This book focuses on performance construed in the largest sense, as the deployment of a personal style, as imagery of various kinds, and even as books, which in the early modern era often include strongly performative elements. The chapters in the book fall logically into four groups: on personal style and the construction of the self, on drama, on books, and on the visual arts. Personal style is performative in the simple sense that it is expressive and in the more complex sense that it thereby implies that there is something to express. The book takes a broad view of the question of performance through disguise. Disguises in Elizabethan drama are nearly always presumed to be impenetrable, effectively concealing the self, whereas costume is designed to adorn the self, to make the self more strikingly recognizable. The book considers the changing effects of disguise and costume both on concepts of the self and on assumptions about the kind of reality represented by theater. As a practice that makes performance visible as such, theater is characterized by an ongoing reflection on the very norms that make dramatic performance legible and indeed possible. Images are never more performative in and for a culture than when they offer a view onto the differences through which culture is made.
This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book examines the development of the concept of the author-portrait in early modern England. It begins with a reconsideration of Elizabeth's famous characterization of herself as her tragic ancestor. The book offers a radically unorthodox reading of John Milton's Maske, and focuses on both the nominal villain and the place of women in the society for which the work was composed. It takes a broad view of the question of performance through disguise. The book also focuses on the growing influence of women on literature and drama in the English Renaissance. It proposes that forgetting, or the suppression or subversion of memory, is an essential creative principle. The book discusses the history of attitudes toward plagiarism, and its relation to concepts of literary creativity.
This chapter alludes to William Lambarde's well-known account of his interview with Queen Elizabeth in August, 1601, seven months after the Essex rebellion and Essex's execution for treason. Lambarde was the royal archivist, and had brought Elizabeth a summary of the historical documents stored in the Tower of London. The chapter focuses on Elizabeth's portrait of Richard II. In comparison with the individualized and assertive Holbein and Hornebolte portraits of her father, or the domesticated portraits of her sister by Antonio Mor, the painting is strikingly iconic. It employs a pictorial formula used occasionally on royal documents, but it is most strikingly similar to the Westminster portrait of Richard II. The painting iconographically abolishes a century and a half of both English history and royal iconography, and returns us to the last moment when the legitimacy of the monarchy was not a problem.
The history of anti-theatricalism from Plato onward assumes that actors are indeed changed by their costumes. In William Shakespeare's own theater for the most part plays were costumed in Elizabethan dress; the Italy of Romeo and Juliet was a version of England. Disguises in Shakespeare are almost always absolute, with a small number of exceptions, nobody ever sees through a disguise. The famous Peacham drawing for Titus Andronicus gestures toward ancient Rome in the costume of Titus, in the center; but queen Tamora's costume is quite generalized, vaguely medieval, certainly neither Roman nor Elizabethan. By the end of the eighteenth century the vogue for historic costume in drama was well under way. The thrilling, visually stunning Franco Zeffirelli films of Romeo and Juliet and The Taming of the Shrew are set in fifteenth-century Verona and Padua, with historically accurate costumes and sets.
The first explicitly heroic masque created for the Jacobean monarchy was Ben Jonson's and Inigo Jones's Masque of Queens, performed at Whitehall in 1609. The masque, for all its spectacle and martial imagery, celebrates the sovereign word. For all the military chic of Jones's costumes, there is no suggestion in The Masque of Queens that the power of Bel-Anna and her Amazons derives in any way from their erotic attractions. Jonson's reformulation of the chivalric myth is, in its way, far more radically disarming than Queens Elizabeth's had been. An important component of personal style was the chivalric mythology with which she surrounded herself. The popular adulation accorded to Sir Philip Sidney for the most meager of military careers, the exaggerated hopes invested in the disastrous Earl of Essex, are indices to how badly the realm yearned for glory as Elizabeth's rule came to end.
Othello begins at the moment when comedies end, with a happy marriage. It also begins, where The Merchant of Venice and Twelfth Night leave off, with the question of ethnic or social outsiders as the catalysts for the destructive elements within society. It might seem that the terms are reversed, with the dangerous alien now the hero, while the mysterious, incomprehensibly malicious, diabolical villain is the insider. The fact aroused the indignation of Thomas Rymer, who in a notorious attack published in 1693 declared that Othello "impiously assumes the sacred name of tragedy," but was, on the contrary, nothing but "a bloody farce". The essential element of the drama that is omitted is Iago, and one of the most interesting things about Rymer's account of the play is that Iago really does not figure very significantly in it. Rymer ridicules William Shakespeare from the outset for having a black hero.
Memory has been recognized since ancient times as a basic element of artistic creativity. The chapter argues that forgetting, or the suppression or subversion of memory, is an equally essential creative principle. Forgetting is crucial within the play's action, too: it is a radical act of forgetting that precipitates William Shakespeare's catastrophe. The chapter explores the case of King Lear, and begins with a famous emendation, which is particularly germane, because it depends on a case of memorial reconstruction. Shakespeare sets up a powerful tragic momentum reminiscent of Lear in the opening three acts, only to disarm it at the conclusion with fantasy and magic. In every version of the Lear story, both in the chronicles of early British history and in the The True Chronicle History of King Leir and his Three Daughters, Cordelia's forces are victorious, and Lear's throne is restored to him.
Comus exists in two quite different early states: the performing text that John Milton initially provided his employers with, and the revised and greatly elaborated version that he subsequently prepared for publication. Most discussions of Comus focus on its political or religious implications, and its status as a precursor to Milton's ethical and revolutionary thinking in his prose pamphlets and major poems. Leah Marcus has made a persuasive case for explicitly anti-Laudian elements in the masque, though these may have more to do with Milton's interests at the time than with the Earl's. William Shakespeare's version of Milton's masque is Venus and Adonis. Adonis denounces Venus as the Lady denounces Comus, as the embodiment not of love but of "sweating lust," and Venus is certainly represented as gross and unattractive.
Hamlet is probably the most famous play in literature, thoroughly international in its appeal, admired and imitated in Asian cultures as well as in the west. Reservations about Hamlet impugn William Shakespeare's knowledge of himself, and Coleridge the advocate speaks with the authority of Shakespeare. In 1769 Jean-François Ducis produced a French Hamlet, the first theatrical version of a Shakespeare play in France. Count Harry Kessler's Cranach Press Hamlet was published in a German edition in 1929 and in an English edition in 1930. Both Voltaire and Johnson intentionally trivialized Hamlet by reducing it to its plot, but there are more ways than one of approaching the plot, some less reductive than others. The real problem, since it is a Shakespeare tragedy we are dealing with, is that no version of the action seems sufficiently heroic to fulfil our expectations of the genre.
This chapter begins with some bits of household advice from the sixteenth century. The first group comes from A Thousand Notable things, of sundry sortes. Whereof some are wonderfull, some straunge, some pleasant, divers necessary, a great sort profitable and many very precious, collected by Thomas Lupton, published in London in 1579. There are no love potions in Secrets of Alexis or A Thousand Notable Things, though they imply a relationship between men and women that certainly render a nostrum credible, given what constitutes evidence of success in toothache and earache cures. Remedies are given for impotence, including the impotence caused by witchcraft, a sufficiently attested condition to qualify as one of the very few legally acceptable grounds for divorce in the case of the Earl and Countess of Essex in 1613.