- Renaissance Go-Betweens: Cultural Exchange in Early Modern Europe
In contrast to some contemporary political commentators who define cultures as homogenous and as constantly "clashing," the articles in this volume serve as a salutary reminder that Europe was built on cultural exchange, that it has always had, in the words of one of the contributors, "a layered or palimpsest-like surface, upon which the remnants of other cultures . . . exercised an uncanny potency" (248). The wide-ranging articles bring to life the notion of Renaissance man, versatile in many languages and at home in many different cultures and locations.
The volume distills key contributions to the international conference on "Renaissance Go-Betweens" which took place in Munich in 2003. It is divided into three sections: mediators, mediations as mental topographies, and, finally, representations. Like the majority of cultural exchange studies books, this one, too, manages to bridge the gap between "real" mediators and their symbolic repre-sentations. Fascinating figures such as the translator and cultural mediator John Florio — most famous for his translation of Montaigne's essays but equally important as a compiler of Anglo-Italian dictionaries — are analyzed alongside exiles such as Giordano Bruno and the influential printer-publisher John Wolfe. Other papers look at the cultural practices, which mediators brought to their host cultures, at the contexts in which they operated (such as early modern trade), or at objects that carry the traces of the several cultures which have had an impact on their formation. The third section concentrates on the representation of mediators and mediation, with a perhaps expected, but nonetheless rewarding, particular focus on Shakespeare, with detailed explorations of the role of ghosts and spirits and of love ambassadors and messengers.
There is much to learn from the individual articles as well as from the overall volume. Not only does it strengthen the recent tendency of cultural exchange studies to move away from the period of nation states after 1800 in favour of the possibly less unified but therefore more complex early modern period. With less [End Page 567] defined notions of borders and cultural difference, travel, translation, exile, and exchange take on a significance which has been overlooked for too long. And rather than simply note in passing that Renaissance men (and some women) were well-versed in more than one language, the articles actually explore in detail of what this versatility consisted and what impact it had on culture and literature as a whole.
But as much as one wants to applaud this multinational volume with the contributors themselves acting as mediators of cultural exchange, some questions remain. It is slightly surprising that a volume edited by two German professors should not mention, if only to distance themselves from it, the Franco-German debate on cultural exchange which has increased in volume and importance over the last two decades. The attempts by historians and literary scholars such as Michel Espagne, Michael Werner, or Johannes Paulmann to approach cultural transfer or exchange systematically have not been developed further in the present book. Admittedly, it is very difficult not to get lost in the overwhelming detail of who did what when and why. But as a reader one has to work quite hard to glean the golden nuggets of transferable concepts and approaches from the case studies presented here.
A further slightly underexplored question is the one pertaining to cultural exchange and the role of (literary) texts. Again, although examples of textual representation (such as Shakespeare and Montaigne) and books as "carriers" of these representations are contained in the volume, no systematic discussion of the impact of texts and books as material objects can be found.
Finally, questions of gender are of little interest to the contributors. This is perhaps most unexpected since gender has become such an important category in both literary and historical studies, the two disciplines which most inform cultural exchange research. Even ethnography, the third discipline to inspire cultural exchange studies, has...