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  • Shakespeare and Donne: Generic Hybrids and the Cultural Imaginary ed. by Judith H. Anderson and Jennifer C. Vaught
  • Rebecca Totaro (bio)
Shakespeare and Donne: Generic Hybrids and the Cultural Imaginary. Edited by Judith H. Anderson and Jennifer C. Vaught. New York: Fordham University Press, 2013. Pp. x + 292. $55.00 cloth.

In Shakespeare and Donne: Generic Hybrids and the Cultural Imaginary, Judith H. Anderson and Jennifer C. Vaught bring together nine chapters that model a rare form of inter-author dialogue, every chapter examining Donne and Shakespeare equally. Over the course of the volume, the works of these language- and performance-obsessed poets speak across their generic boundaries, across the vocational callings of their creators, and, strikingly, across “philosophies of thought, sensation, and meaning,” including “those of Aristotle, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Stanley Cavell, Saul Kripke, Giorgio Agamben, Brian Massumi, and Michel Serres” (3). In underscoring the exploratory nature of this volume, the editors highlight the range of theoretical methods employed by their international contributors, six of whom coauthor a chapter, only one having “previously and focally compared Shakespeare and Donne” (4). The editors also point to some of the subjects treated over the course of the volume as a whole, such as the associations both poets forge between and among death, desire, identity, and language, and the degree to which Shakespeare and Donne exhibit a protean mixing of genres, roles, and voices in their works (2).

The volume’s individual parts contain chapters that offer challengingly diverse approaches to the general topics by which the editors have loosely grouped them. For example, in part 1, “Time, Love, Sex, and Death,” the contributors advance close readings of Donne’s Songs and Sonnets, Deaths Duell, Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, six of Shakespeare’s plays, his Sonnets, and “The Phoenix and Turtle” by appropriating methodologies from feminism, New Historicism, and linguistically based cognitive theory. Covering so much in a single part places a burden on each to deliver its stated content with coherence, and yet each part largely succeeds.

Matthias Bauer and Angelika Zirker (chapter 1) open part 1 by showing the overlap between early modern sites of death and love. Early modern epitaphs and epilogues become aesthetic rather than strictly Catholic sites of “mutual mending” [End Page 152] (35) such that exits are also entrances: “‘exitus a morte’” is at once “‘introitus in mortem’” (37). In chapter 2, Catherine Gimelli Martin cautions that there is danger in the desire for “a totalizing love capable of conquering flux itself” (44). Whereas Shakespeare presents a number of polyvocal critiques of such desire, with the deaths of Desdemona and Othello examples of its tragic ends, Donne in his lyrics persists in attesting to its potency in spite of the “inherent instability” of such a project that would seek to monumentalize the beloved (59). In chapter 3, Jennifer Pacenza focuses on the die (mortality)/die (orgasm) pun as a sign of “embodied time” that allows Donne’s lovers “to escape the confines of time” (61) and that gives Shakespeare’s Young Man of the Sonnets an equal opportunity for the same embodied eternity by way of the asexual replication of masturbation (73).

As a pair, the essays in part 2, “Moral, Public, and Spatial Imaginaries,” are the most historically situated, and both take as among the primary aspects of this historical context what Mary Blackstone and Jeanne Shami call, in chapter 4, the “interrogative conscience” of late sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century England (110). They find in Shakespeare and Donne profound attentiveness to the roles of performer and audience, evidenced in the polyvocal staging and scripting of presentness and propaganda in Donne’s sermons and in the speeches Shakespeare gives to Henry V in the eponymous play. In chapter 5, Douglas Trevor also places Donne’s prose (Ignatius his Conclave, Essayes in Divinity, as well as his lyrics) and Shakespeare’s drama (The Tempest) in cultural relationship, reading the writers’ engagement with early modern skepticism as revealed in their willingness to imply, even if briefly, that planets beyond earth are inhabited. Trevor’s findings affiliate Caliban with Donne and Montaigne in a non-Pyrrhonist, skeptical inquisitiveness that sought in contemplation of...


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