- The Oxford Handbook of Shakespeare and Embodiment: Gender, Sexuality, and Race ed. by Valerie Traub
My first encounter with Valerie Traub’s extraordinary collection of newly edited essays indicated, foremost, that she hardly knew what she was doing in shaping this volume. And frankly, from this side of the November 2016 American presidential election and the #MeToo movement, and in the very best sense, how could she? In her introduction, she admits that her first inclination when approached by series editor Arthur Kinney about constructing the collection “was to decline,” based on the assumption that Shakespeare scholarship had “been there, done that” (1). Traub goes on to discuss candidly the lack of energy, excitement, and urgency she had come to locate in the very field of Shakespearean feminist studies that her own scholarly labor had done so much to shape in preceding years.
Traub’s decision to push past that original hesitation has yielded rich rewards: the forty-one essays she assembles here confirm both the vibrancy of current feminist interventions in Shakespeare studies and their adaptability to other identity-driven reading strategies. Moreover, given the election (some months after the book’s publication) of an accused sexual predator to the presidency, the work of Traub and the other contributors to this volume has become, by any measure, [End Page 133] more politically relevant than ever. This is a volume for the Shakespearean resistance: it marches in the streets wearing a pink pussyhat.
Traub’s introduction (“Feminist Shakespeare Studies: Cross Currents, Border Crossings, Conflicts, and Contradictions”) offers a powerful account of the current state of feminist thinking on Shakespeare. Tracing the contours of one of the most important movements in early modern studies in the last half century, Traub constructs an accessible, encyclopedic overview of the changing stakes in the narrative of Shakespearean feminist studies, focusing in particular on recent challenges to feminism to enter into dialogue with work on gender and sexuality, race and ethnicity, and disability. The seven subsections of the ensuing volume seek to embrace this challenge, and each is crammed brimful with shrewd contributions from some of the most important thinkers on feminist Shakespeare and embodiment studies in our time.
Part 1 (“The Lives of William Shakespeare”) showcases new thinking on Shakespearean biography in essays by Lena Cowen Orlin and Alan Stewart. Where Orlin draws renewed focus to Shakespeare’s marriage, Stewart looks instead to the social portrait evinced in biographical data regarding Shakespeare the man in the centuries after his death. The essays in part 2 (“Early Modern Women’s Lives”)—by Bernadette Andrea, Stephen Spiess, Susan Frye, and Wendy Wall—strive for what Traub identifies as “a balance between what can and cannot be known about early modern women’s lives” (76). Andrea’s essay is especially intriguing for the light it casts on Elizabeth I and her young court’s fascination with subaltern, female racial otherness, especially in the person of the Tatar girl in the court’s midst named “Aura Soltana” (77). The essay explores the way the mythology and drama of the period came to portray such alterity.
The third part (“Race and Ethnicity in Local and Transnational Contexts”) examines the points of intersection between feminism, gender, and race in a powerful range of essays by M. Lindsay Kaplan, Ian Smith, Patricia Akhimie, Emily C. Bartels, Jean E. Feerick, and Ania Loomba. Part 4 (“Sexualities”)—with chapters by Julie Crawford, Kathryn Schwarz, Will Stockton, Melissa E. Sanchez, Carol Thomas Neely, Will Fisher, and Karen Raber—offers insightful readings focused on the various ways, in our current cultural moment, we may all encounter Shakespeare and sex anew: for example, in the context of legalized gay and lesbian marriage; in comic adaptations, such as scenes from the Second City Network’s Sassy Gay Friend; through archival recovery of Renaissance depictions of sexual behaviors, such as cunnilingus; and in revisionist readings of conventional comedic endings in Renaissance drama. Mining a rich vein of sexuality within contemporary Shakespeare studies, these...