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Culinary Shakespeare: Staging Food and Drink in Early Modern England.

Culinary Shakespeare: Staging Food and Drink in Early Modern England

Edited by David B. Goldstein and Amy L. Tigner

Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 2016

Early modern food studies has grown exponentially within the last decade and a half. Among literary scholars, several analytical approaches have dominated this critical field: the careful mapping of the social and cultural significance of individual foodstuffs or ingredients; the unpacking of recipes and cooking as forms of intellectual labor and creativity, particularly as engaged in by women; and the reading of banquets as spectacles, both on- and offstage. Culinary Shakespeare's project--"to articulate the centrality of food, eating, and drinking for Shakespeare, and to illustrate the diversity of approaches that have the potential to reshape our understanding of culinary culture"--is recognizably shaped by these preoccupations (3). At the same time, the volume succeeds in re-defining familiar lines of inquiry in ways that break new analytical ground, and, in some instances, reimagine "culinary" reading practices.

As Culinary Shakespeare seeks to address how Shakespeare articulated the questions, tensions, and polysemie significance surrounding food and consumption in early modern England, the volume stands out from the critical field in its expansive understanding of what "culinary" can mean. In his book Eating and Ethics in Shakespeare's England, Goldstein previously asserted the importance of the communal dimensions of consumption, focusing on commensality: shared eating and drinking. In many ways, this volume valuably develops that approach, understanding the "culinary" as including, even demanding, engagement with commensality. The readings of food and drink in almost every chapter benefit from nuanced understandings of how they were consumed within local, national, and global communities. This attention to how the culinary defines relationships--from the economic and political to the romantic and ecological--may be the most valuable aspect of the collection. Rebecca Lemon and Julian Yates bring intriguing analytical frameworks to bear in chapters that broaden our conception of the range of meanings commensality, or lack thereof, can carry in Shakespeare. The editors also offer a corrective to what they see as a critical imbalance; noting that drinking is under-explored in early modern food scholarship, they examine "eating and drinking as complementary meaning-making phenomena.... [and] aspects of the same literary formations" (6). While every section of the collection benefits from considering drinking in tandem with eating, this approach (perhaps inevitably) foregrounds Falstaff, who serves as something of a magnetic pole for the collection--four of ten pieces focus in some detail on his habits of consumption. Culinary Shakespeare also stands out among recent scholarship in its commitment to exploring not only theatrical acts of cooking, eating and drinking, but cooking, eating and drinking as theater. These concerns are focused in the collection's third section, but scholars throughout the volume focus productively on the specifically theatrical articulations of culinary tensions and transformations. In particular, chapters by Julia Reinhard Lupton and Karen Raber demonstrate the value of tracking food and wine as theatrical phenomena by attending to patterns of eating and drinking across the Shakespearean canon.

The first section of the collection, "Local and Global," seeks to map locations of origin, marketing and consumption as symbolic domains that shape the meanings that attach to food and drink. Reading beer, sack, and Seville oranges as commodities with fraught relationships to English markets and Englishness, the essays in this section explore how these relationships help define Shakespearean expressions of community and commensality. Perhaps the greatest critical payoff of this approach comes with Peter Parolin's '"The poor creature small beer': Princely Autonomy and Subjection in 2 Henry IV" which examines Hal's confessed affinity for small beer in light of the drink's history as a "naturalized" English product. Originally an import from the Low Countries, beer gradually overtook ale in popularity, to such an extent that a love of beer became a gastronomic litmus test for Englishness. In the process, increased production of beer contributed to social and economic shifts, driving urban growth, capital investment, and the professionalization and masculinization of brewing. As Parolin explains, shifting tastes were entangled with, and stood in for, these changes, "presiding over new identity formations" including "new models of Englishness" (26, 23). Thus Hal's predilection for small beer--the drink of the poorest Londoners--not only links him with lowness in ways that he cannot completely control, but also marks the networks of relationship in which he is implicated, and to which he is subject, as essentially English. Parolin argues that this predilection also speaks to the tetralogies' concerns about the nature of kingship; over the course of 2 Henry IV, "the unfeeling model of autonomous rule outlined in Part 1 gives way ... to a properly English model ... in which the king's dominance is achieved through acknowledging shared characteristics with his subjects" (31).

The dramatic weight of Hal's drinking derives partly from its contrast with Falstaff's consumption of foreign wine, which makes Barbara Sebek's " 'Wine and sugar of the best and the fairest': Canary, the Canaries, and the Global in Windsor"--along with Raber's chapter in the second section--useful companions to Parolin's. Sebek seeks to "un-English" The Merry Wives of Windsor by mapping the instability that complicates familiar local/global binaries in the history of the Anglo-Spanish wine trade, in part by recognizing London as not only an urban center, but a port, where global trade was a local concern. Tracking how Windsor's wines register concerns about England's role in emerging global economies, and anxieties about domestic trade rivalries, Sebek argues that sacks and canaries dispel the former by offering a global vision of English hospitality that can include foreign goods, while negotiating domestic conflicts of gender, class, and trade.

Closing the "Local and Global" section, Peter Kanelos's "So Many Strange Dishes: Food, Love, and Politics in Much Ado about Nothing" begins with the Seville orange, which Kanelos reads as a culinary expression of the play's varied romantic attachments. Associated through the Seville trade with passion, exoticism, delicacy, and rarity, the orange's pocked skin also paradoxically rendered it a common image of corruption, especially prostitution, and deception. Kanelos argues that Much Ado's rhetorical oranges call on both sets of meanings in a discourse that links the play's perspectives on culinary and romantic consumption. Though the international origins of the orange are less central to his analysis, Kanelos maps the complex connections between a single comestible and the text's larger patterns of culinary language, an approach that is richly rewarded. Oranges serve as a metonymie lens that brings the importance of consumption into focus throughout the play. Just as the opening lines linking war and eating emphasize the consequences of treating emotion as a game, Claudio's comparison of Hero to a rotten orange shows the justice, Kanelos argues, in Beatrice's tirade against him: "men are eaters of hearts," whose "radical selfishness, cloaked in codes of honor and allegiance, is bound to a bestial appetite" that treats women as food to be devoured (71). Don John's melancholic refusal to share the festive table links his determination to "feed" on those he manipulates with this selfishness.

The following section on "Body and State" considers the relationship of culinary frameworks to frameworks of power, particularly the body politic. Driven by the insight that how and if one eats is fundamentally shaped by these frameworks, the pieces in this section examine how Shakespeare mobilizes the culinary to draw attention to religious and secular power structures, questioning the limits of the polity and highlighting the corruption of a false sacrament. In "Feeding on the Body Politic: Consumption, Hunger, and Taste in Coriolanus," Ernst Gerhardt contrasts Menenius's vision of the body of Rome with contemporary texts that focused on food production as important to the health of the state, arguing that Coriolanus redefines the body politic by rendering that production liminal and unseen. In the context of competing early modern explanations for grain scarcity and high prices, Menenius focuses on the circulation of grain in order to reimagine reliance on an unknowable market as self-sufficiency rather than dependence. As he excludes food production from the body politic, he institutes a metaphoric logic by which Rome distributes political representation--tribunes--in lieu of grain, and citizens exercise political power by "tasting" Martius in the marketplace. This logic shapes the play's preoccupation with food and language; Gerhardt identifies a provocative chain of associations linking political voice with breath and taste. Martius's contempt for the citizens' voices is rooted in what he sees as their inferior political palate, and their tasting shifts quickly to a threatening desire to consume him. These associations frame consumption as "a core signifier of one's membership in the body politic," and they outline a vision of state power that depends, at least in Rome, on the "communal tasting" of the body's members to define its own limits (109, 111).

Gerhardt's chapter is bookended by readings that engage more implicitly with the image of the body politic, examining how wine's capacity to corrupt the individual through drunkenness is articulated dramatically as foreign contamination and domestic treason. Karen Raber's "Fluid Mechanics: Shakespeare's Subversive Liquors" and Rebecca Lemon's "Sacking Falstaff" both offer useful correctives to dietary readings of drunkenness. As Raber argues, focusing solely on wine's effect on the individual body cannot fully comprehend the drink's significance, "since that body is always linked metaphorically and materially to the condition of the nation's political and economic corpus" (96). Raber's analysis resonates with both Parolin's and Sebek's earlier chapters, as she explores how the body's relation to wine became a figure for England's relation to foreign entanglement, particularly as the wars in the Low Countries were blamed for encouraging the growth of English drunkenness. Falstaff's drunkenness and resulting vices metonymize England's dependence on foreign goods and frame that dependence as a source of moral and political corruption. These connections can also be seen in Clarence's death by malmsey, and in The Tempest's wine-fueled treason against Prospero. Drawing on accounts of European exploration that focus on Spanish and Portuguese religious abuses, Raber reads Caliban's susceptibility to wine, introduced to the island by two Catholics, as a false sacrament that converts the unwitting "native," invoking anxieties about England's vulnerability to Catholic Europe in the realm of exploration. Lemon's approach takes a different trajectory to arrive at a parallel conclusion, identifying Falstaff as a figure whose addiction to a foreign substance, sack, supersedes his loyalty to the monarch. Mapping the early modern semantic shift of "addiction" from indicating devotion to marking a loss of control, Lemon argues that the trajectory of Falstaff's relationship with sack presents a paradigmatic evolution from commensality to a compulsion that exploits and damages his relationships with women and companions, as the "tyrant" drink determines his behavior. The contrast between the fat knight's encomium to fraternal drinking practices and his ultimate loyalty to sack alone draws attention to alcohol's power to both create and threaten community, a paradox of commensality registered in early modern discourses. In contrast to Raber, Lemon sees wine less as a foreign threat than as an agent of domestic rebellion, as Falstaff's distance from court culture evolves into opposition to the monarchy--opposition driven by his appetites.

Perhaps because they start from the same character's engagement with the same beverage, however, both analyses draw on similar imaginative and discursive formations surrounding wine, some of which Parolin's and Sebek's earlier pieces also share. This leads to significant sections of parallel analysis that bring into focus exactly how Falstaff-centric this volume is. It is difficult to argue with the editors' claim that Falstaff's "importance to issues of Shakespearean eating and drinking is surely unrivaled," and each piece that includes him has much to recommend it (6). Raber's work is particularly compelling, reading the character as the key to a larger pattern of corrupt commensality across the Shakespearean canon. In a collection of ten chapters, however, it seems problematic to feature four pieces on any single character, including three chapters on the same consumable, sack. Even if, as the editors state, their goal is in part to "give a sense of the ramifying potential that a single facet of such a study can entail," the degree of analytical overlap suggests the limits of that potential, and such focus may compromise their other goal of "provid[ing] a strong foundation for scholars wishing to study Shakespearean eating" (6).

In its final section, "Theater and Community," Culinary Shakespeare examines the connections between culinary and theatrical practices and the ways in which both can generate and destroy community. While these chapters speak to many of the foundational questions of Shakespearean food studies--the material and ephemeral aspects of food, the changes effected by food on bodies, the role of banquets as metonymically-rich spectacles--they take radical perspectives that attend to the space of the theater itself, and how the playhouse engages with ontological and epistemological questions raised by food preparation and ingestion. Tobias Doring's chapter, "Feasting and Forgetting: Sir Toby's Pickle Herring and the Lure of Lethe," exemplifies this approach, as it unpacks how the playing space invokes both community and social memory to accomplish specific imaginative work onstage. Seeking to complicate readings of the playhouse as a repository of cultural memories, Doring connects the theater's appeal to the senses with contemporary humoral understandings of food's capacity to prompt forgetting. As Sir Toby's revelry in Twelfth Night associates him with older religious and feasting traditions, his excessive consumption also offers a strain of oblivion that the play links with early modern ideas of deposition, or an active "cultural forgetting" of memories, pushing against Olivia's pseudo-Catholic memorializing of her dead. Like the kitchen, Doring argues, the theater facilitates transformations of cultural ingredients, reviving older traditions onstage in order to consume them as spectacles before consigning them to be forgotten. Evoking a community within the walls of the theater, Toby's revelry invites the audience to understand themselves as sharing commensality, transforming spectators into feasting participants and thus enabling them to engage in cultural work central to the project of the Reformation: forgetting's "productive and inventive aspects that are crucial in ... establishing something new" (173).

In his similarly groundbreaking chapter on "Shakespeare's Messmates," Julian Yates re-examines the culinary from an ecocritical perspective, mobilizing Donna Haraway's analytical framework of "messmates" to move beyond anthropocentric understandings of cuisine, community, and hospitality. Reading the death, decay, and consumption of the body as non-anthropic "cuisine," Yates defines commensality as a moment of asocial, nonintegrative association strictly delimited in time and space. Like Hamlet's politic worms that gather to consume Polonius, any community must be continually assembled by the shared "table," and lasts only as long as the meal. The Ephesus of The Comedy of Errors, Yates argues, is a kitchen that, like the theater itself, enables transformations, and presents a vision of hospitality as a time-bound "convoking" that is impossible to extend or to recreate--a temporary commensality similarly instituted by the abortive banquet in The Tempest that "kitchens" or transforms Alonso. At the same time, the island stages Prospero's kitchen not as space, but as biopolitical process: "a set of routines that constitutes the differences between humans and other animals, between sovereign and subjects" (197). These invite us, like Caliban, Stephano and Trinculo, to imagine alternative routines that convoke other forms of social constitution.

This final section begins and ends by examining how staged scenes of consumption resonate not only as spectacles, but as spaces for intellectual engagement. In "Cynical Dining in Timon of Athens," Douglas Lanier argues for a widespread disillusionment among humanists surrounding sixteenth- and seventeenth-century court feasts that fell short of banqueting ideology, an ethical and sociopolitical framework that linked the sensual elements of the meal with its moral role of fostering conversation. Reading this disillusionment in dramatizations of banquets that focus on their excesses and moral corruption, Lanier sees Timon's parallel meals as similar "responses] to one of the period's cultural traumas: the perceived failure of the promise of humanism" (155). Where the first, apparently commensal, banquet registers violations of these ideals that echo Jacobean masques and feasts, the second, "anticonvivial," banquet attempts to rehabilitate the gathering's moral value by banishing all patronage and spectacle. Linking the titular character's misanthropy with the "souring" of feeling toward humanist ideals, Lanier attributes Timon's pursuit of roots both to his embrace of Apemantus's Cynicism and to contemporary reassessments of root vegetables' value as staples in conditions of food scarcity, framing their simplicity as redemptive. Julia Reinhard Lupton's "Room for Dessert: Sugared Shakespeare and the Dramaturgy of Dwelling," by contrast, examines the dramatic resonances of the "banquet" of sweets that often ended lavish meals, which was marked as a forum for reflection and renewal by its spatial and temporal separation from the main meal. Paying valuable attention both to the role of performance in creating meaning and to the stage as a constructed space that hosts the audience, Lupton argues that Shakespeare capitalizes on the forms of intellectual work that the space-time of the banquet enables by collating dramatic and domestic architectures. In the banquets orchestrated in The Taming of the Shrew and Romeo and Juliet, the theater becomes a spatial palimpsest in which culinary labor and theatrical labor are one, as the stagehands set forth the table. As these banquets variously reframe the stage as a humanist symposium and as a space for renewal, they also lead spectators to reflect on the meal as theater, calling attention to their overlapping aesthetic and communal dimensions. As "both dinner and drama manifest themselves as collaborative enterprises," they activate a "phenomenological machine, a frame for the production and disclosure of aesthetic effects achieved through choreographed acts ... that include the routines of hospitality and conviviality" (214, 218). Lupton concludes by exploring how The Winter's Tale and The Tempest invoke the banquet's structures of removal and renewal in order to highlight the near-magical healing qualities of commensality, and the absences on which it depends.

Like the banquets Lupton examines, Culinary Shakespeare opens a space for reflection on the state of early modern food studies. Above all, the volume reveals the interdependency among different metaphorical and material aspects of food, and the discursive entanglements that challenge straightforward analytical methodologies. Several chapters, particularly those by Kanelos and Gerhardt, benefit from rich analysis of this interdependency. The challenges arising from such entanglements also register across the collection in chapters--among them Raber's, Lemon's, and Yates's contributions--that resonate with more than one approach. While these resonances highlight the range of work still to be done, Culinary Shakespeare suggests how such scholarship might proceed. Offering the possibility of what Robert Appelbaum has called a "hermeneutics of everything," the collection's strongest critical moments benefit from the full range of meanings that attach to the culinary. (1)

Reviewer: Emily Gruber Keck


(1.) Robert Appelbaum, Aguecheek's Beef, Belch's Hiccup, and Other Gastronomic Interjections: Literature, Culture, and Food Among the Early Moderns (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006), 9.
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Author:Keck, Emily Gruber
Publication:Shakespeare Studies
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jan 1, 2019
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