Andrea Brady analyses the complex implications of the return of supernatural phenomena in mid-seventeenth century pamphlet accounts of ghostly hauntings (about ‘real sightings as well as rhetorical ghosts in political satire’) against a growing ‘widespread scepticism’. She traces this return not only to the persistence of folk tradition but also to a conscious attempt by the Cambridge Platonists Henry More and Joseph Glanville to restore a ‘consensus which was eroding – in divine retribution, in immortal soul, in providence of history, in vision as access to truth’. The defence of ghostly apparitions is identified by Brady as a ‘conservative’ project to ward off ‘the threat [they believed] scepticism posed to church and state’.
Questions of genre are central to Lynn Meskill’s exploration of the ‘proto-Gothic obsessions’ of Ben Jonson, who is probably one of the least likely Renaissance authors to be associated with such an endeavour. However, as Meskill persuasively argues, the ‘labyrinthine poetics’ of Jonson’s comedies and his masques in particular testify to a ‘seventeenth century Gothic as combination of Jacobean charnel house and the Grotesque’. Meskill reads The Masque of Queenes in terms of the grotesque and hybrid with regard to characters, genres, registers and references. In this context Jonson’s excessive notes on the margins turn into an ‘account of authorial creation of a kind of monster out of fragments and pieces’. Thus his marginal references to witchcraft (drawn from ‘a variety of sources … from antiquity, folktales, modern authorities, personal memories of stories and rumours’) serve both to rationalize and to heighten the effect of terror, which culminates in Jonson’s ‘monstrous mixing of the living and the dead’ in his ‘vision of Queen Anne’, ‘crowned by the dead’ queens of past ages.
Beate Neumeier focuses on ghostly apparitions and monstrous creatures like witches and devil-dogs in Renaissance plays from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Macbeth and The Winter’s Tale to Webster’s Duchess of Malfi, Middleton’s Changeling, and Rowley, Dekker, and Ford’s The Witch of Edmonton. Drawing on Todorov’s concept of the fantastic and Kristeva’s notion of the abject, she focuses on the nexus between cognitive and affective uncertainties in conjunction with a historical analysis of the impact of notions of vision, death and desire for the negotiation of early modern boundaries between spirit and matter, the human and the non-human and its gendered implications in connection to the emergence of tragicomedy as a hybrid genre.
The Gothic legacy of Shakespeare’s Wars of the Roses
Elisabeth Bronfen and Beate Neumeier
Elisabeth Bronfen introduces the issue of gender into her discussion of the political and aesthetic deployment of spectral apparitions. Focusing on Queen Margaret’s uncanniness as ‘woman and ruler’, who ‘embod[ies] the political unconscious of her world’, her reading of Shakespeare’s history plays ‘through the lens of contemporary popular culture’ allows her to locate the plays’ ‘Gothic sensibility’ in the ‘ambivalence about feminine political power read through subsequent recycling, resurfacing in contemporary cultural imagination’ such as Tony Gilroy’s film Michael Clayton (2007). At issue in her reading is the Gothic legacy of the monstrous female body as this gives voice both then and now to ‘dark positions in political power games’. At the same time, linking current films attesting to a cultural anxiety about female politicians and Shakespeare’s Gothic warrior queen in his early history plays, she also locates ‘the spectral power on which the mutual implication of dramatic violence on stage and political violence off stage thrives’, as another part of the cultural legacy of Gothic sensibility.
Ulrike Zimmermann marks the link between death and desire (in religious and sexual terms) as one of the key features of ‘Gothic affinities in metaphysical poetry’. Her reading of Donne’s poetry foregrounds the proto-Gothic mode as a way to deal critically with historical and cultural heritage, particularly with Petrarchan love poetry via assimilation, parody, and distortion through notions of excess and literalization, as in ‘The Dampe’, where the speaker’s deadly female lover is scrutinised with medical expertise.
Duncan Salkeld recognizes ‘the fusion of death and desire’ on the early modern English stage as origin ‘of the kind of aesthetic now recognisable as the Gothic’. Identifying the courtesan as the embodiment of this fusion, he reads the Zoppino dialogue as a paradigmatic text signalling the shift from a dialectic relation to a fusion of fascination and revulsion with a ‘contaminating female body’ through a scopophobic experience. Salkeld traces this obsessive desire for the dead female body on to the English Renaissance stage, and to plays like The Revenger’s Tragedy and The Second Maiden’s Tragedy.
Garrett Sullivan explores connections between Spenser’s Fairie Queene and Gothic readings of Acrasia as vampire, arguing that ‘readings of Spenser’s text that centre on psychic processes such as projection, or denial, or abjection find substantiation in the tripartite soul’, as ‘the tripartite soul introduces into the conception of human vitality a vocabulary for depicting and exploring the nature of self-division’. Thus, while respecting historical differences, ‘the tripartite soul enables the Gothic to recognize itself in Spenser’.
The political dimension of the construction of a Gothic Shakespeare in the eighteenth century is explored on a national scale in Dale Townshend’s historical analysis of the ‘complex relationship’ between the terms Scottish and Gothic. Distinguishing between a political and an aesthetic Gothicism, Townshend reads the construction of Scottish Gothic through a ‘phantasmatic projection’ of Shakespeare ‘as our British rather than English Gothic Bard’ in response to the ‘threat of Scottish nationalism’ embodied in Ossian as Scottish Bard. In this sense the rise of the Gothic novel is aptly linked to the ‘othering of Scotland’ in the latter part of the eighteenth century.
Andreas Höfele examines the ‘monstrous legacy of a Renaissance construe[d] as irrepressibly Gothic and ominously modern’ in a reading of Shakespeare’s The Tempest through Oscar Wilde’s late nineteenth century Gothic novel The Picture of Dorian Gray. Höfele takes Wilde’s reference to Caliban in the preface of the novel as a starting-point for a comparative investigation into the human/animal boundary within early modern and post-Darwinian discourses revealing ‘the grounds of the late nineteenth century Gothicization of the Renaissance’ in the striking affinities between unstable early modern boundaries and the ‘metamorphic’, ‘abhuman’ Gothic body of the fin de siècle (Hurley). Foregrounding a fascinating ‘swap of epistemic affiliations’, Höfele shows how ‘Dorian Gray roots himself in Renaissance Knowledge culture’, while ‘Caliban is adopted into the image store of popular science’ turning into the ‘Shakespearean icon of Darwinism’.
Richard Wilson’s analysis of cryptomimesis in The Winter’s Tale centers on ‘an unhomely Gothic horror hidden beneath the homely dwelling of a romance’. Drawing on Kristeva’s notion of the abject, and linking Freud’s mourning and melancholia to Bataille and Derrida, Wilson explores the play’s monstrous liminality, tracing its ambivalences about the boundary between life and death, in terms of notions of resurrection and of being buried alive. ‘Retelling the play as a proto-Gothic text’ thus ‘through a “perversion” of Shakespeare brings the play’s own “perversities” to light’. In a truly Gothic twist Wilson ends his exploration of the ‘subterranean affinity between Shakespeare and Gothic narrative’ with a fascinating rendering of the haunting history of Shakespeare’s house in Stratford visited by E. A. Poe.