Abstracts: Volume 4
Chaste Treasure: Protestant Chastity and the Creation of a National Economic Sphere in The Rape of Lucrece and Cymbeline
by Katherine Gillen
This essay suggests that Shakespeare revises the Roman story of The Rape of Lucrece to fit the explicitly British context of Cymbeline, a play that reflects the transition from the rule of Elizabeth I to that of James I. Reading Cymbeline as a revision of the Lucrece story reveals a shift in the relationship between private chastity and its symbolic national function. This shift, I argue, is evident in Shakespeare’s use of treasure metaphors to refer to chastity alternately as a source of unquantifiable, intrinsic value or, in a more commercial discourse, as a potentially quantifiable commodity. Shakespeare uses treasure tropes in Lucrece and Cymbeline to interrogate the possessive dynamics of marriage and to consider the relationship between private and symbolic chastity. In contrast to Lucrece, which presents chastity as a material entity residing in the female body, Cymbeline presents a loosely Protestant conception of chastity as somewhat attenuated from the body, with Innogen’s chastity reified in the form of actual jewels. Cymbeline’s revised conception of chastity is suited for a context in which the female body no longer functions as a metonym for the state but is relegated to a domestic sphere that symbolically confers stability on the British economic and political realm.
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Performing and Perfuming on the Early Modern Stage: A Study of William Lower’s The Phaenix in Her Flames
by Colleen E. Kennedy
This article attempts to do two things: first, to create a catalogue and vocabulary of the different types of odors encountered in the early modern theatre, as this type of taxonomical work is essential for a full and nuanced discussion of (im)material smells and their use as stage properties. Building upon studies of Renaissance material culture and sensory studies, this article creates a historical-phenomenological study of how scents were important to the early modern theatre. Secondly, by studying the use of incense as a stage property in the relatively neglected Caroline tragedy, William Lower’s The Phaenix in Her Flames (1639), this article claims that Lower strategically and innovatively uses incense on the stage to not only create an exotic setting, but also to demonstrate characterization through somatic identification, and to even allude to contemporary church practices and political issues.
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Shocked Shylock: Neoliberalism, Postcommunism, and 21st-century Shakespeare
by Marcela Kostihová
This essay analyzes a rare Czech postcommunist production of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, which opened in repertory Theater Komedie in Prague (under direction of Michal Dočekal) in 1997 to a run of 120 performances over the following four years. Only the third Czech Merchant since the end of World War II, and the first after the fall of communism in 1989, the production harnessed the play’s complexities—namely the play’s culturally infamous ethnic tensions and its thorough consideration of the materiality of human existence—to explore contemporary tensions surrounding redefinitions of postcommunist subjectivity stemming from the transitional process from Moscow-controlled totalitarianism to nominally-free Western democracy. It highlights the ways in which the production appropriates the cultural capital of Shakespeare as the purported paragon of universal humanity to challenge the postcommunist transitional process, particularly the neoliberal “structural” adjustments implemented on forceful recommendations of the West.
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Propping up the King’s Two Bodies in Richard II
by Ema Vyroubalová and James Robert Wood
This essay argues that the king’s body politic in Richard II depends not only on the king’s physical body but also on the many human bodies and material possessions that comprise the kingdom. Richard II presents the legal fictions of sovereignty and state and the illocutionary force of speech acts as ultimately resting on material bodies and objects. These bodies and objects tend to fall to the ground and fail to meet their owners’ intended purposes. While in the fiction of the play bodies and objects are mostly ineffectual, from a dramaturgical perspective it is precisely because bodies and objects do not align with their owners’ intentions that they appear to draw level with them as agents of dramatic action. People thus become like props in the play, and props become like people. Power is shown to be diffused away from the figure of the king towards the bodies and objects around him and the king himself is revealed to be a kind of prop.
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