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Reviews Gillian Murray Kendall, ed. Shakespearean Power and Punishment: A Volume ofEssays. Madison, Teaneck: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1998. Pp. 219. $39.50. The title of Shakespearean Power and Punishment implies an homage to Foucault's "Discipline and Punish," a text engaged by a number of contributors and one whose centrality for New Historicism suggests that this volume bears an ancillary relation to that critical mode, if it is not actually a late efflorescence of it. The concept of "power" New Historicists borrowed from Foucault has been critiqued as overly abstract and undertheorized. For Gillian Kendall this situation opens an opportunity for various reconsiderations of the themes of power and punishment. In her Introduction, Kendall names it a strength of Shakespearean Power and Punishment that contributors employ diverse critical approaches to the designated issues. These essays address thematics rather than ideologies of power and are offered as provocative complications of traditional readings of the plays, with few gestures toward definitive theoretical statements. In Kendall's words, the collection demonstrates that "power can be a commodity to be bought, borrowed, lent, lost or usurped, and it can also be beyond cornmodification : a concept intangibly fluid, abstract and remote, and at the same time, subject to time and change, distortion and slippage" (10). One gets the uneasy sense that "power" here might occupy that level of generality at which it names everything and therefore nothing, but fortunately the individual essays are, for the most part, pointed in their analyses, with individual contributors staking out workable parameters for their inquiries into the workings of power and punishment in Shakespearean drama. The volume is divided into three sections, entitled "Women and Shakespearean Power and Punishment," "Measure for Measure," and "The Limits to Power." Each features three essays, so the sections are balanced by size if not by logical symmetry. The pieces within each division interact with one another in interesting ways. Ann Rosalind Jones considers female revenge strategies in Twelfth Night, The Merry Wives of Windsor, and the anonymous Swetnam the Woman-Hater. She shows how women's power to punish others de515 516Comparative Drama pends on their own literacy, as seen in Maria's mastery of plagiarism, the Wives' ability to detect Falstaffs fraudulently multiplied love letters , and the Swetnam author's use of several source texts written by women. With insightful attention to genre and design, Jones argues that in the Shakespearean plays women's power figures as a comic motif within a structure ultimately confirming the patriarchal status quo: Maria's reward for her clever trickery of Malvolio is an offer of marriage from Toby; the Wives dupe Falstaff in order to protect their own middle class chastity. Swetnam the Woman-Hater, by contrast, "is a mold-breaking play" because it shows women taking control of legal discourse and polemical writing (36). Where Jones is concerned with power as control of discourse and punishment as social humiliation, Suzanne Collier takes up the starkly literal issue of women as objects of violence, specifically princesses being stabbed. The problem is that one of her two examples—Imogen threatened by Pisanio's sword in Cymbeline—doesn't involve actual violence, since Pisanio sensibly refuses his master's written command to kill Imogen. One can argue that threatened violence is still violence, and Collier does her best to read Imogen as suffering a metaphorical wound, but the discussion of "the cutting open of a woman's heart" (49) seems oddly inapposite, especially in the absence of any acknowledgement of the startling power of fantasy in this play—including, surely, the sometimes titillating fantasies offered to readers or viewers. Collier is on stronger ground with her discussion ofArethusa's wounding in Philaster. Citing King James's references to a crystal breast, she moves to explain the conjunction of the two (would-be) stabbing scenes as microcosmic versions of "a Stuartian process of the 'proper' distribution of monarchical power" (49) in which women contain no secrets. Like the other two essays in the section on women, Sara Eaton's strong contribution puts Shakespearean and non-Shakespearean drama into dialogue. Like Collier, Eaton proposes a link between the drama and monarchy, although in this case it is nostalgia...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 515-519
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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