- Marxist Shakespeares, and: Shame in Shakespeare
Routledge's Accents on Shakespeare series (not to be confused with it influential progenitor, the New Accents series) boldly asserts the irreducibly multivocal nature of scholarly debate within the field of Shakespeare studies while interrogating the very foundations of the institution that we call "Shakespeare." According to general editor Terence Hawkes, this series seeks to promote a dialogue that will expand "the horizons of a specific aspect of the subject" and "challeng[e] . . . the preconceptions on which it is based" (xii). Two recent volumes in the series, Jean E. Howard and Scott Cutler Shershow's Marxist Shakespeares and Ewan Fernie's Shame in Shakespeare, fulfill this energetic brief and offer reports "from the forefront of current critical activity" (xii).
Howard and Shershow's Marxist Shakespeares is a collection of eleven varied and substantial essays and an introduction, and the plural "Shakespeares" in its title indicates [End Page 228] that, even within the terrain labeled "Marxism," reading is neither a programmatic nor a monolithic affair. The editors begin by regarding Marxism as both "troublesome" and "useful," in part because it has so often been associated with a history that undermines its egalitarian claims, and in part because of the salient omissions in Marx's own writings. The "troublesomeness" that Howard and Shershow invoke may be the unwieldy residue of an unconscious process of recuperation that now divides Marxism into two distinct strands, the one heuristic and essentially the province of the academy, and the other practical and "activist" (2). Marxist dialectical method informs all of the essays where the prevailing emphasis is on the instrumental value of an essentially historical-materialist approach capable of producing "new" readings of old texts. This is a remarkable and incendiary collection that will succeed, one way or another, in provoking, if not infuriating, just about everybody.
Howard and Shershow have divided the volume into groupings of essays which steadily open up the extraordinary range of topics that now fall under the aegis of Marxism. The volume begins with two substantial essays, Peter Stallybrass's "'Well grubbed, old mole': Marx, Hamlet, and the (un)fixing of representation" and Richard Halpern's "An impure history of ghosts: Derrida, Marx, Shakespeare." Stallybrass takes his cue from Marx's own admiration for Shakespeare, and proceeds to read Marx reading Hamlet as a key to interpreting some of the issues of The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (1852). Stallybrass charts the convergence of Marx's own preoccupation with ghosts, French politics, and Shakespeare (22–23), and concludes that in his use of Shakespeare, Marx "stages" a representation in which the past is "transformed by the remaking of its presence" (24).
Richard Halpern's essay is far less playful. He sets out to "interrogate" Derrida's Shakespeare on the grounds that Derrida's reading of Shakespeare "is inextricably bound up with his reading (and misreading) of Marx" (32), and it is Halpern's contention that readers of Hamlet generally, and Derrida in particular, "'take up positions in fantasy laid out by the play'" (32). What troubles Halpern is Derrida's reconfiguration of the causal relationship between past and future, through what he calls the latter's idea of "hauntology/ontology," in terms of ethics and responsibility (33). And, even more unhappy with Derrida's draining Marxism of its lifeblood (35), he goes on to distinguish between the deployment of "a rhetoric of moral and political urgency whose earnestness is genuine enough in some respects" and the "mere posturing" that shadows it in Specters of Marx (41). There is clearly much to debate in this pugnacious essay, not the least of which is Derrida's belated enlistment of Hamlet as a way of mediating his revisitation of Marxism.
The three essays that follow—Dympna Callaghan's "Looking well to linens: women and cultural production in Othello and Shakespeare's England," Natasha Korda's "'Judicious...