Printer Friendly

Death's release: comedy and the erotics of the grave in The Widow's Tears.

The grave's a fine and private place, But none, I think, do there embrace.

--Andrew Marvel (1)

comedy is really about death and dying

--Marjorie Garber (2)

The animal dies. But the death of the animal is the becoming of consciousness.

--Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (3)

George Chapman's comedy The Widow's Tears (1612) depicts the tomb as an erotically charged space that operates as the proving ground for female chastity. Although the play initially appears to reproduce prevailing ideologies about the lustful widow, its female protagonist, Cynthia, instead gestures towards a self-determined future no longer circumscribed by conventional stereotypes. The site of Cynthia's struggle with her husband Lysander is a tomb, and its (presumed) corpse functions as the focal point of an erotic triangle. By exploiting the graveyard setting, and in particular the symbolic value of the corpse, Chapman reconfigures early modern widowhood within a framework in which the erotic and thanatotic converge.

Early Modern Widows

The status of the widow in early modern culture was a matter of contestation. On one hand, the widow was a threatening figure, because she was no longer under male marital control either in her sexual appetites or her social position. The stereotype of the sexually incontinent widow, eager to discard her mourning weeds in favor of the wedding sheets of a virile suitor, was, in fact, pervasive, and formed the basis for one of the theater's most popular stock characters. This sterotype implied that such a widow, particularly if relatively young, could potentially emasculate a would-be suitor through her previous sexual experience. As Lawrence Stone puts it:
   it was generally assumed that young widows, suddenly deprived of
   regular sexual satisfaction by the loss of a husband, were likely
   to be driven by lust in their search for a replacement ... Suitors
   of widows were expected to make aggressive sexual advances, unlike
   suitors of virgins, who in upper-class circles were virtually
   untouchable before marriage. (281-82) (4)

Although easy to mock, the image of the lusty widow betrayed a deep cultural discomfort with unfettered female sexuality.

Further, the widow's unmoored status threatened the ideology that undergirded Protestant companionate marriage. Ostensibly, companionate marriage offered an equalization of the genders as it "assumed that the wife was capable of the sympathy, understanding and intelligence necessary to maintain her side of the partnership" (Honig 64). (5) Edmund Tilney's advice to suitors in his conduct book would seem to support this notion: "Let hir person be sought, not hir substance, crave hir vertues, not hir riches, then shall there be a joyfull beginning, and a blessed continuance in amitie, by which all things shall prosper, and come to happie ende" (111). (6) But Tilney's idea of an intellectually and emotionally prosperous union does not comprise two hearts and two minds; on the contrary, he advocates a companionate marriage that absorbs the female spouse into the male:
   In this long, and troublesome journey of matrimonie, the wise man
   maye not be contented onely with his spouses virginitie, but by
   little and little must gently procure that he maye also steale away
   hir private will, and appetite, so that of two bodies there may be
   made one onelye hart, which she will soone doe, if love raigne in
   hir. (112)

True accord in a marriage is achieved only when the husband has grafted his wife's will onto his own, not so much through subjugation as by drawing her will into sympathetic agreement with his.

But what happens to the woman whose autonomy has been subsumed by her husband if she finds herself widowed? In a revealing analysis of Hans Eworth's Tudor portrait of the widow Lady Dacre, Elizabeth Honig suggests that portraits of widows in the gentry and aristocracy bear their late husbands' masculine qualities. In Eworth's portrait, for example, Lady Dacre presents an imposing, almost formidable figure that would seem to suggest a strong, independent person. But the inclusion of an image of her late husband in the upper-left background of the canvas compromises this impression by implying his continuing influence on his wife. As Honig points out, Lady Dacre's portrait unmistakably depicts its subject as "still tied to her dead husband. By marrying her, he had made her part of himself in a fundamental way: death did not change this" (65).

The implicit question, then, in Lady Dacre's portrait was a controversial one in early modern culture: should a widow remarry, and what are the implications of her doing so? On the one hand, a widow posed a rather immediate threat to patriarchal socioeconomic structures since she now could legally own property in her name, oversee the allocation of money, and enter into contracts. For these reasons, the widow was encouraged to remarry, yet "the remarriage of any widow confronted every man with the threatening prospect of his own death and the entry of another into his place" (Todd 55). (7) Alexander Niccholes warns, for instance, that:
   At the decease of their first husbands, they learn commonly the
   tricks to turn over the second or third, and they are in league
   with death and coadjutors with him, for they can harden their own
   hearts like iron to break others that are but earth ... For she
   that so soon forgets the flower and Bridegroom of her youth, her
   first love and prime of affection (which like a color laid on in
   Oil, or dyed in grain, should cleave fast and wear long), will
   hardly think of a second in the neglect and decay of her age (222).

Thus although the widow was excoriated for sexual excesses, remarriage posed an arguably greater threat to partriarchal values--that the dead husband would be erased from memory.

Chapman's play manipulates these commonplace apprehensions in the service of his own comedic and ideological ends. In this connection, it is well to remember, as Vivien Brodsky warns, that although city comedies would "remain indecipherable when removed from their social context," it is unwise to take literary evidence at face value; conversely, the evidence of conduct books and sermons do not describe behavior but "ideals ... which [may be in] isolation from contemporary practices" (126). (9) What Chapman succeeds in doing better than any other playwright of the period is to create a new dramatic framework for viewing early modern widows, based, to be sure, on the cultural currency of the time, but unlike any single stereotype.

The Widow's Tears

Probably written in the early 1600s and performed at the Blackfriars and Whitefriars as well as at court before its publication in 1612, Chapman's The Widow's Tears was one of his most popular plays. The focal point of the main action, the attempted seduction of a widow in a graveyard, has a classical precedent in Petronius's Satyricon, although Chapman alters his source so as to foreground issues of marital trust. (10) Doubting his wife Cynthia's repeated pronouncements that she would remain a lifelong widow were he to die, Lysander stages his death, stations himself in the guise of a graveyard sentinel outside his (empty) tomb, and then is so aroused by his widow's near-mortal lamentation over his hearse that he undertakes, successfully, to seduce her inside the tomb. Chapman foregrounds the corpse in the seducton scene as the site of contestation between Lysander and Cynthia: it serves to differentiate their positions in the marriage, but also to expose their underlying desires.

For Lysander, the corpse is the necessary agent of his deception, but it is also erotically charged, as was the corpse of Henry VI in Richard III's wooing of Lady Anne. As Linda Charnes has argued about Shakespeare's play, Richard III, the presence of the corpse is necessary to the success of Richard's improbable seduction. Anne's invectives against the murderer of her husband Edward--she calls him "foul devil," "inhuman and unnatural," and points to Henry's wounds as the "pattern of thy butcheries"--express her abject disgust for Richard at the same time that they showcase the corpse positioned between them (1.2.50; 55-57; 60-61). Richard, provocatively, recasts Henry's fresh-bleeding wounds as agents of erotic passion. No longer are they "a sign of accusation," but "rather of the plenitude of [his] desire" for Lady Anne (Charnes 49). (11) "Your beauty was the cause of that effect," he insists (1.2.125). Richard may have committed murder, but Anne, he contends, was the provocateur. Similarly, Lysander regards the specter of his own corpse as a stimulus to erotic passion, a passion intensified for him by Cynthia's expression of grief over his presumed death. But for Cynthia, the corpse signifies the agent through which she is able to divest herself of the subject position she occupies in relation to Lysander: it is the conduit for a gender reversal in which Cynthia becomes--to borrow Natalie Zemon Davis's term--the "woman on top." (12)

Chapman divides his play into two discrete parts--unusual in that multiple plots typically occur concurrently in city comedy. But by preceding the Cynthia/Lysander plot with that of Eudora/ Tharsalio, Chapman establishes a contrast that complicates the issue of Cynthia's widowhood, and that raises questions about its authenticity prior to its enactment on stage.

At the outset of the play, Tharsalio, Lysander's irreverent younger brother, raises the question that roils the subsequent action: what constitutes the "true face of things" with respect to female sexuality and widowed chastity (1.1.141)? (13) Tharsalio's cynical stance (a widow's tears are "short-lived" and "their weeping is in truth but laughing under a mask") counters that of Cynthia, who staunchly defends the vow of Eudora, Tharsalio's intended, to "preserve till death the / unstained honour of a widow's bed" (1.1.75-76; 87-89). In this exchange, Tharsalio sets up Cynthia: he is already confident of success with Eudora, and when indeed he does marry her later in the play, he gloats: "Here are your widow-vows, sister; thus are ye all pure naturals ... weak paper walls thrust down with a finger" (3.1.92-93; 98). Thus Tharsalio and Cynthia establish an ideological opposition that will be mediated--disastrously--by Lysander.

In his study of masculine anxiety in early modern England, Mark Breitenberg observes that "the anticipation of being cuckolded ... exists prior to any definitive signs of its prospect: cuckoldry anxiety rehearses a play that may never be performed since it is largely a projection of the husband's own fears translated into a story about his wife's inevitable infidelity or concupiscence" (5). (14) This comment describes Lysander's initial position exactly. Knowing that Tharsalio's success was contingent on Eudora abandoning her vow, Lysander begins to anticipate that Cynthia might do likewise. However, in this case Cynthia's betrayal has the power to stigmatize him socially as cuckold.

It is noteworthy that the widow in question here, Eudora, is not yet on stage: her vow is reported by Cynthia, her betrayal prophesized by Tharsalio, and her virtue questioned by Lysander. Later in the play, Eudora's servant Sthenia offers yet another report of her mistress's "fearful protestations" against remarriage which, it would seem, are almost too hyperbolic to be wholly credible. Chapman's dramatic device of making a character legible through gossip and reportage suits his larger purpose: the cultural stereotypes that define widowhood are themselves largely constructed from rumors and misapprehensions. Thus in The Widow's Tears, reportage resembles a mock-chorus that articulates prevailing anxieties about the suspect status of widows.

When Eudora herself appears, she contradicts the chaste reputation she has taken pains to promote, but not in the way described by her detractors. Eudora is clearly contemplating remarriage, but her avowed chastity provides a convenient rationale for dismissing a trio of suitors she finds tedious, and she is disdainfully uninterested in a "great Viceroy" despite his pedigree (1.2.23). In effect, notwithstanding her superior social position, Eudora has already chosen the aggressively amorous Tharsalio to be her future husband, and her erotically charged banter with him reveals a clever and self-possessed woman adept at keeping the upper hand. Tharsalio's exaggerated and suggestive vows ("Only, madam, that the Aetna of my sighs and Nilus of my tears, poured forth in your presence, might witness to your honour the hot and moist affection of my heart") are struck down by Eudora as "a ruffian's oaths, as common as the air, and as cheap as the dust." (2.4.239-41; 2.4.255-56) Yet the subtext of their exchange is mutual attraction, and by the end of the scene, both Tharsalio and the audience understand that Eudora will readily assent to his overtures in the future. The contretemps is thereby exposed as a kind of sham: both suitor and widow are mutually invested in the dissolution of their respective vows, which they have transformed into the language of courtship. (15)

When The Widow's Tears turns to its main action, the tomb or corpse plot, the Tharsalio/Eudora relationship frames that of Lysander and Cynthia, allowing Chapman to examine widowhood through points of intersection and difference. For example, one of the play's persistent issues is the question of authenticity: how can one be certain of the authenticity of an emotion or mode of behavior? As we have seen, the exchange between the widow Eudora and Tharsalio is superficially a sham, yet the lovers recognize the emotions behind the mockeries--they are complicit in playing roles. But in a far different situation--Cynthia's extravagant grief in learning of Lysander's supposed death--the witnesses to her passion disagree as to its sincerity. Tharsalio derides it as as carefully crafted spectacle, whereas Lycus, servant to Eudora, finds it moving:
   Perform it, call you it? You may jest; men hunt hares to death for
   sports, but the poor beasts die in earnest: you wager of her
   passions for your pleasure, but she takes little pleasure in those
   earnest passions. I never saw such an ecstasy of sorrow, since I
   knew the name of sorrow.


The audience is likely to assume that Cynthia's tears are more sincere than Tharsalio does, but is her outsized grief--she passes five days in the tomb without food or drink--ritual performance? As Ero, her maidservant, describes it:
   Her pow'rs of life are spent; and what remains
   Of her famished spirit serves not to breathe but sigh.
   She hath exiled her eyes from sleep or sight,
   And given them wholly up to ceaseless tears
   Over that ruthful hearse of her dear spouse.


In the main plot, these "ceaseless tears" become the organizing trope for Chapman's exploration of several problematic questions, which may be summarized as follows: is self-sacrificing grief inauthentic? how does intense grief connect with erotic desire? and how is erotic desire amplified by a setting that connects marriage bed and deathbed?

Highly skeptical of women's virtue, neither Tharsalio nor Lysander accept Cynthia's tears at face value. Tharsalio assumes she is dissembling: "My sister may turn Niobe for / love; but till Niobe be turned to marble, I'll not despair / but she may prove a woman" (4.1.135-37). (16) For his part, Lysander interprets Cynthia's tears as signs of "self-humour, voluntary penance / Imposed upon yourself" (4.2.55-56). Ironically, if Cynthia were not weeping, she would likewise face scorn: according to Vives, "Hit is the grettest token that can be of an harde harte and unchast minde not to wepe for the dethe of her husbande" (31). (17) But Cynthia's tears appear excessive to sympathizers as well as detractors. She has taken instruction for proper widowed behavior beyond prescribed bounds, and surrendered herself so completely to her fixation with chaste widowhood that she risks dying.

Unrestrained grief to the point of exhaustion is akin to sexual surrender, and in early modern humoral theory this connection is made explicit: tears can become a sexual substance. As Gail Kern Paster puts it, "Galenic physiology proposed a body whose constituent fluids ... were entirely fungible ... blood, semen, milk, sweat, tears, and other bodily fluids turn into one another ... (9). (18) In their erotic capacity, Cynthia's tears evoke those described in Richard Barnfield's poem, "The Teares of an affectionate Shepheard sicke for Love, or the Complaint of Daphnis for the Love of Ganimede" (1594). In the poem, the skeptic Daphnis cautions Ganymede to
   Trust not [Guendolen's] tears, for they can wantonnize When teares
   in pearle are trickling from her eyes. (19)

Daphnis criticizes not only the duplicity of women but also the self-induced eroticism of lachrymosity. Like Guendolen, Cynthia too weeps "cisternes of ... ceaseless teares," signifiers of her desire for her dead love, but also for the condition of desire itself. She has so tightly bound herself to her fantasy of widowhood that her tears, ironicallly, offer her a possible release from these circumscribed borders and underscore a desire not to be controlled. (20) Because Cynthia has materially emptied herself of her sorrow, she is in a position to either surrender to death or to begin creating a new identity; she has spent her vital fluid in an orgasmic sense, up to the threshold of death. Thus what Lysander discovers as he opens the door to the tomb is a desiring, affective body.

Remarking on the body of the widow in his play Dead Hands (2004), Howard Barker contends that "of the many paradoxes of Death, the most shocking is the eruption of a reckless joie de vivre created by the spectacle of the cadaver ... an exhortation to live while you can ..." (208). (21) The sex/death conjunction in the last two acts of Chapman's play does indeed dramatize such a reckless release: it is deliberately constructed and provacative. The schema features three figures in a tomb: Cynthia, the disguised Lysander, and the hearse containing "his supposed corpse" (4.1.15). A place of burial, it should be noted, is a space characterized by "nauseous, rank, and heaving matter ... worms, grubs and eggs" (Bataille 56-57); (22) it is the "ancient receptable" Juliet describes as "packed" with "the bones / Of all my buried ancesteors" (4.3.38; 40; 39-40); and it is Hamlet's site for the erasure of identity, where "Imperial Caesar, dead and turned to clay, / Might stop a hole to keep the wind away" (5.1.196-97). But the grotesqueries of putrefaction, of ultimate obliteration, are also the raw materials of transformation: "the corpse signifies ... the phenomenon of becoming/unbecoming," and the cemetery is "a place of oblivion ... which annihilates all distinction," yet incubates new life. (23) That Cynthia stages her grief, succumbs to seduction, and "liberates" herself in a noxious tomb, over a (presumably) dead body, paradoxically emphasizes the joie de vivre in her personal transformation.

Chapman configures Cynthia's capitulation to Lysander's sexual overtures, appropriately enough, by linking the pleasure of food to that of sexual satisfaction. Cynthia is attempting to starve herself, and Lysander points to the "affrighting spectacle of death" all around them as a cautionary spectacle of "wasted" bodies. Lysander would have Cynthia kill herself with his proffered (phallic) sword, (24) but it is Ero, playing the dual role of maid and bawd, who proposes to coax Cynthia to eat and to drink wine, and thus to "make her turn to flesh and blood" (4.2.176). Ero's phallic metaphor leaves no doubt as to the reason for her intervention: "Did not I tell you how sweet an operation the soldier's bottle had? / And if there be such virtue in the bottle, what is there in the soldier?" (4.3.5-7) In indicating her willingness to rejoin the society of the living, Cynthia herself takes up this imagery. With a suggestive gesture of the wine bottle to Lysander, she establishes a linkage: "I'll pledge you, sir" (4.3.68).

As Cynthia and the disguised Lysander become sexually intimate, imbibing wine and embracing, the hearse/corpse becomes a prop to secure their connection. (25) Having functioned as a banquet table, (26) it also serves as an altar when they make their vows, and finally as a wedding bed. Thus the morbidity of the corpse is a multivalent and changing symbol. Initially it signifies the life-threatening self-absorption of Cynthia's recursion, but later it becomes imbued with an erotic liveliness allied with Cynthia's desire to engage again in life.

Cynthia's about-face is complete when, after she has been seduced, she intervenes to save her new lover by offering to substitute Lysander's "corpse" for that of an executed man stolen under the "sentinel's" watch (a capital offense): "I have a body here which once I loved / And honoured above all; but that time's past" (5.3.16-17). For Lysander, of course, Cynthia's proposal only confirms her disloyalty, and he is disabused further by her response to his enforced "confession," when, in an effort to forestall the opening of the empty hearse, he admits that it is he, the sentinel, "that slew thy husband" (5.3.27). Shocked but not dissuaded by this news, Cynthia exclaims passionately: "Love must salve any murder" (5.3.41).

The farce that ensues, involving an actual tug-of-war over the hearse, is a brilliant comedic turn: even with their roles transformed, Cynthia has lost none of her emotional intensity, or Lysander his anger. There are many situations in the play that would have elicited laughter, but none so forcefully as this scene. (27) Yet Chapman's denouement is also serious: after Tharsalio has informed Cynthia of Lysander's duplicity (in his absence), she is prepared to denounce her husband. As they wrestle for possession of the contents of the hearse, Lysander expresses incredulity at Cynthia's boldness: "Art thou not the most--" (5.5.80), to which Cynthia responds, interrupting him, "Ill-destined wife of a transformed monster, / Who to assure himself of what he knew, / Hath lost the shape of man" (5.5.81-83). In Cynthia's eyes, the empty hearse has come to signify the remains of the manipulative man Lysander has become as well as the receptacle for their now essentially dead marriage. In tricking Cynthia into believing she is a widow, Lysander has symbolically made himself a widower. Cynthia's skill in calling his bluff is deft, revealing a self-possession absent in the woman we first saw protesting to Tharsalio, and in the passionate persona of the tomb scene. In the end, Cynthia does not allow herself to be reinscribed either as a lusty widow, or as an unchaste wife.

Judith Butler argues in Undoing Gender that sexuality is never fully captured by any regulation. Rather, it is characterized by displacement, it can exceed regulation, take on new forms in response to regulation.... In this sense, sexuality is never fully reducible to the "effect" of this or that operation of regulatory power. This is not the same as saying that sexuality is, by nature, free and wild. On the contrary, it emerges precisely as an improvisational possibility within a field of constraints (15). (28)

That Cynthia's sexual and social status lies outside conventional parameters after her repudiation of Lysander is signalled by the place she occupies onstage in the play's final scene. As the male characters attempt to resolve the plot's many confusions, Cynthia stands apart with Eudora, the widowed woman she had earlier castigated for remarrying. The stage directions note, "Eudora whispers with Cynthia" (133), and although their words are not in the text, Cynthia's physical distance from the group of men suggests a newly independent position. Clearly, the revelation that her husband is alive has not prompted Cynthia to return to their marital relationship. Her last words to Lysander are unequivocal, revealing that she is finished with him: "Farewell: I leave thee there my husband's corpse, / Make much of that" (5.5.88-89). She is both leaving him with the "corpse" and as a corpse, one that he unwittingly fashioned himself. (29) In Butler's terms, Cynthia has improvised the possibility of a new identity under the constraints of a widowhood that was thrust upon her. She has divested herself of these constraints--mobilizing her sexual desire, eschewing "regulatory power," and discovering a joie de vivre that only her experience of widowhood in a place of death could have made possible.


This essay is an abridged version of chapter five from my dissertation. I am deeply grateful to Susan Zimmerman for her guidance in shaping this essay, to the reader and copyeditor at Shakespeare Studies whose suggestions and corrections have been invaluable throughout the production stage, and to my advisor, Mario DiGangi, whose generosity, patience, and astute advice have enriched my work and enabled it to come to fruition.

(1.) Andrew Marvell, "To His Coy Mistress" in Andrew Marvell: Selected Poetry and Prose, ed. Robert Wilcher (London: Methuen & Co. Ltd., 1986).

(2.) Marjorie Garber, "'Wild Laughter in the Throat of Death': Darker Purposes in Shakespearean Comedy," in Shakespearean Comedy ed. Maurice Charney (New York: New York Literary Forum, 1980). 121-26.

(3.) This quotation is from Hegel's "Jena Lectures" and was used by Georges Bataille as an epigraph to his essay, "Hegel, Death, and Sacrifice" in Yale French Studies 78 (1990), 9-28.

(4.) Lawrence Stone, The Family, Sex, and Marriage 1500-1800, (New York: Harper & Row, 1977).

(5.) Elizabeth Honig, "In Memory: Lady Dacre and Pairing by Hans Eworth," in Renaissance Bodies: The Human Figure in English Culture c. 1540-1660, eds. Lucy Gent and Nigel Llewellyn (London: Reaktion Books Ltd., 1990).

(6.) Edmund Tilney. The Flower of Friendship: A Renaissance Dialogue Contesting Marriage, ed. Valerie Wayne (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1992. Edmund Tilney (1536-1610) was Master of the Revels under Elizabeth and James. His enormously popular conduct book was first published in 1568.

(7.) Barbara J. Todd, "The remarrying widow: a stereotype reconsidered," in Women in English Society 1500-1800), ed. Mary Prior (London and New York: Methuen & Co. Ltd, 1985), 54-83. The issue of remarriage was highly contested among religious writers. For example, William Perkins, who married a widow, extols marriage as "made & appointed by God himfelfe, to be the fountaine and feminarie of all other forts & kinds of life ... it is ... farre more excellent, then the condition of fingle life" in Christian Oeconomie: or, a short svrvey of the right manner of erecting and ordering a Familie, according to the Scriptures. Trans. Tho[mas] Pickering. (London: Felix Kyngston, 1609), 11-12; 11); Juan Luis Vives, by contrast, argues in favor of chaste widowhood unless a woman could not suppresss her sexual desires. Additionally, in his treatise, "Against Remarriage," fourth-century Greek theologian John Chrysostom describes the remarrying widow as a particularly lecherous figure: "the woman who bears widowhood easily often exercises self-control even while her husband lives; but she who endures the state grievously is ready to live not with two or three men only but with several, and can scarcely keep from sex when she is old" (131). John Chrysostom: On Virginity; Against Remarriage, trans. Sally Rieger Stone, (New York: The Edwin Mellen Press), 131.

(8.) "A Discourse of Marriage and Wiving: Advice for Choice, and Whether It Be Best to Marry a Widow or a Maid." in Lloyd Davis, ed., Sexuality and Gender in the English Renaissance: An Annotated Edition of Contemporary Documents (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), 213-30.

(9.) "Widows in Late Elizabethan London: Remarriage, Economic Opportunity and Family Orientations." The World We Have Gained: Histories of Population and Social Structure, eds. Lloyd Bonfield, Richard M. Smith and Keith Wrightson, (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1986), 122-54.

(10.) The Satyricon tells the story of the legendary Widow of Ephesus. Grieving for her dead husband, the Ephesian widow encloses herself in her husband's tomb, where she nearly dies of thirst and starvation. Unlike Chapman's Cynthia, this widow grieves for a husband who really is dead, and the graveyard sentinel who seduces her inside her husband's tomb is not her suspicious husband in disguise, but a real soldier guarding the executed bodies from theft. During the seduction, one of the corpses is stolen from a cross and the sentinel himself now faces death for his negligence. To save her new lover, the widow offers to replace the stolen corpse with her husband's, a ruse that they accomplish.

(11.) Linda Charnes, Notorious Identity: Materializing the Subject in Shakespeare (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993), 39-50.

(12.) See "Women on Top: Symbolic Sexual Inversion and Political Disorder in Early Modern Europe" in The Reversible World: Symbolic Inversion in Art and Society (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1978). 147-83.

(13.) George Chapman, The Widow's Tears, ed. Akihiro Yamada (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1975). All quotations from the play are taken from this edition.

(14.) Mark Breitenberg, Anxious Masculinity in Early Modern England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996).

(15.) It is important to note that Eudora's capitulation takes place offstage; when the couple next appears, they are married. By this omission, Chapman maintains the audience's first impression of Eudora as a strong-willed "woman on top."

(16.) Tharsalio believes that Cynthia's tears are as false as Niobe's but he fails to distinguish between Niobe's grief as a mother and Cynthia's as a widow. However, both women are guilty of excessive pride: Niobe incurs the wrath of the gods for comparing her children to Latona's, and Cynthia's vulnerability to Lysander's ruse proceeds from her overestimation of her chastity.

(17.) Vives' conduct book, The Education of a Christian Woman, was first translated into English in 1529 and was republished regularly at least until 1592, making it "the most popular conduct book for women during the Tudor period and beyond." See Charles Fatazzi, ed., The Education of a Christian Woman: A Sixteenth-Century Manual (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 31.

(18.) See Gail Kern Paster, The Body Embarrassed: Drama and the Disciplines of Shame in Early Modern England (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1993).

(19.) See Poems of Richard Barnfield, ed. George Klawitter (Lincoln: iUniverse, 2005).

(20.) In his treatise The Passions of the Minde in Generall, Thomas Wright describes the metamorphic effects of humors on affections and constitutions. When, for example, "these affections are stirring in our mindes, they alter the humours of our bodies, causing some passion or alteration in them." Ed. Thomas O. Sloan (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1971), 7-8. Wright's book was published in 1601; a revised and expanded edition appeared in 1604.

(21.) David Ian Rabey, Howard Barker: Ecstasy and Death: An Expository Study of His Drama, Theory and Production Work, 1988-2008 (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009). This quotation, as Rabey points out, is from Barker's program notes for The Wrestling School's 2004 production of Dead Hands.

(22.) See Georges Bataille, Erotism: Death and Sensuality, trans. Mary Dalwood (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1957).

(23.) See Susan Zimmerman, The Early Modern Corpse and Shakespeare's Theatre (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2005), p. 7 and Michael Neill, Issues of Death: Mortality and Identity in English Renaissance Tragedy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), p. 234.

(24.) Lysander emphasizes the sexual subtext here by paralleling her current protestations with those she expressed on the night she "lost [her] maidenhead" (4.2.119).

(25.) This tableau evokes the sex/death nexus in one of the period's most significant paintings, "The Judd Marriage" (1560), in which marriage and death are intimately conjoined. The painting depicts a couple exchanging wedding vows in the presence of a skull: they stand facing one another, each with a hand placed on the skull between them. The skull rests on a small table, which stands on a larger, altar-like table. The inscription at the base of the smaller table reads: "The worde of God / Hathe knit us twayne / And Death shall vs / Divide agayne." The painting underscores this eventual rupture by placing the couple's hands not on a Bible, but on a skull, an emblem of death and dematerialization. Lying horizontally at the base of the painting, on the larger, altar-like table, is a naked corpse, resting on a shroud that covers its genitals, across which its hands are folded. The husband's right index finger points down towards the corpse, while the wife's left hand rests on her abdomen with its fingers likewise pointed down towards the corpse between them. The precise angle of the couple's fingers appears to be directed at the corpse's genitals. Thus their resting and active hands, together with the cadaver's overlapped hands, form a triangle, linking all three parties and signifying the conjunction between sex and death, intimacy and decay.

(26.) In her study of early modern funeral traditions, Clare Gittings describes the ritual of sin-eating, in which "the coffin or corpse served as a table for food and drink" (155); the practice served to "draw the community together" (154). In the context of Chapman's play, a version of sin eating amplifies the erotic communion developing between Cynthia and her disguised husband. See Gittings, Death, Burial, and the Individual in Early Modern England, (London and Sydney: Croom Helm, 1984).

(27.) In her informative study, Imagining Sex: Pornography and Bodies in Seventeenth-Century England (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), Sarah Toulalan observes that "this was a culture in which humour and sex were regarded as fundamentally entwined" (194), a sentiment echoed in Laurent Joubert's Treatise on Laughter (1579), which examines the imbrication of the comic and the erotic.

(28.) (New York: Routledge, 2004).

(29.) That Lysander is aware that Cynthia is irretrievably lost is apparent when he moans "What have I done? / O, let me lie and grieve, and speak no more" (5.3.89-90).
COPYRIGHT 2013 Associated University Presses
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2013 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Neiberg, Linda K.
Publication:Shakespeare Studies
Article Type:Critical essay
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jan 1, 2013
Previous Article:Shakespeare's sleeping workers.
Next Article:The critical practice of Catherine Belsey.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2019 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters