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Reviews321 Cynthia Marshall. The Shattering of the Self: Violence, Subjectivity, and Early Modern Texts. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002. Pp. xii + 216. $44.95. In this provocative, cogent, and illuminating study, Cynthia Marshall argues that some early modern texts, including some plays, served to "dismantle the composure" (2) ofplaygoers or readers.Why were readers and playgoers ofthe period receptive to works that provided "an experience of psychic fracture" (1)? Such works hardly seem either pleasant or useful. Through her careful analysis ofa small but diverse selection ofprimaryworks and her sophisticated application of theory, Marshall arrives at complex answers that integrate historical and psychological insights. This integration makes her work a corrective to studies that treat cultural artifacts either as simply reflective ofthe social context or as independent ofthat context. The book is selective and suggestive rather than comprehensive and conclusive but opens an area of inquiry that invites further exploration. After briefly surveying her overall argument, I will focus on the two chapters ofmost interest to readers of Comparative Drama. Marshall takes issuewith newhistoricist accounts ofthe early modern period. The very title of her book sets up an implicit contrast with the title of Stephen Greenblatt's landmark study Renaissance Self-Fashioning. Greenblatt argued that social, economic, political, and cultural forces in the period promoted a new ideology of autonomous individuality. Marshall agrees but contends that the situation produced a profound reaction that has been obscured by new historicist assumptions and methodology.According to Marshall, the emerging ideology of individual autonomy aroused anxiety and fear. Certain texts provided a"Dionysian release" (3) by shattering the autonomous individuality that was in the process ofbeing fashioned elsewhere in the culture. Marshall's sophisticated approach involves a complex set of comparisons among diverse perspectives: "I proceed dialectically, setting Renaissance denunciations oftheatrical involvement beside insights from modern phenomenology into the dynamics ofviewer response,early modern theories ofthe passions next to Freudian, Lacanian, and post-Lacanian theories, and Reformation models of sacrifice and self-loss against contemporary understandings ofsubjectivity and identity" (7). Marshall's use of psychoanalytical theories should not deter potential readers who are either unfamiliar with or skeptical about psychoanalysis . She explains these theories in lucid prose and applies them judiciously and in conjunction with other perspectives to illuminate the texts discussed. In chapter 1,"Violence, Subjectivity, and Paradoxes of Pleasure," Marshall surveys diverse forms of "self-shattering" in the early modern period. Antitheatrical polemicists complained that dramatic performances aroused 322Comparative Drama emotions in playgoers that produced a sinfully pleasurable dissolution of psychic integrity.Another form ofself-shattering was sought by devout Christians. In order to overcome his sinful resistance to God, for example, the speaker of John Donne's Holy Sonnet 14,"Batter my heart, three-person'd God," prays for violence against himself. Some literary and dramatic characters express a desire to be relieved of the burden of the self. Hamlet wishes that his "too, too solid [or sallied] flesh would melt, / Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew" (1.2.139-40). Critics have exercised considerable ingenuity in evading or explaining away the curious and disturbing fact that readers and playgoers take pleasure in literary and dramatic depictions of violence and suffering. Forthrightly and provocatively, Marshall explores similarities between this phenomenon and sadomasochism. It is hard to argue with the notion that human beings are sometimes self-divided, sometimes subject to psychic forces sharply at odds with one another. If this is so, then it is possible that one component of a person's psyche might take pleasure in somethingthat causes pain to another component. According to Leo Bersani, certain works of art help to manage psychological conflicts by means ofan "aesthetics ofmasochism" (42). Social conditions may exacerbate these psychological conflicts. Although psychological stresses arise in every period, Marshall argues that the initial burst of individualism in the early modern period made such stresses particularly intense and that the age produced a correspondingly intense masochistic desire for self-dissolution that was satisfied by a wide range of cultural artifacts. These works "offered their audiences the complex pleasure of shucking off a newly acquired sense of an autonomous self (53). One weakness of Marshall's argument in chapter 1 is...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 321-324
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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