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Scott L. Newstok and Ayanna Thompson (eds.), Weyward Macbeth: Intersections of Race and Performance (Pagrave Macmillan, 2010)

Scott L. Newstok and Ayanna Thompson (eds.), Weyward Macbeth: Intersections of Race and Performance (Houndmills, Basingstoke, and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010). ISBN: 978-0-230-61642-4, xvii + 288 pp. Pbk. £20.99.

Reviewed by Willy Maley

WM

[1]  At a moment when a Conservative Member of the Scottish Parliament is calling once again for the historical Macbeth, supposedly vilified by Shakespeare, to be rehabilitated in the run-up to the 2014 vote on Independence, it is interesting to consider the so-called Scottish play’s complex afterlife, not in terms of Anglo-Scottish relations or specific national agendas, but in the context of American racial politics. Weyward Macbeth: Intersections of Race and Performance is a fascinating collection of essays that aims to address the ways in which Macbeth, the first Shakespeare play recorded in the American colonies, has impacted on issues of race and identity ever since. On the face of it, Macbeth is not an obvious choice for a play about race. Ania Loomba’s list of Shakespeare’s ‘others’ did not include Macbeth. Indeed, although claims have been made for it as a history play its generally accepted status as a tragedy has meant that it is the Scottish play in name only, and that specific nationalist readings of it are relatively rare. If topicality is the graveyard of Shakespeare studies then this is most emphatically the case with the tragedies.

[2]  The title of this volume is taken from the Folio edition of Shakespeare’s Macbeth which refers to the ‘weird sisters’ as the ‘weyward sisters’. Wayward suggests something different from weird, and the question that this volume asks is this: ‘Why Macbeth and race? What is “weyward” about the intersections of race and performance in Macbeth?’ (p.3) The starting point in Ayanna Thompson’s opening essay is ‘Note on Commercial Theatre’ (1940), in which Langston Hughes states, ‘You put me in Macbeth…/ And in everything but what’s about me’ (p.9), which appears to echo both Caliban’s cursing of the language he’s been taught and Macmorris’s questioning of his own patriotic pigeonholing. What Hughes is saying here is that the 1936 ‘Voodoo’ production of Macbeth directed by Orson Welles conscripted black actors into a play that for Hughes had no real relevance to contemporary black American struggles. The rest of the volume is devoted to countering Hughes’ claim. The essays are more concerned with the supernatural than with Scotland, yet paradoxically they have more to say about the play’s complex colonial politics of civility and superstition than most Shakespeare criticism (Toni Morrison’s arguments elsewhere around rootedness and ancestry are relevant in this regard).

[3]  Celia R. Daileader looks at the way in which Middleton’s The Witch can inform racial readings of Macbeth, arguing that ‘it is to Middleton’s interpolations and alterations that we owe the ambivalent, though certainly unwitting, legacy of “racialized” interpretation’ (p.12). Daileader’s claim that Middleton rendered Shakespeare’s original ‘amenable to exoticized settings and an interracial cast’ (p.13) prompts the reader to recall that Scotland was an exotic setting for English playwrights of the period and that the preoccupation with the supernatural had a strong Scottish dimension.

[4]  Subsequent essays dwell on the ways in which Macbeth is experienced, exploited and explored in black American culture, from nineteenth-century debates on slavery to the election of Barack Obama. Heather S. Nathan observes that the play was ‘ubiquitous in antebellum American culture’ (p. 23), and was especially resonant in the years preceding the Civil War: ‘Some spectators imagined Macbeth as a democratic hero, rising up against a tyrant (like the Southern Confederacy defending its states’ rights against Northern oppressors), while others conjured parallels between the “un-sexed” Lady Macbeth and the female antislavery agitators’ (pp.24-5). John C. Briggs examines Frederick Douglass’s ‘most characteristic phrasal link to “the Scottish play”’, namely his repeated use of Macbeth’s defiant speech calling for “banners on the outward walls”, and wonders ‘why Douglass used and repeated a battle cry from an infamous tyrant to rally others around the Fourteenth Amendment and freemen’s (now new citizens’) rights’ (p.35). Briggs’s conclusion is that Douglass found in Macbeth’s speech a spirit of defiance, and in the play more broadly a struggle with sinister forces that resonated with the haunting effects of slavery.

[5]  In a fascinating essay, Bernth Lindfors looks at the ways in which the black American actor Ira Aldridge interpreted Macbeth, beginning with a remarkable performance in Paisley, Scotland, on 25 June 1830. Later, in performances in Germany and Russia, Aldridge as a whiteface Macbeth drew admiration from reviewers as an actor whose ‘histrionic equivocation’ got to the heart of ‘a conscience-stricken Scottish regicide’ (p.54). In ‘Minstrel Show Macbeth’, Joyce Green MacDonald points to ‘Christy’s Nigga Songster, a collection of songs performed by the famous blackface troupe the Christy Minstrels’, which included ‘Nigga’s Description of Macbeth’ (p.55). According to MacDonald, ‘Blackface was instrumental in performing the dislocation and alienation of the whites in 1850s New York through these skewed Macbeths, a dislocation whose depth was directly indexed to its choice of the most high culture of authors for its parodic expression’ (p.63).

[6]  Moving into the nineteenth century, Nick Moschovakis looks at the ways in which Shakespeare’s play features in writing by African Americans from W. E. B. Du Bois’s borrowing from Banquo to lament the slow pace of change since Emancipation in The Souls of Black Folk (1903), to ‘sustained allusions to Macbeth as a figure for African-American self-empowerment and self-advancement’ (p.71) such as Langston Hughes’s drama Emperor of Haiti (1936).

[7]  There follow four essays on Federal Theatre projects, before and after Orson Welles’s all-black Macbeth (1936), with Lisa N. Simmons examining an earlier all-black production of the play in Boston in 1935 by the Negro Federal Theatre of Massachusetts, Marguerite Rippy focusing on Welles’s ‘Voodoo’ version, and a characteristic Welles anecdote about him playing the lead in blackface unnoticed in Indianapolis when the lead actor fell ill, an act of ‘performative passing’ that Rippy notes is ‘unverifiable’. Rippy’s essay sharply details the way in which Welles shifts Shakespeare’s Scottish play to nineteenth-century Haiti in a move that manages to retain the colonial dimensions of the original, too often overlooked by conventional Shakespeare criticism. Scott L. Newstok investigates ‘re-do voodoo Macbeths’ in the wake of Welles, charting the ways in which that 1936 landmark theatre event opened the door for African American theatre and for a long association of that theatre with Shakespeare’s Scottish play. Finally in this section, Lenwood Sloan homes in on The Vo-Du Macbeth (2001-2005), a major collaborative revival of Welles’s project which was ultimately shipwrecked by an unforeseen tempest: ‘Hurricane Katrina came along, blowing the entire project to the four corners of the universe’ (p.110).

[8]  The collection then takes another fascinating turn in a section entitled ‘Further Stages’, as Harry J. Lennix offers ‘A Black Actor’s Guide to the Scottish Play’, starting with his own personal experience, and concluding that he remains ‘plagued by never being able to know with any certainty if my eternal awareness of race lessens or increases my own experience of a play such as Macbeth’ (p.120). Alexander C. Y. Huang discusses John R. Briggs’s Shogun Macbeth (1985) as a fusion of ‘the Scottish play, Kurosawa, and Asian America’, and while he maintains that ‘Shakespeare – however Asian – is always “white”’, he also observes that this version ‘has successfully constructed a contact zone that remains open for future inscription’ (p.125). Anita Maynard-Losh gives an account of her own experience as director of a 2003 Tlinglit version of Macbeth, using this setting of the story in Southeast Alaska to meditate on wider issues of Native American culture in relation to Shakespeare. Her exit line is intriguing in its sense of a new interpretation and sense of ownership emerging with regard to the Scottish play by ‘the ultimate “white” playwright’: ‘Jake Waid, the actor playing Macbeth, stirred everyone in the room to renew their commitment to the challenge when he declared, “We need to claim this play for Native American people’ (p.131). In a similar vein, José A. Esquea maps out New York-based Teatro La Tea’s Latino Macbeth 2029, staged in 2008, while William C. Carroll, in ‘Multicultural, Multilingual Macbeth’, explores the cultural complexities of a 2008 Hawaiian production of the play by Paul T. Mitri, a director of Egyptian descent. Carroll makes a telling point about Shakespeare’s play when he reminds readers that ‘For Shakespeare’s London audiences in 1606, the Scots were, if not a separate race, certainly thought of as an inferior people: uncivilized, too often wild and savage (revealing their descent from the Picts, as opposed to the English descent, predominantly Anglo-Saxon-Norman)’, before going on to conclude that ‘The Scottish play has rarely if ever seemed so cosmopolitan, nor have some contemporary racial issues been so directly represented as in this production’ (p.140).

[9]  A series of essays ensue on musical Macbeths, with Wallace McClain Cheatham reflecting on Verdi, Douglas Lanier dwelling on Duke Ellington’s Such Sweet Thunder (1957), and Todd Landon Barnes taking a look at hip-hop Macbeths. The next section on screen versions begins conventionally with Polanski, but Francesca Royster gives a twist to readings of this film by analysing the politics of whiteness in it and in Shakespeare studies more widely. Courtney Lehmann takes a more oblique angle in a compelling essay on Nina Menkes’s The Bloody Child, while Amy Scott-Douglass, in an ambitious and engaging intervention, looks at a range of responses including Grey’s Anatomy, with some sharp observations on the politics of nontraditional casting and interracial relationships.

[10]  The final section, ‘Shakespearean (A)Versions’, contains three essays that emphasise the inventiveness of contemporary black responses to the play, beginning with Charita Gainey-O’Toole and Elizabeth Alexander’s co-authored piece on three African-American women poets – Rita Dove, Julia Fields, and Lucille Clifton. Philip C. Kolin picks up again on Langston Hughes’s 1940 cautionary note, showing that Macbeth can be ‘about’ African Americans contrary to Hughes’s protestations. Kolin takes August Wilson’s King Hedley II (1999) as exemplifying a creative critical engagement with the play that reorients and repossesses it. These aversions end with Peter Erickson’s absorbing essay detailing the ways in which major figures from James Baldwin to August Wilson have been shaped by and have in turn reshaped Shakespeare.

[11]  The volume closes with an incisive epilogue on ‘ObaMacbeth’, by Richard Burt, which uses President Obama’s allusion to the Scottish play by its accursed proper name in relation to Lincoln’s love of Shakespeare to tease out the politics of a ‘national transition’ that is also a ‘national traumission’ (p. 257). The appendix, a list of ‘Selected Productions of Macbeth Featuring Non-Traditional Casting’, compiled by Brent Butgereit and Scott L. Newstok, sets the seal on a thought-provoking volume that had me taking enough notes to fill a whole notebook. Weyward Macbeth is an exceptionally rich and suggestive collection of essays, the kind of book that you know you’ll return to time and again to mull over the nuggets that its wide and wise contributors have unearthed. With a final nod to Langston Hughes, this is a book that not only puts something distinctive into Macbeth, but also proves Derrida’s point that ‘everything is in Shakespeare’. After reading Weyward Macbeth I went back to Shakespeare’s play and pondered Malcolm’s remark that his sins were such that ‘black Macbeth/ Will seem as pure as snow’ (4.3.53-4), and Macbeth’s cursing of the messenger bearing bad news: ‘The devil damn thee black, thou cream-faced loon!’ (5.3.11). The best critical works are ones that change the way we look at a familiar text, and this book, bristling with energy and insight, certainly does that.

University of Glasgow, February 2013

Nicholas McDowell and Nigel Smith (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Milton, Oxford Handbooks of Literature (Oxford University Press, 2009)

Nicholas McDowell and Nigel Smith (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Milton, Oxford Handbooks of Literature. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009. ISBN 978-0-19-921088-6, xxii + 715 pp. Hbk. £85.00

Reviewed by Willy Maley

[1]  In the first issue of this journal, Andrew Hadfield mapped out ‘The Idea of the North’ in terms of a republican tradition which, as it ‘declined in the South … must be kept alive in the North’ (Hadfield 2009: 7). Translations of Tacitus, Hadfield argued, ‘posed particular questions for an English audience uncertain of its national identity and place within the pantheon of nations … Should England look North or South for inspiration?’ This question vexed English republicans like John Milton, who looked north in his search for models of anti-monarchal thought. Hadfield’s reading of the North-South divide in European politics during the Renaissance is a good route into the monumental collection that is The Oxford Handbook of Milton. To begin to do justice to the thirty-eight original and authoritative essays gathered here would tax the talents of the most experienced reviewer, and the patience of this journal’s readers, so I propose to touch only on those aspects of the volume that deal directly with the North, a region that preoccupied Milton from ‘Lycidas’ (1637), a poem caught between the Irish Sea and the Hebrides, through the Observations upon the Articles of Peace (1649), with its long riposte to the Belfast Presbytery, to the History of Britain (1670), with its claim ‘that the Scots, whoever they be originally, came first into Ireland, and dwelt there, and nam’d it Scotia long before the North of Britan took that name’ (Milton 1670: 112).

[2]  Belfast-born editor Nick McDowell well knows the importance of the North – of Ireland, and Britain more broadly – to Milton’s politics and poetry, while his co-editor, Nigel Smith, has stressed Milton’s impact in North America. In sonnet XV ‘On the Lord General Fairfax at the Siege of Colchester’ Milton decried the ‘fals North’ that was Scotland. But what was the true North, and why did Milton, even as he denounced the Belfast Presbytery in his Observations of 1649, still devote more space there to Scotland than to Ireland? Why did he leave the door open for Presbyterians like Fairfax even as he deplored the ‘Scotch Presbytery’ at Belfast? Attacking the Belfast Presbytery, Milton separated them from the genuine article: ‘Of this Representation therefore wee can esteem and judge no other then of a slandrous and seditious libell, sent abroad by a sort of Incendiaries, to delude and make the better way under the cunning and plausible name of a Presbytery’ (Milton, Observations 1649: 56).

[3]  In the second edition of The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates, which appeared in the autumn of 1649, Milton cited four Scots – George Buchanan, John Craig, Alexander Gibson and John Knox – in order to answer Scottish objections to the killing of the king. ‘These were Scotchmen and Presbyterians’ who opposed monarchy in a manner Milton found admirable, yet their heirs were all too quick to condemn the regicides (Milton, Tenure 1649: 31). Milton knew his history, including the history of Presbyterianism, well enough to recognise backsliding in Belfast. As one historian observes, ‘James I of England understood the matter well enough when he said, “A Scotch presbytery agree-eth as well with monarchy as God with the Devil”’ (Tierney 1966: 15). Milton was obsessed with Presbyterianism’s anti-imperialist inclinations and republican roots, and irked by the negative reaction of the Scots and the Belfast Presbytery to the killing of the king, which he saw as hypocritical and worse, forgetful of their own ideological foundations.

[4]  The North informed not just Milton’s prose, but also his poetry. In Archipelagic English, John Kerrigan argues that the complex politics of Anglo-Scottish engagement in Northern Ireland inspired the verse: ‘The shape of Milton’s thinking here recurs in Paradise Lost. If the Irish rebellion left its mark on the epic, by showing Charles, in league with the rebels, to resemble Satan and the fallen angels, so, rather more obviously, did the corrupted militancy of the Scots’ (Kerrigan 2008: 230). Likewise, David Loewenstein points to Ireland and, through its place in the Ulster Plantation there, Scotland, as key sites of conflict on which the poet drew: ‘A great poetic text like Paradise Lost … has its specific and localized contexts, historical conditions which illuminate its complex polemical and political meaning’ (Loewenstein 1992: 310).

[5]  These localised contexts are evident in The Oxford Handbook of Milton, and in particular in the essay by Nick McDowell on ‘Milton’s Regicide Tracts and the Uses of Shakespeare’, which contains a passage on Macbeth (255–67) that will intrigue Shakespeareans and Miltonists in equal measure. Those familiar with the arguments of David Norbrook, Jonathan Goldberg and Alan Sinfield among others on the George Buchanan-inspired republican undertow of the Scottish play will be fascinated by McDowell’s painstaking excavation of Milton’s ambivalent attitude to Shakespeare and in particular his use of Macbeth in the opening gambit of his Tenure, where, according to McDowell, ‘The Presbyterians are like Shakespeare’s Scottish witches in their demonic equivocation over the regicide’ (261). Joad Raymond, in ‘John Milton, European: The Rhetoric of Milton’s Defences’, points to a telling passage in Defensio secunda in which Milton defines his own perspective over and against the Scottish betrayal of republican principles: ‘Discussing the treacheries of the Scots, a favourite topic that he had already covered in Tenure, Observations, and Eikonoklastes, and the agreements made between the English and Scottish parliaments concerning the treatment of the king, he asserts that “a parliament or a senate is at liberty, according to expediency, to change its counsels”’ (285-6). Neil Keeble, in ‘Milton’s Later Vernacular Republican Tracts’ points to the part played by General Monck and the North on the eve of the restoration of the monarchy. At that decisive juncture, at the very moment when Milton was writing The Readie and Easie Way to Establish a Free Commonwealth, as Monck’s biographer put it, when Monck ‘“came out of Scotland … no man knew what he would do, or declare”’ (317). That the North in general, and Scotland in particular, was key to England’s liberty was clear. As Paul Stevens notes in ‘Milton and National Identity’, Cromwell’s conquests take a northern route, ending in Scotland in 1650-51.

[6]  From the National Covenant of 1638 to Monck’s descent in 1659, Scotland held the key to England’s future. And of course this influence had its origins in the Scottish succession of 1603 and the Ulster Plantation of 1609. But there are other Norths too, like Russia, to which Milton turned his attention in the posthumously published A Brief History of Moscovia (1682). Nicholas von Maltzahn, in his chapter on ‘The Later Life (1641-1674)’, dates this work to 1648-9, and roots Milton’s reason for writing it ‘in the climatic explanation for the difficulty of governing northern nations’, seeing in this Russian history a rehearsal for The History of Britain (41). Charles Martindale, in ‘Writing Epic: Paradise Lost’, observes that ‘Satan’s heroism is clearly flawed, like that of the Englishmen in A Brief History of Moscovia who discovered Russia by the Northern Ocean in what “might have seemed an enterprise almost heroic if any higher end than the excessive love of gain and traffic had animated the design”’ (451). The North for Milton was both a source of inspiration and a crucible of conflict. Even after he turned against Presbyterianism and in particular the Scots and the Belfast Presbytery, Milton continued to turn to figures like Knox and Buchanan as intellectual touchstones in the war of liberty against tyranny.

[7]  The answer to the question ‘Should England look North or South for inspiration?’ had to be an equivocal one, for the ‘fals North’ was also the place where truth spoke to power, making Milton more ambivalent than he would have liked to be, less polemically and politically assured, but arguably enriching his poetic sensibility. The North remained for Milton both beacon of hope and baleful influence. Even within that Belfast Presbytery at which Milton directed so much ire, calling them ‘a generation of High-land theevs and Red-shanks, who beeing neighbourly admitted, not as the Saxons by merit of thir warfare against our enemies, but by the courtesie of England to hold possessions in our Province, a Countrey better then thir own, have, with worse faith then those Heathen, prov’d ingratefull and treacherous guests to thir best friends and entertainers’, there was dissent and resistance (Milton, Observations 1649: 64-5). ‘The Necessary Representation of the Belfast Presbytery’ was designed to be read out to congregations but as the anonymous News from Ireland Concerning The Proceedings of the Presbytery in The County of Antrim in Ireland (1650) reveals, at least two ministers refused, or rather James Ker of Ballymony and his fellow minister Jeremy O Queen delayed reading the Representation and were suspended. Ker eventually signed a confession for the Presbytery at Bangor so that he could resume his ministry. Had he known about these Abdiel-like objectors to the anti-republican line taken by their peers, Milton may have had more faith in the North.

University of Glasgow, July 2011.

References and Further Reading

Anon, News from Ireland Concerning The Proceedings of the Presbytery in The County of Antrim in Ireland, in several Sittings in that County Against Mr. James Ker, & Mr. Jeremy O Queen. Two of their fellow Ministers in the same Presbytery, for their rufusing to reade that Treasonable Representation which was by the said Presbytery then at Belfast, commanded to be read publiquely by all Ministers, in Febr. 1648 [1649] (London: Edward Husband and John Field, 1650).

R. D. Bedford, ‘Milton’s Journeys North: A Brief History of Moscovia and Paradise Lost’, Renaissance Studies 7.1 (1993): 71-85.

Lloyd E. Berry, ‘Giles Fletcher, the Elder, and Milton’s A Brief History of Moscovia’, The Review of English Studies, 11,.42 (1960): 150-156.

Allan H. Gilbert, ‘Pierre Davity: His “Geography” and Its Use by Milton’, Geographical Review 7. 5 (1919): 322-338.

Andrew Hadfield, ‘The Idea of the North’, Journal of the Northern Renaissance 1.1 (2009), pp. 1-18.

John Kerrigan, ‘The Archipelago Enlarged: Milton and Marvell to 1660’, in Archipelagic English: Literature, History, and Politics 1603-1707 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), pp. 220-43.

David Loewenstein, ‘“An Ambiguous Monster”: Representing Rebellion in Milton’s Polemics and Paradise Lost’, Huntington Library Quarterly 55 (1992), pp. 295-315.

John Milton, Articles of peace made and concluded with the Irish rebels and papists by James Earle of Ormond … also, a letter sent by Ormond to Col. Jones, Governour of Dublin, with his answer thereunto: and a representation of the Scotch Presbytery at Belfast in Ireland: upon all which are added observations (London: Printed by Matthew Simmons, 1649).

John Milton, The tenure of kings and magistrates (London, 1649; 2nd edition).

John Milton, The History of Britain (1670), ed. Graham Parry, Milton’s History of Britain: A facsimile edition with a critical Introduction (Stamford: Paul Watkins, 1991).

H. F. Robins, ‘Satan’s Journey: Direction in Paradise Lost’, The Journal of English and Germanic Philology 60.4 (1961), pp. 699-711.

Elbert N. S. Thompson, ‘Milton’s Knowledge of Geography’, Studies in Philology 16.2 (1919): 148-71.

Brian Tierney, ‘Medieval Canon Law and Western Constitutionalism’, The Catholic Historical Review 52.1 (1966): 1-17.

Siobhan Keenan, Renaissance Literature, Edinburgh Critical Guides (Edinburgh University Press, 2008)

Siobhan Keenan, Renaissance Literature, Edinburgh Critical Guide. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2008. ISBN 978-0-7486-2584-0, 27 + 282 pp. Pbk. £16.99

Reviewed by Willy Maley

[1]  In Of Education (1644), John Milton separated theory and practice when he spoke of the way in which students ought to engage with the world once their initial studies were complete: ‘I should not therefore be a perswader to them of studying much then, after two or three yeer that they have well laid their grounds, but to ride out in companies with prudent and staid guides, to all the quarters of the land: learning and observing all places of strength, all commodities of building and of soil, for towns and tillage, harbours and ports for trade. Somtimes taking sea as farre as to our Navy, to learn there also what they can in the practical knowledge of sailing and of sea-fight.’ Here in this short passage from one of the greatest republican writers of the Renaissance is a practical perspective on the link between humanism and colonialism, education and empire. The need for ‘prudent and staid guides’ is clear, but so too is the requirement to engage concretely as well as conceptually, to apply their knowledge. At its best, Joyce Keenan’s Renaissance Literature, a valuable contribution to the Edinburgh Critical Guides series that leads students through some troublesome terrain with an expert hand, does exactly that.

[2]  You have to specialise in order to be able to generalise with any authority, as anyone who has ever written an introductory guide or encyclopaedia entry – or even a review – well knows. Getting the balance right between conveying the complexity of texts and their contexts and doing so in a lucid and lively manner aimed at a senior undergraduate or early-stage graduate readership is tricky. The new Edinburgh Critical Guides series has been well thought through and the structure of each guide is designed to provide a clear overview of the field as well as focused coverage of particular areas of concern, organised by form, genre and theme. In their Series Preface, the editors, Martin Halliwell and Andy Mousley, having noted the range and richness of writing open to readers, ask: ‘But how are readers to navigate their way through such literary and cultural diversity?’ The Critical Guides offer pathways through the problems thrown up by different periods, movements, and authors. The need for clarity and cohesion arguably militates against the guide being able to present the kind of detail for which one must rely on monographs and journal articles, but Keenan has produced an introduction and overview that will stand students in good stead as they make their way into a challenging area of study.

[3]  Although Keenan’s title is Renaissance Literature, her own preface opens thus: ‘This volume provides a concise introduction to the literature of Elizabethan and Stuart England (1558-1649)’. Keenan then alludes to ‘English Renaissance Literature’ (p. x). Now, for a large part of this period a Scottish king presided over an emerging British state, but this fact gets lost in the broad brushstroke of the book. Although I think it’s problematic, I’d actually have liked to have seen ‘Elizabethan and Stuart England (1558-1649)’ as a subtitle, and much more detail in the contents page. There’s a good index and a very good guide to further reading, including electronic resources, in clearly defined sections, as well as a chronology, a glossary and some excellent essay writing advice. But some of this helpful material has to be hunted for, as do some of the careful and crisp readings of writers such as Donne, Jonson, Lanyer, Marlowe, Milton, Nashe, Shakespeare, Sidney, Spenser, and Wroth. The volume could though have been more clearly signposted, perhaps through a different design for cover and contents that allowed the major authors and texts to be viewed at a glance.

[4]  The guide is divided into three chapters, ‘Drama’, ‘Poetry’ and ‘Prose’. Under each of these headings a number of sub-sections deal directly with specific themes and topics: ‘The Professional Stage’, Court Masques’, ‘Pastoral Verse’ ‘The Sonnet Sequence’, ‘Non-fictions’, and ‘Sermons and Devotions’, to name just a few. Within these sub-sections there are some exemplary engagements with particular issues – such as the sexual and social politics of the sonnets – that are addressed with as much density and detail as one would expect from a monograph, but with a lightness of touch that renders it readily intelligible to a readership new to the primary material, the critical tradition, and recent theoretical developments. Although personally I like discursive footnotes, the short reference-only endnotes that are provided here, taken together with the clearly sectioned and signposted further reading, furnishes the student with a road map and toolkit for further study, a strong indication of the variety of critical material available, as well as a model of concise presentation.

[5]  From a Scottish perspective, there is some decent coverage of course of James VI and I, and a few references to his mother, Mary, Queen of Scots, but there are only passing allusions – albeit tantalising – to George Buchanan and John Knox in the introduction, and no mention of Alexander Montgomery or William Drummond of Hawthornden. This is unfortunate, as an English republican like John Milton depended heavily on the writings of Buchanan and Knox in his writings of 1649, the year at which this guide ostensibly stops. In terms of gender and genre Keenan’s study is an essential introduction to the period, taking the reader from Marlowe to Marvell and from cultural materialism to queer theory. In terms of geography and the ‘British’ dimension, it can appear less impressive, yet the treatment of colonial and national identities throughout the volume is nimble and nuanced, and there are persuasive close readings of Othello, The Tempest, and Jonson’s Masque of Blackness. Any guide that seeks to embody a century of writing in one of the richest periods of literary history inevitably opens itself up to summary and sound bite rather than sustained analysis, but Siobhan Keenan is to be commended for having achieved precisely the right balance between comprehensiveness, comprehension, and compression. This is a really useful guide to a varied and vibrant period, written in a clear style that never sacrifices complexity in its quest for clarity.

University of Glasgow, March 2009