It might seem strange to devote a collection of essays to "Shakespeare and Phenomenology" in the second decade of the twenty-first century. After all, phenomenology as a philosophical movement had its heyday in the middle of the twentieth century. But phenomenology's demise as a major philosophical movement has enabled it to live on as the approach or method shorn of dogma that its earliest practitioners promised. Far from being a single school of thought, phenomenology now looks more like an intellectual diaspora, a galaxy of related but discreet propositions that share basic assumptions while pursuing different philosophical projects. In early modern and Shakespeare studies, we have seen a particularly robust variant of phenomenology in the past ten years in the practice of historical phenomenology. In this special issue, we attempt to build on the successes of historical phenomenology by pursuing a variety of phenomenological approaches and practices in relation to Shakespeare and the early modern. By embracing phenomenology's remarkable intellectual diaspora, we hope to offer a new critical agenda for phenomenologically inflected reading of Shakespeare. We propose that phenomenology offers a language of speculation and inquiry dynamic enough to accommodate both historicism and theory, a common language that can speak as compellingly to questions of law, ethics, performance, and hospitality as it can to questions about feeling and sensation. Accordingly, "Shakespeare and Phenomenology" is not invested in carving out yet another subfield of Shakespeare studies. On the contrary, in this collection we are committed to opening up conversations among subfields and to imagining a common critical future. [End Page 353]
In 2000, Bruce Smith published an influential article in PMLA called "Pre-modern Sexualities" in which he outlined a new critical approach called "historical phenomenology."1 If phenomenology as a philosophical school can be broadly characterized as the study of sense experience from the first-person point of view, then historical phenomenology can be characterized, more narrowly, as the study of sense experience during a specific historical past. There are two important premises at work in historical phenomenology. First, that feeling and sensing have a history. The way we feel sad is different from the way Shakespeare felt sad; the way we smell perfume is different from the way Queen Elizabeth smelled perfume. This is because the two experiences occur in distinct cultural, institutional, and discursive contexts. Having said that—and this leads to the second premise— feeling and smelling are not historical artifacts in the same way that we might argue a book, a building, or even an event is since feeling and sensing are embodied, subjective processes. They resist objectification because they are always, in part, inside us, even as they also depend upon social and material environments to occur. Historical phenomenology, therefore, embraces the dynamism and nebulousness of feeling and sensation by thinking in terms of ecologies rather than artifacts, experiences rather than objects, and by abandoning neat distinctions between persons and things. In this way, historical phenomenology has, in the decade or so since the publication of Smith's article, offered scholars of Shakespeare and his world new ways to explore visual, tactile, aural, olfactory, and emotional dimensions of early modern culture, which might otherwise resist critical engagement.2
Historical phenomenology stands at the intersection of three disciplines: sensory history, the cultural history of emotion, and the affective turn within the social sciences. From here, it has issued targeted responses to several critical approaches that gained speed over the course of the 1990s and early 2000s. It has been invoked, for instance, to resist the material turn's tendency to treat objects as bearers of prosthetic meaning. Instead, historical phenomenology emphasizes how meaning accrues from the way sensing bodies experienced and perceived objects.3 To cognition studies, with which it shares an interest in the nature of the mind, historical phenomenology responds with a reminder about the limitations of applying a contemporary branch of brain research to early modern texts, choosing instead to ground its inquiry in pre-modern accounts of human physiology.4 Thomas Wright's oft-cited seventeenth-century description of "the passions," for example, indicates that early moderns had very different ways...