Shakespeare Quarterly 52.1 (2001) 159-161
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Shakespearean Power and Punishment: A Volume of Essays
Shakespearean Power and Punishment: A Volume of Essays Edited by Gillian Murray Kendall. Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press; London: Associated University Presses, 1998. Pp. 219. $39.50 cloth.
One should not be surprised, given this book's title, to come across essays written in the shadow of Foucault. But, given various reassessments and reformulations of historical criticism, one should also not be surprised to find a creatively uneasy approach to punishment and its place within culture. Ronald R. Macdonald quotes the twice-repeated query from the opening scene of The Tempest--"Where's the master?"--in his discussion of that play's vision of authority, and the question might serve as an epigraph for the volume as a whole, though whether the "master" is an author or an ideology would vary from essay to essay.
There is no question, however, about the presence of a guiding hand at the book's helm, as the volume is well organized and introduced. Gillian Murray Kendall has assembled a collection that addresses the idea of public punishment in a wide array of cultural contexts. Readers interested in issues such as orality and print cultures, gender controversies, and the idea of the body politic in its relationships with individual bodies will find thought-provoking essays that provide both mappings of power and readings of individual plays. Kendall writes in her introduction, "I cannot help but feel that the existence of Shakespeare's plays (as they unfold on stage) is based on disruptions of orthodox power or, conversely, on the disturbing consequences of employing that power" (16). The belief that orthodox power can be successfully interrupted or at least consciously protested represents one pole of this volume's portrayal of ideology, but it does not silence an opposing stance, taken by many of the contributors. Indeed, one could for the most part divide the essays into two groups: those that see characters [End Page 159] acquiescing to power and those that emphasize resistance. The book, though, has a different form, as it is divided into three sections, each containing three essays.
The opening triad focuses on women, and it is the volume's most textually diverse section. Ann Rosalind Jones discusses a genre she calls "revenge comedy," plays in which women punish men, in relation to women's roles in "the overlapping realms of oral and print culture" (24). The density of such an approach--this essay looks at three plays, Twelfth Night, The Merry Wives of Windsor, and Swetnam the Woman-Hater, as well as pamphlets and popular rituals of punishment--is representative of many of the essayists' ambitious efforts to make connections. Susan Collier, in a similar piece of cultural mapping, reads Philaster and Cymbeline and their treatments of men stabbing allegedly unfaithful women in terms of both familial and national politics. Particularly memorable is the way she connects the plays with pronouncements by James I. Sara Eaton argues that within the emblem tradition there is a pattern of female duality; she then employs work in visual theory to connect that duality to "the treatment of emblematic women on the stage" in The Second Maiden's Tragedy and The Winter's Tale (60). Eaton's discussion of the Lady in the former play is one of the book's high points.
The second section, something of a fulcrum for the volume, examines Measure for Measure, and it brings the issue of punishment into the long-running disagreement about the Duke's role. David McCandless combines psychoanalytic and performance criticism with concepts from debates about pornography and finds a particular circularity in the play's relationships. He writes of Isabella and Angelo, "She has made him feel her power; now she must feel his" (93), and McCandless explores his sense of "the play's sadomasochistic dynamics" (104). Arthur Little writes in an open and inviting voice of the Duke's consistent project of undermining "his subjects' absolutist fantasies" (115). Stressing the difference between Shakespeare and the...