Playing their parts: the stake and stakeholding animals.
Laurie Shannon, The Accommodated Animal: Cosmopolity in Shakespeare's Locales (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013).
ANIMALS, in early modern literary studies, are the new Other, and scholarly attention is being lavished on them as never before. A new generation of scholars, developing a theoretical framework that stems in part from the animal rights movement and which has been augmented with contributions from the likes of Agamben and Derrida, is figuring out what to do with the insight that led to Keith Thomas's brilliant, fragmentary inclusion of "real" animals in Man and the Natural World (1983). Thomas historicized the relationship between animals and people in early modern England. He was not the first to do so, but he did it with more charisma than anyone else had done. His readers could not fail to see what was at stake: the fact that animals occupied a different place in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries than they occupy today has enormous cultural implications. Scholars such as Edward Berry, Bruce Boehrer, Erica Fudge, and Teresa Watts (interpreting the "place" of animals in a wide variety of ways) have been working out those implications with particular reference to literature and Shakespearean drama. To these may be added Andreas Hofele and Laurie Shannon, whose work has been appearing for some years in articles and essays. They have now consolidated their research in the form of the two volumes under review here. Both scholars may be said to be interested, above all, in how the dissolving of boundaries between the allegedly separate domains of animals and humans is registered in literature, law, and politics (widely conceived).
Hofele and Shannon approach their specific and complementary subjects with lively wit, extraordinary resourcefulness, and cornucopian detail. Theirs are not books to be devoured at one sitting. But, then, what they are getting at--the relationship between humans and animals in Shakespeare's day--is an issue so large and yet so elusive that it is going to take years of reflection to get to grips with it. It is an issue tinged with sadness as well as the delight of discovery. The latter is what the two authors emphasize, but the former emerges repeatedly in the pages of their books. Animal suffering is seemingly inevitably woven into any historical record of humans' relationship with animals, whether the historical period is the Middle Ages or the twenty-first century. Hofele and Shannon show us, as early modern scholars, how to pay tribute to such suffering: by learning to recognize its distinctive shape in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and by fully acknowledging those human beings who questioned its inevitability. The common enemy of Hofele and Shannon is the ideology of human exceptionalism, apparently confirmed by the Cartesian proposition that animals are mere machines. Neither author would naively point to a pre-Cartesian golden age of relations between humans and animals. But both authors insist on the richly tenuous nature of sixteenth-and early seventeenth-century dualism. As Hofele puts it, the human/animal division "'before the cogito'" was certainly available to and exploited by Shakespeare, but "the signifying potential of his animals far exceeds this dualism and the exceptionalist ideology that undergirds it" (26).
Hofele's thesis is that "the theatre, the bear-garden, and ... the spectacle of public execution participated in a powerful semantic exchange" in early modern England, "and that this exchange ... crucially informed Shakespeare's explorations into the nature and workings of humanness as a psychological, ethical, and political category" (2). The opening gambit of his introduction makes the point graphically, when he reminds us that archaeologists uncovered a bear skull in the foundations of the Rose Theatre, excavated in 1989. Hofele gives an illuminating account of the "process of mutual give-and-take" between the theater and the bear pit before turning to the third element of his triad, the gallows (6). Its connection to the stage and the stake, admittedly more abstract than the often physical overlapping of the first two elements, lies in what Hofele calls the "element of animalization" (9) occurring in the spectacle of corporal punishment and "in the regularly featured whipping of the blind bear" (11). The remainder of the introduction considers ways of conceptualizing the "potential for a transfer of powerfully affective images and meanings" among stage, stake, and scaffold (12). Hofele suggests intermediality (a crossing over of one set of conventions that are "contingent on specific technical devices" to another set ); the habit of thinking analogically (by which the image of the human is superimposed upon the image of the beast, resulting in synopsis or double vision); and Renaissance anthropology (a philosophical inquiry into universal human nature, which necessitated also inquiring into animality). Analogical thinking, Hofele acknowledges, exerts an especially powerful effect on early modern representations of the relationship between animals and humans. Thus he is particularly alert to "[t]he overlap of figurative and literal meaning" in Shakespeare's animals (28). It is a mode of analysis that Shannon strenuously resists. However, as if in answer to the danger of overemphasizing the figurative animal (as in an old-fashioned focus on imagery), Hofele concludes his introductory chapter by turning to the presence of actual animals on the Shakespearean stage. Our knowledge "is scanty at best," he admits (30). But his analysis of Shakespeare's most famous stage direction is exhaustive and serves as a transition to an eloquent meditation on the voiceless suffering of the baited and blinded bear.
Intermediality, analogical thinking, and philosophical anthropology reappear in passing throughout Stage, Stake, and Scaffold, but theoretical concerns are not the book's main interest. Each chapter is devoted largely to a single Shakespearean play (two in chapter 4), demonstrating the ways in which the play is conditioned by the cultural proximity of bearbaiting, public execution, and theatrical performance. The first chapter considers Macbeth as a play that represents a convergence of the brutish and the supernatural, that is, of states "below" and "above" the human. Both are spheres "beyond the reach of rational control and discursive order" (51) and reveal rifts in the supposedly firm boundary between the human and the inhuman. Hofele suggests that Tudor and Stuart monarchs' enjoyment of bearbaiting and other blood sports emblematizes such convergence of opposites, as does the violence done to heretics, treated as beasts and saints, depending on one's religious perspective. Hofele finds the site of such convergence in Macbeth to be, as one would expect, the representation of the witches, and, unexpectedly, Macbeth's "casual slip into a taxonomy of dogs" (53) in act 3, ironically echoed in Macduff's "Turn, hell-hound, turn" (59). Macbeth's last act, observes Hofele in a particularly striking formulation, "turns the stage of the public playhouse into the centrepiece of the triptych whose wings are formed by the baiting arena and the gallows" (64).
Chapter 2 looks at "the lethal histrionics" of Richard in Richard III (and, to a lesser extent, Henry VI) and the uncomfortable contiguity of the stage and the scaffold (39). The paradoxical uniting of polar opposites is again at issue here, with Richard as both sovereign and monster: "Kingly elevation and the abjection of criminal or beast inversely mirror each other in forms of public display that invite synopsis" (82), remarks Hofele. In a startling and effective collocation, he sets Pico's exultant description of humankind's capacity for self-fashioning ("Who then will not look with awe upon this our chameleon, or who, at least, will look with greater admiration on any other being?") next to Richard's emergence "into the limitless self-multiplication of role play" with his soliloquy in 3 Henry VI, "I can add colours to the chameleon, / Change shapes with Proteus for advantages" (90). In both of these Renaissance texts, Hofele states, "[t]he plasticity of human character ... is significantly linked with notions of metamorphic animality" (90).
"Baiting Coriolanus," the relatively brief third chapter of Stage, Stake, and Scaffold, illuminates the condition of the transgressive, heroic protagonist within the body politic. Hofele points out that the three quarrels that "mark the opening, the turning point, and the finale of the play (I.iii; Ill.iii; V.vi) ... replicate the model bearbaiting" (99). That is, in each quarrel scene, "a single imposing figure [is] ... attacked by a pack, or 'cry', of lesser creatures" (99). Coriolanus calls the people "curs," making him the bear. "The play presents him not as a political animal," states Hofele, "but rather as an animal caught up in politics" (104). The chapter ends with a reflection on Coriolanus's outsider status, his unfitness for incorporation in the state. He is at once bestial and godlike--and therefore linked to the wolfish founding of the immortal city in which, however, he has no place.
The book's fourth chapter considers two revenge tragedies, Titus Andronicus and Hamlet, in the context of bestializing punishments (judicial or extra-judicial). Such punishments necessarily destabilize the distinction between animals and humans on which the law purports to be based. (The undermining of the law's "unique" relationship to human beings is the area of greatest overlap between Stage, Stake, and Scaffold and The Accommodated Animal.) This chapter is concerned with body parts. Hofele begins with a consideration of Montaigne's essay on cannibalism and its contesting of the boundary between the human, on one side, and the beast and the cannibal, on the other. He acknowledges in a footnote that the extent to which "Montaigne departs from European preconceptions is the subject of ongoing debate" (121, n. 13), a welcome cautionary note. Foxe's description of the death of John Huss, burnt in 1415, is the somewhat surprising next step in the chapter, as Hofele argues that "the martyr's body is animalized" (131): in the flames, Huss moves "down the Aristotelian ladder of being: from articulate human subject to unconscious, barely living body to disposable object and, finally, to a quantity of mere matter" (130-31). As he becomes animalized, "those officiating at the ceremony are turned into cannibal cooks" (131). The relevance of this discussion to Titus Andronicus and its representation of the mutilated body is worked out in unsparing and persuasive detail in the chapter, Hofele observing that "[t]he orality of sexual violation and cannibalistic revenge combined in the stage images of tomb and pit ... pervade[s] the play" (149). Turning to Hamlet, he remarks, disarmingly, that "the prince and the play ... may seem a long way away from" the cannibalism of Titus Andronicus, but they are not. His evidence? Hamlet confesses in act 3, "Now could I drink hot blood"; in act 1 he remembers that his mother "would hang" upon his father "As if increase of appetite had grown / By what it fed on"; Pyrrhus, seeking Priam, is "Roasted in wrath and fire, / And thus o'er-sized with coagulate gore"; Polonius, like kings and beggars, is eaten by worms. And there are many more instances. In Hamlet and Titus Andronicus, Hofele concludes, the "breakdown of distinction between the state theatre of justice and the 'wild justice' of revenge"--a breakdown that does not always recognize itself as a breakdown--is manifested "in its 'brutish' and cannibalistic figurations of otherness" (169).
Chapter 5, on King Lear, brings together the themes of the preceding chapters, arguing that any wished-for "telos of redemption in which humanity is purified in suffering" founders "on the various rocks of un-distinction" between the beast and the human (40). The chapter begins with a consideration of Hobbes's "great image of authority [which] is a monster" (176) and ends with Lear's "Howl, howl, howl, howl," an echoic denial of "Holy, holy, holy," an "expression of anguish produced by the voice of human and animal alike, an expulsion and modulation of" the breath without which all animals are mere earth (227-28). Hofele's achievement in this climactic chapter is all the more impressive in light of the fact that investigations of the play's animal imagery are linked historically to "the pieties of an obsolete 'essentialist' humanism" (171), as he puts it. In Hofele's hands, human ascendancy is shown to be abolished by the play's myriad instances of "un-distinction." Among the most disturbing is the monstrous, sovereign beast implied in Lear's "Peace, Kent. Come not between the dragon and his wrath" and, of course, the blinding of Gloucester, whose "I am tied to th' stake, and I must stand the course" aligns his "interrogation and blinding ... with the spectacle of bear-baiting, drawing on both its drastic physicality and its association with the juridical process" (208).
The final chapter functions as a kind of coda. Beginning with The Tempest, Hofele finds that Prospero's angry outburst against Caliban, "I'll rack thee with old cramps, / ... make thee roar, / That beasts shall tremble at thy din," locks "[m]aster and slave ... in no less fixed a pattern of behaviour than the bears and the bandogs" (234, 235). Caliban himself, who cannot "be safely relegated to a stable order of the non-human" but is rather "human ... on probation," perfectly exemplifies Hofele's postulation of "the fluid threshold of human-animal distinction" (242, 243). The chapter concludes with reflections on Caliban's afterlife on the stage, especially in the wake of "[s]elf-congratulatory Anglocentric Darwinism" (257). In these reflections, Hofele pairs Nietzsche with Montaigne as opponents of human exceptionalism. In Hofele's reading of Human, All Too Human, Nietzsche "comes at least close to affirming" what Shakespeare perceived (262): the connectedness of animals and humans, that is, humanity's animal condition. As for the baiting of animals, it was finally banned by Act of Parliament in 1835.
Stage, Stake, and Scaffold does what is becoming ever harder to do: it leads us to see anew familiar and neglected passages, phrases, and even individual terms in Shakespeare's plays. It accomplishes this feat at least partly by means of the author's sheer ability to mould language, so that we, too, become convinced (almost always) by his eloquence that there is indeed a conjunction of stage, stake, and scaffold in early modern England.
The Accommodated Animal may be said to share the basic premise of Stage, Stake, and Scaffold: the theory of human exceptionalism, about to be fortified by Cartesian philosophy, is undermined, under attack, and understood to be provisional in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. Shannon's particular emphasis is on the political relationship felt to obtain among all creatures, the cosmopolity of her title: "early modern thinkers routinely understood a condition of membership and mutual participation to hold across species instead of simply stressing the 'divide' our vocabularies reenact so reflexively" (2). Against Descartes's Discourse, she sets Montaigne's Apology for Raymond Sebond. They duel throughout The Accommodated Animal. The initial skirmish occurs in the [pre]Face, or introduction, of Shannon's book, which also offers an explanation of the terms "accommodated" and "animal" in her title. Her discussion of the latter stresses the term's relative scarcity in the vernacular before the 1590s. Shakespeare prefers "beasts" or "creatures" to indicate non-humankind, which suggests that early modern people recognize themselves in the category "animal." The term "accommodated," meaning "well-provisioned," makes of Lear's "unaccommodated man" a general indictment of humankind's disadvantaged body.
The first chapter considers animals under the legal dispensation felt to have been conferred by Genesis 1:30, which gives all earthly creatures "every green herb for meat." This verse, Shannon argues, places animals in a political and therefore legal relation with human beings. She enlists writers from Calvin to Du Bartas to show that "'law' indicated a less anthropocentric and much vaster phenomenon than that plenary set of enactments in a human jurisdiction that the term now usually denotes" (44). This much greater "zootopian" understanding of law explains why early modern thought "accorded certain forms of stakeholdership to animals" (52), which means we need to give proper weight to Du Bartas's fish as "Sea-citizens" and Duke Senior's deer as "native burghers." (This wider conception of the law also makes sense of the juridical trials of animals, which Shannon discusses at length in Chapter 5.) It is in this context that she offers what will perhaps turn out to be the most controversial statement of The Accommodated Animal:
Due to the convergence of natural-historical material and the Christian theology by which it was read, to treat creation's animals and their descendants as emblems, allegories, animal imagery, or topoi--that is, literary/poetic projections of exclusively human meanings--would be to miss the preoccupations of early modern thought. (49)
It may be that Shannon is stretching rather than rejecting the notion of literary critical engagement with Shakespeare's plays, though, significantly, the subtitle of her book is not Cosmopolity in Shakespeare's Plays but Cosmopolity in Shakespeare's Locales. The question for me is why she does not allow the possibility of reading animals as simultaneously "real" (i.e., members of the cosmopolity) and symbolic. It may be significant that in her discussion of Genesis and how it was read in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, there is no mention of Isidore's Etymology, which has a profound influence, by way of the bestiaries, on early modern understanding of animals. Isidore's Christian-allegorical and symbolic elaboration of Plinian natural history is also a preoccupation of early modern thought.
Chapter 2 addresses one of the chief pieces of evidence for early modern claims of human exceptionalism: mankind's erect posture. Shannon collects writers who provide counterexamples. Donne, for instance, allows that while it is mankind's prerogative to look up at the heavens, it is mankind's weakness to be laid prone by a fever. Thomas Browne points to the penguin and the praying mantis. The claim about "a human monopoly on uprightness" (95), observes Shannon, is in fact a claim about sightlines, based on the assumption that vision grants mastery. But "the broader skirmish that 'uprightness' tends to obscure," she continues, "concerns the distinction between creatures that move and plants that do not," the distinction made in Genesis 1 (98). Her argument is that, flouting humankind's panoptical aspirations, animals engage in their biblically granted prerogative to move freely. To elaborate this argument about animal locomotion, the chapter considers the portrait of a boar piglet from 1578 (a portrait that attractively adorns the book's cover), Gesner's animal encyclopedias, and Shakespeare's description of the running hare in Venus and Adonis. The chapter's penultimate text is Velazquez's Las Meninas. In his famous analysis of the painting, Foucault declares that the large, apparently dozing, dog that occupies the lower right corner is merely an object to be seen. On the contrary, argues Shannon, Velazquez's dog is a political actor in the cosmopolity: he "declines to acknowledge the structure of sovereignty forming around him through the dynamics of human vision by refusing to look" (121). The chapter ends with a brief consideration of a print first appearing in 1562 and recycled during the Civil War: A Cat May Look Upon A King. "The cat's prerogative, because prerogative is prerogative, is no less than the man's" (123), concludes Shannon. Wittily effective in terms of her argument about stakeholding animals, this conclusion nonetheless erases the human social and class distinctions that are also symbolized by the prerogative of the common cat.
The third chapter of The Accommodated Animal deals with what the chapter subtitle calls "the Zoographic Critique of Humanity," the fact that man is but a poor, bare, forked animal compared to beasts, richly accommodated and perfectly adapted to their environment. Shannon traces the Happy Beast tradition and in the process introduces us (or at least this reader) to a fascinating text, Giovanni Battista Gelli's La Circe, published in Florence in 1549 and translated into English as Circes by Henry Iden around 1558. An expansion of Plutarch's dialogue, "That Brute Beasts Have Reason," Gelli represents eleven creatures metamorphosed by Circe (among them, an oyster, a mole, and a goat), who offer thoroughgoing analyses of human insufficiency and who refuse to resume human form. The Happy Beast tradition is, indeed, handled by numerous early modern writers, as Shannon shows: Donne, Topsell, Du Bartas, Shakespeare, and most importantly, Montaigne. We have not taken seriously their "arraignment of man as an insufficient animal" (137), insists Shannon. Her reading of King Lear complements Hofele's anti-exceptionalist reading: the play "exposes an abject humanity's underprovisioning in the face of the environment and its moral and intellectual incapacity before the great dramas of self-fashioning Pico had celebrated" (173).
"Night-Rule," chapter 4, proposes that the dark "reduc[es] human estate to the trembling condition of quarry" and permits the "ascendancy of nonhuman agencies" (175)--and not only when murder is afoot. Shannon points out that complaints about the inadequacy of human senses at night appear not only in Macbeth but also in A Midsummer Night's Dream. We have not paid sufficient attention to what these complaints indicate about early modern attitudes about "the deficiencies of human sensation" (184). The bulk of this chapter is devoted to a debate between Montaigne and Descartes on the question of human exceptionalism. Shannon observes that "Montaigne draws on ancient and Christian traditions that deemed human knowledge vain in the absence of divine insight or grace, while Descartes charts a method that, though technically orthodox, renders God vestigial to the scheme" (188). But there is more, she continues. For Montaigne, there are non-human minds; for Descartes, the only minds are human; animals have instinct. Shannon imagines Montaigne asking Descartes, "in advance," whether it is "logical or equitable" to attribute all the abilities that animals have to instinct, when in fact we cannot know the mind of an animal. "Montaigne," remarks Shannon, "widens the horizon for divergences of subjective experience and investment"--and asks, when he plays with his cat, "who knowes whether she have more sport in dallying with me, than I have in gaming with her?" (191). Turning next to William Baldwin's Beware the Cat, Shannon implies that a possible way to approach the confusing and shifting allegiances with which the text confronts readers is to admit that "[a]t times ... its allegories resist interpretive taming because of the text's large and diverse feline population" (199). Perhaps instead we should simply ask, "Who knowes?" (211). The chapter ends with a final look at A Midsummer Night's Dream, whose Athenian youths, "[d]eceived by a human sense-apparatus that does not work at night, misled by creatures who do work at night, and finally stripped of the human privilege of a vertical condition ... make a case study of human sensory and cognitive weakness" in what amounts to a "thought experiment" (215).
Just as Stage, Stake, and Scaffold builds to a climactic chapter on King Lear and animal suffering (in the inclusive sense of "animal"), so, one feels, the preceding chapters of The Accommodated Animal have been leading to the discussion of animal trials in chapter 5. Shannon's discussion of what nowadays seems a wholly alien practice begins with a valuable survey of the history of scholarship on the subject (232, n. 38); a description of the trials of vermin and pests (such as weevils) versus trials of quadrupeds; and, most importantly, a persuasive account of the "cosmopolitical perspective" which held that "animals could be considered as answerable as man before the law--where they sometimes even prevailed against him" (239). Her discussion of The Merchant of Venice connects the "stranger cur" Shylock and the play's abundant talk about hanging to "an animal's fate as a justiciable quasi-citizen" (246). Asking whether his being called a dog "distance[s] Shylock from humanity" or, instead, erases the distance between humans and animals, Shannon invites us to reconsider what we thought we knew about Shakespeare's representation: "The notion of Shylock as simply dehumanized by the play depends partly on a modern sense of animals as wholly outside the law or political community rather than as the subjects of law they could be in the early modern imagination" (247). The chapter ends with the emergence of experimental science and its willingness to subject animals to vivisection and other forms of experimentation, a regime of investigation described in grim detail by Shannon and marking for her the end of a cosmopolitical understanding of creatures. It is her version of the Fall. The book's brief concluding chapter, or Tail, entitled "Raleigh's Ark," finds in the seventeenth century's many attempts to work out the proportions of Noah's ark--how much space must be allowed for each kind of animal?--the final reduction of animals to chattel.
The Accommodated Animal is at once exhilarating and overwhelming. Readers are treated here to a display of wit and bountiful scholarship, presented in a beautifully produced volume that resonates with the author's genuine love for her subject. The book overflows with linguistic exuberance (which, occasionally, seems designed more for the pleasure of the author than the illumination of the reader); it is weighty with references (and would have benefited enormously from a bibliography); and its wealth of discursive and digressive footnotes hint that, although it is long and densely packed, it might easily have been expanded to twice or thrice its current size. It is indeed rich fare.
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|Title Annotation:||'Stage, Stake, and Scaffold: Humans and Animals in Shakespeare's Theatre' and 'The Accommodated Animal: Cosmopolity in Shakespeare's Locales'|
|Author:||Edwards, Karen L.|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2014|
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