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Shakespeare's Universal Wolf: Studies in Early Modern Reification.

Hugh Grady. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996. viii + 241 pp. $65. ISBN: 0-19-813004-X.

From these three works we may conclude that the conjunction of Shakespeare study with the study of the modern era offers substantial opportunities for strong scholarly gains. I might even venture to suggest that we no longer need solve the perennial question of the theoretical relation of past to present, as long as leaving it undecidable still manages to produce such rewarding scholarship.

Hugh Grady's Shakespeare's Universal Wolf: Studies in Early Modern Reification is historically smart, but surprisingly so, given the virtual absence of the archival documentation we have grown accustomed to require after the new historicism. A welcome corrective nonetheless, the book defends this practice in a rather uncompelling way, although it is admirably straightforward in not attempting a "worked out theory" from its admitted theoretical eclecticism. As it happens, its readings of several plays nevertheless justify its historically complex thesis, which is that Shakespeare was prescient in his diagnosis and denunciation of what would be an emerging feature of post-Enlightenment power, specifically the process by which human agency drops out of human systems that proceed to operate autonomously. This "purposive purposelessness," later to be termed "reification" and illuminated by the Frankfurt School as "instrumental reason" and by Foucault in terms of strategies without strategists, is due for special attention now.

To make a case about historic loss of agency requires, of course, that there be agency in the first place, which means that the very choice of topics itself serves as critique of poststructuralist reduction of agency, balanced by Grady's critique of the "dreary left's" rejection of subjectivity and by his adoption of some poststructuralist tenets. Grady's studies of plays include Troilus and Cressida, from which he takes the phrase "universal wolf' for Shakespeare's figure of reification as "appetite" seeking more and more prey until finally eating up everything including itself. Grady sees the Greeks of the play as representing corrosive instrumental reasoning, the Trojans simply as Greeks without illusions. In Othello, we find that instrumental reason defines Iago, that Othello shows a "qualified" heroism, and that the play moves away from a "racist essentialism" (134). In Lear, reified power becomes monstrous, with the torture scene its full embodiment, and the ending understood not as annihilation but as the clearing away of space for human possibility. The positive side of the book's negative theme and critique is developed further in its notions of utopia and desire, counters to reification in the more hopeful play of As You Like It. While complicated somewhat by reification and domination, its green world, where even cuckoldry comes off as "strangely celebrated," exemplifies the positive qualities of openendedness and self-reflexivity associated with postmodernism, a natural ally of the early modern. Shakespeare, with his deferred meanings, refuses any "master concept," and is ultimately no master himself, a "conservative-radical," as it were. Of course, like all happy endings, theoretical happy endings tend to be difficult to swallow, but Grady is certainly aware of the difficulties as he shifts his temperament to what he with some self-irony calls "warm" Marxism.

The shift probably explains why the initial chapters seem more incisive and critically engaged, where he had traced the genealogy of "reification" and its place or lack of place in certain discussions of the market. Whether or not Grady's more traditional practice of"readings" of individual plays is radical in the way he would have it, it does not seem that in doing so he has fully realized an "American cultural materialism," as he claims. Nor does his complaint that new historicism "deradicalizes" seem to produce a very radical criticism itself, except perhaps in the very choice of topics. Where, by the way, are labor, class, and the market?

Grady signals the political unconscious of the book, however, through a brief, commendatory allusion to the revolts against Communism in the Eastern bloc, a place where, as he hopes to be the case also in Shakespeare, resistances to all-containing ideologies could be mounted. For the Czech students I taught in Prague, however, it was only in the first three months after 1989 that the really hopeful sense of human possibility flourished, only to disappear under the quick incursions of capital.

Richard Halpern's Shakespeare Among the Moderns more explicitly treats the theoretical relation of past and present, as "dialectical interplay" (14) in a process of "historical allegory" (13) by which a mapping of present onto past is done with full awareness of historical difference. Here he uses Walter Benjamin, less for revolutionary ideas than for epistemological ones. Halpern's agenda is, with Shakespeare as touchstone, to redeem modernism as less disjunctive with the postmodern than is often thought, and to reveal its common link with the self-awareness, complexity, and the social significance of contemporary theory.

In the first of a set of informative and engaging studies, the book introduces modernism's adoption of ethnology and construction of a "primitive Shakespeare," for Matthew Arnold, Wyndham Lewis, and T. S. Eliot, culminating in Orson Welles's "Voodoo Macbeth." Countering our perception of Shakespeare's full assimilation into the modern "highbrow," the study complements other work on the appropriation of Shakespeare for imperialist hegemony. The second chapter reads the Shakespearean contribution to modernism from the perspective of Negt and Kluge's "bourgeois public sphere." For Halpern, finally, the modern interest in "crowd psychology" counters and corrects the more optimistic Bakhtinian reading of the crowd in popular-festive terms. The chapter on Frye, who is said to anticipate the countercultural sixties, suggests that despite his "hostility to contextualization" (153), Frye will separate literature from belief and thus recover its status as a distinctly social form. Part of the chapter focuses on a reading of Pericles similar to Grady's work about Shakespearean prescience, in showing Shakespeare's Lukacsian unease about the impending forces of the market.

A brilliant, densely argued chapter on The Merchant of Venice continues what is a rather intermittent economic "focus," by linking issues of "Judaizing," including historical speculations about Shakespeare's possible Jewishness, to allegories about capital itself. Analogy flows freely but often productively here, with Shylock read as the "money form" and Shakespeare even read as the "equivalent form," and with Halpern's auto-critique of his own rhetoric, such as seeing the pound of flesh as "use-value" and as the "Lacanian thing." A final chapter explores the problem of modernism's "hollowing out of subjectivity" and its fascination with mechanization, in examples ranging from an early play of W. S. Gilbert's in which failed actors are transformed into puppets of Hamlet and Ophelia to Schwarznegger's action-figure Hamlet in The Last Action Hero. Again, Shakespeare anticipates both the modern and its critique. Often working at a high level of generality and ideological analysis, the book seems to smooth over the political and economic, without the political drive more evident in Grady. The privileged figure of Shakespeare here is one who, tellingly, offers us primarily "epistemological commentary" (200).

The primary agenda of Worthen's Shakespeare and the Authority of Performance is broad in its object - everything from acting and directing to performance criticism - but at the same time narrow in its treatment, since Worthen is less concerned with performances themselves (intermittently noted) than with "how a relatively narrow, professionally invested body of people talk about performance" (42). Through an extensive survey of writings in each of the areas, and carrying a bibliography worth the price of admission, Worthen manages the sort of sophisticated, encyclopedic theoretical explication that might remind one of the earlier Culler on structuralism or on deconstruction. The effect would be somewhat overwhelming, were it not for the consistent agenda of unpacking the desire within this talk to evade interpretive responsibility by seeking "authority" elsewhere, whether in the text or in an imagined Shakespeare.

The central issue, raised initially by Roland Barthes, is that of authority among readers and performers, who typically reveal that "Shakespeare" is the regulating function of interpretation as one moves, along lines of privilege, from "page to stage." Beginning with his theoretical position that the stage is simply "one place where meanings are" rather than secondary or even primary, what seems to be envisioned is a realm where directors, actors, and critics interpret, as it were, without a net, or without the false security of a grounding in Shakespeare or text. The theoretical reason for responsibility in any case is that the modes of production of meaning involved here are "incommensurable," different kinds of work, and therefore not subject to the often assumed forms of adjudication and equivalency. Ultimately Worthen gives performance, therefore, its own private theoretical space, in which gestures, intonation, and the body provide the "textualizing formalities that render theater significant"(169). Thus carefully jockeying the issues, Worthen adapts Foucault's famous question about authors into his question, "Who speaks for Shakespeare?" (38). Who usually speaks is a conservative, dominant "Shakespeare ideology" serving present institutional purposes.

The second chapter reviews director talk, including Brooks, Marowitz, Miller, and others. In a more sustained consideration of Peter Sellars's controversial, Los Angeles riot-inspired Merchant of Venice, Worthen finds the racial casting to confuse the implications of the play for both past and present. More favorably regarded is Anna Deavere Smith's Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992, which is more direct in drawing from the voices of its city inhabitants, and which "generates" meanings rather than merely cites them. The next chapter, on actor talk, is especially extensive. As he again unpacks this talk for some incoherences and especially for concealed allegiance to a regulatory Shakespeare, Worthen is largely benevolent in his skepticism, granting serious purposes to self-descriptions and analyses of the actors, though sometimes noting their interpretive vulnerabilities - for instance, that the "eclectic feel" of some of their justifications and performances reminds one of that in the new historicism.

Finally, in his treatment of performance criticism, which includes Brown, Styan, McGuire, Beckerman, Goldman, and others, Worthen makes explicit his theoretical position that "no performance can directly articulate meanings framed in another discourse" (168). In essence, Worthen has reproduced through his approach the longstanding issue of aesthetics, assimilating the position claiming the distinctiveness of each of the arts. Wary of intruding on performance itself, the approach is less wary of intruding on talk about performance, mastered through theory just as performance is left unmastered. The subtext of the book seems to go beyond an ethics of responsibility, looking toward an ethics of authenticity. After its careful diplomacy, the book's anticlimactic conclusion, that we must ultimately "authorize ourselves," may evoke a lingering wish that the claims might be less safe and or might be driven by issues other than epistemological ones - a limitation perhaps shared in different ways and to different degrees by all three authors reviewed here, and probably by most of us as well.

Kansas State University
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Hedrick, Donald K.
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 1999
Previous Article:Breaking Boundaries: Politics and Play in the Drama of Shakespeare and his Contemporaries.
Next Article:Shakespeare Among the Moderns.

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