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Reviews451 Jonathan Gil Harris and Natasha Korda, eds. Staged Properties in EarlyModern Drama, . Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003. Pp. 358. $75.00 casebound. This fascinatinganthologyrepresents the confluence oftwo developments,one acknowledged, the other implicit, but still a significant "shaping presence" in the essays.The first is the interest in things rather than people.Inthe 1980s and 1990s, in reaction to the earlier glorification of the "Renaissance Man," early modern studies turned the subject into a problem, producing a series offascinating books and articles on the construction ofsubjectivity and interiority in Elizabethan and Stuart England (for example, Elizabeth Hansons fascinating Discovering the Subject in Renaissance England [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998]). Before long, however, the study of subjects started to be complemented by its inverse partner: the study of objects, things, material cultural.As the editors ofSubjectandObjectin Renaissance Culture(Margreta de Grazia, Maureen Quilligan, and Peter Stallybrass, eds. [Cambridge: Carmbridge University Press, 1996]) put it in the introduction to their seminal anthology, "The purpose of this collection of essays is not to efface the subject but to offset it by insisting that the object be taken into account" (5). Harris and Korda explicitlysituatetheircollectionin thisvein ofcriticism.Theynotewith approval how early modern scholarship has become"obsessed with materiality," and consequently, how "theatrical objects have increasinglyjoined subjects as privileged sites of materialist inquiry" (15). They cite as their forbears such notable critical works as Douglas Bruster's Drama and theMarketin theAge of Shakespeare (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,1992), Subject and Object, and Patricia Fumerton and Simon Hunt's anthology, Renaissance Culture and theEveryday(Philadelphia: UniversityofPennsylvania Press, 1999).1 They are also interdisciplinary, as they draw on the anthropologist Arjun Appadurai, whose anthology, The SocialLife ofThings: Commoditiesin CulturalPerspective (Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1986) may be called the tutelary spirit of Staged Properties. The second major influence arises from the unhappiness ofhistorians with a good deal of the work that goes under the rubric of"New Historicism." In short, many charged that New Historicism is but bad history writ large.2 Stung by the validityofthis assessment (and perhaps a bit tired with the predictability of many New Historicist readings), several key literary critics reacted by promising to do better by the archives while keeping the insights afforded by literary theory. David Scott Kastan, for example, in his essay "Shakespeare After Theory," called for "a set of interests and procedures more rigorously historical than recent theory-driven studies have been, but that, unlike the old literary history, takes to heart (and mind) the implications of the theoretical 452Comparative Drama movements ofthe last twenty years."3 One result ofthis development has been the new interest in how the seeminglymundane details ofbook production can yield productive insights into the relationships between text and culture.4 The topic and the essays in Staged Properties constitute another result in three ways. First,all ofthese essays are deeply, richlyhistorical.Nobody can say that the contributors have not done their homework. Second, while a number of the contributors engage in a "qualitative analysis of the stuff of material culture" (16), that is, looking at how stage props reflect in complex ways early modern culture, four (Douglas Bruster, Lena Cowen Orlin, Peter Stallybrass, and Natasha Korda) review archival documents of stage history "through a recognizably quantitative lens" (17). Striving for greater authority, these critics turn to statistical analysis, something one rarely sees in literary studies. Finally, while the contributors to Staged Properties are obviously interested in the relations between stage and society,they avoid the tendentious politics (people good, authority bad) that sometimes mars New Historical work. The editors describe the "dominant methodological strain" of New Historicism as seeking "to disclose the contours and faultlines of cultural formations through nuanced accounts ofsynecdochic microdetail" (16),which is rather different from the calls for revolution one sometimes reads. The exploration of early modern stage properties, however, is necessarily burdened by the paucity ofprimarysources. In fact,the amount ofevidence for what props appeared on the stage is amazingly small. Philip Henslowe recorded an "enventary [inventory] of all the properties for my Lord Admeralles men, the 10 ofMarche 1598" (the original is lost),that lists only thirty-five items, and is reproduced in the appendix of Staged Properties. Other...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 451-455
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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