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Theatre Journal 54.3 (2002) 524-525
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Shakespeare and Sexuality
Shakespeare and Sexuality. Edited by Catherine M. S. Alexander and Stanley Wells. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001; pp. 207. $54.95 cloth.
Catherine Alexander and Stanley Wells have edited two recent volumes that address essential areas of inquiry in Shakespeare Studies: Shakespeare and Race and Shakespeare and Sexuality. Both collections chart the recent scholarship on these topics by bringing together essays, most of which are reprinted from the journal Shakespeare Survey, that attempt to address a wide range of issues. The volume on sexuality presents an interesting array of pieces, including a cogent introduction by Ann Thompson, Margreta de Grazia's classic study of the "scandal" of Shakespeare's sonnets, and a brand-new essay on nudity in film by Celia R. Daileader. Individually, the essays are all excellent; yet as a whole, the collection does not offer as much variety as such a broad topic demands.
The editors provide at the beginning of the volume a brief note claiming that the collected essays look at sexuality through the lens of language and "expressions of desire (male, female, inter-racial, homosexual and heterosexual) in performance as well as text" (ix). Thompson's introduction picks up on all of these important themes and neatly summarizes the varied work that has been done on the topic. She quotes Michel Foucault's The History of Sexuality to make the point that, in literary studies, sexuality has become less about bodily pleasure than about the structures of power and knowledge. The influence of feminism on Shakespeare studies, she argues, has produced a large body of work on male anxiety and the repression of female sexuality. Thompson also touches on other important work on such topics as gay studies, the boy actor, performance studies, and the construction of sexuality through language in Shakespeare's plays. Her introduction is extremely helpful for bibliographical references and provides a clear and concise overview. However, I would have liked to see her indicate directions in which the scholarship on sexuality might go or perhaps suggest particular limitations or strengths of the work produced thus far.
Thompson's introduction does provide some useful categories for the essays that follow. Among those that fall under her heading of "Language" are especially useful pieces by Lloyd Davis, Mary Bly, and Catherine Belsey. The Davis and Bly contributions are wonderful companion pieces, as they both chart the influence of Romeo and Juliet on the language of love. While Davis shows how the play has influenced later depictions through "the celebration of personal desire" (38), Bly argues that Juliet's chaste yet knowing sexuality paved the way for the forthright sexual punning of later comic heroines. Belsey's essay also connects nicely with Davis's, as both discuss the potentially anarchic and dangerous nature of desire: Belsey through an analysis of the contrasting worlds of Venice and Belmont in The Merchant of Venice and Davis by exploring the juxtaposition of love and death in Romeo and Juliet.
The essays by William C. Carroll, Michael Hattaway, and Subha Mukherji also look at the construction of sexuality through language, but they are primarily concerned with the production and regulation of female sexuality. Carroll's piece investigates representations of virginity in Shakespeare's plays. His rather traditional psychoanalytic argument explores the plays' construction of female sexuality as lack, as "no-thing." He concludes that while virginity resists being represented through language—it remains "a kind of negation ex creatio" (29)—women's sexuality is always circumscribed by male regulation. Hattaway's essay takes on a similar topic, looking at expressions of misogyny in Shakespeare's plays. His contribution was inspired by a production of Measure for Measure that highlighted the misogyny and sexual exploitation of the women characters. He argues that Shakespeare's texts—specifically Love's Labor's Lost, All's Well That Ends Well, and The Winter's Tale—problematize misogyny as often as [End Page 524] they seemingly endorse it. Mukherji's piece also analyzes All's Well by taking a historicist approach to the misogyny of Bertram...