Shakespeare Dwelling: Designs for the Theater of Life.
By Julia Reinhard Lupton
Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2018
Julia Lupton's most recent monograph could be said to follow the titular injunction of her own earlier book: to think with Shakespeare. In Shakespeare Dwelling she evocatively recreates environments or surrounds that resonate with the plays on the levels of both text and performance. She explores how entanglements of text and performance, the mutual shaping of the labor they express, open onto the "neighborhoods" in which we act, and their ecologies. Each of the main chapters is less an interpretation of the eponymous play around which it circles, than an inhabiting of internal domains called into being when we take the text as inspiration to think with, both backward and forward in time and space. In this spirit, each chapter moves alongside the text as it were, seeing it as a space of more-or-less structured possibilities that can be activated (or not]. Suggesting an alternative to either presentism or historicism, Lupton opens the Shakespearean text to historical flows in non-reductive ways, expanding the kinds of histories we see operative in the plays.
The strengths and weaknesses of Lupton's approach are evident in the first of the Shakespeare-directed chapters, on Romeo and Juliet. Its opening sections seek to show how the play's theatrical "taskscapes"--a much-used term in this book, borrowed from the social anthropologist Tim Ingold, to denote an active environment consituted by a mutually interlocking ensemble of things to be done--"rehears[e] the continuity between stage management and household management" (58). She creates this continuity out of the double valence of the "two hours' traffic of our stage" (Prologue, 12), reading this stage business simultaneously extra-diegetically as mise-en-scene, and, diegetically, in relation to the reconfiguration or "rezoning" of stage space within the play's narrative. Thus, for example, the short exchange among the servingmen in 1.4 prior to the Capulet party does double duty, clearing the stage in order to "redistrict" the space from city street to domestic interior, as well as arranging for the party where Romeo and Juliet's first encounter will take place, removing a variety of objects in order to make hospitality possible. For Lupton, this represents a quintessential way in which the play opens "service economies and representational economies to each other" (57).
The remainder of the chapter locates a similar "rezoning" in how both poetic language and things in the play re-inscribe and re-describe spaces and bodies, projecting environments that express particular affective states, as for instance in creating "melancholic assemblages" (61, a term owed to Drew Daniel), which connect bodies to the physical spaces they occupy, in order to convey Romeo's solitary mood: "he hath hid himself among these trees / To be consorted with the humorous night" (2.1.31-32). According to Lupton, "the play's actions and images variously stretch and contract the real, symbolic, and psychic space among actors in order to create compelling opportunities for dramatic engagement" (42). A good example of this may be found in how the play recollects architectural spaces in Juliet's first scene to project a dynamic environment "that resonates in the time and space of performance" (73). The Nurse's use of the "ecology of the courtyard" to describe how she weaned Juliet is productively read here as a primal scene of the daughter's emergence into autonomy (her "birth into action out of the recesses of dwelling" (70)) as well as--via the memory of the earthquake that turns the sheltering dovecote into a threat--of the precarity of coming into one's own. Finally, Romeo's things --the torch in 1.4. and crowbar and lantern in 5.3--function as case studies for using tools to extend "bodily architecture" both physically and ideationally. His insistence on being the torchbearer when they crash the Capulet party opens up a spectatorial world of radiant light and its reflection by the ambient environment, even as it evokes a rich array of emblematic associations with love and fidelity. But the torch affords the further possibility of a different sort of clearing, a demarcation of Romeo's own space into which he can subsequently draw Juliet. This space in turn "draws on the affordances of the Catholic multimedia sensorium" (77) to position their relationship on the threshold, as it were, of the sacred and the profane, just as the clearing seems caught between the torch's radiance and the shadows that define the clearing's limits. By contrast, the crowbar marks a different sort of entry into Juliet's cryptic or funereal space, one that both turns the play towards its tragic conclusion and introduces an element of farce. Yet this destabilization, too, is reversed by the lantern, as Romeo reimagines Juliet's face, radiant, as source of light. In all these instances, the goal is to understand the actions, atmospheres and environments solicited through the language of architecture and of things (see 84).
I have purposely offered a rather extended description of this chapter to convey the difficulty of summarizing it, which stems in good measure from Lupton's tendency here and throughout to build up chapters associatively rather than to prioritize the line of argument. While this practice yields local gems--as with the nuanced reading of the scene in which the Nurse recounts the weaning of Juliet--it equally often feels digressive or meandering. There is no doubt something deeply salutary in thinking about the Shakespearean stage as "a theater of affordances," namely, "an environmental and phenomenological theatre, a space in which things, persons, settings, and forms of life are solicited to appear in the intricacy and volatility of their interdependence" (42). But, as even this sentence suggests, the countervailing tendency is aggregation and the associative sliding from topic to topic--leading, in its worst form, to a certain arbitrariness with regard to what finds its way into each chapter.
Unfortunately, this predilection seems especially evident in the book's introduction, "Entries into Dwelling," where Lupton glides from one cluster of ideas to another, without dwelling on their interrelationships. The introduction emphasizes three conceptual sources upon which Lupton relies: Heidegger's later philosophy, which focuses on built spaces and things; Hannah Arendt's philosophy of action in The Human Condition; and theories of "affordances," originating in the work of ecological psychologist James J. Gibson and increasingly absorbed into modern design theory. But their development draws in so many other theoretical positions putatively underpinning Lupton's project that I find myself unable to develop an adequate account of how these are meant to relate to one another. Lost in the welter of names and associations are conceptual distinctions. To give just one example: it is certainly true that Arendt sees objects as bearers of durability, lending "the human artifice stability and solidity without which it could not be relied upon to house the unstable and mortal creature which is man" (The Human Condition, 137; cited on 175). Arguably, however, Arendt's ethos and in particular her insistence on natality as a uniquely human capacity--does not dwell peacefully alongside the claims of "object-oriented" thinkers, such as Graham Harman or Bruno Latour, who are among those cited as underpinning the postsecular and posthumanist approach Lupton espouses. In a sense, the manner of proceeding in this chapter echoes Lupton's sense that ecological relationships amongst systems, environments, objects, and people ought to be considered as openings, as possibilities for action and reaction, producing syncretic landscapes rather than schismatic ones (as she later argues in her chapters on the romances). But I cannot help feel that there is something a little unconvincing, and occasionally even fallacious, in constructing one's critical discourse in the image of what one hopes to reveal.
I slide over the chapter on Macbeth, which is primarily concerned with how the protagonist's murder of sleep "assaults the conditions of dwelling as such, disrupting commensality and assaulting shelter itself" (85). Of importance in Lupton's reading is, I think, her suggestion that the assertions of the world's reality, which flash up in the wake of the murder--e.g., as with "Will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood / Clean from my hand" (2.2.56-60)--are not so much projections of human actions, choices, or moods as effects occurring in concert with them. What emerges is an idea of "tragic dwelling," wherein the consequences of one's actions are "reencounter[ed] ... as environmental disturbances that trumpet the reality of the forms of personhood and the varieties of creatureliness disavowed" (109) by those deeds. In short, the play's atmosphere is not a projection by the experiencing subject of its internal states, but a coming face-to-face with the consequences of its actions in features of the setting or location (see 116).
This sense of tragic dwelling sets up the three concluding chapters, each dedicated to one of Shakespeare's romances. These form a relatively coherent unit, and are thematically linked by their exploration of the possibility and limits of reparation after grievous damage to the ties binding individuals to their social environments. If in the tragedies an "accelerated causality" (109) leads to the unravelling of landscape and self, Shakespeare's romances reverse the movement, opening characters to new possibilities in their surroundings. This may seem a familiar claim about the romances, but how one reaches such a conclusion matters. In Lupton's case, the overarching concern is theological, and her individual readings are shaped, to lesser or greater degree, by a desire to identify in these plays a Christian messianism aimed at irenic accommodation rather than forcible takeover. Thus, Shakespeare's deployment of Christianity in these plays does not so much negate or reject either its Judaic heritage or schismatic alternatives within Christianity, as preserve these in a way that promises, opens onto the hope signified by the messiah.
The first of the romance chapters, on grace and place in Pericles, pursues the play's engagement with the Judaic and Christian discourses of messianism through the twinned figures of Jonah and Paul, whose spatial and theological itineraries the play echoes. Lupton traces a geographical arc that, beginning with Pericles's flight from Antioch, follows him to his partial redemption in Pentapolis through the graces of Thaisa; continues with his daughter Marina's "leafy bower" in Mytilene; and concludes at Diana's temple in Ephesus, where father and daughter are reunited with the lost Thaisa. This spatial movement embeds in effect a theological one, encapsulating what Lupton calls a "dissolved messianism," indicating by this term "a redemptive or reparative potentiality that resides in human relationships and the promises of locales" (118). Thus, Pericles enacts a "phenomenology of spatial experiences" by means of which "transcendence becomes world" (118), the metaphysical yearning for redemption finding its partial realization in the fragile forms of community and action that sustain and shelter the self. The scene of the fishermen mending nets, following Pericles's surviving the shipwreck, becomes an allegory of sorts for the networking, the building of new associations and communities that the play will trace: from the initial liaison with Thaisa that marks Pericles's rebirth into sociality and selfhood; through Marina's creation of a communal space of refuge and solace, her "messianic house of hope" (141); to the re-establishment of the family in multiethnic and multi-religious Ephesus. At this final location, Thaisa's labors in Diana's temple evoke the promise of a pluralist, harmonious accommodation that might overcome the schisms of religion, dissolving "tensions between Catholic and Protestant, Jewish and Christian, and Judeo-Christian and Greco-Roman traditions." This conclusion of Pericles expresses an impulse that Lupton sees as underlying all the romances, which build on multiple religious traditions but read these "syncretically rather than schismatically" (124), yearning for a world in which "the language of faith ... unitefs] rather than divide[s] Christians" (126, citing Thomas Betteridge).
While more Christianity-inflected, a similar syncretism, drawing together Judaic, Christian and humanist traditions, is on view in Cymbeline as well, where Lupton senses that Hebraic undercurrents have been subsumed into the play's complex engagement with the messianic topos of the Nativity. As others have recognised, Cymbeline's time straddles that of the messiah's birth, and yet the play seems conspicuously to avoid any direct reference to that momentous event. Lupton's ingenious reading locates in the play a "displaced nativity" that indicates both its absence (as an event not bound to single time, place, or theological tradition) and its reimagined presence in the shape of Hannah Arendt's concept of natality, which is to say, the radical contingency and possibility for future action introduced into the world by the birth of any individual. For Arendt as for Lupton here, the Nativity can be understood as a figura, in Auerbach's sense, for natality: that is, an event that retains its historical character, even as it receives its true meaning, as it were, in natality, in every new beginning. The proximate figuration for natality in Shakespeare's play is Innogen, whose autopoesis or self-birthing the play follows, beginning with her electing Posthumus as husband, the courageous act through which she separates herself from her household, to suffer exile from where she dwells.
While always rich and suggestive, in this chapter, too, the readings are not always fully convincing. One such instance may be found in the somewhat overwrought parallel, based on the motif of a suspended sacrifice, that Lupton identifies between the action in Cymbeline's 3.4, on the one hand, and the story of the Akedah, or the binding, on the other, with Innogen as Isaac, Pisanio in Abraham's place, and the bloody cloth for the ram in the thicket. The homology motivates her interpretation of the spousal restoration of faith at the play's end as a new binding or covenant that brings together Judaic and Christian traditions, honoring "courage as well as suffering, doubt and anger as well as love and trust, and Isaac unbound as well as Christ crucified" (169). Perhaps--but only if one brackets the differences between Pisanio and Abraham, most notably the former's refusal to do his "master's bidding," or the role of contingency in suspending the sacrifice (the doctor having substituted a sleeping draught for the Queen's poison that Pisanio unwittingly gives her to overcome sickness on sea or land).
And indeed the discussion of the Akedah does seem a bit of a detour from the remainder of the chapter, which seeks at some length to establish in Innogen's exile from the sheltered dwelling of the court and her subsequent career a courageous re-invention of herself, an act of re-birthing. Lupton relies in these sections on Arendt's idea, cited earlier, that the durability of material objects counters the fragility of human existence, lending it support and stability. The furnishings in Innogen's bedroom are from this point of view "techniques of self-fashioning" (171) that have to be abandoned (along with the self that dwelled amongst them) when Giacomo's ploy forces her "exit from the thickness of things, and ... into a new kind of environmental education" (182). Abandoning her possessions, but bringing her "routines of living" (193) with her, Innogen proves resilient, re-making herself repeatedly through impromptu forms of dwelling in the Welsh countryside. While interesting in themselves, the extended discussion in these sections of the dynamic role of furnitura in Innogen's self-making nonetheless seems rather far removed from the earlier disclosures of the play's Judaic heritage. Concluding the chapter, Lupton asserts that her Cymbeline "is messianic (with a small m) and catholic (with a small c), in the sense that its reach is as vast as its sources and emotional palettes are varied" (194), Even as this sentence forces together Lupton's theological and environmental investments, its final clause betrays, I think, the difficulty the chapter has in holding its diverse material together.
The book's concluding meditation, on The Winter's Tale, is both the shortest and least developed. It falls into two halves, whose connection could, I feel, be more firmly established, made more organic. The first half offers an often fascinating discussion of the place and emergence of the dessert in early modern Europe, showing how this final course came into its own, demarcating "a space-time for digestion in its more reflective and ruminative senses" (199). Central here is the deepening association of the dessert course with "acts of retreat" (204) that enable reflection upon as well as rebuild the ethos and the community celebrated upon the occasion of the meal. This overview is followed by a brief foray into Shakespeare's play via the young shepherd's shopping list of ingredients for Perdita's planned desert. Remarkably, Lupton manages to specify this dessert, first identifying it as "whitpot," a fruit and dairy pudding associated with Pentecost, and then re-inscribing this fusion as a "messianic gathering of flavors and faiths": the pudding "melds Jewish, Christian ... urbanites" (216)." This sense of commensality is then transferred by Lupton into the play's final scene, where, despite its courtly setting, the "emphasis on the rhythm of withdrawal keeps in play the existential function of clearing that gives dessert its dramatic character as well as its intimacy" (217). What justifies such a transference is, of course, Leontes's unforgettable response to touching the statue: "Oh, she's warm! / If this be magic, let it be an art / Lawful as eating" (5.3.109-11). The reconciliation of nature, law and art in these lines stands for Lupton as an emblem of the play as a whole, "which does not typologically replace the Old Testament with the New so much as tap their shared yearning for a messianic art 'lawful as eating' " (218). And, in a final, and somewhat unexpected turn, this desire for reconciliation becomes for Lupton an apt metaphor to defend the humanities in an instrumental world increasingly hostile to its claims: the humanities as dessert, considered not as superfluous luxury but as a mode of clearing that enables reflection and rumination. Her epilogue, "Fight Call," further pursues this possibility of defending the humanities' function in terms not of utility but as the space for self-renewal in the theater of life.
As I hope to have shown, Lupton's is a rich and wide-ranging book, often nuanced in its readings and often insightful in cathecting the Shakespearean text through new environments--as with the unexpected connection between desserts and The Winter's Tale's pastoral scenes. However, it must also be said that far too often the writing makes the going heavier than it needs to be. In part, Shakepeare Dwelling seems too much a prisoner of its terminology. Take, for example, Lupton's use of the technical term, affordances. Early on, the word usefully reminds us that the objects on stage and page are not simply there but make available or invite opportunities for action in an environment. However, after a while repetition turns the word into stylistic tic, and encountering it simply slows the reader's passage through a sentence. Or, to pick another bone, assertions perfectly clear on their own are shuttled through terminological by-lanes in a manner that ends up making them feel less convincing. Thus, for example, Juliet's first scene is described as one that "concerns the origins, limits and spatial disposition of intimacy" (65), a plausible abstraction that needs only a little concreteness from the scene to be established firmly. And this Lupton indeed provides, but only after a page-long detour which first recalls Edward T. Hall's The Hidden Dimension to rename this spatial disposition "proxemics"; and then to suggest that proxemics itself is a concept cousin to the much used "affordances"; in order to give us a brief account of how proxemics has entered into the conceptual arsenal of architects, interior designers and theatre studies. What such a digression sacrifices--with very little illumination in return--is precisely the readerly intimacy with the text, which Lupton then strives to re-discover. In instances like these, excision or a judicious relegation to footnotes would have helped the book substantially. And neither is clarity helped by the preference for rarely used words--such as "intrication" (119, 144]--or obscure ones--e.g., "sexuation" on 123, which I suspect to be the translation of a Lacanian neologism that has not as yet left a trace in English dictionaries--when more everyday alternatives would in my estimation do just as well. This is unfortunate, since, for this reader at least, the stylistic exposition too frequently mitigates the impact of this intelligent and thought-provoking book.
Reviewer: Shankar Raman
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|Date:||Jan 1, 2019|
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