Reading and Writing in Shakespeare.
In his preface to Reading and Writing in Shakespeare, a collection of essays edited from a 1992 Shakespeare Association of America seminar, David Bergeron fittingly allows Heminge and Condell's plea in Shakespeare's First Folio to enunciate his own desire: "And there we hope, to your divers capacities, you will find enough both to draw and hold you." The diversity of topics and critical approaches presented in these twelve essays should prove gratifying for students of Renaissance intertextuality and Shakespearean drama.
In his critical epilogue to the collection, Robert Knapp provides an eloquent bookend to Bergeron's prologue by reminding readers that reading/writing is not the product of a "single institution or practice." Indeed, "writing (and reading) can serve as easily to open up a space of the body," with the enclosed essays exemplifying Knapp's metaphorical suture. The collection exhibits in varying degrees of success an expansive, often insightful anatomy of reading/writing Shakespeare, examining the typographical, theological, epistemological, and cultural dimensions of writing and reading.
In the opening essays, Bruce Smith and Linda McJannet underscore the materiality of texts, delineating how typographies of punctuation and speech prefixes, respectively represent the power of the quill/pen to effect/affect character and dramatic performance. The book also presents a series of essays that range from theological (Frederick Kiefer's analysis of the Protestant "book of the conscience" and Macbeth; Daryl Palmer's fascinating account of staged martyrologies and Shakespeare's application of staging violence in Titus Andronicus) to feminist strategies for reading/writing Shakespeare (Karen Robertson's careful analysis of Maria's application of hand[writing] in the gulling and feminizing of Malvolio; Wendy Wall's trenchant overview of Renaissance texts and the "blotting" of the page as a highly gendered textual/sexual act of desire).
In his reading of Henry VI, Geraldo V. De Sousa considers Shakespeare's deliberate conflation of Jack Cade's rebellion and the Peasant's Revolt of 1381 as a way to revisit the anti-literacy past of England's history by foregrounding the elitist control of texts and Cade's attempt to combat literacy and the bourgeois control of history's record. A further interrogation of history appears in David Johnson's labored deconstructive gloss of Pericles and Hamlet, plays of errant/arrant letters which represent the mis-reading and mis-direction of all letters and all writing.
The two essays by Douglas Lanier and Martin Elsky depict the poetic fashioning of authors through textual appropriation. For Lanier, Ben Jonson and John Milton in their respective elegy to the First Folio and dedicatory poem of the second Folio, interrogate their own readings of "Shakespeare" in the creation of their literary identities. Elsky focuses on Francis Bacon's articulation of his own writings as intended for the lasting fame of the author rather than for the pragmatic application of a political agenda, a desire that Elsky sees Milton fulfilling in his vitae curriculum autoris. Both Lanier's examination of poetic self-fashioning and Elsky's positioning of Bacon at an intersection that calls into existence the modern notion of authorship reflect attempts to resurrect the individual agency of the author from the Foucauldian graveyard of effaced authors.
Bergeron's essay on reading and writing in the Romances heightens our understanding of the intertextuality of these final plays, coalescing the themes of the essays that appear both before and after his own in the collection. For Bergeron, writing gives characters a semblance of control over a world that promotes isolation, separation, and death. His essay is thus an eloquent reiteration of the concerns of all the essays in the volume and the way in which Shakespeare reads/writes and is himself read/written.
HARDIN AASAND Dickinson State University
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|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Sep 22, 1998|
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