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Marlowe's Soldiers: Rhetorics of Masculinity in the Age of the Armada.

Alan C. Shepard. Marlowe's Soldiers: Rhetorics of Masculinity in the Age of the Armada.

Aldershot and Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2002. viii + 248 pp. index. bibl. $69.95. ISBN: 0-7546-0229-X.

Alan Shepard's new book is a welcome addition to recent historicist studies of Marlowe, drawing upon and augmenting influential works by Emily Bartels, Simon Shepherd, Nick de Somogyi, and Curtis Breight. Shepard considers Marlowe's plays in the context of an ongoing discourse concerning militarism, masculinity, and state security that took place in England during the years following the defeat of the Spanish Armada. He argues that the plays present contradictory and frequently subversive attitudes toward the rhetoric of war fever that marked those years, and he attempts to explain "how and why," in a culture in which theatricality and soldiership were conventionally opposed, "Marlowe's plays make entertainment of a wealth of historically and geopolitically divergent fantasies about martial law and its discontents" (2).

Central to his study is an analysis of the "theatrics of masculinity" (3) in Marlowe's plays. Shepard outlines the rigid code of masculinity that was considered necessary for successful soldiership and the maintenance of state security in the 1580s and 1590s, and he examines the ways in which Marlowe's works repeatedly suggest, to the contrary, that both masculinity and militarism are inevitably performative, simply matters of "playing the soldier." In making this argument, Shepard draws not only upon contemporary military handbooks, pamphlets, royal proclamations, and plays, but also upon Judith Butler's theories of gender performance and Klaus Theweleit's study of twentieth-century German soldiers, using the latter to gesture towards suggestive similarities between the "imaginations of modern fascists" and the fantasies of Marlowe's military men (15).

The book as a whole is organized in shape of a parabola, moving from "the apparent endorsement" of hypermilitarism in Tamburlaine to "the apparent repudiation of it in Faustus" (15). Shepard argues, less conventionally, that "Faustus also recants the antitheatrical axioms in Tambulaine and elsewhere that players have nothing to contribute to state security" (15). Tamburlaine is, in his view, marked by an extreme anxiety about performativity; the play's frequent characterization of war as a game is a (not always successful) attempt on the part of Tamburlaine and his men to ward off these anxieties, to "innoculate" themselves against "the Protean heresy" (36). In Faustus, by contrast, "predatory play" is seen as aggressive action, potentially contributing to national security; both the A and the B texts revel "without perceptible irony ... in war fever" and jingoistic sentiments (175). This reading is both the most provocative and the least persuasive of Shepard's analyses. As Shepard is well aware, the oppositions this play sets up insistently collapse into one other: he brushes aside evidence he himself collects that Faustus's playing is just as meretricious--and just as meaningless--as the actions of those he opposes. Indeed, the assessments of the efficacy of play in Faustus and Tamburlaine could equally well (and to my mind, more appropriately) be reversed. But Shepard, who is acutely sensitive to Marlovian ambiguities, seems clearly conscious of these possibilities, and he makes an interesting and carefully nuanced case for his point of view.

Along the way, he presents us with many compelling insights into Marlowe's plays. In a suggestive reading of The Jew of Malta, he proposes that the play explores the links and the conflicts between war and commerce in early modern England, "staging a collision between ancient and contemporary modes of empire" (118). He furthers his critique of heroic masculinity with incisive analysis of Dido and Edward II. And he argues forcefully that the often-reviled Massacre at Paris represents a more subtle and complex response to the events it describes than is generally assumed.

On the whole, this is an intelligent and stimulating book; it should be of interest not only to critics of Marlowe, but to anyone studying the politics--and the sexual politics--of early modern England.


Tufts University
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Title Annotation:Reviews
Author:Haber, Judith
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 2004
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