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Criticism 43.4 (2001) 496-500
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Form and Culture in Early Modern Drama
Quoting Shakespeare: Form and Culture in Early Modern Drama by Douglas Bruster. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2000. Pp. 288. $50.00 cloth.
There is a stark contrast between the specific readings of early modern texts Douglas Bruster offers in Quoting Shakespeare: Form and Culture in Early Modern Drama, and his attempt to situate these readings theoretically around the concept of "quotation." All the readings are rich and engaged; the readings of Marlowe's "The Passionate Shepherd" (Chapter Two, a version of an article that appeared in Criticism) and Shakespeare and Fletcher's The Two Noble Kinsmen (Chapter Five, a version of an article that appeared in Shakespeare Quarterly) are, I think, brilliant. Bruster's efforts, however, to define his "mode of reading" (13) and differentiate it from various formulations of New Historicism—by using the terms "quotation" and "bricolage" instead of "appropriation" or "circulation" to explain how words and things get into a literary [End Page 496] text—are labored. In that, this book stands as fairly representative of the times: New Historical tenets (with numerous modifications) still allow for great work to be done, but talking about New Historical tenets bores people to tears and, with no theoretical breakthrough on the horizon, any discussion of theory in early modern studies remains a tedious task.
Bruster actually says something similar early on: various critical "approaches are being reshuffled rather than rethought, leaving the field busy but without the direction it once had" (13). He says, too, with admirable and refreshing frankness, "this book offers no magic solution" (13). And then he eschews novelty: "It is certainly not my claim . . . that no one has ever read books in this way before. . . . (14). Nonetheless, the pressure to reshuffle—if not create theoretical magic and read in a way no one has read before—remains strong in academic publishing and Bruster complies, it seems, grudgingly: "We might provisionally define quotation as the incorporation, in a text, of discrete elements from outside that text, with or without acknowledgment" (16). These "elements" can be, in addition to other texts, actions, relationships, etc. Rather than talk about quotation in the modern sense—"the reduplication, typically with acknowledgment, of others' words . . . for which we have both cultural protocols and an array of punctuation" (16)—Bruster suggests that a broader (more early modern) use of "quotation" can function as something of a critical tool: "We can learn more about texts and the history they incorporate if we look beyond the provocative material that New Historicism commonly employs, for the positions of texts and authors—their orientation, habits, and inclinations—often appear most clearly in otherwise ordinary borrowings" (5). I have no argument with this claim. But Bruster spends too much time "positioning" his "quotations" in and around New Historical "appropriations." It seems preferable to make the general and simple point that New Historicists need to focus more on immediate literary or linguistic "appropriations" or "borrowings" or "quotations" or whatever.
And I do not use "whatever" loosely here. Right now, recently freed from restrictive metaphors of representation ("reflection," etc.), it does not seem particularly meaningful which metaphors we use—"borrows," "appropriates," "registers," "participates in," "exchanges with," circulates in," or "quotes"—to explain our greater openness to the complexity of the relationship between life and the production of art. Indeed, almost as soon as Bruster gives us "quotation" he feels compelled to introduce yet another apt but, at the moment, fairly useless term: "bricolage." "Such terms characterize making as fabrication rather than as creation and ask us to see that dramatic texts were bricolage—a pastiche of various to-hand materials, sometimes by a handyman or bricoleur" (22). One might get the sense that Bruster wishes he did not have to play with nomenclature and could simply use "quotation" as an explicit organizational device for his chapters, correcting bad tendencies in New Historicism as he [End Page 497] goes along. "I am skeptical about the usefulness of larger paradigms and categories for certain...