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Kate Cregan, The Theatre of the Body: Staging Death and Embodying Life in Early-Modern London (Brepols, 2009)

Kate Cregan, The Theatre of the Body: Staging Death and Embodying Life in Early-Modern London. Turnhout: Brepols 2009. ISBN 978-2-503-52058-2. Xvi + 349 pp., 35 b/w ill. Hbk. EUR 70,00.

Reviewed by Peter Mitchell

[1] In The Theatre of the Body: Staging Death and Embodying Life in Early-Modern London, Kate Cregan explores the concept of ‘embodiment, or ‘the physical and mental experience of human existence’ (1) and the nature of the shifting understanding of this concept in the early modern period. The methodology, thesis, and even structure of this book are theoretically underpinned by the social theory developed by Paul James (2006), as Cregan examines ‘the abstraction of social and political life and a much broader series of understandings of embodiment’ (1) in one particular social formation. The book takes as its specific focus seventeenth-century London, in a significant study encompassing the period from the incorporation of the Worshipful Company of Barber-Surgeons (1540) to the staging of Edward Ravenscroft’s adaptation of a French farce as The Anatomist: or, The Sham Doctor (1696). Cregan is concerned with ‘how practices and subjectivities of modernity began to take hold within and across three fields of expertise’ (4), three concretely interconnected arenas in London:  the dramatic theatre of the playhouses, the anatomy theatre of the Barber-Surgeons, and the exercise of law in the city’s court houses.

[2] While the book’s sociological perspective and terminology can very occasionally feel intrusive, these do not distort its historical or theatrical subject. Importantly, Cregan is careful to avoid some of the confusions to which theoretically informed historicist readings of the past have sometimes led, as when the real suffering of criminal execution or public anatomization have been reduced to ‘merely another theatrical enactment of the power of the sovereign’ (33, 136). This said, there is a tendency on Cregan’s part to reduce the ambivalence and subtlety of Jacobean tragedy to a ‘matrix of associations’ (116), arising from the concrete interconnectedness of the ‘stages’ of the dramatic theatre and the law. This propensity not to recognise a more dramatic dynamic of subversion and containment in realist mimesis is most evident, perhaps, when Cregan discusses the attitude of John Webster’s The White Devil to its titular ‘anti-heroine’ Vittoria Corombona. There is a measured loss of critical sophistication in Cregan’s concern here with ‘what is most common and most public’, for her focussed reading of the play results not only in the legitimate omission of any discussion of the private coterie theatres, such as the Blackfriars, but it also involves reading the play in line with what is imagined, possibly erroneously, to have been its public reception.

[3]  Cregan’s account of abstraction involves ‘the “drawing away” or “lifting out” of social relations from being integrated through the immediate embodied presence of others’ (1-2). The ‘lifting out’ of abstraction apparently contradictorily brings about a reconstitution of embodiment as a material (ontological) as well as ideational (cognitive and epistemological) process. Cregan proposes that ‘medically’ abstracting the body in the early modern period involved ‘three intersecting processes’: codifying, anatomizing and imaging the body (2).

 [4]  Cregan is alert to the ways in which the processes of (re-)constitutive abstraction of embodiment may be analysed in the way in which ‘anatomy fragments the objects of its fascination to draw it together again in a newly unified whole’ (5). This reconstitution of the body occurs ‘at a more abstract level of representation’ (24), in anatomical discourse or illustration, with all the essential ‘gendered, cultural, gestural, and aesthetic codes that are present’ (97). These codes arguably ‘reflected back upon the spectator’ and helped to construct their ideas of embodiment (58).

[5] Cregan thereby recognises that the purpose of anatomy’s division of the parts was not merely for identification or enumeration, but to answer questions raised by the disposition of those parts in relation to each other and to the whole which is thereby in some sense reanimated; this at a time when the body was understood analogically and metaphorically within a language of the body politic, the world and the cosmos. This analysis is relevant in some measure to anatomical demonstrations in the Barber-Surgeons’ anatomy theatre and the point is elucidated by Cregan in her discussion of the anatomy portrait entitled The visceral lecture delivered by John Banister Aged 48, 1581, a painting which appears to depict a public anatomical dissection. A close reading of the painting provides parallels between the physical body and the body politic as the anatomist is compared to the sovereign, Queen Elizabeth I. Cregan asserts that ‘in declaiming over the mysteries of the body on the table Banister “brings it into being”, stakes out his territory, names and defines it, with the express warrant of the sovereign. Just as Elizabeth I lays her hand on the globe in the ‘Armada’ portrait and positions her feet on England in the ‘Ditchley’ portrait’ (22).

[6] Cregan claims that ‘the more that the body was drawn into abstracted fields of endeavour, the more the unmediated blood-and-guts physicality of individual bodies was asserted’ (2). To illustrate this, Cregan discusses William Cowper’s Anatomy of Humane Bodies (1698), which contains the appropriated plates of Govard Bidloo’s Anatomia humani corporis (1685), wherein a clear shift away from the artistic conception of the anatomic norm, a tradition which extended from Vesalius to Casserio, has occurred. This is not to suggest that ‘the body was for the first time revealed in its unmediated reality’, and Cregan certainly makes no such claim.  Rather, Cregan cites the observations of Paul James to illustrate how ‘as the dominant social form became more abstract, we became more and more obsessed by making the content more palpable, more embodied, more “real”’ (3). Indeed, Cregan implicitly combines her understanding of abstraction with the view of Francis Barker (1984), in that however necessary anatomy may have found it to isolate the body for analytic purposes, anatomy does not become an extra-historical residue but remains ‘a relation in a system of liaisons which are material, discursive, psychic, sexual, but without stop or centre’. On this view the emergent ideology of the real body-as-referent, which in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries was expressed in terms of the machine metaphor even as literal objectivity was claimed, merely conceals the body’s ontological function as ‘the site of an operation of power, of an exercise of meaning’.[1]

[7] These historically developing processes of abstraction and power are differentiated along gender lines, and this is clearly demonstrated by Cregan’s analysis of the graphic transition from the penitent Eve figure in Juan Valverde de Hamusco, through this same figure’s sexually suggestive reworking in Andreas Laurentius, to the analysis of the graphic anatomy of female sexuality in William Cowper’s Anatomy of Humane Bodies. In the latter text, abstractions of typical feminine embodiment, once thought to be spiritually inherent, become (re)solidified and objectified in modern embodied subjectivity as though they are biologically fixed and empirically verifiable in individualised female cadavers. As Cregan explains, anatomical plates that circulated in England in the early seventeenth century are more about gender which, as Thomas Laqueur (1992) has argued, was regarded as ontologically real. Cregan’s analysis demonstrates clearly that the preoccupation of these illustrations ‘with the conventions of what it is to be masculine or feminine is as socially and politically potent as any assertion of what it was to be “naturally” male or female in the eighteenth century’ (99).

[8] Moreover female embodied subjectivity is said to have undergone a parallel process of abstraction in the anatomy theatre, the dramatic stage, and the Sessions House of the Old Bailey, and in this change ‘feminine criminality’ or moral corruption ‘is objectified (lifted away) from the lived reality of the accused’ or dissected; ‘rationalized as normative in a changed register of moral understanding; and resolidified as natural traits in the body of the female felon’ or stage anti-heroine (280). Cregan’s analysis of the ways in which the biblically and socially ascribed roles of femininity can be seen to have become naturalised as traits of females is highlighted by her case study of Elizabeth Malson, a woman sentenced to be executed at the Old Bailey Sessions of 17 January 1676/77 and whose body was used as an anatomical subject. This exemplifies the cumulative persuasiveness of this book’s central arguments and the subtle analysis of which Cregan is consistently capable (179-83). Equally significant is Cregan’s identification of the sexual Restoration stage types or identities of the rake, the fop, and the Molly as they appear in the anatomical plates of John Browne’s A Compleat Treatise of the Muscles (1681) (201-217).

[9] Cregan ties into her own arguments about embodied subjectivity those made previously by Samuel Edgerton and Katherine Park about attitudes to judicial execution and dissection and how these attitudes might be related to the conventions of anatomical illustration. In Renaissance Italy particularly, ‘the criminal paid public atonement for sin, as Christ had “for all our sins”, therefore there is a logic to illustrations drawn from the example of dissected criminal bodies being depicted in the style of religious martyrs’ (76). Cregan dismisses the idea put forward by Sawday that these illustrations might ‘express an evasion of a cultural taboo against the opening of bodies’ (98). Her judgement that anatomical dissection of criminal cadavers before the eighteenth century was perceived as simply ‘unremarkable’ (26, 103) is in clear disagreement with those who have emphasised the ambivalence and anthropological problems encountered and those who have argued that these problems were partly offset by the solemn ceremony and ritual of public anatomical demonstration and by the iconography of illustration (See Ferrari (1987) and Sawday (1995)).

[10] Interestingly, Cregan cites the lack of extant evidence in archival and published records as validation that the Barber-Surgeons did not encounter resistance to their procuring of bodies from the gallows until quite late in the seventeenth-century (193-94).  Despite being issued with a warrant at their incorporation to receive four bodies annually from the gallows, this warrant was not enshrined in English law until it was formally affirmed by Queen Elizabeth in 1560. Cregan is careful to argue that ‘anatomical dissection was not conceived of as an extension of retributive justice in England until the eighteenth century’ (13) and that the ‘odious connection’ ‘made between the judgement of the court and the practices of the Barber-Surgeons’ may only have begun around 1690 when dissection appears to have been substituted for a sentence of drawing and quartering in the case of Thomas Castle (287). But the connection became unavoidable after 1752 when the public anatomical dissection became the legally required punishment of an executed murderer.

[11] Moreover, Cregan explains how towards the end of the seventeenth century, an increase both in the number of anatomies performed and of professional competition with private anatomists (who appear in Ravenscroft’s aforementioned play) for suitable criminal cadavers, coincided with the emergence into dominance of a conception of a body as simultaneously (paradoxically) more codified or abstracted and more particularized and ‘individualized’ (rather than an archetypal criminal), and therefore with valued subjectivity (26, 138). This phenomenon appears to have been reflected by the entries for dissected persons from the Barber-Surgeons’ Hall in the burial records of the Parish of St Olaves. The increase in popular unease and fear of being dissected alive resonates through Ravenscroft’s play which Cregan argues may have intensified that unrest.

[12] Cregan scrupulously and carefully presents the conclusions of research undertaken by others in fields adjoining her own, but she does not explore the possible implications of representing criminal dissection in sixteenth-century martyrological anatomical illustrations as injurious or mortal yet also redemptive, for a cultural and perhaps popular understanding of early modern anatomy as both injurious and efficacious. For the historian of anatomy, this is an unfortunate consequence of what is otherwise a considerable merit of the book; that is, its tightly maintained focus on the abstraction and constitution of (gendered) embodiment. But it is not merely that significant cultural meanings and associations of anatomy are omitted by this focus; there seems also to be an impact on the evaluation of anatomical knowledge itself. Statements about the ‘truth’ being ‘clearly […] revealed to barber-surgical apprentices by the evidence of the body on the anatomy table’ (102) echo uncritically an early modern sense or rhetoric of anatomy as revelatory and of its potential to discover a body possessed of its own meanings.

[13]  Cregan’s study is not concerned with anatomy as subalternated to natural philosophy or its historical relation to theology, but with its public demonstration in the context of a perceived relation to surgery. In this context, Cregan has provided credible evidence for which texts were likely to have been in use at the Barber-Surgeons’ Company, even though no inventory of the library’s contents has been found to have survived. That the visceral lecture delivered by John Banister Aged 48, 1581 depicts Banister ‘reading on’ (and presumably translating) Realdo Colombo’s Latin De re anatomica does not necessarily present an insurmountable objection to Cregan’s argument that being in English ‘vastly increases the probability’ of books like Helkiah Crooke’s Microcosmographia (1615) and Alexander Read’s Somatographia anthropine (1616) of ‘being popular with the “unlatined” barber-surgical apprentices’ (64). The availability, and more importantly the authority, of vernacular alternatives to Latin texts had increased significantly by 1616, and both these books clearly seem to have been intended by their authors to be used during the Barber-Surgeons’ quarterly public dissections. But do we know whether the ‘latined’ physician ‘reading’ the lecture or the Master Barber-Surgeons would have been responsible for selecting a suitable text?

[14]  Cregan is an acute observer and insightful interpreter of Vesalian and post-Vesalian anatomical illustrations. Her thesis places very great emphasis on these illustrations in anatomy textbooks, rather than on the texts, but the value of the contribution of her book in this respect is truly estimable and can be exemplified by her analysis of the ‘anatomical palimpsest’ of Clopton Havers’ A Survey of the Microcosme (1695), which reworks the popular flap anatomies in Remmelin’s Catoptrum microcosmicum (1639). For Cregan’s thesis it is not merely incidental that Joseph Moxon’s 1675 revised and translated English edition was presented to the actress and mistress of King Charles II, Nell Gwyn. In tracing the various adaptations of these editions, Cregan highlights the manner in which ‘prior forms of abstraction linger but are in the process of being modified and written over, of losing their potency and fluency’ (231).

[15]  While having been absorbed by such (re-)interpretations of familiar anatomical images, this reader would like to suggest that one gesture in the plate labelled visio secunda in Remmelin’s Catoptrum microcosmicum (1639) may have been under-interpreted (119-20). The face of the male figure whom Cregan refers to as ‘an Adam’ exudes benevolence and serenity and does so because defeated beneath his left foot is death, represented by a memento mori symbol, the skull. It seems more than plausible that the gestural iconography of this microchristus figure bears a close doctrinal relationship to Paul’s exposition of the centrality to Christian faith of the doctrine of the resurrection in his first epistle to the Corinthians, where he refers to the time when Christ, the second Adam, shall have ‘put all enemies under his feet’, and ‘the last enemy that shall be destroyed is death’ (1 Cor. 15.25-26). In the visio tertia ‘an “Eve” stands with her foot on a skull’ and as in the previous image a serpent writhes within its cavities, though here the serpent is less subdued and carries the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (125). A banderol is inscribed with Genesis 3.4: ‘But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die.”’ The irony of this quotation in this anatomical illustration is noted by Cregan, but it is not diminished by the partial restitution suggested by the situation of the serpent and the skull under her foot, for the abstraction of embodiment involves an understanding of being simultaneously in the light of salvation as well as the shadow of the Fall.

[16]  Other than her entirely justified remark that the viscera are more subject to putrefaction than the rest of the body and ‘neither embalming nor cool storage were effective’ (295), Cregan provides little context for understanding the anatomical method or order employed by the Barber-Surgeons in their public dissections, in which she says, two lectures were devoted to each of the viscera, the myology, and the osteology of the body. Despite discussing clearly, accurately and at length the bibliographical entanglement of Thomas Vicary’s A Profitable Treatise of the Anatomy of Mans Bodie (1553) with the 1553 (second) edition of Thomas Gemini’s Compendiosa totius anatomie delineatio, Cregan does not comment on how the re-ordering of Vicary’s text by Nicholas Udall consisted of arranging it according to the method of discipline or necessity, a tripartite division according to the functions of the animal, vital and natural faculties in the head, thorax and abdomen respectively.  What precisely was the relationship between these two methods in the practice of the Barber-Surgeons?

[17]  The anatomical focus in this book is provided by the notion that the study of anatomy was a purpose on its own, which is, to ‘know thyself’ (147 et passim).  It is understandable that a concern with method may appear philosophical rather than sociological, but it is arguable that the order in which the anatomy of the body is demonstrated might have had a bearing on the reflexive understanding of ‘self’, for among the alternatives were the methods of dignity or nobility, which requires that the anatomy ‘shold begin with the brain, as with the most noble part’,[2] and that of Nature, which purports to emulate or replicate the creative ingenuity of Nature or God.[3]

University of Wales, Lampeter, May 2010


[1] Francis Barker, The Tremulous Private Body:  Essays on Subjection, (London Methuen) pp. 63-65. [back to text]

[2] Helkiah Crooke, Microcosmographia:  A Description of the Body of Man (London: William Jaggard, 1615); Alexander Read, Somatographia anthropine; or, A Description of the Body of Man (London:  William Jaggard, 1616), later revised and reprinted as The Manuall of the Anatomy or Dissection of the Body of Man. [back to text]

[3] See, for example, Andreas De Laguna, Anatomica methodus, seu de sectione humani corporis contemplation (1535), trans. in L.R. Lind, Studies in Pre-Vesalian Anatomy: Biography, Translations, Documents (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1975), p. 265. [back to text]


Jeffrey Kahan and M. Thomas Hester (eds.), Talking Renaissance Texts: Essays on the Humanist Tradition in Honor of Stanley Stewart (The Ben Jonson Journal – Special Edition, 2009)

Jeffrey Kahan and M. Thomas Hester (eds.), Talking Renaissance Texts: Essays on the Humanist Tradition in Honor of Stanley Stewart. Special Double Edition of The Ben Jonson Journal, Volume 16, Numbers 1-2, May 2009.

Reviewed by Peter Sillitoe

[1]  For this special double issue of The Ben Jonson Journal, editors Jeffrey Kahan and M. Thomas Hester have gathered together an impressive array of literary talent in terms of early modern scholarship in order to offer a detailed and wide-ranging collection of essays on the Humanist tradition whilst supplying a fitting tribute to the work of Stanley Stewart, one of two founding editors of the journal.Given this latter fact, it is perhaps unsurprising that the collection opens with a brief foreword (viii-x) that surveys the great achievements of Stewart in the highly competitive world of Renaissance criticism and study. As is typically the case in such collections, the foreword has to demonstrate how the essays cohere: in this case the volume is described as having a ‘central concern with how the meaning of Renaissance English literary works rests on the texts and textures to which they are indebted.’ (ix). Continuing on from this introductory theme, the collection also includes an introduction to ‘The Work of Stanley Stewart’ (1-14), which sets the scene for this literary and critical tribute by surveying his major achievements as a critic and editor.

[2]  Moving on from this opening salvo, we have the first essay ‘proper’, an award-winning contribution by Sara van den Berg entitled ‘Full Sight, Fancied Sight, and Touch’: Milton’s Sonnet 23 and Molyneux’s Question’ (16-32). In this article, the author addresses several correspondences between William Molyneux and John Locke in the 1680s and ’90s in light of a central concern with blindness and understanding. From this, Milton’s final sonnet is examined in terms of the similar subject matter, because, as van den Berg reminds us, ‘no critic has considered how the new materialist philosophy of the seventeenth century complicated the traditional interpretation of physical blindness as an emblem of moral blindness and redefined the relationship between body and soul’ (18). Thus, the critic goes to work in a detailed and persuasive close reading of Milton’s sonnet alongside discussion of philosophical materialism in the later years of the seventeenth century.

[3]  In ‘Reading “more wit” in Donne and Catullus’ (33-56), M. Thomas Hester examines the classical author’s work and Renaissance reputation alongside John Donne’s poetry, arguing that Donne’s ‘love poems attempt to respond to the crises predicated in Catullus’s epigrammatic love lyrics – [a] … poetic and sexual crisis’ (34). Hester surveys a range of poetry from both writers in order to demonstrate some of Donne’s thematic appropriations of the classical past in ‘The Relique’, ‘The Extasie’, ‘The Flea’, and ‘The Canonization’. The latter, according to Hester, is the Donne poem ‘that most fully dramatizes the ways in which Donne answers Catullus’s plea for “An impossible love”’ (43). Finally, the article turns its attention to the influence of Catullus on Donne’s poetic work on the death of his wife. This rewarding piece of scholarship will prove to be crucial reading for scholars interested in further connections between Renaissance poetry and the classical heritage of literary production.

 [4]  Staying with scholarship on Donne, the third essay in the collection, by R. V. Young, considers the issue of religion as opposed to sexual desire. In ‘Donne’s Catholic Conscience and the Wit of Religious Anxiety’ (57-76) Young argues for a new understanding of Donne’s religious beliefs in terms of how these issues inform his poetic discourse, as opposed to recent work that foregrounds the courtly and political cultural climates of many of his most famous works. Young argues that we should take note of the religious dimensions of Donne’s poetry because ‘[n]o thinking, educated man in England during this time could avoid the necessity of an intimately personal response to religious crisis’ (58). Staying with discussion of religion in the period, Arthur F. Kinney’s essay on ‘George Herbert’s Early Readers’ (77-98) reminds us of Herbert’s religious beliefs and expertly re-contextualises them in terms of his poetry (‘Love (III)’) whilst arguing for a renewed understanding of his uses of eroticism alongside the emerging discourse of interiority (86). Indeed, Kinney presents a very compelling case for the ‘physicality’ of religion and love in the work, and offers a detailed literary reading of the open-endedness of ‘Love (III)’.

[5]  Following on from the related works on religion and poetic discourse, a compelling essay by Robert C. Evans introduces gender and women’s writing into the equation. In ‘“Despaire behind, and death before”: Comparing and contrasting the “Meditative” Sonnets of Anne Vaughan Lock and John Donne’ (99-116), Evans traces the literary routes and connectedness of Donne’s Holy Sonnets back to the earlier 1560 sonnets entitled A Meditation of a Penitent Sinner, ‘almost certainly composed by Anne Vaughan Lock’ (99). Offering a comparative study of the two authors, Evans argues for differences and, mainly, similarities in their related literary outputs, focusing particularly on the tone and themes shared by Lock’s work and Donne’s ‘Batter my hart’. The article excavates a neglected potential influence on Donne and, indeed, the canon of seventeenth century poetry, and opens up space for further productive work on this neglected topic.

[6]  Moving on to Jonson studies, we have Grace Ioppolo’s excellent essay on ‘The Monckton-Milnes Manuscript and the “Truest” Version of Ben Jonson’s “A Satyricall Shrubb”’ (117-131). Ioppolo examines the Monckton-Milnes manuscript — a collection that includes a wealth of early modern poetry by writers including Jonson, Donne, and Shakespeare — in terms of the manuscript’s revelation of lines potentially cut from the printed texts of Jonson’s ‘Shrubb’ in the second folio collection of his 1640 Works. In doing so, the article persuasively reminds readers of a need to view a certain, specific text as, potentially at least, an original version of authorial composition (119). This is a revealing and fascinating subject and should prove most valuable to scholars interested in manuscript circulation, print, histories of the book and textual transmission, as well as to Jonson critics more generally. Furthermore, the article is able to substantiate the authorship of the poem by Jonson and offers a probable reason for the writer’s removal of certain lines that appear in the earlier manuscript.

[7]  Staying with archival work on Jonson (a great strength of this collection) we come to an essay by Jeffrey Kahan entitled ‘“Shakespear wanted Arte”: Questioning the Historical Value of Ben Jonson’s Conversations with Drummond’ (132-147). In this engaging study, Kahan investigates ‘the authenticity of Conversations in order to raise some questions about its presumed historical and literary value’ (134), tracing the complex interactions between the various versions of the work in order to arrive at more stable conclusions about authenticity than have been established previously.

[8]  Further work on Jonson appears in ‘“The Primrose Way to the Everlasting Bonfire”: The Choice of Hercules in Shakespeare, Jonson, and Milton’ (148-167), where John Mulryan argues that the works of the three writers can be linked together in terms of their common literary deployment of the classical figure of Hercules. Mulryan persuasively links numerous Shakespeare plays to the work of Jonson (including Pleasure Reconciled to Virtue) and of Milton (including the masque Comus and Paradise Lost).

[9]  Moving on to pastures new, the collection then offers up an engaging piece by Paul J. Voss. In ‘Catholicism in Print: Tudor Books in the Douay College Museum at St. Edmund’s’ (168-196), Voss points out that analysis of primary printed materials from the early modern period is vital for a clearer, deeper understanding of religious discourse in the period. Indeed, whereas scholars have often highlighted the importance of print to Protestantism in the period, Voss reminds us that Catholicism, too, placed great emphasis on printed matter as it tried to maintain a foothold in Tudor England’s social, cultural, and religious landscape. Voss surveys the particularly rich collection of such materials at the museum, and highlights his important point with intelligent discussion of many of the books there.

[10]  The next, Shakespearean, section of this special issue begins with Richard Harp on the Bard. In his ‘Proverbs, Philosophy, and Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice and King Lear‘ (197-215), Harp assesses the two dramatic works in terms of ‘the philosophical context of proverbial wisdom’, whilst also analysing ‘proverbs’ contribution to the thematic and philosophical issues’ of Venice and Lear (197-198). In doing so, he goes back to the grammar school education of a Renaissance playwright, where a writer like Shakespeare would have learnt the proverbs of the classical past, and then reads the two plays alongside this formative educational process. In ‘Othello’s Tragedy and Uncommon Law’ (216-247), Cyndia Susan Clegg reviews previous critical work on the play and offers readers the compelling idea that ‘[s]uch vilification of the racial other poses a difficulty […] in understanding Othello as a tragedy because it inevitably and necessarily imposes upon the play’s action a discourse of corruption and degeneration’ (218). Thus Clegg examines ‘how Renaissance books on Africa and the Islamic world represented categories of religion, ethnicity, and national origins … [and so] suggest how Shakespeare’s audience might have responded to the Moor of Venice as a tragic figure’ (219). An array of early modern writing on the broad topic of Renaissance views on exoticism is analysed next to the play, with many thought-provoking points raised by this intelligent and persuasive essay.

[11]  Remaining with scholarship that privileges an engagement with primary materials, in ‘Eloquence Repaired: Thomas Wilson’s New Myth of the Origin and Nature of Oratory’ (248-265), Scott F. Crider makes the point that it is worth retracing the religious connotations present in Wilson’s The Art of Rhetoric in order to fully assess his work (266). A revaluation of the sacred dimension of the work provides a basis for future work on major Renaissance writers, as Crider traces the merging of ‘Ciceronian and Christian’ discourses (254).

[12]  The final two essays in this collection return to Shakespeare. In ‘Meter and Meaning in Shakespeare’ (266-280), Tom Clayton displays impressive linguistic and stylistic talent in arguing for a heightened attention to meter and stress in early modern criticism. Indeed, Clayton writes well when he observes that he has ‘become increasingly impressed by the extent to which Shakespeare’s meter, especially but not only in his dramatic verse, strongly suggests and even determines meaning, if allowed to have its metrical say before interpretation based on lexicon and syntax . … has its turn’ (268). This thesis is then applied very persuasively to Shakespeare by way of George Puttenham, and the essay, like many in this collection, should be commended for the way in which it opens up intriguing new research opportunities for a variety of Renaissance texts.

[13]  The collection concludes with John Channing Briggs’s ‘Romeo and Juliet and the Cure of Souls’ (281-303), which stresses the continuing popularity of the play alongside its literary and dramatic aesthetics in order to remind us of how and why the text evokes such a strong sense of emotion and catharsis in audiences and readers alike. Indeed, as Briggs informs us, the work ‘is unusual among Shakespeare’s plays in its power to elicit our speculation, after the fact, over alternatives to the actual course of the action’ (293). Briggs offers a thoughtful and sensitive reading of the play’s language and thematic concerns as he explores the generic features of tragedy in light of this famous play.

[14]  In conclusion, this special issue is positively brimming with cutting-edge research in a number of related literary and critical specialisations. Of course, a potential problem with this approach is the fact that the collection occasionally appears to lack a strict focus. Yet overall, the dominant theme here is one of combined scholarly excellence in tribute to an exceedingly important voice in Renaissance scholarship.

University College Cork, May 2010

Anthony Ellis, Old Age, Masculinity, and Early Modern Drama. Comic Elders on the Italian and Shakespearean Stage (Ashgate, 2009)

Anthony Ellis, Old Age, Masculinity, and Early Modern Drama. Comic Elders on the Italian and Shakespearean Stage. Anglo-Italian Renaissance Studies Series. Farnham: Ashgate, 2009. ISBN 978-0-7546-6578-6.  190 pp. Hbk. £55.

Reviewed by Rory Loughnane

[1]  In Anthony Ellis’s Old Age, Masculinity, and Early Modern Drama, the early discussion of intertextuality (11-13) indicates the problematic nature of reconstructing early modern Anglo-Italian cultural exchange. This study of the comic old man (senex) character in English and Italian comedy situates topical readings of a selection of plays within their individual historical contexts, rather than actively seeking out points of transmission, or borrowings or processes of contaminatiofor what is an identifiable transnational phenomenon. Intergenerational tensions are central to Ellis’s treatment of older male characters in Florentine and Venetian drama, as well as in plays written for the ‘Shakespearean stage’, and play readings are supported appositely with social and historico-political material. Early modern English conceptions of the aging process are discussed in detail, with the author describing Galenic humoural theory and its reception, and drawing on contemporary medical material from writers such as Thomas Elyot, Timothy Bright, Thomas Wright, André du Laurens and Robert Burton. As the list of authors indicates, Ellis’s discussion braids together senescence and dotage (or ‘madness of old age’) with melancholy, and he describes how the consensus of medical opinion held that as human bodies age they grow steadily colder and drier, the characteristic qualities of that humour (19). As melancholia was considered a female disease ‘in the popular imagination’ this threatened to ‘render men effeminate’ (23), and, moreover, to jeopardize the ‘patriarchal system’ (27). An extended analogy that Ellis draws out from this material is between a failing body politic (and social) and the processes of old age. Thus, visible evidence for degeneration in 1500s England reaches a peak at the turn of the century. These factors include rising inflation, high unemployment, and ‘frightening levels of poverty, vagrancy and crime’ which enable an analogy between the figure of the old man and the larger social unit, ‘suffering its final ailments that presaged death and apocalyptic redemption’ (29). With this extended analogy in mind, Ellis’s later readings of Falstaff in The Merry Wives of Windsor as an economically parasitic outsider (58) and love-melancholic (59-61) are particularly insightful.  This analogy is returned to again in the sixth chapter’s comparison of Jonson’s The Alchemist and Dekker’s Old Fortunatus, where the private corruption of the elderly male characters Doctor Subtle and Fortunatus (through the promises of alchemical gold) takes place ‘in the context of a depleted, nearly exhausted world’ (151). In the final chapter, Ellis turns to The Tempest and Middleton, Rowley, and Heywood’s The Old Law and describes ‘world-creating projects’ in the light of the tumultuous conditions of Tudor and early Stuart England. In a rather downbeat reading of The Tempest (as comprising a failed utopian model with a sense of loss at its conclusion), Ellis compares how, like an aging body with no answer to ‘debilitating changes’, the utopian vision ‘cannot accommodate change’ (164).

[2]  The real strength of this book lies, however, in its treatment of intergenerational conflicts in cinquecento Florentine and Venetian comedy. If there is a crisis of the elderly in England manifested by ‘a widespread social malaise’, in Florence the crisis is an intergenerational struggle about the rights to, and forms of, governance between young and old.  These ideas are introduced through a reading of Cardinal Dovizi da Bibbiena’s La Calandra (first performed 1513), where — while relying on Richard Trexler’s Public Life in Renaissance Florence (New York: Academic Press, 1980) — Ellis describes how youthful disenfranchisement was a chronic problem, with Florentine law forbidding anyone under 29 from holding an important office. The frustration of career stagnation for the giovani (or young men) led to widespread feelings of anger towards older generations. The Medici family harnessed the support of the younger generation upon their return to power in 1612, and this, as Ellis notes, ‘is the period of Calandra’. But despite their support for the return of the Medici, the problems continued for consecutive younger generations. La Calandra is interpreted with the most recent Medici return to power in mind, and the titular elderly figure is described as ‘stupid, self-deluded, reckless (and) carnally motivated’, personifying ‘all the vices hated by moralists and intellectuals alike’ (52). As Ellis astutely notes, in Bibbiena’s decidedly unsympathetic rendering of the play’s eponymous elderly figure, it seems significant that Calandra is excluded from the play’s comic denouement. Ellis neatly ties in other topical references in the play to demonstrate convincingly how Bibbiena’s treatment of the stage senex is best viewed through the subtext of contemporary Florentine intergenerational conflict.  Chapter Three, focusing on Niccolò Machiavelli’s Clizia (1525), Danato Giannotti’s Il Vechio Amoroso (1536) and Lorenzo de Pierfrancesco de’ Medici’s (Lorenzino) Aridosia (1536), develops the political allegory of intergenerational struggle as outlined in Bibbiena’s earlier play, and through readings of the plays’ senex figures, Ellis demonstrates the authors’ varied political concerns and ambitions.

[3]  In the fourth and fifth chapters, Ellis’s attention switches to Venetian society, and particularly to the dramatic output of Andrea Calmo and Flaminio Scala’s Commedia dell’Arte scenarios. The sixteenth century ‘gerontocracy’ of Venice suffered little from the type of youthful rebellion or civil agitation that haunted Florence, where the giovani ‘accepted the slow passage to the inner circle as an inalterable face of upper-class Venetian life’ (98). However, while drawing on Meyer Fortes’ conception of two types of aging, Ellis points to the distinction between the domestic and public spheres for adult males in Renaissance Venice, where ‘the deferral of age-specific satisfactions was so pronounced’ — for example, a male noble could marry and be head of a household in his twenties, but many prestigious positions were ‘legally off-limits’ until he reached forty (99). Ellis then draws out the significance of Calmo’s series of wayward senex amans in Rodiana (1540), Il Travaglia (c.1546) and Il Saltuzza (1551). Turning to the character of the Pantalone in Scala’s Commedia dell’Arte scenarios, Ellis details his stock appearance (with an interesting sub-section on early modern physiognomy) and then compiles a chart listing ‘Traits and Behaviours of Pantalone’ in 40 of Scala’s scenarios. The chart reveals a complex view of the Pantalone figure at odds with its reductive iconographical figuration in the Western imagination. The comedy of Scala and Calmo is shown to repeatedly support the status quo of the Venetian Republic, which was founded, as Ellis observes, on ‘the idealization of old age so as to minimize intergenerational conflict [and so as] to ensure smooth political and dynastic transition’ (135).

[4]  This reader was unconvinced by Chapter One’s reading of Lear as senex amans, driven by an effeminizing and inappropriate psychosexual drive, and surprised by the relatively small number of contemporary English plays referred to over the course of the book (less than twenty, fourteen of which were Shakespearean). Also, despite the comparative aims of the monograph, La Calandra seemed misplaced alongside The Merry Wives of Windsor in Chapter Two, and otherwise, English and Italian comedies are discussed in distinct chapters. References to texts from 1987 (26) and 1993 (15) as ‘recent’ also jarred slightly. The absence of a conclusion to the book was most surprising, when even a brief chapter might have tied together many of the disparate elements of the book’s mostly excellent expositions.

[5]  However, there is much to admire in Ellis’s fluid prose, and his book will prove to be a valuable aid to scholarship on attitudes towards, and medical advice upon, the aging process in the early modern period. Moreover, the book is important in providing the first full-length study of concepts and depictions of the senex character in early modern English and Italian dramatic output, and this research will undoubtedly lend itself to further studies in this rich and interesting area.

Trinity College, Dublin, May 2010

Eric Ives, Lady Jane Grey: A Tudor Mystery (Blackwell, 2009)

Eric Ives,  Lady Jane Grey: A Tudor Mystery. Chichester: Wiley Blackwell, 2009. ISBN 978-1405194136. Xiv + 367 pp. Hbk. £19.99.

Reviewed by Tracey A. Sowerby

[1]  Lady Jane Grey: A Tudor Mysteryis not a biography. Rather, it is a book about a dynastic and political crisis. The ‘Tudor Mystery’ that Eric Ives has set out to solve is how the ‘legitimate’ Queen Jane, who commanded considerable political support, was overthrown in favour of the illegitimate Mary Tudor in ‘a wholly unexpected political coup’ (1). Viewing Jane’s rule from this angle produces a provocative and revisionist account of the summer of 1553. This alone would make Ives’ book an important piece of scholarship; that he wields an extensive array of archival evidence and provides the most detailed account to date of the succession crisis of 1553 makes this a book that no Tudor historian can ignore.

[2]  Most historians hold that it was Mary, not Jane, who was the legitimate queen in July 1553. In 1544 Mary was designated Edward’s successor by Act of Parliament should Edward die without heirs, and this was confirmed in Henry VIII’s last will and testament. Problematically, however, both the Succession Act and Henry’s will did nothing to restore Mary’s or Elizabeth’s legitimacy. Ives brilliantly highlights that the crisis of July 1553 was also a constitutional crisis where notions of the nature of monarchy and English law were at stake. Could the king bequeath the crown? Once one king had laid out the succession in his will, was this an inalienable right of the monarchy, or was it a limited privilege granted to an individual monarch by Parliament? If it were the former, could it be exercised by a minor? And how did Henry’s provision fit with the established principles of common law? Ives argues that Henry VIII made a distinction between legitimacy and appointing to the succession, that Edward had the sovereign right to will the succession just like his father, and that the leading English judges who were asked to examine the issue confirmed the legality of Edward’s ‘device’, which conferred the crown on Jane and her heirs males. In these circumstances, politicians were left with a choice: challenge statute law by backing Jane, or bring the laws of inheritance into question by supporting Mary. Most, Ives argues, supported Jane. Jane Grey’s status as the legitimate heir to the throne and Edward’s legal right to designate the succession did not go unchallenged at the time (Sir Edward Montague was not alone in his belief that the implementation of the device after Edward’s death would be treasonable as it contravened an act of Parliament, although he acceded to Edward’s demands that he accept it) and Ives’s assertions are unlikely to go unchallenged now. The idea that concerns over the principles of inheritance at common law motivated many of Jane’s supporters is equally provocative, though the surviving evidence does not permit Ives to demonstrate that this was indeed the case.

[3]  At the heart of the book stand two characters: Edward VI and John Dudley, duke of Northumberland. Northumberland was long seen as the Machiavellian mastermind who contrived Jane’s accession in order to place his son on the throne and preserve the power he had acquired under Edward. Like Barrett Beer and the other historians who have rehabilitated Dudley’s political reputation, Ives regards him as principally the loyal servant of the Tudor state, ‘one of the most able, principled and successful figures of the Tudor period’ (97) who ‘was many things, but traitor he was not’ (98). In trying to explain why so loyal a servant would take such drastic steps, Ives argues that Dudley’s confident and commanding manner was a mask for a man who was psychologically vulnerable and desperately insecure, deeply scarred by Henry VIII’s utilitarian destruction of his father. Responsibility for Jane’s accession is ultimately laid at Edward’s door. Even before Edward knew that he was dying, he had toyed with ideas about the succession, excluding his sisters and clearly very concerned to ensure a male succession. Ives painstakingly traces the development of Edward’s ideas about the succession and the decision to settle the crown on Jane and her future male offspring as the young king learnt of his imminent demise, and provides useful tables to help the non-expert through the complexities. He makes a strong case that Edward VI was also the driving force persuading key politicians and lawyers to accept his provisions. Dudley implemented the ‘Device’ out of loyalty to the dying king and many of his fellow privy councillors followed suit.

[4]  Despite the title, Jane Grey is not the focus of Ives’s book, though Ives does discuss Jane’s education, family and religion at some length. His Jane is not the tragic figure who appealed to so many Victorians, but a ‘bluestocking’ and committed evangelical used as a political pawn by her indifferent parents. Jane married Guidlford Dudley reluctantly and was initially disinclined to take the throne: indeed, she was apparently surprised to discover that she was queen. Yet once on the throne she wielded power with a firmer hand than her earlier reluctance might suggest, adamantly blocking plans to invest her husband as king. Jane and her supporters had the advantage. They controlled the court, the state administration and the Tower, and Northumberland oversaw orders to the lord lieutenants in the counties to uphold Jane’s rule, whereas Mary possessed significantly inferior resources and was mistaken in her belief that her cousin, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V would come to her aid. Immediately after Edward’s death, few would have bet on Mary. Yet within thirteen days she had amassed considerable support, had been proclaimed Queen in London with the backing of the Privy Council, and Northumberland, who had led an army out of London in order to suppress Mary’s uprising, had surrendered. All of these developments need to be examined anew if Jane, not Mary, was rightfully queen.

[5]  Several recent biographies of Mary Tudor have put forward a positive view of Mary’s political abilities and achievements. Evidence of Mary’s abilities is to be found in Ives’s assessment. As a result of information being passed to her from court, Mary carefully positioned herself before staking her claim with a retinue that, we are told, was ‘straining at the leash to leap into action as a secretariat’ (227). Although Ives concedes that Mary ‘frequently displayed a naivety in affairs and a chronic lack of self-confidence’ (86), on two issues she was indefatigable: Catholicism and her claim to the throne. Her intransigence on the latter issue came as something of a surprise to Northumberland who had not taken the military precautions one might have expected. Northumberland’s uncharacteristically poor strategic decisions proved critical, as did Mary’s ability to translate her resolve into political support, allowing her to mount the only successful Tudor rebellion.

Pembroke College, University of Oxford,  May 2010