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Reviewed by:
  • Renaissance Earwitnesses: Rumor and Early Modern Masculinity
  • Jennifer C. Vaught
Keith M. Botelho . Renaissance Earwitnesses: Rumor and Early Modern Masculinity. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009. Pp. xiv + 199. $80.00.

In this excellent study of rumor and early modern masculinity, Keith M. Botelho begins by contextualizing Renaissance earwitnessing, or judicious listening, in terms of the importance of discerning truth in our noisy, modern world. In the preface, "Listening in an Age of Truthnapping," he contends that our auditory and visual senses are continually subjected to cell phones, the Internet, radio programs, and the nightly news that spins stories as if they were entertainment. These multiple, rapidly changing sources of news contain unverified information that can generate devastating rumors, a distortion and garbling of the truth distinct from gossip because of their large-scale social and political implications. In the Renaissance, "Rumor or Fama" is "an ambiguously gendered figure" that relentlessly undermines masculine and feminine authority, onstage and off (3).

In the introduction, "Buzz, Buzz: Rumor in Early Modern England," Botelho outlines the literary, historical, and theoretical implications of his innovative [End Page 361] argument about earwitnessing in plays by Marlowe, Shakespeare, Jonson, and Cary. Throughout this well-executed, carefully constructed, and witty book, he examines a wide range of texts about rumor and related subjects like cautionary aural discernment. His accessible, detailed analyses of dramatic works are impressive in a project that contributes to existing criticism on sound studies by Bruce Smith, Kenneth Gross, Wes Folkerth, and Gina Bloom (22). He makes an important contribution to early modern scholarship by complicating the restrictive alliance of hearing and its accompanying ideas of "obedience and receptivity" with femininity. Instead, he focuses on dramatists who feature men whose informational authority is based on their earwitnessing when subjected to male rumormongers (3). Despite the vilifying and scapegoating of the tongues of women allied with gossip in Renaissance dramatic works, conduct books, and marriage manuals, Botelho presents the ear as an alternative site of female resistance to their disempowerment in a number of Shakespeare's plays (75).

Botelho makes effective use of recent, compelling works on masculinity such as Mark Breitenberg's Anxious Masculinity in Early Modern England, Bruce Smith's Shakespeare and Masculinity, and Jennifer A. Low's Manhood and the Duel: Masculinity in Early Modern Drama and Culture, among others. The study as a whole could benefit from the inclusion of even more theoretical, secondary sources about gender, masculinity, and femininity to further illuminate the large number of plays he discusses. Nevertheless, his historicizing of early modern concepts of masculinity in relation to earwitnessing and rumor is strong. He deals insightfully with Elizabeth I, whom he calls the "paradigmatic earwitness of the period" (23), Francis Bacon, and humanist education theorists such as Juan Luis Vives and Roger Ascham. Though he sometimes blurs the distinctions between literary and historical men and women with respect to earwitnessing, he points out the common link between historia and storia in an early modern age when opposing and alternative interpretations of current events were printed rapidly and distributed widely like pulp fiction (54). In fact, the rise of print culture and relatively high literacy rates in Renaissance England markedly increased one's vulnerability to rumor and gossip (21). He concludes that "perhaps this pastiche of voices—an historical and theatrical babel—becomes a more accurate representation of truth than any one particular account" (54).

In chapter 1, "Table Talk: Marlowe's Mouthy Men," Botelho sets the stage by examining the playwright's rumor-filled life and humanist education treatises that emphasize careful discernment. He then analyzes Dido, Queen of Carthage, The Massacre at Paris, and Edward II in terms of male rumormongers and failures of earwitnessing. Botelho concludes that in these plays, "the uncontrolled speech of men" threatens "to undermine and destroy male authority" despite the fact that multiple early modern discourses tend instead to stigmatize women as gossipers [End Page 362] (36). Yet in Dido, Marlowe relies on "gendered binaries" of male "controlled speech" and "silence" and female "raving" (39). Dido reinforces the stereotype of "the woman who attempts to destroy a man's fame with her loose tongue" (39). In Edward II, Queen Isabella...


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