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  • The Hand on the Shakespearean Stage: Gesture, Touch and the Spectacle of Dismemberment by Farah Karim-Cooper
  • Miranda Fay Thomas
Farah Karim-Cooper. The Hand on the Shakespearean Stage: Gesture, Touch and the Spectacle of Dismemberment. London: Bloomsbury, 2016. Pp 309.

In some ways, Farah Karim-Cooper's second monograph, The Hand on the Shakespearean Stage, builds on the scholarship of her first, Cosmetics in Shakespearean and Renaissance Drama (Edinburgh, 2006). Once again taking the body as her site of study, Karim-Cooper continues to investigate the Renaissance expectations around physical appearance, with a keen focus on the gendered codes of social norms. This latest monograph offers a vivid and wide-ranging exploration of one particular body part: the hand. Her book's subtitle, 'Gesture, Touch and the Spectacle of Dismemberment', provides an effective summary of the topics covered in this new work. What is worth noting is that her title's term, 'the Shakespearean Stage' to some extent belies not only the ways in which hands were deployed in early modern theatres, but stretches beyond the scaffold into the society surrounding it. As such, her book draws evidence from an impressive array of sources, including etiquette manuals, medical treatises, anti-theatrical tracts, art, objects, and photographs of actors on the reconstructed stage at Shakespeare's Globe. The Hand on the Shakespearean Stage furthers work such as Jonathan Sawday's 1995 The Body Emblazoned: Dissection and the Human Body in Renaissance Culture, David Hillman and Carla Mazzio's 1997 collection The Body in Parts, and David Bevington's 1984 Action is Eloquence: Shakespeare's Language of Gesture. This last study is closest to Karim-Cooper's in terms of subject matter; however, Karim-Cooper's work takes a more phenomenological approach, moving beyond Shakespeare's language of the hand to consider its wider sensory affects. While noting how our preoccupation with our own hands continues to this day, she makes a persuasive case for a historically specific approach rather than a universal one. In asking, '[h]ow much is written there that we have forgotten how to read?' (3), she recalls that Shakespeare is not our contemporary, and asks us to consider how a glover's son 'viewed the hand and its accessories as crucial symbols of identity' specific to his own time (10), and the impact this had on his body of work.

The first two chapters establish a cultural context of the hand in Shakespeare's world and work. Chapter 1, 'The Idea of the Hand in Shakespeare's World', focuses on the anatomical structure of the hand, its capacity to be 'read' through [End Page 185] its gestures, its use as a symbol of God's agency, and its role in the act of learning. Using treatises such as John Bulwer's Chirologia and Chironomia (1644), the ideas of physicians such as Galen and Vesalius, and William Sherman's work on the manicule (Used Books, 2008), the chapter provides a broad survey of how the hand operates physically in addition to how it negotiates the world around us. Continuing chapter 1's contextualisation of the hand, chapter 2 ('Manners and Beauty: The Social Hand') considers the role of the hand in early modern social conventions. Its focus is on etiquette, drawing on Erasmus' De Civilitate and Castiglione's The Book of the Courtier, in addition to modern theorists such as Norbert Elias, and also considers how early modern cosmetic practices extended to the beautification of the hand, given the period's belief in how external attractiveness was thought to represent inner virtue.

The next two chapters apply these contextual ideals to the hands in Shakespeare's work. Chapter 3, '"Lively action": Gesture in Early Modern Performance', contends that 'the hand was an expressive and versatile agent of performance in early modern playhouses, indoors and outdoors' (6). Through a consideration of the rhetorical gestures espoused by Cicero and Quintilian, Karim-Cooper unpicks the distinctions between the actions of stage actors and orators, noting the troubling fact that if 'gestures can be performed [then] emotions can be performed' (76). This chapter blends her literary research with practical discussion of the stages at Shakespeare's Globe and the...


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pp. 185-188
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