History

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Textual icons

Reading early modern illustrations

Stephen Orgel

This chapter focuses on a particular kind of evidence, illustrations, and addresses what kind of information they contribute to or encode in books. Illustrations in early modern books serve a wide variety of functions. As in scientific texts, they are essential explanatory devices; but even in these cases pictures are rarely merely explanatory. The repetition of illustrations strikes us as inept, an index to the inadequacies of early printing, though in terms of design it might actually be considered a virtue. That it was at least considered an available visual convention is clear from one of the most extraordinary pieces of early English book illustration, John Heywood's The Spider and the Flie, 1556, with astonishing woodcuts by an unknown artist. Illustrium Imagines has here ceased to be a coin collection, a record of images drawn from the material remains of the past, and has become an iconology, fanciful when necessary.

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Spectacular Performances

Essays on theatre, imagery, books and selves in early modern England>

Stephen Orgel

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.

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Stephen Orgel

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.

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Stephen Orgel

The Renaissance revival of the classics was a revival of the classical sense of plagiarism, which was clear and explicit. Don Cameron Allen discovered a flagrant example of plagiarism in that indispensable classic of Elizabethan literary criticism, Francis Meres's Palladis Tamia. Christopher Ricks finds a general tendency to excuse or overlook or argue away plagiarism. If Luminalia constitutes plagiarism, so does William Shakespeare's use of old plays like Hamlet, old romances like Romeus and Juliet, old novels like Rosalynde. Plagiarism is the symptom, not the disease: the attack on plagiarism becomes almost at once an attack on Virgil, Ovid, and Aristotle. That is the disease: literature, culture, and the classics are precisely the problem. Sir Thomas Browne's gives a compendious list of classical offenders, including many of the monuments of ancient literature, history and science: Aristotle, Pliny, Lucian, Apuleius, Aelian, Athenaeus, "and many more".

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Stephen Orgel

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.

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Stephen Orgel

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.

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Stephen Orgel

Philip Sidney's and John Donne's portraits, or at least the iconographic assumptions embodied in them, are an essential part of their literary history. The iconographic tradition in England, even in providing a frontispiece for his imaginative writing, largely ignored the Sidney of poetry and romance. The version of the Abraham Blyenberch portrait engraved by Robert Vaughan, faced the title page of the second edition of his folio Workes published in 1640. Ironically, the William Shakespeare and Ben Jonson folios, despite Jonson's best efforts, made the authors' portraits inescapable for large, expensive and, especially, posthumous dramatic collections. There were four such folios in the remainder of the century, devoted to the works of Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher, Thomas Killigrew and Sir William Davenant. In fact, Jonson's resistance for being identified with his picture, rather than his book, was, even during his lifetime, outmoded.

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Stephen Orgel

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.

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Stephen Orgel

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.

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Stephen Orgel

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.