Printer Friendly

Enclosure Acts: Sexuality, Property and Culture in Early Modern England.

Enclosure Acts is an unusually substantial and cohesive anthology that, as its editors justly claim, serves as a valuable index of the achievements and theoretical dilemmas of recent Renaissance studies. The volume's basic methodological rationale is the assumed connection between apparently different modes of cultural activity in early-modern England: namely, the "enclosure and consolidation of land" and "the redefinition and enclosure of sexuality and the body" (1). Its fourteen essays provide important new evidence for the relation between what Raymond Williams wittily labeled culture and agriculture, and also for a related but slightly different homology between the so-called "personal" (sex, gender, the body) and the "political" (property, law, state power). In theoretical terms, as the editors suggest, this homology also evokes an opposition between a Foucauldian narrative of prohibition in the realm of the body, and an implicitly Marxist narrative of the discursive strategies with which capitalism gradually reorganizes social life around the imperatives of the market.

Accordingly, the volume begins with James Siemon's analysis of the debate about land enclosure in early modern England, which manages to pinpoint the delicate ideological shift that turned the very idea of profit into "a proper end of property rather than a synonym for appropriation and violation of the moral economy" (23); and William C. Carroll's survey of how the vagabond or "masterless man" became a crucial Other in the construction of this nascent capitalist ideology. From these - the most specifically historical of the volume's essays - a series of other fine scholars examine various related discursive processes at work in Shakespeare's histories (Thomas Cartelli and Phyllis Rackin), in the discourse of witchcraft (Deborah Willis), in The Faerie Queene (Michael C. Schoenfeldt), and in Marlowe's Edward II (Judith Haber), interspersed with Richard Martin's discussion of the construction of "maternity" via "local" observations on Shakespeare's son-in-law (the physician John Hall) and Lynda Boose's re-thinking of late Elizabethan satire. In the second half, the focus shifts largely to lyric poetry, proceeding from Jonathan Gil Harris' ingenious analysis of the corporeal metaphor as applied to the developing water supply of Jacobean London, through several surveys of the historical contexts of Marvell's pastoral poems (by John Rogers, Cristina Malcolmson and Jonathan Crewe), and culminating in Juliet Fleming's consideration of the dictionary as a discursive tool operating within the registers of gender and class.

As a whole, the collection also illustrates an intriguing aspect of contemporary cultural theory, in that its basic assumption of a homology between the changing mode of economic production in early-modern England and various discursive or cultural activities would seem to place the book squarely within a classically Marxist problematic. In fact, however, Marx is only rarely invoked in these pages. Instead, in the name of a kind of pluralism, the editors concede that, given a theoretical climate in which each different approach insists "on the priority of its categories," they and their contributors refuse to attempt a synthesis" (2). As a result, this volume as a whole retreats from a full-fledged Marxist commitment to economic determination "in the last instance," which can be seen to problematize its basic project. In other words, if the enclosure of land did not, in however mediated and indirect a way, "produce" the various "superstructural" developments which are attended to here with such impressive care, then what really justifies the juxtaposition of otherwise incommensurate materials? To consider a particular homology between economic history and the more elusive cultural sphere of bodies and behaviors, without some attempt to theorize their causal relationship, sometimes seems merely to reproduce a conclusion long ago assumed in the Marxist tradition: that, as Malcolmson puts it, "poetry, like the land, is inherently implicated in the monetary and commercial practices of society" (257). For this reader, however, these finely-detailed essays ultimately join to support the somewhat larger conclusion that social life is a seamless totality of semi-autonomous but inextricably linked cultural activities within which the economic remains paramount.

COPYRIGHT 1996 Renaissance Society of America
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Shershow, Scott Cutler
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 1996
Previous Article:Dangerous Familiars: Representations of Domestic Crime in England, 1550-1700.
Next Article:The Reign of Edward III: Crown and Political Society in England, 1327-1377.

Related Articles
A Rural Society After the Black Death: Essex, 1350-1535.
Pillars of Salt, Monuments of Grace: New England Crime Literature and the Origins of American Popular Culture, 1674-1860.
Sodometries: Renaissance Texts, Modern Sexualities.
The Keys to Happiness: Sex and the Search for Modernity in Fin-de-Siecle Russia.
Place and Displacement in the Renaissance.
Domestic Dangers: Women, Words, and Sex in Early Modern London.
Women in Early Modern England 1550-1720.
Christianity and Sexuality in the Early Modern World: Regulating Desire, Reforming Practice.
Maternal Measures: Figuring Caregiving in the Early Modern Period. .

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2022 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters |