- Dr. Jacques L. and Martin Hide-a-Guerre: The Subject of New Historicism
The word ‘theory’ stems from the Greek verb theorein. The noun belonging to it is theoria. Peculiar to these words is a lofty and mysterious meaning. The verb theorein grew out of the coalescing of two root words, thea and horao. Thea (cf. theater) is the outward look, the aspect, in which something shows itself. . . . The second root word in theorein, horao, means: to look at something attentively, to look it over, to view it closely. Thus it follows that theorein is thean horan, to look attentively on the outward appearance wherein what presences becomes visible and, through such sight—seeing—to linger with it.—Martin Heidegger, “Science and Reflection”
Hamlet: ‘Sblood, there is something in this more than natural, if philosophy could find it out. A flourish.
Guildenstern: There are the players.—Hamlet 2.2.366–68
In setting forth Shakespeare’s unique role within an important institutional appropriation of the early modern theater by the postmodern university, together with a corresponding postmodern theory already shaping the early modern theater, a highly stylized early play like Romeo and Juliet is a good place to begin. For here, and from the beginning, the play unfolds outside (and therefore inside) the “deconstructed” binarisms characteristic of a certain poststructural literary theory generally—womb-tomb, light-dark, female-male, Capulet-Montague, waking-sleeping, all-nothing, lark-nightingale, love-hate, late-early, vice-virtue, poison-remedy, mercy-murder, wedding-funeral, dove-raven, fiend-angel, wolf-lamb, miss-mend, stand-stir, haste-destiny, and so on. 1 Here the nonbinary language [End Page 73] of the theater anticipates the “unlimited semiosis” of postmodern literary and cultural theory precisely by extending that nonbinary language to the opposition theater-theory, which the play also undermines. To cite only one particularly central example, literary criticism’s ongoing concerns with the cultural and ritualistic origins of tragedy are not just explored but explained—theorized—by the play’s self-conscious identification of Juliet as both “dove” (“So shows a snowy dove trooping with crows” [1.5.48]) and “lamb” (“Juliet! Fast, I warrant her, she. / Why, lamb! Why, lady!” [4.5.1–2]). The theatrical experience of the play’s “poor sacrifices” [5.3.318] is further related to the Catholic mass, out of which Shakespeare’s own tragic theater significantly evolves, by “Come Lammas Eve at night shall she be fourteen” [1.3.17] (Lammas [hlammas] hlaf ‘loaf, bread,’ maesse ‘mass’) and “God’s bread, it makes me mad!” [3.5.176]. 2 Redoubling this Christian context for sacrifice, a seasonal parallel in the myth of Persephone stolen away by Pluto shows through “Death lies on her like an untimely frost / Upon the sweetest flower of all the field” [4.5.28–29] and “O son, the night before thy wedding-day / Hath Death lain with thy wife” [35–36]. Within the same ongoing theorization of the play’s own theater, the “pomegranate tree” in Juliet’s “It was the nightingale, and not the lark . . . / Nightly she sings on yon pomegranate tree” [3.5.2–4] further joins Juliet to Persephone, Lady Capulet to Ceres, and “love-devouring death” [2.6.7] to Hades.
From the play to the theory, then, influential critiques of performative discourse and its ritualistic origins in postsubjective (post-Lacanian) sacrifice are generated not only by the postmodern university, but also, in Romeo and Juliet, by the early modern theater. For the play, and not simply the theory, is already about the play—and autobiographical, from Montague’s “Away from light steals home my heavy son, / And private in his chamber pens himself” [1.1.137–38] through Juliet’s “Was ever book containing such vile matter / So fairly bound” [3.2.83–84] to Romeo’s frantic “get me ink and paper...