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Issue 3 (2011) - Open-themed issue

Editorial

[1]  We, the editors, are excited to welcome you to Issue 3 of the Journal of the Northern Renaissance. This is the first open, non-themed issue to appear since our launch in 2009. A great range of topics is covered in 4 articles and a review article: from the literature of Hungary to that of England; from dramatic spectral appearances to clothed bodies of the queen, and from complete and full texts to their problematic abridgements.

[2]  The opening article to Issue 3, by Mike Pincombe, breaks important new ground for English-language scholars of the Northern Renaissance, by offering an investigation of the Hungarian poetry of Bálint Balassi (1554-1594). Pincombe presents a close-reading of Balassi’s ‘Széllyel tündökleni’, a translation from the Neo-Latin poem ‘Ad Manilium Rhallum’ by Michael Marullus, and pays special attention to the development of the ‘coda’. This coda, a semi-independent concluding stanza (or line(s)) often containing a playful authorial signature, situational sketch, or metapoetic comment, comes to embody for Pincombe the way in which literary tradition develops, both at leisurely pace but also in sudden movements. Drawing on the terminology of evolutionary theory, Pincombe maps the coda’s slow development, but also its experimental adoption by Balassi, which in turn comes to stand for the moment in which this important Hungarian poet ‘suddenly appears in the history of pan-European Renaissance literature’.

[3]  Catherine Stevens’s contribution, meanwhile, takes its point of departure from the spectral dagger that appears before Macbeth as he contemplates Duncan’s murder. As Stevens shows, the ontological status of this weapon is more problematic than critics have allowed, and this problematic status denotes a slippage between material ‘reality’ and the perception of that reality through the mechanism of vision. Stevens traces the implications of this slippage through readings of the ghosts in Macbeth, Hamlet and Julius Caesar which she sets in the context of post-Reformation debates concerning the nature of apparitions and vision. Drawing upon Derrida’s notion of the ‘visor effect’, Stevens ultimately finds that Shakespeare’s spectres manifest discontinuities and maladjustments already present within the relation between the gazing subject and the object. In doing so, she argues, they expose the reflexive interdependence of this relation, and invite us to look more closely at not only the liminal spaces beyond death, but the uncertain relation between the inner and the outer worlds of the living.

[4]  Querying the pernicious effects of the anachronistic assumption that an interest in dress is a feminine trait, Jane Stevenson traces the extent to which textiles and fashion are imbricated in the life of the English Renaissance court, occupying a significant role in the production of social distinctions. In assembling a diverse body of evidence documenting the expenditure of aristocrats, and the spiralling costs associated with an escalating struggle to outstrip the aspirational consumption of the lower orders, Stevenson highlights the vital importance of clothes as material signs of class identity, before industrial production obscured these spectacular markers of economic disparity.

[5]  Michael Ullyot offers a study of a single yet ambiguous concept in English Renaissance life-writing: abridgement. The main four texts investigated all relate the brief (abridged) life of Prince Henry (d. 1612), responded to by various biographers struggling to write morally exemplary narratives from a prematurely concluded life. Ullyot further probes the very nature of abridged text (akin to, for instance, commonplacing or extracting), by considering a wide range of uses of the word (in poetry, drama, sermons, panegyric, or elegies), as well as a series of abridged or shortened texts. The act of abridgement necessarily asks questions of the exact relationship between original text and shortened form, which can be expressed as synecdoche, but also as metonymy. In other words, the abridged text can either be viewed as retaining, or distilling, the essential qualities of its larger parent text, but also, more problematically, as a selective and distorting representation of a larger and complete whole. As Ullyot demonstrates, the failed promise of the life of young Prince Henry is itself an unwritten text, and so the abridged text and abridged life are inextricably combined.

[6]  Dermot Cavanagh’s review article poses important questions about scholarly perceptions of the temporal and cultural location of Shakespeare’s work, and the construction of the Renaissance canon. Addressing two recent collections that invite us to think across conventional chronological boundaries, both entitled Shakespeare and the Middle Ages, the one edited by Curtis Perry and John Watkins, the other by Martha W. Driver and Sid Ray, Cavanagh asks how far the desire to identify distinctive points of origin might eclipse the past’s ambiguous coalescence with the present.

[7]  In this respect, Cavanagh’s article complements other contributions to this issue in reflecting the Journal’s concern to interrogate existing periodizations of the Renaissance in the North and to establish continuities with earlier and later epochs. This is a concern that will be further investigated in two forthcoming issues. Issue Four (Autumn 2012) will explore the slippery notion of the ‘will’ and its various semantic permutations in the context of such issues as subjectivity, power, logic, desire, freedom, volition, wit, wisdom, theology and metaphysics. Furthermore, we also have a second unthemed Issue 6 planned, for which we are already accepting submissions. Please do have a look at our call for papers for that issue here.

Elizabeth Elliott, Patrick Hart, Sebastiaan Verweij