- Recovering Disability in Early Modern England ed. by Allison P. Hobgood and David Houston Wood
Allison Hobgood and David Houston Wood have assembled an innovative collection of essays entitled Recovering Disability in Early Modern England that is well worth reading. This collection includes an introduction by the editors that provides a useful overview of existing criticism on disability studies and a coda by them on pedagogy that illustrates how the addition of disability studies to the study of Shakespeare transforms not only current scholarship but also our classrooms. The ten featured essays by well-established scholars and promising new voices in the fields of early modern and disability studies treat plays, poems, and prose by Shakespeare, Spenser, Ben Jonson, Aphra Behn, Thomas Hobbes, and John Locke, among others. Four chapters cover all kinds of genres by Shakespeare, a comedy by Jonson, and revenge tragedies by a variety of playwrights. Two essays deal with The Faerie Queene, one examines disability humor and jest books, while another takes up sixteenth- and seventeenth-century scientific texts and cheap-print ballads and broadsides. Rounding out the collection are three chapters focusing on the Book of Common Prayer, prose works by Behn, and Enlightenment political theory and philosophy. These well-coordinated essays explore a range of texts from the sixteenth century through the Enlightenment and its philosophical underpinnings for post-modern “ideas about freedom and political citizenship” (19). Addressing the scarcity of prior examinations of disability in relation to sixteenth- and seventeenth-century texts, Hobgood and Wood are to be congratulated for having orchestrated their original and aptly titled volume, Recovering Disability in Early Modern England, to successfully incorporate disability issues in early modern criticism and pedagogy.
In their introduction, “Ethical Staring: Disabling the English Renaissance,” Hobgood and Wood argue that “this is a book about difference, but more importantly, about how we stare at difference” (1). Building upon the work of disability scholar Rosemarie Garland-Thomson in Staring: How We Look, Hobgood and Wood “propose early modern disability studies … as a means for more ethical staring practices and hence robust and transformative scholarship” (1). The essays in their volume, many of which refer to the foundational scholarship of David T. Mitchell and Sharon Snyder on disability studies, provide “new ways of looking” at the “extraordinary” and result in “ethical staring encounters” (2). In keeping with [End Page 232] historian Catherine Kudlick, Hobgood and Wood urge early modern scholars and teachers to think about disability as a social category on par with gender, race, and class. They challenge existing understandings of early modern disability as predominantly metaphorical and instead “offer insights into the material, lived experiences of disabled individuals in the distant past” (7). The editors further highlight “an escalating interest” in representations of disability “as embodied, early modern verisimilitude” in literary texts and cultural environments from that period (14).
Hobgood and Wood have collaborated previously on the subject of early modern disability in “Disabled Shakespeares,” a collection of six essays published in a 2009 special issue of the open-access online journal Disability Studies Quarterly. The journal featured essays on Shakespeare and disability by Hobgood and Wood and by Rachel E. Hile and Lindsey Row-Heyveld, contributors to Recovering Disability in Early Modern England. Recapitulating their arguments in Disability Studies Quarterly, Hobgood and Wood maintain here that the concept of early modern disability is not anachronistic because “human variation, though conceived of and responded to diversely, has always existed” (7). They contend that early modern disability in Shakespeare’s plays takes the varied form of “mutilated bodies in Titus Andronicus,” the deformity of Richard III in the second Henriad, Leontes’s “psychosomatic breakdown” in The Winter’s Tale, and the extraordinary Caliban in The Tempest. Further instances of disability in Shakespeare include blindness, limping, alcoholism, obesity, epilepsy, cognitive impairments, senility, and madness and range “from feigned disability to actual” (11).
The first two essays in Recovering Disability in Early Modern England deal...