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439 Richard Hillman. Self-Speaking in Medie:vnl and Enrly Modem English Drama: Subjectivity, Discourse and the Stage StMartin's Press. x, 310. us$55-00 Richard Hillman's book plays an important part in the growing body of criticism that challenges theĀ· new historicist/cultural rnaterialist denial of inwardness in any modern sense to either Renaissance human beings or to characters in the drama o( the period. Drawing on recent theories of subject-formation, especially those of Lacan, Hillman discusses, in learned and often allusive fashion, a range of dramatic texts from medieval cycle plays to the work of Middleton and of Beaumont and Fletcher. In doing so he makes a good case for constructions of the stage self which demonstrate the availability of ideas about identity commonly regarded as postCartesian , and for the emergence in certain plays, like Dr Faustus1 of a discourse of tragic subjectivity. The accotu1t of self-speaking (which includes monologue as a well as soliloquy) in medieval and Tudor drama is illuminated by its Lacanian perspective, which highlights in a neVI( way the symbo1ic meanings of mirrors and books so frequently referred to or implied in soliloquies or debates on selfhood; Hillman sees the mirror's function as instrument of conscience, which correlates with the Lacanian mirror-stage of psychological development, 'the reflection of an externally derived ideal which the individual ... must fail to measure up to.' TI1e central chapter focuses on Hamlet, like Lacan a pervasive presence in this book. Hillman discusses it in relation to The Spanish Tragedy and Trailus and Cressidn as a play containing 'an W1.precedented preoccupation with the individual as subject/ often explored through ideas of books and issues of authorship. The book, like the mirror, may be taken as 'fixed signifier and source of trustworthy revelation'; on-stage reading, as carried out by Hieronimo, Hamlet, Ophelia, and Ulysses, may suggest not only the reader's interiority but also the 'secret script' which the character attempts, unsuccessfully, to impose on his play-world. One of the virrues of this book is that Hillman's method often draws attention to the way that meanings can be produced by staging; his theorizing is integrated into a consideration of stage practice in a way not so common in much current writing on Shakespeare. Chapters 4 and 5 in the book's broadly chronological structure are on tragedy and tragicomedy. They discuss a range of Jacobean dramatists as well as Shakespeare. Hillman's strong sense of the 'continuing presence ... ot standard Medieval procedure, whereby sell-speaking is contained within a transcendental discourse of unchallenged validity,' is applied helpfuJly both to the 'relentlessly inconsistent' sell-presentation of Marston's protagonists, and to the style of selfhood of Vindice in The Revenger's Tragedy. Hillman is good at attending to the features that distinguish these 440 LETTERS IN CANADA 1997 dramatists, as, for instance, 'the extraordinary disjunction between the performative and theconstative in Webster's tragedies, whereby characters tend to act first and explain themselves later, and often lamely, in a sort of retrospective self-fashioning.' But he is no less effective in generalization, especially on the relations between representations of subjectivity and issues of genre. In tragicomedy, 'a specific set of social and political relations is established initially as right, possible, and- especially- natural, and becomes in itself a form of transcendental d.iscourse,' expressed through forms of symbolism.Jn this context Hillman's view of subjectivity as developed through displacement makes good sense: '"True" identities are ever-present in suspension, waiting to be realised, and displacement or deviation from them carries a quality of alienation.' The last chapter, in which Hillman claims to distinguish figurations of specifically feminine subjectivity, is the least successful, partly because too much of it is devoted to a learned, ingenious, but unpersuasive account of masturbation in Love's Labour's Lost (so that's what it means!) as a 'physical co-relative of selfspeaking .' The new implications thus emerging for Greasy Joan's keeling of the pot are in line with a tendency to psychosexual punning that surfaces at unfortunate moments from time to time. This is a difficult book but rewarding. Its difficulties are justified by...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 439-440
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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