Shakespeare Quarterly 54.1 (2003) 107-109
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Enter the Body: Women and representation on Shakespeare's stage. By Carol Chillington Rutter. London and New York: Rout-ledge, 2001. Illus. Pp. xxii + 218. $100.00 cloth, $29.95 paper.
In Enter the Body, Carol Chillington Rutter indicates that the specific critical axe she is grinding is her personal reaction against the "body" in Shakespeare's playtexts that has been "so excitingly, if alarmingly, man [sic]-handled by certain new historicist and feminist materialist critics in the past decade" (xiii). This particular body is that of the "play boy," the crossdressed actor who, as Stephen Orgel and others have argued, was the focal point of actor-audience homoerotic desire on the early modern stage. Stressing her position as a "theater historian," Rutter argues that crossdressing was accepted unquestioningly by early modern audiences as a theater convention and sees historicist criticism as dealing with this convention in an "increasingly politicized, sensationalized (even hystericized)" way (xiv). She further argues that, "[t]o concentrate criticism on words, in Shakespeare's playtext, then, is to concentrate on men—a habit that doesn't end with academic readings of these plays but spills over into theater practice, to affect how plays are cast, rehearsed, directed, [End Page 107] designed, publicized, reviewed . . . the entire politics of contemporary theater production" (xiv-xv). In an attempt to get away from such masculinized-because-verbal—this really is a rather dated trope—readings of Shakespeare's plays, Rutter suggests "recuperat[ing]" and "re-imagin[ing]" this early modern theater practice, specifically by considering the bodies that "belong to the play, not to the players who played them" (xv and xiv).
Rutter's project is problematic on several levels. Surely those critics, such as Orgel, who theorize the erotic effects of the boy-actor are engaged in a recuperation, yet Rutter denigrates the validity of this recuperation because these critics "exploit 'history' very differently than historians [such as Rutter] do" (xiv). Thus we are faced with the question of who can authorize acceptable or accurate recuperations of past theatrical practice. Second, Rutter wants to get at the bodies that belong to the play, the bodies of the characters, not the actors. Yet she castigates criticism that concentrates overtly on Shakespeare's playtexts as containing "a logocentric fascination with Shakespeare's words as the bearers of authorial meanings" (xiv). While I agree with Rutter that there has been too much criticism that passed on the word directly from the Bard's mouth, or the thought directly from his head, we still must consult the playtexts to discover what bodies are present and how they are handled. That pesky lack of stage directions in the First Folio forces contemporary directors to look at the text itself to determine how to represent the body of the character onstage. If Hermione, in The Winter's Tale, "rounds apace," then surely we must think of or represent her body onstage as heavily pregnant—in whatever ways satisfy theater convention, whether in the sixteenth or seventeenth century, or four hundred years later.
The third aspect of Rutter's book that some may find problematic—and I do only to a degree—is her tendency to read the bodies in modern theater productions of Shakespeare in a "thick," detailed way to produce an archival explanation of her own viewing of a performance. While this technique does and does not work in Rutter's book, I do want to call attention to her almost exclusive focus on Royal Shakespeare Company productions of the plays, or filmed versions authorized by their directors' previous encounters with "real" Shakespeare, usually in theatrical performances staged under the aegis of the RSC. If Rutter is concerned about the patriarchal tendencies implicit in logocentric criticism, I wonder why she did not choose to cover more experimental productions of Shakespeare as a corrective to the "Shakespeare Industry" productions that are her main concern, good though many of them have been.
Having said this, let me point out that Rutter does produce some very thoughtful readings...