The Body Embarrassed: Drama and the Disciplines of Shame in Early Modern England.
There are dazzling readings here of plays and, especially, of particular dramatic moments. If the author of this study is a feminist Shakespearean who had reason during the 1980s to look upon the New Historicism without the aid of admiration, The Body Embarrassed is a rich response that addresses topics which new historicist critics have been slow to take up - and does so, ironically, by employing reading practices deeply influenced by such critics as Stephen Greenblatt and Louis Montrose. Indeed, Paster has learned from the New Historicism's habit of "close reading" (itself, of course, an inheritance of New Criticism), and sustains focus on textual passages to parse out meanings that many historicists have passed over. Already influential in article form and as lectures, Paster's arguments about the "leaky" women of Jacobean comedy and about issues surrounding the Nurse's embodied past with Juliet stand out. It should be remarked that the body of her title most often turns out to be female, or feminized - as in her reading of Julius Caesar, and perhaps in her treatment of the potential body reference, for its adolescent audience, of the missing "needle" in Gammer Gurton's Needle: "we discover that the proverbial phallus may be, like the proverbial needle, worthless, nonunique, and too tiny to find" (117).
Partiality like this is perhaps necessary to any groundbreaking study, and this is one such book. It might be worthwhile, however, to ask what gets left out. At first it seems inexplicable why the development of "humours comedy" (Chapman, Shakespeare, Jonson) in the late 1590s is not mentioned; when one considers that Paster's interests lie in the female or feminized body, however, the omission of the (frequently male-centered) comedy of humours is explained, though not entirely justified. Certainly there is much work to be done on how the construction of an embodied-subjectivity in the drama was affected by this genre. (And Jonson's "purge" of Marston in Poetaster ("Horace" purging "Crispinus") would have been a clearer example of the shameful emetic than Paster's provocative but finally less persuasive reading of Titania and Bottom.) Here Valerie Traub's challenging essay on Falstaff's grotesque and feminized body seems like a curious omission in Paster's text. In fact the author seems reluctant, generally, to cite critics who are less well established in the profession, something that gives this study strong links to a generation of Shakespeareans that often seems eager to talk amongst itself but less willing to engage in dialogue across generational lines.
Douglas Bruster UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO
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|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Dec 22, 1995|
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