- The Hand on the Shakespearean Stage: Gesture, Touch and the Spectacle of Dismemberment by Farah Karim-Cooper
Farah Karim-Cooper opens her book The Hand on the Shakespearean Stage with some compelling anecdotes of hands in Shakespeare. She compares Katherina, who volunteers to place her hand beneath Petrucchio’s foot, to Hamlet, who holds Ophelia’s wrist hard. She observes that Paulina of The Winter’s Tale suggests an infant’s hand identifying its parents. She notes that Titus’s and Lavinia’s amputations robbed them of their power in society. Using extensive early modern sources, Karim-Cooper argues that Shakespeare and his contemporaries expressed identity, emotion, and social engagement through a character’s hand gesture, contact, and action. While at times the extent of the source work is exhaustive, Karim-Cooper skillfully locates the expressive hand in an emotional and theatrical context.
In chapter 1, “The Idea of the Hand in Shakespeare’s World,” the author examines the function of the hand in Aristotle, Galen, Bulwer, and Vesalius. She connects these studies and Mannerist paintings of the hand to Elizabethan gestures, then locates the same gestures in Shakespeare. In one example, Karim-Cooper juxtaposes Hortensio’s attempt to teach Kate to play the lute in The Taming of the Shrew with Hamlet’s chiding of Guildenstern’s attempt to play him like an instrument. Karim-Cooper uses these and other close readings to reveal Shakespeare’s expressive mind/body connection through gesture.
In chapter 2, “Manners and Beauty: The Social Hand,” Karim-Cooper assesses the hand in early modern social networks. She considers the function of hand gestures and handkerchiefs across classical and early modern sources. Karim-Cooper effectively contrasts Beatrice’s reference to taking hands in marriage with Othello’s symbolization of fidelity in Desdemona’s handkerchief. Her exploration of the literary treatment of the hand could have connected Shakespeare’s works with French medieval literature, such as the Iseult of the White Hands. Such an addition could have furthered the application of the function and appearance of hands on the Continent.
In chapter 3, “‘Lively Action’: Gesture in Early Modern Performance,” Karim-Cooper astutely explains Johann de Witt’s subtle and comic gestures in an Elizabethan scene at the Swan. In Harry Peacham’s sketch of Shakespeare’s [End Page 375] Titus Andronicus, she distinguishes between Aaron’s direct pointing and Titus’s openhandedness. Her analysis of Cicero’s and Quintilian’s admonitions to use subtlety rather than extravagant gesture leads into her discussion of English acting. By describing Samson’s thumb-biting in Romeo and Juliet and Wall’s chink in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, she clarifies how precise gestures may express significant moments in Shakespeare’s plays.
Karim-Cooper describes the way that gesture assists the plot through dumbshows and stage directions. Her specificity of the actor placement of a gesture above, below, or at waist-level underscores how the actors adapt gesture to emotionally connect with audiences in diverse spaces. Of keen interest to practitioners is Karim-Cooper’s discussion on the size of gesture in indoor and outdoor theatres. Her insight into the need for large gesture in candlelit indoor theatres suggested that the gestural style in theatres like the Globe and the Blackfriars was more similar than one might anticipate.
In chapter 4, “Gesture and Shakespeare’s Narrative Art,” Karim-Cooper interrogates the convergence of gesture and emotion in narratives. She coalesces influences from painting, poetry, Elizabethan plays, and Castilgione’s treatise on courtly manners to show how the uses of the hand, glove, and nails inform characters. Her analysis of Paolo Lomazzo’s A Tracte Containing the Arts of Curious Paintinge, Caruinge and Buildinge suggests that corporal images lead observers to sense a character’s emotions and is particularly incisive. She demonstrates passionate gestures by juxtaposing Antonio wringing Bassanio’s hand with Perdita, Hermione, and Leontes lifting their hands in their reunion.
In chapter 5, “‘Let Lips Do What Hands Do’: Shakespeare’s Sense of Touch,” Karim-Cooper explores desire and licentiousness...