Stage, Stake, and Scaffold: Humans and Animals in Shakespeare's Theatre.
In Stage, Stake and Scaffold, Andreas Hofele sets out to prove that "the theatre, the bear-garden, and ... the spectacle of public execution participated in a powerful semantic exchange and that this exchange between stage, stake, and scaffold crucially informed Shakespeare's explorations into the nature and workings of humanness as a psychological, ethical, and political category" (2). Moreover, he contends that "the notions of humanity embodied in Shakespeare's dramatis personae rely just as much on inclusion as on exclusion of the animal, more precisely of a whole range of (non-human) animals. Man and beast face each other across the species divide, but this divide proves highly permeable" (3). Hofele proposes to provide "a sequence of exemplary case studies highlighting different, complementary aspects of human-animal border traffic as they emerge in the collusion between stage, stake, and scaffold" (39). Indeed, his chapters are arranged as case studies, usually of a single Shakespeare play, but sometimes of two. The book ranges widely, reading paintings, philosophy, and a wide variety of texts, classical as well as Renaissance. The book achieves its goals, providing strong readings of some of Shakespeare's most significant plays, especially the tragedies.
One of the great strengths of the book is how well and completely it presents the evidence of baiting-related activity in London during Shakespeare's years. The evidence is often brutal, but Hofele does not shy away, and that straightforward gaze is important in that it exposes the visceral reality of daily life for many Londoners. If we can better understand people's experience among other creatures, we are less likely to misunderstand plays and characters.
Hofele's first chapter explores the many ways Macbeth questions the category of the human. A story in Foxe's Acts and Monuments serves as an entree into the play. In the story Henry VIII watches a bear being baited in the Thames, and the bear, who has a Papist bear-warden, escapes. Two of the participants in the bear escape story, Thomas Cromwell and Archbishop Cranmer, were later martyred. For Hofele, this story contains motifs that could be reworked into several Shakespeare plots. The remainder of the chapter explores the myriad creaturely references in Macbeth as indications of the character's descent into the bestial realm. Another strength of the book that appears in this and subsequent chapters is Hofele's consistent attention to Shakespearean theatrical conditions.
The Shakespearean focus of the book's second chapter is the monstrous Richard III. This chapter connects kingship to the displayed criminal body. Hofele contends that "the visual regime of absolutist kingship is sustained by the gaze that recognizes the distance but also the connection between the display of majesty and the display of the convict on the scaffold, or the bear at the stake" (82). Hofele nicely displays all of the animal references that surround Richard and points to the character's self-creation as a monster on display.
In chapter 3, Hofele explores Coriolanus's "many references to animals, hunting, and baiting" (101). Hofele reads the play in relation to both Frans Snyders's painting "The Bear Hunt," and an engraving of another bear hunt. He observes that the three central "quarrel scenes" in the play show "a powerful individual attacked by a pack" (99). Hofele points to Coriolanus's positioning as both a wolf and a bear, in both cases signifying "the god-like and the bestial" (106).
In a departure from both bear baiting and the scaffold, chapter four reads Titus Andronicus and Hamlet in relation to how cannibalism and revenge are figured in Montaigne's essays and in Foxe's Acts. This chapter ranges widely but centers on the essential links between cannibalism and revenge and the ways that the animality figured in both cannibalism and revenge plagues Hamlet and pervades Titus.
Hofele's penultimate chapter on "Law and Disorder in King Lear" shows that in the play "[a]nimals appear as figures of awesome charisma, as enemies and fellow creatures; they appear as other than and indistinguishable from man" (173). Using Hobbes's Leviathan to outline the dangers of the sovereign with complete power, Hofele shows how Lear's abdication invokes a world of terrifying beasts but also a leveling of all life. The book ends with a chapter on The Tempest that focuses on Caliban's identity and a discussion of the historical trajectory for animals and humans after Descartes.
Hofele's book is an important contribution to Renaissance Animal Studies and also to the study of what he calls "the conflicted nature of human nature in Shakespeare" (xi). As Erica Fudge has shown us, "thinking about humans in the early modern period is thinking about animals." (1) By the end of the book, Hofele contends that "in rediscovering the permeability of the divide that sets us apart from other species we are only beginning to catch up with the 'zoographic' imagination of Shakespeare" (254). In this claim, he seems to have travelled far from his contention in the Introduction, where he says that he "strongly endorses [Laurie] Shannon's case for the irreducible plurality of early modern orders of species" and "[y]et.. . maintain[s]" that "there is ample evidence of the kind of dualism which opposes humans to other creatures" (26). The book as a whole dances between these two positions. At times, Hofele uses formulations such as "the most basic distinction of all: that between humans and beasts" (200) and calls that "distinction" "foundational" and "fundamental" (53, 137). Much of his evidence, however, points the other way, toward the position Shannon advances in The Accomodated Animal.
Stage, Stake, and Scaffold: Humans and Animals in Shakespeare's Theatre is an important contribution to the field. The book's wide theoretical, critical, and textual range, as well as its careful readings of character, make it of interest to anyone thinking about or teaching Shakespeare's plays.
Reviewer: REBECCA ANN BACH
(1.) Erica Fudge. Brutal Reasoning: Animals, Rationality, and Humanity in Early Modern England. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2006, 186.
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|Author:||Bach, Rebecca Ann|
|Publication:||Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2015|
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