- Geoparsing Early Modern English Drama by Monica Matei-Chesnoiu
Featured in the book series "Geocriticism and Spatial Literary Studies," Matei-Chesnoiu's contribution positions itself as an intervention in the well-trodden field of early modern theater, geography, and cartography. In her introduction, "Recomposing Space within Geographic Diversity," Matei-Chesnoiu charts a critical history that begins with spatial theorists such as Michel Foucault and Michel de Certeau, adduces literary historians such as Frank Lestringant and Tom Conley, and acknowledges Shakespeareans such as John Gillies and Steven Mullaney. Updating this list of foundational theorists, historians, and critics from the 1980s and 1990s, Matei-Chesnoiu adds Betrand Westphal and Robert T. Tally Jr., who have promoted the paradigm of "geocriticism," which works "to map possible worlds, to create plural and paradoxical maps, because it embraces space in its mobile heterogeneity" (5; citing Westphal 73). She layers this literary and cultural studies approach with an analytical tool derived from geographic information science: "geoparsing," or "the process of identifying geographic references in text and linking geospatial locations to these references so that the text can be accessed through spatial retrieval methods and suitable for spatial analysis" (7; citing Kemp 200). She nevertheless retreats from this approach to promote another "derived from mathematics: the Moebius strip," with a nod to Jacques Lacan (9, 174n34). She ultimately argues that "theater provides a telemesic rendition of geographic space," a neologism that means "conceiving of distant locations as if being in their midst" (9, 23). Even though this theoretical model is sustained unevenly after the introduction, overall Matei-Chesnoiu offers innovative and insightful analyses of a wide range of neglected sources, both geographic and dramatic. The strength of this study is its scope, covering Latin, French, Italian, Spanish, and English texts to chart "a cultural continuum" that enabled the early modern spatial revolution (12). When Matei-Chesnoiu turns to drama, her engagement with non-canonical English plays [End Page 155] grouped around what historian Pierre Nora dubs lieux de mémoire, or "sites of memory" (e.g., the Black Sea, the Rhine, the Danube, Constantinople, Malta, and Rhodes) articulates genuinely new readings. The reader is therefore encouraged to continue past the introduction into Matei-Chesnoiu's rigorous and interesting chapters on the classical underpinning of early modern geography and its impact on English Renaissance drama.
Beginning this investigation with a chapter titled "Reclaimed Ancient and Renaissance Geographic Commentaries," Matei-Chesnoiu traces the didactic and dialogic emergence of a modern concept of place and space based on ancient texts recovered through Renaissance translations and commentaries. Explicating salient examples—including Dionysius Periegetes, Pomponius Mela, Pliny, and Ptolemy—she stresses the transtemporal, and therefore intertextual, production of these influential touchstones. In the first instance, Dionysius Periegetes's tome was translated by a Danish scholar from Greek into Latin and published in Cologne in 1530. It was rendered into English four decades later as The surveye of the world (1572), with allusions appearing in Shakespeare's Love's Labour's Lost by the mid-1590s. The primary aim of these translations was educational: hence, facts mattered less than rhetorical exempla. Yet, this educational project "coagulated," to use Matei-Chesnoiu's term (57), the European-educated classes in the seemingly more practical project of advising the Renaissance adventurers who would advance the "global designs" of the early modern era, as Walter Mignolo designates them (21). Although Matei-Chesnoiu dwells on early modern Europeans' "Christianized version of ancient geography" (51), she acknowledges both the medieval incorporation of geographical texts from the Islamic world within this genealogy and the subsequent erasure of their provenance. Richard Willes's observation in his 1577 translation of the sixteenth-century Spanish colonial texts that inspired Richard Hakluyt's influential compilation just over two decades later—"that generally all Christians, Iewes [Jews], Turkes, Moores, Infidels, & Barbares be this day in loue [love] with Geographie" (sig. iiiv)—accordingly marks the cusp of this broader cross-cultural project (52).
The next chapter, "Ovid, Pontus Euxinus, and Geographic Imagination," builds on this synchronic analysis with reference to an evocative...