- Center or Margin: Revisions of the English Renaissance in Honor of Leeds Barroll
No one has contributed more, directly or indirectly, to the advancement of Shakespeare studies than Leeds Barroll, founder of the Shakespeare Association of America and founding editor of Shakespeare Studies and Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England. Moreover, "the range of his scholarship is remarkable," Lena Cowen Orlin writes in her introduction to this unusually unified festschrift, "encompassing critical theory and formalist literary criticism, intellectual history and cultural biography, archival research and textual editing" (9). The dozen authors in this volume all attempt, like Barroll, to renegotiate our understanding of the Renaissance by writing from the margins of our present study or newly dispersing the present center of interest in Shakespeare and his contemporaries.
Peter Stallybrass, for instance, makes marginal Aleppo the focus of his essay. "Constantinople was religiously and culturally diverse in ways that were unimaginable in Christian Europe," he writes, adding, "Aleppo was equally diverse. Aleppo was the shock of the toleration of such diversity" (28). For the traveler John Cartwright it was, in 1601, the third capital of the Turkish empire, a refuge for Jews, Tartarians, Persians, Armenians, Egyptians, and Indians as well as Christians, all of them sharing an extraordinary "'freedom of conscience'" (28)—a place, that [End Page 252] is, hardly visible in Othello's dying reference or in the comment made by the First Witch in Macbeth. Here, in the Ottoman Empire, England was of little interest and English imperialism so much propaganda; their gifts were often thought worthless and useless. The view of the Ottoman Empire so common and so pronounced on the English stage was chauvinistic—and untrue.
For Philippa Berry, Venice was equally misunderstood. The Merchant of Venice is for her a palimpsest of cultures imposed by Shakespeare and others to combine classical references with the exotic merchandise from various countries that seems to pass through its markets. In Shakespeare's work, "Venice is a macrocosmic version of [an] ambiguous process of cultural miscegenation: a place where the complicated articulations of racial and cultural difference through storytelling are both censored and licensed, and where the racial and cultural outsider whose freight of cultural wisdom is both admired and contested is either explicitly or implicitly circumcised" (47). For her, this complex and discontinuous perspective reveals the fragmentation and ambiguity that described the Renaissance itself.
Patricia Parker completes a triad of essays on the Mediterranean imaginary in England by looking at references to beards and barbering in Antony and Cleopatra. In classical Rome, barbering denoted youth, effeminacy, transvestism, gelding, and eunuchry, while in the early modern world it was also associated with sexual license (syphilis caused loss of hair) and barbarism (Turks were thought to shave the heads of Christian captives), thus reinscribing on stage a land hardly known and often misrepresented. The play, she notes, centers on Enobarbus (Red-beard) describing Antony "barber'd ten times o'er" (2.2.224) to meet Cleopatra on her barge.1
In a section entitled "Researching the Renaissance," after a graduate seminar Barroll led for years at the Folger, Phyllis Rackin examines strong women in Shakespeare plays that are often neglected—not merely Margaret and Joan in Henry VI but Kate in The Taming of the Shrew and Mistresses Ford and Page in The Merry Wives of Windsor. Harry Berger Jr. looks at Dutch paintings alongside Othello to describe the anxieties produced in the newly formed nuclear family arrangements, concentrating on paired seventeenth-century Dutch pendants and on the relationship of Emilia and Iago. Orlin herself concludes the section by tracing the emergence of the Tudor long gallery as a new architectural space for private conversations—where secret confidences could be assured—and then traces this practice through various court depositions made between 1568 and 1571 in connection with the Ridolfi plot; she combines what had become central to great houses with what has been thought marginal literature at best.
Part 3 of this tribute to...