- Dramatic Geography: Romance, Intertheatricality, and Cultural Encounter in Early Modern Mediterranean Drama by Laurence Publicover
to begin: a caveat for bulletin readers: although Publicover's title announces a focus on "Mediterranean drama," his study considers exclusively English plays. Two central claims will nonetheless be of interest to scholars working more broadly across the national traditions. First, Publicover argues that early modern theater was particularly suited to the representation of far-flung romance geographies, given how flexible and minimal its scenery and stage apparatus were. As is well known to scholars of the comedia, "location was established through a number of strategies, but most importantly through the words of the actors" (22). This argument works against teleological readings that might equate the increased complexity of theatrical apparatus over the course of the seventeenth century with an increased complexity of the theater itself. Second, Publicover argues for reading dramatic versions of romance as "intertheatrical geographies," marked more by what had already appeared on the London stage than by any actual experience of the Mediterranean, so that "the dramatic Mediterranean became a site within which conversations—often about London-related topics—took place" (172). Unfortunately, "intertheatricality" here considers only plays within the same tradition, despite the promising recent work on traveling companies and other forms of transnational engagement in the period. Publicover's English purview also complicates certain claims of primacy, as when he posits that a female character disguised as a pageboy in Sir Clyomon and Sir Clamides (published in 1599, likely performed in the early 1580s) may "possibly" be "the first instance of what will become a long-standing plot device in early modern drama" (67). This will surprise Italianists familiar with Bernardo Dovizi da Bibbiena's La Calandria (1513), or Gl'Ingannati (1532), written collectively by the Accademia degli Intronati.
The first part of Dramatic Geography addresses "Geography and Romance," with a focus on the broader literary antecedents for the conception of [End Page 327] the Mediterranean in early modern English drama. Publicover focuses on the geographies associated with "Hellenistic" romance (by which he actually means Boccaccio) and chivalric romance respectively, finding in the former a generous cosmopolitanism and in the latter a more conflictive ethnocentrism—what Denis Cosgrove called the "distance-decay model," as Publicover usefully notes (57). The second and longer part of the book, "Intertheatrical Geography," explores the reworkings of earlier versions of the Mediterranean in a tightly linked set of English plays: Thomas Kyd's Soliman and Perseda (ca. 1592), Publicover argues, is satirized in Christopher Marlowe's The Jew of Malta (ca. 1590), which is in turn "reenchanted" in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice (ca. 1597). In the latter, Publicover notes, Marlowe's Jewish merchant Barabas is split into two figures: the Jewish Shylock and the merchant Antonio, thus foregrounding a revalorization of commercial activity that associates it with romance questing. At the same time, the play's—and often the characters'—self-consciousness about the space between romance and commerce suggests the difficulties of papering over that gap.
Publicover covers well-trod territory on romance and the Mediterranean. He follows in the footsteps of Benedict Robinson and Cyrus Mulready in his attention to romance as the mode through which new geographies were processed and of Jane Hwang Degenhardt in recognizing the interrelatedness of the English Mediterranean corpus in the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras. Yet in the fine balance that is this kind of formalist historicism, Publicover clearly privileges the literary over the historical or ideological. Cumulatively, this has the unfortunate effect of effacing English expansionist aspirations in this period and relegating drama to a purely literary sphere. Thus, his discussion of the relation between travel and travail, for example, makes no mention of the key conjunction of those terms in the nascent discourse of English expansion in the work of Richard Hakluyt, even though The Principal Navigations (1598) is briefly mentioned elsewhere in the book (117). His arguments about the distancing of North Africa in The Tempest (ca. 1610) emphasize "narrative and emotional considerations" (41), but omit the loaded question...