Shakespeare, Love and Service.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008. viii + 318 pp. index, bibl. $99. ISBN: 978-0-521-88639-0.
Master/servant relationships represented a fundamental part of everyday life for people of all classes in early modern England. While this is hardly news to most scholars, literary critics have only recently begun to seriously examine service with respect to the period's drama. The late 1990s witnessed Mark Thornton Burnett's Masters and Servants in English Renaissance Drama and Culture, which treats popular literature and the non-Shakespearean canon; it was not until 2005 that critics such as Michael Neill, Linda Anderson, Judith Weil, and David Evett oriented the topic toward Shakespeare. Schalkwyk's study contributes to this conversation by introducing love--in all its maddening abstraction--as a concept intimately related to service. Acknowledging that both terms are notoriously "messy," Schalkwyk nevertheless maintains that "If we put love and service together, every symbolic act that Shakespeare committed to paper or through performance may be said to be 'about' this interaction. Shakespeare's mimetic art depends in the deepest sense of the word on the conjunctive play of love and service" (1). Schalkwyk traces this thesis across early, middle, and late plays from all four major genres: The Taming of the Shrew, A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Comedy of Errors, The Tempest, Twelfth Night, Timon of Athens, both parts of Henry IV, Antony and Cleopatra, King Lear, Othello, and The Winter's Tale. At regular intervals, he relates the plays' treatment of service to Shakespeare's own servant relationships as scripted in the sonnets.
Schalkwyk compellingly analyzes how the affective dimensions of love and service mediate and complicate the social structures that engender them. While he makes good use of earlier materialist scholarship, he argues overall that strictly materialist readings, with their emphasis on historical narratives of power and oppression, cannot entirely illuminate the ways in which love and service intermingle. Although conduct book writers frequently employed the idea of love-in-obedience as a way to rationalize hierarchy, Schalkwyk urges us nonetheless to take seriously the possibility that love could exist as a positive force in such relationships. Schalkwyk often finds this dynamic in unexpected places. For example, while one might expect the section on Antony and Cleopatra to treat primarily the faithful servant Enobarbus, instead the love-in-service model is applied to a reading of the titular lovers themselves, who display a union in which Cleopatra functions as both master and servant to Antony--roles made manifest in her own self-conscious performance of love. Likewise, while much has been written already about Iago's manipulation of service in Othello, far less attention has been paid to Emilia as herself a complex embodiment of service. Schalkwyk finds real moral agency in Emilia who, like Kent in King Lear, serves most faithfully when she actually disobeys patriarchal authority. Thus the figure of the servant who blindly follows all orders is replaced by servants who love their masters and mistresses enough to refuse morally specious orders. With this model, Schalkwyk finds that it is Shakespeare's women who best manage to combine love and service. The final chapter elaborates on this observation with respect to Paulina in The Winter's Tale, the bold and outspoken "mankind witch" whose frank disapproval of her master's actions ultimately steers him toward redemption. Throughout, Schalkwyk reminds us that these portrayals are circumscribed by the hierarchies of theatrical culture itself; the players themselves serve patrons, impresarios, and paying audiences, all while challenging theoretical hierarchies through the fluidity allowed by performance.
As a whole, Schalkwyk's book productively challenges conceptions of early modern England as a society in which simplistic, unqualified mastery and obedience exerted a stronghold over human experience. Shakespeare's sustaining interest in affect and agency illuminates the cracks in the "Elizabethan world picture"--vertical relationships of dependency quickly become far less linear than any totalizing social description can convey. Given that Schalkwyk looks to the women as embodiments of love-in-service at its best, much more could be said regarding the nascent ideal of companionate marriage and how service might be applied toward a deeper understanding of marriage as a transition from dependent childhood to ethically responsible maturity (for both women and men). This study adds much to the field's enduring interest in the dramatic enactment of social relationships, both within the plays and in the business of playing itself.
University of Missouri, Kansas City
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|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Dec 22, 2008|
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