exclusion that inclusion of difference entails.

Suggested Reading Bartels, Emily C., Speaking of the Moor: From Alcazar to Othello (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008). Bethencourt, Francisco, Racisms: From the Crusade to the Twentieth Century (Princeton, NJ, and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2013). Chapman, Matthieu, Anti-​Black Racism in Early Modern English Drama (New  York and London: Routledge, 2017). Debrunner, Hans Werner, Presence and Prestige:  Africans in Europe (Basel:  Basler Afrika Bibliographien, 1979). Earle, T. F., and K. J. P. Lowe, eds., Black Africans in Renaissance Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005). Floyd-​Wilson, Mary, English Ethnicity and Race in Early Modern Drama (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003). Goodwin, Stefan, Africa in Europe. Vol. 1:  Antiquity into the Age of Global Exploration (New York: Lexington Books, 2009). Habib, Imtiaz, Black Lives in the English Archives, 1500–​1677: Imprints of the Invisible (Aldershot, Hampshire, England, and Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2008). Hall, Kim F. Things of Darkness:  Economics of Race and Gender in Early Modern England (Ithaca, NY, and London: Cornell University Press, 1995). Hannaford, Ivan, Race: The History of an Idea in the West (Washington, DC: Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 1996). Hendricks, Margo, and Patricia Parker, eds., Women, ‘Race’, and Writing in the Early Modern Period (London and New York: Routledge, 1994). Hodgen, Margaret T., Early Anthropology in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1964). Loomba, Ania, and Jonathan Barton, eds., Race in Early Modern England:  A Documentary Companion (Houndmills, Basingstoke, and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007). Roth-​Gordon, Jennifer, Race and the Brazilian Body:  Blackness, Whiteness, and Everyday Language in Rio de Janeiro (Oakland, CA: University of California Press, 2017). Smith, Ian, Race and Rhetoric in the Renaissance: Barbarian Errors (Houndmills, Basingstoke, and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009). Sousa, Geraldo U. de, ‘The Merchant of Venice: Brazil and Cultural Icons’, Shakespeare Quarterly 45 (1994), 469–​74. Sousa, Geraldo U.  de, ‘Alien Habitats in The Tempest’, in Patrick M. Murphy, ed., The Tempest: Critical Essays (New York and London: Routledge, 2001), 438–​61. Sousa, Geraldo U. de, Shakespeare’s Cross-​Cultural Encounters (Houndmills, Basingstoke, and New York: Palgrave, 2002). Sousa, Geraldo U. de, ‘ “My hopes abroad”: The Global/​Local Nexus in the Merchant of Venice’, in Ruben Espinosa and David Ruiter, eds., Shakespeare and Immigration (Farham, Surrey, UK and Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2014), 37–​58.

Chapter 11

Farce and  Forc e Shakespearean Comedy, Militarism, and Violence Simon Barker

The last thirty years have seen the development of a substantial body of scholarship devoted to the relationship between Shakespeare’s plays and warfare, ranging from analyses of early modern playwrights’ concerns with historic or putative ‘states’ and their armies, and their military subjects (both the soldier and the militarily attuned civilian) to military ‘histories’ and mythologies in the form of drama, prose and poetry, fiction and non-​fiction. A significant part of this body of work has also been concerned with the ways in which latter-​day interpretations and adaptations of early modern plays for the stage or screen have been informed by the contexts of armed conflict in our own recent war-​formed past. This work has opened new pathways in our understanding of Shakespeare’s historical period, his canon of written texts, and our own present—​ although these are by no means separate repositories of possible meaning (let alone understanding) since influences between them are commonly acknowledged by the critics at work in this field, just as they are in any other field of Shakespearean criticism. The idea that our own experiences (or interpretations) of the world can be mediated by references to Shakespeare, or that the present world continually renews the meaning of Shakespeare, is at the heart of much of the criticism that now attends those plays that are either preoccupied with military matters or at least pay some overt attention to what was clearly an issue of deep interest to the audiences gathered to see the early performances of Shakespeare and his contemporaries. This critical ‘war-​work’ has become a kind of ‘strand’ in Shakespearean criticism with a considerable presence, if we count up the number of conferences and publications dedicated to aspects of Shakespeare and military conflict. The reason for this accumulation of work is arguably the continued presence of war in our own times (which also inspires those productions of Shakespeare’s plays which make overt reference to modern theatres of war); and the fact that modern warfare has been perceived over recent decades as vastly more complex in terms of ideological uncertainty, technology, and geography, including the geography of religious difference. It is undoubtedly the case that

Farce and Force   191 religious identity and motivation, whilst never far from the battlefields of distant human history, have a presence in the modern world that attracts comparisons with the medieval and early modern battlefields that interested Shakespeare and his audiences. It may even be that some straightforward readings (and theatre productions) of Shakespeare’s ‘military plays’ also feed a nostalgia for lost certainties, although the criticism I am referring to rarely allows such comfort and allure. The extent of this strand of scholarly attention to issues of Shakespeare and the representation of warfare is evident in the fact that there have recently been attempts to offer accounts of this criticism as if it were almost some kind of genre in its own right. Most comprehensive is Andrew Hiscock’s ‘ “More warlike than politique”: Shakespeare and the Theatre of War—​A Critical Survey’, which appeared in the British Shakespeare Association’s journal Shakespeare in the summer of 2011.1 Hiscock’s survey is especially important because he captures in detail the years of expansion in this area of critical writing, offering both review and analysis. He also offers an intelligent and convincing view on the opportunities for future research in the field: As has become apparent in the course of this discussion, there still remains a host of possibilities for developing the critical analysis of Shakespeare’s narratives of war, by exploiting, for example, the opportunities afforded by: the ongoing, vibrant historical debates surrounding an early modern ‘military revolution’; the study of the diction and textual emphases of classical translation in the period; attending more closely to the military discourses of given faith communities; and by remaining sensitive in the documents which come down to us to professed allegiances towards nation, region and civic identities.2

That Shakespeare, as this passage suggests, has become the object of a burgeoning modern narrative of his own narratives of war is in one respect quite striking. There is something arresting about the way that this phenomenon speaks of our own concerns as much as it does of Shakespeare’s. In this chapter I offer an overview of recent critical and performance-​based engagements with Shakespeare and warfare before examining Shakespearean comedy, a largely neglected topic in studies of Shakespeare and violence. These studies, not surprisingly, have concentrated on his history plays, his classical plays and, to some extent, his principal tragedies—​all of which have explicit connections to issues of war. As a corrective, this chapter is concerned with a selection of Shakespeare’s comedies in order to suggest that the business of warfare actually extends across the full range of the canon. Warfare may not be as immediately apparent in the comedies as it is in tragedy, the histories, or the classical plays, yet its subtle presence reinforces the idea that warfare and the violence of military practice were of considerable concern for early modern audiences. It also gives credibility to the idea that comedy has the potential to

1  Andrew Hiscock, ‘ “More warlike than politique”: Shakespeare and the Theatre of War—​A Critical Survey’, Shakespeare 7, no. 2 (2011), 221–​47. 2  Hiscock, ‘ “More warlike than politique” ’, 241.

192   Simon Barker invite subversive views of the orthodoxies of a military hegemony that was being consolidated during the Elizabethan and early Stuart period, arguably as an absolute precondition of the formation of the modern nation state. Comedy interrogates the values and assumptions of the military prose writing of the period which informed the ‘military revolution’ in the state apparatuses of the regimes of the seventeenth century, both in Britain and abroad. Military organization was not new (institutionalized violence is as least as old as Homer), but the ideological sense of the relationship between the state and its military values was changing, and Shakespeare responded across the genres, and, indeed, mixed genres to achieve new perspectives on warfare, ancient and contemporary. Many of Shakespeare’s comedies include allusions to impending or past wars, and they frequently present figures or groups of figures who have been fashioned either by the experience of war or by a frustration over the absence of war. In the comedies this fashioning is sometimes the cause of violence (or a threat of violence), and it often exploits—​by inversion or parody—​the tropes of militarism found in the histories, the classical plays, and the tragedies. In other words, just as tragedy contains comedy, and often seems to depend upon an understanding of a tragedy/​comedy binary, when a commensurate binary holds for comedic plays the tragic element is often related to war. Furthermore, although it is a commonplace to say that the Shakespeare canon is preoccupied by representations of gender, this chapter will argue that this preoccupation is explored in distinctive ways in those comedies that are associated with militarism and violence. Although concerned here with Shakespearean comedy, I shall note briefly that plays by some of Shakespeare’s contemporaries developed and extended the association between Shakespeare and warfare by ruthlessly parodying his work.

New Perspectives On 23 April 2016, ‘Shakespeare 400:  New Perspectives’ was held at the Chichester Festival Theatre in West Sussex in the south of England to mark 400 years since the death of Shakespeare. Those organizing the day thought themselves lucky to have secured such an illustrious venue on the actual date associated with Shakespeare’s death (and birth); and this collaboration between the CFT, the University of Chichester, and the British Shakespeare Association drew an eclectic audience of students and members of the public. Of interest to anyone concerned with the relationship between Shakespeare’s theatre and warfare was one event in particular. This was a lively panel discussion with Christopher Luscombe, Nigel Hess, and Simon Higlett, the creative team behind the Royal Shakespeare Company’s 2014 productions of Love’s Labour’s Lost and Much Ado About Nothing, which were on their way to Chichester for performance later in the year. Luscombe, Hess, and Higlett discussed the significance of the physical setting for their productions of LLL and Much Ado and the relation of that setting to the plays’ engagements with war. The Victorian interiors of Charlecote Park, on the estate near Stratford-​ upon-​Avon that Shakespeare would have known in an earlier incarnation, had proved

Farce and Force   193 inspirational for the scenery and style of productions they had set self-​consciously in the summer of 1914 and the winter of 1918. For its earliest audiences, the comic situations of LLL likely resonated with rumours of war, as characters such as the Spaniard Don Adriano de Armado may have combined recent memories of the Armada with contemporary concerns over the status of the military profession, and the appearance of figures from recent history may have reinforced the immediacy of real military conflict.3 For the RSC production for a twenty-​first century audience, the 1914 context (with Julian Fellowes’s television series Downton Abbey never far from spectators’ minds) made for a successful exploration of the threat of war in LLL, with the abrupt shift of tone at the play’s conclusion signalling the end of a kind of over-​determined summer of ‘peace’. Winter’s song signals the end of Edwardian innocence. The production marshalled the poignancy of the denial of love interest for a pre-​1914 generation doomed never to experience its fulfilment. Music of the period and small intertextual moments (one figure carried a teddy bear in an echo of Brideshead’s Sebastian Flyte) accompanied Shakespeare’s references to the hierarchies of name and rank that are assumed without being tested by warfare, and the pageant of the Nine Worthies reinforced assumptions about class stability which were to be reversed in Much Ado. Although the conceit was less evident by the time the plays arrived in Chichester, the RSC originally presented Much Ado as Love’s Labour’s Won, producing some lively debate (and a little confusion) but accentuating the sense of a dyad by employing the same Charlecote Park design and the First World War setting. This was a powerful ‘translation’ or ‘transposition’ of Much Ado into a specific historical environment, one that invited speculation by twenty-​first-​century audiences on the extent of Shakespeare’s preoccupation with war. In keeping with its 1918 setting, the performance underscored the physical and mental effects of war. Don John has an injury to his leg and Dogberry poignantly has some form of shell shock. The sense that the song of winter 1918 was very different from that of 1914 is profound; sexual relations and the way they are discussed are more relaxed, social hierarchies are less secure, and even the idea of what is funny has changed. The triumphs of war both unite the participants (and those subject to their mood) and divide their loyalties. The RSC productions were a powerful, perhaps indelible doubling and historical transposition of the plays, exemplifying the ways in which Shakespearean comedy might speak to the military devastations of the twentieth century. Of course, given the challenge of whether the enormity of the 1914–​19 conflict can be represented for generations with little or no empirical connection to it, the productions raise the question of the ethical efficacy of the resonances designed into the 3 

The play overall has a special significance in terms of a contemporary audience’s probable knowledge of the historic figures evoked by the principal male characters. The King of Navarre represents the later King Henry IV of France. Biron was based on Charles de Gontaut, Duc de Biron, who had enjoyed the support of Robert Devereux, the Earl of Essex, in Henry’s campaign of 1591. Dumaine represented Charles, Duc de Mayenne, and Longeville was Henri d’Orléans, Duc de Longueville. For these associations consider Gillian Woods, ‘Catholicism and Conversion in Love’s Labour’s Lost’, in Laurie Maguire, ed., How to Do Things with Shakespeare (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2008), 101–​30; and Mary Ellen Lamb, ‘The Nature of Topicality in Love’s Labour’s Lost’, Shakespeare Survey 38 (1985), 49–​59.

194   Simon Barker performance. The fact, however, that such issues were raised by the pair of plays may have contributed to their undoubted success. These questions of design, resonance, and transposition in relation to Shakespeare, comedy and war lead inevitably to the larger issues of history and contexts found in recent scholarship.

Shakespeare, War, and Genre It is hard to think of a more universal topic than war so it is ironic that until relatively recently there were few full-​length volumes on the relationship between war and the dramatic literature of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. Written sixty years ago, Paul Jorgensen’s Shakespeare’s Military World for a long time stood alone. It still seems fresh because in some ways it has never been eclipsed, although it positions Shakespeare as something of a channel for a Tudor enthusiasm for war, which is somewhat out of line with much of the work that has followed it.4 Twenty years ago Curtis C. Breight’s Surveillance: Militarism and Drama in the Elizabethan Era opened up the field and has become something of another reference work, especially for readers looking for accounts of coercion (military and otherwise) in the emerging early modern state.5 Other, more recent books on Shakespeare and war include Richard Courtney, Shakespeare’s World of War: The Early Histories, which dealt with the history plays in a way that captured the idea that Shakespeare had special insights into the military world of his day. Paola Pugliatti, in Shakespeare and the Just War Tradition, examined the plays in the context of the military writing of the late medieval and early modern period with an emphasis on the European-​wide nature of the innovations that have been characterized as a revolution in the organization of armies. Nick de Somogyi’s Shakespeare’s Theatre of War acknowledged the influence of Shakespeare in perceptions of militarism in later periods, while Bruce R. Smith’s Shakespeare and Masculinity examined gender and identity in a wide-​ranging argument which included the way that early modern masculinity was linked to military prowess. Nina Taunton’s 1590s Drama and Militarism: Portrayals of War in Marlowe, Chapman and Shakespeare’s Henry V was among a number of texts to describe the numerous military manuals detailing the organization of armies; it included illustrations from the manuals in order to present to readers the sheer complexity and precision of the discipline required to effect the practical application of theory to practice in the military world of Shakespeare and his contemporaries. In Marlowe’s Soldiers: Rhetorics of Masculinity in the Age of the Armada, Alan Shepard focused on Marlowe’s work, showing how he responded to the war fever of Elizabethan London. An important aspect of this study, relevant also to Shakespeare, is Shepard’s evidence that the armies hastily gathered by the Tudor monarchs for service 4 

Paul Jorgensen, Shakespeare’s Military World (Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 1956). Curtis Breight, Surveillance, Militarism and Drama in the Elizabethan Era (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 1996). 5 

Farce and Force   195 overseas, or to defend the realm against possible invasion, in fact posed as much of a threat to the state and its citizens as it did to the enemy due to the poor quality of the personnel, general lack of discipline, and sheer neglect.6 Key texts since Hiscock’s 2011 article include Franziska Quabeck, Just and Unjust Wars in Shakespeare, which positions Shakespeare’s work in the context of the long history of ethical debate about warfare and pacifism, military responsibility, and Just War theory. Quabeck also investigates Shakespeare’s Roman plays in some detail, as does Paul Innes in Shakespeare’s Roman Plays, a study notable not only for its eloquent analysis of Shakespeare’s use of classical history but also for its survey of existing work in the field of Shakespeare and warfare.7 However, from the early days onwards, the object of this kind of research has been somewhat confined to Shakespeare’s tragedies, histories, and classical plays, with only token gestures towards the comedies. Indeed, where I myself offered a conjunction between the military writing and early modern comedy in War and Nation in the Theatre of Shakespeare and his Contemporaries, it was with reference to Shakespeare’s contemporaries (or followers) and in particular to those dramatists who sought to parody what may have seemed to them the more obvious examples of a kind of excessive national or militarist zeal in Shakespeare’s work.8 Examples include Francis Beaumont’s The Knight of the Burning Pestle (1607) which, in Rafe’s speech (at 5.2.44–​76), parodies so explicitly some of the cherished representatives of military prowess in Shakespeare, including Henry V and Julius Caesar, and indeed the regular displays of occasionally farcical training activities by London’s militia which drew crowds of amused citizens to the Mile End Road. Another example would be Thomas Dekker’s The Shoemaker’s Holiday (1599), which satirizes popular romance and invites criticism of the idea of the heroic soldier returned from the wars. But aside from discussions of his contemporaries, recent criticism dedicated to Shakespeare and warfare has left his comedies at the margins of their enquiry. Academic discussions of Shakespeare and warfare include accounts of modern staging of plays as well as public reactions to them. Productions somehow ‘programmed’ with modern resonances have ranged from the late Michael Bogdanov’s 1986–​9 interpretations of Shakespeare’s history plays, with their overt references to the war between Britain and Argentina, to the more recent productions of Henry V, which have alluded

6  Richard Courtney, Shakespeare’s World of War: The Early Histories (Toronto: Simon and Pierre, 1994); Nick de Somogyi, Shakespeare’s Theatre of War (Aldershot and Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 1998); Bruce R. Smith, Shakespeare and Masculinity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000); Nina Taunton, 1590s Drama and Militarism: Portrayals of War in Marlowe, Chapman and Shakespeare’s Henry V (Aldershot and Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2001); Alan Shepard, Marlowe’s Soldiers: Rhetorics of Masculinity in the Age of the Armada (Aldershot and Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2002); Paola Pugliattti, Shakespeare and the Just War Tradition (Aldershot and Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2010). 7  Franziska Quabeck, Just and Unjust Wars in Shakespeare (Berlin and Boston, MA: De Gruyter, 2013); Paul Innes, Shakespeare’s Roman Plays (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015). 8  Simon Barker, War and Nation in the Theatre of Shakespeare and his Contemporaries (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2007).

196   Simon Barker to the 2003 attack on Iraq led by the United States and Great Britain.9 Performance, too, in other words, has tended to neglect the comedies per se. Scholars and actors have been happier to meditate on issues of warfare and loyalty in plays such as Coriolanus, in which the ethic of militarism and masculinity is so strong that Caius Martius takes it with him as he swaps sides. The history plays are obviously fertile territory for critics and performers investigating Shakespeare and war, as they are entirely concerned with the war-​torn period that audiences in Shakespeare’s theatre apparently enjoyed seeing re-​played (and to a large degree mythologized) in order perhaps to confirm their own place therein. Although by no means smooth narratives, because dramatic narratives are never as smooth in the theatre as they were in the prose of the Tudor historians on whom Shakespeare based his tetralogies, they are open to the interpretation that they come close to a Tudor ‘party-​line’.10 Yet something is clear when examining the whole helix of Shakespeare’s composition of the history plays, from the Second Part of Henry the Sixth (1590) to The Life of Henry the Eighth (1613): all is certainly not true in these plays, even if Shakespeare’s will to make history out of war was in his mind until the very last strokes of his creative pen and the retreat to Stratford. As far as the tragedies are concerned, the connections to armed conflict are explicit. Hamlet begins in an atmosphere of war and paranoia and ends with Fortinbras establishing a kind of military order and, oddly perhaps, offering up the dead Hamlet for a kind of military funeral. Othello, Macbeth, and King Lear all feature protagonists who are (or who have been) military men. Othello’s reputation as a soldier has given him employment and status in the Venetian state. Macbeth begins his ascendancy because of the military prowess displayed as he ‘unseamed’ the rebel MacDonwald ‘from the nave to th’ chops /​And fixed his head upon our battlements’ (1.2.22–​3).11 And surely old King Lear once led armies. Certainly his loss of status through the treatment he receives at the hands of his two ungrateful daughters is carefully calculated in terms of the deliberate removal of his retinue of knights. Lear is left ‘unaccommodated’ (3.4.100–​1) in many interpretations of that word, including the direct association between his former status, his self-​regard, others’ perceptions of him, and his military apparatus. Before considering the comedies, it is worth pausing to reflect on generic mixing, on the comedic element within tragedy and history and their associations with combat. None of the tragedies mentioned above, with all their references to military environment (and in the case of Macbeth, King Lear, and Hamlet with their military resolutions) is without humour. And for many recent critics, the comic figures in Shakespeare’s history plays have been a clear source of humorous counterpoint for the more sonorous 9 

See Michael Bogdanov and Michael Pennington, The English Shakespeare Company (London: Nick Hern Books, 1990). The ESC’s production ‘The Wars of the Roses’ caused an outrage in some quarters due to its allusions to the conflict in the South Atlantic. Nicholas Hytner’s 2003 production of Henry V for the National Theatre in London aroused similar controversy due to its references to the attack on Iraq. 10  This is particularly true in the work of E. M. W. Tillyard, but also in Jorgensen’s Shakespeare’s Military World. 11  All references to Shakespeare are from Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor, gen. eds., The Oxford Shakespeare, 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005).

Farce and Force   197 discourses of the just war, English national identity, and military pathos with which the plays are often identified. Indeed, Bardolph, Pistol, and Nym—​as well as Fluellen, Macmorris, and Jamy—​have come to enjoy a status above their rank for their undermining of the smooth narratives of Tudor ‘propaganda’ in Shakespeare. And of course Falstaff himself is the supreme Lord of (Military) Misrule in the histories. Perverse as it may sound, the blood-​drenched Richard III comes closer than may first appear to comedy, even in terms of dramatic form. The play is full of jokes and characterized by Richard’s good-​humoured relationship with the audience as a fusion of the medieval Vice and the mercenary Machiavelli. Like comedy, it is full of ‘disguises’ and dissembling, and ironic punishing of the stupid and self-​serving. And, even more like comedy, it is resolved by marriage and the promise of a future. At first one might think that were it not for the gruesome progress towards it, the happy union between Richmond and Elizabeth (making up for the grotesque one earlier in the play between Richard and Ann) could readily be transposed to comedy: O now let Richmond and Elizabeth The True succeeders of each royal house, By God’s fair ordinance conjoin together, And let their heirs—​God, if his will be so—​ Enrich the time to come with smooth-​faced peace, With smiling plenty, and fair prosperous days. (5.8.29–​34)

Yet Richard III shows a synergy between tragedy and comedy in its war-​torn history of civil strife that is mirrored in the representations of war in comedy. Such generic mixing and overlap invites investigation of the traditional comedies with reference to the common historical or contemporaneous environment that they share with the canon in its entirety. A universal historical context forged from the present, and applied across these unstable genres, may suggest that Shakespeare’s use of the comic was often an entirely serious undertaking, predicated on widespread concerns to do with the evolving Tudor state and those entrusted with defending it from internal or external pressures.

The Military Revolution That context, I have been suggesting, is formed by the military writing that was so pervasive in the decades during which Shakespeare wrote his comedies. This period, rich in theatrical representations of warfare across the genres, was one in which the public theatre can be said to have foregrounded the more unsettling aspects of a debate about gender, militarism, and government that was being conducted in the military prose of the time. The extent of early modern writing on military matters can be seen in M. J. D.

198   Simon Barker Cockle’s A Bibliography of English Military Books, which gives details of over 150 English language books published in England devoted exclusively to matters of warfare. Cockle also lists many European texts that he believed circulated widely in their original languages, or were translated into English.12 This prose tended to ‘contain’ anxieties and discontinuities in the discourse of militarism, by rebutting earlier theological objections to warfare, asserting the benefits of overseas war to maintain morale (and peace) at home, and by cultivating the notion of the professional soldier, who should be properly educated and cared for as an ideal component of the modern state. During the sixteenth century, these ideas were consolidated around the vision of a standing army, although such an institution was not to be established in Britain until the Restoration. If there was a military revolution, it came about with the highly disciplined and theologically motivated armies of the 1640s and was made manifest in the regiment of the New Model Army which accompanied Charles II back to London and became the Coldstream Guards in 1670. Theatre, by contrast, interrogated many of these values and assumptions, thus inviting questions about what some modern military historians have preferred to see as a smooth ‘progression’ towards the settled, ‘naturalized’ male soldier-​subject who emerged from the period. Form against form, the theatre of Shakespeare and his contemporaries dramatized the contradictions and discontinuities in the arguments about the just war, the ideal solder-​subject, militarism as an exhibition of a ‘natural’ masculinity, and the relationship between war and national identity. And many of the more sensitive issues, particularly to do with the issue of gender, were most profoundly interrogated in the comedies. Among their many claims, military polemicists complained that men and women were somehow losing their respective gender identities or that their identities, which ought to be distinct, were somehow merging together. An example comes from the pen of Barnabe Rich, who can be credited with an early and frequent use of the word ‘emasculated’ in discussing this perceived phenomenon. In his treatise, Allarme to England, foreshewing what perilles are procured when people live without regarde of Martiall Lawe (1578), Rich sweeps aside any hesitation over the moral justification of warfare in order to focus on its practicalities: training, organization, tactics.13 Rich offers, in fact, a dystopian and finally anthropocentric view of the military condition of the country. The emphasis was not upon the surety of God’s hand in guaranteeing victory, but upon the decline of a general sense of military awareness and purpose which Rich, and other writers, declare as coterminous with a seeming retreat from a sense of masculinity which had once defined the country and its military reputation. Rich is fairly typical of writers of the period. John Smythe is another example, reporting in 1590 on the decline


M. J. D. Cockle, A Bibliography of English Military Books up to 1642 and of Contemporary Foreign Works (London: Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton, Kent & Co, 1900). 13  Barnabe Rich, Allarme to England foreshewing what perilles are procured when people live without regarde of Martiall Lawe, London. With a short discourse conteyning the decay of warlike discipline (London, 1578).

Farce and Force   199 of the English longbow, a weapon both efficient in the field but also symbolic of a military world which was slipping away. His claim is that men were simply no longer strong enough, or skilful enough, to deploy this old weapon. In other words, in his view, men were no longer as masculine as they once had been. He concludes that: if through the negligence of the better sort of our nation, imitating and following the simple and ignorant opinions of our such unskilful men of war, it should come to pass [that the bow disappears] it doth in mine opinion argue nothing more than that God hath withdrawn His hand and all right judgment in matters military from us, and that in time to come, upon any war either offensive or defensive, we shall, when it is too late, report the same, greatly to the hazard and peril of our prince, country, and nation.14

An idealized past was defined in terms of lost masculine military skill and exemplified in the record of earlier military operations that had depended for their success on a culture that now appeared doomed. At the heart of this discourse was the body, objectified as a moral and political commodity, and problematized by appeals to an ideal of discipline and commitment. In Allarme to England, Rich suggests that the problem for contemporary militarism lay at the court of Elizabeth where ‘carping cavillers’ had corrupted an English tradition of militarism and masculinity by neglecting those disciplines which had made them honourable and worshipful—​whose magnamitie in the times of war hath made them famous in forreine countries, and whose noblesse and vertues . . . in times of peace doe shine coequal with the best.15

So from within a general argument over the central question of the preparedness of the nation for war, a lament emerged over the general decline in standards in many and varied areas of military culture which focused on sexual identity and difference. The laments ranged from the sheer strength of individual military personnel (hence a nostalgia for the longbow), to questions of dress, demeanour, education, tactical skills, and discipline. Rich settles on the importance of issues of gender as the root cause of England’s military decay and offers the view that: ‘Gentlemen . . . these days give themselves rather to become Battalus Knightes [effeminate Men] rather that Martiall wights, & have greater desire to be practised in the Carpet trade, then in real virtue. . . . To be shorte, in England, Gentlemen have robbed our women of halfe their minds, and our women have robbed us of half our apparell.’16


John Smythe, Certain Discourses Military (London, 1590), 119.

15 Rich, Allarme to England, C3r.

16 Rich, Allarme to England, G4v–​H1r.

200   Simon Barker As these statements suggest, ‘effeminate’ dress codes for men implied or even created an inner consciousness ill-​equipped for war. The tracts make clear that what might previously have been considered an innate constant of masculinity (against which femininity could be determined) was actually a construct. The writers imply that a chivalric tradition, coupled with a stable sense of hierarchy that fed the values of that tradition down to the bowmen and foot soldiers, had served an earlier England well. The theatre historian Glynne Wickham once noted that such writers decried the passing of an age of nobility when the tournament (as in the Pas d’Armes) was actually a display of military prowess, and scorned its transformation into the courtly jousting games and ‘soft and silken wars’ which had ‘lingered’ well into the later years of the sixteenth century as ‘a Court prerogative conducted in the tiltyard by day and in the banquet hall as a climax to a masquerade by night’.17 The ideological certainty of these texts was quite formidable because they insisted that war itself, based on their recommended practical, psychological, and ideological imperatives, formed the basis of the well-​governed nation. In his introduction to a 1560 translation of Machiavelli’s Libro dell’Arte della Guerra, Peter Whitehorne claims that domestic peace and the sense of corporeal identity and masculinity he espoused were only ever guaranteed by war. (See Figure 11.1.) Without war, he explains, earlier societies had surrendered to a condition figuratively defined as feminine. Such societies: through long and continued peace, began to bee altogether given to pleasure and delicatenesse . . . warre is sometimes lesse hurtfull, and more to be wisht in a well-​ governed state than peace, since peace promoted Ease and Pleasure, two seducing Syrens in whose beastly servitude too many are intralled past recoveries. Forreine war is a sovereign medicine for domesticall inconveniences. Desire war rather than quietnesse, and therefore fall out at home if forreine foes be wanting.18

The forcefulness of this kind of early modern English military writing should be seen in the context of the Tudor and early Stuart experiments in absolute government. The preoccupation of many of the military writers with symbols of an idealized chivalric past (such as ‘Martiall knights’ and the longbow), which seemed to express a uniform sense of masculinity and power, can be measured against the contemporary political trend towards a form of centralized administration which at the time distinctly lacked the vital ingredient of a trained and disciplined standing army. In reality, English foot soldiers had for many years been taken from the prisons and the streets. Queen Elizabeth complained that soldiers were the ‘very scomme of the earth’, a point also made, in rather more detail, by Rich in Allarme:


Glynne Wickham, The Medieval Theatre (Cambridge, 1974), 155. Peter Whitehorne, The Art of Warre, Written First in Italia by Niccolo Machiavelli and Set Forthe in English by Peter Whitehorne (Engl. trans. 1560) in Henry Curt, ed., Niccolo Machiavelli: ‘The Arte of Warre’ and ‘The Prince’ . . . Englished by P. Whitehorne (London: David Nutt, 1905), 48. 18 

Farce and Force   201

Figure 11.1  Detail from The Arte of Warre, written first in Italia[n]‌by Nicholas Machiauel, sig. Ee1. Courtesy of The Huntington Library, San Marino, California.

When they set forth soldiers, either they scoure their prisons of theeves, or their streets of rogues and vagabonds . . . the name of soldier is become so odious to the common people . . . God grant us that we never be given to trie the service of such people.19

Few of the military writers really considered it possible to return to the military prestige associated with the battles of Crécy, Poitier, or Agincourt, but they frequently cited these as examples of a lost England that could only be regained by urgent attention to the training, discipline, and tactics of modern warfare. Looking abroad at the more sophisticated absolutist states where large armies were constantly on hand to suppress internal dissent or to wage war abroad, few of the writers displayed much real faith in a return to England’s high nobility as a vanguard of a military revolution, but saw it more as a professional army led by aspiring gentlemen whose aptitude for war, justice, and civic responsibility would be obvious to those who encountered them in everyday life. Professional standing armies as we would recognize them in the twenty-​first century were still a long way off in Shakespeare’s time; in England they were a product of the 19 Rich, Allarme to England, H1r.

202   Simon Barker Restoration, although they emerged from Cromwell’s New Model Army. Yet the ideal masculine subject that would be recruited to them was being defined in the pages of the many military books being written and sold in Shakespeare’s time.

‘I Will Be With You, Whatever’: Violence in Arcadia Members of Shakespeare’s audience familiar with the military writing of the period may have found a resonance in Shakespeare’s comedies of Rich’s complaint about the ‘carping cavillers’ of the Court wallowing in vice and wickedness. They may even have considered favourably Peter Whitehorne’s assertion that ‘warre is sometimes lesse hurtfull, and more to be wisht in a well-​governed state than peace, since peace promoted Ease and Pleasure’.20 The cavillers I have in mind are Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheek from Twelfth Night, and the ‘state’ is the microcosm fashioned by Olivia’s household. These figures are hardly the ill-​used ‘returned soldiers’ visible on the streets of Shakespeare’s London, or potential recruits to the campaigns in the Low Countries, Ireland, or elsewhere that contemporary military polemicists considered hazardous simply because of the poor quality of England’s fighting men. Nor are they likely to be active in the trained bands or militia, should Illyria have the equivalent of these sorts of disorganized London paramilitary institutions. Yet they have a symbolic link by title to the lost and lamented armed aristocracy of a past England; and their two indulgences, gluttony in the case of Sir Toby and, we must assume, some kind of sexual excess in the case of Aguecheek, confirm associations which were at the heart of the military writers’ concerns. When Sir Toby is setting up the duel between the disguised Viola and Sir Andrew, the comedy rests upon his references to the latter’s credibility as a ‘knight dubbed with unhatched rapier and on carpet consideration’ (3.4.229–​30). Belch and Aguecheek, of course, are not far removed from the Plautine figure of the miles gloriosus, or Il Capitano of the commedia dell’arte tradition, the braggart soldiers more commonly seen as the antecedents of Falstaff and Pistol of The Merry Wives of Windsor, Paroles of All’s Well That Ends Well, and Don Adriano de Armado of LLL. But because Sir Toby and Andrew are even further away from the actual field of battle (and the honours achievable there) than these others, they are closer to the dystopian vision held of the state of England’s military situation by such writers as Rich. Viola (as Cesario) is, by contrast, described in the same scene as ‘a gentleman and a soldier’ (3.4.299) and her brother Sebastian (mistaken by Sir Toby for Cesario) as a ‘young soldier’ (4.1.37–​8). The cross-​dressing involved here may invite audiences to question the discursive and constructed nature of the values associated with the quasi-​ military masculinity on display, much as they might similar displays in As You Like 20 Whitehorne, The Art of Warre, 48.

Farce and Force   203 It. Yet in the realm of military identity and ideological purpose, the key element is a counterpointing between the ageing knights and the youthful Sebastian, Antonio, and Cesario. Sir Toby and Sir Andrew may well have invited comparison with Rich’s decadent ‘cavillers’, a class grown dissolute and diseased by the absence of war. The young gentlemen, here and elsewhere in Shakespearean comedy, show a potential for the military (and are called soldiers), but also a susceptibility to the intrigues and distractions of love and desire. So although the emphasis at the end of the play is on comic resolution and promised celebrations, the notion of the ‘well-​governed state’, given Shakespeare’s fondness for microcosm and analogue, remains a clear and present concern. And given the military undertones of the play, we might think anew of Malvolio’s threats of revenge. As noted already, it was Puritanism’s armies, ironically, that were to attempt to introduce in the middle years of the seventeenth century the military discipline and order that ‘corrected’ the decadence of the ‘cavillers of the Court’. And if this connection seems far-​fetched, then it is worth noting that Barnabe Rich’s Rich, His Farewell to Military Profession of 1594 was a source for Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.21 Shakespeare’s comedies reveal considerable numbers of restless young gentlemen like Sebastian, Antonio, and Cesario. Whilst they are shaped by the fictional environments of the plays and inhabit distant shores, their privileged social types may have been recognizable as not unlike those within or near the real English court, or dwelling in the microcosmic ‘states’ of rich and powerful Elizabethan and Jacobean families. Their values may have been honed by the abundant courtesy literature of the period that linked the ideal courtier to a ‘display’ of military bearing in dress, speech, or by carrying arms, even if such behaviour occasionally invited scorn from sceptical observers. They may, for example, have encountered Sir Thomas Hoby’s translation of Castiglione’s Il Cortegiano in which a female character says to a courtier whose dress suggests exactly such a bearing, ‘I should think that since you aren’t at war at the moment and you are not engaged in fighting, it would be a good thing if you were to have yourself well greased and stowed away in a cupboard with all your fighting equipment, so that you avoid getting rustier than you are already’.22 However, young courtiers were more likely to have been influenced by conduct books with more relevance to their daily interactions with their peers (male and female) and with institutions of government, such as Sir Thomas Elyot’s A Book Named the Governor

21  Barnabe Rich, Rich his farewell to militarie profession: containing very pleasant discourses, fitte for a peaceable time: gathered together for the onlie delight of the courteous gentlewomen, both of England and Ireland for whose onelie pleasure they were collected together, and unto whom they are directed and dedicated by Barnabe Riche gentleman (London, 1594). According to the British Library, John Manningham’s diary entry recalling a performance of Twelfth Night reveals that ‘this intertextuality was apparent to contemporary audiences’. See​collection-​items/​rich-​his-​farewell-​to-​military-​ profession-​1594#sthash.2Y2Bb8HJ.dpuf 22  Baldassare Castiglione, The Courtier, trans. Sir Thomas Hoby (London, 1561). For other examples of the discourse of chivalry in the construction of Renaissance military subjectivity, see Simon Barker, ‘ “The Double-​armed Man”—​Images of the Medieval in Early Modern Military Idealism’ in John Simons, ed., From Medieval to Medievalism (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1992), 101–​21.

204   Simon Barker (1531), The Institution of a Gentleman (1555), or Roger Ascham’s The Schoolmaster (1570). These books, in conjunction with those of the military polemicists, were appealing to the same readership, young people whose subjectivities were being shaped in the uncertain world of late sixteenth-​and early seventeenth-​century England. There were connections between the two kinds of texts. Roger Ascham was also responsible for Toxophilus (1545), a treatise about archery that belonged to the category of texts that celebrated the longbow and regretted its decline—​symptomatic of an overall attenuation of a militarized masculinity. The young men (and occasionally young women disguised as men) who appear in Shakespeare’s comedies as lovers, dreamers, and adventurers are often displaced by accident, birth, warfare, and other misfortunes at the start of their dramas. They correspond to a coterie that would have been recognizable to Shakespeare’s audience. Just as in the plays, trouble was never far away for such a generation in Elizabethan and Jacobean England, whether in the form of the violence in the streets or turbulence in international affairs that might lead to future wars in which they would be called to fight. In Shakespeare’s comedies there are sudden outbreaks of violence, or moments when the comic world turns potentially tragic. Frederick’s threats hang over As You Like It, the enmity between Syracuse and Ephesus pervades The Comedy of Errors, outlaws and sexual violence threaten in Two Gentlemen of Verona, and in A Midsummer Night’s Dream Theseus reminds Hippolyta that ‘I wooed thee with my sword, /​And won thy love doing thee injuries’ (1.1.16–​17). These threatening environments make Shakespearean comedy a kind of laboratory for the testing of codes associated with gender and violence, love and war, harmony and conflict, loyalty and betrayal. The military texts, the conduct books, the fictional narratives, and the actual armed conflicts of Shakespeare’s past and present saw competing claims on the development of individual or collective attitudes to war, suited to the challenges of the times. Yet it is in the comedies and in the theatres that these contesting values are most clearly juxtaposed, tested, and opened up for examination by Shakespeare’s own audiences—​and for audiences down the centuries to those watching LLL and Much Ado in Chichester in 2016. It may be that offering this serious context for the comedies undermines their value. Perhaps they are really meant to be escapist, and the ‘military conflicts’ on display are simply battles of the sexes or plot devices that accentuate comic resolution. Yet some of the most resonant and decisive aspects of the unstable history of militarism and subjectivity are evident in late sixteenth-​and early seventeenth-​century England. Whatever the genre, the theatre of the time found it difficult to avoid the issues raised by the military theorists about ‘what to do’ with respect to violence within the state or from beyond it. Four hundred years on from the death of Shakespeare, 100 years on from the First World War, and seemingly only ever hours away from reminders that the dilemma of ‘what to do’ has not gone away, a genre without some element of farce and force would seem peculiarly ahistorical.

Farce and Force   205

Suggested Reading Breight, Curtis, Surveillance, Militarism and Drama in the Elizabethan Era (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 1996). Hiscock, Andrew, ‘ “More warlike than politique”: Shakespeare and the Theatre of War—​A Critical Survey’, Shakespeare 7, no. 2 (2011), 221–​47. Jorgensen, Paul, Shakespeare’s Military World (Los Angeles, CA:  University of California Press, 1956). Pugliatti, Paola, Shakespeare and the Just War Tradition (Farnham, Surrey, and Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2010). Somogyi, Nick de, Shakespeare’s Theatre of War (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1998). Taunton, Nina, 1590s Drama and Militarism: Portrayals of War in Marlowe, Chapman, and Shakespeare’s Henry V (Aldershot and Burlington, VT, 2001).

Chapter 12

Water Memory a nd the Art of Pre se rv i ng Shakespearean Comedy and Early Modern Cultures of Remembrance Julie Sanders

‘Water memory’ was a phrase coined in the late twentieth century to refer to the proposed ability of water to retain a memory of previously dissolved substances even after numerous dilutions. This is now a disproven scientific theory but as a metaphor ‘water memory’ remains a powerful conceptual tool in the context of understanding Shakespeare’s comedies and their engagement with cultures of memory and practices of memorialization.1 Plays such as The Comedy of Errors, Twelfth Night, and All’s Well That Ends Well presage later dramas, including Pericles and The Winter’s Tale, with their rich and fluid narratives of grief and tears, remembrance and preservation, coastlines and communities, oceans and brine.

Acts of Preservation: Grief, Imitation, and Re-​Membering In the first act of Twelfth Night audiences are confronted by sequenced narratives of loss, articulated as often as not through a saltwater culture and a discourse of preservation. In

1  In 1988, Jacques Benveniste, an advocate of homeopathic medicine, published a study supporting a theory of water memory in the journal Nature 333, but subsequent experiments under controlled conditions have not confirmed the findings. See John Langone, ‘The Water That Lost Its Memory’, Time Magazine, 8 August 1988.

Water Memory and the Art of Preserving    207 the opening scene, Valentine, household servant to the Duke Orsino, describes the grief of the Countess Olivia for her late brother in these especially suggestive terms: The element itself till seven years’ heat Shall not behold her face at ample view, But like a cloistress she will veiled walk And water once a day her chamber round With eye-​offending brine—​all this to season A brother’s dead love, which she would keep fresh And lasting in her sad remembrance. (1.1.25–​31)2

Olivia’s grief for her brother is being consciously nurtured by actions intended to preserve his memory over time. She will in her behaviour resemble a nun, cloistered off from public life, veiling her face and by extension absenting herself from the normal run of affairs: love, play, and everyday business. The semi-​religious associations conveyed by this allusion will be explored later in this essay in the wider context of post-​Reformation cultures of memory, but it is the striking and in some ways dissonant reference here to the operations of Olivia’s tears that establishes a particular note at the start of this play. As Hester Lees-​Jeffries notes: ‘[Olivia’s] mourning is a kind of preservation, her salty tears the brine that will arrest the natural process of decay’.3 By the simple act of crying, of mourning her dead brother in a tangible, physical action, Olivia will, it is suggested, water the chamber in which she has effectively isolated herself. She will keep his memory alive or ‘fresh’; the lexicon of mourning here interacts with the strange cognitive hinterland between death and life where we speak of people ‘living on in our memories’ or where in a theatrical culture such as Shakespeare’s ghosts and revenants regularly featured in plot-​lines of stage plays. What is especially noteworthy about Olivia’s tears, however, is that they are intended to provide the ‘brine’ that will preserve and protect her brother’s memory against decay. This is a metaphor grounded in practice, adapted from the annual custom in early modern kitchens of preserving foodstuffs—​vegetables, fruit, meat—​in a saltwater solution for the winter. There is, then, something highly practical, even everyday, about Olivia’s association that is curiously fitting for a play so ostensibly set in households, with particular scenes taking place in kitchens and wine-​cellars, in gardens, and day rooms. Later scenes will witness Sir Toby Belch, Olivia’s uncle, drowning his sorrows and loss in the wine bottle alongside a motley crew of household servants and guests, much to the disdain of the abstinent steward Malvolio. As Wendy Wall has noted, kitchen practice was part of a broader ‘artisanal literacy’ at this time, and cultures of making and indeed preserving were central to it: ‘In a world without refrigeration or canning, one of the central tasks of 2  All references to Twelfth Night are from Stanley Wells and Roger Warren, eds., Twelfth Night (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995). 3  Hester Lees-​Jeffries, Shakespeare and Memory (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 126.

208   Julie Sanders domestic life was the preservation of foodstuffs’.4 There is a conscious normality, a practicality here, then, that characterizes a number of the plays explored in this essay: the comedies are frequently dramas in which characters live normally, do business, work, make things, keep a household operating, love, eat, quarrel, sleep, and die. In Twelfth Night, this strangely quotidian notion of a memorial culture—​one linked to kitchen and household practices of the kind represented in hundreds of manuscripts and household ‘receipts’ or recipes extant from this period and therefore linked to women’s culture—​ effects, in a brilliant scenographic turn, a bridging link between the opening scene, and one particular grieving sister, to the plot-​line which will enter onstage in the very next: the shipwrecked Viola, cast ashore brother-​less on the coastline of Illyria: What country, friends, is this?  . . .  And what should I do in Illyria? My brother he is in Elysium. Perchance he is not drowned. (1.2.1–​5)

Sebastian, Viola’s presumed drowned brother, is her identical twin. This biological fact enables a different form of memorialized action through performance manifested in Viola’s decision to garb herself in the image of her brother. As well as keeping her brother’s memory (and image) ‘fresh’ from its saltwater demise, she will play the part of Cesario the boy-​servant and place herself in the service of Orsino’s household in an attempt at self-​preservation in this strange land. Viola is, of course, one of Shakespeare’s recurring ‘unseasoned’ heroines who through practical experience, often involving disguise and/​or cross-​dressing, will grow to a position of confidence and competence by the end of the play. All’s Well’s Helena is another, and another who, intriguingly, is first introduced to us as a figure of loss. The opening scene of that play is laced with grief, remembrance, and tears. It is a comedy that as is so often noted opens with memory, mourning, and remembrance as its keynotes. In a key exchange with her clown Lavatch, the Countess of Roussillon reflects on their both being in the later stages of life and, in a play in which many characters are grieving lost parents or partners, they wistfully yearn together: ‘To be young again, if we could’ (2.2.38).5 This elegiac tone is established even before any lines are spoken via the visual 4 

Wendy Wall, Recipes for Thought: Knowledge and Taste in the Early Modern English Kitchen (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015), Kindle edition, loc. 2301, 450. The phrase ‘artisanal literacy’—​the knowledge gained through literal handiwork—​derives from Pamela Smith, The Body of the Artisan: Art and Experience in the Scientific Revolution (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2004), 8. 5  All quotations of All’s Well That Ends Well are from Susan Snyder, ed., All’s Well That Ends Well (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993). I have silently emended Helen to Helena for reasons of consistency across this volume.

Water Memory and the Art of Preserving    209 signifier of a community in mourning attire. The Count of Roussillon is dead and the King of France is ailing: Enter young Bertram Count of Roussillon, his mother the Countess, Helen, and Lord Lafeu, all in black. (1.1. SD 0)

The widowed dowager countess notes Helena’s personal loss. Helena’s father, the renowned physician Gerard de Narbonne, has died some few months earlier:  ‘This young gentlewoman had a father—​O, that “had”, how sad a passage ’tis!’ (1.1.18–​19). The Countess understands the young woman’s tears in this scene through this optic: ’Tis the best brine a maiden can season her praise in. The remembrance of her father never approaches her heart but the tyranny of her sorrows takes all livelihood from her cheek—​ (1.1.48–​51)

The association of brining with grieving previously registered in Twelfth Night can again be seen here and, as Wendy Wall astutely notes, a vocabulary of seasoning and loss, both practical and spiritual, permeates All’s Well. Again, as with Twelfth Night, this suggests something about the importance of remembering in early modern culture: ‘As people went about the practical tasks of making and managing material goods, they indulged in dreams of a world where humans might prevent or retard loss in a capricious sense.’6 In a significant plot development in All’s Well, Helena will be enlisted in a last-​ditch effort to preserve the King via the application of a medical cure she inherited from her late father. Her physician father’s remedies are accorded the ability to stave off time and mortality and to in effect perform miracles in the play (that particular discourse of miracles we will return to later). For Wall, this performs on stage a number of key features of culinary, medical, and memorial culture at this time. Noting that ‘Preserves were by far the most popular subject of recipe collections’, and that the focus of these receipts was on the staving off of the ageing process and the avoidance of putrefaction (as important for early modern households as for mariners on long sea voyages, connecting the different geographies of plays like Twelfth Night and Pericles), she notes that the manner in which Helena preserves the King is through a re-​staging or resurrection of her father’s professional activity.7 A wellbeing application is hereby located in the preservation metaphors as well as a purely backward-​looking act of remembrance. In this way the stasis Valentine feared in Olivia’s extended grieving for her brother becomes,

6 Wall, Recipes for Thought, loc. 3179.

7 Wall, Recipes for Thought, loc. 3220. In texts such as Hugh Plat’s Delight for Ladies a majority of the recipes were for preserving foodstuffs such as meat. On Plat more generally, see Ayesha Mukherjee, Penury into Plenty: Dearth and the Making of Knowledge (London: Routledge, 2014).

210   Julie Sanders in the active hands of a Viola or a Helena, a forward propulsion in their respective plays and memory-​soaked narratives. The truth of Helena’s grieving is in fact rather more immediate to the moment than her father’s loss. Bertram, the Countess’s son, is off to the court to serve the King in the Tuscan wars and the Countess articulates his departure as a yet further loss:  ‘In delivering my son from me, I bury a second husband’ (1.1.1–​2). Helena, it emerges, is hopelessly in love with Bertram—​hopelessly because his own rigid sense of rank and propriety means he would never even consider a romantic match with someone of her social status. Helena confesses as much in a strategically placed early soliloquy on memory and forgetting at the end of 1.1 that establishes audience rapport with her: I think not on my father, And these great tears grace his remembrance more Than those I shed for him. What was he like? I have forgot him. My imagination Carries no favour in’t but Bertram’s. I am undone. (1.1.81–​6)8

Interestingly, Bertram is elsewhere described in the play by his own mother as an ‘unseasoned courtier’ (1.1.71), so the discourse of seasoning is here also linked to a maturation process that effectively melds the language of memory and education by experience that the comedies enact. Bertram is intended to succeed his late father in all respects, to inherit his morals as well as the striking physical resemblance the King observes. When Bertram arrives at the French court in 1.2 the King’s discourse is all of remembrance: ‘Youth, thou bear’st thy father’s face’ (1.2.19). That visual resemblance is then a trigger for nostalgic recollections on friendship and ageing by the ailing monarch: He lasted long, But on us both did haggish age steal on And wore us out of act. (1.2.28–​30)

But the king’s intention here is not purely backward looking; he cites the reparative, restorative effect of memory on his health in old age: ‘It much repairs me /​To talk of your good father’ (1.2.30–​1). The hope is that Bertram will prove as much a copy of his father—​‘In manners as in shape’ (1.1.62)—​thereby actively preserving his memory. But the young Count of Roussillon is as yet—​in the language of household medical science

8  In their respective studies, Garrett Sullivan and Anne Whitehead discuss the intrinsic link between memory and forgetting; see Garrett A. Sullivan Jr, Memory and Forgetting in English Renaissance Drama (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005); and Anne Whitehead, Memory (London: Routledge, 2009).

Water Memory and the Art of Preserving    211 performed by Helena in imitation of her own paternal legacy—​untested; and when put to the test in the play, by the king’s early attempt to match him to Helena, his rejection of her love for him, and his scornful treatment of Diana when away at war, he is found seriously wanting. We can see emerging in All’s Well the theme of legacy and succession, the transmission between the generations of practice and value, in which memory plays a crucial role. Before moving specifically to discuss the formal ‘arts of memory’ by which early modern culture sought in practical and purposeful ways to enhance remembering skills, it is perhaps worth pausing to ask if there is any significance in the cluster of Shakespeare texts concerned with these themes in the 1590s and early 1600s. The more general impact of high mortality rates and low life expectancy in cities like London on the prevalence of themes of death, dying, and remembrance on the popular stage will be considered in due course, but there was one specific overarching cultural event which, by the turn of the sixteenth century, might have served to give society a renewed focus on such topics. In addition to frequent plague epidemics, the nation was facing up to the consequences of an ageing monarch whose own line of inheritance was in doubt. Elizabeth I was slipping from power with no direct heirs in place: in this context the themes of familial loss, ailing monarchs, usurpations and successions, and a heightened awareness of mortality, play out in comedies such as All’s Well and Twelfth Night as much as in tragedies such as Hamlet in particularly resonant and redolent ways. In All’s Well the court remembers collectively Bertram’s father as a model of good courtiership, leadership and modesty: Who were below him He used as creatures of another place, And bowed his eminent top to their low ranks, Making them proud of his humility, In their poor praise he humbled. (1.2.41–​5)

The memory becomes, when considered through this particular frame, less nostalgia for a false golden age than a collective effort to provide a pattern for the present day: ‘Such a man /​Might be a copy to these younger times’ (1.2.45–​6). There is an astute recognition here of the ways in which memory is culturally shaped: its formation is spread and distributed across individuals, objects, communities, systems, and institutions.9 As Peter Burke notes: ‘Individuals remember in the literal, physical sense. However, it is social groups which determine what is “memorable” and also how it will be remembered.’10


Evelyn B. Tribble and Nicholas Keene, Cognitive Ecologies and the History of Remembering: Religion, Education, and Memory in Early Modern England (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2011). 10  Peter Burke, ‘History as Social Memory’ in Thomas Butler, ed., Memory: History, Culture and the Mind (Oxford: Blackwell, 1989), 98, cited in Evelyn B. Tribble, ‘ “The Dark Backward and Abysm of Time”: The Tempest and Memory’, College Literature 33, no. 1 (2006), 154.

212   Julie Sanders Through this optic, Bertram represents at this moment in the play the broader society of young men (and perhaps the watching audience) and is again found severely wanting in comparison to the memory of his father. Whether all would necessarily end well in terms of the Jacobean succession was still very much in question for both individuals and collective society when comedies like All’s Well had their heyday on the London stages.

Writing, Copying, and Remembering: Arts of Memory Copying and imitation, themes beloved of Shakespeare, and most noticeably performed in twinning plot-​lines such as those of Twelfth Night and Errors, become inextricably bound up with established memorial cultures and acts of remembrance. Errors, for example, relies on the heightened socio-​spatial understanding of audiences to follow its convoluted plot-​line of families riven by shipwreck, multiple identical twins, and confused commercial transactions as they track movements between particular households and inns, and—​by the fifth act—​a secluded priory in which particular characters seek sanctuary from the law. The saltwater and twinning aspects to this play connect it intrinsically to the themes of Twelfth Night; as Oxford editor Charles Whitworth notes: ‘Saltwater washes over and through the whole fabric of the play.’11 Errors is sometimes read too easily within the conventions of knockabout farce in light of its heavily loaded comic business weighted on confused identity and misunderstood or even mis-​delivered transactions (there is great play with a gold chain in the course of the plot). But the broader engagement with themes of loss and memory that this comedy of confused identity enables connects this comic drama with later, more shaded romances including Pericles, and, crucially, with Twelfth Night, which in its twinnings and shipwreck-​induced separations, shares Errors’s Plautine source, the Menaechmi. Antipholus of Syracuse’s declaration ‘I will go lose myself /​And wander up and down to see the city’ (1.2.30–​1) signifies spatial immersion but also the deeper dangers of the loss of a sense of self, and it thus connects with what Garrett Sullivan has labelled the significance of the ‘remembering subject’ in early modern culture. When in the final act of Twelfth Night the sea-​storm sundered twins are reunited, a whole catalogue of the means of identifying someone is articulated. Viola’s obscured identity and by extension proclaimed gender in the costume of Cesario casts her twin brother Sebastian into doubt:


Charles Whitworth, ‘Introduction’, in Charles Whitworth, ed., The Comedy of Errors (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 52. All references to the play are from this edition.

Water Memory and the Art of Preserving    213 Do I stand there? I never had a brother, [ . . . ] I had a sister, Whom the blind waves and surges have devoured. Of charity, what kin are you to me? What countryman? What name? What parentage? (5.1.220–​5)

Memory in this way proves essential to asserting one’s own sense of self and the identity of others; memory is as crucial to belonging as to remembering. As tangible proof of this interconnection, Viola and Sebastian come together physically and psychologically on the stage over a shared memory of their dead father’s physical appearance—​a single mole on his brow. In a pre-​DNA testing culture, memory serves as the quasi-​scientific proxy to prove kinship, identity, and selfhood. The lexicon and ambience of sadness that pervades the opening scenes of All’s Well and Twelfth Night finds kinship with companion tragedies from this same late 1590s to 1605 period in Shakespeare’s writing career, not least in Hamlet, in which the ‘inky cloak’ of mourning acts as visual signifier on the stage and in which various acts of remembrance and grief prove crucial to both the play’s plot and underpinning psychology. If Hamlet opens resoundingly with a ghost of a dead father, there are more subtle hauntings by lost parents in the comedies. Genre lines here blur and cross-​fertilize in intriguing and challenging ways. Hearing the name ‘Orsino’ mentioned when she lands on Illyria’s coastal edge, Viola remembers her own father naming him and so longs to serve this man, settling in the process on her boy-​servant disguise. In all these ways, then, tragic shadows are allowed to enter at the edges of the comic form and to inflect audience response both to individual characters and specific events. The empathy for Viola and Helena established through this mechanism effectively wins audience support for their later agency in their respective dramas. The dissonant note that the juxtaposition of notions of mourning and the brining of foodstuff establishes in comedies like All’s Well—​where Helena’s father’s prescriptions are ‘curing’ in both senses of that term, healing and preserving the decaying flesh of the mortal body—​should not be underestimated. Pushed to the limit, the particular figure of speech of ‘seasoning a dead brother’s love’ in Twelfth Night’s opening scene leaves us with a brother’s corpse preserved in saltwater (tears). The dangerous and even distasteful excess of Olivia’s grief, also a theme in the largely contemporaneous Hamlet, is all too clearly implied. We, of course, need to bear in mind that Valentine is effecting to sympathize with his lovelorn and rejected master, Duke Orsino, in this descriptive process, but are there also clues here to the motivations behind an active culture of memory in the early modern period? Orsino performs his own excessive version of romantic melancholy in that same opening scene, linking in his oft-​repeated opening line the idea of memory, love, and musical triggers: ‘If music be the food of love, play on’, he demands, requesting ‘[t]‌hat strain again, it had a dying fall’ (1.1.1, 4). In the end he halts the performance as it is not as ‘sweet’ as he remembered it (1.1.7–​8). The evocation here of ideas of poetic dying falls

214   Julie Sanders and the sensory stimulus of memory, voluntary or otherwise, through sound and smell (consider the reference to violets [1.1.5–​7]) plays on established early modern notions of ‘signatures’ according to which certain plants carried with them specific mental associations. The same idea drives Ophelia’s distribution of particular flowers and herbs in her distressed mental state following her father’s death at the hands of her former lover in Hamlet: ‘I would give you some violets, but they withered all when my father died’ (4.5.176–​8).12 This compounds the aesthetic loading of the opening act of Twelfth Night and its carefully juxtaposed scenes with their linked themes of grief, absence, and coping strategies that might seem at first unusual for a comedy. The poetics of Orsino’s discourse in the opening speeches of Twelfth Night are also a clue to a deeper understanding of the significance of memory and memorial cultures in the period. Describing his first encounter with Olivia, the Duke actively recalls: ‘O, when mine eyes did see Olivia first /​Methought she purged the air of pestilence’ (1.1.18–​ 19). The surface poetic is about the curative effect of love: Olivia’s presence purges the very air with sweetness and fragrance. But there is also a real-​world context for the Petrarchan metaphors of pestilence, purging, plague, mortality, and limited life expectancy. In this play, love is ironically seen as a form of plague or pestilence rather than as an automatic cure. For example, when Olivia finds herself falling suddenly and uncontrollably in love with ‘Cesario’ (Viola in disguise), she notes: ‘Even so quickly may one catch the plague?’ (1.5.285). Anne Whitehead in her helpful cultural study has observed that the contemporary explosion of memory studies, in Western culture at least, is often attributed to the rise of new media technologies and the ‘accelerated form of temporality’ that they enable. But she notes other, earlier forms of temporal acceleration that contributed to a focus on memory, not least print technologies and the particular pressures of mortality rates in Shakespeare’s time. Here, again, the language of plague and pestilence in Twelfth Night accrues fresh resonance.13 As Orsino’s opening gambit establishes, music and the associations it triggers are central to the aesthetic of Twelfth Night, so it is important to register in this context how death-​soaked and imbued with a sense of the fleeting nature of existence the songs’ lyrics are. Many of these songs are delivered by Olivia’s professional fool Feste, including ‘Come away death’ and others with such provocative lines as ‘Youth’s a stuff will not endure’ (2.3.50). As a number of scholars have shown, statistical facts of death and disease at the time fed into the dramatic engagement with the question of memory and forgetting, and music, then as now, might be understood as a key technology or apparatus of memory in this regard. But it is important to register, as alluded to earlier in the discussion, the wider training in the so-​called ‘arts of memory’ that was an important feature of both early modern culture and its formal educational systems.14

12  All references to Hamlet are from Ann Thompson and Neil Taylor, eds., Hamlet (London: Arden Shakespeare/​Thomson Learning, 2006). 13 Whitehead, Memory, 1–​2. 14  Lees-​Jeffries, Shakespeare and Memory, 1.

Water Memory and the Art of Preserving    215 Numerous memory studies specialists have noted the significance of the writing tablet to early modern culture as one particular technology for remembering.15 Memory and inscription are recurrent themes in Shakespeare, from Hamlet’s ‘Meet it is I set it down’ (1.5.107) to the sonnets’ extended ruminations on poetry as an active alternative to physical parenting and the tombstone epitaphs and inscriptions to which many of Shakespeare’s contemporary playwrights actively contributed as part of their writing careers.16 In a culture of epitaphs and memorialization through inscription, and indeed the particular ‘social performance’ of funeral rites, questions emerged about good forms of remembering and about the role of the collective rather than the purely individual in shaping memory.17 This is part of Bertram’s response to the King of France in All’s Well when he notes: His good remembrance, sir, Lies richer in your thoughts than on his tomb. So in approof lives not his epitaph As in your royal speech. (1.2.48–​51)

This passage bears particular significance in a play in which tombs and funerals will be rendered disturbingly ‘real’ by fifth act events, when the presumed death of Helena produces a sequence of public grieving which promises to frame the play’s action with mourning regalia: We lost a jewel of her . . . Praising what is lost Makes the remembrance dear. (5.3.1, 19–​20)

All’s Well is far from unusual in the Shakespearean canon; funeral rites, real, feigned or ‘maimed’, loom large in the actions of Much Ado About Nothing, Hamlet, and several of the late plays where themes of death and resurrection dominate.18 The power of performance and the particular engagement of audience members’ own memories is palpable in all these instances, and they connect to the explicit integration of memory training with performance culture at this time. One keystone of memory training in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was the deployment of so-​called ‘memory theatres’. Initially this was a portable physical device, created in Italy by Giulio

15 Whitehead, Memory, 25. 16 

Scott L. Newstok, Quoting Death in Early Modern England: The Poetics of Epitaphs Beyond the Tomb (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2009). 17  For the ‘social performance’ of remembering, see Sullivan, Memory and Forgetting, 9. 18  The reference to ‘maimed rites’ is an allusion to Hamlet 5.1 and the curtailed rituals marking Ophelia’s death since she was a suspected suicide.

216   Julie Sanders Camillo, but in the Anglophone context memory theatres became conceptual devices for training individuals in advanced mnemonics. The idea was that the mind thought itself into a specific visualized space or location, with ‘mental furniture’, entrances, exits, and rooms, and this cognitive process in turn became a retrieval system for complex memories. Robert Fludd, a mathematician and occult philosopher, developed one particular memory system in the early seventeenth century that several scholars have seen as having distinct kinships with specific early modern playhouse architecture, not least that of the Globe Theatre.19 Evelyn Tribble has written eloquently and extensively on the cognitive scaffolding of theatre plays, and others, including Lina Perkins Wilder and Ann Jones and Peter Stallybrass, have reflected on the objects (props, costumes, and, by extension, the body) in the early modern playhouse which themselves acted as stimuli for memory and active forms of remembrance and association.20 The arts of memory were then in active circulation whenever a Shakespeare play was performed, confirming Garrett Sullivan’s supposition that the theatrical enterprise at this time was inherently linked to the practice of memory.21 This can be understood at the level of actorly skill: with up to six plays a week in repertoire in the early modern playhouse, actors would be learning new parts while retrieving others from their own mental storehouse of roles. In turn, audiences would make connections across the repertoire, between parts and performers, between works by one playwright and another, and even between works by the same author, allowing for an especially creative reception context. Even within a single performance, the practice of the doubling of parts encouraged a dramaturgic approach that riffed on cross-​reference, juxtaposition, and connection. As one character entered through the same door as another, or as the same actor played a king and a porter, all kinds of cognitive associations connecting lines, actions, and motive could and would be made. As the twinning narratives of Errors and Twelfth Night encourage, as the scenic juxtapositions in the opening act of the latter play evidence, as the disguises that drive All’s Well demonstrate, and as the returns, resurrections, and recyclings that drive the late plays show, Shakespearean theatre is built on the platform of a memory theatre culture. It is a world of copies, remembrancing, duplication, and creative recycling. It is this highly active ‘remembrance environment’ in a broader social context that will constitute the concluding

19   Frances Yates expounded at length in the 1960s on this idea in her book The Art of Memory (London and New York: Bodley Head, 2014), esp. 321–​41. Her work has influenced more recent scholarship on cognition and performance by Evelyn B. Tribble and others: see, for example, her Cognition in the Globe: Attention and Memory in Shakespeare’s Theatre (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2011). 20  On ‘cognitive scaffolds’, see Evelyn B. Tribble, ‘Distributing Cognition in the Globe’, Shakespeare Quarterly 56 (2005), 152. See also Lina Perkins Wilder, Shakespeare’s Memory Theatre: Recollection, Properties and Character (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 1, 53; Ann Rosalind Jones and Peter Stallybrass, Renaissance Clothing and the Materials of Memory (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012). 21 Sullivan, Memory and Forgetting, 5; Tribble, in Cognition in the Globe, talks of the ‘enormous mnemonic loads’ of theatre repertoire in this period when as many as six plays were staged a week, some of which actors would be learning afresh and others revising from their own mental repository (1).

Water Memory and the Art of Preserving    217 observations of this essay as we move outwards from the specific poetics and performative aesthetics of particular comedies to the wider social and belief contexts in which they were composed and performed.22

Epilogue: Religion, the Playhouse, and ‘Remembrance Environments’ In the description of Olivia’s carefully performed rituals of grief and remembrance for her dead brother at the start of Twelfth Night with which we began this essay, it was observed that she was actively compared to a ‘cloistress’, something which Hester Lees-​ Jeffries describes as ‘a nostalgic image in a post-​Reformation context’.23 In this analysis of memorial cultures and remembrance environments, we have not yet given sufficient account of the role which religious belief played in memorial practices and the idea of remembrance. Yet in several of the plays examined here, the traces of an older, Catholic England can be identified as tangible elements on the post-​Reformation stage, from the abbess and priory in the fifth act of Errors or Helena’s disguise as a pilgrim in All’s Well. As Lees-​Jeffries has noted these traces were ‘fraught’: ‘By 1600, . . . no one under the age of 50 would have had anything but vague memories of life and religious practice in a Catholic country, at least in London and the South East’, although we might want to consider popular drama as a repository or remembrance environment of its own in this regard, a place in which older practices might be stored, reworked, or remade on an ongoing basis.24 Theatre operates as an emotionally and psychologically charged repository for supposedly repressed or lost practice. The sacred spaces of recent memory, collective or individual, were remade on an almost nightly basis, fostering what Lees-​ Jeffries has described as a ‘mnemonically charged’ stage.25 Theatre thrives on a context of cues, triggers, emotional affect, and memory. A watching spectator, in this context, perhaps a migrant from rural Warwickshire to the transactional metropolitan space of London would, for example, still carry within him or herself the traces of other kinds of provincial practice, culture, and belief and dramatic convention could build on this expectation. Comedy, then, is not just about the humour of the moment but at its most powerful is a repository of folk practice and at its edges is shaded with the loss and longing of its 22 

This evocative phrase is deployed extensively by Tribble; see, for example, ‘Dark Backward’, 154. It derives from cognitive sociologist Eviatar Zerubavel, Social Mindscapes: An Invitation to Cognitive Sociology (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997). 23  Lees-​Jeffries, Shakespeare and Memory, 126. 24  Lees-​Jeffries, Shakespeare and Memory, 4; Sullivan, Memory and Forgetting, 2, 4. See also Alexandra Walsham, The Reformation of the English Landscape: Religion, Identity, and Memory in Early Modern Britain (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011). 25  Lees-​Jeffries, Shakespeare and Memory, 32.

218   Julie Sanders dramatic and generic opposite, tragedy. Shakespeare does not need to tell us this. We, like early modern audiences, recall it for ourselves every time we watch King Lear’s Fool out on the heath, exposed to the physical and emotional terrors of the storm, singing to his master a song that in itself remembers another place and time: FOOL [sings] He that has a little tiny wit, With heigh-​ho, the wind and the rain, Must make content with his fortunes fit, For the rain it raineth every day. (Scene 9, 75–​8)26

Attentive audiences bring their own theatre memory into play at this moment and may well think back to another fool in another play, perhaps even on another stage, singing that same song. They remember Feste closing the performance of Twelfth Night with a song that serves as an epilogue—​‘our play is done’ (5.1.397)—​and a remembrance environment—​‘When that I was and a little tiny boy, /​With hey, ho, the wind and the rain’ (379–​80)—​but which also reminds spectators just as they leave the theatre that what they have witnessed bleeds out now into the real world through their minds and through their physical bodies. Memory travels with us though it will, like the play itself, be re-​made over time. The play of course will definitely be performed again, perhaps even on this very stage the next night, and in that sense memory of what is past, individual or collective, is fleeting and transitory: ‘we’ll strive to please you every day’ (5.1.398). Memory in the Shakespearean comedies is in the end less about a culture of stasis or even of fixing and preservation and more like the element of water itself: fluid, porous, forward flowing . . . endlessly remembering where it needs to go next.

Suggested Reading Holland, Peter, ed., Shakespeare, Memory and Performance (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006). Karreman, Isabel, The Drama of Memory in Shakespeare’s History Plays (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015). Lees-​Jeffries, Hester, Shakespeare and Memory (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013). Stegner, Paul D., Confession and Memory in Early Modern English Literature:  Penitential Remains (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015). Sullivan, Garrett A., Jr, Memory and Forgetting in English Renaissance Drama: Shakespeare, Marlowe, Webster (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005). Tribble, Evelyn B., Cognition in the Globe:  Attention and Memory in Shakespeare’s Theatre (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011).


Stanley Wells, ed., King Lear (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000).

Water Memory and the Art of Preserving    219 Tribble, Evelyn B., and Nicholas Keene, Cognitive Ecologies and the History of Remembering: Religion, Education and Memory in Early Modern England (Basingstoke:  Palgrave Macmillan, 2011). Walsham, Alexandra, The Reformation of the Landscape:  Religion, Identity, and Memory in Early Modern Britain and Ireland (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011). Whitehead, Anne, Memory (London: Routledge, 2009). Wilder, Lina Perkins, Shakespeare’s Memory Theatre:  Recollection, Properties and Character (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010).

Chapter 13

T he Humou rs i n Humou r Shakespeare and Early Modern Psychology Matthew Steggle

Renaissance humoral theory held that a human body contains four principal fluids, blood, phlegm, black bile, and yellow bile (or ‘choler’), each of which corresponds to one of the four elements of earth, fire, air, and water. This system permeated the language of Renaissance psychology, and also governed medical practice, conceptualized as a series of attempts to rebalance those humours. But did Shakespeare believe in the four humours? And did he write ‘humours comedy’? The theory of the humours was long regarded by literary scholars as something of a curiosity in the history of medicine, too absurd to do more than indicate the pre-​scientific nature of early modern thinking, and interesting mainly for the comical nature of the treatments it demanded—​laxatives, vomits, and leeches. As for ‘humours comedy’, that phrase is often used to describe the comic theory and practice of Shakespeare’s contemporary and rival Ben Jonson. It has become a critical shorthand for a style in which, in Murray Krieger’s formulation, ‘every character is sharply defined and clearly “typed” so that the satiric implications of his folly are evident. . . . [T]‌he audience is forced to assume an objective attitude which frees it from any emotional involvement and allows it a detached aloofness from the fools they see displaying themselves.’1 It carries the suggestion of a scientific analysis of characters whose action is determined by the physiology they were born with. Shakespeare is usually praised for his refusal to stoop to such a schematic level in his own comic writing. But this chapter will suggest that many of the ideas in the previous paragraph are untenable. Much recent work suggests that humoral theory should not be regarded as a mere medical curiosity, since it is intimately bound up with early modern ideas of selfhood, not merely as a metaphor, but as a literal understanding of the processes at work.


Murray Krieger, ‘Measure for Measure and Elizabethan Comedy’, PMLA 66 (1951), 775–​84, citations from 778–​9.

The Humours in Humour    221 As for humours comedy, that too might turn out, in practice, to be a subtler creature, and perhaps a more Shakespearean one, than it is often given credit for.

Humoral Theory To begin with, it is important to review what humoral theory is. Although humours theory is often introduced in terms of those four bodily fluids, perhaps the most important thing about it is that the fluids are part of a much larger picture of the cosmos. That is, humours theory sits within a wide and comprehensive theory about the nature of the material world, derived from the classical writings of Galen and Hippocrates.2 According to Galen, as translated by the seventeenth-​century herbalist Nicholas Culpeper, the material world is made from four elements: An Element, is a Body pure, simple, unmixed, from which all Natural things have their Original, they are held to be in number four, Fire, Air, Water, Earth; their Operations are, Active as heat and cold, Passive as driness and moisture.3

In Galen’s world-​view, everything in the material world is built, ultimately, from these four primal ingredients in various combinations. This idea may seem reductive and absurd, until one remembers that in the twenty-​first century we believe that everything in the material world, from dogs to pyramids, is built from varying proportions of the ninety-​two (or so) elements of the periodic table. Galen further believes that different human bodies have different ‘complexions’ based on these elements: Complexions are the Operations of these Elements upon Mans Body, as when the Fire prevails, the body is Chollerick, when the Air he is Sanguine, when the Water he is Flegmatick, when the Earth he is Melancholly. 4

‘Complexion’ affects both a person’s susceptibility to particular diseases, and their character and behaviour. Complexion can be affected, and to an extent manipulated, by

2  Good introductions include Gail Kern Paster, The Body Embarrassed: Drama and the Disciplines of Shame in Early Modern England (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1993); Michael C. Schoenfeldt, Bodies and Selves in Early Modern England: Physiology and Inwardness in Spenser, Shakespeare, Herbert, and Milton (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000); Gail Kern Paster, Humoring the Body: Emotions and the Shakespearean Stage (Chicago, IL: Chicago University Press, 2004); and the richly illustrated online exhibition of the National Library of Medicine,​exhibition/​ shakespeare/​fourhumors.html. 3 Galen, Galen’s Art of Physick . . . translated into English, trans. Nicholas Culpeper, (London, 1652), 6. 4 Galen, Galen’s Art of Physick, 6.

222   Matthew Steggle environmental factors such as weather, activity, and diet. In The Taming of the Shrew, for instance, Grumio refuses the hungry Katherina a series of foods on the grounds they might be too choleric for her, and would risk further upsetting the already over-​fiery complexion of her body: GRUMIO.       What say you to a neat’s foot? KATHERINE.  ’Tis passing good. I prithee, let me have it. GRUMIO.              I fear it is too choleric a meat. How say you to a fat tripe finely broiled? KATHERINE.  I like it well. Good Grumio, fetch it me. GRUMIO.              I cannot tell, I fear ’tis choleric. What say you to a piece of beef and mustard? KATHERINE.  A dish that I do love to feed upon. GRUMIO.              Ay, but the mustard is too hot a little. (4.3.17–​25)5

It is characteristic of Shakespeare’s allusions to humoral theory that the situation here is somewhat more complicated and ironic than a completely orthodox reading would suggest. Grumio’s supposed attempt to normalize Katherine’s complexion by diet is of course, actually, designed to have just the opposite effect, stoking her choler by refusing her food of any sort and enraging her further. The humours themselves, for Galen and his followers, are four bodily fluids each of which concentrate, in relatively pure form, one of the four primal elements that elsewhere in the body are mixed together. Thus yellow bile, for instance, represents in particularly concentrated form the body’s reservoir of fire, and when one’s complexion is fiery, as is the case with Katherine, this produces an excess of yellow bile that manifests as a tendency to anger. As well as prescriptions around diet, exercise, and medication, therefore, a doctor might try direct methods to remove the excess of troublesome humours. These methods might include emetics, laxatives, and, perhaps most notoriously, bloodlettings in the hope of rebalancing the elements within a sick person’s body. The system of oppositions and contrasts represented in Table 13.1 was easily extended. For instance, men were seen as generally drier, and women as generally wetter; youth as generally hotter, and age as generally colder. Each of the four seasons could be linked to one of the four Galenic elements, and hence to one of the four Galenic humours. The twelve signs of the zodiac could also be tied in, with three signs associated with each element. As with modern astrology, the system’s joy lay in its very flexibility, offering a loose structure around which to systematize intuitive impressions and observations. Body types, specific foods, and specific professions also enjoyed particular humoral associations, so that there was a complex iconography of humours as represented, for instance,

5  Unless otherwise noted, all references to Shakespeare’s plays are from Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor, gen. eds., The Oxford Shakespeare, 2nd ed. (Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 2005).

The Humours in Humour    223 Table 13.1 Relationships between the elements and the humours Element






Hot and Dry

Choleric: impulsive and prone to anger

Yellow bile



Cold and Dry

Melancholic: introspective, gloomy, unpredictable

Black bile

Gall bladder


Cold and Moist

Phlegmatic: patient, steady, dull




Hot and Moist

Sanguine: energetic and optimistic



in the wall paintings at Bolsover Castle, William Cavendish’s house in Derbyshire. Cavendish’s picture of phlegm, for instance, offers an entire landscape, with phlegmatic-​ looking humans pursuing phlegmatic professions, surrounded by phlegmatic animals and phlegmatic plants.6 Extra flexibility of interpretation was provided by the idea that the humours themselves could vary in texture and quality. Galen writes of the problems that can result ‘when the Humors are hotter, colder, thicker, thinner, salter, sowrer, &c. than is fit’. And he even suggests that they can congeal, creating solid obstructions in the body. Other parts of the Body have or may have a smoothness in them which is not Natural, roughness is to be recovered to such, by Medicines which clense and somthing bind, but if there be Obstructions and narrowness of the passages withal, use first such Medicines as cut tough Humors.7

Set against this multiplicity of potential humoral problems is the ideal of a body in perfect humoral balance, firm and healthy in body and mind. As Shakespeare’s contemporary George Chapman writes: A temperate corporature (learn’d Nature saith) A smooth, a soft, a solid flesh bewrayeth: Which state of body shewes th’affections State Jn all the humours, to be moderate.8

And a further extension of seeing the body, like the world, in terms of the four warring elements is that the body becomes, as Donne puts it, ‘a little world made cunningly’: a miniature of the whole world, a microcosm.9 6  See Crosby Stevens, ‘ “Oh, to make boards speak! There is a task”: Understanding the Iconography of the Applied Paintings at Bolsover Castle’, Early Modern Literary Studies 19.2 (2017), 6. Online. 7 Galen, Galen’s Art of Physick, 113. 8  George Chapman, Andromeda Liberata (London, 1614), C3v. 9  Donne, ‘Holy Sonnet’, 5.

224   Matthew Steggle Clearly then humours are an important part of the foundations of Renaissance medical thinking. At the most basic level, knowledge of the humours helps, simply, in understanding the dialogue of Shakespearean plays. We have seen how humoral thinking is alluded to in Shrew, but another example from Shakespeare’s comedies might be Jacques in As You Like It, who is nine times associated with ‘melancholy’, perhaps the most glamorous and distinctive of the four humours because of its association with intelligence and high social class. Melancholics were thought to suffer from mood swings, introspection, and an excess of imagination, and the state of melancholy itself was an object of considerable study in the period, in texts such as Timothy Bright’s A Treatise of Melancholy (1586) and Robert Burton’s enormous Anatomy of Melancholy (1621). And, indeed, Jacques has many of the traits associated with an excess of black bile. He is gloomy, that gloom leavened with moments of immoderate gaiety and laughter. He weeps, and laughs, easily. Antisocial and something of a loner, he likes music and satire. To an extent, then, he looks like an orthodox manifestation of the biochemical effects of an excess of black bile in the body. But As You Like It complicates this simple medical diagnosis, suggesting as it does that melancholy, for Jacques, is also a lifestyle choice. Defined by others as ‘the melancholy Jacques’, he plays up to this role, and specifically chooses behaviours aimed at intensifying this state. For instance, in Act 2, Jacques is introduced listening to a song. He disregards Amiens’s warning that music might intensify his melancholy, and indeed insists on more music in terms marked as intemperate by the repetition of ‘more’ four times in all: ‘More, I prithee, more. I can suck melancholy out of a song as a weasel sucks eggs. More, I prithee, more’ (2.5.11–​13). The uncomfortable sense, for the audience, that Jacques’s melancholy is a carefully cultivated addiction is confirmed by his later conversation with Rosalind: I have neither the scholar’s melancholy, which is emulation, nor the musician’s, which is fantastical, nor the courtier’s, which is proud, nor the soldier’s, which is ambitious, nor the lawyer’s, which is politic, nor the lady’s, which is nice, nor the lover’s, which is all these; but it is a melancholy of mine own, compounded of many simples, extracted from many objects, and indeed the sundry contemplation of my travels, in which my often rumination wraps me in a most humorous sadness. (4.1.10–​19)

‘Simples’ is a specifically medical term, referring to the raw ingredients, such as herbs, out of which medicines would then be concocted. Jacques’s melancholy is a self-​made and self-​administered drug. And Rosalind, too, contributes to this discourse of melancholy as a narcotic: ‘Those that are in extremity of either [gloom or laughter] are abominable fellows, and betray themselves to every modern censure worse than drunkards’ (4.1.5–​7). That charge hangs in the air unanswered. As would befit a medicine or narcotic, melancholy itself, in the imagery of these exchanges, is constantly figured in liquid terms: like an alcoholic drink, like a medicinal cordial, even like raw egg-​yolk. Jacques’s behaviour, then, interacts with early modern ideas of humours insofar as it draws on

The Humours in Humour    225 the vocabulary and the assumptions of medical writing, without necessarily reducing Jacques to a simple and generic case study. But humoral thinking deserves to be more than just a historical footnote, since that theory also goes to the heart of early modern ideas of selfhood. In thinking about these ideas, though, our first challenge is to imagine a world before ‘the father of modern philosophy’, René Descartes (1596–​1650).10

Early Modern Selfhood and the Stage In the mid-​seventeenth century, Descartes built a philosophy starting from a position of radical scepticism about the nature of perceived reality. Since I know that I am sometimes mistaken in what I perceive, argued Descartes, I cannot really be sure of any data which arrive through my external senses, and I must doubt everything except the self-​evident truth that my mind itself exists to do the doubting: cogito ergo sum, I think therefore I am. All of Descartes’s subsequent work, and indeed the modern scientific world-​view to which it is said to have given birth, is built on this foundation. It lent itself, in the writings of Descartes and others, to a radical dualism—​the idea of a very strong separation between the mortal, material, fallible body and the immaterial mind which guides it like a human pilot at the controls of a giant robot. But the Shakespearean era, while often entertaining ideas of dualism—​John Donne’s poem The Extasie being a particularly famous example—​had a less philosophically rigorous sense of a chasm between consciousness and the material body. This is expressed, for instance, in the language of the ‘organic soul’ or ‘triple soul’, the idea that the life-​force possessed by humans (and to a lesser extent by animals, and to a lesser extent still by plants) actually belonged in part to the body wherein it was found.11 Particularly key to the idea of the organic soul is the ‘fantasy’, a supposed organ in the central part of the brain, which combines the sense-​impressions coming in from the eyes and other organs with the memories stored in the hindbrain, and thus creates consciousness as we know it. And if consciousness is indeed enmeshed in the warm and squishy tissues of the body and brain, then the language of humours—​of flowing, changeable fluids—​ provides a potent metaphor for talking about, literally, the stream of consciousness that constitutes selfhood. Indeed, in some ways to call it a metaphor is understatement. The language of humours quite literally reflects contemporary medical understandings of the underlying processes at work in human experience.


See Tom Sorrell, Descartes: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2000); Justin Skirry, ‘René Descartes (1596–​1650)’, Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy​. 11  Katharine Park, ‘Psychology: The Organic Soul’, in C. B. Schmitt, Quentin Skinner, Eckhard Kessler, and Jill Kraye, eds., The Cambridge History of Renaissance Philosophy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), 464–​84.

226   Matthew Steggle The idea of a world where the boundaries between mind and body are permeable is a hallmark of much of the recent scholarly work on early modern selfhood. This marks a development from earlier generations of criticism that tended to stress the utility of either modern psychoanalytical models grounded in Freud or of the institutional forces of the state, interpellating early modern individuals and making them into subjects.12 Instead, a greater interest in medical history is underpinning new work on cognition and emotion. Indeed, the very distinction between cognition, or how a mind perceives and analyses the world around it, and emotion, which entails a body and mind directly affected by their environment, is itself much hazier in the context of a humoral understanding of consciousness. For instance, recognition of this humoral model forms the basis of the influential essay collection Reading the Early Modern Passions. In the pre-​Cartesian world of the early modern, according to that volume’s editors, passions are not perceived as internal objects or bodily states, so much as complex vehicles which ‘characterize the microcosm’s shifting interaction with a continuously changing microcosm’.13 Equally, such an understanding is invoked in much recent work in early modern ideas of sensory perception and embodied cognition.14 This sense that, in the early modern, humours are particularly deeply entangled with questions of personality, identity, and selfhood is particularly relevant to Shakespearean drama since the theatre, of all places, is the one most associated with humoral exchange and alterations of self, both intra-​diegetically and in terms of the participation of the audience. As Tanya Pollard has shown, early modern discussions of theatre often figure it as some sort of food or drug, having a direct effect upon the bodies of those who consume it.15 Shakespeare’s colleague Ben Jonson has some particularly clear examples of language in which the drama itself is imagined as having direct effects upon the body. ‘We hope to make the circles of your eyes /​Flow with distillèd laughter’, claims one Jonson prologue-​figure, while the prologue to Volpone conflates writing, performance, and reception into one bodily act, imagining performance to have the effect of rubbing the audience’s bodies with the residue of Jonson’s ink:

12  These are the two approaches debated, for instance, in Stephen Greenblatt’s classic essay, ‘Psychoanalysis and Renaissance Culture’, in Learning to Curse: Essays in Early Modern Culture (New York: Routledge, 1990), 131–​45. 13  Gail Kern Paster, Katherine Rowe, and Mary Floyd-​Wilson, eds., Reading the Early Modern Passions: Essays in the Cultural History of Emotion (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004), 18. 14  For instance, Mary Floyd-​Wilson and Garrett A. Sullivan, Jr, eds., Environment and Embodiment in Early Modern England (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007); Katharine A. Craik and Tanya Pollard, eds., Shakespearean Sensations: Experiencing Literature in Early Modern England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012); Laurie Johnson, John Sutton, and Evelyn Tribble, eds., Embodied Cognition and Shakespeare’s Theatre: The Early Modern Body-​Mind (London: Routledge, 2014). 15  Tanya Pollard, Drugs and Theater in Early Modern England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005); see also Jeremy Lopez, Theatrical Convention and Audience Response in Early Modern Drama (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003).

The Humours in Humour    227 All gall and copp’ras from his ink he draineth; Only a little salt remaineth, Wherewith he’ll rub your cheeks, till, red with laughter, They shall look fresh a weeke after.16

The theatre, above all, is the place where passions and humours are shared, altered, and exchanged by the mysterious processes of contagion and sympathy. Allison Hobgood calls this process ‘humoral homeopathy’.17 This idea of the theatre as a sort of communal exchange for selfhood is rooted in the idea that emotion and cognition are both instantiated in a humoral body. Shakespeare’s interest in ideas of the organic soul in particular is exemplified by A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a play in which love—​arguably the most profound operation of the human spirit—​is firmly under the control of a material (and liquid) drug: Fetch me that flower; the herb I showed thee once: The juice of it on sleeping eyelids laid Will make or man or woman madly dote Upon the next live creature that it sees. (2.1.169–​72)

Puck’s drug, then, is derived from a plant and applied directly and externally to the body. In one of the most stimulating readings of the play of recent years, Tanya Pollard observes the extent to which this play blurs the distinction between narcotic and useful medicine, and also conflates the theatre itself with this ambiguous action of drugs—​the whole play being figured, in Puck’s epilogue, as a ‘dream’ of the sort brought on by the drug around which the play itself revolves (5.1.414).18 We may add to this that the language of the organic soul also crops up frequently in the play. Egeus early on complains that Demetrius has bewitched his daughter and ‘stol’n the impression of her fantasy’—​that key anatomical term from early modern psychology (1.1.32). Later, the same term is invoked by Oberon, hoping that the potion will, in effect, poison this part of Titania’s brain and make the images it produces bitter ones: ‘And with the juice of this I’ll streak her eyes, /​And make her full of hateful fantasies’ (2.1.257–​8). And the language of the fantasy, perceived as an organ located within the

16 Jonson, Every Man Out of His Humour, Induction 214–1​5; Jonson, Volpone, Prologue, 31–​6. Jonson is

cited throughout from David Bevington, Martin Butler, and Ian Donaldson, eds., The Cambridge Works of Ben Jonson, 7 vols (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012). 17  Allison Hobgood, Passionate Playgoing in Early Modern England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 128. 18 Pollard, Drugs and Theatre, 1–​2. Of course, Dream also introduces an extra complication in that some of the characters are technically bodiless spirits: much later, in Ariel in The Tempest, Shakespeare will play more extensively with the paradox of a spirit who might have feelings.

228   Matthew Steggle liquids of a brain which is ‘seething’ (that is, simmering like a pot of soup), is key, too, to Theseus’s speech in Act 5: Lovers and madmen have such seething brains, Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend More than cool reason ever comprehends. The lunatic, the lover and the poet Are of imagination all compact. (5.1.4–​8)

One might even venture the suggestion that comedy such as Dream, in general, engages rather differently with humoral theory than does tragedy. Tragedy, among other things, is centrally concerned with death, and departure from the body: comedy, with staying in it, getting married, and reproducing. Shakespeare’s tragic characters must face separation of self from body more profoundly than do comic ones. One obvious exception is Claudio in Measure for Measure, whose meditation on death and being incorporeal (‘Ay, but to die, and go we know not where’ [3.1.118–​32]) is one of the many passages in that play long recognized as grinding against the usual conventions of comedy: and this exception helps to prove the rule. In that sense, tragedy as a form necessarily looks outside the body, whereas comedy celebrates that embodied self, and this is something that is particularly relevant to Dream with its inset tragedy. When Bottom’s Pyramus announces, ‘My soul is in the sky’ (5.1.298), the reassuring point is that we know that Bottom’s isn’t. Instead, it is firmly in his body, and ready to make that body dance a bergomask if required. Dream is a particularly good example of how Shakespearean comedy perceives selfhood, both as a reasoning creature and as a being subject to emotion, very much in terms of the warm, moist humoral body.

Humours Comedy However, in a separate development in (largely) later critical writing, ‘humour’ becomes a synonym for comedy in general, and ‘humours comedy’ comes to denote a specific comic style, defined in contradistinction to romantic comedy and typified by the plays of Shakespeare’s younger rival Ben Jonson. This strange concatenation of seemingly incompatible terms requires a little unpacking. The origins of ‘comic humour’ and ‘humours comedy’ lie in the 1590s, when ‘humour’ became a fashionable and pseudo-​medical buzzword. The word makes frequent appearances in the titles of late-​Elizabethan comedies including ‘The Humours’ (1598, lost); George Chapman’s A Humorous Day’s Mirth (1598); and Every Man In His Humour (1598), Jonson’s early breakthrough play, a Plautine comedy of intrigue and misunderstanding set in the city of Florence.19 As these various titles suggest, the 19 

See George Chapman, A Humourous Day’s Mirth, ed. Eleanor Lowe, Digital Renaissance Editions, http://​​Library/​Texts/​AHDM/​.

The Humours in Humour    229 appeal of the word lies in the fact that its actual meaning is very flexible: what exactly a ‘humour’ can be, literally and metaphorically, is open to continual reinterpretation. The plays extend its meaning from its strict medical sense to something like ‘personality’ or ‘personal mood’, and from there to more or less any personal like or dislike. The locus classicus for such abuse of the word is Corporal Nym in Henry V and The Merry Wives of Windsor, who explains everything in terms of this maddeningly intangible metaphor: ‘I love not the humour of bread and cheese, and there’s the humour of it’.20 In the Induction to Every Man Out of His Humour (1599), the successor play to Every Man In and yet another play trading on the currently fashionable word, Jonson offers what is often regarded as a definitive and coherent theory of humours comedy. The theory is widely quoted, but generally only in extracts, and the speech—​indeed, the whole play—​from which it comes repays somewhat fuller attention, since it bears directly on what it means for Shakespeare to be writing (or not writing) ‘humours comedy’. Every Man Out starts with an induction, featuring Asper, a character filled as his name suggests with perpetual irritation, anger, and asperity. His two friends, Mitis (the mild one) and Cordatus (the good-​hearted one), urge him to calm down, and warn him that his humour may not please everyone. This prompts in Asper a comically distracted rant about the misuse of the word ‘humour’: Oh, I crave pardon, I had lost my thoughts. Why humour (as ‘tis, ens), we thus define it To be a quality of air or water, And in itself holds these two properties, Moisture and fluxure. As, for demonstration, Pour water on this floor, ‘twill wet and run: Likewise, the air, forced through a horn or trumpet, Flows instantly away and leaves behind A kind of dew. And hence we do conclude That what soe’er hath fluxure and humidity, As wanting power to contain itself, Is humour. So in every human body The choler, melancholy, phlegm, and blood, By reason that they flow continually In some one part and are not continent, Receive the name of humours. (Induction 85–​100)

Lines from this speech are often quoted as if they came from a medical or literary-​ theoretical text. Actually, of course, this speech is neither. It is a comic speech in a 20 

The Merry Wives of Windsor, in David Bevington, ed., The Complete Works of Shakespeare, 5th ed. (New York: Pearson Longman, 2004), 2.1.129–​30. (The second part of the passage appears only in the quarto and is omitted by the The Oxford Shakespeare.)

230   Matthew Steggle comedy, in which at least some of the joke is on the speaker.21 As the first line shows, Asper has to be prompted to begin—​he has already become distracted by his own rage, and forgotten what he was supposed to be talking about. He talks in the jargon of the white-​coated scientist, so often the butt of Jonson’s critique: ‘(as ‘tis, ens), we thus define it’. But his explanation of the liquid nature of humour is larded with further potential for comic business. Whose drink is it that he pours all over the stage, for instance? Does he then blow a trumpet to illustrate his point about condensation? Every Man Out enjoys almost no performance history at all, so these ideas are little tested. Asper goes on to explain how this idea of ‘humour’ is relevant to comedy: Now thus far It may by metaphor apply itself Unto the general disposition, As when some one peculiar quality Doth so possess a man, that it doth draw All his affects, his spirits, and his powers In their confluxions all to run one way. This may be truly said to be a humour. But that a rook, by wearing a pied feather, The cable hatband or the three-​piled ruff, A yard of shoe-​tie or the Switzer’s knot On his French garters, should affect a humour, Oh, ’tis more than most ridiculous. (Induction 100–​12)

Asper, then, would like the word to retain a psychological meaning, expressing personality: but he complains that others are using it to describe their own mere affectations, fashion accessories, and eccentricities. His own pedantic, sputtering rage at that imprecise use of terminology is comic and invites the audience to judge him as he judges others. Asper then promises to act as a doctor, offering ‘physic of the mind’ which will purge others of their eccentricities and ‘with a gripe, /​Crush out the humour of such spongy souls /​As lick up every idle vanity’ (131; 143–​5). The proposal, ironically, confounds the two senses of the word ‘humour’ that he is supposedly eager to keep separate. His physic takes the form of the play itself that follows, Every Man Out, watched by an onstage audience of his friends Mitis and Cordatus, so that the Induction functions almost like the Christopher Sly episode of Shrew. And to an extent the ensuing play fulfils its pseudo-​medical promise to cure its intra-​diegetic characters of their affected humours, deflating their foolish aspirations and returning them to something more like a state of normality. But Asper himself, as we have seen, is by no means a straightforwardly authoritative figure and his definition of ‘humour’ needs to be treated with caution. 21  I would reject, therefore, the widespread assumption that Asper is ‘Jonson’s spokesman’ (Paster, Humoring the Body, 198; James P. Bednarz, Shakespeare and the Poet’s War [New York: Columbia University Press, 2001], 91).

The Humours in Humour    231 Every Man Out has many features of what we would now recognize as ‘classic’ Jonsonian style, exemplified by later plays such as Volpone and The Alchemist, to set against the dominant style of Shakespeare’s earlier comedies. Love and marriage are relatively peripheral to the plot; the play-​world is urban and realistic, the satire is sharp, and the characters are mainly set up in terms of a single obvious trait, often reinforced by a ‘Cratylic’ name, that is, one which is significantly meaningful, such as Asper’s own.22 The rhetoric is very much of comic punishment for misbehaviour, leading, as the theory goes, to social reform.23 However, in comparison to Volpone and The Alchemist, Every Man Out feels much more experimental, and is untypical of those later and better-​ known plays in the almost Brechtian slipperiness of its metatheatrical framing. For sure, Shakespeare’s own later comedies seem to engage with the new ‘package’ (as anthropologists would call it) presented by Jonson’s plays. Shakespeare knew them well, having been one of the principal actors in Every Man In, and it has been observed that Twelfth Night, for instance, seems to import a number of formal devices from that play in particular.24 As James P. Bednarz has argued, As You Like It and Twelfth Night both respond not just to the form but also to the ideas of early Jonson comedies, exploring issues such as the role of the author and the social function of satire.25 Janet Clare, too, situates Twelfth Night as a response to Jonson and to Every Man Out in particular: ‘Twelfth Night exposes all that is de-​humanizing about comical satire’.26 O. J. Campbell long ago made the convincing argument that the Shakespeare play that most fully takes on the challenge of Jonsonian comedy is Troilus and Cressida, that dark play poised between tragedy and satire.27 For some purposes, it is certainly a useful critical tool to compare Shakespearean romantic comedy to Jonsonian satirical comedy.28 But ‘humours comedy’, insofar as that term is usually associated with plays like Volpone and The Alchemist, is an unfortunately misleading name for that latter style. The label originally reflects the success of the two Every Man plays rather than anything integral to Jonson’s later theory and practice. Indeed, the actual humoral theory of Every Man Out is just the opposite of a system of fixed character types.

22  For the terminology see Anne Barton, The Names of Comedy (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1990). 23   In practice, I would argue that Jonson’s plays are actually rather subtler than this reductive summary suggests: but be that as it may. 24  Janet Clare, ‘The “Complexion” of Twelfth Night’, Shakespeare Survey 58 (2005), 199–​207; see also the still-​useful catalogue of parallels in Paul Mueschke and Jeannette Fleisher, ‘Jonsonian Elements in the Comic Underplot of Twelfth Night’, PMLA 48 (1933), 722–​40; and Russ McDonald, Shakespeare and Jonson/​Jonson and Shakespeare (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1988). 25 Bednarz, Shakespeare and the Poets’ War. 26  Clare, ‘The “Complexion” ’, 207. 27  O. J. Campbell, Comicall Satyre and Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida (San Marino: Huntingdon Library, 1937). 28  As, famously, by Northrop Frye, Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1957).

232   Matthew Steggle On the contrary, Every Man Out is all about what it calls the ‘confluxions’ of identity: how the characters may change, or be changed, from their existing humour through a variety of different means. This effect spreads by infection to the onstage audience, Mitis and Cordatus: ‘we ha’ done censuring now . . . we’ll imitate your actors and be out of our humours’ (5.6.122). Even Asper himself, the presenter of the play, is changed by it, becoming caught up in it as the intra-​diegetic character Macilente, a lean and envious dog-​poisoner. Macilente, in turn, is then himself altered by a vision of Queen Elizabeth, an alteration expressed in water imagery: ‘in the ample and unmeasured flood /​Of her perfections are my passions drowned’ (5.6.93–​4). At the end, speaking as Asper but still dressed as Macilente, Asper holds out the possibility, in a fittingly Shakespearean allusion, that the audience’s applause may transform him a fourth time, making ‘lean Macilente as fat as Sir John Falstaff ’ (5.6.134–​5). Jonson, in these early plays, celebrates humoral change, not stasis. Perhaps, then, we should see the true Shakespearean ‘comedy of humours’ in plays that celebrate not the fixity of identity, but its fluidity within a sentient body conceived of in terms of humours theory. Like early Jonson, Shakespeare in his comedies is interested in the processes by which people change as much as in how they stay the same. As an illustrative case study, this essay concludes by considering The Comedy of Errors not as a humours comedy traditionally understood but as a comedy to do with the humours.

The Comedy of Errors Even by the standards of Shakespeare’s comedies, Errors is conspicuously interested in the nature of selfhood. In its story of lost twins and mistaken identities, Errors investigates at length, and to very entertaining effect, the ‘comic horror’ of the loss of identity, and the question of what makes a person themselves.29 As the confusions and mistakes mount, the play inflicts upon Antipholus of Ephesus and the others an almost proto-​ Cartesian degree of uncertainty about the nature of the world: about what is real, and what is illusion or madness. Character after character questions what makes them themselves, and whether they are ‘transformed’ in mind, or in body, or in both (2.2.196–​ 200). Duke Solinus raises the possibility that those involved have drunk ‘of Circe’s cup’ (5.1.270), referring to the Homeric potion that changes the constitution of one’s body and thereby of one’s mind. Sometimes, these ideas are explored in moments that interact with, as it were, orthodox ideas of the four humours as a medical phenomenon. Early on Dromio of 29 

For ‘comic horror’ see G. R. Elliott, ‘Weirdness in The Comedy of Errors’, in Robert Miola, ed., The Comedy of Errors: Critical Essays (London: Routledge, 1997), 57–​70; and later work on selfhood in the same collection including Harold F. Brooks, ‘Themes and Structure in The Comedy of Errors’, 71–​93, and Barbara Freedman, ‘Reading Errantly: Misrecognition and the Uncanny in The Comedy of Errors’, 261–​99.

The Humours in Humour    233 Ephesus is reluctant to offer roast meat to his master Antipholus of Ephesus, a person with a known reputation for anger, ‘Lest it make you choleric, and purchase me another dry basting’ (2.2.62–​3). Like Grumio in Shrew, he is attempting to balance the humours of his angry master, and, like Grumio, the attempt is entirely counterproductive, further enraging his choleric master. Later in the play Emilia, the abbess, interprets Antipholus of Ephesus’s madness in orthodox humoral terms, as ‘moody and dull melancholy’ brought on by an environmental factor, his wife’s constant criticism of him (5.1.77–​82). Again, the moment is undercut: for all the Abbess’s apparent authority, the audience know full well that this is at best only part of the story of what has driven Antipholus of Ephesus mad. But for Shakespeare, as later for Jonson, the metaphor of the self as liquid runs well beyond orthodox humoral theory. Steve Mentz, in a brilliant reading of Errors in terms of the maritime, observes that this play invokes ‘water’s paradigmatic role as metaphor for unstable identity’; I would add that many other liquids are invoked too.30 From the opening description of a shipwreck, in which the family is driven apart by the ocean currents, this play returns insistently to liquid imagery to describe selfhood and relationship. Adriana fears that her husband has betrayed her in adultery, so that his blood (and therefore hers) has taken on ‘poison’: later she figures this in terms of parasites who ‘[i]‌nfect thy sap’ (2.2.144–​6, 183), as if Antipholus is some sort of tree. As for her, she believes that weeping can waste away her body and end her life: ‘Since that my beauty cannot please his eye, /​I’ll weep what’s left away, and weeping die’ (2.1.113–​4). The image is picked up unconsciously by Antipholus of Syracuse, refusing her flood of tears in favour of her sister, figured as a fabulous sea-​creature: ‘O, train me not, sweet mermaid, with thy note, /​To drown me in thy sister’s flood of tears: /​Sing, siren, for thyself and I will dote’ (3.2.45–​7). Egeon, too, uses humoral imagery, thinking of his ageing body in terms of liquids congealing: Though now this grainèd face of mine be hid In sap-​consuming winter’s drizzled snow, And all the conduits of my blood froze up . . . (5.1.313–​5)

Blood, sap, and tears, then, all feature repeatedly in the imagery: this play is not just about plain water, but also about its more enriched cousins. And this pervasive imagery of different liquids underpins two of the main speeches of the play. One is Adriana’s plea for the mystery of marriage: For know, my love, as easy mayst thou fall A drop of water in the breaking gulf, And take unmingled thence that same drop again 30 

Steve Mentz, At the Bottom of Shakespeare’s Ocean (London: Continuum, 2009), 35–​49, citation at 41.

234   Matthew Steggle Without addition or diminishing, As take from me thyself, and not me too. (2.2.128–​32)

Marriage, which for St Paul makes man and wife one flesh, is here figured by Adriana as mixing of two bodies of water. For Donne, no man is an island, and our land borders are contiguous: but for Adriana, humans are not land but sea. And chiming with Adriana’s imagery, even though the speaker does not at the time know its significance, is Antipholus of Syracuse’s opening meditation on his own identity: I to the world am like a drop of water That in the ocean seeks another drop, Who, falling there to find his fellow forth, Unseen, inquisitive, confounds himself. (1.2.35–​8)

In a sense, Antipholus receives what he fears, finding that other drop of water—​his twin—​and a whole set of new relationships, and also a wife, Luciana, with whom to be mixed irretrievably. Confounding, after all, is literally a process of pouring out together. It is both a loss of identity—​the sense in which Antipholus originally means it—​and the making of a new, mixed, identity. Selfhood, in this play, is thought of as shared, relational, and fluid. At the heart of it all is the globe-​shaped servant Nell, a whole planet in herself, described in terms of many bodily fluids and gases: rheum, sweat, grease, urine and hot breath, a ‘mountain of mad flesh’ (4.4.155) who is very much alive.

Conclusion To return to the terms of the opening questions: Shakespeare did ‘believe’ in the four humours, or at least used those ideas in his plays, often with a certain critical distance. One might not share Harold Bloom’s sunny confidence that Shakespeare is responsible for the invention of modern human subjectivity; but one might reasonably say that subjectivity and selfhood are interrogated throughout the comedies, often with reference, directly or indirectly, to the language of humour. But ‘humours comedy’, in the sense in which the term has been used throughout much of the criticism of recent decades, is inaptly named, for Jonson and particularly for Shakespeare. Instead, Shakespearean comedy engages through the humours with an idea of selfhood that is frequently figured as mutable, communicable, and liquid.

The Humours in Humour    235

Suggested Reading Craik, Katharine A., and Tanya Pollard, eds., Shakespearean Sensations: Experiencing Literature in Early Modern England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012). Johnson, Laurie, John Sutton, and Evelyn Tribble, eds., Embodied Cognition and Shakespeare’s Theatre: The Early Modern Body-​Mind (London: Routledge, 2014). Lopez, Jeremy, Theatrical Convention and Audience Response in Early Modern Drama (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003). Paster, Gail Kern, Katherine Rowe, and Mary Floyd-​Wilson, eds., Reading the Early Modern Passions:  Essays in the Cultural History of Emotion (Philadelphia, PA:  University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004). Pollard, Tanya. Drugs and Theater in Early Modern England (Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 2005).

Chapter 14

Shakespeare a n C ome dy and the Se nse s Kevin Curran

You don’t need to dig very deep to notice how prevalent the senses are in Shakespeare’s comedies. Even a quick search in a Shakespeare concordance for terms like ‘see’, ‘hear’, ‘smell’, ‘taste’, ‘touch’, and ‘feel’ shows that they were woven tightly into the linguistic and thematic fabric of the plays. A more complicated task is to answer the basic questions this observation raises: how exactly did the senses function in Shakespeare’s comedies? How were they portrayed on stage and how did they generate meaning in the theatre? An instinctive reply might be that the senses are treated with profound scepticism, that stock comic devices such as disguise and mistaken identity portray the senses as unreliable guides to the world, rudimentary in their ability to gather accurate information and vulnerable to manipulation and deceit. Indeed, characters such as Rosalind in As You Like It, Portia in The Merchant of Venice, Viola in Twelfth Night, and Angelo in Measure for Measure have remarkably little difficulty fooling the eyes and ears of those with whom they interact. But this is only part of the picture. It is also true that many of the comedies, including most of the ones I have just mentioned, achieve at least some degree of resolution through a process of revelation and recognition. They conclude with scenes of collective seeing and hearing in which identities are set straight and community is re-​established in a new commons of perception and knowledge. In Shakespeare’s comedies, in other words, sensation is both a problem and a solution. It is the source of division and the grounds of unity. As paradoxical as this may sound, it is consistent with the early modern period’s mixed conception of sensation and the senses. If anti-theatrical tracts and clerical literature denounced sensory experience as an impediment to truth and spiritual understanding, printed defences of theatre and a variety of medical, religious, and psychological tracts treated the senses as a powerful source of knowledge and judgement. In what follows, I will be tracing how Shakespeare’s treatment of the senses relates to both of these traditions, addressing as well the connection between this double rendering of sensation and comic form. Most of my examples will be drawn from The Comedy of Errors, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and As You Like

Shakespearean Comedy and the Senses    237 It. I will conclude the essay by considering the ethical implications of sensory experience in the theatre with particular reference to Merchant.

The Problem of Sensation What does it sound like when the senses go wrong on stage? If we had to choose one passage to illustrate this, surely it would be the following: I pray thee, gentle mortal, sing again. Mine ear is much enamoured of thy note; So is mine eye enthralled to thy shape; And thy fair virtue’s force perforce doth move me On the first view to say, to swear, I love thee. (3.1.130–​4)1

This passage is from Dream; the lines are spoken by Titania. The iconic stage image of the Queen of Fairies falling in love with an ass-​headed Bottom the Weaver emblematizes in particularly uproarious fashion the susceptibility of ‘ear’ and ‘eye’ to manipulation. The scene contributes to a larger theme of conflict between sense and reason in the play. The distinction is made early on when Hermia disobeys her father by choosing Lysander over Demetrius. ‘I would my father but looked with my eyes’, Hermia complains. Duke Theseus promptly retorts, ‘Rather your eyes must with his judgment look’ (1.1.56–​7). Theseus makes a similar differentiation between sense and reason towards the end of the play when he considers the lovers’ account of their experience in the woods: More strange than true. I never may believe These antique fables, nor these fairy toys. Lovers and madmen have such seething brains, Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend More than cool reason ever comprehends. (5.1.2–​6)

The tension in these lines is between apprehension and comprehension. The latter is clearly aligned with reason while the former has to do with a way of knowing that is linked to the body. To apprehend means ‘to grasp’ or ‘to seize’, and can also mean ‘to feel emotionally’ or ‘to see’.2 Graham Bradshaw notes that ‘apprehending involves a predominantly sensory or sympathetic perception, and emphasizes that kind of responsive 1  All references to Shakespeare’s plays are from Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor, gen. eds., The Oxford Shakespeare, 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005). 2  OED v.7, v.8

238   Kevin Curran quickness’.3 Comprehension, on the other hand, is a way of knowing that is precisely not of the body, not of the senses, and not of the material world. John Dee describes it as follows in his ‘Mathematicall Praeface’ to Euclid’s Elements of Geometrie (1570): Things supernatural are immaterial, simple, indivisible, incorruptible, and unchangeable. Things natural are material, compounded, divisible, corruptible, and changeable. Things supernatural are of the mind onely comprehended; things natural of the sense exterior are able to be perceived.4

Theseus’s problem with the lovers’ story is the same as his problem with Hermia’s preference for Lysander: both represent the fruits of purely sensory data, a form of knowing that cannot be distinguished from feeling. Later in the scene, he describes it in terms of the body overcoming the mind, apprehension overcoming comprehension: Such tricks hath strong imagination That if it would but apprehend some joy It comprehends some bringer of that joy; Or in the night, imagining some fear, How easy is a bush supposed a bear! (5.1.18–​22)

Like Olivia in Twelfth Night who ‘fear[s]‌to find /​Mine eye too great a flatterer for my mind’ (1.5.298–​9), Theseus is concerned with bodily responses somehow overcoming rational discernment. He complains in particular about the way a general sensory form of knowledge (I feel joy) can lead erroneously to a particular rational form of knowledge (such-​and-​such is the ‘bringer of that joy’). This is a case of sensation influencing and corrupting reason rather than quashing it altogether, something Theseus finds especially insidious. This sceptical view of the senses found its most extreme expression in Shakespeare’s time in printed attacks on the theatre itself. The authors of these anti-​theatrical tracts viewed plays as pathways to sin precisely because they appealed to sensory perception. In Phillip Stubbes’s colourful words in The Anatomie of Abuses (1583), plays are ‘sucked out of the Devil’s teats to nourish us in idolatry’. Further on he writes, ‘The shameless gestures of Plaiers, serve to nothing so much, as to move the flesh to lust, and uncleanness’.5 This tract makes a direct link between the bodies of the players on stage (‘gestures’) and the bodies, or ‘flesh’, of the spectators in the theatre. The image is of an affective continuum in which playgoers are physically embedded in the fiction on stage. Joseph P. Roach describes the dynamic like this. A player, he writes,


Graham Bradshaw, Shakespeare’s Skepticism (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1987), 41.


Philip Stubbes, The Anatomie of Abuses (London, 1583), L6r, N6v.

4 Euclid, The Elements of Geometrie (London, 1570), p. iiiiv.

Shakespearean Comedy and the Senses    239 was able to act on the bodies of spectators who shared that space with him. . . . His motions could transform the air through which he moved, animating it in waves of force rippling outward from a center in his soul. His passions, irradiating the bodies of theirs, could literally transfer the contents of his heart to theirs, altering their moral natures.6

Of course, this phenomenon does not need to be viewed in negative terms. There was a well-​established Aristotelian tradition of defending theatre precisely because of its ability to elicit in spectators a visceral emotional response. In An Apology for Actors (1612), for example, Thomas Heywood makes this point in reference to stage comedy in particular: If a Comedy, it is pleasantly contrived with merry accidents, and intermixt with apt and witty jests, to present before the Prince at certain times of solemnity, or else merily fitted to the stage. And what is then the subject of this harmelesse mirth? either in the shape of a Clowne, to shew others their slovenly and unhansome behaviour, that they may reforme that simplicity in themselves, which others make their sport, lest they happen to become the like subject of generall scorne to an auditory, else it intreates of love, deriding foolish inamorates, who spend their ages, their spirits, nay themselves, in the servile and ridiculous imployments of their Mistresses: and these are mingled with sportfull accidents, to recreate such as of themselves are wholly devoted to Melancholly, which corrupts the bloud: or to refresh such weary spirits as are tired with labour, or study, to moderate the cares and heavinesse of the minde, that they may returne to their trades and faculties with more zeale and earnestnesse, after some small soft and pleasant retirement.7

If, as Heywood explains in the first part of this quotation, comedy can instruct and improve moral character simply by displaying the consequences of bad behaviour, it can also affect the bodies of spectators, curing ‘Melancholly, which corrupts the bloud’ and reinvigorating those who are ‘tired with labour, or study’. Heywood bases his defense of theatre precisely on its physical and sensory attributes. For Stubbes and other antitheatricalists, however, this was what made theatre a threat to moral and spiritual order. Plays were debased because they spoke a carnal language and fostered a corresponding carnality among spectators: ‘such laughing and fleering: such kissing and bussing: such clipping and culling:  Suche winckinge and glancing of wanton eyes’, Stubbes writes derisively.8 For a number of antitheatricalists, this sensuousness was not just ungodly; it was also inhuman. William Prynne in his colossal attack on the theatre, Histrio-​mastix (1633),


Joseph P. Roach, The Player’s Passion: Studies in the Science of Acting (Newark, DE: University of Delaware Press, 1985), 27. See also William N. West, ‘Understanding in the Elizabethan Theaters’, Renaissance Drama 35 (2006), 113–​43, esp. 114. 7  Thomas Heywood, An Apology for Actors (London, 1612), F3v–​F4r. 8 Stubbes, Anatomie of Abuses, N8r–​v.

240   Kevin Curran uses terms like ‘swarme’ and ‘infectious leprosie’ to describe the ‘carnall persons’ that constitute theatre audiences: Players and Stageplaies, with which I am now to combate in a publike Theatre in the view of sundry partiall Spectators, are growne of late so prevalent in the affections, the opinions of many both in Citie, Court and Country; so universally diffused like an infectious leprosie, so deeply riveted into the seduced, prepossessed hearts and judgments of voluptuous carnall persons, who swarme so thicke in every Play-​ house, that they leave no empty place, and almost crowd one another to death for multitude.9

In a similar if less grotesque vein, Stephen Gosson in Playes Confuted in Five Actions (1582) writes that ‘Tragedies and Comedies stirre up affections, and affections are naturally planted in that part of the minde that is common to us with brute beasts’.10 Gosson is drawing on Aristotle who understood the soul, or mind, to be the domain not only of intellectual powers, but also of vegetative and sensitive powers, including all forms of internal and external sensation, appetite, and motion. The intellectual component of the soul was, accordingly to Aristotle, uniquely human, but the sensitive component was common to both humans and animals.11 Gosson’s argument, in other words, is that going to the theatre causes the soul to devolve back into a pre-​rational, animalistic state. He targets comedies in particular, which he argues have the ability to shut down the rational faculties that manage purely sensory responses. ‘Comedies so tickle our senses with a pleasanter vaine’, he explains, ‘that they make us lovers of laughter, and pleasure, without any meane . . . wee laugh so extremely, that striving to bridle our selves, wee cannot’.12 He concludes, Where such excesse of laughter bursteth out that we cannot holde it, there is no temperance, for the time; where no temperance is, there is no wisedome, nor no use of reason; when we shew our soules voide both of reason, and wisedom, what are we then to be thought but fooles.13

Theseus’s low opinion of the senses lacks the polemical bite of the antitheatrical tracts, but his words in Dream are a product of the same set of anxieties about the relationship between sensing and knowing. One important source for these anxieties was Protestant religious culture, which while by no means uniform in its view of the body still defined itself quite pointedly against the material and sensory investments of unreformed


William Prynne, Histrio-​mastix: The players scourge, or, actors tragaedie, divided into two parts (London, 1633), **6r–​v. 10  Stephen Gosson, Playes Confuted in Five Actions (London, 1582), F1r. 11 Aristotle, On the Soul, Parva Naturalia, On Breath, trans. W. S. Hett (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1936), 1–​205. 12 Gosson, Playes Confuted, C6r, F5v. 13 Gosson, Playes Confuted, F5v–​F6r.

Shakespearean Comedy and the Senses    241 Christianity.14 In Nosce Teipsum (1599), for example, Sir John Davies appeals to the story of Adam and Eve in order to illustrate the problem of sensory knowledge: ‘Where they sought knowledge, they did error find, /​Ill they desir’d to know, and Ill they did; /​And to give Passion eyes, made Reason blind’. He continues, How can we hope, that through the Eye and Eare, This dying Sparkle, in this cloudie place, Can recollect those beames of knowledge cleare, Which were enfus’d in the first minds by grace?15

In Davies’s poem, the physical eye and ear of the body obscure the metaphysical eye and ear of the soul. Likewise, Richard Brathwaite, in Essaies upon the Five Senses (1620), asks his readers to ‘fixe here thine eye of inward contemplation’, and continues, ‘Though the eye of my bodie allude to the eye of my soule, yet is the eye of my soule darkened by the eye of my bodie’.16 The kind of devaluation of the senses that we find in Davies, Brathwaite, and the antitheatrical tracts is part of a much longer intellectual genealogy. Indeed, one could trace it all the way back to Plato and see it culminating in the scientific revolutions of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Plato’s writings effect a gradual displacement of the concept of phronesis, a practical form of wisdom that assumes action to play an essential role in the acquisition of knowledge, with the concept of sophia, an abstract and ideal form of wisdom set in opposition to praxis and the operations of the body.17 Plotinus, too, would come to view all kinds of bodily activity as merely debased forms of contemplation,18 a hierarchical separation that continued in Roman thought and eventually reached its apex with René Descartes, whose famous commentary on gazing down from a window onto a busy street in Meditations on First Philosophy carefully undermines the idea of physical seeing as a form of knowing. Descartes writes, ‘When looking from a window and saying I see men who pass on the street, I really do not see them, but infer that what I see is men.’ ‘What’, he asks, ‘do I see from the window but hats and coats


Huston Diehl, Staging Reform, Reforming the Stage: Protestantism and Popular Theater in Early Modern England (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1997) and Michael O’Connell, The Idolatrous Eye: Iconoclasm and Theater in Early Modern England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000). For an important counter-​argument dealing with the positive role played by the body in Protestantism, see Jennifer Waldron, ‘ “The Eye of Man Hath Not Heard”: Shakespeare, Synaesthesia, and Post-​Reformation Phenomenology’, Criticism 54, (2012), 403–​17, Special Issue on ‘Shakespeare and Phenomenology’, ed. Kevin Curran and James Kearney, and Reformations of the Body: Idolatry, Sacrifice, and Early Modern Theater (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013). 15  John Davies, Nosce Teipsum This Oracle Expounded in Two Elegies, 1. Of Humane Knowledge, 2. Of the Soule of Man, and the Immortalitie Thereof (London, 1599), 2, 3. 16  Richard Brathwaite, Essaies upon the Five Senses (London, 1620), A3r, 1. 17  Jacques Taminiaux, The Thracian Maid and the Professional Thinker: Heidegger and Arendt (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 1997), 108. 18 Plotinus, Ennead III, trans. A. H. Armstrong (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1967), 2–​7, 8; Ennead IV, trans. A. H. Armstrong (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1984), 4, 13.

242   Kevin Curran which may cover automatic machines?’19 This kind of scepticism would propel Europe into the age of modern science, where the gaze of Man is always insufficient, and physical seeing never provides a reliable path to knowledge. Truth unfolds instead through a new kind of vision, once the onto-​theological vision of philosophy, now the theoretical-​ instrumental gaze of modern science. Theseus displays just this sort of scepticism. But he is not the only one. Shakespeare’s comedies are full of characters expressing views broadly consistent with the Platonic-​ Cartesian tradition. Consider Errors, a play in which a citywide crisis of misrecognition shakes the very foundations of knowledge. Antipholus of Syracuse’s basic sensory question—​‘what error drives our eyes and ears amiss?’ (2.2.187)—​finds a parallel in Dromio of Syracuse’s basic epistemological question: ‘Do you know me, sir? Am I Dromio? Am I your man? Am I myself?’ (3.2.73–​4). These fundamental uncertainties about sensation and knowledge haunt later comedies, too. Whether it’s Titania’s infatuation with Bottom in Dream, Olivia’s with Cesario/​Viola in Twelfth Night, or Phoebe’s with Ganymede/​Rosalind in As You Like It, Shakespeare consistently shows us how prone to error eyes and ears can be. Truth tends to lie beyond the reach of what can be seen, heard, or felt, and it is from this tendency that the comedies derive so much of their hilarity. At the same time, Shakespeare deploys this recurring device at different levels of complexity. For instance, while saying that Antipholus of Syracuse is Antipholus of Ephesus is simply false, saying that Cesario/​Viola is attractive to Olivia is not. Plays like Twelfth Night and As You Like It remain engaging for modern audiences precisely because there is a kind of truth in the hetero/​homoerotic attraction that exists between pairs like Cesario/​Viola and Olivia and Ganymede/​Rosalind and Phoebe. Shakespeare’s cross-​dressing plays show us how desire can challenge conventional ways of understanding the relationship between what we know and what we feel, even as they continue to rely on a basic linkage between sensation and deception.

The Promise of Sensation For all their scepticism about the senses, the comedies also contain ideas that run counter to the arguments made in the tracts and treatises discussed above. If we turn once again to Dream, for example, we find that Hermia remains committed to the notion that her senses, rather than reason or intellect, offer the best means to navigate the world. Here she credits her ear with finding Lysander in the forest: Dark night, that from the eye his function takes, The ear more quick of apprehension makes. 19  René Descartes, Discourse on Method and Meditations on First Philosophy, trans. Donald Kress (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 1998), 21.

Shakespearean Comedy and the Senses    243 Wherein it doth impair the seeing sense, It pays the hearing double recompense. Thou art not by mine eye, Lysander, found; Mine ear, I thank it, brought me to thy sound. (3.2.178–​83)

Even when one sense (vision) is compromised, another (hearing) compensates. A different kind of optimism can be found in act 1 of Twelfth Night when Viola addresses the Captain: There is a fair behaviour in thee, captain, And though that nature with a beauteous wall Doth oft close in pollution, yet of thee I will believe thou hast a mind that suits With this thy fair and outward character. (1.2.43–​7)

In lines that contrast starkly with Theseus’s meditation on apprehension and fantasy, Viola finds that seeing is essentially the same as knowing. She rejects the conventional wisdom that surface is distinct from depth, instead describing the Captain as an emblem of the harmony that can exist between ‘outward character’ and ‘mind’. What these passages have in common is the way they express in vernacular dramatic terms a materialist and monistic worldview. Hermia makes no distinction between feeling and knowing, the body and the mind, just as Viola makes no distinction between outsides and insides. People and things, bodies and emotions, may differ at the level of form, but they are the same at the level of substance. This way of thinking about selfhood would not have been foreign to early modern men and women. Sixteenth-​century humoral theory, for example, described both physical and mental experience as dictated by the balance of four substances, or ‘humours’, common to all people. These are black bile, linked to the qualities of dry and cold and prominent in those with a melancholic temperament; phlegm, linked to the qualities of wet and cold and prominent in those with a phlegmatic temperament; blood, linked to the qualities of hot and wet and prominent in those with a sanguine temperament; and yellow bile, linked to the qualities of dry and hot and prominent in those with a choleric temperament. Keeping the humours in balance depended on how one managed six external factors known as the ‘non-​naturals’: air, food and drink, exertion and rest, sleeping and waking, retentions and evacuations, and emotions (or ‘passions’).20 Systematized by the Roman physician Galen, humoral theory subsequently became deeply entrenched in early modern culture. One study estimates that between 1500 and 1700 there were approximately 590 different editions of the works


Harold J. Cook, The Decline of the Old Medical Regime in Stuart London (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1986), 423.

244   Kevin Curran of Galen published.21 In contrast to Platonic and Cartesian dualism, humoral theory is remarkable for the way it relates the body to the mind, and both to the environment. The inner world of emotions and thought, what we would call psychological states, are understood in material terms, as substances or fluids, in humoral theory.22 The dependence of those humours on external elements like food and drink, and activities like eating, excreting, and sweating, which cross the boundary between inner and outer, knit the self into a physical scene that extends beyond the threshold of the body and certainly beyond the threshold of the mind.23 The core assumption of humoral theory is that truth and knowledge are available to us only through the senses. In this respect it iterates in historically specific terms a broadly phenomenological way of understanding experience. Maurice Merleau-​Ponty, one of the great twentieth-​century phenomenologists, wrote, ‘all knowledge takes place within the horizons opened up by perception’. Similar arguments were made by other philosophers working in the same tradition.24 Edmund Husserl, for example, maintained that every act of consciousness, every thought, is directed towards an object of some sort. That is to say, consciousness is always consciousness of something: the thought and the thing are never readily separable.25 In Martin Heidegger’s version of phenomenology, this approach to thinking meant that consciousness must be understood as being-​ in-​the-​world (In-​der-​Welt-​sein), in a world ‘out there’ rather than ‘in here’.26 What set Merleau-​Ponty apart was the force and precision with which he expressed these ideas, as when he declared, ‘there is no inner man, man is in the world, and only in the world does he know himself ’.27 Merleau-​Ponty’s focus is on the way our senses gather information from a reality that is ‘always “already there” before reflection begins’.28 Rather than seeing the world and our actions in it as the products of ideas innate within the mind,

21  Andrew Wear, ‘Medicine in Early Modern Europe, 1500–​1700’, in Lawrence I. Conrad, Michael Neve, Vivian Nutton, Roy Porter, and Andrew Wear, The Western Medical Tradition, 800 BC to AD 1800 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 253. 22  Michael C. Schoenfeldt, Bodies and Selves in Early Modern England: Physiology and Inwardness in Spenser, Shakespeare, Herbert, and Milton (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999). 23  See especially Gail Kern Paster, Humoring the Body: Emotions and the Shakespearean Stage (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2004) and Mary Floyd-​Wilson and Garrett Sullivan, eds., Environment and Embodiment in Early Modern England (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), as well as Mary Floyd-​Wilson, English Ethnicity and Race in Early Modern England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), Gail Kern Paster, Katherine Rowe, and Mary Floyd-​Wilson, eds., Reading the Early Modern Passions: Essays in the Cultural History of Emotion (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004), and Victoria Kahn, Neil Saccamano, and Daniela Coli, eds., Politics and the Passions, 1500–​1800 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2006). 24  Maurice Merleau-​Ponty, The Phenomenology of Perception (London: Routledge, 2008), 241. 25  Edmund Husserl, Logical Investigations, trans. J. N. Findlay (Amherst, NY: Humanity Books, 2000) and Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology and to a Phenomenological Philosophy, trans. F. Kersten (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1983). 26  Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, trans. Joan Stambaugh (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 1996), 78–​90. 27  Merleau-​Ponty, The Phenomenology of Perception, xii. 28  Merleau-​Ponty, The Phenomenology of Perception, vii.

Shakespearean Comedy and the Senses    245 Merleau-​Ponty argued that we can only conceive what we first perceive, that thought is largely the product of embodied experience of the world.29 These are seminal arguments within the history of twentieth-​century philosophy, but they also gesture back to similarly sense-​oriented theories of human cognition within the Aristotelian tradition of philosophy, including Scholasticism and neo-​Scholasticism. As I mentioned above, Aristotle thought the mind possessed vegetative and sensory powers in addition to intellectual ones. Thomas Aquinas, following his lead, argued that all knowledge and thought starts with the reception in the external sense organs of what he terms ‘sensible species’ transmitted from the sensible qualities in external objects.30 This Thomistic model of cognition—​precisely the model that Descartes’s dualistic philosophy sought to do away with—​was maintained by later Scholastics during the Renaissance, especially in Spain and Italy.31 Indeed, there is something curiously premodern about Merleau-​Ponty’s sensual account of thought and about the conceptual machinery of phenomenology more generally. He suggests as much himself when he describes the goal of phenomenology as ‘re-​achieving a direct and primitive contact with the world’.32 I point out this link between the modern and the pre-​modern in order to emphasize that phenomenology is not a historically fixed set of doctrines. More accurately, it is a practice or a method—​a way of describing knowledge as embedded, sensory experience.33 Defined thus, Shakespeare is a phenomenologist no less than Merleau-​Ponty or Galen. The difference, of course, being that his phenomenological practice is poetic and theatrical rather than philosophical or medical. Hermia’s confidence in the ability of ‘the ear’ to compensate for ‘the eye’ and Viola’s contention that ‘a mind’ can correlate to ‘outward character’ contribute to something we might think of as a poetics of phenomenology. Other examples occur during the dénouements of the comedies when resolution is achieved through a series of visual and aural disclosures. A typical instance can be found at the conclusion of As You Like It when Rosalind’s true identity is discovered: DUKE SENIOR.  If there be truth in sight, you are my daughter. ORLANDO.             If there be truth in sight, you are my Rosalind. PHOEBE.                    If sight and shape be true, Why then, my love adieu! (5.4.116–​19)


Merleau-​Ponty, The Phenomenology of Perception, 373. Thomas Aquinas, The Treatise on Human Nature, trans. Robert Pasnau (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 2002). 31  Ted Schmaltz, ‘The Science of Mind’, in Donald Rutherford, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Early Modern Philosophy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 157. On neo-​scholasticism, see M. W. F. Stone, ‘Aristotelianism and Scholasticism in Early Modern Philosophy’, in Stephen Nadler, ed., The Blackwell Companion to Early Modern Philosophy (Malden, MA: Wiley-​Blackwell, 2002). 32  Merleau-​Ponty, The Phenomenology of Perception, vii. 33  Kevin Curran and James Kearney, ‘Introduction’ Criticism 54, (2012), 353–​64, a special issue on ‘Shakespeare and Phenomenology’, ed. Kevin Curran and James Kearney. 30 

246   Kevin Curran Sight and shape are certainly true in this scene, and although it is not good news for Phoebe, the revelation that Ganymede is Rosalind restores a daughter to Duke Senior and a lover to Orlando. Vision, in other words, in addition to being a source of knowledge, also re-​establishes communal bonds. This idea is advanced earlier in the fifth act, as well, when Rosalind, addressing Orlando, describes the love that developed between Celia and Oliver: for your brother and my sister no sooner met but they looked; no sooner looked but they loved; no sooner loved but they sighed; no sooner sighed but they asked one another the reason; no sooner knew the reason but they sought the remedy; and in these degrees have they made a pair of stairs to marriage. (5.2.31–​6)

Instead of being associated with confusion or error, seeing in these scenes provides a pathway to concord. It constitutes an act of social creation that transforms desire into marriage and strangers into family. This community-​making aspect of sensation operates at a broader theatrical level, as well. Shakespeare’s comedies often trace a progression from one version of sense experience to another—​from confusion to consensus and from error to truth. In this respect, comic form is an expression of the early modern period’s contradictory appraisal of the senses. In concrete theatrical terms, it entails an uneven evolution in the way sensory knowledge is distributed among stage characters and spectators. To give one simple example, what makes a play like Errors funny is the disconnect between what spectators see (Antipholus of Syracuse) and what characters on stage see (Antipholus of Ephesus). The relationship between sense perception and knowledge is different for each of the two groups that together constitute theatrical experience. The same can be said for act 3 scene 2 of Dream, in which Robin Goodfellow hides while imitating the voices of Lysander and Demetrius. Again, comedy is generated by a simple sensory disconnect: the playgoers can hear and see everything; Demetrius and Lysander can hear but not see. In many comedies, this disconnect is remedied in the final scenes. The end of Errors, for example, feels like a resolution because characters and spectators at last see and hear the same thing (this is Antipholus of Syracuse, that is Antipholus of Ephesus). The same could be said for the end of Twelfth Night when Duke Orsino slowly comes to terms with the truth about ‘Cesario’ or the final act of All’s Well that Ends Well where vision and hearing are once again revelatory. Shakespearean comedy depends for its effects on this carefully managed economy of sensation and knowledge.

The Ethics of Sensation In the final section of this essay, I want to suggest that the collective sensory events I have just described have an effect that runs deeper, theatrically and philosophically, than

Shakespearean Comedy and the Senses    247 the narrative resolution they seem to provide. The ability of Shakespeare’s comedies to establish a ‘commons of sensation’ is in fact central to what they achieve ethically. It is during these moments that actors and spectators move from a world in which the grammar of thought and action is ‘I’ and ‘me’ to one in which it is ‘we’ and ‘us’. It is here that Shakespeare thinks hardest about the possibility of community and about the way the senses—​not just the rational protocols of politics and law—​establish the conditions of this possibility. To draw this final point out, I turn to Merchant, one of Shakespeare’s most experimental comedies in terms of tone and form. Shylock’s famous ‘hath not a Jew eyes’ speech is a peculiar example of the theatrical phenomenon I have been describing since it occurs not at the end of the play, but in the middle. Also, rather than marking a moment of joyous disbelief and revelation, Shylock’s speech responds to a difficult and complex moment of loss in which his daughter, his ducats, and one of his only sentimental possessions has slipped from his grasp. In addition, Shylock has learned that Antonio has defaulted on the loan he made him. The speech is, in the first place, a justification of his intention to exact the collateral, a pound of Antonio’s flesh: Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a Christian is? If you prick us do we not bleed? If you tickle us do we not laugh? If you poison us do we not die? And if you wrong us shall we not revenge? (3.1.54–​62)

What makes Shylock’s speech so arresting is the way it achieves depth through surface. On one hand, the speech is an affirmation of legal personhood issued through an appeal to basic equality and reciprocal rights. On the other, it is an act of moral agency that manifests Shylock as a self worthy of empathy. Importantly, though, Shylock’s selfhood is rooted exclusively in outer life: hands, food, germs, temperature, tickling, and, of course, the senses. It is not something unique about Shylock’s mental or spiritual core that endows him with the complexity and emotional range required for selfhood. Rather, it is his invocation of a common stratum of creaturely life in which he partakes: his physical and formal presence, his vegetative need for sustenance, and his sensory responses to outer stimuli. For playgoers—​both in Shakespeare’s time and our own—​Shylock creates a theatre of recognition grounded in the physical: acknowledge my eyes, my hands, my form, all the indicators of my creatureliness. It is a singular moment of self-​manifestation, and we know, unmistakably, that we are supposed to care. Why is this exactly? Why do we feel that a recognition of Shylock on the sensory terms he has established matter? The reason, I think, is quite simple, and it forms the core of Shakespeare’s ethics in the comedies more generally: because acts of collective recognition are socially affirming; they ground us in an environment of shared experience and common imagination and establish, therefore, the only possible conditions for responsible world-​making. In this sense,

248   Kevin Curran Shylock has something in common with the twentieth-​century philosopher, Emmanuel Levinas. Both understand human being in non-​ontological terms, as something manifest and given within a social collective, rather than something bounded and inward looking. In his two most influential books, Totality and Infinity (1961) and Otherwise Than Being (1974), Levinas develops this idea into a radical ethics of selfhood, one founded on the idea that subjectivity is relational; a property not of hermetic cognitive experience but of the self ’s encounter with, extension towards, and welcoming of the other.34 While the mainstream of metaphysics explores being from the perspective of the singular, self-​identical ego—​‘I think therefore I am’—​Levinas, by contrast, proposes a mode of inquiry that prioritizes interpersonal experience. Levinas was convinced that the horrors of the Second World War were a result of systematized egotism: a culture-​ wide prioritization of the inner life of the one over the outer lives of the many, a failure of recognition and acknowledgement of precisely the sort demanded by Shylock in his speech.35 Of course, Shylock’s appeal to outer life—​framed as it is by a claim to Antonio’s flesh and a steadfast commitment to revenge—​is morally more complex than Levinas’s. From one perspective, this is as it should be: Shakespeare is a playwright, not a philosopher; he is not setting out to make a programmatic argument. At the same time, there is something thematically coherent about Shylock’s speech. His invocation of acts of revenge and punishment as part of the fabric of the commons, alongside shared social practices and shared physical presence, is of a piece with the larger imaginative world of the play in which lines of difference intertwine with lines of connectivity, in which people lend as enemies, spit and kick as goods change hands, and break bills but not bread—​a world whose heterogeneity is the ground for both its conflict and its consensus. It is also fitting that sensory experience is deployed in Shylock’s speech in a way that seems at once morally serious and deeply cynical. This kind of double vision is consistent with Shakespeare’s treatment of the senses across the comedies, which, as we have seen, display both suspicion about sensation’s relationship to knowledge and optimism about its ability to deliver truth. In this respect, the comedies participate in two disparate genealogies of thought: a dualistic tradition that starts with Plato, includes certain forms of Protestant polemic, and culminates in the scientific scepticism of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and a nondualistic, phenomenological tradition that stretches from theorists of the humours to twentieth-​century thinkers like Merleau-​Ponty and Levinas. The senses, therefore, offer a unique and especially rich site of meaning in Shakespeare’s comedies. Central to both the thematic and formal structure of the plays, sensation connects the comedies to the culture of their time while also facilitating serious philosophical speculation in our own. 34 

Emmanuel Levinas, Totality and Infinity: An Essay on Exteriority, trans. Alphonso Lingis (Pittsburgh, PA: Duquesne University Press, 1969); Otherwise than Being, or Beyond Essence, trans. Alphonso Lingis (Pittsburgh, PA: Duquesne University Press, 1998). 35  This discussion is drawn from Kevin Curran, Shakespeare’s Legal Ecologies: Law and Distributed Selfhood (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2017), 131–​4.

Shakespearean Comedy and the Senses    249

Suggested Reading Bloom, Gina, Voice in Motion:  Staging Gender, Shaping Sound in Early Modern England (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007). Craik, Katherine A., and Tanya Pollard, eds., Shakespearean Sensations: Experiencing Literature in Early Modern England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013). Curran, Kevin, and James Kearney, eds., ‘Shakespeare and Phenomenology’, special issue of Criticism 54 (2012). Dugan, Holly, ‘Shakespeare and the Senses’, Literature Compass 6 (2009), 726–​40. Dugan, Holly, The Ephemeral History of Perfume: Scent and Sense in Early Modern England (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2011). Harvey, Elizabeth D., ed., Sensible Flesh:  On Touch in Early Modern Culture (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003). Hobgood, Alison, Passionate Playgoing in Early Modern England (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 2014). Paster, Gail Kern, Humoring the Body:  Emotions and the Shakespearean Stage (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2004). Roach, Joseph P., The Player’s Passion: Studies in the Science of Acting (Newark, NJ: University of Delaware Press, 1985). Smith, Bruce R., The Key of Green: Passion and Perception in Renaissance Culture (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2009). Smith, Bruce R., Phenomenal Shakespeare (Malden, MA: Wiley Blackwell, 2010).

Chapter 15

Green C ome dy Shakespeare and Ecology Steve Mentz

Comedies integrate. Shakespeare’s comic dramas create structures that bring unlike things together on multiple levels, from the marriage-​plots that unite male and female characters to rapprochements in the arenas of class, politics, and nation. Famously excluded figures such as Jacques in As You Like It and Malvolio in Twelfth Night punctuate comic closure by serving as exceptions that prove the rule. The presence of these atypically solitary figures at the culminating moments of comic union magnifies comedy’s deeply felt sense of social, sexual, and dramatic cohesion. Comic integration has long been explored through its resemblance to utopian fantasies about the place of human beings in an idealized natural world. The ‘green comedy’ model pioneered by Northrop Frye in The Anatomy of Criticism (1957) has proved foundational for thinking about the relationship between the natural world and comic form.1 New developments in ecological thinking in the sciences and humanities over the past several decades, however, suggest important revisions to Frye’s thesis that can help illuminate the complex nature of dramatic comedy and its relationship to the kinds of narratives about humanity and nature most valuable in the twenty-​first century. In his attempt to build eternal structures for literary genres, Frye created complex but static forms that mirror mid-​twentieth-​century ideas about natural harmony and homeostasis. As ecological thinking has evolved in a dynamic direction, more recent ecocritical models have become more attuned to change and disruption in natural systems. A twenty-​first-​century eco-​theory of Shakespearean comedy must add blue oceanic disorder to harmonious green fields and beneficent forests. Comic form turns

1  Northrop Frye, The Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1957).

Green Comedy   251 out to be flexible enough to encompass both green fantasies of stability and blue visions of dynamism.2 Reconsidering green comedy in the twenty-​first century begins by considering the history of changes in the models used in ecological thinking. The green models in dialogue with which Frye’s Anatomy spoke in 1957 were essentially static descriptions of interconnections in nature. As Greg Garrard has noted, these models resemble the literary pastorals that comprise much of Frye’s comic canon: ‘At the root of pastoral is the idea of nature as a stable enduring counterpoint to the disruptive energy and change of human societies’.3 The homology that Garrard descries between ecological stability and literary pastoral influenced the emergence of ecocriticism as a critical discourse nearly a half-​century ago. Landmarks in ecocritical discourse, including the publication of The Ecocriticism Reader in 1996 and the founding of the Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment in 1992, extended and occasionally debated the relationship between natural harmony and literary form.4 One of the major mandates of literary ecocriticism since its inception has been to explore parallels between the formal qualities of literary texts and ecological structures. Influential critics such as Jonathan Bate have argued that well-​made poems—​his example is Keats’s ‘To Autumn’— ‘resemble a well-​regulated ecosystem’.5 The analogy between literary aesthetics and natural homeostasis was, and in some eco​critical circles remains, powerful. Traditional green reading hews to this fundamentally pastoral model, although dynamic alternatives are also emerging. Looking to literature for models of complex networks leads naturally toward questions of genres and their relationship to ecological values. One seminal claim that helped launch the early critical stirrings in the 1970s of what would later become ecocriticism was biologist Joseph Meeker’s assertion that comedy is the genre of ecological harmony. ‘Maintaining equilibrium among living things, and restoring it once it has been lost’, Meeker argues, are the ‘special talents’ of comic form.6 Meeker claims that on a fundamental level ‘biology is also comic’, in that it is concerned primarily with replicating life.7 Meeker’s analysis goes on to note parallels between comic form and ecological harmony: both are ‘cosmopolitan’, both ‘accommodate necessity’, and both are dedicated to ‘muddling through’ rather than dying gloriously.8 Both comedy and ecology, according 2 

This argument about blue-​green comedy extends my previous analysis of blue and green natural visions in Macbeth, ‘Shakespeare’s Beach House, or The Blue and the Green in Macbeth’, Shakespeare Studies XXXIX (2011): 84–​93. 3  Greg Garrard, Ecocriticism (London: Routledge, 2004), 56. 4  For a bibliography of literary ecocriticism, see Kevin MacDonnell and Steve Mentz, ‘Ecology in Literature’, Oxford Bibliographies Online, 2016,​view/​document/​obo-​ 9780199830060/​obo-​9780199830060-​0148.xml?rskey=Ww2l62&result=1&q=mentz#firstMatch 5  Jonathan Bate, The Song of the Earth (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000), 106. 6  Joseph Meeker, ‘The Comic Mode’, in Harold Fromm and Cheryl Glotfelty, eds., The Ecocriticism Reader (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1996), 159. 7  Meeker, ‘The Comic Mode’, 160. 8  Meeker, ‘The Comic Mode’, 163, 163, 164.

252   Steve Mentz to Meeker, are arts of ‘accommodation and reconciliation’.9 His influential model treats the ‘comic mode’ as ‘the closest art has come to describing man as an adaptive animal’.10 Like Frye’s green world, Meeker’s conception of comedy imagines the human as fundamentally at home in the natural world. Difficulties can be overcome through this comedy-​centric vision. This chapter tests Meeker’s adaptive theory of literary comedy through analysis of Shakespeare’s ‘green comedies’, especially As You Like It, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Twelfth Night, The Comedy of Errors, and Two Gentlemen of Verona. Putting Meeker’s notions of natural harmony in touch with post-​equilibrium ecological thinking and twenty-​first century ecocritical scholarship that recognizes catastrophe as a ‘natural’ structure produces a more dynamic notion of the comic genre. By juxtaposing green pastoral spaces with their blue oceanic opposites, I suggest that Shakespeare’s comedies offer complex and varied notions of natural order and disorder. It turns out that comedies contain more than just pastoral harmony. The revised notion of green comedy that I offer is less stable and sustainable than Meeker’s original claim, but also better suited to an age of ecological disaster. In updating Meeker’s understanding of comedy in a twenty-​first century ecological context, I aim also to revise Frye’s ‘green world’ into a wider rainbow of colours. As Jeffrey Jerome Cohen observes in the introduction to his path-​breaking edited collection, Prismatic Ecology:  Ecotheory Beyond Green, turning away from monochromatic green eco-​thinking can create space for ‘the catastrophic, the disruptive, urban ecologies, the eruptive, heterogeneous microclimates, inhumanly vast or tiny scales of being and time, the mixed spaces where the separation of nature and culture are impossible to maintain’.11 This hymn to difference matches the variety and multifacetedness of Shakespearean comedy. As Harry Berger notes in his post-​Frye consideration of ‘second world’ and ‘green world’ in Renaissance thinking, one of the key features of the green world is that ‘it is ambiguous: its usefulness and dangers arrive from the same source’.12 The theatrical exchange, which shuttles between an imaginative world and the everyday milieu of the audience’s daily experience, creates a back-​and-​forth pressure that Berger describes as the crucial quality of these fictions. Asking that the green world become prismatic extends Berger’s dramatic ambiguity into a full-​blown embrace of disorder as central to comic form. The integration that comedy promises and eventually delivers includes as much variety and disruption as it possibly can. The new face of green comedy that I propose resembles what ecologists since the 1990s have been calling


Meeker, ‘The Comic Mode’, 165. Meeker, ‘The Comic Mode’, 168. 11  Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, ed., Prismatic Ecology: Ecotheory Beyond Green (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2013), xxii. 12  Harry Berger, Jr., Second World and Green World: Studies in Renaissance Fiction-​Making, ed. John Patrick Lynch (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1988), 36. 10 

Green Comedy   253 ‘post-​sustainability’ ecology.13 Shakespeare’s comedies of nature, if read with a prismatic eye, turn out to feature colours beyond green. In making the case for a multi-​hued structure within Shakespeare’s supposedly ‘green’ comedies, I place special emphasis on the blue world of the ocean as a counterpoint to green pastoral. Shakespeare’s affinities with the ocean as both metaphor and plot device are well documented.14 I further emphasize that the ‘never-​surfeited sea’ (The Tempest 3.3.55) represents an environment of maximum dynamism and danger that is the precise opposite of green harmony.15 The looming presence of the ocean dominates the late romances but also appears meaningfully in comedies such as Twelfth Night and The Comedy of Errors. My claim about the ‘blue-​green’ nature of supposedly green comedy starts by locating oceanic as well as pastoral elements in these plays’ settings. I also suggest that blue disorder is not merely scenery in comedies, but that these elements make more powerful and threatening claims than comedies are sometimes imagined to contain. To survive such dangers and integrate human experiences into nonhuman environments requires both green comfort and blue pain. Making sense of the role of nature in Shakespeare’s comedies requires a mixed vision, in which familiar green spaces may not be as eternally spring-​like as Frye claims and alien blue waters also speak to human desires. As understandings of natural ecologies have come to embrace change and disruption, our conceptions of Shakespeare’s comedies of nature should change also. In order to show the mixed and occasionally threatening face of nature in Shakespeare’s comedies, I  will explore two symbolic locations:  the forest and the beach. Starting with the forest, I will show that in green plays such as As You Like It, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Two Gentlemen of Verona, the forest includes more than the music of spring. Hunger and deprivation, destructive storms, and sexual violence also typify these non-​civilized spaces. Looking at blue oceanic elements in Twelfth Night, The Comedy of Errors, and also briefly at a darkly comic imaginative fantasy in the co-​authored tragicomic romance Two Noble Kinsmen, I suggest that the inhuman ocean provides a space to assimilate, at least in partial terms, alien natural forces. Bringing these two opposed natural spaces together results in a blue-​green, hybrid conception of comedy’s vision of nature. In this dramatic world, neither ‘nature’ nor the ‘human’ remains stable or static. Instead, both terms and concepts engage dynamically in a process of destabilizing but energizing mixture. The hybrid comic form that emerges can re-​define the genre in our Anthropocene age.


I discuss post-​sustainability ecology in literary terms in two essays, ‘Strange Weather in King Lear’, Shakespeare 6, no. 2 (2010), 139–​52, and ‘After Sustainability’, PMLA 127, no. 3 (May 2012), 586–​92. 14  On Shakespeare and the ocean, see Steve Mentz, At the Bottom of Shakespeare’s Ocean (London: Bloomsbury, 2009), and Daniel Brayton, Shakespeare’s Ocean: An Ecocritical Exploration (Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press, 2012). 15  All references to Shakespeare’s plays are from Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor, gen. eds., The Oxford Shakespeare, 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005).

254   Steve Mentz

Return To The Forest: As You Like It, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, And Two Gentlemen Of Verona The forest recedes as civilization expands, but the inversion trick of comic form makes these marginal wilderness spaces serve the interests of human culture. Robert Pogue Harrison has noted that, ‘Western civilization has literally cleared its space in the midst of forests’.16 Harrison’s Viconian reading of the symbolic power of the dark woods owes much to Dante’s selva oscura and to Macbeth, which leads him to a tragedy-​centric conclusion: ‘One way or another, humanism abhors the forest’.17 In his visionary, ecological, and Heideggarian conclusion, however, Harrison asks for a dwelling ‘not in nature but in the relation to nature’.18 His sense of engagement and entanglement resembles comic integration more closely than the tragic rage for singularity that dominates many of his literary examples. No setting in Shakespeare seems more utopian and green than the forest of Arden in As You Like It. No speech limns Arden’s role as co-​creator with humanity of that utopian future more clearly than Duke Senior’s long monologue introducing his court in exile (2.1.1–​17). Several Shakespearean ecocritics, including myself, have featured this speech prominently in their arguments.19 I recall it here to emphasize not the familiar integration of human desires to learn from ‘tongues in trees’ but instead to focus on the pain of exposure: The seasons’ difference, as the icy fang And churlish chiding of the winter’s wind, Which when it bites and blows upon my body Even till I shrink with cold. (2.1.6–​9)

Most readings of this speech highlight the redemptive simile that follows after this description of cold and suffering. The cumulative alliteration of these descriptive lines, however, gathers intensity as the description moves from ‘churlish chiding’ to ‘winter’s wind’ to the triply repeated ‘bites . . . blows . . . body’. Arden is redemptive but also painful.


Robert Pogue Harrison, Forests: The Shadow of Civilization (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1992), ix. 17 Harrison, Forests, 145. 18 Harrison, Forests, 201. 19  See Robert N. Watson, Back to Nature: The Green and the Real in the Late Renaissance (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006), 80–​4; Steve Mentz, ‘Tongues in the Storm: Shakespeare, Ecological Crisis, and the Resources of Genre’, in Lynne Bruckner and Dan Brayton, eds., Ecocritical Shakespeare (Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing, 2011), 155–​7 1, esp. 161–​2.

Green Comedy   255 The ‘good in everything’ (2.1.17) with which Duke Senior concludes his speech emerges not from simple comfort but out of a process of suffering which can be translated into knowledge only with difficulty. The mechanism of this speech, in fact, represents a miniature version of comic form: the speaker’s body meets the icy fang but unexpectedly and somewhat mysteriously converts its painful bite into legible pleasure. Duke Senior makes an awkward spokesperson for twenty-​first century ecocritics who want to focus on dynamism because he himself solves his problem as soon as he mentions it. As I’ve explored elsewhere, Rosalind’s obsession with change and instability elaborates a more compelling eco-​narrative in a post-​sustainability context.20 It also seems important for my current project of re-​reading As You Like It as a blue-​green comedy that the play contains multiple examples of violence that Arden does not quite manage to hide. The butchering of the deer, Adam’s near-​death by starvation, Orlando’s near-​combat with Duke Senior’s band and later defacement of trees with his bad verses, the lioness who threatens Oliver when he arrives in the forest: all these elements undermine a fully green, pastoral, and homeostatic understanding of this redemptive forest. Alongside the social integration structured through the quadruple marriage plots, the play limns a less easy relationship with nonhuman nature. ‘Sweet lovers love the spring’ (5.3.20), goes the refrain of the song, but memories of winter linger. The forests of comedy contain not only Frye’s redemptive green but also painful hints of hostility to human trespassing. The catastrophic weather-​visions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream articulate the darker qualities of the comic forest on a larger scale than Duke Senior’s homily. Acrimony between the King and Queen of the Fairies hurls the natural world into discord: Therefore the winds, piping to us in vain, As in revenge have sucked up from the sea Contagious fogs which, falling in the land, Hath every pelting river made so proud That they have overborne their continents. (2.1.88–​92)

As Henry Turner has shown in an acute reading of this passage and of Shakespeare’s complex understanding of nature, ‘Many of the phenomena that bedevil the scientist confronted by ecocides and global warming can be glimpsed here, as Shakespeare tries to fit the terrifying unpredictability, the hugeness and impersonality of forces that operate randomly and with no regard for human interests into a logical sequence that stems from an identifiable cause.’21 The forest in chaos epitomizes inhospitable, illegible nature ‘revealed as entirely a-​theistic, beyond consolation, redemptive vision, or design’.22 The supernatural over-​plot of Midsummer will eventually redeem natural disorder through 20 

Mentz, ‘Tongues in the Storm’, 163–​4. Henry S. Turner, Shakespeare’s Double Helix (London: Continuum/​Shakespeare Now!, 2007), 36. 22 Turner, Shakespeare’s Double Helix, 36. 21 

256   Steve Mentz yet another articulation of the courtship plot; the weather becomes legible again when Titania returns to Oberon’s bed. The possibility of future ruptures in the natural world, however, still abides. In both Dream and As You Like It, the plays’ concluding human narratives of romantic play and comic closure displace earlier visions of natural disharmony. The dark green influence of the forest, however, can also corrupt human social norms. The outlaws of Two Gentlemen of Verona represent the inverse case of Duke Senior: rather than having humanist wisdom convert the forest’s threats into good counsel as in As You Like It, in this earlier comedy living in the woods turns ordinary men into violent criminals. After invoking Robin Hood (4.1.35), who also functions as an idealized representative of forest living in As You Like It (1.1.111), the ‘wild faction’ (4.1.36) of outlaws explains their criminal behaviour as arising from exile. The outlaws emphasize being sent out from the civilized world, rather than being influenced by living in the forest: Know, then, that some of us are gentlemen Such as the fury of ungoverned youth Thrust from the company of aweful men. Myself was from Verona banishèd For practising to steal away a lady. (4.1.42–​6)

The pun on ‘ungoverned youth’ and the exact correspondence between this outlaw’s crime and Valentine’s suggests that the play recognizes forest-​bound exile as a standard trope of romantic comedy. The outlaws re-​convert to civil behaviour under Valentine’s command, and barely threaten the wandering Silvia (5.3). The forest does, however, change Valentine into a natural philosopher like Duke Senior: This shadowy desert, unfrequented woods I better brook than flourishing peopled towns. Here can I sit alone, unseen of any, And to the nightingale’s complaining notes Tune my distresses and record my woes. (5.4.2–​6)

By this point Valentine’s nobility has tempered the outlaws’ violence; they do not harm either Silvia or the Duke, though they capture both. Valentine’s rhetoric about solitude prefigures Duke Senior’s eco-​poetics; the latter speech’s key word ‘brook’ even appears in the earlier play, though without its cognate ‘books’. In Two Gentlemen the forest corrupts the outlaws because it is not the city, but the same isolated natural space amplifies Valentine’s erotic lamentations. It would remain for the mature comedy of As You Like It to untangle the argument and suggest that it is precisely the nonhuman power of the natural world that creates symbolic converting force. Green comic fantasies begin as threats to existing social and psychological orders; the narrative trick

Green Comedy   257 of comic integration resolves them through the device of courtship. Reconsidering the threats within Shakespeare’s green worlds can help de-​pastoralize and de-​harmonize these plays.

Toward a Blue Comic Vision: Twelfth Night, the Comedy of Errors, and the Two Noble Kinsmen Expanding traditional and static notions of the ‘green world’ into dynamic and disorderly forms more compatible with post-​sustainability ecological thinking requires more than simply paying attention to the threats and suffering inherent in the forest. Today’s eco​critical approaches to comedies must also move beyond the green world. The symbolic core of this post-​human environmental vision appears not in green fields but blue oceans. While the sea may be more closely associated with the shipwrecks of romance and the devouring storms of tragedy than with comedy, its waters function as metaphoric counterpoints and physical settings in comedies both early and late. Taking the beach on which Viola is stranded in Twelfth Night as the comic ocean’s prototypical space suggests that comedy is less about immersion than about emerging from proximity to the great waters. Having barely escaped with her life, the heroine of comedy looks back at the sea with apprehension. Her genre will attempt to dry out her salt disorientation, but not with complete success. Viola on the beach epitomizes comedy’s attitude toward salt​water transformation: she remains near it but no longer threatened by it. Her first words in the play—​‘What country, friends, is this?’ (1.2.1)—​demonstrate that her attention has shifted from sea to land and also that she relies on the human ‘friends’ who surround her. Unlike Duke Senior, she does not seek wisdom from her nonhuman surroundings. The main action of Twelfth Night extends Viola’s initial movement from sea to land.23 Comedy’s relationship with the blue world, however, is not simply to refuse it. Rather, as the Captain who helps Viola disguise herself and move to Orsino’s court implies, the comic genre asks that the oceanic world assume redemptive form. Narrating the swimming exploits of Sebastian after the shipwreck, the Captain claims that his sea-​story will ‘comfort [Viola] with chance’ (1.2.7). The Captain, whose profession gives him access to the saltier and less stable blue world from which Viola has just escaped, provides the comic service of transforming oceanic ‘chance’ into human possibility. Another maritime figure, Antonio the salt​water pirate, speaks in a parallel way of being drawn into comic entanglements after being released from ‘the rude sea’s enraged and foamy mouth’ by


In what follows, I draw upon and extend my oceanic readings of Twelfth Night and Comedy of Errors. See Mentz, At the Bottom of Shakespeare’s Ocean, 35–​62.

258   Steve Mentz ‘witchcraft’ (5.1.74, 72). Both the Captain and Antonio serve as transitional figures, shifting the twins from the tragic shock of saltwater catastrophe to the comic human possibilities of Illyria. Antonio’s claim that his purpose is to ‘redeem’ (5.1.75) Sebastian seems equally true of the less prominent figure of the Captain. The vision of comic reunion that Viola pronounces when she hears a clue that her brother may have survived the wreck—​‘O, if it prove, /​Tempests are kind, and salt waves fresh in love!’ (3.4.374–​5)—​ is underwritten by the alienation of these two maritime figures. Not everyone emerges from the sea as easily as the twins. In suggesting that the redemptive developments of Twelfth Night emerge out of the actions of its maritime bit-​players, I am emphasizing a distinction between this sea-​ comedy and the green world of As You Like It. In addition to closeness to the sea, the alienation of Viola marks the relative blue-​ness of this comedy. Rosalind, by contrast, speaks out of deep integration in both social and natural worlds. Her forest disguise empowers her to control the wooing of her chosen husband. By contrast, Viola’s passivity and her insistence that she must remain a ‘blank’ like ‘patience on a monument’ (2.4.110, 114) force her to wait for enabling characters and circumstances to advance her desires. Even her brother Sebastian, whose bloodying of Toby’s coxcomb marks his masculine activity, solidifies his fate in the play through submission to his ‘flood of fortune’ (4.3.11) in marrying Olivia. As the word ‘flood’ indicates, Sebastian’s acceptance of his new life marks an accommodation with oceanic power as well as his wife’s erotic choice. The ocean limns the boundaries of Twelfth Night, framing the comic negotiations in the play and providing an environmental context for their transformative force. Similarly in the early play The Comedy of Errors, the sea structures but does not intrude upon the action. The opening shipwreck, described in lengthy speeches by Egeon, whose name echoes the Aegean sea, sets the stage. Egeon’s phrasing includes an unusual description of the sea that appears to minimize the element’s power. In describing the family’s voyage before the storm, Egeon emphasizes the docility of the ocean: A league from Epidamnum had we sailed Before the always-​wind-​obeying deep Gave any tragic instance of our harm. But longer did we not retain much hope, For what obscurèd light the heavens did grant Did but convey unto our fearful minds A doubtful warrant of immediate death. (1.1.62–​8)

While this before-​and-​after description explicitly names the storm as a ‘tragic instance’, it also implies that the play’s comic structure will redeem it. Tragic storms must give way to comic reunions, as the play’s complex plot will demonstrate. In emphasizing that the sea is ‘always-​wind-​obeying’, Egeon’s speech connects sea storms with a paradoxical metaphoric vision of control over this uncontrollable environment. Given that the storm at sea represents political and epic strife, in particular through its Virgilian

Green Comedy   259 ur-​source in the opening of the Aeneid, the diminution of the tragic sea in the opening of this comedy seems meaningful.24 Egeon, like the Captain and Antonio in Twelfth Night, serves to transition his comedy from oceanic disorder to the social confusion that can, through comic misapprehension and re-​apprehension, be resolved. In both comedies, blue oceanic dislocation represents a core experience in response to which comedy must shift the wheel. The disruptive force of oceanic environments comes to greater prominence in shipwreck-​driven romances such as Pericles, The Winter’s Tale, and The Tempest. The particular place of the ocean in comedy, in contrast with romance, often implies a glancing blow or recent escape from the waves, or indeed an only metaphoric engagement with the sea. The comic ocean is as much literary topos as deadly environment. The logical extreme of the ocean as aesthetic symbol appears in a generic hybrid, Two Noble Kinsmen. In this late tragicomedy co-​written with John Fletcher, blue dynamism intrudes when the Jailor’s daughter invokes a purely imaginary storm and shipwreck near the centre of the play. This land-​locked play has recourse to imaginary tempests that become a legible literary paradigm to express the lovelorn character’s madness. The Jailer’s daughter’s storm resembles the rough seas of comedy in that it is not presented in full. Her speech presents the sea storm much less intensely than the fully staged storms of The Tempest or Pericles. The Jailer’s daughter remains sidelined within the imagined storms of comedy: Where am I now? Yonder’s the sea, and there’s a ship—​how’t tumbles! And there’s a rock lies watching under water—​ Now, now, it beats upon it—​now, now, now, There’s a leak sprung, a sound one—​how they cry! Open her before the wind—​you’ll lose all else. Up with a course or two and tack about, boys. Good night, good night, you’re gone. I am very hungry. Would I could find a fine frog—​he would tell me News from all parts o’th’ world, then would I make A carrack of a cockle-​shell, and sail By east and north-​east to the King of Pygmies, For he tells fortunes rarely. (3.4.4–​16)

The Jailer’s daughter fills this short scene, one of four presumably Fletcherian scenes in this darkly comedic subplot that consists entirely of her soliloquizing, with an imaginary oceanic environment. Abandoned by Palamon, she conjures up a narrative scenario that replicates the arrival of Viola in Illyria; to her question, ‘Where am I now?’ her next line,


On the sea storm as a political marker in early modern literary culture, see Christopher Pye, The Storm at Sea: Political Aesthetics in the Time of Shakespeare (New York: Fordham University Press, 2015).

260   Steve Mentz ‘Yonder’s the sea and there’s a ship’ (3.4.4–​5), provides a resonant answer. The sea storm replaces her waiting with a radical sense of urgency, of living in crisis: ‘now, it beats upon it—​now, now, now’ (3.4.7). She lives in the dynamic and disorderly oceanic world as she lives in the play’s tragicomic genre; both enclose her within boundaries and limits beyond which she cannot reach, and both are suffused with uncontrollable changes. That her storm is entirely artificial emphasizes her marginal social position, from which only literary structures are available to her. In tragicomedy as in comedy, generic imperatives rescue souls from the sea. This example from Two Noble Kinsmen seems more comic than romance-​like because the Jailer’s daughter’s rescue transpires entirely in the imagination. Her shipwreck does not get her wet or abandon her on an enchanted island. After saying ‘good night’ to her wrecked ship, she creates in her imagination an even more artificial and literary vessel, ‘a carrack of a cockle-​shell’ that will take her to the ‘King of Pygmies’. The Pygmy kingdom, like Arden or the forest outside Athens, appears to be a fantasy place where impossible things are possible. Combining royal power and unthreatening size, the Pygmy King forges a narrative future out of the Jailer’s daughter’s plight. He ‘tells fortunes rarely’, meaning both that he has the unusual ability to tell her fortune and that the fortunes he tells are ‘rare’, and might not include disaster for abandoned maidens. This world of fair sailing ‘east and north-​east’ represents what Douglas Bruster calls the ‘folk world of Two Noble Kinsmen’.25 Only this comic narrative survives the imaginary storm. The Jailer’s daughter’s speech uses the sea storm to mark the boundary between realistic and artificial dramatic narratives. The imagined shipwreck represents the fate to which Palamon has abandoned the Jailer’s daughter, and from which only a fairly cruel bed-​trick will salvage her. The kingdom of the Pygmies represents the comic fantasy of a world without weather, in which all seas are redemptive and all shipwrecks lead to rescue.

Conclusion: Comedy in the Anthropocene As our contemporary world of eco-​catastrophe and human-​driven climate change has come to be known as the Anthropocene, cultural critics are coming to recognize that we need to re-​interpret our environment in new ways.26 The breakdown of long-​ established binaries such as nature and culture forces a painful reintegration of the human and nonhuman domains. As the influential eco-​theorist Timothy Morton quips,


Douglas Bruster, Quoting Shakespeare: Form and Culture in Early Modern Drama (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2000), 153. 26  For humanities approaches to the Anthropocene, see Tobias Menely and Jesse Oak Taylor, eds., Anthropocene Reading: Literary History and Geologic Time (College Park, PA: Penn State University Press, 2017).

Green Comedy   261 ‘everything is connected. And it sucks.’27 Inside the eco-​mesh of mutual suffering, we need comedy—​but our understanding of comedy must adapt itself to the conditions of ecological crisis and entanglement. In conclusion, I will suggest some ways in which comedy’s functions might adapt to Anthropocene conditions. First and most drastically from the ‘green’ perspective, comedy must reimagine itself in a world ‘without Nature’.28 Romantic and pastoral fantasies about green nature forming a stable, hospitable, and always recognizable counterpoint to human culture must give way to the recognition of the mutual implication of human and nonhuman elements of the environment. Developments in post-​sustainability ecotheory in the works of such thinkers as Stacy Alaimo, Bruno Latour, Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, and Serenella Iovino and Serpil Opperman provide helpful guides for this shift into post-​green ecological thinking.29 It remains for literary critics to adapt the tools and techniques of our craft, including generic definitions and conceptions, to this post-​nature world. In addition to nature no longer being what it once was, the human has also become an unstable term. As Rosi Braidotti defines it, the ‘posthuman’ represents a move beyond humanist self-​absorption and species-​centrism.30 Comedy’s integrating force, if re-​imagined in a post-​human direction, might suggest new ways to connect across boundaries, including species boundaries. As Donna Haraway argues, companion species, such as dogs and other domesticated animals, have already begun to expand our world beyond the human on an experiential level. This expansion should continue: ‘Species interdependence is the name of the worlding game on earth, and that game must be one of response and respect.’31 The networks and structures of comic form provide rich material to reconsider this game. Launce and Crab in Two Gentlemen may be the easiest Shakespearean figures to translate into Haraway’s terms, but comedy as a genre has an affinity for making aliens into companions. While the matter of comedy, including its central plot development of facilitating marriages, may seem to focus only on human concerns, the examples I have uncovered in Shakespeare’s plays suggest that comic integration can thrive in post-​natural and post-​human conditions. Patterns of connection and enmeshment that emerge within a post-​nature and post-​human context appear if anything richer, if arguably less stable or lasting, than purely human stories. The challenge of the Anthropocene will be to reimagine familiar structures in an increasingly unfamiliar environment. The


Timothy Morton, The Ecological Thought (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010), 33. See Timothy Morton, Ecology without Nature: Rethinking Environmental Aesthetics (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007). 29  See, among others, Stacy Alaimo, Bodily Natures: Science, Environment, and the Material Self (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2010); Bruno Latour, We Have Never Been Modern, Catherine Porter, trans. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993); Jeffrey Jerome Cohen and Lowell Duckert, eds., Elemental Ecocriticism: Thinking with Earth, Air, Water, and Fire (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2015); and Serenella Iovino and Serpil Opperman, eds., Material Ecocriticism (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2014). 30  Rosi Braidotti, The Posthuman (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2013). 31  Donna Haraway, When Species Meet (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2008), 19. 28 

262   Steve Mentz generic resources of comedy, one of our culture’s most ancient forms, will be essential to that task.

Suggested Reading Alaimo, Stacy, Bodily Natures:  Science, Environment, and the Material Self (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2010). Braidotti, Rosi, The Posthuman (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2013). Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome, ed., Prismatic Ecology:  Ecotheory Beyond Green (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2013). Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome, and Lowell Duckert, eds., Elemental Ecocriticism: Thinking with Earth, Air, Water, and Fire (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2015). Haraway, Donna, When Species Meet (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2008). Iovino, Serenella, and Serpil Opperman, eds., Material Ecocriticism (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2014). Latour, Bruno, We Have Never Been Modern, trans. Catherine Porter (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993). Meeker, Joseph, ‘The Comic Mode’, in Harold Fromm and Cheryl Glotfelty, eds., The Ecocriticism Reader (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1996), 155–​69. Mentz, Steve, At the Bottom of Shakespeare’s Ocean (London: Bloomsbury, 2009). Morton, Timothy, Ecology without Nature: Rethinking Environmental Aesthetics (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007). Morton, Timothy, The Ecological Thought (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010). Pye, Christopher, The Storm at Sea:  Political Aesthetics in the Time of Shakespeare (New York: Fordham University Press, 2015).

Chapter 16

T he L aws of C ome dy Shakespeare and Early Modern Legal Culture Carolyn Sale

In The Merry Wives of Windsor, a play that has a legal joke in almost every scene, Sir John Falstaff steps out of the history plays Henry IV Parts 1 and 2 into Shakespeare’s comedy to serve as the great figure of fun punished by Mistresses Page and Ford for presuming to make sexual advances upon them. His punishments include some noxious time in a ‘buck’ or laundry basket, a washing in a brook, and a beating by Master Ford when he attempts to exit the Fords’ home disguised as the ‘witch of Brentford’ (4.2.76).1 Ultimately, Falstaff finds himself pinched black and blue by ‘fairies’ in the forest of Windsor while he is dressed as the legendary cattle thief Herne the Hunter. The action against Falstaff has a strong symbolic dimension in terms of law: his ‘crimes’ may be domestic, and not generally of a character that would draw the law’s attention, but they nevertheless constitute a kind of theft against which the community acts outside any formal judicial process. Formal action at law is referred to more than once in the play, first by Justice Shallow who wishes to bring a suit against Falstaff for ‘riot’ and later by Mistress Page, who claims, in the face of Falstaff ’s actions, that she would like to ‘exhibit a bill in Parliament for the putting down of men’, but in the end the community acts against Falstaff directly (2.1.26–​7). A light-​hearted comedy that may on its face seem to have nothing to do with the law thus suggests a symbolic function of Shakespeare’s comedy, which may compensate for what cannot be done at law, or only achieved at law with great difficulty. The particular pleasures that the comedy may offer female audience members relishing Falstaff ’s come-​uppance aside, the comedy pleases because it reinforces the sense that English law is law made by the people for whom it obtains, first and foremost in their communal practices, whether customary or inventive. More commonly, however, Shakespearean comedy depicts threats to the idea of the English law as a law


All references to Shakespeare’s plays are from Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor, gen. eds., The Oxford Shakespeare, 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005).

264   Carolyn Sale arising from the people. The chapter will illustrate this aspect of Shakespeare’s comedy by discussing three comedies that span the breadth of Shakespeare’s comic writing for the stage: The Comedy of Errors (c.1594), The Merchant of Venice (c.1598), and Measure for Measure (c.1604). In so doing, the chapter will pursue a paradox: that even as it represents procedures or attitudes to law that may undermine the English common law’s ideals, Shakespeare’s comedy affirms for audience members that the authority of the common law lies always with themselves.

‘Like a Silke Worme’: the Common Law’s Common Reason Some understanding of England’s common law during the early modern period is important to this pursuit. During the period of Shakespeare’s writing for the stage, the English common law was still understood as customary law—​that is, as law deriving from customary land-​use practices predating the imposition of Anglo-​Norman law with the reign of William the Conqueror (1066–​87). This common law was formalized and rationalized during the reign of Henry II (1154–​89) as a supranational system guaranteed and overseen by the sovereign, and chiefly administered in his central courts at Westminster, with the objective of ensuring that no manorial court, presided over by a manorial lord, could refuse to uphold customary rights.2 As the Student of the common laws asserts in Christopher St German’s famous dialogue Doctor and Student, first published in the late 1520s but reprinted for law students regularly across the sixteenth century, these customary practices, ‘which have been accepted and approved by our sovereign lord the king, and his progenitors, and all his subjects’, are so central that they ‘properly be called the common law’.3 These customs, in the Student’s argument, make possible the ‘divers courts in the realm’; and while the highest of these courts, Parliament, can make law by way of statute, ‘a law grounded upon a custom’ is nevertheless to be regarded as ‘the most surest law’.4 St German’s Student goes so far as to assert that the customs of the realm, precisely because they are ‘known through the realm, as well to them that be unlearned as learned, and may lightly be had and known, and that with little study’, are to be regarded as of greater authority than the specialized terms of art employed in the king’s courts.5 This is not to say that custom cannot err, or may not need to be corrected, but that in general not just customary practices but ‘common opinion’ had immense force at law—​to the extent that, as one of the most important 2  See S. F. C. Milsom, A Natural History of the Common Law (New York: Columbia University Press, 2003), 56–​7. 3  Christopher St German, Doctor and Student (Birmingham, AL: Legal Classics Library, 1988), 18. Emphasis in the original. 4  St German, Doctor and Student, 25. 5  St German, Doctor and Student, 26.

The Laws of Comedy    265 legal maxims of the period declared, ‘communis error facit ius’, common error makes law.6 The law was, in short, what the people understood it to be, and what they made of it in social practice. Across the period, the common law’s sources in custom and ‘common opinion’ were increasingly lashed to the theory of the common law as common reason. Even as the legal and judicial bureaucracy witnessed massive growth over the sixteenth century, the theory remained strong: the specialized apparatuses of the common law may have been ramifying, and may have involved, as Sir Edward Coke famously asserted to James I in 1609, practices of ‘artificial reason’,7 but these practices were always oriented to (and in dialectical relationship with) common reason. Coke would eventually assert, in his 1628 Institutes, that the common law was nothing more than common reason, but the saying was not uncommon earlier. As early as 1600 William Fulbecke asserted, in his Direction or Preparative to the Study of the Lawe, that ‘The Common lawe is that which by common vse or common reason is made’.8 The most poetic articulation of the nature of the common law was offered by John Davies in his reports on cases heard in Ireland published in 1615. For Davies, customary law was ‘the most perfect, & most excellent, and without comparison the best, to make & preserue a commonwealth’.9 Here we see an important continuity in thinking about law across a century, as Davies echoes St German. But Davies is blunter than St German about a matter central to our understanding of Shakespeare’s engagement with the common law, the common law’s superiority to ‘the written lawes which are made either by the edicts of Princes, or by Counselles of estate’, as those are laws ‘imposed vppon the subiect before any Triall or Probation made’.10 Custom, instead, comes into being as a ‘reasonable act’ that the people ‘vse . . . & practise . . . againe, & againe, & so by often iteration & multiplication’ a custom ‘obtaineth the force of a lawe’.11 The very infrastructure of common law jurisprudence, including the central courts at Westminster, was understood as the product of custom; none of it could exist (so the theory went) unless the English people had approved and continued to approve it. The English were thus to be understood, Davies avers, as making ‘theire owne lawes out of their wisdome & experience (like a silke worme that formeth all her webb out of her selfe onely)’.12 Davies’s figure is an important one for understanding any Shakespearean comedy that engages legal ideas or issues, or represents the law at work. The comedies appeal to audience


Charles Spinosa sees the maxim’s theory of error informing Sir Edward Coke’s rationale in Slade’s Case (1597–​1602). See ‘The Transformation of Intentionality: Debt and Contract in The Merchant of Venice’, English Literary Renaissance 24, no. 2 (1994), 370–​409, esp. 384. 7  Edward Coke, The Twelfth Part of the Reports of Sir Edward Coke, Kt. (London, 1658), 65. 8  William Fulbecke, A Direction or Preparative to the Study of the Lawe (London, 1600), 64. 9  John Davies, Le Primer Report des Cases & Matters en Ley resolues et adiudges en les Courts del Roy en Ireland (Dublin, 1615), *2r. 10 Davies, Le Primer Report, *2r. 11 Davies, ibid. 12 Davies, Le Primer Report, *2v.

266   Carolyn Sale members’ sense of themselves, collectively, in their aggregate, as the source of law, or the ‘silke worme’ out of whom the law is spun. The theory of the people as the makers of the law held, despite the common law’s dependence on specialized practices of ‘artificial’ reason, because these practices were fundamentally ‘discoursive’13—​that is, predicated on the notion that any judgment at law had to be arrived at as a matter of rigorous public argumentation oriented to ‘common reason’.14 Custom preceded this argumentation, but was reaffirmed in the course of it, along with any ‘rule’ that a custom dictated. In this sense, as the legal philosopher Gerald Postema writes, ‘The law emerged from the course of argument’.15 A special kind of thinking, analogical reasoning, was vital to these processes, for the present case had to be construed and argued in relation to other cases like it for which there was a known judgment and ideally a known rationale.16 Past judgments, though they furnished a precedent, were not, however, binding. They were, rather, treated as helpful instances of the common reason according to which every case was to be determined. Davies suggests the integral relation between the specialized practices of the central courts and the origins of the law in the people themselves with his claim that when justices in the central courts rode out in their Assize circuits to judge cases in the various counties, the ‘streames of Iustice’ flowed back to the people from whom the law sprung.17 In the theatrical space, problems of law can be taken up in a fiction, in something like a dream, in a practice that contributes, through its engagement of the sensibilities of individual theatre-​goers, to the shaping of ‘common reason’ more generally. All three of the plays discussed below present the legal problems with which they deal as the problems of jurisdictions elsewhere (ancient Ephesus and early modern Venice and Vienna respectively), but they do so as contributions to the audience’s sense of its members’ authoritative participation in the common reason of the common law. Errors’s appeal to the audience to construe the ‘errors’ of the law affirms and exercises the collective rationality of audiences as law-​maker, and Merchant’s trial scene shows both Shylock and Portia offending against the procedures of any law that pretends to be communally shaped. Finally, in Measure for Measure’s extended spectacle of judicial authority in act 5, the audience witnesses a displacement of the law-​making authority that is so crucial to the common law, a system of judicial ‘substitutes’ for the sovereign figure that deal in ‘artificial reason’ on behalf of the law as ‘common reason’. The experience of each of these

13  Gerald Postema, ‘Classical Common Law Jurisprudence (Part II)’, Oxford University Commonwealth Law Journal 3, no. 1 (2003), 1–​28. Note 27 states that Postema uses the term in his contemporary argument ‘because it captures the interlocutory as well as the reasoning aspect of common law reason’, 7. 14  Postema, ‘Classical Common Law Jurisprudence (Part II)’, especially 7–​10. 15  Gerald Postema, ‘Classical Common Law Jurisprudence (Part I),’ Oxford University Commonwealth Law Journal 2, no. 2 (2002), 161. 16  Gerald Postema, ‘Philosophy of the Common Law’, in Jules L. Coleman, Kenneth Einar Himma and Scott J. Shapiro, eds., The Oxford Handbook of Jurisprudence and Philosophy of Law (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 602–​5. 17 Davies, Le Primer Report, *6v.

The Laws of Comedy    267 plays is the experience of an active relation to the legal that establishes or renews individual audience members’ relation to law to affirm the legal capacity of audience members in their aggregate as the people by whom the law is made.

A ‘Thousand Marks’: the Legal Force of The Comedy of Errors The opening scene of Shakespeare’s early comedy The Comedy of Errors confronts us with the ramifications of a positive law, created by a ‘synod’, that the sovereign figure of Duke Solinus believes he has no choice but to apply (1.1.13). The Syracusan merchant Egeon has come to Ephesus in contravention of a decree that no Syracusan merchant may land there, and the penalty for his offence is his life. The Duke intervenes into the application of this law only to provide the loophole that Egeon’s life will be spared if he can find an Ephesian so moved by his tale to pay the sum of a thousand marks to redeem him from the law’s force. Solinus’s choice of the loophole is inimical to the common law for it allows for no process by which the law of the synod may be put in conversation with the circumstances that have led to the law’s infraction. Neither the facts nor Egeon’s account of what has brought him to Ephesus is relevant to the operations of the kind of law over which Solinus presides. The play leaps into the ‘discoursive’ breach, but not, as one might expect from the opening scene, by showing Egeon attempting to tell his tale again to other Ephesians, but by forcing on the audience’s attention the consequence of another set of a ‘thousand marks’: the blows doled out to a set of twins that Shakespeare adds to his source material in Plautus’s Menaechmi (1.2.84). In Egeon’s tale, these twins were purchased by him. The shipwreck that ‘divorces’ him from his sons sees one of the purchased twins paired with one of his sons in their survival. The first pair is brought up by him in Syracuse, the other he has gone in search of. Much of the humour of the comedy turns on the dim-​wittedness of Antipholus of Syracuse, who, despite the fact that he has left his father in search of his twin, is continually baffled by the fact that everyone in Ephesus seems to know him. The ‘errors’ that result are resolved—​predictably, as the play is a comedy—​with the reunion of the family. It is, however, another order of ‘error’ in which the play is interested.18 As the unhappy messengers on the confused errands of their masters, the Dromios are subject to blow after blow from the Antipholi as they seem to refuse to follow orders given to them. Both Dromios speak early on about these blows in similar ways, with Dromio of Ephesus declaring that as a result of them he ought to be encased in leather (2.1.84) and Dromio of Syracuse declaring he needs a ‘sconce’ for his head (2.2.37). The 18  See the rich account of critical shortsightedness in regard to Errors’s errors upon which I build: Eric Heinze, ‘ “Were it not against our laws”: Oppression and Resistance in Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors’, Legal Studies 29, no. 2 (2009), 230–​63, 254–​5.

268   Carolyn Sale most extended of the complaints comes from Dromio of Ephesus late in act 4, after the Officer who has been paid by Angelo the jeweller to arrest Antipholus of Ephesus for the debt of 200 ducats due to him for a chain commissioned by Antipholus but mistakenly given to his twin shows no concern whatsoever for the violence that the master is doling out to his servant. The Officer’s indifference to Dromio’s predicament showcases the need for the audience’s attention to Dromio’s plight even before the character himself says that the violence done to him will eventually lame him and see him cast out of doors. The dramatic fiction thus involves an irony: it presents audiences with two situations that are expressly legal, or matters about which the law takes notice (private commercial contracts, actions for debt), even as it also presents another matter, one that demands the attention of law, that no one within the fiction, not even those who are suffering as a result of it, directly frames as a matter for the law’s attention or a matter to be dealt with by any court. The court that matters, as a result, is that constituted by the audience, for what audience members experience through the fiction is an ‘error’ of law far greater than that witnessed in either Egeon’s or Antipholus of Ephesus’s cases. As Maurice Hunt has noted, violence against servants in early modern England was generally ignored, even when it was so great as to cause brain damage to the servant.19 This ‘interpersonal violence’ was not dealt with adequately by any of England’s courts.20 Putting into his Dromio’s mouth the kind of complaint that needed to be heard in early modern English courtrooms, Shakespeare’s comedy makes the time and space of playgoing the occasion for the hearing of a kind of case not being dealt with (or dealt with adequately) by the courts. The audience thus experiences, through the dramatic fiction, a systemic error—​ the physical abuse of other humans against which no one acts—​which they are left to correct; the play can showcase a grave social problem, but not itself resolve it. The play implies that the alteration of a social practice might be achieved not by the imposition of a judgment by a court (though judgments by courts also have the capacity to alter norms) but by the people themselves changing their behaviour before a court would have any need to adjudicate a particular act of violence. The implicit appeal to audience members to solve the ‘error’ that no one in the fiction, not even those who suffer from it, treat as a matter to be handled by any court may explain why the play was judged (either by the playing company or event organizers at Gray’s Inn or both) to be fitting matter for the revels at Gray’s Inn in 1594, the occasion of its one documented performance: this is a play that appeals to law students in the 1590s to exercise their imaginations to make demands of the law, or demands on the law’s attention, fashioned from a larger social sense of what the law ought to hear, or of what it


Maurice Hunt, ‘Slavery, English Servitude, and The Comedy of Errors’, English Literary Renaissance 27, no. 1 (1997), 31–​56, 42. 20  Battery was an ‘indictable misdemeanour’ (J. H. Baker, The Oxford History of the Laws of England, Volume VI, 1483–​1558 [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003], 553), but as Peter King notes in ‘Punishing Assault: The Transformation of Attitudes in the English Courts’, Journal of Interdisciplinary History 27, no. 1 (1996), 43–​74, ‘[t]‌he dark figure of unrecorded crimes is so huge that it engulfs the relatively small number of acts that reached the courts’ (45).

The Laws of Comedy    269 ought to take into account. The play exercises students’ imaginations so that as lawyers the students may be the immediate source, within institutional practice, of the common law’s common reason. In the space of the public theatre, the play’s function is, however, even more powerful, for the play allows all those who come within the theatre’s walls, regardless of their social status or education, to work together to establish what ought to matter to and as law. The great social levelling of the play’s final gesture, that of the Dromios hand-​in-​hand, with the elder insisting that he is not to take any priority over his twin, leaves audiences with the idea of an aspirational social equality that is necessary not merely for the fictional twins that have been batted about from first to last, with consequences for their capacity to think, but for audience members as the source of the common law’s rationality. The feigned blows in the fiction seek real impact on law, in the first instance by making an impression on the consciousness of playgoers.

Great Wrongs and Little Right in The Merchant of Venice If the predicament of the Dromios in Errors cultivates in the audience a sense of its capacity to establish what ought to be a case, Merchant presents us with a contrary predicament—​a case that is heard only to be defeated, with the audience having to assess its own relationship to the law’s reason in relation to that defeat. The critical tradition has tended to regard as necessary and right the means that Portia deploys to prosecute the penalty of the bond that Shylock has made with the merchant Antonio, which permits him to cut ‘a pound of flesh’ from the merchant ‘nearest [his] heart’ (4.1.229–​30). In the general view, Portia neatly, even poetically, defeats Shylock by meeting his own rigid relationship to the letter of his bond with a ‘hyper-​technicality’ of her own: Shylock is free to cut into Antonio’s chest to take his ‘pound of flesh’, to have what the bond expressly entitles him to, as long as he ensures that he takes nothing else, and most importantly takes no ‘drop of Christian blood’ (4.1.307).21 Portia is certainly not, as more than 21  In a 1993 article, Daniel Kornstein notes that ‘The vast majority of scholarly commentary—​an eight-​ to-​one ratio—​agrees with Portia’s ruling’ (35). Arguments before that date, such as Alice N. Benston’s for Shakespeare Quarterly in 1979, tend in one way or another to argue that Portia must abuse the law in order to ‘save’ it. See ‘Portia, the Law, and the Tripartite Structure of the Merchant of Venice’, Shakespeare Quarterly 30, no. 3 (1979), 367–​85. In ‘Fie upon Your Law!’, Cardozo Studies in Law and Literature 5, no. 1 (1993), 35–​56, Kornstein bucks the trend by attending to Portia’s dissimulation and manipulations as offences against just ‘public policy’. Richard Weisberg returned to the earlier critical tendencies in his article ‘Antonio’s Legalistic Cruelty: Interdisciplinarity and The Merchant of Venice’, College Literature 25, no. 1 (1998), 12–​20, where he contends that Portia follows Shylock’s ‘legalistic tendencies’ in order to ‘undo the moneylender’s extreme application of what might otherwise be a righteous and ethical reliance on written law’ (13). At their worst, defences of Portia involve simplistic charges that Shylock is ‘evil’ and has no pity, and Portia’s techniques merely guarantee that ‘he who lives by the letter may perish by it’. See Richard Posner, ‘Law and Commerce in The Merchant of Venice’, in Bradin Cormack, Martha C. Nussbaum, and Richard Strier, eds., Shakespeare and the Law: A Conversation Among Disciplines and

270   Carolyn Sale one critic has contended, a figure of equity, as she holds as strictly to the letter of the law as Shylock, and, indeed, finds a law of her own to use against him, in arguments that are hardly disinterested.22 But no significant attention has been paid to Portia’s actions as an offence against common law ideals and process. The general character of the trial scene is a problem from the perspective of the English common law in at least two respects. First, the audience must watch a bond that would never be upheld in an English court prosecuted with sleight-​of-​hand so that a law that must have been generally unknown can be applied and applied only after Shylock is misled into believing that his own position is legally airtight.23 Portia informs him, after all, at the outset of the proceedings, that there is no law in Venice that can ‘impugn [him] as [he does] proceed’ (4.1.176). But the scene is equally disturbing from the perspective of the English common law because there is no process in it to guard against an incorrect application of the law, which should, amongst other things, not tolerate the transformation of a case about a private contract into a criminal trial. As a case for the prosecution of the penalty on a bond transmogrifying into a criminal trial, the case would fail because no English jury could tolerate the post facto prosecution of Shylock for a crime for which he was not properly indicted; and while, in a common law court, the bond would be, as it is in the fictional trial, subject to intense literal scrutiny and interpretation, this scrutiny and interpretation would be the activities (at least in the Common Pleas, the court whose principal business during the period was debt and penalty bonds)24 of serjeants-​at-​law weighing out, in adversarial argument, the case’s two sides, with the very dependence on these surrogates ensuring that there is no opportunity for direct violence of any kind between one party and another. Foiling within the fiction the very kinds of process upon which the English common law of the period depended, the play appeals to precisely the kind of sensibility so important to the common law, a sensibility embodied in the English jury making its own enquiry into the facts of the case before them.25 The pleasure of the play as comedy lies in part in the opportunity Professions (Chicago, IL, and London: Chicago University Press, 2013), 147–​55, 150–​1. For a more recent counter to the general trend, see Thomas Bilello, ‘Accomplished with What She Lacks: Law, Equity, and Portia’s Con’, Cardozo Studies in Law and Literature 16, no. 1 (2004): 11–​32, which argues that Portia ‘arguably act[s]‌with more criminal liability than Shylock’ (24). 22  See B. J. Sokol, ‘The Merchant of Venice and the Law Merchant’, Renaissance Studies 6, no. 1 (1992), 60–​7, for one instance of resistance to the dominant trend. Sokol notes that Portia’s insistence that the bond must be upheld ensures that there can be no proper operation of equity (64). 23  As J. H. Baker notes, it was well established that no one could ‘in conscience take anything in respect of . . . indebtedness’ on a bond ‘except the principal’ (823); and as Kornstein notes, ‘No court in any civilized society would even entertain the thought of enforcing a contractual penalty calling for the death of one party’ (39). 24 Baker, The Oxford History of the Laws, 141. 25  See Lorna Hutson’s seminal work on the early modern drama’s cultivation of jury-​like sensibilities in audiences in her The Invention of Suspicion: Law and Mimesis in Shakespeare and Renaissance Drama (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007). For my extended argument on Measure for Measure’s techniques in this regard, see ‘ “Practis[ing] Judgments with the Dispositions of Nature”: Measure for Measure, the “Discoursive” Common Law, and the “Open Court” of the Theater’, in Kevin Curran, ed., Shakespeare and Judgment (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2016): 115–​38.

The Laws of Comedy    271 that the play affords for the audience to recognize the superiority of their own law even as they watch the errors of law in Merchant’s trial scene ramify and interlock to produce a resolution whose consequences are tragic for one of the fictional opponents, and comic for the other. For the audience the play affirms the virtue of their own system of law over and against the system it represents partly by showing both Shylock and Portia acting against the ‘discoursive’ forms of argumentation so important to the common law. Shylock forestalls any turn to the ‘discoursive’, for example, with his contention that he need not explain why he wants to prosecute his bond. His general demand of the court, that his bond be read strictly, with no other words and no other circumstances brought to bear upon it, is a procedure fundamentally antithetical to the English common law’s way of proceeding, where any text presented to the court must be read in a larger context—​indeed, in as many contexts as the court can bring to bear upon it in order to determine how it is to be read as a matter of law. But Portia, too, offends against the ‘discoursive’ procedures central to common law, most obviously early in the trial scene when, in response to Bassanio’s appeal to the court to find a way to wrest a ‘great right’ from the situation even if it must do ‘a little wrong’, she declares emphatically, ‘It must not be. There is no power in Venice /​Can alter a decree establishèd’ (4.1.213–​16). Denying Venice the ‘power’ to alter decrees, Portia denies the Venetian court the power of the ‘discoursive’, or any turn to argument and reason to determine the nature of the right that needs to be done, or the wrong that needs to be eschewed. Portia also errs, from the perspective of the common law, with her subsequent declaration, ‘Twill be recorded for a precedent, /​And many an error by the same example /​Will rush into the state’ (4.1.217–​19). The English common law does not fear the production of precedent. It trusts, rather, in its specialized practitioners in common reason to sort out the distinctions between precedents so that any case before a court may be adjudicated in relation to whatever the arguments in court, in relation to various precedents, promote as the most apt, or the precedent which, for that case, should function as jurisprudence’s ‘rule’. The English common law will, moreover, do whatever it can to avoid ‘mischief ’ or ‘inconvenience’ or a holding that it regards as ‘repugnant’ to law rather than apply any rule or precedent to produce a ‘wrong’.26 As a result, even though Portia and Shylock are opponents in the scene there is an important similarity in their way of proceeding that involves not merely (as generally construed) adherence to the letter of texts before the law, with Portia outdoing Shylock in this regard, but a refusal of ‘discoursive’ procedures. This makes Portia as much as Shylock a figure through whom the virtues of the common law may, by way of implicit contrast, be affirmed. Shylock, notably, does use a common law procedure, that of analogical reasoning, early in the trial scene when he contends that the laws of Venice cannot stop the prosecution of his bond for they already trade in flesh: if a Venetian may have ‘a purchased


For examples of this concern, see Coke’s report of Corbet’s Case (1599–​1600) in 76 English Reports, 1378–​1865, 187–​99.

272   Carolyn Sale slave’ (4.1.89), and would not relinquish this slave to any argument against slavery (‘You will answer /​“The slaves are ours” ’ [4.1.96–​7]), then how can the court refuse a bond that entitles him to the flesh of another man? The common law procedure is, however, used to poor ends, possibly with implications for the common law’s system of land holdings whose origins itself involved the commodification of men.27 A common law technique thus highlights for the audience the ways in which the common reason of the common law may be grounded on premises that offend against human rights. In this sense, Merchant extends the concerns of Errors. But Merchant differs radically from Errors in exposing through Portia’s masquerade as ‘Balthazar’ a structural problem of a law that relies (as civil and canon law do) on ‘doctors’ who may declare law’s rules and its judgments from a privileged relationship with the law’s textuality. The problem of the trial scene (from the perspective of the common law) is that no one else present, not even the Duke, has the institutional knowledge or authority to contradict ‘Balthazar’. Instead, Portia steps inside the machinery of the law to find the means to thrust Shylock out of the legal community. She does this climactically with her use of a law so generally unknown that neither the Duke nor the Magnificoes nor anyone else in the courtroom knows anything of it. This law targets any attempt either ‘direct or indirect’, on the part of an ‘alien’ against the ‘life of any citizen’ as action to be punished by seizure of the offender’s estate with his life subject entirely to the mercy of the Duke ‘gainst all other voice’ (4.1.346–​53). This is an offence against proceedings at the common law, where an arcane rule is a dead rule. As was noted in one of the leading cases of the period, Slade’s Case (1596–​1602), ‘that which has not been according to usage shall not be permitted’.28 It is particularly offensive to common law process that Portia would have the statute apply retrospectively, as self-​explanatory authority, with no rationale for how it has been previously applied, or any rationale offered for how it should now be applied to Shylock’s case. At common law rules arise from the interpretative practices of common reason, not from books to which only some have access; and while statute is a source of law, in the sixteenth century it is not, as noted above, the preferred source. As an instrument for the radical production of difference, Portia’s ‘alien’ statute acts directly counter to any common law seeking properly to protect and reinforce the idea that the people in their aggregate are the source of law, for it would make it possible for some members of the community to be prosecuted differentially and prosecuted by those acting from a position of privilege. In this regard it is worth noting that the ‘lady of Belmonte’ in Shakespeare’s source tale, ‘Il Pecorone’, makes no use of any statute against ‘aliens’. Shakespeare’s invention of the statute adds a crucial dimension to his lady of Belmont’s actions, while also suggesting the hypocrisy of the Venetian court. For

27  As Coke argues in his 1628 Institutes, the system of servitude traditionally upheld by the English common law, in which the ‘villein’ was subject to his lord, emerged from an indeterminate period in history after ‘Noah’s Flood’ in which men went to war to make ‘proper and private those things that were [formerly] common’. In the course of this, men taken in battle were made the ‘chattel’ of others. See Sir Edward Coke, The first part of the Institutes of the Lawes of England (London, 1628), 116v. 28 76 English Reports, 1378–​1865, 1074–​9, 1075.

The Laws of Comedy    273 the court to allow ‘Balthazar’s’ deployment of the Alien statute is for it to offend against the very principle that it claims is so important at the outset of the trial, that it cannot permit any refusal of Shylock’s bond for fear that this will create a precedent that would impact trade. What precedent could possibly be worse for a jurisdiction such as Venice’s, which depends on its commercial exchanges with ‘strangers’, than for it to allow a law of uncertain provenance that has not been properly disseminated to be enforced against ‘strangers’? None of this has mattered very much to the critical tradition, which has for the greater part endorsed Portia’s actions as somehow acceptable because her opponent is a Jew.29 Whatever antipathy the audience may feel for Shylock, however, this antipathy cannot justify or endorse a process whereby the most nightmarish of legal possibilities plays out: one comes to law believing oneself in the right with a text in one’s hand to support one’s action, and finds the situation so transformed that the text functions as evidence against oneself, with one’s life now at stake. The procedural breaches here are so great that for an English audience to celebrate Portia’s actions rather than condemn them would be for it to deny the very protections of law upon which its members depend or to sanction against itself the caprices of a law that feels no obligation to orient itself to known laws and to common reason; and for it to celebrate Portia’s actions rather than condemn them for the simple fact that Shylock is Jewish would require it to align with the character in her racism. Some portion of the audience may risk this, just as some portion of the audience may have no difficulty with the idea that the law should serve oligarchic interests. It is the play’s task, as part of its own humanity, to militate against such tendencies. Shylock must be stopped, but as the means by which he is stopped are means that may also be deployed against the audience, they are means the audience endorses only at its own peril. The trick of the play is to furnish a structure that guarantees that audiences cannot simply respond with relief to the defeat of Shylock in the trial scene. For the play, as many a critic has lamented, continues uneasily beyond it, proceeding immediately to the first part of the ring trick and then to the final act at Belmont, to which Portia returns (pretending that she has been living in a monastery in ‘prayer and contemplation’ two miles from her house [3.4.26–​32]) to confront Bassanio with the fact that she was the ‘doctor’ and secure the various forms of interest that she is now in a position to produce from her actions in the trial scene. The basic lineaments of the final scene are lifted straight from ‘Il Pecorone’, but two important elements have no counterpart in the source. In Shakespeare’s play, Portia requires that Antonio stand as ‘surety’ for Bassanio’s fidelity to her in the renegotiated wedding ceremony. More importantly, in Merchant the lady of Belmont announces that she has in her possession various letters bearing the news that Antonio’s ships have in fact come safely to harbor in Venice. When they came in is not noted. For the audience to discover that Portia is inexplicably the proprietor of 29  Kornstein offers the most stinging counter to this critical tendency in his claim that ‘we see her as a bigot, but a world-​class, equal opportunity hate-​monger’ whose prejudice against Jews is most blatant in her use of the ‘harsh, anti-​semitic Alien Statute’ (45).

274   Carolyn Sale information that if earlier released might have made the entire trial unnecessary cannot help but be unnerving: why should Portia’s wealth permit her to control social and legal relations through a privileged access to texts? Portia’s declaration in act 5, greeted by Lorenzo as one instance of her raining ‘manna’ upon others, compels the audience to reconsider everything that has come before. The play thus drives a kind of interpretation of its own fictional events that is central to interpretation at the common law. The figure of Janus referred to in the play’s opening scene in an oath by Solanio is important in this regard. As Peter Goodrich has noted, Janus is a figure in the period not only for the entrance into law, which he symbolically guards, but also more particularly for the origins of the English common law.30 As the figure that also looks both before and after, Janus stands for a mode of reading or interpretation that is simultaneously prospective and retrospective. An audience’s experience of the trial scene will, of course, always be in some sense retrospective even as it is occurring: the audience should, for example, concern itself with what has made possible the rigid position to which Shylock adheres. But its interpretation of the trial scene should also be prospective—​that is, concerned with what Portia hopes to secure from her involvement in it. The activity in which the audience is implicitly asked to engage as it understands the play’s events both prospectively and retrospectively is consistent with the hermeneutics of common law jurisprudence, which turns to the past to judge a present case while always keeping its eye on the future, or showing concern with how the ‘rule’ that may arise from a case may operate once judgment is taken. Even if audience members are not unnerved by Portia’s actions in the trial scene as it unfolds, they are compelled to reconsider those actions in light of the new information that they receive in the closing minutes of the play. This information matters not only to their overall assessment of the play, but to their sense of their own capacity in relation to law, and the degree to which it may be affected either by their own prejudice or the jockeying for authority at law by those with material wealth. The play depicts a contest for control of the law that in its negative depiction of the production of the ‘alien’ confronts audiences with a jurisprudence that so conspicuously fails common law ideals that for audiences to align themselves with the play’s Christians against the ‘Jew’ is to endorse forms of law under which their own putative authority in relation to law is lost. The play acknowledges the problem of the individual who aspires to make law unilaterally (especially law that would claim another’s life) while reinforcing (through the wrong of the civilian system represented by the play) the importance of what the common law at its most ideal requires: the comprehensive inclusion of all in the shaping of the common law’s common reason. The common law may be adversarial, but its reason should not operate to support a ‘side’. From this perspective, the play is a comedy because it leaves audiences questioning what it may, on an initial viewing of the trial scene, have been willing to endorse, jurisprudence as the activity of a singular figure


Peter Goodrich, Oedipus Lex: Psychoanalysis, History, Law (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1995), 152–​3.

The Laws of Comedy    275 putatively acting for the community by striking at the ‘alien’ but in fact acting from a self-​interest that obstructs the exercise of ‘common reason’ within the fiction. The play thus affirms the importance of a common reason that rejects the very idea upon which Portia’s law depends, the notion that there is any ‘alien’. Law must be made neither by the man with a bond in his hand calling for judgment, nor by the disguised woman wielding an unknown statute as a weapon against him. It must be made, instead, by and for the community in exercises of common reason.

A Silent Cohort and a Talky ‘Bawd’: Measure for Measure and the ‘Discoursive’ Common Law The Shakespearean comedy that most directly confronts audiences with the threat to common law posed by any singular figure arrogating to himself or herself the authority of law is Shakespeare’s last, Measure for Measure. The dramatic situation differs from both Errors and Merchant in that, in Measure’s opening scene, Duke Vincentio does not apply law, but rather beats a formal retreat from it as he gives the ‘substitute’ Angelo the authority to ‘enforce or qualify the laws /​As to [his] soul seems good’ (1.1.65–​6). Unlike Portia, Angelo proceeds to prosecute laws on the books that are well known but which the community has chosen to ignore. The problem before Vincentio is not, as he appeals to characters within the fiction and audiences to believe, that he must test Angelo to see ‘if power change purpose’ (1.3.54), but whether he can take back into his hands alone the power that he has effectively surrendered to the community by letting so many of Vienna’s laws go for so long unapplied. The jurisdiction is a civilian one, but the problem with which Vincentio is confronted is that of a community exercising its will through custom—​in this instance, the custom of refusing to put certain laws to use. This is a phenomenon, of course, more famously articulated in Hamlet’s claim that Elsinore has at least one ‘custom /​More honoured in the breach than the observance’ (1.4.17–​18), but the general principle is the same in both plays: custom must never be permitted to operate like a dead hand on the makers of law, and may always be overturned. In one of Angelo’s figures for the legal difficulty with which Vienna is faced, the law has become a ‘scarecrow’ that the ‘birds of prey’ make their ‘perch’ (2.1.1–​4). Angelo sees in this not the community occupying the law or law’s authority, but a law failing to execute its regulatory function or produce ‘terror’ (2.1.4). As Vincentio’s patsy, Angelo is the crucial functionary executing the law as decree and confuting any ‘discoursive’ process through which the community would continue to be the source of law. He is put in authority instead of Escalus, whose ‘science’ of jurisprudence as described in the opening lines of the play not only exceeds the Duke’s but also draws upon his knowledge of ‘the nature of [the] people’ (1.1.9). As Angelo, thrust instead of Escalus into the top position in a hierarchy of judicial ‘substitutes’, fails, Vincentio is able to move into the power vacuum that

276   Carolyn Sale he himself has helped to shape so that he may ‘renovate’ not just the laws but also his own authority. If he can arrogate to himself all judicial authority in Vienna he can decisively displace the authority of the community that has been exercised by the community’s refusal to apply law on the books. The ways in which Vincentio wields his judicial authority as he resecures it in act 5 would have been particularly resonant to English audiences in 1604 since they bear a relationship to the views of their new king, James I, on record since the 1598 publication of The True Lawe of Free Monarchies as arguing for the absolute authority of any monarch. Events from the start of James’s reign, such as his choice to open his first Parliament in 1604 without the House of Commons sitting, had already begun to furnish evidence to the English that their new king did not understand the constitutional principle so important to the English common law, and promulgated from the thirteenth-​century writer Henri Bracton forward in the form of the maxim ‘lex facit regem’. The law makes the king, who can only exercise a power to make law through the law-​making court of Parliament. In True Lawe, James had already offered his counter to English legal and constitutional theory with the declaration that, ‘The king is above the law, and the power flows always from himself ’.31 Across the early years of his reign, even as he made clear his dislike of the common law’s ‘discoursive’ character, James insisted that it was not that he preferred the civil law, but rather that he desired a ‘setled’ law that expressed itself as ‘plain rule’ with no need of any interpreters.32 He came into direct conflict with Coke as Chief Justice of the Common Pleas when he attempted to assert his right to judge cases, if he chose, directly, without any legal assistance whatsoever. In his retort, Coke cited Bracton: ‘Bracton saith, Quod Rex non debet esse sub homine, seb sub Deo & Lege’ (while the King is not under any man, he is under God and the Law).33 Measure for Measure presciently plays out one stratagem by which a sovereign figure desiring absolute judicial authority could seize it so that the play may work to contrary ends: to cultivate in audiences the sense of themselves as the proper source of law. Most deserving of our attention in this regard is the cohort within the fiction that comes to the city gates to watch the spectacle of the play’s final events. Like the Magnificoes in Merchant’s trial scene, who are present but say nothing, the cohort at the city gates in act 5 of Measure is clearly a stand-​in for the audience of the play that must also watch what unfolds without, in theory, saying a word, or having any impact upon the dramatic fiction. Both the fictional group and the audience are also stand-​ins for the people of the polity. In both cases, the fictional cohort is also clearly only a certain portion of those people—​in Measure’s case, the cohort is made of the ‘generous and gravest citizens’ (4.6.14). The structure of Measure puts the audience, however, in a quite 31 

James VI [of Scotland], The True Lawe of Free Monarchies: or The Reciprock and Mutuall Dutie Betwixt a Free King, and his Naturall Subiectes (Edinburgh, 1598), D1r. 32  James I [of England], The Workes of the Most High and Mightie Prince, Iames by the grace of God, King of Great Britaine, France and Ireland, Defender of the Faith, &c. (London, 1616), 532–​3; 556. 33 Coke, Reports, 65.

The Laws of Comedy    277 different relationship to this cohort than the relationship of the audience of Merchant to the Magnificoes, for the audience of Measure can do what the audience of Merchant cannot: judge Vincentio’s spectacle of his judicial authority in possession of the facts of Vincentio’s previous conduct as the trial unfolds. And what does the audience see but Vincentio bringing to fruition precisely the techniques in which Angelo trades, especially when he claims that he is nothing more than the ‘voice of the recorded law’ (2.4.61)? This is most obvious in Vincentio’s delivery of the speech from which the play takes its title: The very mercy of the law cries out Most audible, even from his proper tongue, ‘An Angelo for Claudio, death for death’, Haste still pays haste, and leisure answers leisure; Like doth quit like, and measure still for measure. (5.1.404–​8)

As I have explained more fully elsewhere, the ‘mercy’ of the law that ‘cries out’ here with its demand for a man’s life is the law as ‘amercement’ or the law as a system of faults and penalties which may be administered by anyone, for one kind of profit or another, without need of any ‘discoursive’ procedure.34 Vincentio can thus judge Angelo, and make it appear as if he himself trades in mercy by exempting him from execution. Trading in mercy, Vincentio is (as his name implies) the Conqueror figure (re)instituting an order of law predicated upon the sovereign’s power to suspend the law unilaterally as a law that is entirely his own. This way of proceeding is at its starkest with Barnardine, who has supposedly been judged a murderer, but whom Vincentio exempts from punishment without any explanation whatsoever. As the character seizes a form of judicial authority that pre-​empts the use of any ‘discoursive’ procedure, the audience is positioned to make the experience of the dramatic fiction the opportunity to exercise the powers co-​opted within the fiction by one person alone. The experience of the play is thus the experience of the audience’s capacity to reason and to judge as a cohort, and thus the opportunity for the recognition of their capacity to be the source of law over and against any singular figure who would attempt to arrogate that authority to himself. This recognition is encouraged by the displacement of one character, the silencing of another, and the absence of a third. Escalus, for example, finds himself put into the seat of justice during 5.1 only to be plucked from it again when he dares (rightly) to find the Duke’s declaration as ‘Friar Lodowick’ that he is not the Duke’s subject a form of ‘slander to th’ state’ (5.1.320). Vincentio’s statement is one that would put him beyond or above the law (the very position that English common lawyers had to insist repeatedly across James’s reign that he could not claim for himself). And the figure silenced in the final scene is, of course, Isabella, whose argument that Angelo should not be prosecuted for


Sale, ‘ “Practis[ing] Judgments” ’, 125–​6.

278   Carolyn Sale his attempt to sleep with her is dismissed by Vincentio. Thereafter, Isabella has nothing to say, despite the fact that Vincentio makes her not one but two offers of marriage. This fictional marriage would have had symbolic significance for the audience in relation to their new king, whose own trope was that the English were collectively his ‘wife’.35 The uncertain character of the play’s ending—​does Isabella have any power to say ‘no’ to the Duke’s offer of marriage when she has benefited from his assistance with the ‘bedtrick’ in which Angelo is duped into sleeping not with Isabella but with his jilted fiancée Mariana?—​suggests that the comic outcome that really matters is one that the English must negotiate for themselves in relation to the threats that James I posed to the system of judicial substitutes and ‘artificial reason’ upon which the English common law depended. That system was by no means perfect, and its dependence upon specialized practitioners deploying ‘artificial reason’ might very well have seemed impossible to reconcile with a common law that springs putatively from the English in their aggregate as their ‘common reason’. But by confronting the audience with a silent cohort within the fiction that does not know what it knows, and cannot judge as it can judge, Measure for Measure is more successful than any other of Shakespeare’s comedies at cultivating the sense that the power to determine what is law and how it is to be judged lies always with the people themselves. More important to all of this than Escalus, who is ‘pregnant’ in the ‘art and practice’ of ‘common justice’ (1.1.11–​12), or Isabella, who possesses a ‘prosperous art’ for playing with ‘reason and discourse’ (1.2.172–​3), is the humble Pompey Bum, whose earnest attempts to draw out the narrative of what occurred at the Bunch of Grapes when the constable Elbow drags Master Froth from that establishment to appear before Angelo and Escalus in 2.1 make him a figure for the ‘discoursive’ activity upon which the common law so vitally depends. As I  have argued at greater length elsewhere, the method by which Pompey attempts to proceed in that scene is the method of the common law—​he would present to the justices before him as rich a narrative as possible of what occurred at the Grapes in order that the ‘case’ before them may be properly construed.36 This includes great comic attention to a small china dish on the Bunch of Grapes’s counter, for Pompey would tell the court of the life of the Grapes and its customs so that the court has all of the necessary context to judge the matter before it. All of Pompey’s ‘discoursive’ efforts come to naught, however, as neither Angelo nor Escalus has any patience for the narrative. (Indeed, Angelo as he exits makes it clear that he wants it to come to nothing more than a whipping.) Across the three plays that I have discussed, then, we consistently see Shakespeare representing action against the ‘discoursive’, or those who would talk to bring things to the law’s attention, so that the plays (‘discoursive’ phenomena in their own right) may work paradoxically to stimulate in the audience exactly what is suppressed in the fictions. In the midst of his activities in 2.1, Pompey more than once asserts, ‘I hope here be truths’, and the point is that there is indeed a kind of ‘truth’ 35  For James’s metaphor of the ‘whole isle’ of England and Scotland as his ‘lawfull Wife’ see Workes, 488. 36  Sale, ‘ “Practis[ing] Judgments” ’, 119–​21.

The Laws of Comedy    279 both in Pompey’s way of proceeding, and the Shakespearean drama’s representation of the ‘discoursive’ activity of its characters. Measure shows the chatty ‘bawd’ transformed into the laconic ‘executioner’, and thus the tamping down of Pompey’s ‘discoursive’ energy, but it is this very energy into which the Shakespearean drama draws anyone who steps inside the doors of the theatre to take in one of the comedies in performance. This energy disposes audience members to exercise a more active relation to law. An active relation to law is, however, only possible, Shakespeare’s final comedy suggests, where audiences refuse to allow any singular sovereign authority to suppress the ‘discoursive’ potential of others in favour of its own relation to law as ‘plain rule’. Thought must be ‘free’, as Isabella suggests in her final speech, but the freedom of any person’s thought can only truly be meaningful where it has the means to join with the thought of others—​ideally, all others—​to make the rationality from which the law springs. As a cultural practice representing ideas of law and legal practices in a public space for anyone who wished to pay a penny at the door to gain entrance, the Shakespearean theatre operated as a powerful counter both to the specialization of the common law’s practices and the threat of any singular figure who would arrogate legal and judicial authority to himself. Comedy rather than tragedy is the necessary genre for this experience, for it is comedy’s ‘discoursive’ character, especially in the form of a character such as Pompey insisting on the use of language in his attempt to determine what the law will or will not ‘allow’, that cultivates the audience’s sense of its own ‘discoursive’ potential. It is not for nothing that Antipholus of Ephesus declares, as he deals yet another blow to his Dromio late in Errors, ‘Wilt thou still talk?’ (4.4.45). From the outset of Shakespeare’s writing for the stage to the writing of his Measure in 1604, Shakespeare’s comedy furnishes the theatrical ‘talk’ in relation to which audiences have the opportunity to apprehend together how their own talk and thought matter to their collective capacity to make law whether or not they ever had the occasion or need to enter any court.

Suggested Reading Cormack, Bradin, A Power to Do Justice:  Jurisdiction, English Literature, and the Rise of Common Law, 1509–​1625 (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2007). Cormack, Bradin, Martha C. Nussbaum, and Richard Strier, eds., Shakespeare and the Law; A  Conversation Among Disciplines and Professions (Chicago, IL:  Chicago University Press, 2013). Cunningham, Karen, and Constance Jordan, eds., The Law in Shakespeare (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007). Goodrich, Peter, Oedipus Lex:  Psychoanalysis, History, Law (Berkeley, CA:  University of California Press, 1995). Hutson, Lorna, Invention of Suspicion:  Law and Mimesis in Shakespeare and Renaissance Drama (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007). Milsom, S.  F.  C., A Natural History of the Common Law (New  York:  Columbia University Press, 2003). Mukherji, Subha, Law and Representation in Early Modern Drama (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006).

280   Carolyn Sale Raffield, Paul, The Art of Law in Shakespeare (Oxford: Hart Publishing, 2017). Raffield, Paul, and Gary Watt, eds., Shakespeare and the Law (Oxford: Hart Publishing, 2007). Syme, Holger Schott, Theatre and Testimony in Shakespeare’s England: A Culture of Mediation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012). Winston, Jessica, Literature, Law, and Politics at the Early Modern Inns of Court, 1558–​1581 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016). Zurcher, Shakespeare and Law (London: Bloomsbury, 2012).

Chapter 17

C omedy and  E ro s Sexualities on Shakespeare’s Stage Judith Haber

The treatment of eroticism in Shakespeare’s comedies is extremely rich and somewhat strange. I would like, in this essay, to explore the various ideas and motifs surrounding sexual desire in these plays by focusing on two very different examples, The Taming of the Shrew and Twelfth Night, glancing briefly at some others as I proceed. In my two central texts, the representation of romantic relationships and of erotic desire is notably controversial: both of them can be—​and have been—​interpreted in completely contrary ways. I will suggest that these conflicts are essential to our understanding of each play, but that one perspective ultimately subsumes the others, and that this is underwritten by the play’s treatment and enactment of dramatic form.

Sealed with a Kiss: The Taming of the Shrew Shrew is unusual in the degree of emphasis it places on sexuality as natural—​even as it criticizes and counters this idea. Like many of Shakespeare’s plays, it contains a strong critique of Petrarchan erotics. Lucentio is presented as the typical Petrarchan lover, whose desire is ignited simply by gazing (‘look[ing] . . . longly’) and who recites well-​ worn poetic clichés (‘I burn, I pine, I perish’) while at the same time constructing elaborate plots (1.1.159, 1.1.149).1 He woos, quite literally, ‘by the book’ (he confesses his love while supposedly construing verbs in a Latin primer).2 His relationship with Bianca, 1  All references to Shakespeare’s plays are from Stephen Greenblatt, ed. The Norton Shakespeare, 2nd ed. (New York: Norton, 2008). 2  The phrase comes from Romeo and Juliet, in which Romeo is said to ‘kiss by th’ book’ (1.5.107). That play is the clearest locus for Shakespeare’s criticism of conventional, studied Petrarchism, and although it

282   Judith Haber who feigns a ‘maid’s mild behaviour and sobriety’ (1.1.71), is clearly coded as superficial at best—​and as deceitful as worst. Kate and Petruccio, by contrast, are not only the more honest, less conventional lovers, the wittier and more intelligent pair, they are (and this is crucial to the working of the play) the sexier couple as well. Soon after Petruccio appears, straightforwardly confessing his desire to marry wealthily, he hears of ‘Katherina Minola /​Renowned in Padua for her scolding tongue’ (1.2.95–​6), and he proclaims his ability to take her on: I am as peremptory as she proud-​minded, And where two raging fires meet together They do consume the thing that feeds their fury. Though little fire grows great with little wind, Yet extreme gusts will blow out fire and all. So I to her, and so she yields to me, For I am rough, and woo not like a babe. (2.1.129–​35)

His speech begins by declaring their temperamental equivalence, and suggests, through the fire imagery, that the ‘fury’ they both possess is tied to their sexuality. They are, in what is still common parlance, ‘hot’ people—​something that is borne out in the verbal sparring that follows. But the fire image also allows (as does the play as a whole) for a transition from viewing them as appropriately matched equals to seeing Petruccio as dominant. The final lines, containing a barely concealed suggestion of rape, manage to imply that what Kate really wants and needs is a man to dominate her, to take her by force.3 Even as the play anatomizes the gender hierarchy as a social construct (creating sympathy for Kate as a result), it simultaneously presents that hierarchy as natural by tying it to physical desire, which is repeatedly set against conventional love ‘by the book’. That is, the play does not simply make the (already complicated) arguments that societal conventions are arbitrary but nonetheless useful, and that Kate can find her voice more effectively by playing within conventions than by trying, unsuccessfully, to move outside them. It also makes—​and depends upon—​the completely contradictory suggestion that those conventions are licensed by ‘natural’ physical impulses. Kate is, above all—​as Petruccio has been warned—​a woman with a tongue. Her arrogation of phallic privilege to herself makes her threatening, especially to conventional is later than Shrew, I would argue that many of its ideas and images are relevant here and in Shakespeare’s other plays. 3 

Laurie Maguire makes an excellent case for terming the heroine ‘Katherine’, as she nominates herself, rather than the diminutive ‘Kate’; see ‘ “Household Kates”: Chez Petruchio, Percy, and Plantagenet’, in S. P. Cerasano and Marion Wynne-​Davies, eds., Gloriana’s Face: Women, Public and Private, in the English Renaissance (Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 1992), 150. I have chosen, however, to retain ‘Kate’ because this is how she is usually named by readers, audiences, and adapters of Shrew –​and I think that is significant: ‘Kate’ is a name that is ultimately conferred upon her by the play as well as by Petruccio.

Comedy and Eros   283 men. It also, however, makes her ‘hot’—​passionate and thus potentially desirable—​if only she would learn the proper use of her tongue: that is, if only she would learn to convert her passionate anger into the related emotion of sexual desire and comply with the order, ‘Kiss me, Kate’. (She would thus simultaneously, in an action that is seen as parallel, submit to her lover verbally.) Not surprisingly, the tongue plays a significant role in Kate and Petruccio’s banter in act 2—​banter designed, as Stephen Greenblatt and others have shown, to be the verbal equivalent of the physical rubbing or ‘chaf[ing]’ (2.1.234) that, according to contemporary medical manuals, allowed men to raise their female partners’ normally cooler temperatures and bring them to orgasm:4 PETRUCCIO. Who knows not where a wasp does wear his sting? In his tail. KATHERINE.     In his tongue. PETRUCCIO.           Whose tongue? KATHERINE. Yours, if you will talk of tales, and so farewell. (2.1.211–​13)

The imperative, ‘Kiss me, Kate’ (brilliantly excerpted as the title of the Cole Porter /​Dorothy Kingsley musical), is repeated, significantly, at various times when Petruccio is asserting his (sexual) dominance over his beloved, rather than simply manipulating her psychologically. The words first appear when he declares the fact of their impending marriage, despite her adamant refusal (a refusal that is clearly contradicted by her disappointment when he does not appear at the proper time): ‘Kiss me, Kate’, he says, ‘We will be married o’ Sunday’ (2.1.316). An even more telling instance occurs after they have arrived back in Padua, and Kate wishes to see the end of an argument occurring in the street: KATHERINE. PETRUCCIO. KATHERINE. PETRUCCIO. KATHERINE. PETRUCCIO. KATHERINE.

Husband, let’s follow to see the end of this ado. First kiss me, Kate, and we will. What, in the midst of the street? What, art thou ashamed of me? No sir, God forbid; but ashamed to kiss. Why then, let’s home again. Come, sirrah, let’s away. Nay, I will give thee a kiss. Now pray thee love, stay. (5.1.121–8)

We are in the world of the rape fantasy here, where a woman’s ‘no’ means ‘yes’ (or more precisely, ‘It would be immodest of me to say “yes”, so I am glad you forced me’). The desire for sexual domination is implicitly tied here to the necessity for all masculine dominance. This connection becomes even more obvious at the end, when Kate delivers her long speech in support of the patriarchal order, and Petruccio answers by saying, ‘Why 4 

Stephen Greenblatt, Shakespearean Negotiations: The Circulation of Social Energy in Renaissance England (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1988), 87–​90.

284   Judith Haber there’s a wench! Come on, and kiss me, Kate’ (5.2.184). Her speech is clearly presented as a different but analogous version of the new way she has learned to use her tongue. And Petruccio emphasizes the conflation of the two by then ordering her to bed to consummate their marriage: ‘Come on, Kate, we’ll to bed. /​—​We three are married, but you two [Lucentio and Hortensio] are sped’ (5.2.188–9). Kate’s final speech is, of course, the locus of much critical disagreement.5 As has often been noted, it is the longest speech in the play; here, Kate finally gets to dominate the stage (and other women, especially her sister)—​but only insofar as she speaks in support of her own subordination to men. Her speech is sometimes defended as potentially ironic—​a reading that comes largely from the earlier scene (4.6) in which she is instructed to call the sun the moon and Lucentio’s father (Vincentio) a young virgin. In that scene, she improvises brilliantly, taking Petruccio’s suggestions to unexpected extremes and responding much more fluently and imaginatively than she did in earlier encounters. She also succeeds in taking several ironic jabs at Petruccio,6 averring as he alters his directions, ‘Then God be blessed, it is the blessèd sun /​But sun it is not when you say it is not, /​And the moon changes even as your mind’ (4.6.19–​21), and saying to the confused Vincentio: ‘Pardon, old father, my mistaking eyes /​That have been so bedazzled with the sun’ (4.6.46–​7). She cleverly continues to play here with Petruccio’s earlier punning identification of himself as ‘[his] mother’s son’ (4.6.6); in performance she might also take a comic pause at this moment to check with him the current status of the celestial orb. It is thus suggested, from one perspective, that, by following Petruccio’s orders, Kate gets full command of her voice. This reading can be supported by the Induction, in which Sly goes along with the trick that is played on him (the pretence that he is a lord) but uses it to his own advantage and maintains his ‘authentic’ working-​man’s voice and point of view. But (to reverse the emphasis, as many critics do) we should also note that Kate can play only at Petruccio’s direction and that her playfulness ends by paradoxically supporting his control. The scene appears initially to balance two sets of interrelated terms: ‘sun’, ‘old father [man]’, and static truth, on the one hand, and ‘moon’, ‘young virgin [woman]’, ‘change’, and play, on the other. Ultimately, however, one set is presented as dominant, containing the other: it is really the sun that is shining, Vincentio is actually an old father, and these facts are represented as the clear, unchanging truth.7


See John C. Bean, ‘Comic Structure and the Humanizing of Kate’, in Carol Ruth Swift Lenz, Gayle Green, and Carol Thomas Neely, eds., The Woman’s Part: Feminist Criticism of Shakespeare (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1983), 65–​78, for an outline of the earlier critical argument. See also Karen Newman, Fashioning Femininity and English Renaissance Drama (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1991), 46. 6  See, for example, Carol Rutter, ‘Kate: Interpreting the Silence’, in Emma Smith, ed., Shakespeare’s Comedies (Oxford: Blackwell, 2004), 267–​68; Newman, Fashioning Feminity, 44–​5, 48. 7  See also Joel Fineman’s related, complex reading of this scene in ‘The Turn of the Shrew’, in The Subjectivity Effect in Western Literary Tradition: Essays Toward the Release of Shakespeare’s Will (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1991), 120–​42.

Comedy and Eros   285 The sense of interpretive ambiguity, irony, and playfulness created by this scene, however, inevitably persists until the end, into Kate’s final speech. But it is no longer clearly locatable in any of Kate’s words, whose literal meaning seems unavoidable now. Indeed, if the speech is read in full, it is difficult to maintain the sense that she is speaking to particular characters; locus becomes platea,8 and the speech seems simply a lesson delivered by the playwright to the audience. It is impossible to tell what Kate really means, for example, when she says, ‘Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper, /​Thy head, thy sovereign, one that cares for thee’ (5.2.150–1). But what she ‘really means’ is also irrelevant.9 Irony and play slide into reality here: they help us to accept the speech and its message of female submission, but they also disappear into it, in the same way that an arbitrary gendered hierarchy is bolstered by and disappears into a ‘natural’ sexual dominance. This reading is itself bolstered by the Induction. There, the trickster-​Lord meets a troupe of players and praises the acting of one in a previously seen play: ‘I have forgot your name, but sure that part /​Was aptly fitted and naturally performed’ (Ind.1.82–​3; emphasis added). His performance, in other words, seemed even better—​and realer—​than the real thing. Later, the Lord shows Sly several pictures; each is itself about a transformation, and the artistry in all of them may cause the viewer to take them for ‘lively’ reality (Ind.2.54). So, too, does Kate’s playful assumption of the submissive role in the sun/​ moon scene become reality in her final speech, because (unlike the deceits of Bianca and Lucentio) it is so ‘aptly fitted and naturally performed’. And so, too, does the play-​ within-​the-​play that Sly and company are watching—​the story of Kate—​become the primary play, The Taming of the Shrew. This has, of course, happened long before, but it is confirmed by the disappearance of the frame; Sly and the Lord never return, so that the performance becomes the thing itself—​and the ‘naturalness’ of that performance is, in the end, sealed with a kiss.

An Interlude Although the view of sexuality as natural that we have noted in Shrew does reappear in Shakespeare’s corpus (perhaps most extensively in Romeo and Juliet), erotic desire—​and especially heteroerotic desire—​is more usually represented in his comedies as arbitrary and destabilizing. In another early play, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, for example, the

8  Robert Weimann, Shakespeare and the Popular Tradition in the Theater: Studies in the Social Dimension of Dramatic Form and Function, ed. Robert Schwartz (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press), 1978. 9  For a somewhat different interpretation of this problem, see James Wells, ‘Bleared Vision in The Taming of the Shrew’, in Jennifer A. Low and Nova Myhill, eds., Imagining the Audience in Early Modern Drama, 1558–​1642 (New York: Palgrave, 2011), 171–​88.

286   Judith Haber ‘proper’ heterosexual marriages are achieved in the conclusion only through the timely intervention of the cross-​dressed Julia’s faint and revival, as Valentine is preparing to give his beloved Sylvia away to his friend Proteus, who had previously tried to rape her. Julia’s action has the effect of a death-​resurrection sequence in the conclusion to a romance: it serves (with a little help from a ring trick) symbolically to make present what has been absent and to unify what has been separated. In the final lines, Valentine declares to Proteus: ‘our day of marriage shall be yours, /​One feast, one house, one mutual happiness’ (5.4.169–​70). But the heterosexual pairings here (especially that of Julia and Proteus) remain deeply problematic, and the unities of the conclusion, as Jeffrey Masten has noted, seem ambiguously to include the homoerotic union of the two male friends as well.10 In A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream, to cite a somewhat later example, the young lovers are virtually indistinguishable: each of the two men seems to change his love interest as the other does, in a dance of mimetic rivalry, and the women—​whose sense of self depends upon being desired by the men—​find their very identities threatened by these changes (Hermia exclaims: ‘Am not I Hermia? Are not you Lysander?’ [3.2.274]). Oberon chides Puck (Robin Goodfellow) at one point for placing the love-​juice on the eyes of the wrong man: What hast thou done? Thou hast mistaken quite, And laid the love juice on some true love’s sight. Of thy misprision must perforce ensue Some true love turned, and not a false turned true. (3.2.88–​91)

But the effect of the confusing last line—​like that the play as a whole—​is to blur the difference between ‘true’ and ‘false’ loves, and ultimately to undermine the status of ‘truth’ itself. The love potion reveals the limits of Lysander’s affections. And, as in Two Gentlemen, the ‘correct’ pairings upon which the ultimate solution depends are arrived at in a self-​consciously arbitrary manner: they are achieved only by leaving Demetrius still enchanted by the fairies. The very reality of those fairies is, moreover, repeatedly called into question: Demetrius had changed the object of his desires before they appeared on the scene, and Puck’s speech at 2.1.43–​58 (in addition to Theseus’s famous expression of scepticism at the beginning of act 5), suggests that perhaps they are simply a way of giving ‘a local habitation and a name’ to experiences that are otherwise uncomfortable or incomprehensible (5.1.17). Dream also presents us with another idea that recurs in a number of Shakespeare’s plays: it suggests, from one perspective, that reproductive heteroeroticsm is an inevitable part of growing up, even as it is inevitably painful (especially for women). Helena


Jeffrey Masten, ‘The Two Gentlemen of Verona’, in Richard Dutton and Jean E. Howard, eds., A Companion to Shakespeare’s Works: The Comedies (Oxford: Blackwell, 2003), 280.

Comedy and Eros   287 delivers a long, nostalgic—​if not wholly accurate11—​reminiscence about the women’s idyllic relationship in their schooldays, and ends by demanding of Hermia: And will you now rend our ancient love asunder, To join with men in scorning your poor friend? It is not friendly, ’tis not maidenly. Our sex as well as I may chide you for it, Though I alone do feel the injury. (3.2.216–20)

Although she is literally referring to the trick she imagines the others are playing on her, her speech has wider resonance. Not only will the women’s ‘join[ing] with men’ cause them to undergo considerable psychological and physical suffering, all the mothers in the play seem to have disappeared, quite probably dying in childbirth, as Titania’s ‘vot’ress’ did (2.1.123). But their participation in the cycle of generation, as well as their unfortunate individual fates, are simultaneously seen as a necessary part of being fully human, being ‘mortal’ (2.1.135). The only other option presented to women here is that of remaining chaste and removed from society, like the play’s other ‘vot’ress’, that ‘fair vestal thronèd in the west’, Queen Elizabeth (2.1.163, 158). Just like everything else about the play’s conclusion, however, its presentation of the characters’ ‘growth’ in the forest (and, implicitly, their movement toward reproductive sexuality as part of that growth) is called into question. Demetrius effectively underwrites the developmental idea when he confesses at the end: my good lord, I wot not by what power—​ But by some power it is—​my love to Hermia, Melted as the snow, seems to me now As the remembrance of an idle gaud Which in my childhood I did dote upon, And all the faith, the virtue of my heart, The object and the pleasure of mine eye Is only Helena. To her, my lord, Was I betrothed ere I saw Hermia, But like in sickness did I loathe this food; But, as in health come to my natural taste, Now I do wish it, love it, long for it, And will for evermore be true to it. (4.1.161–73)

His speech, however, is undermined not only by the fact that he is still bewitched, but also by the similarity of his words to those earlier spoken by Lysander, when he deserted 11 

It is clearly undermined by her later comment that Hermia ‘was a vixen when she went to school’ (3.2.324).

288   Judith Haber his original love, Hermia, to chase after Helena (2.2.117–28). The idea that they have grown or developed is shown to be a comforting fiction. The Shakespearean comedy that seems most similar to Shrew, with its contrasting pairs of lovers, is Much Ado About Nothing. Here, however, male anxieties about female sexuality and marriage are emphasized. As a result, while the rebellious, sparring pair (Beatrice and Benedick) may seem more palatable to modern tastes, the conventional lovers (Hero and Claudio) become both more central and more disturbing than Lucentio and Bianca were in Shrew. Hero is, of course, honest and faultless as Bianca was not, but the two participate in the same cultural ideas about women: Bianca was pretending to be like Hero until she could get married, and Claudio is led to believe that Hero is, in fact, like Bianca.12 Much critical perplexity surrounds the particulars of Borachio’s suggestion that Don John can persuade Claudio and Don Pedro of Hero’s unfaithfulness by showing them Margaret and Borachio at Hero’s chamber window. The men shall, Borachio asserts, ‘hear [him] call Margaret Hero; hear Margaret term [him] Claudio’ (2.2.35–6). I would suggest that ‘Claudio’ here is not an error (for ‘Borachio’), as many critics and editors assume; rather, it is in line with an idea that reappears in a number of Renaissance texts—​ that the male fear of cuckoldry is bound up with a fear of sexual relations with one’s own beloved (or wife). This is a fear, at base, of female sexuality itself.13 Similar suggestions are more clearly present in the bed-​tricks in All’s Well That Ends Well and Measure for Measure, in which the man to be married is a participant (the Margaret/​Borachio charade is itself a kind of bed-​trick); and these suggestions are made explicit in Othello and The Winter’s Tale (as well as in Cymbeline, in a somewhat different manner).14 The substitution that takes place in Borachio’s plot in Much Ado is, of course, finally righted, and a ‘proper’ marriage (to a thoroughly unpleasant young man) is facilitated, as it is in Two Gentlemen, by a death-​resurrection sequence (albeit a more complicated one than that which appeared in the earlier play) and by another substitution at the end.

‘A Most Improbable Fiction’: Twelfth Night Twelfth Night, I would suggest, pushes many of the ideas and images in Shakespeare’s other romantic comedies much further—​perhaps as far as they can be pushed and still 12  Marilyn French identifies Hero with Bianca more closely than I do in Shakespeare’s Division of Experience (New York: Simon, 1981), 133. Carol Cook disagrees with this identification in her fascinating essay, ‘ “The Sign and Semblance of Her Honor”: Reading Gender Difference in Much Ado About Nothing’, in Deborah E. Barker and Ivo Kamps, eds., Shakespeare and Gender: A History (London: Verso, 1995), 75–​103. 13  I discuss a number of similar non-​Shakespearean examples in Desire and Dramatic Form in Early Modern England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 87–​101. 14  See Alexander Leggatt, ‘Comedy and Sex’ in Alexander Leggatt, ed., Shakespearean Comedy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 141–​9; Carol Thomas Neely, Broken Nuptials in Shakespeare’s Plays (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1985), 24–​104.

Comedy and Eros   289 remain in a play that is undeniably a comedy. In recent years, this play has become as much a locus of disagreement as Shrew. A number of influential critics have argued, with Lisa Jardine, that the play explores various erotic possibilities, including homoeroticism, only to leave them ‘appropriately contained within the admissible boundaries of the patriarchal household’: Jean Howard speaks of the ‘containment of gender and class insurgency’, and Valerie Traub compares the play’s ‘anxious and strained’ treatment of homoeroticism unfavorably to that of As You Like It and finds that the play’s ‘closure’ limits its view.15 Carol Thomas Neely has noted and taken issue with some of these critiques and similar ones in Distracted Subjects, arguing that ‘erotic and gender irregularity [is] remarkably untrammeled in Twelfth Night’.16 I agree generally with Neely’s assessment, although I approach the play’s eroticism from a somewhat different perspective. Twelfth Night, in my view, is notable among Shakespeare’s plays for its extreme questioning of conventional marriage and heteroerotic love, a questioning that is parallel—​indeed, identical—​to its questioning of conventional comic form, which attempts to contain threatening and incomprehensible desires within its bounds. Although various rationalizations have been made for Viola’s love for Orsino (including that it expresses the bond of male friendship),17 its arbitrariness is called to our attention from the beginning. After teasing us in the first scene with the expectation that Orsino and Olivia will get married, the play presents us with Viola (who is—​and is not—​Olivia’s double),18 who exclaims, as soon as she hears of the Duke: ‘Orsino. I have heard my father name him. /​He was a bachelor then’ (1.2.25– 6). While there is nothing earlier in the play to suggest that Viola (unlike Kate, in Shrew) is especially in need of a man to love, this line leads the audience to expect her 15  Lisa Jardine, ‘Twins and Travesties: Gender, Dependency and Sexual Availability in Twelfth Night’, in Susan Zimmerman, ed., Erotic Politics: Desire on the Renaissance Stage (London: Routledge, 1992), 34; Jean E. Howard, The Stage and Social Struggle in Early Modern England (New York: Routledge, 1994), 112; Valerie Traub, Desire and Anxiety: Circulations of Sexuality in Shakespearean Drama (London: Routledge, 1992), 123, 182. See also Cristina Malcolmson, ‘ “What You Will”, Social Mobility and Gender in Twelfth Night’, in Valerie Wayne, ed., The Matter of Difference: Materialist Feminist Criticism of Shakespeare (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1991), 29–​57; Dympna Callaghan, ‘ “And all is semblative a woman’s part”: Body Politics in Twelfth Night’, in Shakespeare Without Women (London: Routledge, 2000), 39–​48; Chad Allen Thomas, ‘On Queering Twelfth Night’, Theatre Topics 20, no. 2 (2010), 101–​11, 103. Traub’s reading is, in my view, the most complex of these: she notes that ‘despite its closure, . . . Twelfth Night’s conclusion seems only ambivalently invested in the “natural” hetereosexuality it imposes’ (182). She further complicates her view in her more recent work, The Renaissance of Lesbianism in Early Modern England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 56–​7. 16  Carol Thomas Neely, Distracted Subjects: Madness and Gender in Shakespeare and Early Modern Culture (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2004), 116. 17  See Laurie E. Osborne, ‘ “The marriage of true minds”: Amity, Twinning and Comic Closure in Twelfth Night’, in James Schiffer, ed., Twelfth Night: New Critical Essays (Oxford: Routledge, 2011), 99–​112; Laurie J. Shannon, ‘Nature’s Bias: Renaissance Homonormativity and Elizabethan Comic Likeness’, Modern Philology 98, no. 2 (2000), 183–​210. 18  Her name is ‘Olivia’ turned inside out (like a ‘cheverel glove’)—​lacking the ‘little thing of an ‘I’ (cf. 3.1.11–​12, 3.4.271–​2).

290   Judith Haber eventual marriage to Orsino. Both her love for him and its unmotivated nature are confirmed when, in her next appearance, she replies to Orsino’s request that she act as his messenger to Olivia: I’ll do my best To woo your lady—​[aside] yet a barful strife—​ Whoe’er I woo, myself would be his wife. (1.4.39–41)

Although we have been told that the Duke has shown ‘favours’ to the disguised page in the three days since they have met (1.4.1), we have witnessed no sexual excitement in the brief exchanges between them: there has been no ‘chafing’, no frisson, nothing that underwrites the desire Viola expresses here. The form in which she expresses that desire, moreover, reinforces its abrupt arbitrariness: the sudden but conclusive rhyming couplet seems reminiscent of the empty Petrarchan rhymes of the early Romeo, of Lucentio’s swoons in Shrew, and of the protestations of love mouthed by all the men in Dream. But while the formal emptiness of the men’s words in these earlier plays suggested flaws in both their characters and their desires (they were at best shallow and self-​centred, and at worst deceitful), nothing in Twelfth Night implies that there is anything ‘wrong’ with Viola (Orsino is the shallow Petrarchist here). The predictability and vacuity of her lines seem, instead, to reflect the social and theatrical structures that insist she be matched up with a man unworthy of her, simply because he is of an ‘appropriate’ gender and status. Heteroerotic love and the traditional comic conclusion to which it usually leads are thus made to seem wholly conventional and arbitrary. The arbitrariness here is of a piece with the play’s presentation of another characteristic element of Shakespearean romantic comedy—​the heroine’s cross-dressing. In As You Like It, by way of contrast, we are given a motivation for the heroine’s dressing as a young man (as we are in Two Gentleman and The Merchant of Venice): since Rosalind and Celia face danger as ‘maids’ travelling into the forest, it seems fairly reasonable for Rosalind, ‘because that [she is] more than common tall’, to ‘suit [herself] all points like a man’ (1.3.109, 111–​12). In Twelfth Night, however, as Greenblatt has noted, Viola’s costume change seems ‘relatively unmotivated’.19 Although psychological and other reasons can be suggested, we hear only of a vague desire to hide out (which does not usually result in gender transformation); no clear explanation is ever articulated. What is missing here is, in a term popularized by Alfred Hitchcock, the MacGuffin—​the plot device that gets things going; and its omission makes apparent the underlying arbitrariness of the heroine’s cross-dressing not only in Twelfth Night, but also in Shakespeare’s other comedies. The absence further suggests that the real motivation for cross-​dressed disguise is these plays’ interest in exploring gender roles and sexual object choice—​which are, in the process, unmasked here as fairly arbitrary as well.

19 Greenblatt, Negotiations, 70.

Comedy and Eros   291 There is, of course, erotic excitement and chafing in the play, but it occurs between Viola and Olivia, and it occurs at the expense of the traditional, masculine, Petrarchan forms.20 Viola, sent as a messenger from Orsino in her disguise as Cesario, begins her interview with the veiled Olivia by making fun of these forms precisely because of their arbitrary, conventional nature: VIOLA. The honourable lady of the house, which is she? OLIVIA. Speak to me, I shall answer for her. Your will. VIOLA. Most radiant, exquisite, and unmatchable beauty—​I pray you, tell me if this be the lady of the house, for I never saw her. I would be loath to cast away my speech, for besides that it is excellently well penned, I have taken great pains to con it. (1.5.149–55)

Rather than simply being brought up short by Olivia’s device of veiling herself, as some readers suggest, Viola, I  believe, plays brilliantly with it. As she points out, Petrarchan love is studied and self-​consciously ‘poetical’ (1.5.172)—​and, by presenting any beloved as ‘unmatchable’, it paradoxically views all women as completely interchangeable. Olivia seems puzzled at first, but she eventually joins in and begins using the mockery of conventional male love as a means of flirting with Viola. She, too, plays with the idea that Orsino loves ‘by the book’: OLIVIA. VIOLA. OLIVIA. VIOLA. OLIVIA. VIOLA. OLIVIA.

Now, sir, what is your text? Most sweet lady—​ A comfortable doctrine, and much may be said of it. Where lies your text? In Orsino’s bosom. In his bosom? In what chapter of his bosom? To answer by the method, in the first of his heart. O, I have read it. It is heresy. (1.5.194–201)21

She presents herself as a work of art: But we will draw the curtain and show you the picture. [She unveils] Look you, sir, such a one I was this present. Is’t not well done? (1.5.205–6) 20 

See also Jami Ake, ‘Glimpsing a “Lesbian” Poetics in Twelfth Night’, Studies in English Literature, 1500–​1900 43, no. 2 (2003), 375–​94; David Schalkwyk, ‘ “She Never Told Her Love”: Embodiment, Textuality and Silence in Shakespeare’s Sonnets and Plays’, Shakespeare Quarterly 45, no. 4 (1994), 381–​407. 21  See also Keir Elam, ‘Introduction’, Twelfth Night, Or What You Will, ed. Keir Elam (London: Bloomsbury, 2008), 51.

292   Judith Haber And she sends up the figure of the blazon, describing herself both as a commodity and without the usual comparatives: I will give out divers schedules of my beauty. It shall be inventoried and every particle and utensil labelled to my will, as, item, two lips, indifferent red; item, two grey eyes, with lids to them; item, one neck, one chin, and so forth. (1.5.214–18)

In a later scene with Orsino, Viola speaks for the static, silent, ‘ideal’ woman, who (in another image of woman as work of art) ‘sat like patience on a monument, /​Smiling at grief ’ (2.4.113–14). While to a certain extent, she does inhabit the position she describes (she is subservient to Orsino, and she ‘never t[ells] her love’ [2.4.109]), she also distances herself from that position in the very act of describing it. It is, however, in the scene with Olivia that she really finds her voice.22 And she does so most strikingly in a speech that is itself filled with images of vocalization. She tells Olivia that she would not accept rejection if she loved the Countess as Orsino does; when Olivia asks what she would do, she replies: Make me a willow cabin at your gate And call upon my soul within the house, Write loyal cantons of contemned love, And sing them loud even in the dead of night: Halloo your name to the reverberate hills And make the babbling gossip of the air Cry out ‘Olivia!’ O, you should not rest Between the elements of air and earth But you should pity me. (1.5.237–45, emphasis added)

The freedom of expression that she experiences with Olivia seems to culminate in this outpouring. I would argue that the insistence on pent-​up vocalization here, coming to a climax in the ‘hallooing’ of Olivia’s name (a specific that is usually absent from Orsino’s speeches of love), is a large part of what persuades Olivia (and us) that Viola’s emotion is heartfelt. That emotion is often assumed to be motivated by Viola’s love for Orsino, but that can only be an assumption: nothing like this passionate speech is ever uttered between them. Moreover, throughout the middle of the play, both Viola/​Cesario’s gender and the object of his/​her affection are repeatedly formulated in hypotheticals and conditionals.23 Viola says to Olivia: If I did love you in my master’s flame, With such a suff ’ring, such a deadly life,

22  23 

See also Traub, Renaissance, 57. See also Traub, Desire, 131–​2.

Comedy and Eros   293 In your denial I would find no sense, I would not understand it. (1.5.233–6)

She tells Orsino, in a similar vein: My father had a daughter loved a man As it might be, perhaps, were I a woman, I should your lordship. (2.4.106–8)

And she despairs to herself: As I am a man, My state is desperate for my master’s love. As I am woman, now, alas the day, What thriftless sighs shall poor Olivia breathe! (2.2.34–7)

The audience may supply the ‘truth’ behind these hypotheticals; the play, however, does not—​any more than it supplies the reason for Viola’s cross-dressing. Orsino believes that Viola’s indeterminacy will help in approaching Olivia; his well-​ known picture of her significantly interweaves gender, voice, and sexuality: Diana’s lip Is not more smooth and rubious; thy small pipe Is as the maiden’s organ, shrill and sound, And all is semblative a woman’s part. (1.4.30–​3)

And it is indeed this indeterminacy, as described by Malvolio (‘ ‘Tis with him in standing water between boy and man. He is very well-​favoured, and he speaks very shrewishly. One would think his mother’s milk were scarce out of him’ [1.5.141–4]), that persuades Olivia to grant admittance to the page. Even critics who notice the play’s insistence on indeterminacy, however, often claim that it is closed down at the end. I would argue that it is never entirely closed—​and to the extent that it is, the arbitrariness of that closure is made clear. For, of course, the arbitrariness that is associated with Viola’s love at the beginning is carried through all aspects of the play. In one of its most famous lines, Fabian declares: ‘If this were played upon a stage now, I could condemn it as an improbable fiction’ (3.4.115–​16). Although he is speaking of the trick played on Malvolio, the most ‘improbable fiction’ in the play is probably the twin device that eventually solves everything. After the first encounter between Olivia and Viola, when things seem at an impasse, Olivia declares, ‘Fate, show thy force. Ourselves we do not owe. /​What is decreed must be; and be this so’ (1.5.280–1). The next scene then immediately

294   Judith Haber introduces us to Viola’s live twin, Sebastian. ‘Fate’ seems suspiciously like the playwright here. And the implausibility of this solution (despite the fact that we have been prepared for it) is underscored by the fact that the two actors in Shakespeare’s company playing the twin parts would look nothing alike (while other roles might, conceivably, be doubled).24 The play’s insistence on its own artificiality is abundantly apparent in its conclusion. When Viola and Sebastian meet, theoretically appearing identical (Orsino, in a line that recalls Two Gentlemen, declares that he sees ‘One face, one voice, one habit, and two persons— / A natural perspective, that is and is not’ [5.1.208–9]), they go through an extended recognition scene. Such scenes regularly appear in romances or tragicomedies, which are self-​consciously artificial plays. But even in most romances, the reunited characters have been parted for some space of time. Here, having been away for only three months, the twins are at first unable to identify one another (presumably because of Viola’s clothes) and must resort to such ludicrous markers as ‘my father had a mole upon his brow’ (5.1.235). The recognition scene is then followed by what are probably the best-​known lines in the play; Sebastian declares to Olivia: So comes it, lady, you have been mistook. But nature to her bias drew in that. You would have been contracted to a maid, Nor are you therein, by my life, deceived. You are betrothed both to a maid and man. (5.1.252–6)

While this speech has occasioned significant critical discussion, I think it is clear, at the very least, that after hearing that Olivia ‘would have been contracted to a maid’ except for nature’s interference,25 an audience would ‘naturally’ expect to hear that she is, in fact, married to a man. But conventional expectations of all kinds—​including our assumptions about ‘nature’—​are overturned here when we are told that she is ‘betrothed both to a maid and man’. Despite the somewhat notorious explanation offered by multiple editions that ‘maid’ here means simply ‘a male virgin’,26 it is more than difficult, in a play with identical male and female twins, not to understand this line as asserting that Olivia is betrothed to two characters of different genders (which, in effect, she is), as well as to someone who contains both genders within him/​herself: as Feste sings, ‘O mistress mine . . . /​your true love’s coming, /​That can sing both high and low’ (2.3.35–7).


See Stephen Booth, King Lear, Macbeth, Indefinition, and Tragedy (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1983), 147–​ß8. 25  On ‘Nature’s bias’, see Greenblatt, Negotiations, 68–​7 1; Joseph Pequigney, ‘The Two Antonios and Same-​Sex Love in Twelfth Night and The Merchant of Venice’, English Literary Renaissance 22, no. 2 (1992), 208; Traub, Desire, 138; Shannon, ‘Nature’s Bias’, 208–​10. 26  See, for example, The Norton Shakespeare; G. Blakemore Evans, ed., The Riverside Shakespeare, 2nd ed. (Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 1997).

Comedy and Eros   295 I would further argue that the other troublesome aspects of the conclusion of Twelfth Night insist, once more, on the artificiality of such solutions in the theatre as well as in life. Olivia, having fallen in love with Viola through their conversation, is married off to someone with whom she has barely spoken. And Orsino, after threatening to kill Viola, agrees in the next moment to marry her, while still calling her ‘Cesario’ and ‘boy’. He tells her ‘when in other habits [she is] seen’, she shall be ‘Orsino’s mistress, and his fancy’s queen’ (5.1.374–​5). Traub asserts that this line demonstrates the Duke’s anxious homophobia;27 I would suggest that it more obviously implies (as the recognition scene does) that gender (and identity) inhere, at least in part, in clothes—​in arbitrarily assumed habits and roles.28 Viola’s ‘real’ clothes, of course, never appear: she is never transformed back into a woman, and unlike As You Like It, this play presents no weddings. There is no real dramatic closure of any kind here; we simply move from Orsino’s final lines to Feste’s lyric about the omnipresent ‘wind and the rain’ (5.1.376–95). In this respect, Twelfth Night resembles more closely the much earlier Love’s Labour’s Lost, which also criticizes both conventional heterosexual love and the form of romantic comedy (although it does so, until the end, in a much lighter fashion). The lack of closure here is also apparent in the play’s inability to contain dramatically the darkening that occurs in its latter half, embodied most strikingly by Malvolio’s running off. Indeed, in contrast to a comedy like Dream, which includes everyone (no matter how scornfully) in the end, a number of people are left out here. There is Sir Andrew Aguecheek, whom Toby calls ‘an ass-​head and a coxcomb, and a knave; a thin-​faced knave, a gull’ (5.1.198–9). And, of course, there is Antonio, who clearly loves Sebastian, and who remains silent at the end. His eventual fortunes have been imagined in various ways:  some critics maintain that he is included in Sebastian’s marriage, others that he is permanently left out.29 But, like Antonio, the play is silent about his outcome—​as it is about so many things. I would suggest, on the one hand, that Sebastian’s marriage is posited as a betrayal (for which the ‘betrayal’ of Viola in the duel scene substitutes, preventing the play from becoming overly dark); on the other hand, Antonio’s unswerving devotion to Sebastian (one of the few unswerving things in the play), clearly gives the lie to the suggestion here and in other plays that homoeroticism is a temporary phase that one grows out of. And it poses real questions to the audience. One can see the unions at the end as closed and satisfactory only by the method Malvolio proposes when reading the forged letter (a method that the audience is repeatedly invited to adopt when confronted with the nonsense, the improbabilities, and the

27 Traub, Desire, 135. 28 

On the other hand, of course, Viola implicitly appeals to a biological explanation of gender difference in the duel scene, when she sighs: ‘A little thing would make me tell them how much I lack of a man’ (3.4.271–​2). 29  For these contrasting ideas see, for example, Greenblatt, Negotiations, 93; Pequigney, ‘The Two Antonios’, 206.

296   Judith Haber unmotivated and uncontainable desires in the play):  we can make comfortable sense of everything—​but only if we ‘crush [it] a little’ so that ‘it [will] bow to [us]’ (2.5.123).30 Although I  am obviously not a great proponent of developmental narratives, I would suggest that, despite its similarity to earlier plays, Twelfth Night insists on the darkness and arbitrariness of desire to such a degree that it marks a consummation of Shakespeare’s criticism of conventional love—​and an almost inevitable end to his romantic comedy. Although his plays continue to explore sexuality and often contain some of the same motifs, they do not attempt to maintain the balance that the straightforward comedies do between nature and artifice, play and seriousness, union and dissolution. They become so dark as to be considered deeply problematic (Measure for Measure) or simply tragic (Othello). Then, at least for a while, the tragic vision takes over.

Suggested Reading Ake, Jami, ‘Glimpsing a “Lesbian” Poetics in Twelfth Night’, Studies in English Literature, 1500–​ 1900 43 (2003): 375–​94. Bean, John C., ‘Comic Structure and the Humanizing of Kate’, in Carol Ruth Swift Lenz, Gayle Green, and Carol Thomas Neely, eds., The Woman’s Part: Feminist Criticism of Shakespeare (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1983), 65–​78. Booth, Stephen, ‘Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night’, in Precious Nonsense: The Gettysburg Address, Ben Jonson’s Epitaphs on His Children, and Twelfth Night (Berkeley, CA:  University of California Press, 1998), 121–​212. Cook, Carol, ‘ “The Sign and Semblance of Her Honor”: Reading Gender Difference in Much Ado About Nothing’, in Deborah E. Barker and Ivo Kamps, eds., Shakespeare and Gender: A History (London: Verso, 1995), 75–​103. Elam, Keir. ‘Introduction’, in Keir Elam, ed., Twelfth Night, Or What You Will (London: Bloomsbury, 2008), 1–​153. Fineman, Joel, ‘The Turn of the Shrew’, in The Subjectivity Effect in Western Literary Tradition: Essays Toward the Release of Shakespeare’s Will (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1991), 120–​42. Greenblatt, Stephen, ‘Fiction and Friction’, Shakespearean Negotiations:  The Circulation of Social Energy in Renaissance England (Berkeley, CA:  University of California Press, 1988), 66–​93. Jardine, Lisa, ‘Twins and Travesties:  Gender, Dependency and Sexual Availability in Twelfth Night’, in Susan Zimmerman, ed., Erotic Politics:  Desire on the Renaissance Stage (London: Routledge, 1992), 24–​38. Leggatt, Alexander. ‘Comedy and Sex’, in Alexander Leggatt, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Shakespearean Comedy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 139–​55.

30  This idea was originally suggested to me by Stephen Booth, ‘Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night’, in Precious Nonsense: The Gettysburg Address, Ben Jonson’s Epitaphs on His Children, and Twelfth Night (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1998), 121–​212.

Comedy and Eros   297 Masten, Jeffrey. ‘The Two Gentlemen of Verona’, in Richard Dutton and Jean E. Howard, eds., A Companion to Shakespeare’s Works: The Comedies (Oxford: Blackwell, 2003), 266–​88. Neely, Carol Thomas, Broken Nuptials in Shakespeare’s Plays (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1985). Neely, Carol Thomas, Distracted Subjects:  Madness and Gender in Shakespeare and Early Modern Culture (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2004). Newman, Karen, Fashioning Femininity and English Renaissance Drama (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1991). Osborne, Laurie E. ‘ “The marriage of true minds”: Amity, Twinning and Comic Closure in Twelfth Night’, in James Schiffer, ed., Twelfth Night: New Critical Essays (Oxford: Routledge, 2011), 99–​112. Pequigney, Joseph, ‘The Two Antonios and Same-​Sex Love in Twelfth Night and The Merchant of Venice’, English Literary Renaissance 22, no. 2 (1992), 201–​21. Schalkwyk, David. ‘ “She Never Told Her Love”:  Embodiment, Textuality and Silence in Shakespeare’s Sonnets and Plays’, Shakespeare Quarterly 45, no. 4 (1994), 381–​407. Shannon, Laurie J. “Nature’s Bias:  Renaissance Homonormativity and Elizabethan Comic Likeness.” Modern Philology 98, no. 2 (2000), 183–​210. Traub, Valerie, Desire and Anxiety: Circulations of Sexuality in Shakespearean Drama (London: Routledge, 1992). Traub, Valerie, The Renaissance of Lesbianism in Early Modern England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002). Wells, James, ‘Bleared Vision in The Taming of the Shrew’, in Jennifer A. Low and Nova Myhill, eds., Imagining the Audience in Early Modern Drama, 1558–​1642 (New York: Palgrave, 2011), 171–​88.

Chapter 18

Qu eer C ome dy David L. Orvis

In their contribution to The Oxford Handbook of Shakespearean Tragedy, Lee Edelman and Madhavi Menon delineate a theory of ‘queer tragedy’ grounded in a Lacanian reading of Plato and Aristotle. Focusing primarily on Othello, but also including remarks on Macbeth and King Lear, Edelman and Menon argue that the queerness of Shakespearean tragedy derives from its defiance of Platonic and Aristotlean ideals regarding causality. If classical prescriptions insist on ‘a causal relation between mimesis and the pleasure of tragedy’, and if ‘the cause of tragedy must be located squarely in the tragic flaw of an otherwise noble protagonist’, then a lack of cause, or rather, in Othello’s case, a proliferation of causes, evinces queerness in the form of recurrent excess.1 ‘[T]‌he queerness of this excess’, write Edelman and Menon, ‘undermines the rationality sought by causality. Far from allowing for a healthy purge of emotions, Shakespearean tragedy seems to wallow in the inescapability of the tragic. It disrupts the causal explanation demanded of tragedies, and gives us instead a plethora of questions—​too many questions—​without answers.’2 This structural queerness would suggest that any Shakespearean tragedy is queer tragedy, regardless of content. What of comedy? Largely outside the scope of Edelman and Menon’s project, the queerness of comedy’s excess does figure briefly into their considerations of sociality:  ‘Comedy mocks or marginalizes its figures of excess and abjection, punishing or redeeming them (or punishing and redeeming them) the better to affirm society’s ability to incorporate their energy and revitalize them. Malvolio and Jaques may never fit into the order of social harmony but their externality to it gives it a coherent shape. Tragedy, by contrast, reads such enjoyment as incompatible with social survival.’3 In this Lacanian analysis, excess and abjection in comedy are not queer as such in that they 1 

Lee Edelman and Madhavi Menon, ‘Queer Tragedy, or Two Meditations on Cause’, in Michael Neill and David Schalkwyk, eds., The Oxford Handbook of Shakespearean Tragedy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016), 290. 2  Edelman and Menon, ‘Queer Tragedy’, 296. 3  Edelman and Menon, 285–​6.

Queer Comedy   299 limn the contours of the (hetero)normative. To put it another way, comedy re-​inscribes the excess in desire that tragedy refuses to accommodate in any sort of narrative of causal relation. Conceived as both companion piece and response to Edelman and Menon, the present chapter argues that comedy’s queerness resides not in re-​inscribing but in generating excess to its extreme limits. If I follow Edelman and Menon in making the totalizing claim that all comedy is queer comedy, and thus that ‘queer comedy’ is terminologically redundant, this does not preclude awareness that over time certain works have accrued special significance for queer critics and companies alike. On the contrary, I aim to show that conventions of comedy, all of them tenuous and contingent, usher into performance queerness as multiplicity, which includes but also exceeds queerness as anti-​normativity, and that the exigencies of any particular historical or cultural moment simultaneously inform, and are informed by, which comedies find expression as queer comedies. I begin by sketching the close association between queerness and comedy as concepts embodied and enacted, and then, in the absence of any Aristotelian treatise on comedy, build on Alenka Zupančič’s insights in The Odd One In: On Comedy to argue for the structural, and also affective, queerness of Shakespearean comedy. From there, I offer a reading of Much Ado About Nothing, a play often understood as heavily invested in patriarchal heterosociality, to elucidate its queer-​comic procedures at work. My project, in brief, is to articulate the distinctive queerness of Shakespearean comedy, which by necessity and in contradistinction to tragedy, locates the queer in paradoxical formulations that, in fact, enact abundant multiplicity in love and desire.

The Capaciousness of Queer We might first note some consonances between theories of queerness and of comedy, starting with the capaciousness of the terms themselves. Reclaimed from homophobic discourse and redeployed against hegemonic regimes of sexuality and gender, ‘queer’ draws its force from radical, even antagonistic indeterminacy.4 For much pioneering work in the field, this definitional ambiguity exemplifies one of the term’s great strengths. In Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s memorable formulation, ‘queer’ comprises ‘the open mesh of possibilities, gaps, overlaps, dissonances and resonances, lapses and excesses of meaning when the constituent elements of anyone’s gender, of anyone’s sexuality aren’t made (or can’t be made) to signify monolithically’.5 Precisely for this reason, however, ‘queer’ is likewise ‘fraught with so many social and personal histories of 4 

Perhaps the earliest articulation of ‘queer’ as fundamentally disruptive, not least of lesbian and gay identity categories, appears in an essay likewise often credited with inaugurating the locution ‘queer theory’: Teresa de Lauretis, ‘Queer Theory: Lesbian and Gay Sexualities: An Introduction’, differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies 3.2 (1991): iii–​xviii. 5  Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Tendencies (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1993), 8.

300   David L. Orvis exclusion, violence, defiance, excitement’ that it ‘never can only denote, nor even can it only connote; a part of its experimental force as a speech act is the way in which it dramatizes locutionary position itself ’.6 Or to quote Sedgwick’s first axiom from her magisterial Epistemology of the Closet, ‘People are different from each other.’7 In addition to capacious and fraught, then, ‘queer’ is also fragmented and contingent. In her path-​ breaking essay ‘Critically Queer’, Judith Butler writes, ‘[I]‌t will be necessary to affirm the contingency of the term: to let it be vanquished by those who are excluded by the term but who justifiably expect representation by it, to let it take on meanings that cannot now be anticipated.’8 In the more than two decades that have passed since Sedgwick’s and Butler’s foundational studies first appeared in print, ‘queer’ has widened its ambit to include crucial theoretical and activist work on disability, on globalization, and on ecology and sustainability, to name but a few topics, while also interrogating, particularly through intersectional analysis, the term’s assumptions, blind spots, and biases. Perhaps inevitably, the capacity for ‘queer’ to signify so broadly has even raised questions about the necessity of keeping gender, sex, and sexuality, not to mention primary commitment to anti-normativity, at the political and critical centre of queer studies.9 Such debates make explicit the underlying, and I would argue empowering, tension between ambiguity and specificity constitutive of all queer theory.

The Capaciousness of Comedy A similar tension inheres in theories of comedy, which dating back to antiquity have been the subject of ongoing elaboration and critique. If the term initially designated a literary genre that emerged in opposition to tragedy, everything from the constituent parts and potential effects to the didacticism of comedy have been contested from the outset, even as further conceptions began gesturing toward more general applications elsewhere in art and society.10 Our earliest authority on the genre, Aristotle’s Poetics, includes only a brief section on comedy; or rather, any extended discussion complementing the


 Sedgwick, Tendencies, 9. Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Epistemology of the Closet (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1990), 22. 8  Judith Butler, ‘Critically Queer’, in Bodies that Matter: On the Discursive Limits of ‘Sex’ (New York and London: Routledge, 1993), 230. 9  ‘Despite its political advantages’, writes Sharon Marcus, ‘queer has been the victim of its own popularity, proliferating to the point of uselessness as a neologism for the transgression of any norm (queering history, or queering the sonnet). . . . If everyone is queer, then no one is—​and while this is exactly the point queer theorists want to make, reducing the term’s pejorative sting by universalizing the meaning of queer also depletes its explanatory power’ (Sharon Marcus, ‘Queer Theory for Everyone: A Review Essay’, Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 31, no.1 [2005]: 196). 10  OED, s.v. ‘comedy’ n. 1. 7 

Queer Comedy   301 treatise on tragedy is no longer extant.11 Although their veracity remains open to question, Aristotle’s claims about the origins and aims of comedy nevertheless inform what would become longstanding debates about the genre and its signal elements. Like tragedy, comedy as a mimetic art originated in a kind of improvisation: ‘the former arose from the leaders of the dithyramb, the latter from the leaders of the phallic songs which are still customary even now in many cities’. Whereas the development of tragedy has extensive documentation, ‘because it was not taken seriously, little attention was paid to comedy at first’.12 Purportedly grounded in phallic processions and other revels associated with Dionysian rites, comedy concerns itself with imitations of the unserious. Or, to again compare tragedy and comedy, ‘the latter aims to imitate people worse than our contemporaries, the former better’.13 More precisely, comedy imitates ‘the laughable’, which for Aristotle ‘is an error or disgrace that does not involve pain or destruction’.14 This imitation of inferior, as opposed to admirable, personages perhaps relates back to the supposed roots of ‘comedian’, as recounted by Aristotle: ‘comedians were so-​called not from the revel or kômos, but because they toured the villages when expelled from the town in disgrace’.15 Taken together, these preliminary remarks associate comedy and laughter with the marginalized, the perverted, the disregarded, the laughed at—​all familiar preoccupations of queer analytic frameworks. Much as Aristotle’s comments have helped to shape theories about the proper objects and aims of comedy from the ancient world to the present, the indelible queerness of this literary genre derives not so much from what little description we find in the Poetics as from all subsequent deliberation pertaining to, and also extending beyond, the treatise’s perceived lacuna. In other words, comedy becomes most recognizably and emphatically queer in the myriad efforts on the parts of playwrights and philosophers, polemicists and theorists, to define it. If the Poetics devotes considerable space to the various components of tragedy, then the absence of similar coordinates for comedy invites speculation not just about plot and characterization, but about sanctioned sequences of events and their intended effects on spectators. Borrowing Aristotle’s language, what so-​called error or disgrace do spectators witness in comedy? If tragedy intends to evoke pity and fear, as we are reminded throughout the Poetics, what emotions should comedy draw out of audiences?16 What function do laughter and humour serve, and how might we even begin to conceptualize the comic counterpart to tragic catharsis? Even if we think

11  On the whereabouts of Aristotle’s treatise on comedy, see Richard Janko, On Comedy: Towards a Reconstruction of Poetics II (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1984); Walter Watson, The Lost Second Book of Aristotle’s Poetics (Chicago, IL, and London: University of Chicago Press, 2012). For opposing views, see Leon Golden, ‘Aristotle on Comedy’, Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 42, no. 3 (1984): 283–​90; Malcolm Heath, ‘Aristotelian Comedy’, Classical Quarterly 39, no. 2 (1989): 344–​54. 12 Aristotle, Poetics, trans. Malcolm Heath (London: Penguin Books, 1996), 9. 13 Aristotle, Poetics, 5. 14 Aristotle, Poetics, 9. 15 Aristotle, Poetics, 6. 16  On plot and other aspects of tragedy, see Aristotle, Poetics, chs 6–​18. That tragedy’s events ‘should evoke fear and pity’ (17) is expressed multiple times throughout this discussion.

302   David L. Orvis we can approach answers to some of these questions, as indeed a number of scholars have suggested, this information could never account for, nor ever exhaust, possibilities for spectators’ spontaneous and exceedingly complex perceptions and responses, whether as individual playgoers or as members of collective audiences. What if we take pleasure in disgrace or error rather than, or perhaps irrespective of, its correction, in accordance with much insightful anti-​teleological criticism?17 If laughter has an emancipatory or expurgatory effect, how could we ever know in advance whether that response underscores or undercuts comedy’s pedagogical designs? What’s more, how could any playwright anticipate the diverse, even divergent cultural and political work adaptation and appropriation performed in distant times and places from a work’s original milieu? Queer attaches to these and other questions both in the wide-​ranging answers offered in relation to comedy’s tendency toward love plots and bawdy wordplay, and in the ever-​unfolding, inherently destabilizing interrogative mode such comic interventions foreground and perpetuate. Thus, it hardly matters whether critics from Aristotle and Donatus, to Gian Giorgio Trissino and Sir Philip Sidney, to Henri Bergson and George Meredith, have argued that comedy should operate as a socially corrective force.18 Queerness finds expression despite, or rather because of, this purported function, and obtains even, perhaps especially, as comedy continues to redefine itself within and across shifting historical and cultural contexts.

Shakespeare’s Queer Comedy Shakespearean comedy merits special attention for several reasons. To begin with, the period during which Shakespeare grew up and made his career cultivated vibrant discussion and debate about comedy’s conceptual field. On the one hand, Shakespeare and his contemporaries inherited traditions of Old and New Comedy from ancient Greek and Roman theatrical performance, and the playwright’s debts to Terence and Plautus in particular have been well documented.19 On the other hand, the term ‘comedy’ often signified a wider range of dramatic and non-​dramatic works and genres, and more recent 17 

The most incisive anti-​teleological study of Shakespearean comedy remains Ejner J. Jensen, Shakespeare and the Ends of Comedy (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1991). See also Lisa Hopkins, ‘Marriage as Comic Closure’, in The Shakespearean Marriage: Merry Wives and Heavy Husbands (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1998), 16–​33; David L. Orvis, ‘Cross-​Dressing, Queerness, and the Early Modern Stage’, in The Cambridge History of Gay and Lesbian Literature, ed. Ellen McCallum and Mikko Tuhkanen (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 197–​217. 18  Views on comedy’s didactic function are collected in the excellent Reader in Comedy: An Anthology of Theory and Criticism, ed. Magda Romanska and Alan Ackerman (London and New York: Bloomsbury, 2017). 19  On Shakespeare’s debts to Roman comedy, see Colin Burrow, Shakespeare and Classical Antiquity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), ch. 4; Robert S. Miola, ‘Roman Comedy’, in The Cambridge Companion to Shakespearean Comedy, ed. Alexander Leggatt (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 18–​31; Miola, Shakespeare and Classical Comedy: The Influence of Plautus and Terence

Queer Comedy   303 scholarly investigations have complicated previous efforts to read Shakespeare’s corpus within the generic distinctions enshrined on the title page of Mr William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies.20 On this point, two differing but ultimately complementary scholarly views are instructive. Comparing and contrasting theories and performances of various dramatic genres, Lawrence Danson argues, ‘[N]‌ominal instability does not necessarily prove the inability of either the theories or their practitioners to account for all the kinds of actual plays. It may suggest instead that Shakespeare’s contemporaries had a healthy ability to live comfortably with the unruliness of a theatre where genre was not static but moving and mixing, always producing new possibilities.’21 In response to this claim, Andy Kesson writes, ‘But perhaps the contradictory attitudes to genre that Danson describes changed over time, so that an initial state of instability or generic freedom in the early years of commercial theatre developed into a much more self-​conscious use of generic identity in the middle years of the playhouses, meaning that when Shakespeare’s plays came to be published in 1623 genre had become the major organizing principle.’22 Danson’s and Kesson’s perspectives, especially when considered alongside Shakespeare’s own eclecticism with regards to sources and influences, point up the perpetual polysemy of ‘comedy’, which includes, but never fully contains, the term’s range of meanings.23 During the same period, of course, poets and polemicists reignited, and in so doing relitigated, arguments about the moral standing and redeeming features of drama’s mimetic art. In their works, defenders and detractors alike accede the transformative power of dramatic performance, as Jonas Barish amply demonstrates in The Antitheatrical Prejudice.24 The terms and parameters of the discourse have Platonic foundations, and thus Plato’s own concerns about the potency of plays bear notice. Barish aptly summarizes Plato’s objections and the sentiments behind them: (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995); Wolfgang Riehle, Shakespeare, Plautus, and the Humanist Tradition (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1991). 20 

William Shakespeare, Mr. William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies (London,1623). For critiques of overly prescriptive approaches to genre, see Lawrence Danson, Shakespeare’s Dramatic Genres (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000). 21 Danson, Shakespeare’s Dramatic Genres, 10–​11. 22  Andy Kesson, ‘Was Comedy a Genre in English Early Modern Drama?’ British Journal of Aesthetics 54.2 (2014): 215. On early modern English traditions of comedy that both shaped and were shaped by Shakespeare’s contributions, see also Janette Dillon, ‘Shakespeare and the Traditions of English Stage Comedy’, in Richard Dutton and Jean E. Howard, eds., A Companion to Shakespeare’s Works: The Comedies (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2003), 4–​22; Jill Levenson, ‘Comedy’, in. A. R. Braunmuller and Michael Hattaway, eds., The Cambridge Companion to English Renaissance Drama, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 254–​91. 23  On Shakespeare’s eclectic approach to comedy, see David Galbraith, ‘Theories of Comedy’, in The Cambridge Companion to Shakespearean Comedy, ed. Alexander Leggatt (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 3–​17; Robert S. Miola, Shakespeare’s Reading (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), ch. 4; and Leo Salingar, Shakespeare and the Traditions of Comedy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1974). 24  Jonas Barish, The Antitheatrical Prejudice (Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London: University of California Press, 1981), esp. chs. 4 and 5.

304   David L. Orvis Theater being the quintessentially mimetic art, acting being radically founded in multiplication of roles and transgression of boundaries, all that is urged in suspicion of poetry, music, recitation, and the other arts must apply here with maximum force and a minimum of regretful qualification. If any one sphere of activity apart from unabashed crime may be said to embody what Plato fears and distrusts, it is the theater, and his hostility to it, which smolders in the Republic, bursts into fiery blaze in the Laws, where it is made responsible for the evils and corruptions of the present day.25

Similar anxieties percolate through theatrical treatises of Shakespeare’s day as defenders and their opponents adjudicate the imitative force of comedy and tragedy specifically and of plays, interludes, and other entertainments more generally. Taking Thomas Lodge’s Defence of Poetry and Stephen Gosson’s School of Abuse and Plays Confuted in Five Actions as illustrative examples of controversies about comedy and the comic spirit, R. W. Maslen points out the writers’ ‘shared conviction that theatrical comedy makes things happen: that it delights and seduces every social class and affects them in ways that directly affect the well-​being of society at large’. Insofar as both ‘agree . . . that this comic efficacy is the reason why the genre has been subject to persecution throughout its history’, ‘the positions of the two men are, in fact, identical’.26 For all their differences, then, Lodge and Gosson, much like Plato before them, assume comedy’s disruption of normalizing institutions and identity categories. I might add to Lodge and Gosson the complaints of their contemporary I.  G., or ‘John Greene’ according to scholarly convention.27 In his Refutation of the Apology for Actors, a treatise composed in direct response to Thomas Heywood’s Apology for Actors, the as-​yet unidentified I. G. enumerates the vices of comedy: ‘Of comedies the matter is love, lust, lechery, bawdry, scortation, adultery, uncleanness, pollution, wantonness, chambering, courting, jesting, mocking, flouting, foolery, venery, drabbery, knavery, cozenage, cheating, hypocrisy, flattery, and the like.’28 This frankly impressive list tells us something about comedy’s recurring substance and themes during a time when generic distinctions remained in constant flux, and when the term ‘comedy’ continued to signify broadly, outside and across different media and modes. Whatever the particulars of a play, a poem, or even a quick exchange, ‘comedy’ in early modernity invoked certain constellations of signification, the bulk of which coincide with conceptualizations of queerness. What’s more, early modern comedy shares with contemporary queerness an irreducible antagonism toward dominant attitudes and beliefs. In other words, I. G.’s accusations about comedy are true, and any queer defence would revel in, rather than endeavour to contest or explain away, the genre’s enactment of insurrectionary erotics, affect, and embodiment. 25 Barish, Antitheatrical Prejudice, 26. 26 

R. W. Maslen, Shakespeare and Comedy (London: Thomson Learning, 2006), 19. According to Tanya Pollard, the I. G./​John Greene connection ‘seems to date from J. P. Collier’s 1831 History of English Dramatic Poetry and Annals of the Stage’ (Tanya Pollard, Shakespeare’s Theater: A Sourcebook [Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2004], 255). 28  Qtd. in Pollard, Shakespeare’s Theater, 264. 27 

Queer Comedy   305 While it is perhaps unsurprising that certain comedies by Shakespeare—​among them A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Merchant of Venice, and Twelfth Night—​have inspired more queer productions and elicited more queer critical commentary than others, I hope to devote the remainder of this chapter to forms of queerness that subtend all Shakespearean comedy, making the notion of ‘queer comedy’ terminologically redundant. Elsewhere I have written about the interrogation of love’s ideological formations in what is likely Shakespeare’s earliest comedy, The Two Gentlemen of Verona; here I want to extend this line of inquiry to a play that might appear even more heavily invested in patriarchal heterosociality, Much Ado About Nothing.29 If my investigation of Two Gentlemen focused primarily on the subversion of dominant ideology through the abundant multiplicity of meanings that consolidate around the term ‘love’, my approach to Much Ado, a play that to this point has received scant queer critical attention, takes up the structural, and also affective, queerness of comedy qua comedy.30 Like Edelmen and Menon in their theorization of ‘queer tragedy’, I rely on Lacanian analytic frameworks, but with debts to Alenka Zupančič’s incisive book-​length study of comedy. Against the trend in critical philosophy that ‘has been dedicated to various ways of undermining the metaphysics of infinity’, Zupančič asserts, the true comic spirit . . . is, rather, always a ‘physics of the infinite’. Moreover, it is precisely this physics of the infinite that situates comedy on the ground of true materialism, exempts it from all forms of spiritualism, and also gives it its contrareligious thrust—​not in any simple sense of static opposition, or of mocking the infinite Other, but, rather, by deploying this infinite Other as the very material Real of human life as such.31

Human finitude, in other words, contains a fundamental contradiction in that it is what Zupančič calls a ‘failed finitude’ or ‘finitude with a leak in it’. This hole in finitude serves as comedy’s constitutive lack: ‘Comic characters, as well as comic situations, do not only expose this fact, but also use it abundantly as the very generative source of what they themselves create and play with.’32 Adducing examples from Much Ado, I hope to elucidate the queerness of this surplus enjoyment generated by comic play (broadly defined). That is, I want to show that Much Ado is representative, rather than extraordinary, with regards to comedy’s queer architectonics. 29  David L. Orvis, ‘ “Which is worthiest love” in The Two Gentlemen of Verona?” in Goran Stanivukovic, ed. Queer Shakespeare: Desire and Sexuality (London and New York: Bloomsbury, 2017), 33–​49. 30  But see Holly Dugan, ‘Desiring H: Much Ado About Nothing and the Sound of Women’s Desire’, in Queer Shakespeare, 137–​52; Madhavi Menon, ‘Citation: Bollywood Quotes Much Ado’, in Unhistorical Shakespeare: Queer Theory in Shakespearean Literature and Film (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), 73–​93; Ann Pellegrini, ‘Closing Ranks, Keeping Company: Marriage Plots and the Will to be Single in Much Ado About Nothing’, in Madhavi Menon, ed., Shakesqueer: A Queer Companion to the Complete Works of Shakespeare (Durham, NC, and London: Duke University Press, 2011), 245–​53. 31  Alenka Zupančič, The Odd One In: On Comedy (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2008), 48, 50. 32 Zupančič, Odd One In, 52, 53.

306   David L. Orvis

Queer-​C omic Procedures Much Ado does stand out, of course, for laying bare in its title comedy’s preoccupation with ‘nothing’ in all its polyvalency, including, I would argue, ‘the “nothing”, or void in and of, subjectivity’. Endeavours to fill in, or rather conceal, this void play out comically comedy’s internal contradictions, which are themselves mere representations or projections of, in Zupančič words, ‘two heterogeneous sides of human experience, irreducible to one another’. This double-​sided structure reveals itself primarily through two comic procedures. The first is the joint articulation of two excluding realities. According to Zupančič, ‘[I]‌t is not only that this comic procedure presents us with two mutually exclusive realities as visible in one and the same “shot”, it also has to find and offer us a form of their articulation which, in all its “absurdity”, somehow works.’ The second procedure is what Zupančič terms ‘comic acceleration or exaggeration’: ‘In relation to the image of the Möbius strip, we could describe it as forced (yet again somehow “illogically logical”) and strongly accelerated taking a few steps forward from the point on which we are standing.’33 Before we can even begin to grasp what is happening, we have already reached the other side. As with the first process, here again we find the missing link between, and hence, too, the joint articulation of, ostensibly excluding realities. For Zupančič, this encounter constitutes ‘the real comic object’.34 Rather in the same way that the play’s title acknowledges its self-​reflexive subject matter and trajectory, Much Ado’s opening scene announces the double-​sided structure underwriting its comic movement. The play begins with news of the soldiers’ return from war, and by the conclusion of 1.1 we learn that Don Pedro has accepted Leonato’s invitation to stay in Messina ‘at the least a month’, although Messina’s governor ‘heartily prays some occasion may detain us [i.e. Don Pedro, Benedick, Claudio] longer’ (1.1.121–​ 2).35 Much of the humour in this first scene derives from the supposed distance between martial and romantic discourse—​or rather, from the recurring intrusion of the former into the latter. What Leonato terms the ‘merry war’ between Benedick and Beatrice (1.1.50), for instance, confounds martial and erotic pursuits, as when Beatrice remarks, ‘He set up his bills here in Messina, and challenged Cupid at the flight; and my uncle’s fool, reading the challenge, subscribed for Cupid and challenged him at the bird-​bolt. I pray you, how many hath he killed and eaten in these wars? But how many hath he killed? For indeed I promised to eat all of his killing’ (1.1.32–​7). Moments later, Benedick enters and trades several barbs with Beatrice, concluding, ‘I would my horse had the speed of your tongue, and so good a continuer. But keep your way, i’ God’s name. I have done.’ To which Beatrice replies, ‘You always end with a jade’s trick. I know you of old’

33 Zupančič, Odd One In, 58–​9.

34 Zupančič, Odd One In, 55, 57, 58–​9, 59. 35 

All references to Shakespeare’s plays are from Stephen Greenblatt et al., eds., The Norton Shakespeare: Based on the Oxford Edition: Comedies (New York and London: W. W. Norton, 1997).

Queer Comedy   307 (1.1.115–​18). If Beatrice’s earlier speech opens with the erotic and concludes with the martial, her exchange with Benedick moves in the opposite direction. In both cases, humour hinges on sudden reversal, simultaneously exposing and engendering discursive and ideological interdependence. As Susan Harlan has shown, ‘By subsuming the soldiers into their society, Messina tacitly absorbs their military history and transforms it into a set of values that signify for masculine character in the context of comedy.’36 Thus, the comic substance of Beatrice and Benedick’s ‘merry war’ reminds us, albeit at an ironic distance, of the erotic violence that joins excluding realities of combat and courtship. There is, however, a more crucial, or rather queer, joint articulation that likewise occurs in 1.1 and recurs throughout the comedy. Confiding in Don Pedro his love for Hero, Claudio declares, O my lord, When you went onward on this ended action I looked upon her with a soldier’s eye, That liked, but had a rougher task in hand Than to drive liking to the name of love. But now I am returned, and that war-​thoughts Have left their places vacant, in their rooms Come thronging soft and delicate desires, All prompting me how fair young Hero is, Saying I liked her ere I went to wars. (1.1.244–​53)

This speech, along with Don Pedro’s curious offer to woo Hero in Claudio’s stead, (1.1.264–​76), is often understood as setting up a contrast between courtships. Samuel Crowl, for example, finds fault in Kenneth Branagh’s film adaptation for ‘fail[ing] to drive home the ways in which the play repeatedly favors the independent, unruly, intelligent wooing behavior of Beatrice and Benedick with the empty, socially conventional path followed by Claudio in his courtship of Hero’.37 However, both couplings are the work of Don Pedro and, most alarming of all, both originate in subterfuge. In Claudio’s case, Don Pedro seems earnest enough, by which I mean his offer to manipulate Hero does not appear to stem from boredom, as when he informs Claudio that ‘the time shall not go dully by us’, and that he ‘will in the interim undertake one of Hercules’ labours, which is to bring Signor Benedick and the Lady Beatrice into a mountain of affection th’one with th’other’ (2.1.316–​19). Still, Don Pedro’s insistence on wooing Hero not just


Susan Harlan, ‘ “Returned from the Wars”: Comedy and Masculine Post-​War Character in Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing’, Upstart: A Journal of English Renaissance Studies (June 2013), https://​​Essays/​returned-​from-​the-​wars/​returned-​from-​the-​wars.xhtml 37  Samuel Crowl, ‘The Marriage of Shakespeare and Hollywood: Kenneth Branagh’s Much Ado About Nothing’, in Courtney Lehmann and Lisa S. Starks, eds., Spectacular Shakespeare: Critical Theory and Popular Cinema (Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press; London and Cranbury, NJ: Associated University Presses, 2002), 120.

308   David L. Orvis in Claudio’s place but in disguise as Claudio, in combination with Claudio’s own claim, above, that prior to war he made a conscious decision not to love Hero, exemplifies an enabling paradox of comedy in the form of a fundamental and ultimately irreconcilable split within love itself—​between spontaneous, uncontrollable, and even inassimilable acts and emotions on the one hand and narrative and institutional formations on the other. Or to put it another way, as evidenced by successive voyeuristic scenes depicting the gulling of Benedick and Beatrice (2.3 and 3.1), love exercises would-​be lovers from without as well as from within. And while dramatic irony may afford us some luxury in laughing at their inability to know one from the other, in the end not even we, the audience, can ever be quite sure. Comically enacted, this paradoxical representation of love demythologizes dominant narratives and paradigms, enjoining us to laugh at their patent absurdity. The bizarre courting rituals of Hero and Claudio and Beatrice and Benedick may be the most obvious examples of this incitement to laugh at love’s overdetermined field, but I would suggest another twosome in the play, namely Don Pedro and Don John, are the more subversive agents to appear onstage. As I have already noted, the Prince of Aragon embodies love as an external, even artificial force imposed on other characters. We do not get to see his roleplay with the unwitting Hero, but the particulars of that encounter seem to matter less than Don Pedro’s ability to broker a deal with Leonato, who confirms, ‘His grace hath made the match, and all grace say amen to it’ (2.1.264–​5). (Here it is worth remembering Claudio’s earlier query to Don Pedro, before the latter promises to win her hand in marriage: ‘Hath Leonato any son, my lord?’ [1.1.242].) If Don Pedro represents the imposition of hegemonic notions of love, then his bastard brother Don John embodies their repudiation. Against the critical tendency to scapegoat Don John in the play’s veering towards tragedy’s domain, Jean Howard contends, ‘A characterological focus on Don John as origin of evil can obscure the extent to which the assumptions about women upon which his trick depends are shared by other men in the play. . . . Don John lies about Hero, but his lie works because it easily passes in Messina as a truthful reading of women.’38 In other words, if Don Pedro represents love-​as-​ideology, then his bastard brother Don John is what Slavoj Žižek refers to as the ‘obscene supplement’, the ‘underbelly of the law’. Žižek writes, ‘If we take any normative structure, then in order to sustain itself this structure has to rely on some unwritten rules that must remain unspoken; these rules always have an obscene dimension’.39 Of course, the misogyny of Messina does not remain unspoken, which suggests that Don John’s villainy rests not in his sullying Hero’s honour but in his unveiling the properly hidden obscene underside of ideology. While we rightly cringe at her public shaming in 4.1, our reaction to the ‘subjective violence’ carried out against Hero (and here I am thinking especially of Branagh’s film) must not preclude consideration of the ‘objective violence’ inherent in the system. As Žižek observes, this ‘systemic violence’ is ‘invisible since it sustains the 38  Jean Howard, The Stage and Social Struggle in Early Modern England (London: Routledge, 1994), 60–​1. 39  Slavoj Žižek and Glyn Daly, Conversations with Žižek (Cambridge: Polity, 2004), 128.

Queer Comedy   309 very zero-​level standard against which we perceive something as subjectively violent’.40 Don John’s role in rendering visible the objective violence that maintains social order in Messina has prompted Ann Pellegrini to label him ‘something of a queer anti-​hero’: ‘If his periperformative ultimately fails to derail the “happy” ending, it does temporarily stun the marital plot, starkly illuminating—​in or as a kind of freeze frame—​not just marriage as theater, but marriage as a closing of ranks.’41 I would say, rather, that Don John represents Žižek’s ‘right step in the wrong direction’, the ‘lost cause’ in need of ‘defense’, to the extent that his bastardry disrupts, if only momentarily, comedy’s heterosocial love plots.42 Along the way, comedy coaxes us to laugh at the narrative’s ridiculous hetero demands, as when Beatrice enlists Benedick to murder Claudio (4.1.287).43 Against the backdrop of this travestied heterosociality, alternative affective and erotic configurations provide surplus enjoyment through the play’s sundry jokes and puns. Arguing that indeed jokes and love encounters have a structural affinity, Zupančič observes that ‘the funny (as well as the subversive) side of a love encounter lies precisely in the fact that the other (that we encounter) is an answer to none of our prayers and dreams but, rather, the bearer of an unexpected surplus-​element that we might only get the chance to dream about in what follows’.44 Desire works a similar way in comedy, pondering in the form of bawdy humor a multiplicity of fantasies that are by definition surplus enjoyment; whatever precedes or follows the pun or joke can neither accommodate nor contain it. As Holly Dugan suggests, the aural punning and sexual allusions in Much Ado condense in ‘the orthography of women’s desire’. Extrapolating from their bawdy exchange prior to Hero and Claudio’s aborted nuptials ‘Beatrice’s desire for H and Margaret’s ability to aspirate it’, Dugan opens up new ways of thinking about queer constructions of women’s erotic desire.45 Julie Crawford, in her essay on women’s secretaries, also invites us to rethink the possible meanings of Beatrice’s claim in defence of Hero’s chastity: ‘I have this twelvemonth been her bedfellow’ (4.1.148). Crawford argues that although ‘female-​bed sharing is accorded none of the pedagogical, social, or political power that the highly-​eroticized male–male “bedroom scene” evokes’, ‘[t]‌here is evidence from the period that (equally homoerotic) female bed-​sharing was a site of secret-​sharing, counsel-​giving, and knowledge-​transacting’.46 Coupled with Dugan’s investigation of queer philology and phonography, Crawford’s examination of women’s bedfellowship demonstrates the erotic and affective possibilities for women alongside if


Slavoj Žižek, Violence: Six Sideways Reflections (New York: Picador, 2008), 2. Pellegrini, ‘Closing Ranks, Keeping Company’, 249. 42  Slavoj Žižek, In Defense of Lost Causes (New York: Verso, 2008). 43  On affective responses to Beatrice’s command that Benedick kill Claudio, see Sarah Antinora, ‘Please Let This Be Much Ado About Nothing: “Kill Claudio” and the Laughter of Release’, Ceræ: An Australasian Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 1 (2014): 1–​21; Philip Weller, ‘ “Kill Claudio”: A Laugh Almost Killed by the Critics’, Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism 11.1 (1996): 101–​10. 44 Zupančič, Odd One In, 135. 45  Dugan, ‘Desiring H’, 137, 152. 46  Julie Crawford, ‘Women’s Secretaries’, in Vin Nardizzi, Stephen Guy-​Bray, and Will Stockton, eds., Queer Renaissance Historiography: Backward Gaze (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2008), 118. 41 

310   David L. Orvis not outside comedy’s main heterosocial love plots. Beatrice and Hero may have wed, but Margaret, much like Don John and Don Pedro, escapes the play single, if only because of her status as Hero’s servingwoman. If Borachio’s defence of Margaret, who ‘knew not what she did when she spoke to me, /​But always hath been just and virtuous /​In anything that I do know by her’ (5.1.285–​7), leaves open the possibility that they ‘know’ each other in some erotic or otherwise intimate manner, then Margaret’s character is remarkable for pursuing both hetero-​and homoerotic encounters with no strings attached. In this way, female homoeroticism breaks through the play’s heterosocial love plots, disturbing its narrative with immediate, untethered surplus pleasure. One of the more revealing instances of male homoeroticism occurs back in the play’s first scene, when Beatrice cannot help but mock Benedick’s braggadocio. She queries the anonymous messenger: BEATRICE.

Who is his companion now? He hath every month a new sworn brother. MESSENGER. Is’t possible? BEATRICE. Very easily possible. He wears his faith but as the fashion of his hat, it ever changes with the next block. MESSENGER. I see, lady, the gentleman is not in your books. BEATRICE. No. An he were, I would burn my study. But I pray you, who is his companion? Is there no young squarer now that will make a voyage with him to the devil? MESSENGER. He is most in the company of the right noble Claudio. BEATRICE. O Lord, he will hang upon him like a disease. He is sooner caught than the pestilence, and the taker runs presently mad. God help the noble Claudio. If he ever caught the Benedick, it will cost him a thousand pound ere a be cured. (1.1.57–​7 1)

From this exchange, it would seem Benedick’s refusal to settle down extends to his male companions, as well. Bertram may have his beloved Paroles and Achilles his Patroclus, but Benedick transfers his affections often, infecting other men with his desires and commitment to homosocial bachelorhood—​what we might now call ‘bromance’. Claudio, as we have already seen, also has affections for other men, ‘expressed’, as Mihoko Suzuki observes, ‘in Don Pedro’s surrogate wooing of Hero on his behalf and their palpable relief when Claudio’s marriage falls through’.47 This ‘potentially homoerotic threesome’, to borrow Madhavi Menon’s characterization, shows that men, too, have other options for their pursuit of pleasure, beyond even the more conventional dyadic structures.48 Although my focus has been on alternative intimacies in the play’s comic present, we might further note that at play’s end, Don John and Don Pedro remain bachelors. As 47 

Mihoko Suzuki, ‘Gender, Class, and the Ideology of Comic Form: Much Ado About Nothing and Twelfth Night’, in Dympna Callaghan, ed., A Feminist Companion to Shakespeare (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2001), 151. 48 Menon, Unhistorical Shakespeare, 81.

Queer Comedy   311 Jordan Windholz has convincingly shown in her essay on bachelor communities in early modern England, for Don Pedro in particular this status suggests ample opportunities outside the play’s scope for fellowship with other men.49 Depending on his kink, the incarcerated Don John might also be fine. The play’s enduring popularity on stage and screen despite its unpleasant marriage plots and reprehensible characters is attributable, I think, to the kinds of queer-​comic procedures I have started to explore in the present essay. Although perhaps exaggerated in Much Ado, the double-​sided structure of comedy allows us to laugh at, and in so doing take pleasure in, precisely those disruptions that contradict and unsettle any singular perception of love’s dominion. If, as Zupančič suggests, comedy’s materialist movement from universal to particular—​which is to say, from stereotype or stock character of the Old Comedy variety to complex individual whose subjectivity becomes increasingly fragmented through contradictory impulses and drives—​then the comic spirit confronts us with the paradoxes of pleasure in our fractured subjectification. Or to return to my earlier exploration of ‘queer’ and ‘comedy’ as conceptual categories, the invitation to laugh at bawdy jokes and wordplay locates audiences between the ambiguity and specificity in, and of, love and desire. This multiplicity is at once exhilarating and terrifying, although comic procedures allow us to identify with wide-​ranging, even contradictory desires at an ironic distance. In her concluding remarks, Zupančič writes, ‘Comedy thrives on these impasses as the very stuff of which the social fabric is made. To define comedy as the genre of the copula is in fact to place it at the most sensitive and precarious point of this fabric, the point where it is being generated and regenerated, torn apart and fused together, solidified and transformed’.50 If not synonymous, then, queerness and comedy nevertheless collude in exposing heterosocial, even heterocentric, fantasy—​wherever it might parade itself as the natural order of things.

Suggested Reading Bromley, James M., Intimacy and Sexuality in the Age of Shakespeare (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012). Butler, Judith, ‘Critically Queer’, in Bodies that Matter:  On the Discursive Limits of ‘Sex’ (New York and London: Routledge, 1993), 223–​42. Crawford, Julie, ‘Women’s Secretaries’, in Vin Nardizzi, Stephen Guy-​Bray, and Will Stockton, eds., Queer Renaissance Historiography: Backward Gaze (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2008), 111–​34. de Lauretis, Teresa, ‘Queer Theory:  Lesbian and Gay Sexualities:  An Introduction’, differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies 3, no. 2 (1991), iii–​xviii. Edelman, Lee, No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive (Durham, NC, and London: Duke University Press, 2004).


Jordan Windholz, ‘Ballads, Journeymen, and Bachelor Community in Shakespeare’s London’, English Literary Renaissance 46, no. 2 (2016): 277. 50 Zupančič, Odd One In, 216.

312   David L. Orvis Edelman, Lee, and Madhavi Menon, ‘Queer Tragedy, or Two Meditations on Cause’, in Michael Neill and David Schalkwyk, eds., The Oxford Handbook of Shakespearean Tragedy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016), 285–​98. Freccero, Carla, Queer /​Early /​Modern (Durham, NC, and London:  Duke University Press, 2006). Goldberg, Jonathan, and Madhavi Menon, ‘Queering History’, PMLA 120, no. 5 (2005): 1608–​17. Halley, Janet, and Andrew Parker, Introduction, South Atlantic Quarterly 106, no. 3 (2007): 421–​32. Jensen, Ejner J., Shakespeare and the Ends of Comedy (Bloomington, IN, and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1991). Marcus, Sharon, ‘Queer Theory for Everyone: A Review Essay’, Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 31, no. 1 (2005): 191–​218. Menon, Madhavi, ed., Shakesqueer: A Queer Companion to the Complete Works of Shakespeare (Durham, NC, and London: Duke University Press, 2011). Nikulin, Dmitri, Comedy, Seriously:  A Philosophical Study (New  York:  Palgrave Macmillan, 2014). Orvis, David L., ‘Cross-​Dressing, Queerness, and the Early Modern Stage’, in Ellen McCallum and Mikko Tuhkanen, eds., The Cambridge History of Gay and Lesbian Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 197–​217. Stanivukovic, Goran, ed., Queer Shakespeare: Desire and Sexuality (London and New York: Bloomsbury, 2017). Stockton, Will, Playing Dirty:  Sexuality and Waste in Early Modern Comedy (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2011). Stockton, Will, ‘Shakespeare and Queer Theory’, Shakespeare Quarterly 63, no. 2 (2012): 224–​35. Wiegman, Robyn, and Elizabeth A. Wilson, introduction, differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies 26, no. 1 (2015): 1–​25. Zupančič, Alenka, The Odd One In: On Comedy (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2008).

Chapter 19

The Musi c of Shakespearea n C ome dy Erin Minear

Music offers a wide range of possibilities in comedy: it may be used as a tool for seduction or as a symbol of unions and reconciliations; it may herald festive celebration or undermine a seemingly merry moment with unexpected wistfulness or melancholy. Aware of these possibilities, Shakespeare does not merely use music to enhance a mood; rather, he repeatedly dramatizes encounters between his characters and music, in which music shapes the reactions of its listeners, even as their situations, feelings, and assumptions shape what they hear. Throughout his career, Shakespeare evinces a particular interest in the interplay between a musical interlude and the dramatic context in which it appears, a context that can substantially alter the meaning and affect of the music. Yet at the same time, the audience’s experience of music may alter the context, the surrounding drama—​and often in ways that we may not expect.

Music as Symbol, Music as Performance How does music mean? Two different but overlapping ways of considering the question would be to explore the common Renaissance claim that music is a kind of rhetoric, differing little from poetry,1 or to consider music as a symbol, an indicator of cosmic harmony. Writers of the time—​especially poets—​often associate these two ways of meaning: in the words of Thomas Campion, ‘The world is made by Simmetry and

1  But music potentially possessed powers greater and more dangerous than those of rhetoric, as its persuasions were ‘mysterious, less subject to rational explanation (and therefore to refutation) than the eloquence associated with words’ (Elise Bickford Jorgens, ‘A Rhetoric of Dissonance: Music in The Merchant of Venice’, John Donne Journal: Studies in the Age of Donne 25 [2006], 107–​28, citation on 120).

314   Erin Minear proportion, and is in that respect compared to Musick, and Musick to Poetry’.2 Recent scholarship, however, has drawn attention to the uneasiness surrounding musical performance in early modern England, an uneasiness that attends the experience of music as a sonic phenomenon: material, emerging from bodies, moving in time.3 Joseph Ortiz, for instance, argues that Shakespeare’s plays ‘often highlight the incongruence between language and musical sound’, insistently introducing ‘the suspicion that music is, in its most fundamental form, meaningless’.4 The questions surrounding musical meaning become particularly pressing in comedy, as individuals and societies come into accord in a resolution that often involves music and dancing.5 Yet in several of Shakespeare’s plays, such concluding music works as a self-​conscious shortcut, not only symbolizing a harmony that may seem problematic or unearned, but also soothing the audience into forgetfulness of things that ought to bother them. Yet simultaneously, music can be a means of expressing what can neither be expressed otherwise nor resolved in comedic closure. Music on the Shakespearean stage takes several forms: inset, formal songs; fragments of song that begin and break off; trumpets sounding for battle or marking the entrance of important persons; and instrumental interludes. Songs given in their entirety are usually courtly performances, requested and attended by aristocrats, and performed by a member of the company with particular musical skills. Sometimes this character has little to do but sing on request—​examples would be Balthasar in Much Ado About Nothing, Amiens in As You Like It, and the anonymous Boy in Measure for Measure. Feste in Twelfth Night has a much more complex role, likely because of the variety of skills brought to the role by the actor Robert Armin, who joined Shakespeare’s company at the end of the sixteenth century. Major characters in the comedies rarely perform songs, for while music was considered an important element in the education of both gentlemen and gentlewomen, a well-​brought-​up lady would never perform in public, and too great a devotion to music on the part of young men was thought to lead to effeminacy.6 In 2 

Thomas Campion, Obseruations in the Art of English Poesie (London, 1602), 2. For studies that explore acoustic theories of the Renaissance, and discuss the nature of sound, its difference from the systems of signs that constitute language, and its subversive potential, see Bruce R. Smith, The Acoustic World of Early Modern England (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1999); Kenneth Gross, Shakespeare’s Noise (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2001); Wes Folkerth, The Sound of Shakespeare (New York: Routledge, 2002); and Gina Bloom, Voice in Motion: Staging Gender, Shaping Sound in Early Modern England (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007). See also Leslie Dunn, ‘Ophelia’s Songs in Hamlet: Music, Madness, and the Feminine’, in Embodied Voices: Representing Female Vocality in Western Culture (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 50–​64. 4  Joseph Ortiz, Broken Harmony: Shakespeare and the Politics of Music (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2011), 144, 20. 5  For the dance as ‘a symbol of harmony and concord’, see Alan Brissenden, Shakespeare and the Dance (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1981), 3. 6  See Linda Phyllis Austern, ‘ “Sing Againe Syren”: The Female Musician and Sexual Enchantment in Elizabethan Life and Literature’, Renaissance Quarterly 42 (1989), 420–​48; and ‘ “For, Love’s a Good Musician”: Performance, Audition, and Erotic Disorders in Early Modern Europe’, Musical Quarterly 83 (1998), 614–​53. 3 

The Music of Shakespearean Comedy    315 some cases, the text notes merely that a song is to be sung; but often the lyrics are given in full, and seem to have been written by Shakespeare himself. Unfortunately, the tune is usually a matter of guesswork. It is possible that a number of the lyrics were set to tunes that already would have been familiar to the audience.7 Suggestively, Shakespeare’s characters almost always want to hear songs that they’ve heard before (‘We’ll hear that song again’, ‘Come, the song we had last night . . . ’) (Much Ado, 2.3.42, Twelfth Night, 2.4.41).8 Songs that are sung spontaneously, in fragments, tend to be popular songs that—​for one reason or another—​have leapt into a character’s mind. Such spontaneous recollection tends to occur when the mind is perturbed, impaired by madness or alcohol, or otherwise unsettled.9 The results can be peculiar. In The Merry Wives of Windsor, a parson sings to himself as he waits to fight a duel; and in his anxiety, he mixes lines from a psalm with an inaccurate recollection of Christopher Marlowe’s love lyric, ‘Come live with me and be my love’: ‘Melodious birds sing madrigals. /​When as I sat in Pabylon /​ And a thousand vagram posies’ (3.1.22–​4).10 The most unlikely characters prove to have minds full of scraps of music, which bob to the surface at odd moments. Even Malvolio, once he believes Olivia to be in love with him, brims with snatches of popular song. ‘To bed?’ he repeats enthusiastically, when Olivia suggests that he get some rest, ‘ “Ay, sweetheart, and I’ll come to thee” ’ (Twelfth Night, 3.4.28–​9). These recollected fragments, unlike formal performances, have an anarchic quality. Finally, Shakespeare’s plays include instrumental music, which is generally either magical or expensive. Fairies can summon music when they wish; but so can aristocrats. As Portia returns to Belmont after the trial, she hears music that initially seems mysterious, until Nerissa identifies it: ‘It is your music, madam, of the house’ (The Merchant of Venice, 5.1.98). Portia seems almost regretful to learn of the music’s mundane origin:  ‘Methinks it sounds much sweeter than by day’ (5.1.100). Frustratingly, most stage directions refer simply to ‘music’, giving no hint as to the specific instruments or their number. Musical instruments proliferated in Elizabethan society—​from some perspectives, to a dangerous extent. Even the author of The Praise of Musicke seems overwhelmed by variety: ‘What shall I speak of the Lute, Citterne, Violle, Rebeck, Gittorne, Pandore, Dulcimer, Organes, Virginals, Flute, Fife, Recorders, of the Trumpet, Cornet, Sackbut, and infinite other sortes so excellent and pleasant in their sundrie kinds, that if art be any way faultie in them, it is for being too too riotous and superfluous.’11 Instruments likely did not riot in such profusion on the Shakespearean stage; but the 1598 inventory of the Admiral’s Men, a rival company, includes three trumpets, a drum, 7  For all the tunes that are known, along with reconstructions and guesses for those that are not, see Ross Duffin, Shakespeare’s Songbook (New York: Norton, 2004). 8  All references to Shakespeare plays are from Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor, gen. eds., The Oxford Shakespeare, 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005). 9  See Erin Minear, Reverberating Song in Shakespeare and Milton: Language, Memory, and Musical Representation (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2011), 57–​68. 10  The substitution of ‘Pabylon’ for ‘Babylon’ is Shakespeare’s attempt to convey the parson’s Welsh accent. 11  John Case [attributed], The Praise of Musicke (London, 1586), B2r.

316   Erin Minear a treble viol, a bass viol, a bandore, a cittern, and a sackbut.12 Formal songs were likely accompanied by the lute.13 Players enter with recorders in Hamlet, and Viola refers to Feste’s tabor (which he probably played along with a pipe). The nervousness about rioting instruments, which surfaces even in musical encomia, reflects contemporary anxiety over musical practice and its effects. Crucially, however, discussions of ‘music’ often avoided the question of musical practice altogether, as the medieval distinction between musica speculativa and musica practica remained highly influential in the early modern era.14 Speculative music was music as philosophy, as mathematics, as cosmic order—​true music, in a Platonic sense. Practical music, an infinitely more lowly discipline, was the actual performance of music. While some of Shakespeare’s contemporaries felt that the two kinds of music existed on a spectrum, and might reflect and influence one another, others believed them discontinuous. Those subscribing to the former belief insisted that the inaudible dance of the stars, the proportions of the temperate body, and the measured movements of the seasons—​not to mention the secret, inward motions of the soul—​found audible manifestation in the sounds of music. The author of The Praise of Musicke defends musical practice in just these terms, and gives Nature herself words to speak on its behalf: ‘When I made the firmament I established it by concent. When I made the elementes I qualified them with proportions. When I made man I gaue him a soule either harmony it selfe, or at least harmonicall.’15 This defender of music writes in opposition to the not uncommon claim that practical music produced disorder. ‘If you will bee good Scholers’, warns Stephen Gosson, in a lengthy discussion of the moral abuses perpetuated by music, poetry, and plays, ‘and profite well in the Arte of Musicke, shutte your Fidels in their cases, and looke up to heauen’.16 Music is a symbol of order; but in action, it may disturb the very order that it is meant to symbolize. In this context, it is particularly important to categorize, to separate salutary musics from dangerous ones. But such distinctions, as we will see, proved difficult to establish and maintain, in part because of unpredictable listener response. And not everyone was as sanguine as Thomas Browne, who could declare, ‘[E]‌ven that vulgar and Taverne Musicke, which makes one man merry, another mad, strikes mee into a deepe fit of devotion, and a profound contemplation of the first Composer.’17


David Lindley, Shakespeare and Music (London: Thomson, 2006), 96.

13 Lindley, Shakespeare and Music, 98–​9.

14  The classic study of representations of speculative music in English poetry is John Hollander, The Untuning of the Sky (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1961). For a different perspective, see Ortiz, Broken Harmony, 88–​113. 15 Case, The Praise of Musicke, E5r. 16  Stephen Gosson, The Schoole of Abuse (London, 1579), A8r. 17  Sir Thomas Browne, Religio Medici (1642), in Norman Endicott, ed. The Prose of Sir Thomas Browne (New York: Anchor, 1967), 80–​1.

The Music of Shakespearean Comedy    317

Sonic Seductions and Heavenly Harmonies in The Merchant of Venice The conflict between music as symbolic background and music as active force appears to powerful, if ambiguous, effect at the centre of Merchant. When Portia calls for music to play as Bassanio chooses among caskets, the ensuing song may serve as yet another method of elevating the scene, another way of distinguishing the ‘right’ suitor from the wrong. Harmony is appropriately paired with love:  ‘those dulcet sounds in break of day /​That creep into the dreaming bridegroom’s ear /​And summon him to marriage’ (3.2.51–​3). The words of the song prove equally suitable, obliquely reminding the audience of the test’s moral. ‘Fancy’ that is engendered in the eyes will perish ‘in the cradle where it lies’ (3.2.69). Perhaps the song’s words may also inspire Bassanio to his revelation: ‘So may the outward shows be least themselves’ (3.2.73). Or perhaps, by a process of association quite outside of any rational or moral consideration, he hears ‘bred’, ‘head’, ‘nourishèd’, and comes up with ‘lead’. In such a rhyming game, sound supersedes sense, an effect that contemporary religious reformers ascribed to music itself. Thus Bassanio may respond to sounds, not to moral or philosophical meaning; and the song may serve not as a symbol of the rightness of the match, but as Portia’s devious means of conveying a hint or subliminal message to the suitor she prefers. Nevertheless, despite this rather dubious use of music, Merchant contains Shakespeare’s most famous speech on the subject of cosmic harmony. In the final act, Lorenzo describes music’s heavenly origins, notes its power over the passions, and warns against ‘the man that hath no music in himself, /​Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds’ (5.1.83–​4). Love of ‘sweet sounds’ indicates inward harmony: a common belief, which Lorenzo articulates in some of Shakespeare’s best-​known lines. Yet a closer look at the context of Lorenzo’s speech renders his claim problematic. Music lovers in the play do not always act with perfect morality. Perhaps even more importantly, there are many different ways of being ‘moved’—​which is the right one? The young Venetian speaks—​at length—​in response to his new bride’s statement: ‘I am never merry when I hear sweet music’ (5.1.69). Lorenzo takes her to mean that sweet music makes her serious and thoughtful, ignoring any suggestion that it may make her melancholy or unhappy. He assumes that he understands her feelings better than she does herself, explaining: The reason is your spirits are attentive, For do but note a wild and wanton herd Or race of youthful and unhandled colts, Fetching mad bounds, bellowing and neighing loud, Which is the hot condition of their blood, If they but hear perchance a trumpet sound, Or any air of music touch their ears,

318   Erin Minear You shall perceive them make a mutual stand, Their savage eyes turned to a modest gaze By the sweet power of music. (5.1.69–​78)

Lorenzo’s implicit comparison of his wife to a wild and wanton colt is not especially flattering, yet he clearly means to compliment her susceptibility to music’s taming influence. The music changes her mood; it moves her; therefore she is not like those ‘fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils’ (5.1.85). She is drawn by the music, she attends to it and so is transformed by it. Such attention on her part presumably precludes any frivolous or ‘wanton’ distraction such as merriment. It is worth noting, though, that while Jessica had shared a subjective response—​how the sweetness of the music makes her feel—​Lorenzo focuses on how music makes things behave. In the process, he interprets Jessica’s words to mean what he thinks they should mean. Jessica does not disagree with him; in fact, she says nothing. But as is often noted, Lorenzo’s account of the powers of music can be understood as a reaction to Jessica’s non-​Christian upbringing, and as an implicit condemnation of her decidedly unmusical father.18 Shylock distrusts masques and revelry, and orders his daughter, Lock up my doors; and when you hear the drum And the vile squealing of the wry-​necked fife, Clamber you not up to the casements then, Nor thrust your head into the public street To gaze on Christian fools with varnished faces, But stop my house’s ears—​I mean my casements. Let not the sound of shallow fopp’ry enter My sober house. (2.5.29–​36)

The play associates Shylock’s miserliness and hatred of festivity with his Jewishness. But his sentiments here would have been seconded by any number of Christian fathers and moralists of the time, even those lacking the puritanical bent of Gosson, who urges the gentlewomen of London, ‘if you perceive your selves in any danger at your owne doors, either allured by curtesie in the day, or assaulted with Musicke in the night; Close up your eyes, stoppe your eares . . . ’.19 For Shylock, his house and the daughter of his house are one: both belong to him and both need to be shut up against distraction. In this context, Lorenzo’s later insistence that to remain unmoved by music is a sign of wickedness takes on new meaning, as it was he who lured Jessica to open her ears to ‘the sound of shallow fopp’ry’; and he profited greatly as a result. Though Shylock perceives music as ‘vile squealing’, he is aware of its seductive powers. To be enraptured and 18 

See Ortiz, Broken Harmony, 156.

19 Gosson, The Schoole of Abuse, F4r–​v.

The Music of Shakespearean Comedy    319 enthralled by music may be evidence of the harmony in one’s soul; it is also profoundly dangerous. Music may be employed to lead the unwary astray. Ironically, both aspects of music’s alluring power become apparent in The Praise o