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Shakespeare and the Geography of Difference.

This book argues that Shakespeare's geographic imagination and the early modern cartographic revolution of Ortelius and Mercator known as "the new geography" are mutually constitutive. John Gillies shows that Shakespeare's dramatic process of representing a character (such as Cleopatra, Caliban, Othello, Aaron or Shylock) as ethnically and racially "other" replicates the process by which Renaissance cartography preemptively portrays distant places as culturally alien. To be "other" in Shakespeare is necessarily to be geographically "other" in origin: distance and difference are inextricable. Gillies resists a limited consideration of the geographic background or the implications of British colonial discourse in Shakespeare's plays. Instead, he deploys a revised Viconian notion of "poetic geography" that comes to Shakespeare already deeply figural, already literarily charged with more than the merely literal. This claim may initially seem thematic, a precise chiasmus in which Shakespeare's poetic imagination is geographic and Shakespeare's geography is poetic, but Gillies demonstrates that a map is "a semiological (or signifying) activity rather than an inert artifact" (54). Ambiguous, ornamental, soliciting complex modes of interpretation, susceptible to different and conflicting uses, "maps, in short, are like poems" (55). By extension, in a sophisticated reading of the pervasive theatricum mundi topos, Gillies contends that the Globe Theater itself functions as a three-dimensional mappemonde to the same extent that "all the world is a stage."

This brief description does not have room to account for Gillies' theoretical rigor and methodological skill. Throughout the book, he meticulously explicates the cartographic theory and history crucial to his argument (the long series of plates does much to make clear what is at stake). Moreover, and unusually, Gillies refuses to subsume his argument about Shakespeare and geography in an argument about The Tempest. From an obscure reference to "the new map, with the/augmentation of the Indies" in Twelfth Night to the on-stage map with which Lear divides his kingdom, Gillies' account of Shakespeare's geographic imagination draws impressive results from wide-ranging and sometimes tiny details.

Gillies shows that Othello is generically rather than specifically other: his African exoticism is telescoped into different forms of otherness by the Venetians who consistently associate him with Egyptians, Turks and Indians. While I am not persuaded by Gillies' contention that this necessarily entails "a conceptual purchase on the construction of otherness in Shakespeare that is completely independent of the anachronistic terminology of 'race', 'color' and 'prejudice'" (25), he convinces me that Othello's otherness and twentieth-century Africanness are not fully coextensive.

The fourth chapter, articulating the nature of the exotic in five plays, rests somewhat uneasily between two chapters dealing more specifically with maps. The discussion of Antony and Cleopatra, however, is memorable: Gillies associates Cleopatra's exotic desirability with Antony's later inability to describe an Egyptian crocodile except by saying that it looks like itself (2.7). "A Herodotean blend of the monstrous and the marvelous that resists language and category" (122) renders both the queen and the reptile "essentially untranslatable into the Roman code, and hence unknowable" (121). If "Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale / Her infinite variety," then Cleopatra's individual mystique is inherently informed by her Egyptian otherness.

Shakespeare is Gillies' exemplar rather than his sole focus, and it would be a disservice not to mention his powerful early engagement with Marlowe's Tamburlaine, or the sprezzatura re-reading of Donne's "Hymn To God My God In My Sicknesse" (as a complex Bakhtinian dialogue between incommensurate old and new geographies) with which he ends the book.

Lucid, illuminating and enjoyable, early modern scholars as well as Shakespearean specialists will profit by reading Shakespeare and the Geography of Difference.

BRADLEY S. BERENS University of California, Berkeley
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Author:Berens, Bradley S.
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 1997
Previous Article:Place and Displacement in the Renaissance.
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