Materialist Shakespeare: A History.
Materialist Shakespeare amusingly retouched cover portrait depicts a pontificating Bard, accompanied by fawning court ladies, his left hand embracing Das Kapital. As if inviting the visual joke, "Where's Karl?", this fine collection of essays published in the last twenty years invites the same question intellectually. In the answer lies its simultaneous strength and weakness.
The issue is not left unaddressed in Kamps's informed and helpful historical introduction, laying out the common ground and differences among the fifteen essays expected to serve, as they should admirably, as a classroom reader covering major plays. Kamps stretches the term "materialist" to include not only essays with traditional consideration of economic matters (Delaney on Lear and Cohen on Merchant, unpacking the collisions of economic epochs) but also New Historicist (Greenblatt on "salutary anxiety" in Measure, Montrose on primogeniture in As You Like It) and feminist examples (Boose on Shrew and scolds' bridles) - important essays all.
But the quibble of the cover extends to a deeper quibble with the process of selection or with the reigning concerns of "materialist" interpretation as collectively evolved and practiced. The "thriving mix" Kamps displays, justified by the Althusserian idea that superstructures produce an "infinity of effects," makes "materialist" virtually synonomous with "culturalist." Fredric Jameson in an afterword praising the flowering conjunction of Shakespeare and theory, adjusts the term somewhat, stipulating focus on "radical (or Marxist) Shakespeare," and notes the scarcity of economic study here, as Kamps does inviting future scholarship. Another absence, the work of Eagleton on Shakespeare's language, invites the question of what constitutes the material base of such approaches. (One also notes important, absent scholars mentioned in passing, such as Stallybrass, Howard, Hawkes, and Halpern, or absent historical studies on race, colonialism, or sexuality.)
In fact, Kamps's stipulation of particular "common grounds" itself symptomatically swerves from the economic: mention of "human labour" is subsumed under praxis and mediation of "social relations," and work itself appears in only two essays on theatrical labor: Weimann's fine theoretical study of authority on and off stage, and Holderness's exploration of the Kenneth Branagh business. A similar swerving calls on the "difficult" concept of the relative autonomy of the superstructure, and another commonality, historical focus, is viewed almost as research style rather than principle. The final criterion, "ideological critique" is sufficiently broad to reallow abstractions practiced by an "idealist criticism" these essays are said to have rejected. This may be the case in McEachern's interesting essay on Henry V's reflection of a social order where "fellowship" is complicit with "hegemony." And where, one adds, is class?
What work each Shakespeare play does is wildly various: for Delaney and Cohen it reflects and allays economic anxieties; for Montrose it provides psychological "compensation"; for Bristol (Othello) it defamiliarizes social structure through the carnivalesque; for Sinfield (Macbeth) and Weimann it reflects legitimation crisis; for Greenblatt it manages affect; for Drakakis (Julius Caesar) it unmasks politics and challenges official ideology; for Andreas (Othello rewritings) it resists dominant ideologies such as racism; for Maus it reveals social life generally in the need to assume private subjectivity; for Boose it insulates and prettifies the "real" history of silenced women. In every case what is a material "base" is different: the transition to capitalism, usury, chivaris, state violence, political power, source revision, judicial theory, local ritual.
Are these differences adjudicable, as Kamps suggests in another promissory note about a need for more metatheoretical scholarship? Is the difference of readings play-specific, method specific, or even critic-specific? More radically, do we see fully the "permanent revolution in Shakespeare studies" Jameson announces? If we permitted a more directional, "teleological" history Kamps expressly refuses, might we see "materialist Shakespeare's" history not as flowering but as dilution of or final break from the economic roots of Marxism and from the need to read Das Kapital? What about Jameson's term "radical"? If in the last instance we expect some version of radical political commitment within the "materialist" criteria, why is there so little outrage or social prophecy here, except in the voices of Greenblatt, Andreas, and Boose?
DONALD K. HEDRICK Kansas State University
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|Author:||Hedrick, Donald K.|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Jun 22, 1998|
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