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  • The Hand on the Shakespearean Stage: Gesture, Touch, and the Spectacle of Dismemberment by Farah Karim-Cooper
  • P. A. Skantze (bio)
The Hand on the Shakespearean Stage: Gesture, Touch, and the Spectacle of Dismemberment. By Farah Karim-Cooper. London: Blooms-Bury Arden Shakespeare, 2016. illus. Pp. xiv + 310. $114.00 cloth, $35.95 paper.

Admirably, Farah karim-cooper "tried to avoid punning" (viii) in The Hand on the Shakespearean Stage, leaving me free to indulge and thus recommend this excellent handbook. Within the joy of the pun rests the richness of karim-cooper's achievement. her encyclopedic consideration of the hand and her specific attention to gesture as narration and to the complexities of touch do the work for those of us who will go on to play with the discoveries she offers.

If cordelia had trouble heaving her heart into her mouth to speak to her needy father, so early modern scholars have had trouble heaving a body back into the plays and performances where the somatic power pulses through both the language onstage and the affective reception of the audience. karim-cooper builds comprehensively upon the work of those for whom the body is more than a theoretical trope—Bruce r. Smith, Gail kern Paster, Erin Manning—and adds interdisciplinary force to her discussion of the hand through concepts such as kinesic intelligence in work on literature and visual art (148).

This thorough anatomy of early modern ideas of hand, gesture, and touch alongside modern interpretation becomes animated in karim-cooper's other encyclopedic understanding—that of Shakespeare's plays in performance. She is what Susan Melrose might call a particular kind of expert spectator; head of higher education and research at the Globe, karim-cooper has seen decades of work that explores every form of performance interpretation of Shakespeare. Scholars who see plays in performance write differently than those who do not; to take one example, the imaginative associations karim-cooper awakens in her discussion of the [End Page 310] grabbing of the wrist are the stronger for her knowledge of how performance works to make us "feel" what we may not in fact be seeing: "Shakespeare not only provides cues in his texts for the performance of gesture … but he also creates verbal portraits of gestures or gestural exchanges in narrative sequences in the plays which can be equally illuminating about how actors gestured on stage" (141). karim-cooper's extension of the work on gesture theorizes how we receive what she calls the "gestural narratio" in the plays of "past bodily events" (141). narrative then and the gestures described become lively in the closet drama of our minds as we read and experience the sympathetic woe hearing ophelia describe hamlet's desperate grabbing of her wrist, which means immobilizing her hand as well. We might have a greater sense of ophelia's suitability for a nunnery because of her stoic acceptance of the pain when hamlet grabs her wrist since, as karim-cooper writes, "the highest volume of pins in an early modern outfit" held the ruff and the cuffs in place (154).

This work also provides a perverse handbook for those of us who want to make theater differently. take the wrist grab: having understood the connotations of the potential violation of such grabs—as i learned, according to Western christian tradition our origins begin in violation as God himself takes Eve by the wrist to wrench her from the rib of adam (153)—as a director and teacher i would want to play around with who's grabbing whom on stage. Do we have an innate response to this? Like the surprise of a woman in easy motion, would audiences find the wrist grab when employed by woman to a man disturbing, intriguing, suggestive, erotic? or take the seemingly inextricable love of the whitest hand (55): using karim-cooper's detailed discussion of the perfect female hand, how can modern directors with color-blind casts undo this still all too familiar trope? a white, white glove over an ebony palm? chapter 2 sets out before us the anatomy of white supremacy embedded in the manuals for beauty. how can we, by...


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