- Shakespeare Dwelling: Designs for the Theater of Life by Julia Reinhard Lupton
Certain critics jump indiscriminately on the nearest bandwagon; others boast of their originality while really reinventing the wheels of earlier bandwagon models. In contrast, throughout her distinguished career Julia Reinhard Lupton has been making genuinely original contributions to cutting-edge concerns, not least through her challenges to the conventional wisdom on many subjects and her engagement with so wide a range of sources, notably the Hebrew Bible and related theological documents.
In Shakespeare Dwelling: Designs for the Theater of Life, Lupton explores how the act of dwelling in its many senses involves complex conversations between locales and their inhabitants, dialogues in which objects often have an active voice. In so doing, she demonstrates repeatedly that theatrical settings are themselves players and analyzes the role of objects in particular plays—for example, the fishing nets in Pericles. Such arguments advance earlier work in design studies on the concept of "scape" by exploring not only landscapes but also what Lupton terms taskscapes, mediascapes, softscapes, and so on. In discussing possibilities for interplay between some potentiality and the person or force activating it, she also makes use of the concept of affordances—types of potential uses of materials—that has been incisively but less broadly employed by Caroline Levine in Forms: Whole, Rhythm, Hierarchy, Network. Itself dwelling on Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, Pericles, Cymbeline, and The Winter's Tale, Lupton's book offers fresh and powerful readings of many issues within these plays, such as the centrality of references to traffic and light in Romeo and Juliet and the representations of blessings and curses in Macbeth.
Lupton's capaciousness is evident in her broad and responsible interdisciplinarity, which encompasses the art history that also enriched some of her earlier work, in addition to phenomenology, object theory, and—a field less commonly present in literary studies—design theory. But unlike many critics engaged in interdisciplinary endeavors, she does not consign the more traditional concerns [End Page 295] of English Departments to the dustbin of literary history: witness her concern for genre, close reading, and etymology. Although I include a handful of suggestions below, the research is itself impressively broad, not least because, while drawing on the most cutting-edge work, Lupton does not neglect important earlier critics such as M. C. Bradbrook and Caroline Spurgeon. The book also demonstrates additional types of breadth uncommon in many quarters today: she discusses the state of our own profession, relating it to the concerns of her book, and she devotes considerable space to a first-person exploration of her own religious beliefs and rituals.
The range of this study draws attention to that characteristic elsewhere in Lupton's numerous publications. Certain influences, notably Hannah Arendt, recur; certain preoccupations, such as political theology and genre, reappear; certain critical practices, such as coining names and concepts, reemerge. But far from in effect rewriting the same book, she varies her foci impressively; for example, an early, coauthored volume entitled After Oedipus: Shakespeare in Psychoanalysis offers psychoanalytic interpretations based mainly on Freud and Lacan, while the significantly different concerns of Afterlives of the Saints: Hagiography, Typology, and Renaissance Literature are evident in its subtitle.
In addition to the broader insights into particular texts adumbrated above, Shakespeare Dwelling also includes fruitful new readings of familiar passages, such as the peregrinations of Birnam Wood or the descriptions of Imogen's bedroom. And, although composition courses are increasingly the purview of the exploited contingent members of the faculty, we all teach writing by precept and example. So Lupton's style—witty and supple—is well worth celebrating. Witness the wordplay in the many meanings of the title Shakespeare Dwelling or an introduction cleverly entitled "Entries into Dwelling." And this book, like its author's previous work, is enlivened by well-crafted phrases. Of Petrarchism, for instance, she writes "Romeo manages to wake up these sleeping beauties" (76).
The occasional downside of the boldness and range of the book is the appearance of strained...