Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox (Studies in Performance and Early Modern Drama)

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Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox (Studies in Performance and Early Modern Drama)

Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox Peter G. Platt Shake speare and the Cul ture of Paradox General E ditor’s Pr

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Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox

Peter G. Platt

Shake speare and the Cul ture of Paradox

General E ditor’s Preface H elen O stovich, McMaster U niversity

Performance assumes a string of creative, analytical, and collaborative acts that, in de.ance of theatrical ephemerality, live on through records, manuscripts, and printed books. T he monographs and essay collections in this series offer original research which addresses theatre histories and performance histories in the context of the sixteenth and seventeenth century life. O f especial interest are studies in which women’s activities are a central feature of discussion as financial or technical supporters (patrons, musicians, dancers, seamstresses, wigmakers, or ‘gatherers’), if not authors or performers per se. Welcome too are critiques of early modern drama that not only take into account the production values of the plays, but also speculate on how intellectual advances or popular culture affect the theatre. T he series logo, selected by my colleague Mary V. Silcox, derives from T homas Combe’s duodecimo volume, The Theater of Fine Devices (London, 1592), Emblem VI, sig. B. T he emblem of four masks has a verse which makes claims for the increasing complexity of early modern experience, a complexity that makes interpretation difficult. H ence the corresponding perhaps uneasy rise in sophistication: Masks will be more hereafter in request, A nd grow more deare than they did heretofore. N o longer simply signs of performance ‘in play and jest’, the mask has become the ‘double face’ worn ‘in earnest’ even by ‘the best’ of people, in order to manipulate or profit from the world around them. T he books stamped with this design attempt to understand the complications of performance produced on stage and interpreted by the audience, whose experiences outside the theatre may reflect the emblem’s argument: Most men do use some colour’d shift F or to conceal their craftie drift. Centuries after their first presentations, the possible performance choices and meanings they engender still stir the imaginations of actors, audiences, and readers of early plays. T he products of scholarly creativity in this series, I hope, will also stir imaginations to new ways of thinking about performance.

Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox

Peter G. Pla tt Barnard College, USA

© Peter G. Platt 2009 A ll rights reserved. N o part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise without the prior permission of the publisher. Peter G. Platt has asserted his moral right under the Copyright, D esigns and Patents A ct, 1988, to be identified as the author of this work. Published by A shgate Publishing L imited A shgate Publishing Company Wey Court East Suite 420 Union Road 101 Cherry Street F arnham Burlington Surrey, GU9 7PT VT 05401-4405 E ngland U SA British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data Platt, Peter G., 1961– Shakespeare and the culture of paradox. – (Studies in performance and early modern drama) 1. Shakespeare, William, 1564–1616 – Criticism and interpretation 2. Paradox in literature I. T itle 822.3’3 Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Platt, Peter G., 1961– Shakespeare and the culture of paradox / by Peter G. Platt. p. cm. — (Studies in performance and early modern drama) Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 978-0-7546-6551-9 (alk. paper) 1. Paradox in literature. 2. Shakespeare, William, 1564–1616—Criticism and interpretation. 3. Shakespeare, William, 1564–1616—Philosophy. 4. Shakespeare, William, 1564–1616—Knowledge—Logic. 5. Perspective (Philosophy) I. Title. PR3001.P63 2008 822.3’3—dc22 ISBN: 978-0-7546-6551-9


For Jordy He makes a July’s day short as December, And with his varying childness cures in me Thoughts that would thick my blood.

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Contents Acknowledgements Introduction “A nd T hat’s T rue T oo”: Shakespeare’s Culture of Paradox

viii 1

1 “New, Straunge, Incredible, and Repugnant to the Opinion of the Hearer”: The Power of the Paradox in Early Modern Culture


2 “The Meruailouse Site”: Shakespeare, Venice, and the Paradox of Place


3 “To Do a Great Right, Do a Little Wrong” or Gaining by R elaxing: E quity and Paradox in The Merchant of Venice and Measure for Measure


4 “Double Dealing Ambodexters”: The Paradoxes of Playing


Works Cited Index

207 239

A cknowledgements R abelais’s Panurge, in a famous paradoxical encomium, argues for the beauty and sacredness of debt. I hope he is right because in writing this book, I have accumulated over eleven years of it. T he project began when I was a F ellow of the Institute for A dvanced Studies in the H umanities at the U niversity of E dinburgh in 1998 and 1999. I thank Professor Peter Jones for having me at the Institute, where I received very important responses to the early stages of my work, especially from Professor Jones and Stephen Brown. The chapter on Venice would never have been written without the advice and knowledge of the wonderful historians of that city, R ichard Mackenney and Patricia A llerston. I thank D avid K astan and Peter L ake, too, for admitting me to their Folger Institute Colloquium in 2000–2001, during which time I did most of the research and the bulk of the writing for the equity chapter. Angela Balla, John Cox, and Lori Ferrell were especially helpful members of the colloquium, and advice from Bradin Cormack and Benedict R obinson also greatly improved that chapter. I am also grateful to Barnard College for providing me with three very helpful half-year leaves over the course of this project. T his book has been written in, and with the resources of, several libraries: the N ational L ibrary of Scotland, the U niversity of E dinburgh L ibrary, the F olger L ibrary, and the D oe L ibrary at the U niversity of California, Berkeley. T he Mechanics’ Institute L ibrary in San F rancisco has, for many years, provided me with a most congenial place to work—more than half of this book was written there—and I thank all of its librarians, and especially Mark Singer, for their support and guidance. When I was not able to get to the library, I was helped immensely by a terrific group of research assistants: Tiffany Alkan, Rachel Aviv, Anna Martin, and the indefatigable Rebecca Watson. Nellie Hermann compiled the first version of the Works Cited and—when I was thousands of miles away from my books— checked even the most minute references with amazing precision and patience. T his is the third book that I have had copyedited by Gayle Swanson, and I cannot imagine that a better editor exists in the Western world. I am grateful to her for letting me drag her out of semiretirement to make this book more coherent and readable. F inally, E rika Gaffney helps to keep R enaissance studies alive with her early-modern list at Ashgate, and I am honored to have been included in it. Barnard and Columbia students have for nearly fifteen years invigorated me and helped me figure out what I wanted to say in this book. In particular, I thank K ate Budzyn, E mma Chastain, E mily Gerstell, Marissa N icosia, and A my Perry. T eaching at Barnard, I have also been blessed with two sets of E nglish D epartment colleagues: I am thankful for conversations with and support from K athy E den, Jean Howard, Jim Mirollo, Austin Quigley, Jim Shapiro, and especially David Kastan at Columbia and Jim Basker, Lisa Gordis, Achsah Guibbory, Kim Hall, Ross Hamilton, Jennie Kassanoff, Anne Prescott, and Timea Szell at Barnard.



Bill Sharpe read more versions of this book than anyone should have had to. I am grateful both for his superlative editing skills and for his having listened to me work out these ideas over runs and gyros for more than a decade. Beyond Morningside H eights, I am also very fortunate to have had L eonard Barkan as a friend and intellectual soulmate and to have participated in a number of paradoxical discussions with Joel Altman, Thomas Bishop, Douglas Brooks, Jeff Dolven, and D acher K eltner. My gratitude also extends to A ndrew A uchincloss, Cabot Brown, Peter Freedberger, David Gendelman, John Kurtz, Bill Littmann, Mark Ouweleen, Bill R appel, A ntonio R ossi, and T odd West, who labored to assure me, often in humorous ways, that everything would be all right. My friend and mentor D ennis K ay died during the time I was writing this book, and I will forever miss his companionship and conversation. But three former graduate students who have become formidable professors—A lan F armer, Zachary L esser, and Benedict R obinson—are D ennis’s heirs. T hese students have, paradoxically, become my teachers, and I turn to them often when I need to discuss not only Shakespeare and his contemporaries but also sabermetrics (Alan), the state of the Yankees (Zack), and the many faces of Stephin Merritt (Ben). My family has grown since I embarked on this project. My mom, dad, and brother have for years patiently listened to me talk about this book and perhaps impatiently waited for it to appear. T hey have been and remain my life’s anchors. My wife, N ancy—a relative newcomer—has sustained me and lovingly voiced her confidence when my own was seriously failing; I am, in turn, immensely grateful to her. Our son, Jordy (fan of Chelsea, the Giants, and Harry Potter), is my exercise, mirth, and matter, and this book is for him. Parts of the introduction, chapter 1, and chapter 2 appeared as “‘The Meruailouse Site’: Shakespeare, Venice, and Paradoxical Stages” in Renaissance Quarterly 54, no.1 (2001): 121–54. I thank the Renaissance Society of America for permission to include that material here. A shorter version of chapter 3 was published as “‘Much More the Better for Being a L ittle Bad,’ or Gaining by R elaxing: E quity and Paradox in Measure for Measure,” in Textual Conversations in the Renaissance: Ethics, Authors, and Technologies, edited by Zachary L esser and Benedict S. Robinson, 45–68 (Ashgate, 2006). A different version of chapter 4 appeared as “‘Double-Dealing Ambodexters’: Shakespeare and the Paradoxes of Playing,” in Shakespearean International Yearbook, Vol. 5 (2005), 240–63. I thank A shgate for allowing me to reprint these two essays. F inally, I am grateful to Stephen T abor and the H untington L ibrary for permission to use the image from H enry Peacham’s The Garden of Eloquence (1577) that appears on the cover.

Andelocia Because ile saue this gold, sirra Shaddowe, weele feede our selues with Paradoxes.

Shadow O h rare: what meat’s that?

Andelocia Meate, you gull: tis no meate: a dish of Paradoxes is a feast of straunge opinion, tis an ordinarie that our greatest gallants haunt nowadaies, because they would be held for Statesmen.

Shadow I shall neuer fil my belly with opinions.

Andelocia In despite of swag-bellies, gluttons, and sweet mouth’d Epicures, Ile haue thee maintaine a Paradox in commendations of hunger. —T homas D ekker, Old Fortunatus

Gloucester A nd that’s true too. —William Shakespeare, King Lear


“A nd T hat’s T rue T oo”: Shakespeare’s Culture of Paradox Late in act 5 of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, D uke O rsino exclaims, upon seeing the twins Viola and Sebastian, “O ne face, one voice, one habit, and two persons, / A natural perspective that is and is not!” O rsino’s words would have announced to his earliest listeners and readers that they were in the presence of the discourse of paradox: a discourse in which opposites can coexist and perspectives can be altered. They would be forced, if only briefly, to reconsider accepted opinions, beliefs, truths. T his book explores Shakespeare’s ongoing interest in challenging assumptions and orthodoxies. I argue that the R enaissance culture of paradox provided Shakespeare with a vocabulary and a conceptual framework for his presentation of a dizzying array of perspectives on love, gender, knowledge, and truth. F or it is this discovery of double or multiple perspectives—what T homas Playfere, an Elizabethan preacher, called in 1595 “the equal intermingling of ... two extremities”—that often accompanies recognition and change in Shakespeare’s plays. This “intermingling” fascinated John Keats; he called it “Negative Capability”: “that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason.” T his is the quality, said K eats, that “Shakespeare posessed [sic] so enormously.” In a fundamental  ������������� Shakespeare, Twelfth Night, 5.1.208–9, in The Norton Shakespeare. U nless otherwise noted, all further citations from the plays of Shakespeare are to this edition and are annotated within the text.  ���������� Playfere, A most excellent and heauenly sermon vpon the 23. chapter of the Gospell by Saint Luke, B4r. William Empson’s definition of ambiguity—which he connects to Shakespeare often in his Seven Types of Ambiguity—is relevant here: “any verbal nuance, however slight, which gives room for alternative reactions to the same piece of language” (1).  Letter from John Keats to George and Tom Keats, 21, 27 (?) December 1817, in The Letters of John Keats 1:193. See also Hazlitt, Table Talk, Essay 5, “On Genius and Common Sense” (1821): “His genius consisted in the faculty of transforming himself at will into whatever he chose; his originality was the power of seeing every object from the exact point of view in which others would see it. He was the Proteus of the human intellect” (Collected Works 6:42). In the twentieth century, A.P. Rossiter has explored Shakespeare in terms of ambivalence—“This is what I mean by ‘Ambivalence’: that two opposed value-judgements are subsumed, and ... both are valid (i.e. for that work of art or the mind producing it). T he whole is only fully experienced when both opposites are held and included in a ‘two-eyed’

Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox

sense, then, this book tries to historicize K eats’s profound insight by exploring Shakespeare’s intellectual interest in placing both characters and audiences in uncertainties, mysteries, and doubts. In his moment of astonishment, O rsino alludes to anamorphic painting, in which—depending on the viewer’s perspective—one thing can possess two discrete realities. It “is and is not.” T his type of painting clearly intrigued Shakespeare— he alludes to it at least two other times in his plays. Perhaps the most famous anamorphic painting is H olbein’s The Ambassadors: in that work, an object in the foreground can be either an enigmatic disk or a memento mori skull. In the words of the art historian Jurgis Baltrušaitis, such anamorphic painting consists of “the paradoxes of distorting perspective.” A fluctuating perspective renders the act of viewing problematic and calls cognitive stability into question. O rsino does not know if two people are one, or if one person has become two people. T he doubleness and wonder encountered by O rsino lie at the Greek root of paradox, whose etymology—para [“beyond”] + doxon [“opinion”]—suggests a reversal of common belief or convention. A ccording to Cicero’s preface to his important collection of classical paradoxes, “T hese doctrines are surprising, and they run counter to universal opinion [Quae quia sunt admirabilia contraque view; and all ‘one-eyed’ simplifications are not only falsifications; they amount to a denial of some part of the mystery of things” (see “Ambivalence: The Dialectic of the Histories,” in Angel with Horns, 51). Norman Rabkin has also invoked Keats as a way of keeping Shakespearean criticism away from “reductiveness” (Shakespeare and the Problem of Meaning, 19): “the critic must learn to defer his ‘irritable reaching after fact and reason’ and learn to think of ‘uncertainties, mysteries, doubts’ as the stuff of our experience of art” (23–24).  ��������� See also Richard II, 2.2.14–27, and Antony and Cleopatra, 2.5.117–18. Portia’s “Nothing is good, I see, without respect; / Methinks it sounds much sweeter than by day” (Merchant, 5.1.98–99) may also be an allusion to anamorphic or perspective painting.  Baltrušaitis, Anamorphic Art, 114. Hanneke Grootenboer has recently stressed the paradoxical etymology of anamorphosis: “In classical Greek, anamorphosis literally translates as ‘distortion,’ while in modern Greek ana- functions both as the English prefixes dis-, as in ‘distortion,’ and re-, as in ‘reformation.’ Anamorphosis can thus be understood as ‘that which lacks a proper shape,’ and as simultaneously signifying the ‘restoring of that which has been out of shape.’ Its meaning creates a double bind, pointing to the product, the actual image, as well as to the process of its reshaping, that is, the viewer’s search for the right point of view” (The Rhetoric of Perspective, 101).  ���������������������������������������������������������������������������������� Catherine Belsey describes the anamorphic experience as part of an encounter with “an uncanny phrase or figure [that] disrupts our seamless mastery of the text, takes it in an unpredicted direction, or leaves us undecided between possible interpretations. It invites us suddenly to read from another position, and thus draws attention to the subject as precisely positioned, making sense from a specific and limited place. This place is at once located—in history, in culture, in this moment as opposed to that—and dis-located, other than it is, beside itself, outside the comfortable, confident command of the text, and of the objects of knowledge, the mastery that was always imaginary.” Among these uncanny figures are “contradiction, paradox, oxymoron” (“English Studies in the Postmodern Condition,” 134–35).

“And That’s True Too”

opinionem omnium].” Much more recently, Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe has stressed a related element of the paradox that is relevant for early modern thought: The paradox is ... not only a contradicting or surprising opinion (out of the ordinary and shocking). It implies a passing to the extreme, a sort of “maximization,” as is said in logic nowadays. It is in reality a hyperbolic movement by which the equivalence of contraries is established ... the contraries themselves pushed to the extreme, in principle infinite, of contrariety. That is why the formula for the paradox is always that of the double superlative: the more mad it is, the more wise it is; the maddest is the wisest. Paradox is defined by the infinite exchange, or the hyperbolic identity, of contraries.

Shakespeare’s paradoxes work by means of a “surprising” turn of events coupled with an “infinite exchange ... of contraries,” which often leads to a recognition that something can both be and not be: O rsino’s “A natural perspective that is and is not” is echoed by Troilus’s insight that “This is and is not Cressid” (5.2.146). In this way, Shakespeare reconfigures what was commonly thought to be true, for his characters and for his audience. T hese related forms of paradox—the encounter with the reversal of common opinion and with what the early modern period called “contrariety”—are crucial to Shakespeare’s sense of human experience and the theater. Both are found early in Troilus and Cressida as Ulysses reports on the play-acting that has become a daily and day-long activity for Patroclus and Achilles: “with ridiculous and awkward action / Which, slanderer, he ‘imitation’ calls, / He pageants us” (1.3.149–51). Pageanting and “mocking” (146), Patroclus is quite an actor and provides Achilles great amusement: at this sport Sir Valour dies, cries, “O enough, Patroclus! O r give me ribs of steel. I shall split all In pleasure my spleen.” (175–78)

But the plays are not just funny; they are subversive and dangerous: A nd in this fashion A ll our abilities, gifts, natures, shapes, Severals and generals of grace exact, A chievements, plots, orders, preventions, Excitements to the field or speech for truce, Success or loss, what is or is not, serves As stuff for these two to make paradoxes. (178–84)

Patroclus’s and A chilles’s theater of paradox mocks what should be celebrated— “our abilities, gifts, natures, shapes”—but also focuses on the contradictions of war—the “Excitements to the field or speech for truce,” “success or loss,” and  �������� Cicero, Paradoxa stoicorum, in De oratore, Book 3. De fato. Paradoxa stoicorum. De partitione oratoria, 256–57.  Lacoue-Labarthe, Typography, 252.

Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox

“what is or is not.” T hese contrarieties in fact provide the “stuff” for the two actors “to make paradoxes.” By naming their dramas “paradoxes,” U lysses is calling attention to the root of paradoxon: its ability to challenge common opinion, to rankle, to unsettle. Critics of Shakespeare have not sufficiently recognized the power of paradox— the ways in which Shakespeare uses paradox not only to play with contradictions but also to expand, challenge, or even dismantle the personal and social belief systems that help to constitute his plays. T his neglect, I would argue, is a result of the critical tendency to conceive of paradox as paralyzing and ineffectual.10 Shakespeare’s plays, on the contrary, in “paradoxing the orthodox” often reveal paradox as an agent of action and change.11 T his is in no small part because of the paradoxical nature of theater itself: something on the stage always provides a “natural perspective that is and is not.” Whether the encounter with doubleness is ultimately constructive or annihilating, the recognition of the paradoxical nature of things seems to be a prerequisite for cognitive growth in Shakespeare—for his characters and for his audience.12 Those trapped in a single-minded, monomaniacal view of human experience tend to be the ones doomed in the Shakespearean universe. It is not until O rsino sees what simultaneously is and is not that he can experience an alteration of his cognitive world: he sees that the man he has loved all along is also in some sense the woman he will marry, that this woman has won his heart through masculine friendship. Malvolio’s inability to entertain this sort of double vision, on the other hand, leaves him bitter and unsatisfied at play’s end. In the same scene that O rsino has his paradoxical revelation, Malvolio swears, “I’ll be revenged on the whole pack of you” (5.1.378).13 F rom a darker perspective, U lysses sees a 

������������������������������������������������������������������������������ A lthough “paradoxes” are often glossed as “absurdities,” A rden editor K enneth Palmer rightly foregrounds “statements contrary to received opinion or belief” (see Shakespeare, Troilus and Cressida, 136n184). Heinrich F. Plett goes further, asserting that Patroclus’s “theatrical-rhetorical procedure here consists in inverting this world, turning it upside-down, as it were, ‘against (prevailing) opinion’” (Rhetoric and Renaissance Culture, 272). 10 ������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� F or notable exceptions, see R ossiter, “A mbivalence: T he D ialectic of the H istories,” in his Angel with Horns, 40–64; Rabkin, Shakespeare and the Common Understanding and Shakespeare and the Problem of Meaning; Altman, The Tudor Play of Mind, esp. 31–63; Greenblatt, Renaissance Self-Fashioning, 306–7n68; Levao, Renaissance Minds and Their Fictions, esp. 281–364; Jones-Davies, “Shakespeare in the Humanist Tradition”; Montrose, The Purpose of Playing, esp. 76–98; and Bate, The Genius of Shakespeare, esp. 294–340. 11 ����������������������������������������������������������������������������� The phrase “paradoxing the orthodox”—referring specifically to the effect of Shakespeare’s sonnets—is Joel Fineman’s (see his The Subjectivity Effect in Western Literary Tradition, 224). 12 See William Elton, “Shakespeare and the Thought of His Age,” 32: “Shakespeare’s drama provided an appropriate conflict structure: a dialectic of ironies and ambivalences, avoiding in its complex movement and multi-voiced dialogue the simplifications of direct statement and reductive resolutions.” 13 F or a similar reading, see Gilman, The Curious Perspective, 129–50, esp. 129–35.

“And That’s True Too”

real threat to the order of things when Patroclus and A chilles begin to fashion paradoxes out of the Greek army and its “designs” (1.3.146). Situating Shakespeare in the R enaissance culture of paradox requires an encounter with R osalie Colie’s brilliant and daunting Paradoxia Epidemica. Although now over forty years old, the book continues to be the definitive work on the subject. So why write another book about R enaissance paradox? T wo developments in literary criticism and theory make a reevaluation important. F irst, paradox looks different after poststructuralism. E ven though Colie crucially saw that “the paradox is always somehow involved in dialectic: challenging some orthodoxy, the paradox is an oblique criticism of absolute judgment or absolute convention,” she limited the power of paradox to the discursive realms of rhetoric and logic.14 Jacques Derrida extended this power of paradox and aporia to all systems of meaning—what Jeffrey T. Nealon has called “deconstruction’s ‘yes and no.’”15 F or D errida—as for K eats’s Shakespeare—the crucial philosophical move was to resist resolving paradoxes. D errida attempted “to bring the critical operation to bear against ... a dialectics of the H egelian type ..., for H egelian idealism consists precisely of a relève of the binary oppositions of classical idealism, a resolution of contradiction into a third term.” Instead, D errida embraced undecidables, that is, unities of simulacrum, “false” verbal properties (nominal or semantic) that can no longer be included within philosophical (binary) opposition, but which, however, inhabit philosophical opposition, resisting and disorganizing it, without ever constituting a third term, without ever reaching for a solution in the form of speculative dialectics (the pharmakon is neither remedy nor poison, neither good nor evil, neither the inside or the outside, neither speech nor writing ... N either/nor, that is, simultaneously either/or ...).16

Stressing ongoing paradox, D errida argues for a technique that resists and disorganizes “without ever reaching for a solution.” As I argue in my first chapter, this move is for D errida not one of paralysis—as is often claimed—but one that Colie, Paradoxia Epidemica, 10; subsequent citations are annotated within the text. See N ealon, Double Reading, 180: “Yes, it is necessary to participate in the dominant discourse, but it is just as incumbent upon a participant to offer a no to the limiting horizon of that discourse, to mark its limit in hopes of opening up the ‘lock of the dialectical’—the lock of thinking that thematizes a yes-or-no decision, and all societal discourse merely as the discourse of competing (and ultimately self-cancelling) truths.” For Derrida’s definitions and cataloging of his own uses of aporia, see Aporias, esp. 11–21. 16 ��������� D errida, Positions, 43. For an extended treatment of undecidability—focused on the pharmakon—see Derrida, “Plato’s Pharmacy” (1968), in Dissemination, 63–171. Paul de Man also resisted the critical tendency to erase paradox: “D espite the apparent alacrity with which one is willing to assent in principle to the notion that all literary and some philosophical language is essentially ambivalent, the implied function of most critical commentary and some literary influences is still to do away at all costs with these ambivalences: by reducing them to contradictions, blotting out disturbing parts of the work, or, more subtly, by manipulating the systems of valorization that are operating within the texts” (“The Rhetoric of Blindness,” in Blindness and Insight, 111). 14


Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox

attempts to avoid both paralysis and “neutralizing the binary oppositions of metaphysics and simply residing within the closed field of these oppositions, thereby confirming it.”17 Jacques Lacan gravitated to paradox as well, positing anamorphosis, and H olbein’s Ambassadors, as “an exemplary structure” for his view of “the subject as annihilated” in the act of attempting to constitute itself through the gaze.18 In the words of a recent commentator, L acan found in the instability of anamorphosis “the impossibility of self-verification.”19 T rying to locate themselves through gazing at that paradoxical disk, viewers discover they cannot and thus find annihilation instead.20 I would argue that—often for different reasons—R enaissance thought shared with poststructuralism a fascination with doubleness, undecidability, and radical ambiguity.21 T he second development—the increased attention to the historical, social, and cultural contexts of literary production in the work of new-historicist and cultural-materialist critics—provides another reason for reevaluating Renaissance paradox. I am interested in seeing paradox at work in nonliterary and nonrhetorical discourses—in linking Shakespeare’s plays to a culture of paradox. I use “culture” in R aymond Williams’s sense of “the signifying system through which necessarily (though among other means) a social order is communicated, reproduced, ��������� D errida, Positions, 41. Stephen Greenblatt has made a similar distinction between the paralysis of “the O altitudo! of radical indeterminacy” (Shakespearean Negotiations, 95) and the productive aporia that “are not places where forms refer only to themselves, but are rather the tears where energies, desires, and repressions flow out into the world” (Gallagher and Greenblatt, Practicing New Historicism, 109). 18 �������������������������� L acan, “A namorphosis,” in The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis, 85 and 88. See also Lacan’s The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, 1959–1960, 135–36, and Baltrušaitis’s Anamorphic Art, esp. 3–36. Baltrušaitiss’s book very much influenced Lacan’s thinking about anamorphosis. See also Greenblatt, Renaissance Self-Fashioning, 18–25. More recently, H anneke Grootenboer has stressed the paradoxical nature of anamorphosis as “a model of vision [that] ... hides and shows at the same time” (The Rhetoric of Perspective, 129). 19 Massey, “Anamorphosis through Descartes or Perspective Gone Awry,” 1187n61. F or a lucid analysis of the connection between L acan and the paradoxes of others, especially those of Zeno, see Žižek, Looking Awry, 3–6. 20 See L acan’s The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, 1959–1960, where he links anamorphic painting with the search for knowledge: “the Baroque return to the play of forms, to all manner of devices, including anamorphosis, is an effort to restore the true meaning of artistic inquiry; artists use the discovery of the property of lines to make something emerge that is precisely there where one has lost one’s bearings or, strictly speaking, nowhere” (136). 21 Christine Buci-Glucksmann has asserted that in poststructuralism “something like a baroque paradigm asserts and establishes itself within ‘modernity.’ Against any idea of selfenclosed language, any logical metalanguage, this paradigm continually appeals to the same tropes and stylistic procedures: allegory, oxymoron, open totality and discordant detail” (Baroque Reason, 141). For a recent treatment of Shakespeare and French poststructural thought, see R ichard Wilson, Shakespeare in French Theory. 17

“And That’s True Too”

experienced and explored.”22 This definition recognizes that culture communicates and reproduces—but also interrogates, explores—a social order and, crucially for my purposes, includes the notion of culture as something experienced. Culture makes room, in other words, for the effect that a signifying system—theatrical forms, for example—can have on a group of people, on an audience. Indeed, as Clifford Geertz has shown, culture itself is an “acted document” that is “public” in nature.23 Invoking multiple discourses as well as the theatricality of human experience, I am also recognizing the effect that Michel F oucault’s work has had on R enaissance studies, an effect that Colie did not live to see. L ike D errida, F oucault argued for the importance—indeed the fertile nature—of paradox and contradiction. In his “Theatrum Philosophicum,” originally published in 1970, Foucault wondered, “What if thought freed itself from common sense and decided to function only in its extreme singularity? What if it adopted the disreputable bias of the paradox, instead of complacently accepting its citizenship in the doxa? What if it conceived of difference differently, instead of searching out the common elements underlying difference?”24 Similarly, in his The Archaeology of Knowledge (1969), Foucault warned against looking for “an ideal, continuous, smooth text that runs beneath the multiplicity of contradictions.” Instead, F oucault argued, a “discursive formation” is “a space of multiple dissensions,” and “archaeological analysis, then, erects the primacy of a contradiction that has its model in the simultaneous affirmation and negation of a single proposition.” T he purpose of this sort of analysis is “to map, in a particular discursive practice, the point at which they are constituted, to define the form that they assume, the relations they have with each other, and the domain that they govern ... , to maintain discourse in all its many irregularities.”25 My focus on Shakespearean paradox, I hope, both foregrounds the irregularities of the discourses in question and suppresses the urge to “even out oppositions in the general forms of thought and to pacify them by force.”26 By spreading my critical net this widely, I realize I am asking for trouble. F rances Yates found fault with Colie for seeing paradox in everything: “H ad she been more precise in her definitions and more moderate in her claims she might have made a good case for paradoxy as an important ingredient in the R enaissance ������������������ R aymond Williams, Culture, 13. Geertz, The Interpretation of Cultures, 10. For a compelling exploration not of the culture of paradox but of the paradox of “culture,” see E agleton, The Idea of Culture, esp. 1–31. 24 F oucault, “T heatrum Philosophicum,” in Mimesis, Masochism, and Mime, 227. F oucault continues, a little later in the essay: “A nd it is good sense that reins in the philosophy of representation. L et us pervert good sense and allow thought to play outside the ordered table of resemblances” (228). 25 F oucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge, 155–56. 26 F oucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge, 155. Stephen Toulmin has made an important argument for the reasons that E urope in the sixteenth century—but not the seventeenth century—was open to a culture of paradox. See his Cosmopolis, esp. 1–87. 22


Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox

outlook, but she wildly overdoes it.”27 In spite of this warning, I hope to overdo it even more wildly, stressing that in order to see just how important “paradoxy” was to the “R enaissance outlook,” we have to look beyond logical and rhetorical forms of the paradox. T he R enaissance paradox has several crucial functions: it startles its “audience” into marvel and amazement; it contains opposites without necessarily resolving them; and it challenges conventions and commonly held opinions, often reshaping thought in the process. A nd while aporia and self-annihilation have their places in the Shakespearean paradoxical scheme, I think a more helpful model comes from the philosopher W.V. Quine, who distinguishes among three types of paradox. T wo of them inevitably fail to sustain the play of contradiction: those that resolve into truth (veridical) and those that collapse because they are based on faulty assumptions and logic (falsidical). But the truly complex paradoxes—those that are most intellectually significant and most difficult to explain away—Quine calls “antinomies,” which contain “a surprise that can be accommodated by nothing less than a repudiation of part of our conceptual heritage.”28 This paradigmshaking encounter with philosophical doubleness is the effect, I would argue, of Shakespearean paradox.29 And Quine’s description of antinomy’s essential nature—“It is and it is not” (90)—sounds uncannily like the words of Orsino with which we began.30 Christianity lay at the heart of the “signifying system” that was R enaissance culture, and its very foundations and mysteries are utterly paradoxical: creation ex nihilo; the notion of the felix culpa, or fortunate fall; Christ’s being both man and God, flesh and spirit; and, because of Christ’s coming to earth, the death of death, or, the ability to proclaim, in John Donne’s words, “death, thou shalt die.”31 T he R eformation brought further paradoxes, perhaps the most important being 27

���������������������������������� Yates, “Paradox and Paradise,” 27. Quine, “Paradox,” 88; subsequent citations are annotated within the text. See also the physicist N iels Bohr’s “T he U nity of H uman K nowledge,” in which he claims that “the notion of complementarity is called for to provide a frame wide enough to embrace the account of fundamental regularities of nature which cannot be comprehended within a single picture” (12). I discuss Rabkin’s Shakespeare and the Common Understanding—a pioneering book that links complementarity to Shakespeare—in chapter 1. 29 H amlet is another who sees complex paradoxes as antinomies. N oting that “the power of beauty will sooner transform honesty from what it is to a bawd than the force of honesty can translate beauty into its likeness,” H amlet tells O phelia that “T his was sometime a paradox, but now the time gives it proof” (3.1.113–16). Once proof has been obtained, the paradox ceases to exist; for Hamlet, a veridical paradox is not a paradox. 30 See also T homas K uhn’s “A F unction for T hought E xperiments,” which discusses the role of paradox in the thought experiments of Galileo’s work on motion: “paradox ... is the way, or one of them, in which Galileo prepared his contemporaries for a change in the concepts employed when discussing, analyzing, or experimenting with motion... , confronting readers with the paradox implicit in their mode of thought. A s a result, it helped them to modify their conceptual apparatus” (15). 31 ��������������������������� D onne, “H oly Sonnet X ,” in Poetical Works, 297. 28

“And That’s True Too”

the doctrine of predestination: we must act virtuously, L uther and Calvin claimed, even though our spiritual destiny is wholly predetermined. In his The Free Will, E rasmus put forth another position: “L et us assume the truth of what Wycliffe has taught and L uther has asserted, namely, that everything we do happens not on account of our free will, but out of sheer necessity. What could be more useless than to publish this paradox to the world?”32 Paradoxes were published—in religious treatises but also, among other places, in rhetoric manuals, paradox books, insolubilia, and plays. (Some plays even have paradoxes in their titles: Beaumont and F letcher’s A King and No King comes to mind.) T hrough an exploration of paradox, I want at least partly to account for what Bryan Crockett has deemed “T he widespread concern—one might even say obsession—with the simultaneous experience of contrary states” in the early modern period.33 In my attempt to explore both the effect on Shakespeare of the culture of paradox and effect of Shakespeare on this culture, I begin with a chapter examining several versions of paradox central to the Renaissance: the literary-rhetorical and logical versions—whose roots are primarily classical—and the Christian versions. T hen I look at the role of paradox in both poststructuralist theory and Shakespeare criticism and suggest how a marriage of early-modern and postmodern paradoxes might shed light on the interpretive and epistemological concerns of Shakespeare’s plays. Each of the following chapters looks at a specific “site” of paradox: Venice; equity law and its courts; and the Shakespearean stage. I examine the way each site, in turn, explores a Shakespearean problem: uncertainty about knowledge, religion, and culture mirrored in the complex symbolic geography of Venice; uncertainty about interpretation of the law and the world reflected in the paradoxes of equity; and uncertainty about the relationship between seeming and being expressed in the paradoxes of acting and play-viewing. T he Venice chapter explores how a geographical site could do the work of the verbal paradox. I begin by examining sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century descriptions of Venice and foreground Gasparo Contarini’s The Commonwealth and Gouernment of Venice, whose E nglish translation by L ewes L ewkenor appeared in 1599. I then read the paradoxical characters Shylock and Othello, as well as their respective dramatic worlds, through the lens of Venice’s symbolic geography. Shylock—as we are reminded by the 1598 entry for the quarto in the Stationers’ R egister—was himself a paradox: “the Iewe of Venyce,” both alien and citizen.34 And as James Shapiro has shown us, Jews were troubling to the early modern imagination because of their paradoxical status: they were different from—but appeared similar to—members of the dominant culture.35 Shakespeare’s Venice in this earlier play is also a liminal site between east and west, as unstable at times as 32 E rasmus, The Free Will, in Discourse on Free Will, 11; subsequent citations are annotated within the text. 33 Crockett, The Play of Paradox, 19. 34 See John Russell Brown, intro. to The Merchant of Venice, A rden edition, xi. 35 ������������������� See James Shapiro, Shakespeare and the Jews, esp. 167–94.

Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox


the merchant A ntonio’s fortunes are at sea. F inally, Merchant’s Venice is a place where doubleness makes plainness all but impossible. Several studies have revealed verbal echoes as well as details in act 1 of Othello that suggest Shakespeare’s familiarity with the Contarinian version of Venetian justice, order, fairness in advancement, and appointments of foreign generals in a crisis.36 But rather than enumerate details from Contarini’s book that make their way into Othello, I show that the paradoxical Venice found both in L ewkenor’s and Contarini’s descriptions and in the volume’s prefatory poems provides Shakespeare a perfect space for the crises of love and thought that he explores in his second Venetian play, especially the struggles of being (is he metaphorically a Turk or a Venetian?) and knowing (is Desdemona chaste or adulterous?) that face O thello, the paradoxical “Moor of Venice.”37 L ike Venice, equity law and its courts performed paradoxical functions in early modern legal discourse and thus were another important site of paradox in Shakespeare’s E ngland. F or equity negotiated between two sets of binaries: universal law and the unpredictability of particular circumstance, and strict justice and absolute mercy.38 A t the heart of early modern equity discussions lay a paradoxical proverb usually attributed to Cicero and found in his On Duties (1.10.33): “summum Ius, summa iniuria” [E xtreme justice is extreme injustice].39 T o attempt an account of the paradoxes surrounding legal judgment in The Merchant of Venice and Measure for Measure, I begin this chapter by examining some classical sources of the concept of equity before looking at the forms it could take in T udor and Stuart E ngland. I will argue that equity—which, through its flexibility, was meant to solve and reconfigure legal problems—could create new paradoxes and contradictions instead. 36

���������������������������������������������������������������������� See Kenneth Muir, “Shakespeare and Lewkenor”; Boughner, “Lewkenor and Volpone”; Whitfield, “Sir Lewis Lewkenor and The Merchant of Venice”; Sipahigil, “Lewkenor and Othello”; Drennan, “‘Corrupt Means to Aspire’”; McPherson, Shakespeare, Jonson, and the Myth of Venice; and Matheson, “Venetian Culture and the Politics of Othello.” 37 See Neill, “‘Mulattos,’ ‘Blacks,’ and ‘Indian Moors,’” esp. 362–63. In her “Slaves and Subjects in Othello,” Camille Wells Slights sees O thello as “not merely a Moor in Venice but the Moor of Venice”—thus, both an alien and a man “whose deepest values are fully consonant with those of Venice’s other inhabitants” (384). 38 ��������������������������� In a discussion of K afka’s Before the Law, Jacques Derrida framed the problem of equity in similar terms: “T here is a singularity about relationship to the law, a law of singularity which must come into contact with the general or universal essence of the law without ever being able to do so. N ow this text, this singular text, as you will have already noted, names or relates in its way this conflict without encounter between law and singularity, this paradox or enigma of being-before-the-law” (Acts of Literature, 187). 39 �������� Cicero, On Duties,14. Cicero notes that this is “a proverb well worn in conversation.” See also E rasmus’s adage “Summum jus, summa injuria,” in his Adages: Ivi1 to Ix100, 244–45: “Extreme right is extreme wrong means that men never stray so far from the path of justice as when they adhere most religiously to the letter of the law. T hey call it ‘extreme right’ when they wrangle over the words of a statute and pay no heed to the intention of the man who drafted it” (244).

“And That’s True Too”


My focal point in the examination of equity in Merchant is Portia, who in the trial scene of act 4 invokes the language of mercy and equity only to employ their opposites—the letter of the law and strict justice—when Shylock refuses her request. Portia and the play as a whole suggest that equity is an unrealizable ideal, a paradox that cannot be sustained in the world of Merchant. I then turn to Measure for Measure, where equity is also held out as a potential solution to the legal quandaries of the play. Part of equity’s power lies at least partly in its relationship to fiction and imaginative possibility, something that Duke Vincentio draws on as he attempts to repair Vienna by staging mercy. U ltimately, however, equity fails in Measure for Measure, just as it did in Merchant: law—or measure—is unable to contain the incommensurability of human experience. Indeed, the paradoxes of equity in Measure for Measure justify rather than mitigate the use of strict justice, and limit rather than expand interpretive and legal flexibility.40 My final chapter turns to the site of the stage itself and look at how the theater was part of the culture of paradox. I explore three major areas of paradoxical playing: the paradox of the actor; the paradox of the boy actor; and the paradox of the relationship between audience and player. E ach section draws on Shakespearean examples in unfolding the argument. In the first, the Henriad and Hamlet are summoned in an exploration of the duality of the actor, who was always both himself and the character he played. In the second, the discussion of the paradox of the boy actor—both biologically male and, often, representationally female—is linked to the paradoxes of gender identity, and As You Like It, Twelfth Night, and Antony and Cleopatra are key-texts. Finally, The Winter’s Tale and The Tempest are invoked in my discussion of the audience’s encounters with the paradoxes of the stage: many antitheatricalists feared, after all, that the audience could become what they saw, could be both spectators and actors. In A nthony Munday’s words, “Onlie the filthines of plaies, and spectacles is such, as maketh both the actors & beholders giltie alike. F or while they saie nought, but gladlie look on, they al by sight and assent be actors.”41 I hope to show both that the Shakespearean stage was constituted by paradox and that it helped to constitute—make, create, fashion—a culture of paradox in and for its witnesses. But fashioning a culture of paradox was not seen as an unequivocal good, especially by contemporary critics of the Elizabethan and Jacobean stage. Even though an encounter with paradox in Shakespeare could lead to an important 40 ����������������������������������������� Paula Blank voices a similar position in Shakespeare and the Mismeasure of Renaissance Man when she attempts to explain “why ... Shakespeare’s measures are so often represented as ‘mismeasures,’ why his rhetoric of measurement, rather than create certainty, so often signifies doubt. ... Renaissance ‘measures of Man’ ... for Shakespeare ... remain as equivocal, provisional, and unreliable as the men and women they are designed to assess” (13). 41 �������� Munday, A Second and Third Blast of Retrait from Plaies and Theaters, 3. Munday’s source text is Salvianus, On the Government of God, bk. 6, sec. 3: “The indecencies of spectacles involve actors and audience in substantially the same guilt” (163). For the Latin, see Migne, Patrologia Latina: “Solae spectaculorum impuriates sunt quae unum admodum faciunt et agentium et aspicientium crimen” (111).

Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox


reconfiguration of thought, paradox was obviously not a wholly problem-free figure; indeed, Oscar Wilde claims in “The Decay of Lying” that “paradoxes are always dangerous things.”42 In his study of O vid, L eonard Barkan has called our attention to the connection between paradox and narcissism in the R enaissance: the trope involved self-indulgent play and surface but potentially no deeper meaning, no substance.43 Indeed, John Donne referred to paradoxes as “nothings.”44 A nd in his rhetoric book, The Arte of English Poesie (1589), George Puttenham discusses the figure of aporia directly after his discussion of paradox (which he renames “the Wondrer”), claiming that aporia—“not much unlike the wondrer”—is “called the doubtfull, because oftentimes we will seeme to cast perils, and make doubt of things when by a plaine manner of speech wee might affirme or deny him.”45 T he writer and reader of paradox clearly could become ineffectually—perilously— lost in doubt. Paradox could also allow the writer some political “wiggle room”: challenging conventions, it at the same time ultimately could reaffirm the status quo. Indeed, Gary T aylor now prefers T homas Middleton to Shakespeare because Shakespeare’s doubleness smacks of political fence-sitting: “to choose is to commit ourselves, and thereby to expose ourselves, and therefore—we do not want to choose. ... A gain and again, Shakespeare tells us stories in which we do not have to choose.”46 A nd for Paul Stevens, writers who use paradox and the critics who love them are attracted to “the refusal to commit that is itself, either knowingly or not, an important form of political commitment.”47 More often than not in the work of Shakespeare, however, an encounter with paradox is crucial to a transformation of mind, a restructuring of thought and belief, and even—I might add—a reformation of political conventions. O ne thinks, for example, of the moment in The Comedy of Errors when the D uke sees the A ntipholus twins side by side: “A nd so of these, which is the natural man, / A nd which the spirit? / Who deciphers them?” T his encounter leads him to revise the dogmatic statute of E phesus that sentences all Syracusans to death, and the doomed E geon �������������������������������� Wilde, “T he D ecay of L ying,” in Criticism, 640. Barkan discusses the description of Narcissus in book 3 of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, which is filled with paradox, and makes the following observation: “Paradox is to language as the world of mirror reflection is to the world of real objects. Narcissus and his reflection make up a complete and theoretically satisfying system (‘quod cupio mecum est’); yet in its completeness there is no real satisfaction. ... T he language of paradox is similarly complete and yet unsatisfying: it seems to affirm all things at once, but it affirms nothing. When a linguistic action meets an equal and opposite linguistic reaction, no effective statement is made” (The Gods Made Flesh, 51). 44 �������������������������������������������������������������������������� Donne made the comment in a letter to Sir Henry Wotton in 1600, doubtless referring to his privately circulated Paradoxes and Problems. See Simpson, A Study of the Prose Works of John Donne, 316. 45 ����������������������������� Puttenham, “O f O rnament,” in The Arte of English Poesie (1589), 234. 46 ���������������������������� Gary Taylor, “Judgment,” in New Ways of Looking at Old Texts II, 93–94. 47 ���������������������������������������������������������������������������������� Stevens, “The Political Ways of Paradox,” 207; subsequent citations are annotated within the text. 42 43

“And That’s True Too”


is saved. Shakespearean doubleness helps to reconfigure the single-minded rigidity of E phesian law. T hus, Shakespeare seems to be wary of what the philosopher of science Paul F eyerabend has called the “conquest of abundance”: the attempt to simplify and order the complexity and the fecundity of the world by means of a single philosophical system.48 But being in paradox does not always mean dwelling in a happy state. F or example, the Moor of Venice dies trying to eradicate the paradoxes of his life, many of which were presented to him by that walking paradox, honest Iago. Indeed, the only possible beneficiaries of paradox in that play are the spectators and readers. A nd, to return once more to F eyerabend, paradox and abundance can be too much with us: “allowing abundance to take over would be the end of life and existence as we know it—abundance and chaos are different aspects of one and the same world” (241). Shakespearean paradox is, appropriately, multivalent. In order to account for this multivalency, this book highlights four—to adopt a phrase of Stephen Greenblatt’s—“governing conditions” of paradox crucial to an understanding of Shakespeare’s use of the figure.49 1. Paradox implies a deferral of commitment and therefore provides safety in controversial issues, especially in political and religious arenas. T his element of paradox is the one that leads to claims that the paradoxist is politically detached.50 E ven Colie—a celebrator of the more radical elements of the paradox—admits this fact: T he essence of paradox is its doubleness, with its concomitant detachment and postponement of commitment. Such engagement as formal rhetorical paradoxes have, is with themselves: they are, and are supposed to be, ultimately self-regarding and selfreferential. T hough they must call forth “wonder” from their audience, paradoxes do not require—indeed, normally they repel—identification on the part of their audience. (480)

Paul Stevens seizes on this element and thus calls paradox “the telltale trope of political quietism” (207). Paul Yachnin has labeled Shakespeare and his contemporaries’ theater as “powerless” and “depoliticized (that is, incapable of exerting determinate political influence) by virtue of being bifurcated, or two-faced”: the overall meaning of these plays is designed to be indeterminate, open to a range of interpretations arrayed along an axis between orthodoxy, providentialism, and hierarchy at one pole and subversion, R ealpolitik, and revolution at the other.51

���������������� See F eyerabend, The Conquest of Abundance, viii; subsequent citations are annotated within the text. 49 ������������ Greenblatt, Renaisssance Self-Fashioning, 9. 50 ��������������������������������������������������������������������� D evon L . H odges—looking at Colie’s work on paradox in several of her publications—criticizes her “attempt to moralize” and de-fang paradox: “her own interpretation of her own insight defuses the violence of the concept of paradox as a norm” (Renaissance Fictions of Anatomy, 70). 51 ������������������������������������� Yachnin, “The Powerless Theater,” 66. 48


Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox

But as Jeffrey Knapp reminds us, Shakespeare’s use of paradox can be seen as both more positive and less disengaged and can suggest more than his diplomacy on religious issues. ... Crediting him with what K eats called “negative capability,” modern scholarship has treated the “elusiveness” of Shakespeare’s “personality” as the hallmark of his secularism; yet the ability to tolerate “uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts,” as Keats defined negative capability, was a virtue that Erasmus repeatedly claimed for himself as a Christian.52

T he use of paradox in Shakespeare, as in E rasmus, can be connected to a project of agency rather than of evasion. O ne can choose to be negatively capable, to engage in both the opportunities for toleration and the challenges to orthodoxy that paradoxon afforded early modern thinkers and writers. “E lusiveness” is not an essential quality of “the Wondrer.” 2. Despite the perception of nonengagement, then, paradox actually and inevitably engages its readers and audience. It not only encourages participation but requires it. Colie recognized paradox’s paradoxical relationship to commitment, though her discussion comes late in the book and is never foregrounded: “T hough paradox certainly encourages postponement of commitment, it can also work ... to an exactly opposite end. ... Without resonance, paradox is dead” (482–83). “Paradox relies utterly upon its action in audience or beholder or reader. Paradox requires a beholder willing to share its action and by thus sharing in it to prolong that action” (518).53 It is this active quality of paradox that A .E . Malloch highlighted in characterizing paradox as “dramatic”: the paradox may be said to present one part in a verbal drama (truly a word play); the other part is not written out, but is supplied by the reader. ... It is well to emphasize the dramatic nature of the paradox. O therwise we exhaust ourselves with the futile question, Was Donne (or any paradoxist) seriously defending his thesis? The futile question deserves a frustrating answer. Yes and no. T he question is futile because a natural condition of dramatic speech is that, though it proceeds from an author, it achieves a status independent of the author.54 52 ��������������� Jeffrey Knapp, Shakespeare’s Tribe, 51–52. Bryan Crockett makes a similar point: “T o the degree that a believer felt inclined to occupy the vast territory of doctrinal overlap between and among the various shades of Christianity, the tensional myths informing that believer’s faith would remain in suspension. A t such times, religion’s theatrical complement finds its most resonant voice in Shakespeare” (The Play of Paradox, 159–60). In their review essay “The Turn to Religion in Early Modern English Studies,” Ken Jackson and A rthur F . Marotti note “the tantalizing ambiguity of Shakespeare’s religious attitudes and background” (172). See also, most recently, Mayer, Shakespeare’s Hybrid Faith. 53 ����������������������������������������������� Colie also claims that “D onne’s paradox [here, Biathanatos] seems not to choose, not to do, since it never unequivocally commits itself on the merits of the great question it debates; but, as a good paradox should, it directs its readers to choice and therefore to action” (Paradoxia Epidemica, 506). 54 ������������������������������������������������������������������������� Malloch, “The Techniques and Functions of the Renaissance Paradox,” 195.

“And That’s True Too”


T he role of the audience will be a central concern in our examination of “the Wondrer” because it is Shakespeare’s listeners and beholders who will be asked to choose and act based on the questions raised by his paradoxical plays. O nce again, I would argue, paradox should be connected more to activity than passivity.55 3. Because paradoxes highlight the fracture of received opinion and ordinary logic, they reveal the limitations of what we can know about our world.56 L ike the court jesters and fools in his own plays, Shakespeare uses paradox to this chastening end. A lthough not a Shakespearean fool, All’s Well That Ends Well’s L afew stresses the way in which paradox can remind us of the limits of knowledge when he tells a group of courtiers, “T hey say miracles are past, and we have our philosophical persons, to make modern and familiar, things supernatural and causeless. H ence is it that we make trifles of terrors, ensconcing ourselves into seeming knowledge, when we should submit ourselves to an unknown fear” (2.3.1–5).57 K nowledge in Shakespeare is often just “seeming knowledge”; trifles are often terrors; in the familiar often lurk miracles, fears, “things supernatural and causeless.”58 L ike Socrates, Shakespeare’s wisest characters know that, ultimately, they cannot know. 4. A t the same time, paradox is not merely negative: it indirectly celebrates poetry, drama, the world of the imagination.59 L ike the poet’s metaphor and the dramatist’s stage player, paradox claims to be something it is not; makes an �������������������������� Mikhail Bakhtin writes in The Dialogic Imagination, “T he word in living conversation is directly, blatantly, oriented toward a future answer-word: it provokes an answer, anticipates it and structures itself in the answer’s direction. F orming itself in an atmosphere of the already spoken, the word is at the same time determined by that which has not yet been said but which is needed and in fact anticipated by the answering word. Such is the situation in any living dialogue” (280). 56 �������������� See F alletta, The Paradoxicon, xx, and D anesi, The Puzzle Instinct, 140–42. 57 ���������������� See also D iehl, Staging Reform, Reforming the Stage, 149: “Instead of nurturing a mode of seeing that we would identify as modern—unified, focused, privileged—early modern tragedy elicits multiple and often incompatible ways of seeing, fracturing vision and decentering the spectator. ... T he aesthetic experience of R enaissance tragedy thus replicates the lived experience of people in early modern E ngland. ... It is a destabilizing and even transformative experience, forcing audiences to question received ideas, evaluate opposing ways of seeing, and test their own epistemological assumptions.” 58 ������������������������������������������������������������������������������� T his view of Shakespearean paradox runs throughout the work of L ars E ngle. See his Shakespearean Pragmatism and, more recently, “Measure for Measure and Modernity.” F or E ngle—drawing on R ichard R orty and Stanley Cavell—Shakespeare’s epistemology is connected to “perspectival thinking”: “Shakespeare both stages and frames a concerted philosophical attack on available claims to knowledge or certainty. ... [T here is] an acknowledgment of the impure negotiation of purposes that renders any final judgment on anything questionable” (“Measure for Measure and Modernity,” in Shakespeare and Modernity, 88–89). 59 ���������������������������������������������������������������������������������� F or Wolgang Iser, “the coexistence of the mutually exclusive” is “the hallmark of literary fictionality” (“Staging as an Anthropological Category,” 878). See also Babcock, intro. to The Reversible World, 32: “Such ‘creative negations’ remind us of the need to reinvest the clean with the filthy, the rational with the animalistic, the ceremonial with the carnivalesque in order to maintain cultural vitality.” 55

Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox


argument for the indefensible; asserts to be true what is false, illogical, or both. Claiming that “a fayned example hath asmuch force to teach as a true example,” Sir Philip Sidney defended poetry’s ability to assert truth through a kind of lying by invoking paradox: T o the second [objection to poets and poetry] therefore, that they should be the principall lyars, I aunswere paradoxically, but, truely, I thinke truly, that of all the Writers vnder the sunne the Poet is the least lier, and, though he would, as a Poet can scarely be a lyer. T he A stronomer, with his cosen the Geometrician, can hardly escape, when they take vpon them to measure the height of the stares. H ow often, thinke you, doe the Physitians lye. When they auer things good for sicknesses, which afterward send Charon a great nomber of soules drownd in a potion before they come to his F erry. A nd no lesse of the rest, which take upon them to affirme. Now, for the Poet, he nothing affirmes, and therefore neuer lyeth. For, as I take it, to lye is to affirme that to be true which is false.60

Stressing the connection between poetry and paradox—neither affirms, so neither lies—Sidney “aunswere[s] paradoxically” and “truley.” In fact, in defending poetry’s moral worth and accessibility to truth through fiction, Sidney, I would argue, is employing the paradoxical encomium, a form he alludes to just pages before his statement above.61 In a similar fashion—using paradox as he celebrates it—T ouchstone, the clown of As You Like It, tells his would-be bride Audrey that “the truest poetry is the most feigning” (3.3.15–16). Shakespeare’s approach to paradox is as complex as the figure itself. Shakespearean drama reveals that paradox can “neutralize,” stupify, overwhelm, even annihilate. But the plays also suggest that paradoxes can—if we let them, if we resist the urge to harmonize their contradictions and instead allow their opposites to resonate—help bring variety, complexity, and insight to a world that too often can seem weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable.62 �������� Sidney, An Apology for Poetry, in Elizabethan Critical Essays 1:169 and 1:184; my emphasis. 61 ���������������������������������� See Sidney’s linking of A grippa’s De vanitate and E rasmus’s The Praise of Folly to the mock encomium tradition: “Wee know a playing wit can prayse the discretion of an A sse, the comfortableness of being in debt, and the iolly commoditie of being sick of the plague. So of the contrary side, if we will turne Ouid’s verse, Vt alteat virtus proximitate mali, that good lye hid in neerenesse of the euill, Agrippa will be as merry in his shewing the vanitie of Science as Erasmus was in commending of follie. N eyther shall any man or matter escape some touch of these smyling railers. But for Erasmus and Agrippa, they had another foundation then the superficiall part would promise” (“An Apology for Poetry,” in Elizabethan Critical Essays 1:181–82). 62 ����������������������������������������������������������������������������������� A lthough I do not share his commitment to presentism, I do agree with H ugh Grady’s vision of Shakepearean “meaning”: “T he Shakespearean texts, after all, create no master concept, no H egelian N otion understood to contain and perfect the previous instances of a concept. Rather, we are dealing with a series of metaphors whose final meaning is endlessly deferred in a play of thought with no obvious terminus. T hus, writing out of a rhetorical tradition ..., from within an open-ended conceptual framework, Shakespeare appears to be something of a post-structuralist avant la lettre” (Shakespeare’s Universal Wolf, 222). 60

Chapter 1

“N ew, Straunge, Incredible, and R epugnant to the O pinion of the H earer”: T he Power of the Paradox in E arly Modern Culture T his is a riddling merchant for the nonce. H e will be here, and yet he is not here. H ow can these contrarieties agree? —1 Henry VI

T he problem of making “contrarieties agree”—someone will be here and yet is not here—was a crucial component of R enaissance paradox, one that dominates our sense of the figure today. Grappling with what at once is and is not defines the intellectual journeys of many characters in Renaissance fictions and the plays of Shakespeare. But contrariety was not the only way of conceiving of paradox in the Shakespearean age. A s this study shows, even more central to the R enaissance paradox was its ability to move contrary to received teaching, opinion, or belief: “T hese doctrines are surprising, and they run counter to universal opinion [“Quae quia sunt admirabilia contraque opinionem omnium]—the Stoics themselves actually term them paradoxa.” So says Cicero in the preface to his Paradoxa stoicorum, the most influential collection of classical paradoxes. And versions of this statement are repeated throughout the R enaissance. In the second edition of his The Garden of Eloquence (1593), for example, Thomas Peacham defines “Paradoxon” as “a forme of speech by which the Orator affirmeth something to be true, by saying he would not haue beleeued it, or that it is so straunge, so great, or so wonderfull, that it may appeare to be incredible” and

Cicero, De oratore, Book 3. De fato. Paradoxa stoicorum. De partitione oratoria, 256–57. See Warner G. Rice’s seminal (and difficult to find) essay “The Paradossi of O rtensio L ando,” in E ssays and Studies in E nglish and Comparative L iterature by Members of the English Department of the University of Michigan, esp. 60–61. 

Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox


goes on to claim that “This figure is then to be vsed, when the thing which is to be taught is new, straunge, incredible, and repugnant to the opinion of the hearer.” More significant for grasping the culture of paradox in the age of Shakespeare is Peacham’s scriptural illustration of the figure: Paul [in Acts 26:7–10] being accused to King Agrippa, as a teacher of erronious doctrine, made his answere in this forme: F or the which hopes sake, O K ing A grippa, I am accused of the Jewes, why should it be thought a thing incredible vnto you: that God should raise againe the dead. I also thought in my selfe that I ought to do many contrary things against the name of Jesus of Nazareth, which thing I did also in Ierusalem, for many of the Saints I shut up in prison, hauing receiued authoritie of the high Priest, and when they were put to death I gaue the sentence. H ere Paul sheweth, that not long before he was of the same opinion that his aduersaries and the iudge were now of, and was in the like maner an open enemy to the professor of that name.

Peacham suggests that at its roots Christianity was an assault on accepted “doctrine” and “opinion”; Paul himself, Peacham implies, initially found it “repugnant.” And though the rhetorical and logical roots of paradox are classical, the paradoxes of Christianity are very much a part of a culture fascinated—and repulsed—by challenges to conventional wisdom. I return to the paradoxes of Christianity later in this chapter, after first examining the literary-rhetorical and logical traditions of paradox inherited and explored by Renaissance writers. Then, I would like to examine briefly our culture of paradox—and what it is that appeals to the current literary-critical climate about the figure of paradox. Such a double perspective will help us to determine both how Shakespearean paradox has been read in the past and how it might be read differently today.

��������� Peacham, The Garden of Eloquence, 112. The definition in the 1577 edition is quite different and much shorter: “Paradoxon, when we affyrme something to be true, by saying we woulde not haue beleeued it, nor yet once suspected it, or in good things, by saying we neuer lookte for it, thus, I woulde neuer haue beleeued that he had bene such a one, but that I heard it auouched of credible persons, and testyfyed by very good witnesse, surely it is truth that I tell you, he is not without doubt the man you take him for. A nother, it was such lucke as you neuer heard of, almost incredible, that when fyre should haue consumed him, fyre saued him, and lykewyse at another tyme when water should haue bene his death, it saued his lyfe” (Miiv). The example from Paul follows in a similar form, but—as is typical of the 1577 edition—there is no discussion of “The vse of this Figure” (113).  ������������������������������������������� See also the preface to Sebastian F ranck’s Paradoxa (1534): “Dear friends and brothers, the Greeks call any statement a paradox which is at once certain and true but which is considered by all the world and by those who live in a carnal matter to be less than true” (280 Paradoxes or Wondrous Sayings, 1). Here and throughout his book, Franck links the true Christian to the soul and the spirit as opposed to the carnal and the letter. T he reversal of common opinion in paradox is, for F ranck, the triumph of the spirit over the letter. 

“New, Straunge, Incredible, and Repugnant to the Opinion of the Hearer”


Literary-Rhetorical Paradoxes Louis Bredvold claimed in 1934 that “the [early modern] age loved paradoxes better than either philosophical systems or devotional treatises.” A lthough this is a hard claim to verify, a search of the English Short Title Catalogue for books published between 1500 and 1700 with “paradox” and its cognates in the title yields fifty. This search, of course, does not account for synonyms like “contrariety”; for titles that contain paradoxes (such as Beaumont and Fletcher’s A King and No King); or for the many rhetoric books, scientific writings, religious texts and sermons, lyric poems, and plays that examine and/or contain paradoxes. R osalie Colie’s claim that there was “an epidemic of paradoxy in the Renaissance” (33) seems well founded. The Renaissance tradition of paradox employed the figure as a challenge both to conventional thought and to single, stable truths. T his questioning of the “doxa” is the central focus of Colie’s magisterial book. For Colie, the figure “is always somehow involved in dialectic: challenging some orthodoxy, the paradox is an oblique criticism of absolute judgment or absolute convention” (10). Colie rightly sees paradox’s intimate relationship with epistemology. Because of a tradition linking wonder to knowledge that goes back at least as far as A ristotle’s Metaphysics—A ristotle claimed that “it is owing to their wonder that men both now begin and at first began to philosophize”—the paradoxical is also linked to wonder and the marvelous. In addition to Cicero’s formulation “Quae quia sunt admirabilia contraque opinionem omnium,” John Florio’s ItalianEnglish dictionary of 1598 titled A Worlde of Wordes reveals the linguistic nexus of paradox, wonder, and knowledge in the E nglish R enaissance. A s we might expect, Florio defines the Italian paradosso as “a paradoxe” and as something “contrarie to the common receiued opinion.” But his definition, reminiscent of Peacham, actually begins by calling paradosso “a maruellous, wonderfull and strange thinge to heare.” T he Italian R enaissance philosopher and polymath F rancesco Patrizi made the connection even more explicit, noting that “the marvelous is always paradox” and including paradox as one of his twelve sources of the marvelous. In his rhetorical handbook The Arte of English Poesie (1589), George Puttenham “Englished” paradox as “the Wondrer” and defined the figure as occurring when “our Poet is caried by some occasion to report of a thing that is maruelous, and then he will seeme not to speake it simply but with some signe of admiration.” ���������� Bredvold, The Intellectual Milieu of John Dryden, 43. ����������� A ristotle, Metaphysics, bk. 1, chap. 2, 982b 12–13, in The Works of Aristotle 2:1554.  �������� F lorio, A Worlde of Wordes, 257.  ������������� See Patrizi, La deca ammirabile, in Della Poetica 2:264 and 2:305. For the connections among wonder, paradox, and R enaissance drama, see N eill, “T he D efence of Contraries,” esp. 319–22.  ����������������������������� Puttenham, “O f O rnament,” in The Arte of English Poesie (1589), 233.  

Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox


A nd when the character of Paradox came on stage at the Gray’s Inn’s R evels of 1618, he exclaimed, “I pray you what is a parradox? it is a ... straine of witt and invention, scrued above the vulgar concept, to begett admiration.” We can see the link between paradox and both epistemology and wonder in the mock encomium and the paradox book—the two closely related forms that the literary paradox took in the R enaissance.10 In both, the encounter with a rhetorical and philosophical paradox brings readers astonishment, surprise, and shock, as they experience a deviation from the norm and must then reevaluate conventionally held opinions and truths. A s Colie would have it, Whatever else it is designed to do to incite its audience’s wonder, the paradox dazzles by its mental gymnastics, by its manipulation even prestidigitation, of ideas, true or false. T he rhetorical paradox is, further, paradoxical in its double aim of dazzling— that is, of arresting thought altogether in the possessive experience of wonder—and of stimulating further questions, speculation, qualification, even contradiction on the part of that wondering audience. (35)

Wonder for Colie—as it was for much of the R enaissance—is not passive gawking but active inquiry and interrogation.11 A nd all paradoxical forms had the potential to inspire such astonishment and inquiry. T he mock encomium is the earliest surviving paradoxical literary form, dating from the defenses of Helen written by Gorgias and Isocrates in the fifth century BC.12 Defenses of wine, fleas, flies, gnats, and asses were typical throughout ������������� See N ichols, The Progresses and Public Processions of Queen Elizabeth 3:337. It is important to remember that the primary meaning of “admiration” in the sixteenth and early seventeenth century was “wonder.” See F erdinand’s punning on Miranda’s wondrous name in The Tempest: “Admired Miranda! / Indeed the top of admiration” (3.1.37–38). 10 ���������������������������������������������� In her excellent introduction to John Donne’s Paradoxes and Problems, H elen Peters establishes these forms of paradox as distinct. While I have maintained the distinction here, it is often hard to say when a paradoxical encomium stops being an argument contra opinionem omnium. A useful point, however, has been made by R .E . Bennett in “F our Paradoxes by Sir William Cornwallis, the Younger”: “no distinction was made at that time between the subject matter of an encomium and that of a paradox. If the title of a paradox was in the form of a proposition, it could not conveniently be called an encomium, but any praise of an unworthy or unpopular subject could be called a paradox” (220). Further, Caspar D ornavius’s massive collection of paradoxes—his Amphitheatrum sapientiae socraticae joco-seriae, published in 1619—reflects both the popularity of the paradox and the many forms the paradox could take. 11 �������������������������������������������������������������������� F or the tradition of wonder in the early modern period, see Bishop, Shakespeare and the Theatre of Wonder; Biester, Lyric Wonder; Platt, Reason Diminished; and Park and D aston, Wonders and the Order of Nature, 1150–1750. 12 ����������������������������������������������������������������������������������� F or studies of R enaissance paradox in general and the mock encomium in particular, see Pease, “Things without Honor”; Thompson, The Seventeenth-Century English Essay, 94–105; Boas, The Happy Beast in French Thought of the Seventeenth Century, 10–17; Wiley, “Sir Thomas Browne and the Genesis of Paradox”; Miller, “The Paradoxical Encomium with Special Reference to Its Vogue in England, 1600–1800”; Sister M. 

“New, Straunge, Incredible, and Repugnant to the Opinion of the Hearer”


antiquity and the Middle A ges.13 E rasmus—an author of a classic of the genre, The Praise of Folly, to which we will turn shortly—revealed his deep familiarity with the form in a letter to T homas More: A s for those who are offended by the levity and playfulness of the subject matter, they should consider that I am not setting any precedent but following one set long ago by great writers: ages ago H omer amused himself with The Battle of the Frogs and Mice, as Virgil did with the Gnat and the Rustic Salad, and Ovid with the Walnut-Tree. So too Polycrates and his corrector Isocrates both wrote encomia of Busiris; Glauco praised injustice; Favorinus, Thersites and the quartan fever; Synesius, baldness; Lucian, the fly and the art of the parasite. Seneca amused himself by writing an apotheosis of Claudius. Plutarch wrote a dialogue between Gryllus and U lysses. L ucian and A puleius wrote comic tales about an ass, and some writer or other composed the last will and testament of the piglet Grunnius Corrocotta, which is even mentioned by St. Jerome.14

A nd Castiglione has L ady E melia invoke the tradition in The Book of the Courtier: We shal now trie your wit. A nd if all be true that I have heard, there have bene men so wittie and eloquent, that thei have not wanted matter to make a book in the praise of a flie, other in praise of a quartaine fever, an other in the praise of bauldnes, doth not your hert serve you to finde out somwhat to saie for one nyght of courting?15

A lthough L ady E melia’s emphasis is on wit, invention, and play, E rasmus’s The Praise of Folly (1511/1549), the classic mock encomium of the Renaissance, contains a more serious side, one akin to the example from Peacham. T he character F olly recognizes the tradition within which she speaks—“there has been no lack of speechwriters who have spent sleepless nights burning the midnight oil,” she asserts, “to work out elaborate encomia of Busiris, Phalaris, the quartan fever, flies, baldness, and other dangerous nuisances”16—and discusses paradoxes as related to the time-wasting “petty quibbles” of scholastic philosophers:

Geraldine, “Erasmus and the Tradition of Paradox”; Colie, Paradoxia Epidemica, esp. 15–22; Grendler, Critics of the Italian World, 1530–1560, 21–38 and 205–9; Ashworth, “The Treatment of Semantic Paradoxes from 1400 to 1700”; Bowen, The Age of Bluff, esp. 3–37; McGowan, Montaigne’s Deceits, 65–83; Grudin, Mighty Opposites, esp. 1–50; and F ineman, Shakespeare’s Perjured Eye, 63–65 and 327–31. 13 ������������������������������������������������������������������������������ T here is a wonderful catalog of paradoxes and their authors in T homas N ashe’s Lenten Stuffe (1599) in “Praise of Red Herring” (see The Works of Thomas Nashe 3:176–78). 14 �������������������������������������������������������� E rasmus, “E rasmus’ Prefatory L etter to T homas More,” in The Praise of Folly, 2–3. See also Folly’s list early in The Praise of Folly: “I will not demonstrate it through the crocodile’s dilemma, or the argument of the growing heap, or the argument of the horns, or any other dialectical subtlety of that sort. R ather I will use simple evidence to make it ‘as plain as the nose on your face,’ as they say” (31). 15 ������������� Castiglione, The Book of the Courtier, bk. 2, sec. 17 (119–20). 16 ��������� E rasmus, The Praise of Folly, 12; subsequent citations are annotated within the text.

Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox


A nd throw in those sententiae of theirs, so paradoxical that those oracular sayings which the Stoics called paradoxes seem downright crude and commonplace by comparison— such as this for example: it is a less serious crime to murder a thousand men than to fix just one shoe for a poor man on the Lord’s day. (89)

But Folly also stresses the power of the Christian as wise fool, as doxa-buster, as paradox: it seems to me that the Christian religion taken all together has a certain affinity with some sort of folly and has little or nothing to do with wisdom ... . Moreover, you see how those first founders of religion were remarkably devoted to simplicity and bitterly hostile to literature. F inally, no fools seem more senseless than those people who have been completely taken up, once and for all, with a burning devotion to Christian piety: they throw away their possessions, ignore injuries, allow themselves to be deceived, make no distinction between friend and foe, shudder at the thought of pleasure, find satisfaction in fasts, vigils, tears, and labors, shrink from life, desire death above all else—in short, they seem completely devoid of normal human responses, just as if their minds were living somewhere else, not in their bodies. Can such a condition be called anything but insanity? In this light, it is not at all surprising that the apostles seemed to be intoxicated with new wine and that Paul seemed mad to the judge Festus. (132)

“Intoxicated” and “mad,” the true Christian assaults reason and convention.17 L ike Peacham, E rasmus’s F olly portrays original Christians as operating in—to cite the first English translation of the above-quoted section—an ineffable, paradoxical state: “Which straunge trade of theirs I know not how to call, but well maie it to the commen iudgement of men, appeere to be a verie madnesse, ���������������������������������� Sebastian F ranck takes a similar, Folly-inspired stand in his Paradoxa, published in 1534: “The world has raised its head and gone mad. It does not take any advice. If anyone takes the opposite to what the world says, believes, does and maintains, he is right” (13). In the twentieth century Michel F oucault looked to The Praise of Folly and the “Ship of F ools” tradition for an ironic and paradoxical perspective on the concepts of wisdom and reason and their relationship to folly and madness: “F or if reason does exist, it lies precisely in the acceptance of the unbroken circle joining wisdom and folly, in the clear consciousness of their reciprocity and the impossibility of dividing them. T rue reason is not free of the contamination of madness, but on the contrary, it borrows some of the trails first carved out by madness” (History of Madness, 32–33). See, in additon, Foucault’s essay “Madness and Society,” in his Aesthetics, Method, and Epistemology, 335–42. Max Horkheimer’s work calls for a detached perspective on “instrumental reason” as well. Building on N ietzsche’s claim in Beyond Good and Evil that “Reason is merely an instrument, and Descartes is superficial” (104), Horkheimer claims: “Nietzsche attacked this kind of belief in the autonomy of reason as a symptom of backwardness ... . The function of theory today is to reflect upon and give expression to the whole process which we have here briefly indicated: the socially conditioned tendency toward neo-Positivism or the instrumentaliztion of thought, as well as the vain efforts to rescue thought from this fate” (Critique of Instrumental Reason, viii). See also H orkheimer and A dorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment, esp. 3–42 and 81–90, and Grady, The Modernist Shakespeare, esp. 14–27, and Shakespeare’s Universal Wolf, esp. 26–57. 17

“New, Straunge, Incredible, and Repugnant to the Opinion of the Hearer”


or rauyng of the wittes.”18 “Straunge” and contrary “to the common iudgement of men,” Christians, according to F olly, embody paradox. T he other, obviously related, form of paradox was the argument contra opinionem omnium—against received opinion—and the locus classicus here is Cicero’s Paradoxa stoicorum. In this book Cicero argued, for example, that virtue was its own happiness and that only the wise man could be truly rich. T his literary form was brought to the R enaissance vernacular by O rtensio L ando’s Paradossi cioè, sententie fvori del comun parere, nouellamente uenute in luce of 1543. Among Lando’s paradoxes were claims that it is better to be poor than rich (paradox 1); ugly than beautiful (2); ignorant than wise (3); drunk than sober (7); and timid than bold (26). Twenty-five of Lando’s thirty paradoxes were translated into French by Charles Estienne in 1553,19 and the first twelve of Estienne’s were translated into English by Anthony Munday in 1593.20 Seven more of L ando’s paradoxes ended up in T homas Milles’s The Treasurie of Auncient and Moderne Times of 1613. Somewhere along the line Shakespeare encountered this nexus of texts, and E dmund’s speech on bastardy in King Lear is based on L ando’s paradox “T hat the Bastard is more to be esteemed, than the lawfully borne or legitimate.”21 John Donne also wrote a brief collection of paradoxes in the 1590s—published posthumously in 1633—including the heavily satirical “That Women Ought to Paint T hemselves,” “T hat O nly Cowards D are D ye,” and the disputed “A D efence of Womens Constancy.”22 ��������� E rasmus, The Praise of Folie, Siiv–Siiir. ���������������������������������������������������������������������������������� Estienne did not include Lando’s Paradox 11 or 27 through 30 and added one of his own on lawyers (see Donne, Paradoxes and Problems, xix; Pizzorno, The Ways of Paradox from Lando to Donne). 20 �������������������������������������������������������������������� A s D avid H awkes points out in a review of T racey H ill’s recent book Anthony Munday and Civic Culture, Munday himself was a walking paradox: “he also seems to have revelled in his contradictory personae. He denounced Jesuits at Tyburn while himself accused of popery; he wrote against informers while informing on both Papists and Puritans; he quickly became ‘a byword for mendacity.’ He wrote plays in the morning and attacks on plays in the afternoon, cheerfully noting that plays ‘stirreth up the verie A utors themselves to inveigh against them.’ H e reserved special contempt for the vice of hypocrisy, which he ostentatiously damned at every opportunity” (Hawkes, Times Literary Supplement, 33). For Munday, in addition to Hill, see Celeste Turner, Anthony Munday, an Elizabethan Man of Letters,” esp. 8–9 and 90–91; Donna B. Hamilton, “Anthony Munday and The Merchant of Venice” and Anthony Munday and the Catholics, 1560–1633; and Jeffrey Knapp, Shakespeare’s Tribe, 152–54. 21 ������������ See Munday, The Defence of Contraries, [102], and Milles, The Treasvrie of Avncient and Moderne Times, bk. 7, chap. 43 (723–25). Lando also included a defense of the bastard in his book of Problems, Quattro libri de dubbi con le solutioni a ciascun dubbio accomodate, originally published in 1552. See also Helen Peters’s introduction to Donne’s Paradoxes and Problems, xxxv–xxxviii. 22 ��������������� See R ice, “T he Paradossi of O rtensio L ando.” See also D onne, Paradoxes and Problems; Malloch, “The Techniques and Functions of the Renaissance Paradox”; and Vickers, “King Lear and R enaissance Paradoxes.” 18 19


Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox

F rivolous and even potentially dangerous, the paradox’s assault on convention was deemed worthy of defense. Munday did not publish the second volume of paradoxes, though he had promised that “vpon the good acceptation of the first Booke, [the second] shall the sooner be published.”23 The first volume seems to have caused him difficulty with someone (or some people) in power. As Munday said to John Swynnerton, the Merchant Taylor to whom he dedicated his 1602 translation of a treatise on atheism, “N ow my humble sute vnto your Worship is, that in regarde of some breach of promise, concerning my Paradox A pologie, which long since you should haue had, but that the troubles of the time, & misinterpretation of the worke by some in authoritie, was the only cause why it went not forward.”24 We do not know what caused offense in the Defence of Contraries, but that the paradoxes unsettled someone “in authoritie” should give pause to those who wish to see quietism—instead of political disquiet—in the paradox.25 Indeed, writers of paradoxes in the R enaissance felt the need to defend their genre as much as poets did their poetry. As Lando claimed (in Munday’s translation of E stienne’s translation): I haue vndertaken (in this book) to debate on certaine matters, which our Elders were wont to cal Paradoxes: that is to say, things contrary to most mens present opinions: to the end, that by such discourse as is helde in them, opposed truth might appeare more cleere and apparant. L ikewise, to exercise thy witte in proofe of such occasions, as shall enforce thee to seeke diligentlie and laboriously, for sound reasons, proofes, authorities, histories, and very dark or hidden memories ... . N ot withstanding, in these conceits, I would not haue thee so much deceived, as that eyther my sayings or conclusions, should make thee credit otherwise, then common and sensible iudgement requireth: and yet withall remember, that diuersitie of things, doth more comfort mens spirites, then daily and continually to behold, whatsoeuer is common and frequent to our iudgements.26 23 �������� Munday, The Defence of Contraries, [102]. In her book Anthony Munday and the Catholics, D onna B. H amilton offers an interesting hypothesis for Munday’s translating a paradox book for dedication to F erdinando Stanley, whose father, H enry Stanley, had died in 1592: “In offering Lord Strange a set of paradoxes that argue the side that would seem least desirable, Munday’s consolation lies in devaluing what otherwise might be assumed to be the best in life, including life itself, and thus by implication affirms the value of submitting to God’s will” (125). Of course, Munday’s paradoxical life could provide an equally compelling reason for his gravitating toward the Lando-Estienne project. 24 �������� Munday, The True Knowledge of a mans owne selfe, A5r. 25 ��������������������������������������������������������������������������� H ill mistakenly claims that the work whose publication has been delayed is The True Knowledge itself, asserting that “T his ‘misinterpretation’ demonstrates that Munday’s religious texts were still causing official disquiet even twenty years after his direct involvement in religious politics” (91). But given Munday’s promise of a second paradox book, his reference to “my Paradox A pologie” in his address to Swynnerton, and his reference—by means of translating E stienne—to the Defence as “my Paradox apologia” (A3v), it becomes clear that Munday’s paradoxes, in addition to his religious books, could indeed cause “official disquiet.” 26 �������� Munday, The Defence of Contraries, A4r–v.

“New, Straunge, Incredible, and Repugnant to the Opinion of the Hearer”


Paradoxes make truth “more cleere and apparent,” according to L ando, by forcing readers both to debate the issues at stake and to do the research—“to seeke diligentlie and laboriously”—necessary to make their arguments effective. A lthough L ando expects an affirmation of “common and sensible iudgment,” he recognizes “that diuersitie of things, doth more comfort mens spirites, then daily and continually to behold, whatsoeuer is common and frequent to our iudgements.” Paradox’s diversity brings more comfort to “mens spirites” than the “common and frequent.” Strangely, para-doxa may be better for us than doxa. Gabriel H arvey also saw the instructional and intellectual value of the paradox: “I would vppon mine owne charges, trauaile into any parte of E urope, to heare some pregnant Paradoxes, and certaine singular questions in the highest professions of learning, in Physick, in L aw, in D iuinity, effectually and thoroughly disputed pro, & contra.” 27 But earlier in his life he was more defensive about his penchant for the Wondrer. In a letter written in 1573 to Dr. John Young of Pembroke College, Cambridge, H arvey defended himself against the slanders of T homas N evil, a Pembroke F ellow, who had accused him of being a great and continual patron of paradoxis and a main defender of straung opinions, and that communly against A ristotle too. I tould him [N evil] that for those paradoxis, as he termid them, thai were more of mine own making, but only propounded of me out of others to be discussed and riflid [i.e., ri.ed ] in disputation: and that I never yit tooke uppon me the defenc of ani quaestion which I culd not shew with a wet fingar out of sum excellent late writer or other; and esspecially out of Melancthon, Ramus, Valerius and F oxius, fower wurthi men of famus memori. 28

T he paradoxist—the “defender of straung opinions”—always seems to be on the defensive. John Donne’s defense was more playful, highlighting the serio ludere quality of the genre. In a letter written in about 1600, Donne defended the paradox paradoxically. While he admitted that paradoxes were “nothings” made up of

�������� H arvey, Pierce’s Supererogation (1593), in The Works of Gabriel Harvey 2:36. See also Stefano Guazzo, who defended the paradox’s powers of instruction, focusing on its ability to teach by means of wonder: “Behold with howe great pleasure and admiration wee reade the Paradoxes of divers wittie and learned writers, specially the pleasant pamphlets made in praise of the plague, and of the F rench poxe ... . A nd therefore I am of opinion, that in things of most difficultie, consisteth most excellencie and admiration” (The Ciuile Conversation of M. Steeven Guazzo 1:91). 28 �������� H arvey, Letter-Book of Gabriel Harvey, 10. I owe this reference to Helen Peters. E ven in Pierces Supererogation—the site of H arvey’s confession of love for the paradox— Harvey presents a less celebratory side of the figure (though his tone is almost certainly ironic): “T hey were silly country fellowes that commended the Bald pate, the F eauer quartane; the fly, the flea, the gnat, the sparrow, the wren, the goose, the asse; flattery, hypocrisie, coosinage, bawdery, leachery, buggery, madnesse itselfe. What D unse, or Sorbonist cannot maintaine a Paradoxe?” (The Works of Gabriel Harvey 2:244–45). 27


Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox

“lightnes,” he also recognized—like L ando—that an encounter with them could clarify one’s thinking, could bring one closer to truth: r indeed they were made rather to deceaue tyme then her daughth truth: although they haue beene written in an age when any thing is strong enough to overthrow her: if they make yo to find better reasons against them they do there office ... : they are rather alarūs to truth to arme her then enemies.29

A s A .E . Malloch has noted, “the paradoxist ... makes something out of nothing, giving utterance to an argument that is not there,” reminding us of a paradoxical encomium from the period: E.D.’s “The Prayse of Nothing” (1585).”30 But the something that came from nothing could be much more significant than a clever argument. A lthough not truth’s “enemies,” paradoxes could nevertheless cause a reexamination of truth.31 F or Sir William Cornwallis, paradoxes could “Paralell [sic] christmas games, or some such sportes whervnto that tyme is Commonly much addickted.”32 But since O pinion could be a tyrant, paradox was also a necessary check against intellectual tyranny: now seinge O pinion of a litle nothinge is become so mightie that like a Monarchesse she tyrannizeth over Iudgement[,] I haue beene vndertaken to anatomize and confute some few of her traditions[.] if thereby men will correct their Iudgementes[,] I haue my reward, if otherwise I can but sorrowe at their Indiscretions.33

We see this view of the power within the play of the paradox when, concluding his famous essay on paradox, the philosopher W.V. Quine claimed that, because certain paradoxes pack “a surprise that can be accommodated by nothing less than a repudiation of part of our conceptual heritage” (88), they have the “capacity on 29 ��������� Simpson, A Study of the Prose Works of John Donne, 316. For an acute analysis of the relationship between D onne’s Paradoxes and his poems, see McCanles, “Paradox in D onne.” 30 ���������������������������������������������������������������������������� Malloch, “The Techniques and Functions of the Renaissance Paradox,” 192–93. H enry K night Miller—following R alph M. Sargent—attributes the authorship to E dward Daunce, not Sir Edward Dyer (see Miller, “The Paradoxical Encomium with Special Reference to Its Vogue in England, 1600–1800,”164n112). Sir William Cornwallis also wrote “T he Prayse of N othing,” which was anonymously and posthumously published in 1616 in Essayes of Certaine Paradoxes. 31 ������������������������������������������������������������������������������� H enry K night Miller nicely frames the issue: “T he paradoxical encomium carries to its logical conclusion the implication of sophistic rhetoric that truth qua truth is not the end of rhetoric ... . O n the other hand, the paradoxical encomium appealed to, and perhaps in its own small way helped to create, flexible minds” (“The Paradoxical Encomium with Special Reference to Its Vogue in England, 1600–1800,” 172). 32 ������������������������������������������������������������������������������ Letter from William Cornwallis to John Hobart, 4 February 1601 (?), quoted in Bennett, “Four Paradoxes by Sir William Cornwallis, the Younger,” 220. 33 ������������������������������������������������������������������������������� Cornwallis, preface to “T hat Inconstancy is more commendable then Constancie,” quoted in Bennett, “Four Paradoxes by Sir William Cornwallis, the Younger,” 237 (punctuation added in brackets for clarity).

“New, Straunge, Incredible, and Repugnant to the Opinion of the Hearer”


occasion to turn out to be so very much less frivolous than they look” (95). By turning conceptual and epistemological schemes upside down, the paradox can reveal new orthodoxies, as Colie reminds us.34 O r, as H amlet tells O phelia, “the power of beauty will sooner transform honesty from what it is to a bawd than the force of honesty can translate beauty into its likeness. T his was sometime a paradox, but now the time gives it proof” (3.1.113–16). Although Brian Vickers felt it necessary as late as 1968 to assert that, for R enaissance writers, “a paradox is something to be taken seriously,” most historians of early modern paradox now take the seriousness for granted.35 Jurgis Baltrušaitis has stressed the intellectual power in the visual paradoxes that are anamorphic paintings: T he system was established as a technical curiosity, but it embraces a poetry of abstraction, an effective mechanism for producing optical illusion and a philosophy of false reality. It is an enigma, a wonder, a marvel. A lthough it belongs to the world of curiosities which in the fund of human knowledge has always had its “cabinet”—its private room—and refuge, it not infrequently spills over the hermetic framework of that domain. These scholarly “games” are, by definition, something more.36

Like Donne’s paradoxes, the anamorphoses examined by Baltrušaitis seem to be “curiosities” and “games” but are, in fact, “something more” substantial. A lso like D onne’s paradoxes, these paintings dismantle truth in order to provide a different perspective on it: “A n art which strikes us and is expressed by distortion is thus defined in a technique that restores true appearances by modifying the truth” (10). N iklas L uhmann has also attempted to account for the weight of a form that appears to be made of “lightnes”:

����������� See Colie, Paradoxia Epidemica, 8. See also Thomas Kuhn’s “A Function for Thought Experiments” (1964) and especially his The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962). An early OED citation for paradox from John Bullokar’s An English expositor: teaching the interpretation of the hardest words used in our language (1616) includes this definition: “Paradox, an opinion maintained contrary to the common allowed opinion, as if one affirme that the earth doth mooue round, and the heauens stand still.” The allusion here, of course, is to what was called the “Copernican paradox.” (See Colie, Paradoxia Epidemica, 9, and Sorensen, A Brief History of the Paradox, 226.) 35 ���������� Vickers, “King Lear and Renaissance Paradoxes,” 306. Barbara Bowen claims “T he sober critical mind of the nineteenth century may have wanted to divide literature into paradoxical frivolous works on the one hand, and ‘sincere’ serious works on the other, but the critical mind of today no longer practices such a division, and of course the critical mind of the Renaissance never did” (“Cornelius Agrippa’s De vanitate,” 255). 36 �������������� Baltrušaitis, Anamorphic Art, 1; subsequent citations are annotated within the text. See also A rnold H auser, who argues that paradox in mannerist painting “ceases to be mere play with words and ideas, a rhetorical device or a display of wit” and instead signifies that “truth inherently has two sides, that reality is Janus-faced, and that adherence to truth and reality involves the avoidance of all over-simplification and comprehending things in their complexity” (Mannerism, 13). 34


Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox T he rhetorical tradition that invented the term introduced paradoxical statements to enlarge the frames of received opinions—therefore “para-doxa”—to prepare the ground for innovation and/or for the acceptance of suggested decision ... . A fter the introduction of the printing press, such collections were in fact recommended and sold as amusing jokes ... . But why do we communicate paradoxes in the first place if we are not supposed to take them seriously? T he conventional answer seems to be—exercise of wit. T his may be a good advertisement for selling books, but it is not the whole truth. When we go back to the traditional definition of paradoxes as going beyond the limits of common sense, the immediate intention seems to be to deframe and reframe the frame of normal thinking, the frame of common sense. The communication of paradoxes fixes attention on the frames of common sense, frames that usually go unattended.37

Luhmann—like Donne, like Quine—foregrounds the problem of the paradox: the important intellectual function of a mere “exercise of wit.” F or L uhmann, paradoxes reshape—“reframe”—knowledge by calling attention to elements of accepted truth “that usually go unattended.” A lthough he recognizes that this new frame could be just another version of doxa, he asserts that “cancellation can hardly be the whole meaning of the operation, for it could not contain Shakespeare’s theater with its elaborate use of paradoxes and frames within frames, or Plato’s cave as a stage for the shadows of ideas to appear on, that is, as a frame for these shadows” (82). Instead, he links paradox to a—paradoxical—endless ending of inquiry: If paradoxes are teleological operations aiming at a perfect state, then this state could be described as enriched common sense. H owever, it may be more rewarding to ask whether the assumption of a natural end is adequate or whether we are not observing a discovery that, like Kant’s final cause without finality, is inherently paradoxical. (82)

L uhmann rightly sees paradox as that which eschews the “perfect state” of knowledge and instead interrupts and undoes such a telos by means of reversals and surprise that help us reframe what we think we know. T here was a darker side to the R enaissance paradox, however. F or just as a paradox could provide a baffling encounter with a new world-view, so could it be used to duplicitous and destructive ends. Stuart Clark’s ongoing work on witchcraft has demonstrated how important it is to locate “individual texts in a linguistic framework, possibly extending beyond demonology itself,” and part of this linguistic framework is contrariety: What is remarkable, however, is the extraordinary pervasiveness of the language of “contrariety,” the most extreme of the relations of opposition. T o a great extent this reflected the dominance of an inherited metaphysic. But it was also associated with two features peculiar to that period: a linguistic preference for standardized forms of

37 ��������� L uhmann, Theories of Distinction, 81–82; subsequent citations are annotated within the text.

“New, Straunge, Incredible, and Repugnant to the Opinion of the Hearer”


argument and expression based on antithesis, and a preoccupation with the extreme poles of the religious and moral universe.38

T his culture of contrariety bred “the Petrarchan love sonnet, the metaphysical conceit, and the neoclassical loco-descriptive poem” (108) but also demonological tracts—doxa-shattering paradoxical encomiums but also double-speaking Iagos. Indeed, Clark has argued, In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries themselves ... , inheritances from the past and contemporary developments in linguistic taste and religious sensibilities disposed educated E uropeans to see things in terms of binary opposition on such a scale that we may come to think of this as one of the distinctive mental and cultural traits of the age. R enaissance thought is aptly said to have been captive to “habitual magnetic poles.”39

Paradox and contrariety can turn the world upside down—can be a part of a culture of misrule—and for Clark this discourse primarily invoked misrule in order to contain it: R enaissance descriptions of the nature of Satan, the character of hell and, above all, the ritual activities of witches shared a vocabulary of misrule ... ; they were in effect part of a language conventionally employed to establish and condemn the properties of a disorderly world. (100)

T his establishing and condemning of a “disorderly world” certainly comes to the fore in King James’s arguments for the existence of the devil and of witches. These polemics parallel the defenses of paradox, for James claimed that knowledge of truth’s opposite could lead one to a firmer understanding of that truth: F or since the D euill is the verie contrarie opposite to God, there can be no better way to know God, then by the contrarie ... by the falshood of the one to considder the trueth of the other, by the injustice of the one, to condider the Iustice of the other: A nd by the cruelty of the one, to considder the mercifulnesse of the other: A nd so foorth in all the rest of the essence of God, and qualities of the D euill.40

“H ere,” Clark says, “in essence is the paradox inherent in the logic of contrariety and, thus, also in demonology and witchcraft beliefs.”41 So crucial questions return: how dangerous is paradox? Is it merely a frivolous game? A playful para-doxa


����������������������������������������������������������������������������������� Stuart Clark, “Inversion, Misrule, and the Meaning of Witchcraft,” 105; subsequent citations are annotated within the text. T he arguments in this seminal article are expanded in Clark’s Thinking with Demons, esp. 31–79. See also Clark’s “Demons, Natural Magic, and the Virtually R eal,” in Paracelsian Moments, 223–45. 39 �������������� Stuart Clark, Thinking with Demons, 35. (See Maclean, The Renaissance Notion of Woman, 26, for the phrase “habitual magnetic poles,” which Clark quotes here.) 40 ���������������� James VI and I, Daemonologie, 55. 41 �������������� Stuart Clark, Thinking with Demons, 137.

Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox


that ends up affirming the doxa? Or a seriously subversive figure that threatens, demonically, to reframe the world as we know it? Logical Paradoxes I will turn shortly to what Clark calls the “religious and moral universe”—the world of Christian paradoxes. But Clark alludes to another element of the culture of contrariety that we need to examine first: “a linguistic preference for standardized forms of argument and expression based on antithesis.” Indeed, one of these “standardized forms ... based on antithesis” was also another important source for the R enaissance paradox: the logical paradoxes of classical Greece. Seeing a connection among logic, rhetoric, and epistemology, Colie wisely linked the literary paradoxes to the logical paradoxes: those of Zeno and especially that of E ubulides—often attributed to E pimenides the Cretan.42 T his paradox—a Cretan uttering the statement “A ll Cretans are liars”—can be solved by “loopholes” articulated by W.V. Quine: “Perhaps some Cretans were liars, notably Epimenides, and others were not; perhaps Epimenides was a liar who told the truth; either way it turns out that the contradiction vanishes” (86). But Quine, as do many ancient and modern logicians, sees much more power in the stripped-down version of the Liar—“This sentence is false”—that we can find in Cicero’s Academica: Clearly it is a fundamental principle of dialectic that every statement (termed by them axioma, that is, a “proposition”) is either true or false; what then? is this a true proposition or a false one—“If you say that you are lying and say it truly, you lie”? Your school of course says that these problems are “insoluble,” which is more vexatious than the things termed by us “not grasped” and “not perceived.”43

Montaigne—influenced not only by Cicero but also by Sextus Empiricus—saw the L iar Paradox as connected to the philosophical problem of achieving certainty and linked the L iar to the Pyrrhonian skeptics’ tendency to doubt all logical propositions: 42 ������������������������������������������������������������������������������ E rasmus has F olly allude to these in her encomium: “I will not demonstrate it through the crocodile’s dilemma, or the argument of the growing heap, or the argument of the horns, or any other dialectical subtlety of that sort. R ather I will use simple evidence to make it ‘as plain as the nose on your face,’ as they say” (The Praise of Folly, 31). For a concise history of these ancient paradoxes, see Sorensen, A Brief History of the Paradox, 83–99. 43 ��������������������� Cicero’s Latin text (Academica 2.29.95) reads thus: “Nempe fundamentum dialecticae est quidquid enuntietur (id autem appellant αξιοµα, quod est quasi effatum) aut verum esse aut falsum; quid igitur? haec vera an falsa sunt: ‘Si te mentiri dicis idque verum dicis, mentiris’? H aec scilicet inexplicabilia esse dictis, quod est odiosius quam illa quae nos non comprehensa et non percepta dicimus” (Cicero, De natura deorum. Academica, 587–89).

“New, Straunge, Incredible, and Repugnant to the Opinion of the Hearer”


Let us take the sentence that logic itself offers us as the clearest. If you say “It is fine weather,” and you are speaking the truth, then it is fine weather. Isn’t that a sure way of speaking? Still it will deceive us. T o show this let us continue the example. If you say “I lie,” and if you are speaking the truth, then you lie. T he art, the reason, the force, of the conclusion of this one are the same as in the other, but you are stuck in the mud.44

With the Liar Paradox, according to Quine, “we seem to have the irreducible essence of antinomy: a sentence that is true if and only if it is false” (85). And for Quine, antinomies are the “paradoxes ... that bring on the crises in thought” and produce “a self-contradiction by accepted ways of reasoning. It establishes that some tacit and trusted pattern of reasoning must be made explicit and henceforth be avoided or revised” (88). T he L iar Paradox deserves attention for two main reasons.45 F irst, Colie has been taken to task for including it in her study. Paul Stevens sees it as a fundamental misreading of Quine and thus another example of Colie’s sustaining mystifying paradoxes that actually can be explained away. It is, in fact, Stevens who misreads Quine, and I come back to his argument at the end of this chapter.46 F rances Yates went further and asserted that there was no valid connection between the literaryrhetorical and the logical traditions of paradox, singling out the link as a central flaw in Colie’s work: “The rhetorical paradox is assimilated to the logical paradox by an impossible argument, inducing confusions which run all through the book.”47 But Colie’s argument seems highly possible: O ne element common to all these kinds of paradox is their exploitation of the fact of relative, or competing, value systems. T he L iar criticizes linguistic and logical limitations; Synesius’ praise of baldness is only ostensibly about baldness. Rather he directs moral attention to the triviality of the conventional preference for a full head of hair to a bald pate... . equally, one is supposed to ask, what is intrinsically ignoble about a nut, or a flea, or a water closet ... . Zeno’s famous paradoxes ... depend upon a failure of concurrence between the forms of logic and sense experience—how can an arrow, motionless at each punctum temporis of its flight time, reach its target? How can A chilles, beginning a race behind a tortoise, ever really make up the tortoise’s 44 �������������������������������������������������� Montaigne, “Apology for Raymond Sebond,” 2.12, in The Complete Essays of Montaigne, 392. 45 �������������������������������������������������������������������������� Helpful discussions of the Liar Paradox can be found in Quine, “Paradox”; H ofstadter, Gödel, Escher, Bach; Goldstein, Incompleteness; Bochénski, Ancient Formal Logic; Kneale and Kneale, The Development of Logic; Spade, “The Origins of Mediaeval Insolubilia-Literature”; Prescott, “Humanism in the Tudor Jestbook”; Rescher, Paradoxes, esp. 193–215; and Sorensen, A Brief History of the Paradox, esp. 93–95 and 194–99. 46 ���������������������������������������������������������� See Stevens, “The Political Ways of Paradox,” esp. 210–11. 47 �������������������������������������������������������������������������������� Yates, “Paradox and Paradise,” 27. Erasmus’s character Folly certainly sees the connection between rhetorical and logical paradoxes. In her “A nd throw in those sententiae of theirs, so paradoxical that those oracular sayings ...” statement (The Praise of Folly, 89), F olly compares scholastic disputations to stoic paradoxes and both, by implication, to the form of her oration, the paradoxical encomium.

Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox


advantage, since the tortoise always moves even as A chilles takes steps to catch up? These paradoxes handle infinity and infinitesimals; they deal also in the conflict between observed experience and logic, between appearance and reality. (10–11)

Indeed, most scholars of the paradox would agree with Colie that a common function of paradox is to expose and interrogate “relative, or competing, value systems.” A lthough drawing a distinction between them, N icholas R escher admits that “R hetorical paradoxes often pave the way to logical paradoxes.”48 Paradoxes of all kinds, William Poundstone has claimed, “expose the cracks in our structures of belief.”49 A natol R apoport, in his discussion of logical paradoxes, goes even further, claiming that “Whenever, in any discipline, we discover a problem that cannot be solved within the conceptual framework that supposedly should apply, we experience an intellectual shock,” and R ebecca Goldstein describes the effect of an encounter with the L iar Paradox in similar terms: “T he mind crashes.”50 It would seem impossible not to include the logical paradoxes in a study of “the Wondrer.” A second reason the L iar Paradox is important is that the logical paradoxes generally and the Liar specifically provide a crucial link between the paradoxes of the middle ages—usually called insolubilia—and those of the R enaissance. A nd this is where I would like to turn now, before looking at the paradoxes of Christianity, which provide the other major connection between the paradoxes of the two periods. O f course, there is in some sense a difference between medieval and early modern paradoxes. According to E.J. Ashworth, A lthough the traditional writings on insolubilia were available throughout the period, the detailed discussions of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries were soon entirely replaced by briefer comments whose inspiration seems wholly classical. E ven the mediaeval word insolubile was replaced by the Ciceronian inexplicabile. In this area at least there is strong evidence for the usual claim that the insights of scholastic logic were swamped by the new interests and studies of renaissance humanism.51

F or A shworth, the shift is from insolubile to inexplicabile; from Christian to classical; from scholastic to humanist. Another way of discussing this shift has been to see a change from an emphasis on logic to one on rhetoric.52 But William and Martha K neale disagree, asserting that “it is important to realize that there was no sharp break between the Middle A ges and the later period. Peter of Spain’s textbook, the Summulae Logicales, was still studied in the seventeenth century.”53 D rawing on the work of Paul Spade, which clearly links the insolubilia to the L iar Paradox, A nne L ake Prescott has made the most convincing argument I have read for continuity, for the connections between the L iar Paradox on the one hand ��������� R escher, Paradoxes, 5. ������������ Poundstone, Labyrinths of Reason, 15. 50 ������������������������������������������������ Rapoport, “Escape from Paradox,” 50; Goldstein, Incompleteness, 50. 51 ���������������������������������������������������������������������� Ashworth, “The Treatment of Semantic Paradoxes from 1400 to 1700,” 34. 52 ���������������������������������������������������������� See Prescott, “Humanism in the Tudor Jestbook,” 10 and 13. 53 ������������������� K neale and K neale, The Development of Logic, 298. 48 49

“New, Straunge, Incredible, and Repugnant to the Opinion of the Hearer”


and the mock encomium and the Ciceronian paradoxes on the other.54 A ccording to Spade, An “insoluble” sentence is a paradox or an antinomy of the sort typified by the “Liar Paradox,” in which someone says “What I am now saying is false” and that alone. What he says must presumably, like all statements, be either true or false. But on either hypothesis one can derive a contradiction by apparently incontrovertible rules of inference ... . This paradox is no parlor trick: it strikes at the heart of logic (construed to include a theory of truth). F or the logical rules by which the contradiction was derived are supposed to be valid in the sense that they cannot lead from truth to falsehood. Yet here such rules lead from what might very well be a truth (that someone utters such a sentence) to a contradiction, and so to a falsehood. T he whole enterprise of logic is at stake in this paradox.55

Stressing the unavoidability of contradiction at its heart, Spade asserts the very high stakes of the L iar: the paradox is “no parlor trick” but instead “strikes at the heart of logic” and truth. What Prescott’s article does is reveal the truth in jest, if you will—uncovering the genealogical connection among the L iar Paradox, the medieval insolubilia, and the T udor jestbook: “I have not seen historians of paradox refer to jestbooks, yet here are several moments when the ludic aspect of humanist literature coincides with the survival and modification of late scholastic logic.”56 Prescott gives us further evidence of the weight of the seeming lightness in paradox’s being. A lthough these jestbooks were playful and meant to entertain, then, there was a potency to them as well, as K eith T homas taught us over thirty years ago: Shocking though it seemed, the main drift of this laughter of burlesque and inversion was conventional enough. It reinforced accepted morality by mocking superiors by standards which they themselves upheld... . Yet the outspokenness of fool or jester could easily turn into intolerable scurrility, just as the rites of misrule had a perpetual tendency to get out of hand. Most laughter may have been conservative in its effect, but there was also a current of radical critical laughter which, instead of reinforcing accepted norms, sought to give the world a nudge in a new direction... . A nyone seeking the origins of seventeenth-century radicalism could do worse than start with the Tudor jest-books. What the jest-books show is how proto-Protestant humour about the religious orders or fraudulent relics could quietly develop into a much wider materialism, in which the dogmas of the T rinity, of H eaven and H ell and the immortality of the soul were all subjected to crude lower-class disbelief.57

��������������������������������������������� F or Spade, see his “T he O rigins of Mediaeval Insolubilia-L iterature” and his translation of On “Insoluble” Sentences, by William H eytesbury. F or Prescott, see her “Humanism in the Tudor Jestbook,” 10–14. 55 ������������������������������������������� Spade, trans., On “Insoluble” Sentences, 5. 56 ����������������������������������������������� Prescott, “Humanism in the Tudor Jestbook,” 13. 57 ���������������������������������������������������������������������������������� Keith Thomas, “The Place of Laughter in Tudor and Stuart England,” 78; subsequent citations are annotated within the text. 54

Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox


T homas uncovers the doubleness in the jestbook—whose origins, Prescott has revealed, include the L iar Paradox—that we have seen in paradox in general. L aughter, like the paradox, “may have been conservative in its effect.” But also like paradox it “sought to give the world a nudge in a new direction.” T he discourse of laughter—in jestbooks and later in Elizabethan and Jacobean comedy—was part of Stuart Clark’s “language of contrariety.” F or, according to T homas, laughter at once affirmed and undid convention and authority: L aughter, therefore, appeared as a potentially subversive force, needing careful control. It could prop up social conventions, but it could also undermine them. H ow then did contemporaries deal with it? H ow far did they contain it, direct it into acceptable channels or even suppress it altogether? ... So long as the social hierarchy itself went unchallenged, the rites of inversion could be safely tolerated; their very levity reflected an underlying security. But once men had begun to question the principles of that hierarchy, then an annual ritual which emphasized its arbitrary nature came to seem positively dangerous. (79)

Christian Paradoxes Paradox, like laughter, then, proved to have a paradoxical power, simultaneously propping up and undermining conventions. F or K eith T homas, all forms of authority—religious and social—were susceptible to this destabilizing force. In the realm of early modern religion, the role of paradox is especially interesting because Christianity was arguably being pulled apart by what E rasmus told L uther were “paradoxes which are at present disturbing the Christian world” (94). Yet, doctrinally, Christianity was at its heart constituted by paradox.58 F ollowing in the E rasmian tradition of putting Christian truth over apparent truth—of seeing Christian truth as a reversal of common opinion—Sebastian Franck claimed in 1534, I entitled this my philosophy Paradoxa and translated “paradox” by “wondrous saying” or “wondrous word,” since theology, the right meaning of Scripture (which alone is God”s word) is nothing other than an eternal paradox, certain and true over against every illusion, appearance and the faith and esteem of the entire world.59 58 �������������������������������������������������������������������������������� Heraclitus would have us believe that the pre-Socratic God was paradoxical too: “God day night, winter summer, war peace, and undergoes change in the way that , whenever mixed with spices, gets called by the name that accords with bouquet of each ” (fragment 67, in Heraclitus, Fragments, trans. Robinson, 45). 59 �������� F ranck, Paradoxa, 2. See also the so-called Christian paradoxes (1645), now attributed to H erbert Palmer, though once thought to have been written by Sir F rancis Bacon: “A Christian is one who believes things his reason cannot comprehend; he hopes for things which neither he nor any man alive ever saw: he labours for that which he knoweth he’ll never obtain; yet, in the issue, his belief appears not to be false; his hope makes him not ashamed; his labour is not in vain” (“The Characters of a Believing Christian,” in The Works of Francis Bacon, Lord Chancellor of England 2:410).

“New, Straunge, Incredible, and Repugnant to the Opinion of the Hearer”


For Ralph Venning in 1647, paradox was deemed the essential journey of the Christian: the title page of the first edition of his paradox book reads Orthodox Paradoxes, or, A beleiver [sic] clearing truth by seeming contradictions; truth is clarified through indirection and “seeming contradictions.” T he idea that truth can be reached through contradiction may appear to be an unusual claim since Christianity and paradox appear to be at loggerheads in twenty-first century religious discourse; doubt, debate, and contradiction in the theological sphere are often depicted as the activities of secular humanists.60 However, in discussing sixteenth- and seventeenth-century religious debates, Patrick Collinson has argued that “the language and social imagery of binary opposition were nothing if not scriptural and consequently almost mandatory for religious discussion.”61 Peter L ake has observed that “Since the Protestant analysis of popish anti-Christianity proceeded through a series of binary oppositions, every negative characteristic imputed to R ome implied a positive cultural, political or religious value which Protestants claimed as their own exclusive property.”62 A nd, as Bryan Crockett has revealed, the Shakespearean moment is one in which we see Christianity struggling for its identity as it tries to reconcile a desire for moral clarity with a commitment to its roots in paradoxy: T he readiness on the part of both preachers and playwrights to address paradoxical issues is particularly acute in late sixteenth-century England in part because the age is simultaneously informed by two impulses: the insistence on maintaining the tension of Christian paradox and the slackening of that tension by reducing Christian paradox to one of its constituent contraries. T he failure of attempts to reconcile these two opposing impulses eventually signals the abandonment of the whole enterprise and the development of a new human orientation to the world: the secular self-assertion characteristic of the modern age.63

F or Crockett, it is both the R eformation sermon and the R enaissance play that promise to explore “the contradictions endemic to the culture” (28).

60 ����������������������������������������������������������������������������������� By examining the paradoxes at the root of Christianity, R onald W. H epburn tried to reconcile “scepticism and the naturally religious mind” (Christianity and Paradox, 186). Stressing that “not only in theology but also in science contradictory notions have had to be lived with, for quite long periods” (17), Hepburn sees “coping with paradox” (16) and accepting “paradoxes if we have to do so without abandoning belief” (186) as necessities of twentieth-century faith. 61 ����������� Collinson, The Puritan Character, 26. 62 ��������������������������� Lake, “Anti-Popery,” 73–74. 63 ���������� Crockett, The Play of Paradox, 37; subsequent citations are annotated within the text. See also Stuart Clark, Thinking with Demons, 138: “two developments brought the instabilities into the open and led to the [witch’s] sabbat’s demise. O ne was the extent to which, during the Reformation and Counter-Reformation era, witchcraft was made into the ever more faithful opposite of religious truths; the other was the fact that, simultaneously, the Reformation and Counter-Reformation made such truths contestable.”

Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox


What were the paradoxes of Christianity, then, and how did they help contribute to a culture of paradox? “The Divine Paradox,” a poem from the pre-Shakespearean age, helps us focus on the paradoxes behind some of the key doctrinal issues of Christian faith: A God and yet a man? A mayde and yet a mother? Witt wonders what witt Can Conceave this or the other. A god, and Can he die? A dead man, can he live? What witt can well replie? What reason reason give? God, truth itselfe, doth teach it Mans witt senckis [i.e., sinks] too farr vnder By reasons power to reach it. Beleeve and leave to wonder!64

Nicely articulated here are the paradoxes of the Incarnation; the virgin birth; the death of God; and the immortal man. The poem closes by asserting the limitations of human reason and providing an exhortation to wonder. Whether this paradoxical thinking stresses intellectual complexity or quietistic passivity is an issue I take up in the final section of this chapter. It is certainly possible, of course, to read these paradoxes of Christianity, as Crockett does, as part of a refashioning of reason and knowledge: Since at the very heart of the Christian story is the mystery of divine immolation, the paradox invites on the hearer’s part a similar relinquishment of possessive power... . T he paradox generates this sense of marvel by circumventing the categories of rigid definition—by challenging the absolute validity of rational constructs. (59)

For Michèle Willems, “Dans les écritures, le paradoxe a une fonction pédagogique; il s’agit de faire apprehender une vérité complexe en bousculant les schemas de la pensée habituelle des concepts de vie et de mort.”65 T his sort of challenge to “rational constructs” and “la pensée habituelle” is also at the heart of Pauline doctrine, as John Calvin explicated in book 3 of his Institutes of the Christian Religion: ������������������������������������ A nonymous, “T he D ivine Paradox,” in Religious Lyrics of the XVth Century, 187. ������������������������������������������� Willems, “L e D iscours de la T entation dans Macbeth,” in Le Mal et Ses Masques, 342. Willems also notes a parallel to Shakespearean method: “le paradoxe structurel qui régit souvent l’education des personages shakespeariens a sans doute la même fonction heuristique: c’est en utilisant les apparences que l’on peut le mieux découvrir la réalité; c’est par la folie que l’on accede à la sagesse, par la cécité que l’on découvre le regard de la connaissance” (342–43). 64 65

“New, Straunge, Incredible, and Repugnant to the Opinion of the Hearer”


T he things pertaining to our salvation are too lofty to be perceived by our sense, seen by our eyes, or handled by our hands, and ... in the meantime there is no possible way in which these can be possessed by us, unless we transcend the reach of our own intellect, and raise our eye above all worldly objects ... . When he [St. Paul] calls it the evidence or proof ... , it is the same as if he had called it the appearance of things not apparent, the sight of things not seen, the clearness of things obscure, the presence of things absent, the manifestation of things hid.66

F aith, like wonder in “T he D ivine Paradox,” necessarily requires a movement beyond the senses and human knowledge. Yet this faith paradoxically allows the Christian access to knowledge, mysteries, and “things hid.” T his was Sir T homas Browne’s position, famously articulated in section 9 of his Religio Medici (1643): I love to lose my selfe in a mystery, to pursue my reason to an o altitudo. ’T is my solitary recreation to pose my apprehension with those involved aenigma’s [sic] and riddles of the T rinity, with Incarnation and R esurrection. I can answer all the objections of Satan, and my rebellious reason, with that odde resolution I learned of Tertullian, Certum est quia impossibile est. I desire to exercise my faith in the difficultest points, for to credit ordinary and visible objects is not faith but perswasion.67

D elighting in Christianity’s “aenigma’s and riddles,” Browne leaves behind “rebellious reason,” which he connects to a doubting Satan, and turns to paradox— the certain impossibilities of faith.68 As Jeffrey Knapp has recently shown, Erasmus, too, foregrounded this paradoxical approach to Christianity—not just in his paradoxical encomium but also in his theological writings.69 We find in The Free Will (1524) Erasmus’s statement of his position: so great is my dislike of assertions that I prefer the views of the skeptics wherever the inviolable authority of Scripture and the decision of the Church permit—a Church to which at all times I willingly submit my own views, whether I attain what she prescribes or not. A nd as a matter of fact, I prefer this natural inclination to one I can observe in certain people who are so blindly addicted to one opinion that they cannot tolerate whatever differs from it. Whatever they read in H oly Scripture, they distort to serve the opinion to which they have once and for all enslaved themselves. T heir case is like that of the young man who loves a girl so much that he fancies he sees her image everywhere. O r to use a better comparison: they are like those who in the heat of battle turn everything at hand, be it a pitcher or plate, into a missile. A re people thus affected �������� Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Volume Second, 144. �������� Browne, Religio Medici, in Selected Writings, 14. 68 ������������������������������������������������������������������������������������ F or an excellent summary of the relationship among Christian mysteries, poetry, and paradox, see O ng, “Wit and Mystery: A R evaluation in Mediaeval L atin H ymnody.” O ng asserts that “the crisis at the center of the Christian economy can be stated as the presence of a maximum of certitude with a minimum of understanding” (336)—“the whole of the Christian economy is dominated by what may be called with all reverence super-paradox” (339). 69 ������������������� See Jeffrey Knapp, Shakespeare’s Tribe, 52. 66 67

Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox


able to form an objective judgment? ... I merely want to analyze and not to judge, to inquire and not to dogmatize.70

N ote the paradox here: searching for Christian unity, E rasmus thinks doubly, disliking “assertions” and preferring “the views of the skeptics.” L uther found this capacity for doubleness and ambivalence distasteful, and he consequently labeled E rasmus a “Proteus,” an “eel,” a “king of amphibology.”71 In his adage “T he Sileni of A lcibiades” E rasmus goes so far as to link Christ himself to paradox and doubleness through the image of the Sileni (traditionally ugly on the outside but filled with value on the inside); the King of Kings is in some sense L uther’s “king of amphibology.” F rances Yates, in her critique of Colie, asserts that the Silenus box “is not a paradox but an image or metaphor relating to the fundamental R enaissance concept that truth is hidden in many disguises, as in the theory of mythology where the fables are the husk or bark under which truth is hidden.”72 E rasmus’s language, though, clearly inscribes Christ into the paradoxical discourse of both the R enaissance and Christianity: And what of Christ? Was not He too a marvellous Silenus (if one may be allowed to use such language of Him)? ... “He had no form nor comeliness; we beheld Him and there was nothing to look upon, and we desired H im, despised as H e was and the least of men” [Isaiah 53:2–4], and a great deal to that effect. And now, if one has the good fortune to have a nearer view of this Silenus, open—if, in other words, H e shows himself in H is mercy to anyone, the eyes of whose soul have been washed clean—in heaven’s name what a treasure you will find, in that cheap setting what a pearl, in that lowliness what grandeur, in that poverty what riches, in that weakness what imaginable valour, in that disgrace what glory, in all those labours what perfect refreshment, and in that bitter death, in short, a never-failing spring of immortality!73

T he language that closes this section is clearly the language of paradox, and pace Yates, the Silenus box is a master figure for Erasmus’s view of Christianity as a paradoxical assault on convention.74 E rasmus, The Free Will, in Discourse on Free Will, 6��� –7. ������������������������ R esponding to E rasmus’s The Free Will, Luther exclaimed in 1525 in The Bondage of the Will, “What a Proteus is the man talking about ‘inviolable authority of Scriptures and the decisions of the Church’!—as if you had the greatest respect for the Scriptures and the Church when in the same breath you explain that you wish you had the liberty to be a sceptic! What Christian could talk like this?” (The Bondage of the Will, in Discourse on Free Will, 102). In his Table Talk—which he wrote around this same time—L uther asserted “Erasmus ist rex amphibolarium” and “Also pflegt sich der Ael zu schlingen, winden und beisen” (quoted in Murray, Erasmus and Luther, 229). 72 ����������������������������������� Yates, “Paradox and Paradise,” 27. 73 ������������������������������������������������ Erasmus, “The Sileni of Alcibiades” (3.3.1), in The Adages of Erasmus, 245; my emphasis. Subsequent citations are annotated within the text. 74 ������������������������������������������������������������������������������ Sebastian F ranck also supports Colie’s linking the Silenus to paradox: “T ruth consists of paradoxes only, which the world does not keep, do, speak and believe. If you hear common people speak, believe and keep anything, then keep, speak and believe the opposite 70 71

“New, Straunge, Incredible, and Repugnant to the Opinion of the Hearer”


T hus, only the true Christian, by employing nondogmatic skepticism, can begin to read the world correctly. Folly uses the Silenus figure to underscore the doubleness and complexity of the world: “it is clear that all human affairs, like the Sileni of Alcibiades, have two aspects quite different from each other” (43). Erasmus’s adage develops the point, stressing the ambiguity of sacraments and scripture: And no less in the sacraments of the Church may you find some sort of reflection of the Sileni. (Let no man misinterpret what I say.) You see the water, you see the salt and the oil, you hear the words of consecration, and this is like seeing the Silenus from the outside; the power from heaven you neither hear nor see, in the absence of which all the world would be mere mockery. A fter all, Scripture too has its own Sileni. Pause at the surface, and what you see is sometimes ridiculous; were you to pierce to the heart of the allegory, you would venerate the divine wisdom... . the more excellent a thing is, the more deeply it is hidden, and far removed from uninitiated eyes ... . And thus the judgment of the multitude is topsy-turvy: What ought to be put first is, like the Megarians, of no account, and the objects they should have pursued with might and main they think quite contemptible. T hus gold is more valued than sound learning, ancient lineage more than integrity, bodily endowments more than intellectual gifts; true religion takes second place to ceremonies, Christ’s commandments to the decrees of men; the mask [is preferred] to the true face, shadow is preferred to substance, artificial to natural, transient to solid, momentary to eternal. (248–49, 251–52)

“The judgment of the multitude” may be “topsy-turvy,” but so is Christianity. For appearances can be deceptive in two distinct ways. E rasmus writes: Such, to be sure, is the nature of most things worth having. T heir excellence they bury in their inmost parts, and hide; they wear what is most contemptible at first glance on the surface, concealing their treasure with a kind of worthless outward shell and not showing it to uninitiated eyes. Vulgar, unsubstantial things have a far different design: their attractions are all on the surface and their beauties are at once displayed to all and sundry, but look inside and you will find that nothing could be less like what was promised by the label and the outward view. (244–45)

“Contemptible” surfaces can belie the excellence within: Christian wisdom lies beneath seeming folly, and Christ the K ing was born in a manger. A s D aniel F eatley explained the problem, O King of glory, who hadst no Palace in this world, but an Inne; no Chamber of Presence, but a Stable; no Tapestry, but Straw; no Chaire of estate, but a Cratch [manger]; no Scepter, but a Reede; and no Crowne, but a wreath of thornes; worke in me an holy highmindednesse to despise this world that so despised thee. Make the worldly greatnesse seeme small, honour base, estimation vile, and pompe vaine vnto me.75 and you will surely have the gospel and God’s word. What is right runs deep. It is in all things a false Silenus and quite different from what it appears to be” (Paradoxa, 13–14). 75 ������������������������������������������������������������ F eatley’s plea to Christ is spoken by the handmaiden in his Ancilla pietatis (1626), 208–9.

Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox


But “vulgar, unsubstantial things” can deceive by seeming to be beautiful when they are actually nothing “like what was promised by the label and the outward view.” The difficulty comes in decoding the paradoxes of a society and a culture in which contrariety is a central component of the “linguistic framework” and in which both Christ and Satan can be kings of amphibology. Our Culture of Paradox It is a commonplace that New Criticism gravitated to the figure of the paradox. In his N ew Critical manifesto The Well-Wrought Urn, Cleanth Brooks famously claimed that “paradox is the language appropriate and inevitable to poetry. It is the scientist whose truth requires a language purged of every trace of paradox; apparently the truth the poet utters can be approached only in terms of paradox.”76 Indeed, for Paul Stevens, the New Critics “idealize paradox in literature” (216). More shrewdly, Paul de Man pointed to the N ew Critical urge at once to idealize and to resolve paradox: “T he A merican N ew Critics arrived at a description of irony and ambiguity despite the fact that they remained committed to a Coleridgian notion of organic form.”77 Poststructuralists like de Man are much more at home with the radical ambiguity of the Wondrer. What is interesting, however, is how little paradox’s more radical implications have been connected in a constructive way to the study of Shakespeare. In the remainder of this chapter, I will try to account for why our culture of paradox has not more productively intersected with Shakespeare’s culture of paradox. Stephen Orgel has helpfully reminded us that the twentieth-century critics and scholars did not invent “the poetics of incomprehensibility.” Indeed, he has warned us against trying to explain away the most ambiguous moments in early modern texts: We need to remember that a R enaissance audience tolerated, and indeed courted, a much higher degree of ambiguity and opacity than we do; we tend to forget that the age often found in incomprehensibility a positive virtue. T he discontinuity between image and text in R enaissance iconographic structures has in recent years become a commonplace; symbolic imagery was not a universal language—on the contrary, it was radically indeterminate and always depended on explanation to determine its meaning. When the explanation was not provided—as was often the case—the spectators �������� Brooks, The Well-Wrought Urn, 3. For helpful distinctions between the New Critical and deconstructionist approaches to paradox, see Jonathan Culler, On Deconstruction: Theory and Criticism after Structuralism (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1982): “It is also possible to show that poems which the N ew Critics have analyzed as instances of the doctrine they proclaim are in fact more complex and problematic in their self-referentiality ... . We have, therefore, [in Donne’s “The Canonization”] not so much a self-contained urn as a chain of discourses and representations” (202–3). See also Nealon, “The Discipline of Deconstruction,” esp. 1266–68. 77 ���������������������������������������� D e Man, “T he R hetoric of Blindness,” in Blindness and Insight, 104. 76

“New, Straunge, Incredible, and Repugnant to the Opinion of the Hearer”


remained unenlightened ... . T he satisfaction in such cases derived precisely from the presence of the mystery, which assured the audience at abstruse spectacles, whether groundlings or scholars, that they participated in a world of higher meaning ... . We do it [the Shakespearean text] wrong when we deny that it is problematic and has always been so, and reduce it to our own brand of common sense.78

It is just this presence of indeterminacy that, Jean Howard argued in 1986, makes the R enaissance a place of intense interest for poststructuralist schools of criticism, especially N ew H istoricism: the R enaissance is being appropriated in slightly different terms: as neither modern nor medieval, but as a boundary or liminal space between two more monolithic periods where one can see acted out a clash of paradigms and ideologies, a playfulness of signifying systems, a self-reflexivity, and a self-consciousness about the tenuous solidity of human identity which resonate with some of the dominant elements of postmodern culture. In short, I would argue that the R enaissance, seen as the last refuge of preindustrial man, is of such interest to scholars of the postindustrial era because these scholars construe the period in terms reflecting their own sense of the exhilaration and fearfulness of living inside a gap in history, when the paradigms that structured the past seem facile and new paradigms uncertain... . T hese narratives of discontinuity and contradiction are narratives which owe much to the way late twentieth-century man construes his own historical condition.79

Stressing gaps and ruptures—in history, ontology, and epistemology—H oward links N ew H istoricist ways of explaining the R enaissance through “narratives of discontinuity and contradiction” to the themes of discontinuity and contradiction in postmodern discourse. N iklas L uhmann has studied the history of paradox for clues to the central concerns of modernity and postmodernity: T here are at least two interconnected reasons for this renewed interest in paradox. O ne is the establishment of a world society with a plurality of cultural traditions ... . We may now imagine shifting centers of modernity, but no one center can presume to be the center of society as a whole. Secondly, that we have to live with a society without top and without center is due to the fact that the structure of modern society is determined by functional differentiation and no longer by a coherent hierarchical stratification or by a one-center/periphery differentiation. Functional differentiation requires polycontextural, hypercomplex complexity-descriptions without unifying perspective. (89)

In a de-centered world—one with a “plurality of cultural traditions” and without “a one-center/periphery differentiation”—paradox becomes the crucial figure of analysis. A s William R asch explains it, 78 ����������������������������������������������������������������������� Orgel, “The Poetics of Incomprehensibility,” 436–37. See also Warburg, The Renewal of Pagan Antiquity, esp. 365–69. 79 ��������������������������������������������������������� H oward, “T he N ew H istoricism in R enaissance Studies,” in Renaissance Historicism, 6–7.

Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox


L uhmann neither longs for the view of “the whole” nor bemoans its absence... . Yet the contention that society can be seen only from within society and only partially is a total observation, a total observation about the impossibility of total observations. It cannot help but fall victim to paradox. Paradox, however, is not the perplexing dead end of a false path but every path’s point of origin. Consequently, a theory of society must above all account for this paradox and the limits that it exposes—not in order to overcome or evade paradox but to include it as a constituent moment of the universe that theory describes.80

Luhmann finds paradox, then, not only inescapable but also potentially constructive.81 F or him, paradox helps constitute our world: In such systems (one of which is science) there is no operation without reference to other operations of the system. E ven when one forms universal propositions that refer to all the operations of the system, and also when one exposes these universal propositions, on the basis of the classic Cretan pattern, to self-reference, one only produces an operation that is a point of departure for other operations. We simply claim: it is this way; and logicians who attempt to dispute this are, in consequence, punished by paradoxes. (143–44)

This sort of self-reference, as Hilary Lawson demonstrates in Reflexivity: The PostModern Predicament, is at the heart of the poststructuralist project. N ietzsche, for example, renounced a world beyond interpretation: “A gainst positivism, which halts at phenomena—‘T here are only facts’—I would say: N o, facts is precisely what there is not, only interpretations. We cannot establish any fact ‘in itself’: perhaps it is folly to want to do such a thing.”82 And Jacques Derrida provides the following epigraph from Montaigne’s “A pology for R aymond Sebond” in his ground-breaking “Structure, Sign and Play in the Human Sciences”: “We need to interpret interpretations more than to interpret things.”83 While there is sometimes a tragic sense in poststructuralism of being “trapped within language” and thus never having “knowledge of the world beyond,” L awson has convincingly argued that the major thinkers of poststructuralism—for him, N ietzsche, H eidegger, and Derrida—“do not regard reflexivity as eradicable, or as requiring solution. They thus appear to endorse paradox. T heir writings might therefore be readily dismissed, were it not for the accompanying claim that the paradox is unavoidable.”84

���������������������������������� William R asch, intro. to L uhmann, Theories of Distinction, 10. ������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� Rasch proposes that “If Russell finds paradoxes destructive and seeks to solve them, Luhmann finds them productive and watches them unfold over time” (intro. to Luhmann, Theories of Distinction, 26). 82 ����������� N ietzsche, The Will to Power, sec. 481 (267). 83 ������������������������������������������������������������������������������� D errida, “Structure, Sign and Play in the D iscourse of the H uman Sciences,” in Writing and Difference, 278. For Montaigne, see “Of Experience,” 3.13, in The Complete Essays of Montaigne, 818. 84 �������� L awson, Reflexivity, 25 and 23. 80 81

“New, Straunge, Incredible, and Repugnant to the Opinion of the Hearer”


Before turning to an examination of how this view of paradox might illuminate a reading of Shakespeare, I would first like to entertain another poststructuralist perspective that—like L uhmann’s—stresses the productivity of paradox and doubleness: the work of Mikhail Bakhtin, especially that on dialogism and the carnivalesque. F or Bakhtin, one of the most liberating elements of a carnival culture was the intermingling of opposites, even on the linguistic level: “Positive and negative elements are, of course, inherent in every word of a living speech. T here are no indifferent, neutral words; there can only be artificially neutralized words. In the most ancient form of speech the merging of praise and abuse, that is, a duality of tone, is characteristic,” he asserts in The Dialogic Imagination. “It is as if words had been released from the shackles of sense, to enjoy a play period of complete freedom and establish unusual relationships among themselves ... . T heir multiple meanings and the potentialities that would not manifest themselves in normal conditions are revealed.85 L ike paradox, carnival for Bakhtin allows words, selves, and cultures “to establish unusual relationships among themselves,” allows multiple meanings and possibilities to emerge that “would not manifest themselves in normal conditions.” D ominick L aCapra has helpfully focused on this element in Bakhtin’s thought, stressing both its interest in blurring boundaries and its emphasis on the constructive potential of doubleness: “In its larger sense ‘carnivalization’ is an engaging process of interaction through which seeming opposites—body and spirit, work and play, positive and negative, high and low, seriousness and laughter—are related to each other in an ambivalent, contestatory interchange that is both literally and figuratively ‘re-creative.’”86 L aCapra continues: T he carnival attitude generates an ambivalent interaction between all basic opposites in language and life—a “jolly [or cheerful] relativity” in which poles are taken from their pure binarism and made to touch and know one another... . T his ambivalence ... is not confined to the play of language. It affects all significant dimensions of existence which, in the case of the human being, are themselves bound up with signifying practices. (298)

“Seeming opposites” turn out not to be so, and the “interchange,” the “ambivalent interaction,” is “re-creative,” even interactive, as these opposites are “made to know and touch one another.” L aCapra has also explicated the connection between Bakhtin’s concept of carnivalization on the one hand and “dialogization” and “heteroglossia” on the other: “H eteroglossia” refers to the objective condition of language marked by the plurality of perspectives and value-laden, ideological practices that are in challenging contact ��������� Bakhtin, Rabelais and His World, 432 and 423. ��������� L aCapra, Rethinking Intellectual History, 52; subsequent citations are annotated within the text. 85 86

Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox


with one another. “D ialogization” designates the conditions of subjects as speakers or users of language who are always involved in symbolic exchanges with other speakers ... . Dialogized heteroglossia creates the space for critical and self-critical distance in language use, for it disrupts myth in the sense of an absolute fusion or bonding of a use of words to a concrete ideological meaning ... . D ialogization highlighted the importance of the border or the threshold where seeming opposites entered into an exchange and possibly coexisted, often in tensely charged relationships. It thus inserted the public square into language use itself. (312–13)

F or Bakhtin, L aCapra argues, the collapsing of binaries happens on both a large and a small scale—on the level not only of culture and selfhood but also of language. A ccording to Bakhtin’s editor Michael H olquist, “A word, discourse, language or culture undergoes ‘dialogization’ when it become relativized, de-privileged, aware of competing definitions for the same things. Undialogized language is authoritative or absolute.”87 Bakhtin goes even further, claiming that E uropean letters has privileged the “undialogized,” has favored unity and singleness over multiplicity and doubleness: L inguistics, stylistics, and the philosophy of language—as forces in service of the great centralizing tendencies of European verbal-ideological life—have sought first and foremost for unity in diversity. T his exclusive “orientation toward unity” in the present and past life of languages has concentrated the attention of philosophical and linguistic thought on the firmest, most stable, least changeable and most mono-semic aspects of discourse—on the phonetic aspects first of all—that are furthest removed from the changing socio-semantic spheres of discourse. Real ideologically saturated “language consciousness,” one that participates in actual heteroglossia and multi-languagedness, has remained outside its field of vision. It is precisely this orientation toward unity that has compelled scholars to ignore all the verbal genres (quotidian, rhetorical, artisticprose) that were the carriers of the decentralizing tendencies in the life of language, or that were in any case too fundamentally implicated in heteroglossia ... . T herefore proper theoretical recognition and illumination could not be found for the specific feel for language and discourse that one gets in stylizations, in skaz, in parodies and in various forms of verbal masquerade, “not talking straight,” and in the more complex artistic forms for the organization of contradiction ... . we must deal with the life and behavior of discourse in a contradictory and multi-languaged world.88

H ere Bakhtin calls for a critical examination of “the carriers of the decentralizing tendencies in the life of language,” of “‘not talking straight,’” of paradox. F or 87

������������������������������������������� See Bakhtin, The Dialogic Imagination, 427. ��������� Bakhtin, The Dialogic Imagination, 274–75. Among those discourses that shut down dialogism and heteroglossia Bakhtin includes “A ristotelian poetics, the poetics of A ugustine, the poetics of the medieval church, of ‘the one language of truth,’ the Cartesian poetics of neoclassicism, the abstract grammatical universalism of Leibniz (the idea of a ‘universal grammar’), H umboldt’s insistence on the concrete—all these, whatever their differences in nuance, give expression to the same centripetal forces in socio-linguistic and ideological life; they serve one and the same project of centralizing and unifying the European languages” (271). 88

“New, Straunge, Incredible, and Repugnant to the Opinion of the Hearer”


Bakhtin argues that we must interrogate “the life and behavior of discourse in a contradictory and multi-languaged world.” T his interrogation is necessary because there is a “dialectic of real life,” says Bakhtin (in another context in collaboration with P.N. Medvedev). Bakhtin continues: in the ideological horizon of any epoch and any social group there is not one, but several mutually contradictory truths, not one but several diverging ideological paths ... . T he course of ideological generation will present him with two new paths, two truths, and so on. T he ideological horizon is constantly developing—as long as one does not get bogged down in some swamp. Such is the dialectic of real life.89

In the Bakhtinian system, paradox and “mutually contradictory truths” contribute to “ideological generation” and function as the antithesis of the fixed and absolute. Paradox, the ludic, and the carnivalesque can generate and create. Because paradox is linked to an “ideological horizon” that is “constantly developing,” there is no reason for an author, thinker, or individual to “get bogged down in some swamp.” Shakespeare and Paradox T his generative doubleness and paradox on the levels of language, selfhood, culture, and “ideological paths” can all be found in Shakespeare. Indeed, Bakhtin’s “contradictory and multi-languaged world,” I would argue, is a helpful way of describing the Shakespearean cosmos. Although Bakhtin does not specifically invoke Shakespeare in the section discussed above, he does elsewhere in The Dialogic Imagination, and, what’s more, Shakespeare’s work in drama obviously qualifies Shakespearean discourse as dialogic and “heteroglossic.”90 F urther, Shakespeare’s drama is not involved in an “orientation toward unity” but instead in the recognition and “organization of contradiction.” But Shakespeare studies for the most part have not been served well by critics writing about the connection between Shakespeare and paradox, largely because—especially when it comes to politics and culture re-formation—paradox has been de-fanged: not, as these critics would argue, by Shakespeare but by the critics themselves. T o be sure, there has been important work done on Shakespeare and paradox.91 In addition to Colie’s, N orman R abkin’s work on complementarity was truly �������������������������� See Medvedev and Bakhtin, The Formal Method in Literary Scholarship, 19–20. ��� In The Dialogic Imagination (see 168, 199, and 220), Bakhtin invokes Shakespeare in discussions of doubleness, especially of tone: comic and tragic, “parodic-travestying” (79) and serious. 91 �������������������������������������������������������������������� See R ossiter, “A mbivalence: T he D ialectic of the H istories,” in his Angel with Horns, 40–64; Levao, Renaissance Minds and Their Fictions, esp. 281–364; Jones-Davies, “Shakespeare in the Humanist Tradition”; Bate, The Genius of Shakespeare, esp. 294–340; 89 90


Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox

ground-breaking.92 Drawing on Niels Bohr’s recognition “that twentieth-century physicists ... find themselves forced to live with apparently unresolvable paradoxes and contrarieties,” R abkin made similar claims for Shakespeare’s “dialectical dramaturgy”: Generally the opposition is rather between two complexes of related elements than simply between two single ideals. A lways the dramatic structure sets up the opposed elements as equally valid, equally desirable, and equally destructive, so that the choice that the play forces the reader to make is impossible.93

Whether Shakespeare requires a choice—whether we have to choose between rabbit and duck, as R abkin would ask in a later piece—is debatable, but R abkin’s focus on Shakespearean paradoxy was crucial because R abkin stressed dialogue and activity rather than passivity and paralysis in the operations of paradox.94 E ven R abkin, though, worried that he would seem to be dwelling on what was “merely paradoxical”: “Paradox is not the kind of formulation the rational mentality has traditionally been happy with, and for good reason” (12). He nevertheless defends his choice of focus because the kind of dialectic found in Shakespeare’s dramaturgy “represents the state of intellectual and spiritual tension which makes art” (12–13). Rabkin continues: If poets indulged in paradox for its own sake—merely, that is, to provide pleasure or to give their works internal unity and form (as formalistic critics sometimes assume they Palfrey, Late Shakespeare, esp. 1–14; Engle, “Measure for Measure and Modernity”; and McCoy, Alterations of State, 69. Most recently, Philip Davis argues in Shakespeare Thinking that “where normally human beings want to think of one thing at a time in one sense, you begin to be more like Shakespeare when you think of two—and then some ... . in Shakespeare, to find its way to meaning, the brain must adaptively shift itself from one sense to another, from one place or pathway to another” (54–55). Particularly important for Davis is Shakespeare’s tendency for “lifting, turning and new-weighting of the word from one part of speech to another without change itself” (73): Shakespeare gives us, then, E dgar’s “H e childed as I fathered,” Menenius’s “F all down, and knee, / T he way into his mercy,” and O thello’s “T o lip a wanton in a secure couch” (see Shakespeare Thinking, 78). For Davis, these “functional shifts” (73) reveal in miniature the way Shakespeare works on our minds. 92 ������������ See R abkin, Shakespeare and the Common Understanding. Jonathan Bate has more recently linked Shakespearean paradox to quantum mechanics and twentieth-century science—via William E mpson’s Seven Types of Ambiguity (see Bate’s The Genius of Shakespeare, 299–316). For Bate, Shakespeare’s paradoxes most often resemble Empson’s “seventh type of ambiguity,” which “occurs when the two meanings of the word, the two values of the ambiguity, are the two opposite meanings defined by the context, so that the total effect is to show a fundamental division in the writer’s mind” (see Empson, Seven Types of Ambiguity, 192). 93 �������� R abkin, Shakespeare and the Common Understanding, 20 and 11–12; subsequent citations are annotated within the text. 94 ������������ See R abkin, Shakespeare and the Problem of Meaning, esp. 33–35.

“New, Straunge, Incredible, and Repugnant to the Opinion of the Hearer”


do), their achievements, no matter how estimable, would be fair game for such attacks. But reading Shakespeare and H omer, Chaucer and T olstoy, we know differently. When at the center of their work we find such paradoxes and contrarieties as I have been describing, we experience that startled awareness in which the power of art resides: we recognize that we are seeing the world through the artist’s vision as our deepest experience tells us always the world really is. (19)

R abkin has been taken to task for universalizing the power of paradox, and he may be vulnerable here, especially in a more historicist critical climate. But R abkin has been hit hardest in the place where critics like Michael Bristol, who doubt that paradox can do any significant cultural work, often land their blows: “his aim ... to put Shakespeare ‘out of the reach ... of the special pleader for a particular ideology [or] R enaissance orthodoxy.’” A nd to accomplish that aim, Bristol asserts, “R abkin argues that polyvalence and polysemy are implicit governing principles in many of the greatest works of world literature.”95 In this statement Bristol—who has been a major figure in linking Shakespeare to the carnivalesque and thus to the thought of Bakhtin—encapsulates the political critique against paradox: the figure removes from history and contemporary politics the authors who use it and the critics who write about them. F or Bristol, paradox requires one to focus on the universal and timeless instead of on the material and contingent. A ccording to this view, the critical focus on paradox makes a political Shakespeare inaccessible, even inconceivable. This position was developed to its extreme in a 1996 article by Paul Stevens that I mentioned earlier. Stevens sees paradox as the ally of what he calls “political quietism”: in so many of our defenses of literary criticism, in the idealization of the paradoxical nature of E nglish R enaissance literature with which many of us grew up, and in much R enaissance literature itself, paradox means many things but it functions with surprising consistency as the telltale trope of political quietism. By political quietism, I mean the refusal to commit that is itself, either knowingly or not, an important form of political commitment. In this argument my concern is not so much with what paradox is as with what it tends to do, or with what it has tended to do in the discourse of E nglish literary criticism. (207)

In critiquing Colie as a central figure in the crime against political commitment, Stevens claims that both Colie and her favorite authors present themselves as bearers of a rigorous skeptical intelligence that is always open to the wonder of intellectual complexity, but vigilant not to let the inevitable reductivism of the political encroach on the enchanted ground of literary study ... . In this she is like so many of the R enaissance writers she admires, and their penchant for paradox often suggests not so much a rigorous skeptical intelligence as a desire for mystification—at its least harmful, wonderment, and at its most doubtful, equivocation. (210–11) ��������� Bristol, Carnival and Theater, 11.



Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox

But to see a “quietistic” Colie, Stevens has to turn a blind eye to Colie’s interest in paradox’s challenge to conventions and structures of all kinds. T his is the Colie who—as we have seen—claims that “T he paradox is always somehow involved in dialectic: challenging some orthodoxy, the paradox is an oblique criticism of absolute judgment or absolute convention” (10). Indeed, Stevens misreads Quine— even as he claims that Colie “completely misreads Quine”—in a discussion of the Liar Paradox (210). Stevens dwells on the loopholes we examined earlier in this chapter and disingenuously stops with Quine’s statement that “either way the contradiction vanishes.” Quine goes on, however, to provide a more strippeddown version of the L iar, used by most logicians, ancient and modern, precisely to avoid these loopholes. T his was also the version that was complex enough to inspire Gödel’s incompleteness theorem. In Quine’s words, Something of paradox can be salvaged with a little tinkering; but we do better to switch to a different and simpler rendering, also ancient, of the same idea. T his is the pseudomenon, which runs simply: “I am lying.” We can even drop the indirectness of a personal reference and speak directly of the sentence: “T his sentence is false.” H ere we seem to have the irreducible essence of antimony: a sentence that is true if and only if it is false. (86–87)

It is through this version of the Liar, as we have seen, that Quine establishes the paradigm-busting antinomy, a figure “that can be accommodated by nothing less than a repudiation of part of our conceptual heritage” (88). We need to remember that—pace Stevens—paradox can pose a challenge to the doxa. A nd there is no reason to limit this threat to the world of rhetoric.96 Gary T aylor, too, has in a series of articles recently tried to link paradox in Shakespeare to political evasion. In a 1994 article, Taylor framed the debate over Shakespearean doubleness as follows: Shakespeare’s nationalism and royalism have consistently recommended him to the E nglish establishment, and his celebrations of obedience have been applauded by conservatives everywhere. But at the same time it has always been possible for radicals to emphasize instead Shakespeare’s ambivalences about and oppositions to political authority, his sympathy for the suppressed, the populist aesthetics of the theaters for which he wrote. Moreover, the very co-existence of these apparently contradictory impulses in Shakespeare’s work came to be seen (and continues to be seen) not as evidence of his allegiance to a particular marginal ideology, but as proof that he was an artist beyond ideology, a synthesizer of opposites. Shakespeare became a man without a party; which is to say, a man without an identity. “Others abide our question; thou art 96 ������������������������ Invoking paradox in his Shakespeare “Minus” Theory, T homas McA lindon has recently noted the tendency of political Shakespeare criticism to close down the interpretive possibilities it purports to be opening up: “Shakespeare characteristically thinks in terms of opposites (resolved and otherwise), works dialectically, and is fertile in controlled ambiguity, ambivalence, and paradox: thus the determinist bias in radical criticism makes his plays far less subtle and open than in fact they are” (11).

“New, Straunge, Incredible, and Repugnant to the Opinion of the Hearer”


free”—free of the constrictions of an opinion or a personality. “N egative capability”: a capability infinite, because emptied of any positive content or form of its own.97

Instead of explicating the implications of the political doubleness of these two views of Shakespeare, T aylor decides for us: the paradoxical Shakespeare cannot be a political Shakespeare because “he was an artist beyond ideology.” A lthough T aylor clearly does not sympathize with this view, he shuts down debate by alluding to it and by suggesting there is no other way to talk about paradox and Shakespeare. Indeed, Taylor himself quickly resolves the problem of the “co-existence of these apparently contradictory impulses in Shakespeare’s work” by focusing on how other critics have made Shakespeare “a synthesizer of opposites.” However, even Taylor’s prime example of such a critic—John Keats—does not sustain Taylor’s thesis. For in his definition of “negative capability” (partly quoted earlier) K eats praises Shakespeare precisely for not synthesizing opposites: at once it struck me, what quality went to form a Man of A chievement especially in L iterature & which Shakespeare posessed [sic] so enormously—I mean Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason. Coleridge, for instance, would let go by a fine isolated verisimilitude caught from the Penetralium of mystery, from being incapable of remaining content with half knowledge.98

F or K eats, whereas Coleridge would ignore an insight if he could not see where it led, Shakespeare could juggle many uncertainties without worrying about where they would land. K eats criticized rather than celebrated the author “incapable of remaining content with half knowledge.” 99 In his most recent article on the subject, T aylor turns to a Catholic Shakespeare who used his theater to “mine” a “religion” that provided “one of many affective sites and sources.” L ater Shakespearean plays especially “give us, not a Brechtian emptying-out of Christian mythology, but the commodification of a specifically


������������������������������������������������������������������������������ Gary Taylor, “Forms of Opposition,” 312–13. See also, more recently, Taylor’s “T he Cultural Politics of Maybe,” in which he again links “the systematic cultivation of ambiguity and equivocation in Shakespeare’s writing” both to the modernist celebration of the “trans-historical complexity and objectivity of his art” (248) and to Shakespeare’s “masterful evasiveness” (253). 98 ����������������������������������������������������������������������������� Letter from John Keats to George and Tom Keats, 21, 27 (?) December 1817, in The Letters of John Keats 1:193–94. William Empson values a similar sort of interpretive flexibility (see Seven Types of Ambiguity, 234–56, esp. 247–50). 99 ������������������������������������������������������������������������������ In “Judgment,” a paper published in 1998, Gary Taylor is even more condemning of Shakespearean doubleness. E ditor of both Shakespeare and T homas Middleton, T aylor faults Shakespeare for his paradoxicality, which Taylor recasts as a kind of moral “fencesitting”: unlike Middleton, “Shakespeare tells us stories in which we do not have to choose ... . Shakespeare gives us what we impossibly want, and the world loves him for it” (“Judgment,” in New Ways of Looking at Old Texts II, 93–94).

Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox


Catholic affect.”100 T aylor cites several critics who have attempted to account for this marvelous “affect” only to criticize them for being reductive: “But these attempts at explanation themselves operate to disenchant, to explain and thereby comfortably domesticate our experience of something which is, which wants to be, alien” (29). One wonders how Taylor’s article can avoid a similar domestication by description.101 When T aylor turns to paradox, he makes a familiar critique. Instead of sustaining complexity, T aylor’s paradoxes—like his explicators of the marvelous—resolve tensions: A n invisible voice, a visible but impalpable body, a touch when there is no one there to do the touching. The divine essence is ex-sense, outside the senses, beyond understanding, non-sense; Erasmus, in praising folly, eventually equates it with Christ. Wisdom is folly, the truest being is not being. But these familiar intellectual paradoxes themselves reduce the complex weirdness of experience, the weird complexity of theatre, to a formulaic unanalysable marriage of binaries. (30)

F or T aylor, paradoxes “reduce the complex weirdness of experience” because they fuse binaries and therefore make the world’s weirdness “unanalysable.” But T aylor himself shows how paradox might foreground rather than reduce weirdness and complexity: the theatrical experiences I have been describing, do not magically metaphysically combine presence and absence, being and non-being; instead, they represent moments of proximity to presence. H ere as elsewhere, the concept of proximity enables an escape from dead-end binaries ... . That obscure divine object of desire is not simply absent, or simply present, but almost present, or present in some ways and absent in others ... . And because presence is associated with one affect (joy, or dread), and absence with another (grief, or relief), the unexpected uncanny coexistence of presence and absence compounds clashing emotional impulses ... . T he emotional energy of such moments is a product of the degree of incompatibility multiplied by the degree of proximity: the less compatible two states are, the farther apart they want to stay, and the more energy is produced by bringing them together. In Shakespeare, in Middleton, the most powerful representations of divine essence are representations of the almost absolute copresence of almost absolute incompatibles: theos and theatre. (29)

T his very powerful description of how religious affect and “emotional energy” might work in Shakespeare—and Middleton, who has by 2001 become an ally of Shakespeare for T aylor—sounds downright paradoxical. Perhaps one man’s paradox is another man’s “unexpected uncanny coexistence of presence and 100

������������������������������������������������������������������������������� Gary Taylor, “Divine [ ]sences,” 22 and 24; subsequent citations are annotated within the text. 101 ������������������������������������������������������������������������������� F ull disclosure: I am one of the critics singled out here. I thank Gary T aylor for including me in the august company of L eonard Barkan, T homas Bishop, and K eith T homas.

“New, Straunge, Incredible, and Repugnant to the Opinion of the Hearer”


absence.” My point is that paradox does not have to resolve; imply quietism; be reductive. Instead, I would argue with L uhmann, Bakhtin, and, yes, T aylor that paradox can help an audience experience “representations of the almost absolute copresence of almost absolute incompatibles.” In rehearsing the ways that Shakespearean paradox has been read by recent critics, L ouis Montrose also suggested a new, more political way of reading the contrarieties of the Shakespearean age: T he multiplicity of perspective characteristic of Shakespeare’s plays has been construed, according to the canons of modern literary criticism, as a hallmark of Shakespeare’s ambivalence and complexity; it has been celebrated as the achievement of negative capability, universal humanity, aesthetic disinterestedness, intellectual inquisitiveness, and/or the transcendence of ideology. In an E lizabethan context, however, such characteristics may have had a more precise and consequential ideological valence.102

A lthough Montrose goes on to focus on the coexistence of providential and T acitean/Machiavellian narratives of history and politics, he raises the important point that paradox and “multiplicity of perspective” in Shakespeare do not have to imply an “aesthetic disinterestedness” or a “transcendence of ideology.” Indeed, paradox can have a “consequential ideological valence.”103 Part of the reason that poststructuralist criticism and Shakespearean paradox have not more productively cohered is that deconstruction and paradox have been similarly read as apolitical.104 As Jeffrey T. Nealon has demonstrated, the more politically engaged elements of deconstruction were emptied out of its presentation in the versions of Paul de Man, Jonathan Culler, J. Hillis Miller, and Christopher N orris.105 Stopping at what Nealon calls “first-level deconstruction,” D errida’s interpreters did not recognize the second part of a “double reading.” Indeed, D errida puts forth this position lucidly in his “Signature E vent Context”:


��������������������������������������� Montrose, “The Purpose of Playing,” 88. ������������������������������������������������������������������������������������ D iscussing the history plays, Montrose notes that “It is precisely by appropriating the authoritative E lizabethan principles of ‘orthodoxy, providentialism, and hierarchy,’ and then (in Yachnin’s phrase) arraying them indeterminately along an axis of interpretive positions, that Shakespeare’s history plays decenter those principles and demystify their claim to the status of divine and immutable truth” (98). The paradoxical coexistence of orthodoxy and indeterminism is, for Montrose, a challenge to rather than a submission to the doxa. 104 Jonathan �������������������������������������������������������������������������������� Bate—who has rightly seen the need for Shakespeare criticism “to admit the simultaneous validity of contradictory readings”—distances himself from deconstruction for different reasons (see his Genius of Shakespeare, 302). For Bate, Shakespearean paradox and deconstruction are incompatible because the latter—as part of what he calls the “N ew Iconoclasm”—makes an error that “is the result of a leap from ambiguity to radical indeterminacy” (335). I would argue that Derrida shares with Shakespeare the “both/and” logic and approach to interpretation that Bate values so much. 105 ����������������������������������������������� See N ealon, “T he D iscipline of D econstruction.” 103


Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox D econstruction cannot limit itself or proceed immediately to neutralization: it must, by means of a double gesture, a double science, a double writing, practice an overturning of the classical opposition and a general displacement of the system. It is only on this condition that deconstruction will provide itself the means with which to intervene in the field of oppositions that it criticizes.106

Stressing first “overturning” and then “displacement” and intervention, Derrida argues for deconstruction’s potential for rethinking structures, binaries, and conventions that otherwise would go unexamined. O r, as N ealon argues, D errida, in the end, agrees with the skeptical and political critics of deconstructive literary criticism: deconstruction will not be able to intervene in the field of oppositions it criticizes until it goes beyond neutralization—that is, unless it makes the second move of double reading, a general displacement of the system whose logic leads inexorably to neutralizations, to pure negations.107

In a similar fashion, recent critical emphasis on paradox’s “neutralizing,” paralyzing power has taken away from its capacity for displacement of and intervention in the systems it “criticizes.” A s a way of returning the subversive potential of paradox to Shakespeare criticism, I will draw on both Pierre Bourdieu’s and R oland Barthes’s notion of the doxa and argue that—while necessarily politically circumspect—Shakespeare certainly could use paradox in a political fashion. T hat is to say, Shakespeare was, like his R enaissance contemporaries, able to employ paradox as a way of questioning conventional teaching and fostering debate rather than reducing complicated problems to T aylor’s “formulaic unanalysable marriage of binaries.”108 Bourdieu has described the doxa as follows: Systems of classification which reproduce, in their own specific logic, the objective classes, i.e. the divisions by sex, age, or position in the relations of production, make their specific contribution to the reproduction of power relations of which they are the product, by securing the misrecognition, and hence the recognition, of the arbitrariness on which they are based: in the extreme case, that is to say, when there is a quasi106 D��������������������������������������� errida, “Signature E vent Context,” in Margins of Philosophy, 329. See also D errida, Positions, 41–42. In the essay “The Rhetoric of Blindness: Jacques Derrida’s R eading of R ousseau,” Paul de Man contends that D errida’s “text ... is the unmaking of a construct. H owever negative it may sound, deconstruction implies the possibility of rebuilding” (Blindness and Insight, 140). 107 ������������������������������������������������� Nealon, “The Discipline of Deconstruction,” 1270. 108 ������������������������������������������������������������������������������ For Joel Fineman, this approach to paradox is part of a “contemporary vogue,” especially in a comic vein linked to the encomium: “this kind of comic praise, para-doxical in the specifically rhetorical, non-logical, sense of being beyond or to the side of orthodoxa, has enormous popularity in the Renaissance” (Shakespeare’s Perjured Eye, 63). See also R iffaterre, “Paradoxe et presupposition,” in Le Paradoxe en Linguistique et en Littérature: “Le paradoxe littéraire ... énoncé surprenant, voire absurde, parce qu’il va à; ’encontre d’une doxa, d’un consensus reflété par le sociolecte” (149).

“New, Straunge, Incredible, and Repugnant to the Opinion of the Hearer”


perfect correspondence between the objective order and the subjective principles of organization (as in ancient societies) the natural and social world appears as selfevident. T his experience we shall call doxa, so as to distinguish it from an orthodox or heterodox belief implying awareness and recognition of the possibility of different or antagonistic beliefs. Schemes of thought and perception can produce the objectivity that they do produce only by producing misrecognition of the limits of cognition that they make possible, thereby founding immediate adherence, in the doxic mode, to the world of tradition experienced as a “natural world” taken for granted.109

Crucial to Bourdieu’s notion of doxa is the naturalization of the conventional: the arbitrary is taken for the essential; the “world of tradition” is taken for a “natural world”; “the natural and social world appears as self-evident.” A crisis occurs when the doxa is de-naturalized and de-mythologized, is seen to be a construction. A lthough Bourdieu does not use the term, this crisis involves the para-doxa: T he critique which brings the undiscussed into discussion, the unformulated into formulation, has as the condition of its possibility objective crisis, which, in breaking the immediate fit between the subjective structures and the objective structures, destroys self-evidence practically. It is when the social world loses its character as a natural phenomenon that the question of the natural or conventional character (phusei or nomo) of social facts can be raised (168–69).

F ar from neatly closing down discussion, the critique that is paradox “brings the undiscussed into discussion.” A nd this discussion can be a deeply political one, since the “dominated classes have an interest in pushing back the limits of doxa and exposing the arbitrariness of the taken for granted; the dominant classes have an interest in defending the integrity of the doxa or, short of this, of establishing in its place the necessarily imperfect substitute, orthodoxy” (169). For Bourdieu, the challenge to doxa can come from the heretic—a word rooted in the Greek verb “to choose,” haireisthai: H eretical power, the strength of the sorcerer who wields a liberating potency—that of all logotherapies—in offering the means of expressing experiences usually repressed, the strength of the prophet or political leader who mobilizes the group by announcing to them what they want to hear, rests on the dialectical relationship between authorized, authorizing language and the group which authorizes it and acts on its authority. (171)

A nd this is the predicament of heretics, sorcerers, prophets, playwrights: to critique the doxa—to engage in para-doxa—they must still employ the language of authority if they are to bring the undiscussed into discussion and question this very authority. R oland Barthes was even more explicit about paradox’s powerful role in social reform and even more explicit about linking this power to the writer. L ike Bourdieu, Barthes links doxa to the conventional: 109 ���������� Bourdieu, Outline of a Theory of Practice, 164; subsequent citations are annotated within the text.


Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox T he Doxa (a word which will often recur) is Public Opinion, the mind of the majority, petit bourgeois Consensus, the Voice of N ature, the Violence of Prejudice. We can call (using Leibnitz’s word) a doxology any way of speaking adapted to appearance, to opinion, or to practice.110

Barthes’s view of the doxa is even more pejorative than Bourdieu’s, however, and he sees paradox as a—necessarily fleeting—liberation from the doxa’s oppression: Reactive formations: a Doxa (a popular opinion) is posited, intolerable; to free myself of it, I postulate a paradox; then this paradox turns bad, becomes a new concretion, itself becomes a new D oxa, and I must seek further for a new paradox. L et us follow this trajectory once again. A t the work’s source, the opacity of social relations, a false Nature; the first impulse, the first shock, then, is to demystify (Mythologies); then when the demystification is immobilized in repetition, it must be displaced. (71)

For Barthes, doxa is static and fixed: a “concretion,” “immobilized in repetition.” Paradox, on the other hand, is connected to freedom and “seek[ing] further.” Because paradox inevitably “becomes a new D oxa,” one constantly must quest for new paradoxes. Barthes also links paradox to authors and their writings. In his theory of the distinction between work and text—developed most lucidly in “F rom Work to T ext”—Barthes connects work to doxa and text to paradox: the T ext tries to place itself very exactly behind the limit of the doxa (is not general opinion—constitutive of our democratic societies and powerfully aided by mass communications—defined by its limits, the energy with which it excludes, its censorship?). T aking the word literally, it may be said that the T ext is always paradoxical.111

F urthermore, those who engage in the “paradoxical practice” characteristic of the “repertorie [sic] of the writer” are individuals who “do not form oppositions of named, fractionized values”: we skirt, we avoid, we dodge such values: we take tangents; strictly speaking, this is not a change of course; the fear is that we fall into opposition, aggression, i.e., into meaning (since meaning is never anything but the trip lever of a counter-term, i.e., again: into that semantic solidarity which unites simple contraries). (140)

For Barthes, then, paradox involves skirting, avoiding, dodging; it takes tangents. A bove all, it resists “that semantic solidarity which unites simple contraries.” U nlike the caricature of paradox put forth by its detractors, Barthes’s version resists settling for simple meanings and fusions of opposites, but it also remains 110 ��������� Barthes, Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes, 47; subsequent citations are annotated within the text. 111 ��������������������������������� Barthes, “F rom Work to T ext,” in Image-Music-Text, 158.

“New, Straunge, Incredible, and Repugnant to the Opinion of the Hearer”


vigilant in its assault on doxa. It is a view of paradox that recognizes an ongoing undoing, an endless quest.112 T his, I would argue, is Shakespeare’s paradox, too—about which, of course, he had to take an ambivalent stand. F or Shakespeare employs paradox paradoxically: sometimes as a passive means of hiding from an assertion, sometimes as an active assault on convention, the doxa, the norm. T his book will attempt to demonstrate that the idea of paradox as a figure of quietism—for playwright and audience alike—needs serious revision. Shakespeare’s sense of paradox, I hope to show, was much more like L uhmann’s, as described by William R asch: “paradox, far from paralyzing activity, does the essential work of the world.”113

112 ��������������������������������������������������������������������������������� It is not surprising that Barthes has his detractors, too—accusing him of hiding behind the pleasurable text and jouissance. A dmittedly focusing on the later writings— which he does not take as exemplary of Barthes’s thought in general—A ndreas H uyssen has chided Barthes for positioning “himself safely within high culture and the modernist canon, maintaining equal distance from the reactionary right which champions antiintellectual pleasures and the pleasure of anti-intellectualism, and the boring left which favors knowledge, commitment, combat, and disdains hedonism” (After the Great Divide, 211). To be in between, again, is to evade politics and not to challenge the doxa. To dwell in paradoxy is to dwell in political quietism—or worse: “to hit a nerve in the A merican academy of the Reagan years,” to become a “favorite son who has finally abandoned his earlier radicalism and come to embrace the finer pleasures of life, pardon, the text” (212). 113 ���������������������������������� William R asch, intro. to L uhmann, Theories of Distinction, 29.

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Chapter 2

“T he Meruailouse Site”: Shakespeare, Venice, and the Paradox of Place As I discuss in my first chapter, wonder and paradox had the ability to astonish and destabilize Shakespearean audiences. This connection is made explicit in act 3, scene 2, of The Merchant of Venice, when Bassanio speaks after having both solved the riddle of the caskets and won Portia: Madam, you have bereft me of all words. O nly my blood speaks to you in my veins, A nd there is such confusion in my powers A s after some oration fairly spoke By a belovèd prince there doth appear Among the buzzing pleasèd multitude; Where every something being blent together T urns to a wild of nothing save of joy Expressed and not expressed. (3.2.175–83)

Wordless and confused, Bassanio attempts to explain his astonishment by comparing himself to an audience—“the buzzing pleasèd multitude”—that has just heard a speech by a prince and finds itself babbling excitedly. Although the analogy works by connecting types of inexpressibility—Bassanio is “bereft of words,” the audience “turns to a wild of nothing”—it is an odd simile: Bassanio has no words, the audience too many. While Bassanio may not intend or acknowledge this paradox, he overtly makes paradox part of the story of the prince’s oration, as all comments—“every something”—change into “a wild of nothing.” A s a result of this commotion, joy is “expressed and not expressed.” A nother paradox is alluded to rather than explicitly stated. A lthough Belmont’s Portia has inspired Bassanio’s wordless wonder, the description of a noisy hubbub is reminiscent of contemporary descriptions of Venice. Venice has infiltrated �������������������������������������������������������������� M.M. Mahood glosses “wild of nothing” as “disordered hubbub” (The Merchant of Venice, Cambridge edition, 3.2.n182). See also Bassanio’s paradoxical description of Graziano’s speech in act 1, scene 1: “Graziano speaks an infinite deal of nothing, more than any man in all of Venice” (114–15)  ����������������������������������������������������������������������������������� F or T homas Coryate, the noisy hubbub and babble of Venice is a result, at least in part, of the variety of foreign languages spoken there. St. Mark’s Square, he declares, is 


Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox

Belmont, then, just as Belmont enters—and transforms, at least slightly—Venice. What I hope to show is the way that paradox could be more than a rhetorical figure: how a geographical site—Venice—could do the work of the verbal paradox. Just as an oration can inspire wordless wonder—everything and nothing—so too could Venice turn its witnesses into a “buzzing pleaséd multitude” that sought to express the inexpressible and know the unknowable. F or the R enaissance Venice of contemporary accounts and of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice and Othello was a location that could perform an epistemological function, could force a reconfiguring of thought and knowledge. Shakespeare seems to have gravitated toward the paradoxes of Venice as a way of interrogating the uncertainties, contradictions, and doubleness of his world. In the myths of Venice that Shakespeare would have encountered, la serenissima—the Most Serene R epublic—helps to evaporate tensions, resolve contradictions, and stabilize binaries. Shakespeare’s Venetian plays are skeptical of such harmony, however, and his Venice is potentially more paradoxical, more disturbingly wonder-producing, than most of its commentators ultimately permit it to be. Venice is put forward as an unrealized ideal—a place where uncertainty only seems to vanish. In this chapter, then, I examine sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century descriptions of Venice in E nglish and explore Venice as a site of paradox, before reading Merchant’s and Othello’s complicated epistemological, ontological, racial, and sexual complexities through Venice’s symbolic geography.

a place to “heare all the languages of Christendome, besides those that are spoken by the barbarous Ethnickes” (Coryat’s Crudities, 171). Philippe de Commynes, French ambassador to Venice in the late fifteenth century, noted that “most of the people are foreigners” (The Memoirs of Philippe de Commynes 2:493).  �������������������������������������������������������������������������������� O n Venice and Belmont as an unstable binary, see Belsey, “L ove in Venice,” esp. 41–43. Belsey suggests that lovers and sites in The Merchant of Venice share instability and paradox: desire in Venice and Belmont makes lovers “uncertain, irrational, out of control; transformed, transported, other than they are” (43). For a discussion of related unstable binaries in the play, see Moisan, “‘Which is the Merchant Here, and Which the Jew?’: Subversion and R ecuperation in The Merchant of Venice.”  ���������������������������������������������������������������������� Elisabeth Crouzet-Pavan examines the paradoxes of Venice—and how they ultimately challenge the city’s myths—throughout her excellent book Venice Triumphant: “A s is often true of Venice, the real cannot be dissociated from its dramatic presentation. A nd as is also often true of Venice, that dramatic presentation made such an impression on its historian-spectators that they were incapable of criticism or reaction” (xiii).  ������������������������������������������������������������������ F or a similar, if slightly more hopeful, perspective, see L upton, Citizen-Saints: “Shakespeare’s two L etters to the Venetians invite us to compare competing membership routines ..., to confront the deadliness of their inherent exclusivisms, and to imagine possible models of the civil coexistence that might draw upon, and ultimately nurture, both their distinctive and their shared resources” (123).

“The Meruailouse Site”


Venice as a “Meruailouse Site” T heories linking epistemology to space can help us explore the connections between paradox and place, as I will want to do with Venice. Gaston Bachelard has shown us that certain paradoxical, liminal sites possess “the majesty of the threshold” and can perform cognitive functions by means of a “dialectics of outside and inside.” E ven more useful for our purposes is Michel F oucault’s discussion of “sites ... that have the curious property of being in relation with all the other sites, but in such a way as to suspect, neutralize, or invert the set of relations that they happen to designate, mirror, or reflect.” Foucault breaks these sites down into two types: “utopias,” which “are sites with no real place [that] present society itself in a perfected form, or else society turned upside down”; and “heterotopias,” which are “places that do exist ... , which are something like counter-sites, a kind of effectively enacted utopia in which the real sites, all the other real sites that can be found within the culture, are simultaneously represented, contested, and inverted.” I would argue that Venice is a heterotopia that was often portrayed as a utopia, a site ultimately more contestatory and suspecting than ideal and perfected. Part of what made Venice so intriguing to its R enaissance audience was its paradoxical quality: its ability to astonish, to puzzle, and to challenge cognitive categories. A nd there is no question that R enaissance Venice was double. It was situated on both land and sea, “surrounded by water yet needing to buy water.” A political model for the West, it did trade with the E ast.10 Catholic, it defied Rome early in the seventeenth century and was courted by England as a potential Protestant state.11 Proudly republican, it also had a reputation for being ����������� Bachelard, The Poetics of Space, 223 and 231. ������������������������������������������������ Foucault, “Of Other Spaces,” 24. See also Soja, Postmodern Geographies, 1–42. What Soja says about Borges’s “the Aleph” and late-twentieth-century Los Angeles can also be applied to sixteenth-century Venice: it was “a limitless space of simultaneity and paradox, impossible to describe in less than extraordinary language” (2).  ����������������������������������������������������������������������������� Richard Mackenney has noted a number of paradoxes in Renaissance Venice: (1) Byzantine and other Eastern influences on Venetian culture; (2) the fact that “the individual found identity as a member of a group”; (3) “the state’s penetration of the religious sphere”; and (4) drawing on Traiano Boccalini, the ability of Venice—by constantly preparing for war—to effect an “armed peace.” On the first three of these, see Mackenney, “Venice,” in The Renaissance in National Context, 55–57. On the fourth, see Mackenney, The CityState, 1500–1700, 49.  ��������������� Marino Sanuto, Cronachetta, ed. Rinaldo Fulin (Venice, 1880), 63–64, quoted in F inlay, Politics in Renaissance Venice, 26. 10 ����������������������������������������������������������������������������������� F rank L estringant calls Venice the “city located at the very pivot between the two antagonistic cultures” of Christianity and Islam (Mapping the Renaissance World, 2). 11 ���������������������������������������������������������������������������� Sir Henry Wotton, James I’s ambassador to Venice, had high hopes for making Venice a Protestant state. See L ogan Pearsall Smith, The Life and Letters of Sir Henry Wotton 1:78–112 and 1:349–497, and Goldberg, James I and the Politics of Literature, 75–76. Wotton was especially encouraged by the ideas and demeanor of Paolo Sarpi, the  


Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox

authoritarian. F iercely protective of the chastity of its daughters, it also tolerated— even encouraged—courtesans.12 Similarly, its iconography drew both on the Virgin and on Venus.13 A nd with a single leader at its political core—the doge—Venice was nevertheless controlled primarily by its Senate and Great Council.14 T hose who described Venice invariably recognized the paradoxical quality of the city-state.15 But they also tended to make the city into a Quinian veridical paradox instead of an antinomy. T o use a different model, Venice often becomes a discordia concors or coincidentia oppositorum—with all of the harmonizing and reconciliation associated with those concepts—instead of a true paradox, a resonating play of opposites.16 O r to bring back F oucault, descriptions of Venice stress its utopian rather than its heterotopian qualities.

Venetian monk and adviser to James I in Christian theology and canon law. For Sarpi and the Venetian interdict, see the following: Bouwsma, Venice and the Defense of Republican Liberty, 339–628, and the essays “The Venetian Interdict and the Problem of Order,” 97– 111, and “Venice, Spain, and the Papacy,” 247–65, in his A Usable Past; Lievsay, Venetian Phoenix, esp. 11–25; and Wootton, Paolo Sarpi. 12 ������������������������������������������������������������������������������������ O n the city of Venice as a paradox of sexuality, Patricia Parker writes: “H omophone of ‘Venus,’ it was paradoxically both open and closed, impregnable ‘Virgin Citie’ and a place notorious for its courtesans” (“Fantasies of ‘Race’ and ‘Gender,’” in Women, “Race,” and Writing in the Early Modern Period, 95). 13 ������� In his Myths of Venice (see 118–19 and 163n4), David Rosand discusses the play on the words Venus and Venice in a prefatory poem to Giovanni N icolò D oglioni’s Venetia trionfante, et sempre libera, published in 1613. 14 ��������������������������������������������������������������������������������� E dward Muir has called the doge the “paradoxical prince” because of the leader’s supreme yet highly mitigated position of power in Venice (see Muir, Civic Ritual in Renaissance Venice, 251–96). More recently, in her Venice Triumphant, Elisabeth CrouzetPavan connects the doge to “Venetian ambiguities” (195). She quotes Philippe de Voisins, a visitor to Venice in the late fifteenth century, who wrote that the doge “holds the said duchy for his lifetime, if they find nothing for which he must be undone”—“he can do nothing out of the presence of his counselors” (196). 15 ����������������������������������������������������������������������������������� F ilippo de Vivo sees recent books on Venice as “emphasizing the utter diversity of the city, the government, and the images they have evoked through the ages,” instead of being “caught between the Scylla and Carybdis [sic] of what amounts to a historiographical paradox.” H istorians now embrace the paradoxes of Venice, de Vivo argues, instead of choosing between a city that was “the republican embodiment of R enaissance principles, a rare example of stability and freedom” and “a city of spying and treachery, a government founded on oppression and driven by corruption” (“The Diversity of Venice and Her Myths in Recent Historiography,”169). 16 ������������������������������������������������������������������������������ Writing about the paradoxical thought of Sir T homas Browne, Margaret L . Wiley has argued against trying to resolve paradoxes, against trying to order the carefully crafted contrarieties: “apparent harmony is always an unstable equilibrium needing constantly to be reachieved. ... A ll of these testimonials to the unifying character of Browne’s thought are but attempts to define from without the peculiar quality of his paradoxes” (“Sir Thomas Browne and the Genesis of Paradox,” 319 and 322).

“The Meruailouse Site”


T urning to some R enaissance accounts of Venice, we can begin to build a sense of the city-state as paradox and thus as a place capable of reconfiguring the boundaries of the known. In all of my reading of sixteenth- and seventeenthcentury discussions of Venice in E nglish, I have come across the word “paradox” only once—in Thomas Coryate’s 1611 description of the campanile in St. Mark’s Square.17 H owever, the logic of paradox suffuses these accounts. What’s more, paradox does get expressed verbally, making its linguistic appearance in these narratives—as we saw in Bassanio’s speech—through the rhetoric of amazement, astonishment, the marvelous. A nd it is interesting how frequently the descriptions of Venice begin with the wonderful. Elisabeth Crouzet-Pavan has noted that “All foreigners’ narratives from the fifteenth century” reveal “wonderstruck visitors” who note the “striking paradox” of Venice, “a miracle of stone rising above the water.”18 T he F rench historian and statesman Philippe de Commynes noted in 1498 that “I marveled greatly surprised to see the placement of the city and to see so many church towers and monasteries, and such large buildings, and all in the water.”19 Similarly, William T homas commences his account of Venice in The Historie of Italie (1549) by discussing Venice’s “meruailouse Site.”20 L ewes L ewkenor starts his translation of Gasparo Contarini’s The Commonwealth and Gouernment of Venice (1599) by admitting to his readers that he has “been euer readier to wonder at the effect of things extraordinarily strange; then wel prouided of judgment to examine their cause, subiecting sundrie times mine eares to the report of rare and unusuall accidentes, with a greater bent of attention, then perchaunce to a well tempered stayednes will seem conuenient.” E ven taking into consideration his personal interest in the wonderful, then, L ewkenor claims that Venice still seems to possess an almost universal capacity to evoke marvelling. Most travellers, he says, “comming once to speake of the cittie of Venice ... would inforce their speech to the highest of all admiration, as being a thing of the greatest worthinesse, and most infinitely remarkable, that they had seen in the whole course of their trauels.”21 L ike L ewkenor, Contarini begins with the marvelous, in effect giving the E nglish edition a double dose of wonder at the start:


����������������������������������������������������������������������������������� F or T homas Coryate, the paradox of the campanile had less to do with contradiction than with the incredible: “T he T ower is square, being an equall bredth in every side. ... Such is the height of this T ower that in a faire season it is to be seene by sea from Istria and Croatia, which is at least one hundred miles from Venice: the staires are made after such a strange manner that not only a man, or woman, or childe may with great ease ascend to the top of it, but also an horse, as it is commonley reported in the citie. But I think this will seeme such a paradox and incredible matter to many, that perhaps they will say I may lie by authority (according to the proverbe) because I am a traveller (Coryat’s Crudities, 183). 18 ��������������� Crouzet-Pavan, Venice Triumphant, 1. 19 The Memoirs of Philippe de Commynes, Bk. 7, 2:489. 20 ���������������� William T homas, The Historie of Italie, 73r. See also Hadfield, Literature, Travel, and Colonial Writing in the English Renaissance 1545–1625, 27–30. 21 ����������� Contarini, The Commonwealth and Gouernment of Venice (1599), *4v and Av–A2r.


Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox Io ho piv volte considerato molti foristieri, huomini saui, & non ignoranti delle buone arti, tosto ch’arriuano a Vinegia, & hanno contemplato la grandezza di quella città, esser si talmëte empiu ti di marauiglia, & quasi d’un certo stupore, che mostrano non hauer mai ueduto cosa piu degna di marauiglia, ne piu con l’aspetto di tutto’ luolto anchora. N ondimeno la marauiglia d’una medesima cosa non prendeua tutti. [I H auing oftentimes obserued many strangers, men wise & learned, who arriuing newly at Venice, and beholding the beautie and magnificence thereof, were stricken with so great an admiration and amazement, that they woulde, and that with open mouth confesse, neuer any thing which before time they had seene, to be thereunto comparable, either in glory or goodlinesse. Yet was not euery one of thē possessed with the like wonder of one same particular thing.]22

E ven Montaigne—who was a little disappointed with Venice—uses the language of the marvelous to express his disappointment: in the words of his secretary, Montaigne “disoit l’avoir trouvée autre qu’il ne l’avoit imaginée et un peu moins admirable” [Monsieur de Montaigne said he had found it different from what he had imagined, and a little less wonderful].23 Montaigne’s views notwithstanding, most accounts of Venice include a great deal of marvelling. A nd although sources of Venetian wonder varied—as Contarini claimed, “not euery one of thē [were] possessed with the like wonder of one same particular thing”—one thing that most did wonder at was the paradox of the physical site of Venice, what they invariably called its “situation.” Made iconic in Carpaccio’s Lion of St. Mark (1516), Venice’s doubleness was physical and material: based improbably on land and at sea, Venice was a puzzle without a clear solution. Coryate specifically links Venice’s wonder to its geographic site: “Such is the rareness of the situation of Venice, that it doth euen amaze and driue into admiration all strangers that vpon their first arriuall behold the same” (160). Thomas notes its “meruailouse Situation,” adding that were one to see Venice without its buildings, he “shoulde saie it were the rudest, vnmeetest, and unholsomest place to builde vpon or to enhabite, that were againe to be founde thoroughout an whole worlde” (73r). Contarini remarks, Ma quasi tutti gli huomini di piu polito, et acuto ingegno si stupiuano di questa nuoua ragione del sito della città: talmente opportuna ad ogni cosa, che sono usati pensare, ch’ella sia piu tosto fabrica de gli D ei, che opera, & trouato de gli huomini. [But the greater part of the wise and iudiciall sort were rather in themselues confounded with amazement at the new and strange manner of the situation of this Citie, so fitte 22 ����������� Contarini, La Repvblica ei magistrati di Vinegia (1544), IIIr; Contarini, The Commonwealth and Gouernment of Venice, 1. When citing Contarini, I use the Italian from the 1544 edition and the English from Lewkenor’s 1599 translation. Subsequent citations are annotated within the text; the first reference is to the Italian text, the second to the E nglish. 23 ����������� Montaigne, Journal de Voyage en Italie par la Suisse et L’Allemagne en 1580 et 1581, 72. The English translation is from Travel Journal, in The Complete Works of Montaigne, 920.

“The Meruailouse Site”


and conuenient for all thinges that it seemed vnto them a thing rather framed by the hands of the immortall Gods, then any way by the arte, industry, or inuention of men.] (IIIr–v; 1–2)

A nd Contarini’s translator, L ewkenor, is agog again: first touching the situation thereof, what euer hath the worlde brought forth more monstrously strange, then that so great & glorious a Citie should bee seated in the middle of the sea, especially to see such pallaces, monasteries, temples, towers, turrets, & pinnacles reaching vp vnto the clouds, founded vpon Quagmires, and planted vppon such vnfirme moorish and spungie foundations, there being neyther wood, nor stone, nor matter fit for building within tenne miles therof, for so farre distant from it was the nearest maine land, at such time as the first foundation was laide? (A3r)

In this marvelling over Venice’s “situation,” L ewkenor slides from wonder to her sibling, paradox: Venice contains stable, magnificent buildings constructed on quagmires and “spungie foundations.” What’s more, these buildings were made out of materials seemingly impossible to obtain without a mind-bending degree of effort. Further, Lewkenor’s next paragraph begins with a virtual definition of paradox: Besides, what is there that can carrie a greater disproportion with common rules of experience, thē [than] that vnweaponed men in gownes should with such happinesse of success giue direction & law to many mightie and warlike armies both by sea and land, and that a single Citie vnwalled, and alone should command & ouer toppe mighty kingdomes? (A3r; emphasis mine)

Venice’s ability to rule and command, even though “vnwalled” and governed by the “vnweaponed,” causes a great “disproportion with common rules of experience.” One final description of Venice’s “situation” will take us into other, more general Venetian paradoxes: it is a translation from F rancesco Sansovino’s Venetia città nobilissima (1581), included in Lewkenor.24 T his city aboue all other is most worthy to bee admired, as being singular by her selfe, and brooking no comparison with any other. ... But onely this being seated in the middle of waters, hath not any thing vppō the earth, to which it may be resembled, the rare situation thereof being such, that it inioyeth both the commodities of the water, and the pleasures of the land, secure by being not seated vpon land, frō land assaults, and free by not being founded in the depthes of the sea, from maritime violence. (193)

Venice succeeds by being in between—by being both seated upon land and sea and seated upon neither land nor sea.25 ��������������� See McPherson, Shakespeare, Jonson, and the Myth of Venice, 23, and his “L ewkenor’s Venice and Its Sources.” 25 ����������������������������������������������������������������������� F or more descriptions of the Venetian “situation,” see F ynes Moryson’s An Itinerary, 78, and the remarks of Bernardo Giustiniani that are included in Lewkenor’s edition of Contarini’s The Commonwealth and Gouernment of Venice, 169. See also Tenenti, “The 24


Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox

T his inbetweenness is a paradoxical state and one that characterizes Venice in more general ways than merely its “situation.” F or example, Venice seems able to remain the same, though it is constantly in flux. On a physical and literal level, Venice was in a perpetual state of alteration, “ogni giorno si muta & uaria per il flusso del mare” (“euery day altering and chaunging according to the tides of the sea”), as Contarini would have it (IVr; 3).26 But its flux had its sources in the mercantile and cultural realms, too, and these were obviously linked. H ere is Contarini again: Perche ad alcuni pareua una cert cosa mirabile, & in tutto da non credere, cosi gran copia di tutte le mercatantie da tutti i paesi, & contrade esser partata in quest città con un quasi perpetuo, et fermo modo; & di qua esser condotta poi per terra, & per mare a diuersisime genti. R iteneua alcuni altri la frequentia della città, & la congregatione quasi di tutte le gëti, quasi chè la città di Vinegia fosse il mercato comune del mondo. [for to some it seemed a matter of infinite maruel, and scarcely credible to behold, so vnmeasurable a quantity of all sorts of marchandise to be brought out of all realmes and countries into this Citie, and hence againe to be conueyed into so many straunge and far distant nations, both by land and sea. O thers exceedingly admired the wonderful concourse of strange and forraine people, yea of the farthest and remotest nations, as though the City of Venice onely were a common and generall market to the whole world.] (IIIr; 1)

Merchandise comes in and goes out, as do foreign people, who help to form a “wonderful concourse” in the process. Contarini argues for a pleasant reconciliation of opposites and difference in his version of Venice. Coryate, too, notes the world marketplace quality of Venice, as well as the linguistic stew that he encountered in St. Mark’s Square: Truely such is the stupendious (to vse a strange Epitheton for so strange and rare a place as this) glory of it, that at my first entrance thereof it did euen amaze or rather rauish my senses. For here is the greatest magnificence of architecture to be seene, that any place vnder the sunne doth yeelde. H ere you may both see all manner of fashions of attire, and heare all the languages of Christendome, besides those that are spoken by the barbarous Ethnickes; the frequencie of people being so great ... that (as an elegant writer saith of it) a man may very properly call it rather Orbis then Vrbis forum, that is, a market place of the world, not of the citie. (171–73)

Marvelling as most do at the sights and sounds of Venice, Coryate nonetheless suggests a discord behind Contarini’s “wonderful concourse”: for in addition to “the languages of Christendome” are “those ... spoken by the barbarous E thnickes.” Later in his narrative, Coryate expresses further discomfort with so-called ethnics Sense of Space and T ime in the Venetian World of the F ifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries,” in H ale, Renaissance Venice, esp. 32–33. 26 ������������������������������������������������������������������������������ T ony T anner describes Venice as “a city that crosses, or merges or binds, the elements—both, and always, in and out of the water at once” (Venice Desired, 12).

“The Meruailouse Site”


as he describes his own nearly violent encounter in the Jewish ghetto with a rabbi and a group of Jews whom he has enraged in a contentious theological discussion (231–37). T he paradox that is Venice, then, reveals another of its facets and poses another of its questions: how can a place of literal and figurative flux remain stable, as so many commentators maintained that it did? In attempting to solve this problem, Contarini reveals the political paradox at the heart of the city. A lthough he celebrates Venice’s “wonderful concourse of strange and forraine people,” Contarini also champions political unity as a sort of societal and cultural chain: “chi dubita, che ogni cöpagnia da una certa cathena d’unità non si tenga stretta, & ligata insieme?” [there is no question to be made, but that euery ciuill societie is contained and linked together in a certaine vnitie, and by distraction and breach of that vnity is againe as easily dissolued] (XXr–v; 37). How, then, in Contarini’s scheme, does Venice—a truly multicultural society—keep unity from dissolving?27 Contarini’s answer is Venetian “mixed government,” derived from A ristotle and Polybius.28 T his constitutionally based republican vision forms a crucial component of what historians have called “the myth of Venice.”29 A ccording to J.G.A. Pocock, the myth of Venice “consists in the assertion that Venice possesses a set of regulations for decision-making which ensure the complete rationality of every decision and the complete virtue of every decision-maker. Venetians are not inherently more virtuous than other men, but they possess institutions that make


�������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� H omi Bhabha’s answer might be that Venice derived strength from its heterogenity, its “hybridity”: “the theoretical split-space of enunciation may open the way to conceptualizing international culture, based not on the exoticism of multiculturalism or the diversity of cultures, but on the inscription and articulation of culture’s hybridity. T o that end we should remember that it is the ‘inter’—the cutting edge of translation and negotiation, the in-between space—that carries the burden of the meaning of culture. It makes it possible to begin envisaging national, anti-nationalist histories of the ‘people.’ And by exploring this T hird Space, we may elude the politics of polarity and emerge as the others of our selves” (The Location of Culture, 38–39). This approach to a politics of paradox belies the overly simplistic approach taken recently by Paul Stevens, who argues in his “T he Political Ways of Paradox” that an appreciation of paradox—whether by R enaissance poets or by the twentieth-century critics who write about them—and political commitment are mutually exclusive. 28 ������������ See Pocock, The Machiavellian Moment, 69–80 and 320–30. 29 ����������������������������������������������������������� F or helpful discussions of the myth of Venice, see F inlay, Politics in Renaissance Venice, esp. 1–43; Gaeta, “Alcuni considerazioni sul mito di Venezia”; Gilbert, “Venetian Secrets”; Gilmore, “Myth and Reality in Venetian Political Theory,” in Hale, Renaissance Venice, esp. 431–39; Goldberg, James I and the Politics of Literature, 74–80; King, Venetian Humanism in an Age of Patrician Dominance, esp. 174–75; Lane, Venice, 87–91; McPherson, Shakespeare, Jonson, and the Myth of Venice, esp. 27–50; Edward Muir, Civic Ritual in Renaissance Venice, 13–61; Pocock, Machiavellian Moment, 272–330; Queller, The Venetian Patriciate, esp. ix–28; and Rosand, Myths of Venice.

Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox


them so.”30 Margaret K ing has helpfully linked the myth of Venice to the Venetian preoccupation with unanimitas: “U nanimity—the convergence of a multitude of wants and aspirations into a single will—is the central ideal of Venetian culture in the fifteenth century.”31 Deeply interrogating this myth, Elisabeth Crouzet-Pavan has claimed that the stories the Venetians told themselves and others provided narratives in which “Natural calamities were surmounted; oppositions and conflicts were erased. Always miraculously overcome, they hardly ruffled the surface of Venetian life. ... the city could never know decrepitude or senescence. It had excluded itself from time and becoming.”32 A nd, I would add, it excluded itself from the unsettling elements of paradox and contradiction of which it was constituted. And Contarini was a great sixteenth-century promulgator of this ideal, seeing a blend of government by “one, or a few, or a whole multitude” as the way to keep a “multeity in unity,” as it were: conciosia che moltitudine alcuna non possa essere, laqua le non sia contenuta in alcuna unità. Per laqual cosa la compagnia de’Cittadini anchora andrà in ruina laquale è fatta d’una certa unità, se la moltitudine non diuiene una alcuna ragione. E t però i Philosophi famosi, i quali chiaramente, & con ingegno hanno scritto dell’institution della R epublica, giudicarono, che la republica si douesse temprare dallo strato de’nobili, e populari; datoui questo temperamento, per fuggire gli incommodi dell’uno, & l’altro gouerno, & per hauerne tutte l’utilità. [there cannot bee a multitude without the same bee in some vnitie contayned; so that the ciuill society (which consisteth in a certaine vnity) will bee dissolued, if the multitude become not one by some meane of reason, so that the best philosophers and those that haue learnedlyest written of the ordering of a commonwealth, iudged that in government thereof there should be a temperature betweene the state of nobility & popular sort, to the ende that the inconueniences of either gouernment alone might be auoided, and the commodities of both ioyntly inioyed.] (VIIIv; 13–14)

Contarini’s sense of political harmony in Venice eventually takes the form of a musical metaphor: A uicinianci dunque à quella parte della republica, laquale si come nelle corde ad ordinare la consonantia del diapason la uoce graue cö una certa moderata proportione alla accuta risponde, cosi anchora ella con una certa specie reale si conuenga con la parte populare & finalmente in un concento, & accordo d’ottima Republica, posti in mezzo i mezzani Magistrati, cresca, prenda uigore, aumento, & forza.

�������� Pocock, The Machiavellian Moment, 324. For the paradoxes of Venetian government, see F inlay, Politics in Renaissance Venice: “T he peculiar genius of Venice, never more evident or more challenged than in the early Cinquecento, was the melding of a cumbersome constitution with a subtle and fluid politics to forge a stability that permitted change within an established tradition” (43). 31 ������ K ing, Venetian Humanism, 92. 32 ��������������� Crouzet-Pavan, Venice Triumphant, 190–91. 30

“The Meruailouse Site”


[L et us now come to that part of the commonwealth, the which is not vnlike to a well tuned dyapason in musicke, where the base is to the treble aptly proportioned, carrying with it the shew of a Monarchie, hath notwithstanding a correspondency with the popular gouernment, and finally a middle sort of Magistrates being betweene them both interposed, doth grow [as it were] into a wel concenting harmony of an excellent commonwealth.] (XIXv; 36)

F ranco Gaeta has noted that, for Contarini, this constitutionally based government— even more than the physical site of Venice—was a source of wonder: L ’ammirazione per il sito e per l’aspetto esteriore della città. ... erano soltano un avvio: l’opera più eccezionale restava però la costituzione di Venezia, opera secolare d’una classe politica che aveva creato un insuperato monumento di saggezza e di efficienza. [T he wonder of the site and exterior appearance of the city were only a beginning: the more exceptional achievement remained the constitution of Venice, a secular work of a political class that had created an insuperable monument of wisdom and efficiency.]33

Pocock refers to Contarini’s vision as a “miraculous equilibrium,” while K ing— drawing on Marcantonio Sabellico’s De venetis magistratibus (1487)—stresses that in Venice “a perfect concord results, deriving not from the bland equality of all people but from the resolution of inequalities, the more subtle and beautiful harmony of separate parts.”34 We might think of this concord as Paradox Resolved—or a veridical paradox, to use Quine’s term again. N ot everyone observing the politics and culture of Venice was as sanguine as Contarini and his forebears, however. Perhaps the city-state’s most famous critic during the sixteenth century was French intellectual Jean Bodin, who questioned the power and stability of mixed government, the motivation behind the freedom given Venetian citizens, and the unchanging, eternal-seeming quality of the Venetian constitution.35 We have noted hints of a discomfort in Coryate, but there were more extensive E nglish interrogations of the myth of Venice as well, among them the two Venetian plays of Shakespeare. But before turning to these plays, I first want to explore some other literary examples that both question the myth and attest to Venice as a site of paradox: the four 33

����������������������������������������������������������������������� Gaeta, “Alcuni considerazioni sul mito di Venezia,” 65; my translation. �������� Pocock, Machiavellian Moment, 320; King, Venetian Humanism, 181. For further examples championing balance and moderation in Contarini, see his The Commonwealth and Gouernment of Venice, 6–7 and 146. See also Gilmore, “Myth and Reality in Venetian Political T heory,” in H ale, Renaissance Venice, 432–39. 35 ����������������������������������������������������������������������� See Gilmore, “Myth and R eality in Venetian Political T heory,” in H ale, Renaissance Venice, 439–41; McPherson, Shakespeare, Jonson, and the Myth of Venice, 33 and 35; and E dward Muir, Civic Ritual in Renaissance Venice, 50. For a discussion of a “countermyth” that saw “Venice as “tyrannical, imperialist, duplicitous, and cowardly” and that sneered “at the city’s lowly origins amid mud and marsh,” see F inlay, Politics in Renaissance Venice, 35. For an elaboration of this countermyth, see Queller, The Venetian Patriciate. 34


Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox

poems that introduce L ewkenor’s translation of Contarini. Prefacing L ewkenor’s adulatory “T o the R eader,” which prefaces Contarini’s even more laudatory Commonwealth, the poems—both among and often within themselves—present a much more ambivalent portrait than anything else in L ewkenor’s volume.36 T he most complex of the four, perhaps unsurprisingly, is E dmund Spenser’s. H e begins his sonnet by discussing the fall of two Babels: the Babylon of the ancient world (often linked in the sixteenth century to the Babel of Genesis 11)37 and the “Second Babell tyrant of the West” (3), Rome (a typical Renaissance conflation of ancient Rome and Roman Catholicism). Both Babels fell because of their pride, their “surquedry” (5)—the “Vpreard ... buildings” (2) and the “ayry Towers vpraised much more high” (4). As a result, both are “buried now [and] in their own ashes ly, / Yet shewing by their heapes how great they were” (7–8). T he “But” of line nine signals the conventional volta or turn of the sonnet, and we have a right to expect a shift to a celebration of Venice. But do we get it? Certainly, it is not unequivocally positive to be a “third” Babel (9). Further, we are told that “F ayre Venice, flower of the last worlds delight” (10) “draweth neare” (11) to the beauty of Babels past. But flowers die, and “last world” suggests both the most recent and the final world: ephemerality and the threat of apocalypse haunt the beauty of Venice. A lthough we may seem to have arrived at the expected panegyric to the Venetian government and constitution in line 12—in which Spenser claims that Venice “farre exceedes” the two previous Babels “in policie of right”—it might be fair to ask how significant it is to be better than the proud Babylon and Rome in fairness and justice. In addition, readers of Shakespeare and especially of his contemporaries in R enaissance drama know the complicated connotations of the word “policy.” T he term connotes politics but also policing, spying, and Machiavellian scheming. Even the final couplet—“Yet not so fayre her buildinges to behold / As Lewkenors stile that hath her beautie told” (13–14)—is potentially problematic in that it seems to celebrate a writing style that outstrips the buildings’ beauty. While the couplet may simply contain a conventional praise of the book’s translator, Jonathan Goldberg has argued compellingly that, in these last two lines,

36 ��������������������������� In addition to Contarini’s De magistratibus, L ewkenor’s book The Commonwealth and Gouernment of Venice includes E nglish translations of selections from D onato Giannotti’s Libro de la republica di Venetiani (1540), excerpts from the writings of the fifteenth-century humanist Bernardo Giustiniani, Sebastian Muenster’s Cosmographiae universalis (1550), Girolamo Bardi’s or Francesco Sansovino’s Delle cose notabili della città di Venetia (c. 1560), Sansovino’s Venetia città nobilissima (1581), and a brief summary of lives of the doges compiled from Delle cose and Venetia. See McPherson, “L ewkenor’s Venice and Its Sources.” F or helpful—and quite different—readings of the prefatory poems, see Gillies, Shakespeare and the Geography of Difference, 123; Goldberg, James I and the Politics of Literature, 77; Hadfield, Literature, Travel, and Colonial Writing in the English Renaissance, 50–53; and Vaughan, Othello: A Contextual History, 19. 37 ���������� See O ram, The Yale Edition of the Shorter Poems of Edmund Spenser, 776n1.

“The Meruailouse Site”


“Lewkenor’s language ... surpasses the architecture of Venice; Venice decayed meets Venice preserved.”38 In the poems that follow, it is as if the vessel of Spenser’s poem were thrown to the ground and shattered into three pieces that became three new poems. In this imaginary scenario, the final poem of the group—a celebration of Lewkenor by H enry E lmes—becomes an uncomplicated version of Spenser’s closing couplet. T he middle two poems, then, would be an elaboration of the two parts of Spenser’s paradox: a critique and a celebration of Venice. T he poem by “I. A shley,” in the end, is condemnatory, while Maurice K iffen’s presents the myth of Venice in fourteen lines. In K iffen, we are on familiar ground: he begins with the wonder topos—Venice is “the Adriatique wonder, / Admirde of all the world for power and glorie” (1–2)— and tells us that we are about to read “her States rare storye” (4). This story is one of Polybian checks and balances, “Where all corrupt means to aspire are curbd, / And Officers for vertues worth elected” (5–6). A shley, by contrast, presents the dark side of Venice, but not before putting forth part of the myth himself. Venice was routinely celebrated as a figurative and literal virgin: figuratively speaking, Venice itself had never been penetrated by an enemy, and on a more literal level, the fiercely protected virginity of Venetian daughters was legendary.39 But paradox surrounds this part of the myth, too, a point that Ashley slowly but surely makes. Venice is a “Fayer mayden” (1), a “Most louely Nimph” (6), and a “sole wonder” (5), whose “glorious beauty” (3) “cals vnnumbred ... swarmes” (3–4) “from each forrein natiō” (4). The tortured syntax in this part of the sonnet—which I have just attempted to sort out—seems both to mirror his discomfort with the myth and to signal complications ahead. Sure enough, A shley’s turn in line nine is unequivocal, ripping the mask from the myth and exposing Venice’s debauchery, decay, and narcissism: N ow I prognosticate thy ruinous case When thou shalt from thy A driatique seas, View in this O cean Isle thy painted face, In these pure colours coyest eyes to please, T hen gazing in thy shadowes peereles eye, Enamour’d like Narcissus thou shalt dye. (9–14)

The paradoxical flip-side of Venice’s virginity is her equally famous courtesans, figured here by the “painted face” and the “coyest eyes.” And though Venice may ���������� Goldberg, James I and the Politics of Literature, 77. ��������������������������������������� F or Venice as a virgin, see Contarini, The Commonwealth and Gouernment of Venice, A2r and A4r; Coryate, Coryat’s Crudities, 158; McPherson, Shakespeare, Jonson, and the Myth of Venice, 33–34; and Bronwen Wilson, “‘Il bel sesso, e l’austero Senato,’” esp. 79–83. F or Venice and the control over daughters and wives, see Coryate, Coryat’s Crudities, 158; McPherson, Shakespeare, Jonson, and the Myth of Venice, 43–46; and Vaughan, Othello: A Contextual History, 28–29. See also Francesco Sansovino’s remarks on Venetian marriage, which are included in L ewkenor’s translation of Contarini’s Commonwealth, 194–95. 38 39

Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox


never have been invaded by an army, she is entered routinely by the “swarmes” “from each forein natiō.”40 E ven before L ewkenor and Contarini sing their hymns of praise, then, the prefatory poems to L ewkenor’s book present us with songs of caution and even condemnation. We see how easily “wondrous concourse” can become a kind of promiscuity, how Venice’s civic pride and what A lberto T enenti has called her “fundamental conviction of uniqueness” can become deadly self love.41 In A shley’s poem, Venice dies “ruinous”—a word which was itself a paradox, meaning both “able to ruin” and “ruined”—and perhaps syphilitic, looking at a version of itself, a simulacrum, its “shadowes peerless eye.” T hus, L ewkenor’s book works paradoxically—if almost certainly unintentionally—to destabilize the unified version of Venice that it purports to be establishing. A s a result, paradoxes resonate in doubleness instead of resolving into single truths. A nd this in spite of the two authors’ best efforts. F or, although L ewkenor and Contarini celebrate the marvels and paradoxes of Venice, they also work mightily to explain away the wonder and solve the contradictions. Venice is ultimately too complicated for “wondrous concourse,” however, and it becomes much harder to share Lewkenor’s confidence that Venice was a coincidentia oppositorum, a place that “maketh the straungest impossibilities not seeme altogether incredible” (A2v–A3r).42 Perhaps N icholas Cusanus’s formulation of contrariety in chapter 2 of Of Learned Ignorance is more appropriate: “where there are opposites, like simple and composite, abstract and concrete, formal and material, corruptible and incorruptible, there we find degrees; hence a position is never reached where all opposition completely ceases or where the two are absolutely identical.”43 *** It will probably come as no surprise that, after the postmodern or antifoundationalist turn, the dark and problematic side of Venice—that which is highlighted by gaps, cracks, fissures—has begun to take the foreground in recent discussions of Shakespeare’s and Jonson’s Venetian plays. Jonathan Goldberg has noted that in Contarini’s version of Venice, “contradictions cohere, and the republican myth masks an oligarchic state. ... What might be regarded as completely opposite systems ����������������������������������������������������� F or discussions of Venetian courtesans, see Coryate, Coryat’s Crudities, 263–71; McPherson, Shakespeare, Jonson, and the Myth of Venice, 23–24, 43–44, 85–86, 99– 100, 107–110, and 139n67; and Montaigne, Travel Journal, in The Complete Works of Montaigne, 920. 41 ������������������������������������������������� T enenti, “T he Sense of Space and T ime,” in H ale, Renaissance Venice, 33. 42 ����������������������������������������������������������������������������� In the essay “Mephistopheles and the A ndrogyne or the Mystery of the Whole,” published in his book The Two and the One, Mircea E liade claims that “many beliefs implying coincidentia oppositorum reveal nostalgia for a paradoxical state in which the contraries exist side by side without conflict, and the multiplications form aspects of a mysterious Unity” (122). 43 ��������� Cusanus, Of Learned Ignorance, 69. 40

“The Meruailouse Site”


of politics—absolute imperialism on the one hand, participative republicanism on the other—divine right and imperial R ome versus the councils of Venice—may not have been.”44 John Gillies sees Venice’s doubleness as a split between “the idea of Venice as the constitutional heir of the ancient city-state ... and the idea of Venice as an open or cosmopolitan city whose citizens mingled promiscuously with the peoples of the world.”45 A nd D avid McPherson has persuasively taken four components of the myth of Venice—that he calls Venice the R ich, Venice the Wise, Venice the Just, and Venice città galante—and has explored the dark, paradoxical alternative to each.46 A ll three of these positions have been important in shaping my thinking about Shakespeare and Venice, but the most influential piece—for me and (I imagine) for several generations of Othello students—has been an essay whose thesis I now wish to complicate: A lvin K ernan’s brilliant introduction to the Signet Classic Othello. In brief, K ernan sees the play through its “symbolic geography”: H ere then are the major reference points on the map of the world of Othello: out at the far edge are the Turks, barbarism, disorder, and amoral destructive powers; closer and more familiar is Venice, The City, order, law and reason. Cyprus, standing on the frontier between barbarism and The City, is not the secure fortress of civilization that Venice is. It is rather an outpost, weakly defended and far out in the raging ocean, close to the “general enemy” and the immediate object of his attack. It is a “town of war yet wild” where the “people’s hearts [are] brimful of fear.”47

“T he movement of the play,” says K ernan, “is from Venice to Cyprus, from the City to the outpost, from organized society to a condition much closer to raw nature, and from collective life to the life of the solitary individual” (xxvii). Although K ernan admits that Shakespeare recognizes a darker Venice, “the tradition of the ‘supersubtle Venetian,’” he also knows that the author of Othello has “read Contarini”—as has Ben Jonson, who can thus allow Sir Politic in Volpone to brag “I had read Contarene” (4.1.40). As Kernan sees it, Shakespeare “makes Venice over into a form of The City, the ageless image of government, of reason, of law, and of social concord” (xxv–xxvi).

���������� Goldberg, James I, 78. ��������� Gillies, Shakespeare and the Geography of Difference, 123. 46 ��������������� See McPherson, Shakespeare, Jonson, and the Myth of Venice, 27–50. For another essay that explores a darker Venice, see N eill, “Changing Places in Othello,” esp. 116–17. In his “L ewkenor and Volpone,” Daniel C. Boughner argues that Jonson’s Volpone contains a critique of Contarini and L ewkenor’s version of Venice. U nlike me, Mark Matheson sees— at least in Othello—“Shakespeare’s more favourable representation of Venice,” which he links to an imaginative exploration of republicanism (“Venetian Culture and the Politics of Othello,” 124). 47 ������������������������ A lvin K ernan, intro. to Othello, Signet Classic edition, xxv; subsequent citations are annotated within the text. 44



Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox

F or K ernan, Cyprus is what we might now call—thanks to cultural anthropology and performance theory—a liminal space: a space in between, on the threshold.48 A s anthropologist Victor T urner would have it, “L iminal entities are neither here nor there; they are betwixt and between the positions assigned and arrayed by law, custom, convention, ceremonial.”49 A nd, according to R ichard K nolles, author of the early seventeenth-century Generall Historie of the Turkes, “T he Venetians had euer had great care of the island of Cyprvs, as lying farre from them, in the middest of the sworne enemies of the Christian religion, and had therefore oftentimes determined to haue fortified the same.”50 Clearly, Cyprus was geographically a space between.51 But, as my earlier remarks would indicate, I see Venice as the paradoxical, liminal site, a perfect setting for the kinds of sexual, ontological, and epistemological questions raised by Merchant and Othello.52 F or Venice reveals the full cultural range of liminality that Victor T urner posits and was on a threshold of sorts in the sixteenth century. In 1499 the loss to the Turks at the Battle of Zonchio and the news that the Portuguese had developed a route to the Indies for trading spices arguably left Venice in a more uncertain state than ever before.53 If we add to these 48 ��������������������� See Vaughan, O thello: A Contextual History, 22, where Cyprus is called a “liminal zone between Venice’s Christian civility and the O ttomite’s pagan barbarism.” Surprisingly, she makes no mention of Kernan. Murray J. Levith goes so far as to make a symbolic link between Shakespeare’s Moor and Cyprus: “O thello seems a bit like Cyprus: for the moment he has a clothing of civilization over his rough essence, but waiting to erupt at any moment are dark forces” (Shakespeare’s Italian Settings and Plays, 32). As I go on to show, if O thello is the embodiment of any liminal space, it is Venice. 49 ��������������� Victor T urner, The Ritual Process, 95. 50 ��������� K nolles, The Generall Historie of the Turkes, quoted in Bullough, Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare, vol. 7: Major Tragedies, 847. In his “Turning Turk in Othello,” 165–68, Daniel Vitkus cites Knolles and provides helpful representations from early modern maps that illustrate Cyprus’s actual and perceived vulnerability. 51 ����������������������������������������������� F or a rather unconvincing claim that Cyprus in Othello is an allegory for Ireland, see Hadfield, Literature, 218–42. 52 ������������������������������ See Elisabeth Crouzet-Pavan’s Venice Triumphant for Venice as a site of actual physical thresholds: Venice “possessed several thresholds where land and water met: the frontier between the duchy and the city itself, the A driatic at the outer islands, and the debarkation point on the Grand Canal at San marco” (193). Symbolic geography and the R enaissance stage are explored in Gillies and Vaughan’s excellent Playing the Globe, esp. 7–45. 53 ���������������������� O n Zonchio, see L ane, Venice, 242 and 359–61. On the Portuguese, see Lane, Venice, 290–92; Edward Muir, Civic Ritual in Renaissance Venice, 26; and McPherson, Shakespeare, Jonson, and the Myth of Venice, 53–54. Lane somewhat downplays the negative effect on Venice of the Portuguese trade, but it was significant enough to warrant a note in Geoffrey Fenton’s 1579 translation of Francesco Guicciardini’s The Historie of Italy, which was written in the late fifteenth century: “the king of Portugall ... had taken from them [the Venetians] and appropriated to him selfe, the traffike of spices, whiche the Marchantes and shippes bringing out of Alexandria ... to Venice, they sent dispersed with a

“The Meruailouse Site”


developments the troubles in 1509 with the League of Cambrai—formed to punish Venice after her expansion into the terraferma was deemed too wide-ranging—we have a nation beginning to doubt its own myths.54 Indeed, several historians have suggested that it was this very uncertainty about the stability of Venice that led to the writing of books like Contarini’s.55 A nd if Shakespeare was probably not aware of these early sixteenth-century threats to the myth, he almost certainly knew about the Venetian victory at Lepanto in 1571 that paradoxically cost Venice possession of Cyprus.56 Indeed, D avid McPherson has argued that the original audience’s knowledge in the 1590s of general Venetian maritime decline and in 1603–04 of the loss of Cyprus thirty-two years earlier would have added another level of loss and pathos to Merchant and Othello respectively: A ntonio’s fortunes are recovered, and Cyprus was saved, but neither would be safe for long.57 H aunted by recent history, then, Shakespeare’s Venice is a much more unstable place than is usually recognized.58 A lthough the extent of Shakespeare’s knowledge of L epanto and Cyprus is hard to prove, there is little doubt that Shakespeare knew L ewkenor’s translation of Contarini, and so he could have found a description of L epanto in L ewkenor’s “A Breuiate of the H istory & liues of the Venetian Princes,” included at the end of his Contarini volume.59 Several studies have revealed verbal echoes as well as details in act 4 of Merchant and act 1 of Othello that suggest Shakespeare’s familiarity wonderfull profite through all the provinces in Chrystendome. The which alteration beeing a thing of the most merite and memorie of all others that have hapned in the worlde since many ages, and, for the harmes which the Citie of Venice receyved by it ... it can not much alter the estate of our historie to speake somewhat of it at large” (328). 54 ����������������������������������������������������������������������� See Gilbert, “Venice in the Crisis of the L eague of Cambrai,” in H ale, Renaissance Venice, 74–92; Lane, Venice, 241–45; Edward Muir, Civic Ritual in Renaissance Venice, 23–44; and Tenenti, “The Sense of Space and Time,” in Hale, Renaissance Venice, 17–46. 55 ������������ Contarini’s The Commonwealth and Gouernment of Venice was probably begun in 1523–24, Donato Giannotti’s Libro de la republica Vinitiani in 1526–27. See Bouwsma, Venice and the Defense of Republican Liberty, 144–63; Gilbert, “The Date of Composition of Contarini’s and Giannotti’s Books on Venice”; Gilmore, “Myth and Reality,” in Hale, Renaissance Venice, 431; Libby, “Venetian History and Political Thought after 1509”; and E dward Muir, Civic Ritual in Renaissance Venice, 27–33. 56 ������������������������������������������������������������������������������ Another place Shakespeare might have learned of the battle is in King James’s Lepanto, a heroic poem first published in Edinburgh in 1591. See Jones, “Othello, Lepanto, and the Cyprus Wars”; McPherson, Shakespeare, Jonson, and the Myth of Venice, 75–81; and Vaughan, O thello: A Contextual History, 25–28. Another possible source is Richard K nolles’s The Generall Historie of the Turkes (London, 1603). For an excerpt suggesting this possibility, see Bullough, Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare, vol. 7: Major Tragedies, 262–65. 57 ��������������� See McPherson, Shakespeare, Jonson, and the Myth of Venice, 53–54 and 79–81. 58 ��������������������������������������������������������������� F or a recent exploration of a historically troubled Venice and Othello, see Griffin, “Un-Sainting James,” esp. 59–66. 59 ��������������� See Contarini, The Commonwealth and Gouernment of Venice, 229.


Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox

with the Contarinian version of Venetian justice, order, fairness in advancement, and appointments of foreign generals in a crisis.60 But rather than enumerate details from this book that make their way into Merchant and Othello, I would like to cast the net a little more widely and show that the paradoxical Venice found both in L ewkenor’s and Contarini’s descriptions and in the volume’s prefatory poems provides an important setting for the complexities of love, law, and cultural doubleness that are central to Shakespeare’s two Venetian plays.61 The Merchant of Venice Shakespeare’s Venice in Merchant is a liminal site between east and west: “the trade and profit of the city / Consisteth of all nations” (3.3.30–31). But this multinational flux in trade makes Venice a site as unstable at times as Antonio’s fortunes are at sea. Indeed, from the very beginning of the play, Shakespeare emphasizes the uncertainty of the Venetian merchant’s world, stressing the significantly darker side of Contarini’s portrait of the “vnmeasurable ... quantity of all sorts of marchandise to be brought out of all realmes and countries into this Citie, and hence againe to be conueyed into so many straunge and far distant nations, both by land and sea.”62 For Contarini, this was “for ... some a matter of infinite maruel, and scarcely credible to behold,” but for the Venetians in Merchant, the instability and flux suggested here has the potential to bring despair and “sadness” to their friend A ntonio, The Merchant of Venice: Salerio. Your mind is tossing on the ocean, T here where your argosies with portly sail, Like signiors and rich burghers on the flood— O r as it were the pageants of the sea— Do overpeer the petty traffickers T hat curtsy to them, do them reverence, As they fly by them with their woven wings. Solanio. Believe me, sir, had I such a venture forth 60 ���������������������������������������������������������������������� See Kenneth Muir, “Shakespeare and Lewkenor”; Boughner, “Lewkenor and Volpone”; Whitfield, “Sir Lewis Lewkenor and The Merchant of Venice”; Sipahigil, “L ewkenor and Othello; Drennan, “‘Corrupt Means to Aspire’”; McPherson, Shakespeare, Jonson, and the Myth of Venice, passim; and Matheson, “Venetian Culture and the Politics of Othello.” 61 ����������������������������������������������������������������� Compare Shakespeare’s Venice to that presented in his source for Othello in the excerpt from Giovanni Battista Giraldi Cinthio’s Gli Hecatommithi that is quoted in Bullough, Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare, vol. 7: Major Tragedies, 239– 52. Although I disagree with many of his readings, Murray J. Levith has rightly claimed in Shakespeare’s Italian Settings and Plays (see esp. 12–16) that the historical and cultural complexity of Venice made it “an excellent setting for presenting complex issues” (15). 62 ����������� Contarini, The Commonwealth and Gouernment of Venice, 3.

“The Meruailouse Site”


T he better part of my affections would Be with my hopes abroad. I should be still Plucking the grass to know where sits the wind, Peering in maps for ports and piers and roads, A nd every object that might make me fear Misfortune to my ventures, out of doubt Would make me sad. (1.1.8–22)

Concluding that “Antonio / Is sad to think upon his merchandise” (1.1.39–40), Salerio is told that he is wrong because, as we would say today, A ntonio has diversified well: “My ventures are not in one bottom trusted” (1.1.42). But as Shylock points out later, even though A ntonio has ships in or on their way to T ripolis, the Indies, Mexico, and E ngland, all of his assets are connected with the uncertain sea: “But ships are but boards, sailors but men. T here be land rats and water rats, water thieves and land thieves—I mean pirates—and then there is the peril of waters, winds, and rocks. The man is, notwithstanding, sufficient” (1.3.18–23). Shylock decides to take a gamble on Antonio’s “ventures.” Ventures—uncertain enterprises, schemes, voyages—lie at the heart of the merchant’s profession. As Alberto Tenenti and Elisabeth Crouzet-Pavan have shown, cultural documents reveal a Venice deeply aware that the sea that gave them power and wealth could also do great damage: “N ature and its elements were just as unstable as Fortune: the weather could change without warning; when black night fell danger increased; winters were harsh.”63 Furthermore, although CrouzetPavan suggests that by the sixteenth century the merchant profession had become less risky, the system she describes sounds like that in Merchant—one where the flux and risks of the sea produce and mirror the flux and risks of commerce: T he preferred sort of association for raising capital ... long remained the classic commenda, in Venice called a colleganza, which was a limited-liability contract that might be unilateral or, more often, bilateral and ended at the completion of a voyage, which might last for some time. ... A first result was that arrangements for credit and short-term associations were highly supple, and in the early centuries of commercial expansion the system for financing such ventures penetrated deeply into Venetian society because it required sizable accumulations of capital. A nother result was a sizable number of contracts and provisory societies, which split up the risks and the tasks but ended up mobilizing considerable funds and permitting an equally considerable activity. A third result, judging by the very large divisions of profits attested in the notarial documents, was rapid enrichment. (90)

T he system undergirding ventures also served to break apart some of the binaries found in the play: “every financier invested in several merchant ventures, hence someone who borrowed money might also be an investor” (90). 63 ��������������� Crouzet-Pavan, Venice Triumphant, 49 (for the full context, see 46–56); subsequent citations are annotated within the text. F or T enenti’s discussion, see “Il senso del mare,” in Il mare, 7–70.

Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox


Ventures are not restricted to the merchant world of the play, either, but serve to connect the two plots in Merchant, Portia noting in act 3 that she wished Bassanio could “pause a day or two / Before you hazard” (3.2.1–2), “Before you venture for me” (3.2.10). The “correct” casket’s inscription tells the contestant that the person “Who chooseth me must give and hazard all he hath” (2.7.16), and Morocco cannot imagine a venture for lead: “I’ll then nor give nor hazard aught for lead” (2.7.21). When Portia tells A ragon that “T o these injunctions everyone doth swear / T hat comes to hazard for my worthless self” (2.9.16–17), he responds by addressing the lead casket as follows: “You shall look fairer ere I give or hazard” (2.9.21). Clearly, the uncertainty of the merchant profession is connected to the uncertainty of the quest for Portia: both involve ventures and hazards. By foregrounding uncertainty in both plots, Shakespeare helps introduce uncertainty as a major concept for the play—one that has ramifications for larger interpretive issues and one that the paradoxical space of Venice helps to bring out.64 I examine the complex legal issues raised by the play in the next chapter when I turn to the paradoxes of equity. H ere, I’d like to explore the connection between Venice and hermeneutical difficulties in general and the presentation and reading of Shylock in particular, before looking at the problem of ornamentation raised by the play. Although bareness, plainness, things-in-themselves are presented as desirable ends in Merchant, the Venice of this play is a place where doubleness makes plainness all but impossible. Shakespeare holds out the possibility that Venice will help resolve the problems of the play with “lead-like” purity and clarity. But just as Venice itself cannot resolve its contradictions, so this play keeps alive its paradoxes, what N orman R abkin has called its “mixed feelings.”65 Lawrence Danson’s excellent 1978 book on the play linked Merchant to Shakespeare’s problem plays and cautioned against arriving at dogmatic, “univocal Shakespearean meanings.”66 But, ultimately, D anson sees “completion” and “fulfillment” as the end product of the play. The one side of a binary does not win or lose, he is careful to point out, but there is a resolution of opposites into something like harmony (17–18).67 R abkin, on the other hand, senses that the play’s chief concern is to dramatize the urge to resolve contradictions and to show the impossibility—perhaps even the dangers—of such harmonies: But it is time to recall that all intellection is reductive, and that the closer an intellectual system comes to full internal consistency and universality of application—as with N ewtonian mechanics—the more obvious become the exclusiveness of its preoccupations ������������������������������������ See H olmer, T he Merchant of Venice: Choice, Hazard, and Consequence, esp. 95–141. 65 �������� R abkin, Shakespeare and the Problem of Meaning, 6. 66 �������� D anson, The Harmonies of The Merchant of Venice, 15; subsequent citations are annotated within the text. 67 ������������������������������������������������������������������������������������ F or a more historicized reading that draws similar conclusions, see Moisan, “‘Which Is the Merchant Here, and Which the Jew?’: Subversion and Recuperation in The Merchant of Venice,” in Shakespeare Reproduced, esp. 201–3. 64

“The Meruailouse Site”


and the limitations of its value. T he power of the play is its power to create the illusion of a life that is like our lives, a world like our world, in which as in our life and our world experience tempts us to believe itself to be reducible to fundamental terms but cannot be adequately analyzed in those terms. (30)

D rawing on his earlier work linking Shakespearean paradox to quantum physics— and in opposition to N ewtonian mechanics—R abkin’s reading foregrounds the importance of keeping readings as open, as nonreductive as possible. L ife in Merchant and according to Merchant is not “reducible to fundamental terms.” In a more historicized vein than R abkin’s, Walter Cohen has made the similar point that Merchant “requires not so much interpretation as the discovery of the sources of difficulty in interpreting, the view of the play as a symptom of a problem in the life of late-sixteenth-century England.”68 Not understanding “the difficulty of interpreting” and instead reading for an easy, simplistic meaning dooms Morocco and A ragon to a life without Portia, after all. Shylock focuses us acutely on the role of paradox in the hermeneutical problems of Venice and Merchant. As a 1598 Stationers’ Register entry from publisher James R oberts reminds us, Shylock was himself a paradox: “the Iewe of Venyce.”69 T his kind of liminal status makes Shylock one of Victor T urner’s “marginals ..., simultaneously members (by ascription, optation, self-definition, or achievement) of two or more groups whose social definitions and cultural norms are distinct from, and often opposed to, one another.” Liminal figures, these marginals “have no cultural assurance of a final stable resolution of their ambiguity.”70 D avid K atz has asserted that early modern Jews “were neither alien nor citizen” and “simply did not fit comfortably into any of the existing categories.”71 And James Shapiro has shown that Jews were troubling to the early modern imagination at least partly because of their paradoxical, “marginal” status: they were different from—but could appear similar to—members of the dominant culture. Whereas what Shapiro calls “the ambiguous alien status” of Jews in England did not come to the fore until much later in English history, the paradoxicality of the Jews’ place in society “resonated with something embedded deep within Shakespeare’s play.”72 Shylock’s plight in Merchant is to be both marginal in T urner’s and K atz’s sense—and thus never really at home in Venice—and threatening in Shapiro’s sense because of this very marginality. Both versions—Shylock as culturally uncertain and vulnerable and as culturally disturbing—are featured in Merchant. �������������� Walter Cohen, Drama of a Nation, 197. ������������������������������������������������������������������������������� The relevant part of the Stationers’ Register entry—from 22 July 1598—reads as follows: “a booke of the Marchaunt of Venyce or otherwise called the Iewe of Venyce.” F or the full Stationers’ entry, see M.M. Mahood’s Cambridge edition of The Merchant of Venice, 168. Othello will achieve a similar paradoxical status as the “Moor of Venice.” 70 ��������������� Victor T urner, Dramas, Fields, and Metaphors, 233. 71 ����������������������������������������� Katz, “The Jews of England and 1688,” in From Persecution to Toleration, 230. 72 ��������������� James Shapiro, Shakespeare and the Jews, 193; subsequent citations are annotated within the text. 68 69

Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox


Shapiro has raised another interesting paradox: the coexistence in Merchant of the Venetian ideal and the E nglish reality: Venice clearly stood as a model for an ideal economic coexistence between subjects and aliens, but when mapped onto an E nglish landscape, the contradictions generated by an alien policy of toleration and equality, on the one hand, and legislation, surveillance, and suspicion, on the other, were not easily reconciled. (183)

A lthough I would argue that there were cracks in the Venetian model as well— Shakespeare seems to be invoking Venice at least partly to meditate on the impossibility of tolerance existing anywhere—Shapiro must be right that there is supposed to be a disjunction between Venetian theory and E nglish practice here—one that would have been fairly acute given the disputes over L ondon’s aliens in the 1590s.73 Instead of focusing on whether the play is pro or anti-Jewish—the play certainly has moments of both antipathy and sympathy for Shylock—I would like to stress that Shylock is the most tangible example in the play of what R obin H eadlam Wells has called Shakespeare’s interrogation of “value pluralism,” a concept he derives from Isaiah Berlin, in which “any value system inevitably involves choices between incommensurables.”74 Shylock helps give us access to this complex world but is himself quite dogmatic. Shylock is what I call a Shakespearean “singleton,” the type of figure that Shakespeare almost always punishes: a single-minded extremist—like H otspur in 1 Henry IV; Lear and Gloucester in Lear; Isabella and A ngelo in Measure for Measure; Malvolio in Twelfth Night—who reads the world literally and without much ambiguity. Shylock is also resistant to festivity, evident in his railing against the masque that finally never takes place and that seems to exist solely so that he can reject it. H e is ripe for the kind of festive encounter that C.L . Barber thought so crucial to comic transformation.75 E ven though Shylock can be seen as another example of Shakespeare’s fascination with the cultural O ther and the O ther’s role in a foreign society, Shylock’s portrait is based partly on fact but mostly—by necessity—on stereotypes drawn

������������������� See James Shapiro, Shakespeare and the Jews, 180–89. Henry Saunders claims in his “Staple Courts in The Merchant of Venice” that a court like the one that in Merchant’s Venice existed in E ngland in the form of the Staple Court. Saunders quotes E .E . R ich, who noted in his The Staple Court Books of Bristol (79) that the Staple Court was formed during the reign of E dward III “to give Courage to Merchant Strangers.” Saunders writes: “Westminster had a Staple Court during all of Shakespeare’s life and long thereafter. ... Both commercial centres [of L ondon and Venice] necessarily offered legal process to ‘strangers’ such as Shylock, a Jew” (191). 74 ��������������������������� Wells, “Value Pluralism in The Merchant of Venice,” in The Shakespearean International Yearbook, Vol. 4, 308. 75 ������������ See Barber, Shakespeare’s Festive Comedy, esp. 163–91. 73

“The Meruailouse Site”


from cultural lore and increasingly from drama.76 L ike Marlowe—whose Barabas in The Jew of Malta preceded Shylock on the E lizabethan stage—Shakespeare can be seen to be giving us, in the figure of the Jew, an acute critic of a society whose ethics he nevertheless inevitably cannot—or will not—transcend. T his angle certainly is part of Shylock’s “Hath not a Jew eyes” speech in act 3, scene 1. As he puts it, “If a Jew wrong a Christian, what is his humility? Revenge! If a Christian wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by Christian example? Why revenge!” (3.1.57–59). Why should Shylock practice humility and mercy, he wonders, when the society in which he functions values neither. H ere I disagree with Stephen Greenblatt, who has argued for Shylock’s radical difference from his Christian culture: “Shylock is the antithesis of this world, as he is of the Christian mercantilism of Venice.” Indeed, for Greenblatt, Shylock is a crucial part of a play that is structured on a series of binaries: “Old Law v New Law, Justice v Mercy, R evenge v L ove, Calculation v R ecklessness, T hrift v Prodigality—all of which are focused upon the central conflict of Jew and Gentile or, more precisely, of Jewish fiscalism and Gentile mercantilism.”77 T hese binaries are certainly invoked, but the play collapses them and leads us to the conundrums and paradoxes that have made the play so problematic for so long. But if revenge and mercy are not stable terms in Merchant, then another way of reading the play collapses: as an allegory about R evenge versus Mercy, in which Shylock’s Jewishness is really metaphorical—he represents the Old Testament, pre-Christian emphasis on revenge, while Portia and Antonio demonstrate the N ew T estament emphasis on forgiveness. In other words, critics attempt both to soften the hatred evinced by the play and resolve the play’s contradictions by turning Shylock into an idea.78 A related point has been made about the tension between strict legalistic justice and equity: the play is an assertion, this reading goes, of the importance of interpreting the law according to its spirit and not its letter, of trying to reach a decision based on equity and the particular facts of a case instead of rigid, strict-constructionist justice that applies the law rigidly and universally. I turn to this topic in the next chapter. 76

������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� F or a very helpful discussion of the literary and dramatic roots of Shylock, see O z, “‘Which Is the Merchant Here? And Which the Jew?’: Riddles of Identity in The Merchant of Venice,” in Shakespeare Reproduced, esp. 161–62. 77 ������������������������������������������������������������������������� Greenblatt, “Marlowe, Marx, and Anti-Semitism,” 293–95. Recently, in his Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare, Greenblatt has recognized more ambiguity in the portrait of Shylock: “Yet this [trial] scene, as the experience of both the page and the stage repeatedly demonstrates, is deeply unsettled and unsettling. T he resolution depends upon the manipulation of a legal technicality, the appeal for mercy gives way to the staccato imposition of punishments, and the affirmation of values is swamped by a flood of mingled self-righteousness and vindictiveness” (286). 78 ������������������������������������������������������������������������������ T he critical locus classicus is L ewalski’s “Biblical A llusion and A llegory in The Merchant of Venice.” See also MacK ay, “The Merchant of Venice: A Reflection of the Early Conflict between Courts of Law and Courts of Equity,” and Sokol and Sokol, “Shakespeare and the English Equity Jurisdiction,” esp. 422n25.

Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox


A s I’ve suggested, however, Shylock has exploded the R evenge/Mercy allegory by emphasizing that Christians are bound to revenge, and all claims of mercy aside, the Christians in the courtroom do little to undermine this interpretation. Graziano is the most vicious and vengeful, taunting Shylock—after Portia has commanded the moneylender to “beg mercy of the Duke” (4.1.358)— Beg that thou mayst have leave to hang thyself— A nd yet, they wealth being forfeit to the state, T hou hast not left the value of a cord. Therefore thou must be hanged at the state’s charge. (4.1.359–62)

A fter the D uke has decreed that he will “pardon thee thy life before thou ask it” (4.1.364) and Portia asks, “What mercy can you render him, Antonio?” (373), Graziano interjects, “A halter gratis! Nothing else, for God’s sake!” (374). To adapt a phrase of Shylock’s, these be the Christian pardoners.79 As for the legal argument, Portia out-Shylocks Shylock when it comes to the letter of the law, and Shylock is put in the position of arguing for the spirit by the end. This may seem a fitting punishment for Shylock, but surely the stripping of his property and religion—however much the D uke and A ntonio mitigate the economic punishment—does not seem merciful, in spite of all the official rhetoric and posturing from Portia and the D uke. A fter hearing A ntonio’s proposition— which involves giving Shylock half of his money and putting the other half in a trust for Lorenzo and Jessica, as well as Shylock’s promising to convert—the Duke makes demands and uses an either-or rhetoric that compromises his earlier rhetoric of mercy: “H e shall do this, or else I do recant / T he pardon that I late pronouncèd here” (4.1.386–87). In short, it is hard to argue that Mercy triumphs over R evenge and that the spirit triumphs over the letter of the law—no matter how tempting those formulations may seem. The Jew/Christian binary and the Revenge/Mercy binary both appear fairly unsteady by play’s end. By foregrounding Portia-as-Balthazar’s question— “Which is the merchant here? And which the Jew?” (4.1.169)—Thomas Moisan has shown that the Merchant/U surer dualism falls apart as well. Making assertions borne out several years later by the research of Elisabeth Crouzet-Pavan, Moisan claimed that “usury and trade existed in a relationship far more ambiguous than the anti-usury tracts might imply, indeed a relationship that might be said to have been more symbiotic than inimical.”80 Indeed, Sir F rancis Bacon—in his “O f U sury”—described usury as both “discommoditie” and “commoditie”: it is a “discommoditie” because “it makes fewer merchants,” but it is a “commoditie” because it makes more merchants: “it is certain, that the greatest part of trade is


���������������������������������������������������������������������������������� A fter both Bassanio and Graziano swear they would give up lives and wives to save Antonio, Shylock replies, “These be the Christian husbands!” (4.1.294). 80 �������������������������������������������������������������������������� Moisan, “‘Which Is the Merchant Here, and Which the Jew?’: Subversion and R ecuperation in The Merchant of Venice,” in Shakespeare Reproduced, 196. For CrouzetPavan’s work, see her Venice Triumphant, 89–92.

“The Meruailouse Site”


driven by young merchants upon borrowing at interest.”81 It becomes difficult to base an argument on even a fundamental contrast between A ntonio and Shylock, then, because Shylock and the merchant seem to share as much as they do not.82 If Shylock “seems to embody the abstract principle of difference itself,” as Greenblatt would have it, perhaps there is no stable sameness in the world of Merchant; perhaps difference reigns, and Shylock and the Christians share a difference, a distance from the ideals that Merchant seems to value. T he stability that can emerge from contrariety—a discordia concors, a most serene State, the comfort of “meagre lead” (3.2.104)—is simply unavailable in this play. With this idea in mind, I would like to turn now to Bassanio’s speech just before he chooses the lead casket because it holds out the promise of clarity and truth—a world beyond ornament, doubleness, and paradox—that it ultimately fails to provide. A t the heart of the reformation debates, the problem of ornamentation was also a central issue in the history of rhetoric.83 Shakespeare’s approach was characteristically ambivalent, but this ambivalence exists in his rhetorical teachers as well. Quintilian tells us in his Institutio oratoria (8.3.7) that “where ornament is concerned, vice and virtue are never far apart; those who employ a vicious style of embellishment disguise their vices with the name of virtue.”84 Puttenham, who devotes an entire book of The Arte of English Poesie to the issue of ornamentation in poetic writing, sees the problem in a similarly double fashion: Bvt as it hath bene alwayes reputed a great fault to vse figuratiue speaches foolishly and indiscretly, so is it esteemed no lesse an imperfection in mans vtterance, to haue none vse of figure at all, specially in our writing and speaches publike, making them but as our ordinary talke, then which nothing can be more vnsauorie and farre from all ciuilitie.85

U sing ornament is a paradoxical enterprise: vice and virtue are perilously close together (Quintilian), but under-ornamenting is even more “vnsauorie” and uncivilized than over-ornamenting (Puttenham).86 At the figurative (and nearly literal) center of The Merchant of Venice is Bassanio’s soliloquy in which he denounces “outward shows” while observing that “the world is still deceived with ornament” (3.2.73–74). This speech represents Bassanio’s thoughts before he ultimately chooses the lead casket, symbolic of the ����������������������������� Bacon, “Of Usury” (1625), in The Essays, 184. ������������������� See James Shapiro, Shakespeare and the Jews, 130: “Paradoxically, though, these symbolic acts—a threatened circumcision of the heart and a baptism that figuratively uncircumcises—would have the opposite effect, erasing, rather than preserving, the literal or figurative boundaries that distinguish merchant from Jew.” 83 ���������������������������������������������������������������������������������� My discussion of ornament that follows here is adapted from my essay “Shakespeare and R hetorical Culture,” in A Companion to Shakespeare, 290–94. 84 ������������ Quintilian, Institutio oratoria 4:215. 85 ����������������������������� Puttenham, “O f O rnament,” in The Arte of English Poesie (1589), 151. 86 ����������������� See also L anham, The Motives of Eloquence, 22–25. 81 82


Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox

unadorned and simple truth that the other suitors cannot appreciate: “You that choose not by the view, / Chance as fair and choose as true” (3.2.131–32), he is told by the scroll that he finds inside the humble case. T he speech seems to be a straightforwardly antiornamental, antirhetorical one. Indeed, Merchant seems to have a skepticism toward rhetoric of all kinds. A ntonio has expressed an impatience with rhetoric in act 1, scene 1—“You know me well, and herein spend but time / To wind about my love with circumstance” (153–54), and he will reveal this impatience again in the trial scene in act 4, asking his defenders to put aside their rhetoric and allow the straightforward judgment to take place: T herefore I do beseech you Make no moe offers, use no farther means, But will all brief and plain conveniency Let me have judgment, and the Jew his will. (4.1.79–82)

It is “brief and plain conveniency” that Bassanio privileges when he begins to contemplate the nature of his casket choice. H e tells us that in law “a plea so tainted and corrupt,” “seasoned with a gracious voice, / O bscures the show of evil” (75–77); in religion, “damned error” is blessed “with a text, / Hiding the grossness with fair ornament” (78–80). In short, “There is no vice so simple but assumes / Some mark of virtue on his outward parts” (81–82). Bassanio elaborates on this theme in increasingly metaphorical language, an irony I will return to below. F irst, he attacks cowards, whose hearts are all as false A s stairs of sand, [who] wear yet upon their chins T he beards of H ercules and frowning Mars, Who, inward searched, have livers white as milk? A nd these assume but valour’s excrement To render them redoubted. (4.1.83–88)

The cowardly heart crumbles and—like stairs of sand—causes a fall; cowards thrive on masks—here figured as godly beards—that hide the fear within. Most interestingly, the lily livers are hidden not only by beards-as-masks but by the “excrement” of valor—valor’s external appearance but also valor’s waste. Ornament has been rendered figuratively as a piece of crap. Beauty does not fare much better: it is “purchased by the weight” (89) and paradoxically makes “them lightest that wear most of it” (91). Beautiful-seeming hair—“those crispèd snaky golden locks, / Which make such wanton gambols with the wind / Upon supposed fairness” (92–94)—is actually a wig, the “dowry of a second head” (95). As Bassanio begins to conclude his diatribe against ornament, he uses more of it: T hus ornament is but the guilèd shore To a most dangerous sea; the beauteous scarf Veiling an Indian beauty; in a word,

“The Meruailouse Site”


T he seeming truth which cunning times put on To entrap the wisest. (98–101)

Ornament is figured—is ornamented—as both a deceptive shore masking a perilous sea and a scarf that hides an ironic, dark “Indian beauty” behind it. Bassanio brings the rhetorical issues to the front when he finishes his critique by telling us he will pick the lead casket—“the pale and common drudge” (103)—because its “paleness moves me more than eloquence” (106). We do not need to emend “paleness” to “plainness” the way that the eighteenth-century editor Lewis Theobald did in order to see the rhetorical implications; “paleness” clearly contrasts with the “colors of rhetoric” that make up “eloquence.” We would be foolish, however, to take this antirhetorical speech as the key or answer to the play as a whole, even if it seems set up to guide us in this direction. F irst, Bassanio is himself ornamented, affecting much more wealth than he has in his self-fashioned attempt to woo Portia; as he confesses to her later in the scene, “you shall see / How much I was the braggart” (4.1.257–58). Second, as I have hinted above, this is a highly ornamented speech against ornament: Bassanio uses—among other figures—synecdoche (78, 92), simile (84, 86), allegory (85), personification (88–89), paradox (89–91), irony (89–91, 99, 106), metaphor (89, 95–98), and apostrophe (101, 104). Third, beyond the range of this speech, the play seems both to attack the “paleness” of Shylock’s language and thought and to celebrate the highly flexible Portia/Balthazar, who drives home the attack on Shylockian plainness. O rnamented as a man, Portia uses rhetorical maneuvering to expose the flaw in Shylock’s literal interpretation: The words expressly are “a pound of flesh,” Take then thy bond, take thou thy pound of flesh, But in the cutting it, if thou dost shed O ne drop of Christian blood, thy lands and goods Are by the laws of Venice confiscate Unto the state of Venice. (4.1.303–8)

In extending Shylock’s literalism ad absurdum, Portia makes a mockery of plainness. It would be a mistake to swing back too far the other way, though, and see Shakespeare’s unequivocally embracing Portia’s method and end: there is something sinister in her treatment of Shylock, and though the fifth act tries to cover over the ugliness, there is a deep ambivalence at the heart of both this play’s ending and its treatment of ornament and disguise. In Merchant, singleness—in language, interpretation, and thought—is punished as it usually is in Shakespeare. But it is not clear what we are supposed to embrace instead. Portia’s duplicity is not without its moral troubles, and Shylock’s approach to the bond—so clearly criticized—can be seen as actually double; Antonio has criticized him as such earlier in the play: T he devil can cite Scripture for his purpose. A n evil soul producing holy witness


Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox Is like a villain with a smiling cheek, A goodly apple rotten at the heart. O, what a goodly outside falsehood hath! (1.3.94–98)

T he literal and unornamented only seem single in meaning. N owhere is this complex point made more obvious than in Portia’s introducing yet another law, another text, to complicate what once seemed so clear-cut: Tarry, Jew! T he law hath yet another hold on you, It is enacted in the laws of Venice, If it be proved against an alien T hat by direct or indirect attempts H e seek the life of any citizen, T he party ’gainst the which he dost contrive Shall seize one half his goods; the other half Comes to the privy coffer of the state, A nd the offender’s life lies in the mercy Of the Duke only. (4.1.341–51)

A lthough the speech completes the turning of the tables on Shylock—putting him in the position of begging for mercy and allowing the D uke to show “the difference of our spirit” and to pardon Shylock “before thou ask it” (4.1.363–64)—the speech also clearly demarcates him as an “alien.” In contrast with the fantasy of Venice— a place, in W.H . A uden’s words, “international and cosmopolitan” that “does not distinguish between brother and alien other than on a basis of blood or religion” because “from the view of society, customers are brothers, trade rivals others”— the Venetian courtroom reveals the reality: “A Jew is not regarded, even in law, as a brother.”87 H aving alienated Shylock, the play—through A ntonio—forces him back into the fold, compelling the other to become a brother. A ntonio agrees to give back half of Shylock’s “goods” (4.1.376) on the condition that “He presently become a Christian” (4.1.382). T he attempt at discordia concors seems forced here and makes the comic closure in act 5 all the more suspect. Even Shylock’s conversion is more complicated than it seems because, as Shapiro has revealed, Conversos were deeply ambiguous figures in the period: 87 ���������������������������������� A uden, “Brothers and O thers,” in “The Dyer’s Hand” and Other Essays, 220 and 229. McPherson also notes that “beneath the myth of fair treatment (to which even some of the Jews themselves subscribed—or pretended to) there was as always a dark and shameful discrimination against Jews, both in historical Venice and in the Venice of the play. ... H istorically the discrimination took three main forms: mode of dress, place of residence, and economic restrictions” (63–64). See also Avraham Oz’s sense of the treatment of Shylock as “ambiguous and dialectical: on the one hand, Venetian society allows Shylock a seemingly protected legal standing, yet on the other hand this legal protection is precarious, owing to Shylock’s alienation from liberal-humanistic discourse, founded in the play on the magic unity of gentle and gentile” (“‘Which Is the Merchant Here? And Which the Jew?’: Riddles of Identity in The Merchant of Venice,” in Shakespeare and Cultural Traditions, 165).

“The Meruailouse Site”


The conversion of Christians to Jews, some by choice and some under threat of death, laid bare the bedrock of the problem of determining religion by means of assent. In the company of Christians many Conversos vigorously assented to being Christians. In the company of Jews many reconnected with their Jewishness. Left to their own thoughts, who knows what they considered themselves to be? Some E nglish writers struggled to invent new terms—such as Christian Jew, false Jew, and counterfeit Christian—to deal with these disturbing ambiguities, which they found themselves confronting abroad and occasionally at home as well. O thers, like William Prynne, likened the performance of Marranos—individuals skilled at “playing the Jew in private”—to that of professional actors, expert at putting on and taking off disguises.88

Yet again what is meant to convey clarity actually yields ambiguity; instead of plainness, there is ornament and disguise. A nd if one wants to argue that Shylock does not appear in act 5 and that clarity and comedy can prevail, he must account for the other Converso in the play: Shylock’s daughter, Jessica, who seems uneasy in act 5 and may share her father’s attitude toward festivity and the beautiful: “I am never merry when I hear sweet music” (5.1.68). And it is not just Jews and Conversos who trouble the ending. Although it may be a stretch to see proto-Nietzschean perspectivalism in Portia’s comment that “Nothing is good, I see, without respect” (5.1.98), it also may not be: H ere, as he does at least three other times in his plays, Shakespeare refers to anamorphic painting to highlight how perspective and point of view can change the perception of reality. Portia no doubt has a different “respect” after listening to her husband declare in the courtroom that “life itself, my wife, and all the world / A re not with me esteemed above thy [Antonio’s] life” (4.1.279–80).89 She has come to realize that the man who could be moved by the paleness of lead and could find eloquence in plainness has a “double self”: “In both my eyes he doubly sees himself, / In each eye one” (5.1.243–44). F urther, though Merchant ends with bawdy puns, they are doubly complicated by the invocation of other ambiguous figures—the hermaphrodite and sodomite.90 Finally informed that “Portia was the doctor, / Nerissa there her clerk” (5.1.268– 69), Bassanio and Graziano play with the idea of same-sex coupling. Bassanio tells Portia, “Sweet D octor, you shall be my bedfellow. / When I am absent, then lie with my wife,” while Graziano jokes, “But were the day come, I should wish it dark / Till I were couching with the doctor’s clerk” (5.1.283–84, 303–4).91 T he humor is mitigated somewhat here by the presence of A ntonio who—although receiving from Portia the news that his ships “Are safely come to road” (5.1.288)—loves James Shapiro, Shakespeare and the Jews, 6. F������������������������ or William Prynne, see A short demurrer to the Jewes long discontinued remitter into England, 94–95. 89 ������������������������������������������������ See my introductory chapter for a discussion of Twelfth Night, 5.1.208–9. See also Richard II, 2.2.14–27, and Antony and Cleopatra, 2.5.117–18. 90 ��������������������������������������������������������������������������������� F or the paradoxical status of hermaphrodites and sodomites, see chapter 4, below. 91 �������������������������������������������������������������������������������� The play finishes securely back in the heterosexual realm, however, as Graziano swears to protect “Nerissa’s ring,” or vagina. For the ring-as-vagina, see the story of Hans Carvel in R abelais’s Gargantua and Pantagruel, book 3, chaper 28. 88

Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox


Bassanio in a way that may actually be homoerotic and at the very least leaves him out of the comic pairings at the play’s close. Merchant ends mired as much in paradox as is its setting: the “mervailouse site” that is at the same time “the rudest, vnmeetest, and unholsomest place to builde vpon or to enhabite, that were againe to be founde thoroughout an whole worlde.”92 Othello Venice provides Shakespeare a perfect space for the crises of love and thought that he explores in his second Venetian play, too, especially the ontological and epistemological struggles of O thello, the paradoxical “Moor of Venice.”93 F or although it is incidental in Shakespeare’s main source text—a story from Giraldi Cinthio’s Gli Hecatommithi—Venice haunts Shakespeare’s play long after the action has shifted to Cyprus. T he evil Venetian at the heart of Othello is an embodiment of paradox—and its condensed form, Othello’s oxymoron “Honest Iago” (2.3.160)—tells us right away “I am not what I am” (1.1.65).94 What is more, he has contempt for those like O thello “that [think] men honest that but seem so” and consequently “will as tenderly be led by th’nose / As asses are” (1.3.82–84). In act 2, scene 1, the paradoxical even informs a rare light-hearted moment in the play: Iago’s bawdy puns are derided by D esdemona as “old fond paradoxes, to make fools laugh i’th’alehouse” (2.1.140–41). Primarily, though, Iago both represents and employs paradox at its most dangerous. H e uses the language of paradox, certainly: in addition to his fondness for ontological paradoxes like that mentioned above (“I am not what I am”), Iago enjoys making puzzling remarks like the following: “Trifles light as air / Are to the jealous confirmations strong / As holy writ” (3.3.326–28). His words here describe what his words ultimately do: make something insubstantial into something of utmost weight, fashion the trivial into the undeniably true. E ven more devastatingly effective is Iago’s use of paradox as method. O ne of the ways he achieves this doubleness is by playing parts of the myth of Venice ���������������� William T homas, The Historie of Italie, 73r. ������������������������������������������������������������������������������ See Bartels, “Making More of the Moor,” and N eill, “‘Mulattos,’ ‘Blacks,’ and ‘Indian Moors,’” esp. 362–63. Camille Wells Slights sees Othello as “not merely a Moor in Venice but the Moor of Venice”—thus, both an alien and a man “whose deepest values are fully consonant with those of Venice’s other inhabitants” (“Slaves and Subjects in Othello,” 384). Carol Thomas Neely has claimed that “It may be appropriate to think of him [O thello] as a mestizo because he is constituted by, shot through with, different and contradictory cultural formations: African and European, slave and General, non-Christian and Christian, wanderer and defender of Venice. Such contradictions ... can be a source of identity, power and creativity as well as of self-division, impotence and self-abnegation. Before his marriage, O thello seems to have assumed this mestizo status productively” (“Circumscriptions and Unhousedness,” in Shakespeare and Gender, 305). 94 ������������������������������������������������������������������� Othello repeats the oxymoronic “Honest Iago” at 5.2.79 and 5.2.161. 92 93

“The Meruailouse Site”


off of one another. Shakespeare seems to have been aware of the complications surrounding this myth, and if nowhere else, he could have found them in the A shley poem that prefaces L ewkenor’s Contarini and that we examined earlier. T he target of Iago’s manipulation of the myth appears to be Venetian women in general but is actually D esdemona. Whether he is praising Venice the Maiden or denigrating Venice the Whore, Iago is working to sully D esdemona in O thello’s eyes. Although Iago calls Desdemona a “super-subtle Venetian” when talking to Roderigo in act 1, scene 3, the crucial moment comes in act 3, scene 3, the long scene that changes O thello’s life forever. A lluding to the Venetian reputation for sexual license, Iago claims that he can “speak not yet of proof” (200) because “In Venice they do let God see the pranks / They dare not show their husbands; their best conscience / Is not to leave’t undone, but keep’t unknown” (206–8). Desdemona, then, is a true Venetian (or at least a true Venetian woman) and is adept at concealment and deception. But when Iago wants to convince O thello of D esdemona’s—and O thello’s own—unnaturalness, he stresses the version of the myth of Venice that celebrates the city as rational, fair, and just. By choosing O thello and failing to “affect many proposèd matches / O f her own clime, complexion, and degree, / Whereto we see in all things nature tends” (234–36), Desdemona has strayed from Venetian morality. Eventually, Iago tells the increasingly distraught O thello, she will regain her true, natural Venetianness: “H er will, recoiling to her better judgement, / May fall to match you with her country forms, / And happily repent” (241–43). Both evil and naturally virtuous, Venice is a paradox that Iago manipulates to his own advantage. In Iago’s version of her, Desdemona is the constant—constantly unnatural and deviant (though she may repent and return to the fold). T his playing with double senses, as E dmund Spenser called Iago’s type of rhetorical maneuvering, has a demonic, duplicitous quality to it. But it also reminds us of the power of the poet and rhetorician: paradox is a central part of verbal creation and can help forge new epistemological understandings, but it is also very dangerous. George Puttenham’s discussion of figures of speech in general calls attention to the transgressive doubleness of any poetical or rhetorical act: [figures are] in a sorte abuses or rather trespasses in speach, because they passe the ordinary limits of common vtterance, and be occupied of purpose to deceiue the eare and also the minde, drawing it from plainnesse and simplicitie to a certaine doublenesse.95

As they “deceiue the eare and also the minde,” all figures in a sense perform a paradoxical function as “they passe the ordinary limits of common vtterance.” We see just how powerful, and destructive, this doubleness can be in Iago’s other paradoxical strategy: turning “virtue into pitch,” in his words. A s we have seen, Iago is able to change a person’s chief attributes—D esdemona’s goodness and innocence, O thello’s singleness and credulousness—into evil. O ut of D esdemona’s virtue, Iago tells us, he will “make the net / T hat shall enmesh them all” (335–36). He calls his method “Divinity of Hell” (324), which is itself, of ����������������������������� Puttenham, “O f O rnament,” in The Arte of English Poesie (1589), 166.



Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox

course, a paradox. Thus, in acts 3 and 4, the more Desdemona innocently pleads for Cassio’s reinstatement, the more O thello becomes convinced of her adultery. T he method works particularly well with O thello because his hatred of doubt and paradox plays directly into Iago’s hands. O thello asserts, “Certain, men should be what they seem” (3.3.133). But they are not, and Iago exploits the gap between seeming and being. In two short speeches from act 3, scene 3, Iago warns Othello of the dangers of doubt, a warning O thello hardly needs: T hat cuckold lives in bliss Who, certain of his fate, loves not his wronger. But O , what damnèd minutes tells he o’er Who dotes yet doubts, suspects yet fondly loves! (3.3.172–75)

A fter O thello exclaims “O misery!” Iago makes the same point by varying his metaphor: Poor and content is rich, and rich enough, But riches fineless is as poor as winter To him that ever fears he shall be poor. (176–78)

U sing paradoxes that could have come from the books of L ando, Munday, and Donne, Iago demonstrates why the cuckold who is certain of his wife’s infidelity and the man who is certain of his poverty are happier than those whose good fortunes might change. T he cuckold and the poor man know their plights; the others dwell in doubt and contingency. A nd O thello absolutely must know. A lthough at this point he is still arguing for the possibility of D esdemona’s innocence, his rejection of ambiguity and doubt leaves Iago room to move: N o, Iago, I’ll see before I doubt; when I doubt, prove; A nd on the proof, there is no more but this: Away at once with love or jealousy. (193–96)

Iago makes sure that it is “away at once with love.” F or O thello hates paradox, and later in the same scene, O thello recognizes that he is in a state of doubleness that must be eradicated: “I think my wife be honest, and I think she is not. / I think that thou art just, and think thou art not. / I’ll have some proof” (388–90). He first wants “ocular proof” (365), but Iago asks him, “Would you, the supervisor, grossly gape on? / Behold her topped?” (400–401). Pressing the point, Iago claims that “It were a tedious difficulty, I think, / To bring them to that prospect” (402–3). But if Othello will accept circumstantial evidence—“imputation, and strong circumstances / Which lead directly to the door of truth” (411–12)—then Othello can be satisfied. When he agrees to these terms, O thello opens the door to the manipulations of the handkerchief that will seal both his and D esdemona’s doom.96 96 ������������������������������������������������������������������������������� F or a helpful discussion of vision and evidence, see A dams, “‘O cular Proof’ in Othello and Its Source.”

“The Meruailouse Site”


Yet turning virtue into pitch in this play means more than changing goodness into a vice that undoes the person in question. T his strategy also allows Iago to turn people into their opposites, and Shakespeare ingeniously reveals Iago’s triumph by showing both D esdemona and O thello transformed into what they manifestly are not—or were not before Iago started meddling with their lives. T hus, according to O thello, the virtuous D esdemona has become the “cunning whore of Venice” (4.2.93), while Desdemona notes that the stolid, constant, unified Othello is now divided against himself: “My lord is not my lord” (3.4.120). Desdemona, who once mocked Iago’s “old fond paradoxes,” is now using them herself. A nd Iago tells L odovico that O thello is “that he is. ... If what he might he is not / I would to heaven he were” (4.1.272–74). It is particularly disturbing to hear O thello’s language become paradoxical, however. (This is, after all, a stage that follows his utter linguistic breakdown in act 4 [scene 1, lines 34–41].) In act 5, when he looks over the sleeping Desdemona and has murderous thoughts, O thello turns to paradoxy: O f D esdemona, he says, “So sweet was ne’er so fatal” (5.2.21), and after strangling her, yet sensing that she is “Not yet quite dead” (5.2.95), Othello muses, “I that am cruel am yet merciful. / I would not have thee linger in thy pain” (5.2.95–96). In a nice twist, Shakespeare has O thello using paradoxical language that reveals a mind divided: O thello has been unable to eradicate doubt and doubleness even though he has done away with love. Yet given who he is—a man from a non-Christian world converted and transplanted into a Christian one; a European hero made famous by his battles against Islamic enemies; a black man marrying into a white world—Othello never really could hope to be completely unified, never could hope to see himself or be seen as anything other than a paradox.97 It is helpful to think of O thello— like Shylock—as one of Victor T urner’s “marginals.” Indeed, his marginal status (in this sense) becomes increasingly apparent to him and to us in the last half of the play.98 97 ������������������������������������� O n the paradoxicality of O thello and Othello, see Gohlke, “‘A ll T hat Is Spoke Is Marred’”; Neill, “‘Mulattos,’ ‘Blacks,’ and ‘Indian Moors,’” 361 and 373–74; and Bate, “O thello and the O ther.” F or K aren N ewman, the entire play revolves around the “cultural aporia” of miscegenation (“‘And Wash the Ethiop White,’” 75). Virginia Mason Vaughan suggests that O thello’s double self comes from his military as well as his cultural roles: “A condottiere who fights by contract for the Venetian republic, Othello reflects what European warfare would become. But his self-fashioned image of a romantic, chivalric hero who fights the infidel and wins the fair damsel is a remnant of a medieval ideal. Confusion between the two constructs was inevitable” (Othello: A Contextual History, 35). See also Camille Wells Slights, “Slaves and Subjects in Othello,” esp. 380. 98 �������������������������������������������������������������������������������� See A nia L oomba’s trenchant remarks on O thello’s paradoxicality: “H e oscillates between asserting his non-European glamour and denying his blackness, emphasising through speech and social position his assimilation into white culture. H e is thus hopelessly split” (Gender, Race, Renaissance Drama, 54). Taking a different approach, E mily Bartels—in a very wise essay—sees O thello as having “a dual, rather than divided,


Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox

T he classic example of O thello’s emerging marginality or “otherness” is the story of the handkerchief. He gives two versions of the tale (one in act 3, scene 4, the other in act 5, scene 2, lines 22–24)—a fact that has led many of my clever students (but very few critics and editors) to assume he is lying or embellishing in the version he shares with D esdemona. But it is much more interesting if he is not lying, if his foreign past—under pressure—is breaking through his Venetian veneer. T his is not to say that O thello’s barbaric or savage nature is breaking through, though many critics have made this claim.99 Michael N eill is surely correct when he asserts that “T he long and unpleasant history of interpretations which see Othello as the study of a man reverting to innate barbarity is a proof of how well Iago succeeds ...; the play itself will not rest content with such gross explanations.”100 I would argue that Othello’s non-Venetian past is what emerges and what Iago helps O thello to demonize.101 T he more elaborate—and better known—version of the handkerchief’s origin in act 3, scene 4, reveals an Eastern, mysterious, alien history: Made by a two-hundred-year-old sybil and given to Othello’s mother by an Egyptian charmer, the handkerchief has “magic in the web of it” (67), has the power to subdue the recipient to the love of the donor. Interestingly, the story has the very elements of the supernatural that O thello was so quick to deny in the trial scene of act 1. Early in the play, it is important to remember, Othello tells the D uke and the eminent Venetians that love and his tales of the marvelous were “the only witchcraft I have used” (1.3.168). Although Desdemona has been fascinated by O thello’s past and presumably his heritage, the timing of the revelation of the handkerchief’s history is frightening to her: “Is’t possible?” (66), “I’faith, is’t true?” (73), she asks. When told the story is “most veritable” (74), Desdemona exclaims, “Then would to God I had never seen it!” (75). This is one tale of wonder, impossibility, and paradox that D esdemona would rather not hear.102 identity.” F or Bartels, “if we free ourselves from targeting O thello as the necessary victim of cross-cultural power plays, we can recognize much more play within his part. ... [Othello is] neither an alienated nor an assimilated subject, but a figure defined by two worlds” (“Othello and Africa,” 61–62). I would argue, however, that by the end of the play Iago has turned not just virtue into pitch but duality into division. 99 ����������������������������������������� F or a fairly recent example, see L evith, Shakespeare’s Italian Settings and Plays, 32. 100 N������� eill, Issues of Death, 148. See also Camille Wells Slights, “Slaves and Subjects in Othello,” 386. 101 ���������������������������������������������������������������������������������� In addition to being a “marginal,” O thello is not given a single, stable cultural background. Vitkus has cautioned against identifying Othello “with a specific, historically accurate racial category; rather, he is a hybrid who might be associated, in the minds of Shakespeare’s audience, with a whole set of related terms—Moor, Turk, Ottomite, Saracen, Mahometan, Egyptian, Judean, Indian—all constructed in opposition to Christian faith and virtue” (“Turning Turk,” 159–60). See also Hunter, “Elizabethans and Foreigners,” esp. 51; E.A.J. Honigmann, intro. to Othello, Arden edition, esp. 22–26; and Neill, “‘Mulattos,’ ‘Blacks,’ and ‘Indian Moors.’” 102 F�������������������������������������������������������� or important readings of the handkerchief, see Burke, “Othello: A n E ssay to Illustrate a Method,” in Snyder, O thello: Critical Essays, esp. 159–63; Boose, “Othello’s Handkerchief”; Neill, “Changing Places in Othello,” 124–26; Altman, “‘Prophetic Fury,’”

“The Meruailouse Site”


F or D esdemona must on some level sense that there is a connection between O thello’s emerging cultural doubleness and his growing turbulence. T o use an earlier model, Othello—under Iago’s influence—comes increasingly to envision the cultural myth of Venice less in terms of Contarini’s “wonderful concourse” and more in terms of the tension between “Christendome” and the “barbarous Ethnickes” mentioned by Coryate. In his final speech, however, Othello tries for unity one last time, appropriately in the form of a story. A nd O thello understands the importance of telling stories: stories won him D esdemona, convinced the Venetians he was worthy and his love was true, allowed him to be deceived about D esdemona. R ecognizing the deception of Iago’s stories, O thello attempts to regain control of—or at least to make sense of—his life by telling his own story again. But things have obviously changed since his wondrous narration in act 1. F inally understanding the treachery of Iago, he sees gaps between language and truth, seeming and being, but he also recognizes the gap within his own being. Identifying himself with a cultural other—the “base Indian” of line 356—Othello sees that he is a double self: a prominent part of a dominant culture but alien; a Christian from a non-Christian tradition; both faithful and infidel. In his final story O thello both dramatizes his doubleness and seeks to collapse it. A nd like the tale of the handkerchief, his last tale is flavored by what his audiences—within and outside of the play—would consider the E ast and the exotic. F or his is a story of one whose hand, L ike the base Indian, threw a pearl away Richer than all his tribe; of one whose subdued eyes, A lbeit unusèd to the melting mood, D rops tears as fast as A rabian trees T heir medicinable gum. Set you down this, A nd say besides that in A leppo once, Where a malignant and a turbaned T urk Beat a Venetian and traduced the state, I took by th’throat the circumcisèd dog A nd smote him thus. He stabs himself (355–66)

E ven in his last action we see his loathing of the paradoxical. In reenacting the killing of a Turk, Othello tries to resolve this doubleness even as he affirms it.103 For his narrative renders him both the Christian and the infidel as he kills esp. 90–98; Neely, Broken Nuptials in Shakespeare’s Plays, 128–31, and “Circumscriptions and Unhousedness,” esp. 307–11; and Diehl, Staging Reform, Reforming the Stage, 125–55. 103 ��������������������������������� See E mily Bartels’s position in “Othello and A frica”: “T hough in stereotyping himself, he attempts to clarify his tragedy, he instead underscores its unreadability”—“the play ... exposes how open the Moor’s place in England’s conceptual fields was” (64). But also see Janet Adelman’s contention in “Iago’s Alter Ego”: through Iago’s manipulations, “O thello becomes assimilated to, and motivated by, his racial ‘type’—becomes the monstrous Moor easily made jealous” (144). Unlike Bartels, then, Adelman sees “the Moor’s place in England’s conceptual fields” as shrinking rather than expanding.

Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox


himself.104 A s H ugh K enner says, “Paradox springs in general from inadequacy, from the rents in linguistic and logical clothing; paradoxy might be called the science of gaps.”105 Indeed, by opening a gap in his body with his dagger, O thello paradoxically attempts to close the recently reopened gap in himself. U nlike Murray J. Levith—who has suggested that Othello is, symbolically, Cyprus—I would argue that O thello embodies the problem of Venice. U tterly double, O thello’s story is one of both saving Venice and killing the myth of Venice, of both sustaining and eradicating paradox.106 T hus, paradox’s power to effect more than evil and destruction is deeply questioned by play’s end. T here does not seem to be room for the epistemological growth achieved by O rsino in Twelfth Night, for example. Part of the explanation is, of course, generic: tragic characters pay a great deal more for their knowledge—if they get any—than comic characters do. H owever, another paradoxical death may give us a hint of how to rehabilitate paradox, even in Othello—to reclaim it from Iago, as it were. There is no doubt that Desdemona’s death is a puzzle. Her first two remarks are declarations of her innocence: “O, falsely, falsely murdered” (5.2.126) and “A guiltless death I die” (132). However, her very last words—in response to E milia’s question, “Who has done this deed?”—tell a different story: “N obody—I myself. Farewell. / Commend me to my kind lord. O, farewell” (132–34). These closing lines seem weak, a long way from the rebel who refused to marry the curlèd darlings of Venice and eloped with an older, black Moor. Given her earlier self-vindication, though, it is difficult to read these lines as utterly submissive. A t worst, one could argue, they reveal the triumph of Iago’s logic: D esdemona blames herself for marrying a Barbarian who would murder her. ���������������� See Greenblatt, Renaissance Self-Fashioning, 234: “the Moor at once represents the institution and the alien, the conqueror and the infidel.” See also Alan Sinfield’s “Cultural Materialism, Othello, and the Politics of Plausibility,” in his Faultlines, 29–51: “And when he kills himself it is even better, because he eradicates the intolerable confusion of finding both the citizen and the alien in the same body” (35). Julia Reinhard Lupton argues for a paradox sustained rather than eradicated as O thello “joins the civic body” by “enacting ... death into citizenship” (Citizen-Saints, 105). Peter Stallybrass notes that—with Othello’s suicide—“the ‘Virgin Citie of Venice’ is reenclosed, as the island of Cyprus had been earlier in the play, against the demonized Other, the ‘turban’d Turk’” (“Patriarchal Territories,” in Rewriting the Renaissance, 140). Daniel Vitkus contends that Othello’s self-mutilation is linked to circumcision and conversion (see “Turning Turk in Othello,” 174–76). 105 �������� K enner, Paradox in Chesterton, 17. 106 ��������������������������������������������������������������������������� E dward Snow sees the play’s doubleness revealed in the tension between the Quarto’s “Indian” and the Folio’s “Judean”: “the only full interpretation would be one that keeps both readings. E ach variant suggests a different side of O thello: ‘Indian’ makes him the traveller, the adventurer, full of exotic lore with which to entrance the audience; ‘Judean’ makes him the self-consciously converted Christian” (“Sexual Anxiety and the Male O rder of T hings in Othello,” in Snyder, O thello: Critical Essays, 243). For Othello’s and O thello’s “split chiastic exchanges and divisions,” see Patricia Parker, “F antasies of ‘R ace’ and ‘Gender,’” in Women, “Race,” and Writing in the Early Modern Period, esp. 97–98. See also Hugh Grady, Shakespeare’s Universal Wolf, 120–21. 104

“The Meruailouse Site”


R ead differently—and without the taint of Iago’s thinking—they could suggest a woman desperately holding onto an image of her husband as she initially interpreted him—a “kind lord.” Just as Othello’s diseased image of Desdemona leads to her death, perhaps her over-idealized vision of her husband contributes to her demise; nobody in the play is very good at changing visions and ideas, of learning from her or his mistakes. A t best, though, D esdemona can be seen as forgiving and taking blame in a play in which no one else apologizes or accepts responsibility. She does so in clear, simple language, unadorned and straightforward (in stark contrast to O thello’s last major speech).107 The juxtaposition of Desdemona’s defiance and passivity in death creates a paradox, like the two versions of the handkerchief story; both puzzles are ultimately unsolvable.108 T hese are two of many unresolved problems in the play, problems that have led K atharine E isaman Maus to argue that “L ike O thello, we must depend on circumstantial evidence when we might have expected all to be made manifest.”109 T his is, Maus says in another piece, part of “the paradoxical relationship of audience to theatrical performance”: “T hough they [the spectators] have paid for the performance—though the play is ostensibly performed for their benefit—they seem to be denied control over and knowledge of that which they seem to own.”110 T he theatrical experience can collapse the boundaries between audience and play and thus remind us of our uncertainty even as we watch characters suffer under theirs.111 T he difference is, of course, that we have the chance to learn from the paradox that is Othello; Othello is not so lucky.112 There will always be gaps; our knowledge will always be inadequate. Shakespeare’s Venice foregrounds unpredictability and uncertainty—the inability to know in a world that is so paradoxical.113 But the Venice of Merchant and Othello and the dramatic denizens of each play also can—if we let them, if we resist the urge to harmonize their contradictions and instead allow their opposites to resonate—help teach us not only the lessons but also the methods of paradox. 107 See ��������������������������������������������������� N eely, “Circumscriptions and U nhousedness,” in Shakespeare and Gender, 309–10. In an unpublished paper, Holly Taylor has argued that “guiltless” can suggest D esdemona’s appreciation of uncertainty. D esdemona knows that she is not guilty but senses that in some sense O thello is innocent, too. In the horrifying world of Othello, then, a crime can be “guiltless” because the guilty are unknown and unknowable. 108 ��������������������������������������������������������������������������������� O n D esdemona as “the victim of her ambiguities,” see Gohlke, “‘A ll T hat Is Spoke Is Marred,’” 167. On Desdemona’s final words as part of a “moment of paradox,” see Grennan, “T he Women’s Voices in Othello,” 290n26. 109 ������ Maus, Inwardness and Theater in the English Renaissance, 126. 110 ������������������������������ Maus, “Horns of Dilemma,” 578. 111 ����������������������������������������������������� I develop this point extensively in chapter 4, below. 112 ����������������������������������������������������������������������������� O r as the psychologist D .W. Winnicott said of another Shakespearean tragedy, “Shakespeare had the clue, but Hamlet could not go to Shakespeare’s play” (Playing and Reality, 84). 113 For ��������������������������������������������������������������������������������� Julia Reinhard Lupton, the ambiguity of Shakespeare’s plays set in Venice is highlighted by “the imperfect incorporation of these resident aliens in the Venetian polity” (Citizen-Saints, 123).

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Chapter 3

“T o D o a Great R ight, D o a L ittle Wrong” or Gaining by R elaxing: E quity and Paradox in The Merchant of Venice and Measure for Measure Late in act 5 of Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors, D uke Solinus asks, upon seeing the twin A ntipholi, “A nd so of these, which is the natural man, / A nd which the spirit? Who deciphers them?” (5.1.334–35). In this moment of confusion and inquiry, the D uke recognizes doubleness and interpretive complexity. H e is a man who had read the world and the law in a single-minded and inflexible fashion: “I am not partial to infringe our laws” (1.1.4), “by law thou art condemned to die” (1.1.25). Yet now he encounters “twin-ness”—“Stay, stand apart. I know not which is which” (5.1.365)—and mitigates his earlier harsh ruling, declaring, “Thy father hath his life” (5.1.392). Solinus’s words provide another important case of Shakespearean paradox: he both overrides his earlier univocal reading of the letter of the law that automatically sentences Syracusans to death and allows E geon to live only after hearing E geon’s story and encountering the double perspective that his twin sons represent. L ike Venice, the concept of equity performed paradoxical functions in Shakespeare’s E ngland. It negotiated—in early modern legal discourse— between universal law and strict justice on the one hand and “the randomness of particular circumstance” on the other; Duke Solinus’s changed ruling is a helpful Shakespearean example. F rom Plato on, equity has been a concept used to redress difficulties arising from inflexible law’s being brought to bear on flexible and multiple human behavior. In short, equity acknowledges the tension between the measure of law and the incommensurability of human experience—the tension that gets Christianized by St. Paul in Romans 7 and 8 as the conflict between the letter and the spirit of the law. A s Plato says in the Statesman, an equitable governor recognizes that “L aw could never, by determining exactly what is noblest and most just for one and all, enjoin upon them that which is best; for the differences of men and actions and the fact that nothing, I may say, in human affairs is ever at rest, forbid any science whatsoever to promulgate any simple rule for everything and

������ E den, Poetic and Legal Fiction in the Aristotelian Tradition, 44.


Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox

for all time.” A t equity’s root, then, is the recognition of the uncertain, shifting, rest-less, and paradoxical nature of the world. T o attempt an account of the paradoxes surrounding legal judgment in The Merchant of Venice and Measure for Measure, this chapter begins with an examination of some classical sources of the concept of equity before looking at the forms it could take in T udor and Stuart E ngland. I argue that equity— which, because of its paradoxical position between strict justice and mercy, was meant to solve and reconfigure legal problems—could create new paradoxes and contradictions instead. I will look briefly at the court scene in The Merchant of Venice before turning to Measure for Measure; equity is held out as a potential solution to the legal quandaries of both plays. Part of equity’s power—as theorists from Aristotle to Edmund Plowden have noted—is its relationship to fiction and imaginative possibility, a relationship on which D uke Vincentio draws as he attempts to repair Vienna by staging mercy. L owell Gallagher has described this power as the “inherent deregulatory aspect” and “destabilizing action” of equity. Because equity is “a discursive space that always exceeded the boundaries of the  ������� Plato, Statesman, 294B. Another locus classicus is Cicero’s De inventione: “T here are then certain matters that must be considered with reference to time and intention and not merely by their absolute qualities. In all these matters one must think what the occasion demands and what is worthy of the persons concerned, and one must consider not what is being done but with what spirit anything is done, with what associates, at what time, and how long it has been going on” (2.59.176).  ������������� See Gadamer, Truth and Method, 318: “Aristotle shows that every law is in a necessary tension with concrete action, in that it is general and hence cannot contain practical reality in its full concreteness. ... The law is always deficient, not because it is imperfect in itself but because human reality is necessarily imperfect in comparison to the ordered world of law, and hence allows of no simple application of the law.”  ������� In his The Culture of Equity in Early Modern England, Mark F ortier notes the contradictions inherent in the discourse of equity: “E quity’s relation to positive law is described as one in which equity is outside the law, opposed to the law, or one in which equity is inside the law, its life, spirit and intention. Equity limits the law, or expands it; it moderates the law, or replaces it; it looks for the intention of the law, or it adds to it. Equity is an exception, a particular, a one-off kind of justice; or equity is a general principle of treating like situations the same or impartially” (4). Fortier also points out that equity could be used both to justify and to condemn royal authority (see The Culture of Equity, 8–9). For the paradoxes of law in general and equity in particular and their relationship to E nglish R enaissance drama, see Mukherji, Law and Representation in Early Modern Drama.  ����������� Gallagher, Medusa’s Gaze, 145 and 161; subsequent citations are annotated within the text. In discussing equity in Spenser’s Faerie Queene and in E lizabethan politics, Gallagher comes to conclusions about Spenserian equity that are as pessimistic as mine are about Shakespearean equity: “the destabilizing power of equity and conscience shows its maverick hand, in the words of praise that disclose the virtue most closely with the monarch to be impraticable. T he implicit, transgressive message: it is not, as E lizabeth would have had it, that the actions of the monarch’s conscience cannot be correctly read but that what the monarch claims to do as the inviolable embodiment of equity cannot be done” (253). A gain, equity’s power comes in its ability to reveal the limitations of the power of the

“To Do a Great Right, Do a Little Wrong” or Gaining by Relaxing


written text of the law” (252), it allows for interrogation of the legal problems at hand as well as ways of imagining diverse solutions. U ltimately, however, equity cannot solve the problem of justice in either Merchant or Measure for Measure, for these plays suggest that law—or measure— is unable to contain the incommensurability of human experience. Just as the paradoxes of Venice promise—but inevitably fail—to bring certainty and clarity to the uncertain and murky worlds of Merchant and Othello, so the paradoxes of equity in Merchant and especially Measure for Measure provide a justification for, rather than the promised mitigation of, strict justice. T hey close down rather than open up interpretive possibility and legal flexibility. If Shakespeare’s paradoxes of Venice foreground the problem of obtaining knowledge, his paradoxes of equity highlight the difficulties of legal interpretation and the just enactment of law. “Extreme Justice Is Extreme Injustice”: Paradoxes of Equity As we see in the versions of equity that follow here, equity’s very flexibility—its commitment to mitigating the severity of the written law—could create rather than resolve legal difficulties. F or a concept that at times advocates going “above the law” leaves open the possibility of subjective or even tyrannical interpretation and action. A s Ian Maclean has so helpfully framed the issue, “equity as interpretation becomes also equity as application; the jurist or judge performs the law by deciding its relationship to an individual case. ... Interpretation thereby passes from a subservient to a dominant rôle vis à vis the text.” O ne of the many paradoxes of equity is that—in performing a law—a judge, chancellor, or king could in fact take away from the mitigation that equity ideally brings to a legal case; the law, and even justice itself, could become subordinate to the individual interpreter. Defining equity is not a simple task. Mark F ortier—who has done as well as anyone—claimed recently that “T o understand equity in early modern E ngland it is necessary to see that there was no characteristic discipline at whose centre it is equitable ruler. Gallagher argues compellingly that equity succeeds as a method of reading but not as a method of practicing government.  ������� In his The Law of War and Peace (2.20.28), Grotius invoked equity to suggest that “T he measure of punishment [should be] according to what is deserved.” Shakespeare, I argue, explores the gap between measure and desert in his Measure for Measure. See also Blank, Shakespeare and the Mismeaure of Renaissance Man, esp. 152–90.  ��������������������������������������������������������������������������������� Mark Fortier has focused on the flexibility of equity, which he calls—after John Selden—a “roguish thing”: “E quity is a roguish thing because different judges, each according to his predilections, see it differently—so many heads, so many equities. ... F or me, equity is not merely condemnatory. Equity is notoriously, inescapably pliable” (The Culture of Equity, 1).  ��������� Maclean, Interpretation and Meaning in the Renaissance, 177. Maclean adds here that “equity as application ... raises the spectre of extensive interpretation as correction of the law or addition to it which ... is a matter of dispute among R enaissance lawyers.”

Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox


fixed and defined. Equity is a movable concept informed from many directions.” But we have to start somewhere: Aristotle’s definition of equity was often cited in the R enaissance and provides an important touchstone for any discussion of early modern equity. Book 5 of his Nichomachean Ethics leaves little doubt that simply defining equity requires entrance into the realm of paradox: O ur next subject is equity and the equitable, and their respective relationship to justice and the just. F or on examination they appear to be neither absolutely the same nor generically different; and while we sometimes praise what is equitable and the equitable man (so that we apply the name by way of praise even to instances of other virtues, instead of “good,” meaning “more equitable” that a thing is better), at other times, when we reason it out, it seems strange if the equitable, being somewhat different from the just, is praiseworthy; for either the just or the equitable is not good, if they are different; or, if they are both good, they are the same. T hese, then, are pretty much the considerations that give rise to the problem about the equitable; they are all in a sense correct and not opposed to one another; for the equitable, though it is better than one kind of justice, yet is just, and it is not as being a different class of thing that it is better than the just. T he same thing, then, is just and equitable, and while both are good[,] the equitable is superior. What creates the problem is that the equitable is just, but not the legally just but a correction of legal justice.10

A ristotle’s famous explication follows at this point in his text, but this long quotation that precedes it is crucial, for A ristotle goes to great lengths to sift through the paradox that is “the problem about the equitable”: it is just, and it is not; equity is both similar to and different from the just. And “what creates the problem” is that the equitable achieves justice by correcting justice.11 ��������� F ortier, The Culture of Equity, 50. ����������� A ristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, bk. 5, sec. 10, in The Complete Works of Aristotle 2:1795. Further citations from the works of Aristotle are to this edition; volume and page numbers appear in parentheses in the text. L uke Wilson has called this problem the “aporia concerning the relation between law, justice and equity” (“Hamlet: E quity, Intention, Performance,” 96). Lowell Gallagher notes in Medusa’s Gaze that “the paradox of equity” is not only that it “appeared both capable and incapable of error” but that it “was equipped, by definition, to observe the arbitrariness of the terms of its own definition. ... In other words, the disposition to examine, presumably without restriction, all the circumstances of a case lent to equity ... a power of critical interrogation that ultimately acquired a selfreflexive cast. ... Equity ... had something of the maverick to it, an inherent deregulatory aspect” (145–47). 11 �������������������������������������������������������������������������������� N ote St. T homas A quinas’s dialectical—indeed, paradoxical—discussion of equity, as A quinas engages with A ristotle in the Summa Theologica: “it seems that epikeia is not a virtue. F or no virtue does away with another virtue. Yet epikeia does away with another virtue, since it sets aside that which is just according to law, and seemingly is opposed to severity. T herefore epikeia is not a virtue. ... On the contrary, The Philosopher (Ethic. V.10) states it to be a virtue.” A ristotle’s position on equity is then explicated by A quinas. T he conclusion: “T herefore it is evident that epikeia is a virtue” (pt. 2.2, q. 120, art. 1, in The Summa T heologica of St. Thomas Aquinas 12:168–69). 


“To Do a Great Right, Do a Little Wrong” or Gaining by Relaxing


Justice needs correction, according to Aristotle, because “all law is universal but about some things it is not possible to make a universal statement which will be correct.” When such a case arises—“when the legislator fails us and has erred by over-simplicity”—it becomes essential “to correct the omission—to say what the legislator himself would have said had he been present, and would have put into his law if he had known.” But in a paradox that would characterize discussions of equity throughout the early modern period, A ristotle reasserts that equity is “better than one kind of justice—not better than absolute justice but better than the error that arises from the absoluteness of the statement.” E rror comes not from absolute justice but from an absolute statement of justice; Aristotle seems uneasy with criticizing law even as he necessarily must do so. H e closes with a call for flexibility in law—not an abandonment of the rule but a recognition that “when the thing is indefinite the rule also is indefinite, like the lead rule used in making the Lesbian mouldings; the rule adapts itself to the shape of the stone and is not rigid, and so too the decree is adapted to the facts” (2:1796). Or, as Wesley Trimpi has noted, “Paradoxically, the generality of a legal code is deficient because it can never be general enough—since, could it have been so, it would have included the exception.”12 T he paradoxical quality of equity is also established in A ristotle’s Rhetoric, which helps to gloss the description in the Ethics. A gain, “equity is ... just,” but it is the sort of justice which goes beyond the written law. Its existence partly is and partly is not intended by legislators; not intended, where they have noticed no defect in the law; intended, where they find themselves unable to define things exactly, and are obliged to legislate universally where matters hold only for the most part; or where it is not easy to be complete owing to the endless possible cases presented. ... If ... a precise statement is impossible and yet legislation is necessary, the law must be expressed in wide terms. (2: 2188)

T he key A ristotelian concepts—those so much a part of early modern discussions of equity—are present: equity is part of justice but “beyond written law”; is that which corrects for law’s—at times—overly-general, and thus defective, quality; is that which attempts to account for the incommensurable in human experience by making the legal instrument of measurement flexible or “wide.” What I hope is clear is not only that equity is paradoxical but also that Aristotle needs the figure of paradox to describe equity: he must use paradox to analyze the paradox of striving for universality in a world of dizzyingly multiple possibilities.

12 �������� T rimpi, Muses of One Mind, 270. For other important discussions of the classical tradition of equity and its implications for early modern fiction-making and interpretation, see A ltman, The Tudor Play of Mind, passim; Burrow, Epic Romance, 134–39; Eden, Poetic and Legal Fiction, esp. 25–61; Maclean, Interpretation and Meaning in the Renaissance, 171–78; Hutson, The Usurer’s Daughter, esp. 144–51; and Eden, Hermeneutics and the Rhetorical Tradition, esp. 11–19.

Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox


A nother part of the complexity of equity was what Stuart Prall has called “a confusion of definitions. ... there is the timeless question of whether equity is a principle of justice transcendent and distinct from the law (legal justice) or whether it is of the same substance as the positive law but expresses the spirit rather than the letter of that particular law.” Prall sees this contrast as fundamentally one between the Greek (and Aristotelian) epieikeia and the R oman aequitas.13 Someone who attempted to bridge the gap between these two conceptions of equity was Christopher Saint German.14 A lthough equity was introduced to T udor E ngland through a variety of sources, none was more important than Saint German’s A Dialogue betwixt a doctor of divinity and a student in the laws of England (1530/1532), commonly called St. German’s Doctor and Student.15 Saint German seems to have written his Dialogue to defend E nglish law in general and the Chancery court in particular.16 Sir T homas Smith’s De Republica Anglorum (1565/1583) provides us with this definition of Chancery: A nd for so much as in this case he is without remedy in the common law, therefore he requireth the chancellor according to equity and reason to provide for him and to take such order as to good conscience shall appertain. A nd the Court of the Chancery is called of the common people the court of conscience, because that the chancellor is not strained by rigour or form of words of law.17 13

��������������������������������������������������������� Prall, “The Development of Equity in Tudor England,” 1–2. ������������������������������������������������������������������������������� See Prall, “The Development of Equity in Tudor England,” 3. In his essay “Law, Equity and Conscience in Henrician Juristic Thought,” the historian John Guy has suggested that this reconciliation—indeed, Saint German’s entire theory of equity—is influenced by the writings of the Parisian Jean Gerson (1363–1429), particularly his Regulae morales. Gerson, notes Guy, “harmonized epieikeia as presented in the Ethics, Book V, with the aequitas canonica as defined by Hostiensis in the Summa aurea, Book V” (see Fox and Guy, Reassessing the Henrician Age, 183). For a discussion of the roots of Saint German’s thought, see Fox and Guy, 183–84, and Z[ofia] Rueger, “Gerson’s Concept of Equity and Christopher St. German.” 15 ������������������� A L atin version of St. German’s Doctor and Student seems to have been published in 1523, though no copy survives. An edition of the First Dialogue in Latin was published in 1528. The Second Dialogue was originally written—and was published—in English in 1530; a second edition with additional chapters appeared in 1531. In 1532, the First Dialogue appeared in English. See Prall, “The Development of Equity in Tudor England”; Zeeveld, The Temper of Shakespeare’s Thought, 141–84, esp. 143–44; Yale, “St. German’s Little Treatise Concerning Writs of Subpoena”; Guy, Christopher St. German on Chancery and Statute; and Fox and Guy, Reassessing the Henrician Age, esp. 95–120 and 179–98. 16 ���������������������������������������������������������������������� See T.F.T. Plucknett and J.L. Barton’s introduction to Saint German’s St. German’s Doctor and Student, xliv–li. Important studies of equity in English law include Hazeltine, “The Early History of English Equity”; R.W. Turner, The Equity of Redemption; Maitland, Equity, esp. 1–42; Prall, “The Development of Equity in Tudor England”; Yale, “St. German’s Little Treatise Concerning Writs of Subpoena”; and Baker, An Introduction to English Legal History, esp. 112–28. 17 �������������� T homas Smith, De Republica Anglorum (1565/1583), quoted G.R. Elton, The Tudor Constitution, 155. 14

“To Do a Great Right, Do a Little Wrong” or Gaining by Relaxing


In carving out a theory for equity and Chancery, Saint German (like Aristotle) saw—as commentators on Saint German have explained it—that “L aws must of necessity be framed in general terms, but the circumstances in which they may fail to be applied are infinitely variable. It therefore follows that a case may arise in which the literal application of the law would frustrate rather than promote the object which the legislator had in view.”18 T he situation was, again, paradoxical: the written law—the function of which was to facilitate the object of the legislator—could actually “frustrate” this object. What’s more, as the Doctor tells the Student in chapter 16 of the first dialogue, there are times when to be right is to be wrong: be not ouer moch ryghtwyse for the extreme ryghtwysenes is extreme wrong / [as who sayeth yf thou take all that the wordes of the law gyueth the thou shalte somtyme do agaynst the lawe.] A nd for the playner declaracyon what equytie is thou shalt vnderstande that syth the dedes and actes of men / for whiche lawes ben ordayned happen in dyuers maners infynytlye. It is not possyble to make any general rewle of the lawe / but that it shall fayle in some case. ... A nd therfore to folowe the wordes of the lawe / were in some case both agaynst Iustyce & the common welth: wherfore in some cases it is good and even necessary to leue the wordis of the lawe /& to folowe that reason and Justyce requyreth / & to that intent equytie is ordeyned / that is to say to tempre and myttygate the rygoure of the lawe.19 (97)

By following the “wordes of the law,” one can “somtyme do agaynst the lawe,” can go “both agaynst Iustyce & the common welth.” A s a result, “in some cases it is good and even necessary to leue the wordis of the lawe” in order to “folowe that [which] reason and Justyce requyreth” and “to tempre and myttygate the rygoure of the lawe.” T here is a recognition here that law can work against itself—or at least against its seeming intention. A rriving at the intention behind a law is a central quality of equity, as the D octor claims: “equytie rather foloweth the intent of the lawe / then the wordes of the lawe” (99). To prove this point, he gives several useful examples: A s yf a man make auowe that he wyll neuer eate whyte meate / & after it happenyth hym to come there where he can gette none other meate. In this case it behouyth hym to breke his auowe for that partyculer case is excypted secretly from his general auowe by this equytie or epykay as it is sayd byfore. A lso yf a law were made in a cytie that no man vnder the payn of deth shuld open the gates of the cytie byfore the sonne rysynge / yet yf the Cytyzens byfore that houre fleynge from theyr enemyes come to the gates of the cytie & one for sauynge of the cytyzens openyth the gates [byfore the houre appoynted by the lawe:] yet he offendyth not the law / for that case is exceptyd from the sayd general law by equytie. (97–99) 18 ���������������������������������������������������������������������� See T.F.T. Plucknett and J.L. Barton’s introduction to Saint German’s St. German’s Doctor and Student, xliv. 19 �������������� Saint German, St. German’s Doctor and Student, 97; subsequent citations are annotated within the text.

Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox


Whether having to make dietary adjustments in order to survive or opening the city gates in an emergency, living life equitably means occasionally breaking vows, promises, and laws in order to achieve a greater good.20 It means living with a certain amount of contingency and flexibility. Treatises on equity by writers like Jean Gerson and Saint German, according to L owell Gallagher, were shaped by the religious discourse of casuistry, “the science of resolving problems of moral choice, known as ‘cases of conscience’” (1).21 Indeed, it is helpful to think of the T udor jurists, as Gallagher does, as “secular counterparts” (140) of the casuists. Camille Wells Slights nicely points out the link between casuistry and equity by reminding us that the former “attempts to provide the perplexed human conscience with a means of reconciling the obligations of religious faith with the demands of particular human situations.”22 L ike equity, then, casuistry is a method of discourse and thought that provides for a negotiation between the universal and the particular. Or, as Gerson—a fifteenth-century casuist as well as equity theorist—would have it, “T he diversity of human temperament is incomprehensible—not just in several men, but in one and the same man— and not, as I say, in different years or months or weeks, but in days, hours, and moments.”23 And this less-than-unified “human temperament” was recognized in medieval and early modern discussions of “conscience.” A s Gallagher points out, conscience was described by casuists “not only as a place but as an ongoing activity, as a syllogistic dialog between synteresis (the passive and infallible storehouse of divine truth) and conscientia (the active witness, viewing particular cases in light of the moral knowledge acquired form synteresis)” (8). Although synteresis was supposed to shape this dialogue, conscientia could pose the same problems for synteresis as equity could for the letter of the law: “‘Conscience,’ construed as an interpretive activity within a continually changing socio-political context, performed a covert deconstructive operation on the other, the dominant property assigned to the word: ‘conscience’ as the fixed locus of truth” (8).24 L ike equity, conscience had the power to challenge, negotiate with, and reimagine the dominant discourse.

���������������������������� O n the opening of the gates topos, see also Cicero, De inventione, 2.52.123. �������������������������������� O n Gerson and Saint German, see Medusa’s Gaze, 9. Other helpful discussions of casuistry include Sypher, “Shakespeare as Casuist,” esp. 275–76 (Sypher makes some important connections between casuistry and paradox); Malloch, “John Donne and the Casuists”; and Camille Wells Slights, The Casuistical Tradition in Shakespeare, Donne, Herbert, and Milton. 22 ����������������������� Camille Wells Slights, The Casuistical Tradition in Shakespeare, Donne, Herbert, and Milton, 3. 23 ������������� Jean Gerson, De perfectione cordis, quoted in Gallagher, Medusa’s Gaze, 6. 24 �������������������������������� See also Camille Wells Slights, The Casuistical Tradition in Shakespeare, Donne, Herbert, and Milton, 10–12. 20 21

“To Do a Great Right, Do a Little Wrong” or Gaining by Relaxing


Law and religion were connected even more specifically in the linguistic links between equity and the Christian concept of the letter and the spirit. T he third chapter of 2 Corinthians, verse 6, provided the locus classicus for discussions of the letter and the spirit of the law: God “hath made vs able ministers of the new T estament, not of the letter, but of the Spirit: for the letter killeth, but the Spirit giueth life.”25 E quity theorists often made the connection between the human body and the letter of the law on the one hand and the human soul, or “Spirit,” and equity on the other.26 William West’s Symboleography (1594) made the analogy very clear: “F or it is to bee understood that the law hath two parts, Carnem & Animam: the letter resembleth the flesh ..., and the intent and reason the soule.”27 John Selden was even more frank, though he did disapprove of the dangerous flexibility in both the legal notion of equity and the theological concept of the spirit of the law: “E quity in law, is the same that the Spirit is in R eligion, what every one pleases to make it.” 28 William Perkins is a crucial figure who connects these strains of law and theology because he wrote treatises on both equity (Epieikeia: or, A treatise of Christian Equitie and moderation [1604]) and casuistry (A Discourse of Conscience [1596]) and The Whole Treatise of the Cases of Conscience [1606]). For our purposes, a focus on Epieikeia will suffice, for in it he links equity to a moral Christian life: E quitie and Christian moderation whether publike or priuate, is the true badge of Christianitie. Without publike E quitie, what is the court of Iustice, but turned into the seate of Iniquitie? and without priuate equity, what is mans life humane societie, neighbourhood, nay friendship, nay kindred, nay marriage itself but euen a potion of poyson in a golden cuppe?29

25 ��������������� Sheppard, ed., The Geneva Bible (1602). The marginal commentary on this passage in 2 Corinthians is also relevant for its amplification of the difference between human law and divine gospel: “T he L awe is as it were a writing of it selfe, dead, and without efficacie: but the Gospel, and new Couenant, as it were the verie vertue of God it selfe, in renewing, iustifying, and sauing of men. T he L aw propoundeth death, accusing all men of vnrighteousnesse: T he Gospel offereth and giueth righteousnesse and life. T he gouernance of the L awe serued for a time to the promise: the Gospel remaineth to the ende of the worlde. Therefore what is the glorie of that in comparison of the maiestie of this?” (89r). 26 ������������������������������������������������������������������������������ F or an important meditation on the connection among these religious and legal issues, see E rasmus’s adage “Summum jus, summa injuria,” in his Adages: Ivi1 to Ix100, 244–45. See also Eden, Poetic and Legal Fiction, 136–41. 27 �������������� William West, Symboleography (1594), quoted in W. Nicholas Knight, “Equity, The Merchant of Venice, and William Lambarde,” 97. See also Bodin, The Six Bookes of a Commonweale, bk. 6, chap. 6: “the law without equitie, is as a bodie without a soule, for that it concerning but thinges in generall, leaueth the particular circumstances, which are infinit, to be by equalitie [i.e., equity] sought out according to the exigence of the places, times, and persons” (764). 28 �������� Selden, The Table-Talk of John Selden, 49. 29 ��������� Perkins, Epieikeia, 6r–v; subsequent citations are annotated within the text.


Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox

Perkins’s treatise raises the question of “private equity,” claiming that the kind of flexibility that a judge or chancellor needed to interpret the law was necessary in everyday life as well: “in conference hold it alwaies a rule of Christian wisedome, and priuate E quitie, neuer to sticke stiffely to any opinion, vnlesse it be in a plaine trueth, and of great moment” (C4v). And by acting in this way, human beings merely imitate the most equitable of all: “God sheweth most admirable E quitie and moderation towards vs, therefore ought we to shew it, one towards another. ... Wonderfull is the moderation, that God sheweth to man” (E2). But Perkins’s most elegant formulation for our purposes comes in his statement about what equity is not: it is not justice, and it is not mercy. T hough many link equity and mercy in the early modern period, Perkins keeps them distinct and reveals once again the paradoxical quality of equity: two sortes of men are here reproueable. F irst such men, as by a certain foolish kind of pittie, are so carried away, that would haue nothing but mercy, mercy, and would haue all punnishments, forfaitures, penalties, either quite taken away, and remitted, or at least lessoned, and moderated, they would also haue extremitie of the lawe executed on no man. T his is the high way to abolish lawes, and consequently to pull downe authoritie, and so in the end to open a dore to all confusion, disorder, and all licentiousness of life. ... in the second place, this doctrine and the very scope of this text, condemnes another sort of men, which are more combersome; that is to say, such men as haue nothing in their mouthes, but the lawe, the lawe: and Iustice, Iustice: in the meane time forgetting, that Iustice alwaies shakes hands with her sister mercie, and that all lawes allowe a mittigation. (A8r–v)

E quity, then, is tougher than mercy but softer than justice and law: Perkins sees equity as that which reminds us that these binaries collapse into kinship; Justice needs to shake hands with her sister and mitigate the law. O therwise, “you make the name of iustice, a couer for crueltie” (A5). Richard Hooker—another early modern figure who wrote on the connection between law and theology—highlighted the dangers of rigid, “general laws” and warned in book 5 of his Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity that such laws are like general rules of physic according whereunto as no wise man will desire himselfe to be cured, if there be joined with his disease some special accident, in regard whereof that whereby others in the same infirmity but without the like accident recover health, would be to him either hurteful, or at the least unprofitable: so we must not, under a colourable commendation of holy ordinances in the Church, and of reasonable causes whereupon they have been grounded for the common good, imagine that all men’s cases ought to have one measure.30 30 �������� H ooker, Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, bk. 5, chap. 9, sec. 3 (2:35); subsequent citations are annotated within the text by book, chapter, and section numbers only. See also William L ambarde’s Archeion (1591/1635): “For written Lawes must needs bee made in a generalitie, and be grounded upon that which happeneth for the most part, because no wisdome of man can fore-see every thing in particularitie, which Experience and Time doth beget. ... therfore [sic], although the written Law be generally good, and just; yet in some speciall case, it may have need of Correction, by reason of some considerable Circumstance

“To Do a Great Right, Do a Little Wrong” or Gaining by Relaxing


Just as a similar disease requires different treatment because of its particular nature, its “special accident,” H ooker claims—in a phrase with Shakespearean resonance—that no “one measure” can successfully be applied to “all men’s cases.” F inally, stressing equity’s power to correct the law, H ooker importantly concludes his definition by claiming that the problem is “not that the law is unjust, but unperfect; nor equity against, but above, the law, binding men’s conciences in things which law cannot reach unto” (5.9.3). But H ooker also raises a different issue that came to be crucial in discussions of equity: whether equity resides within the law or outside and above the law. It was just this uncertainty about where equity lay that led some who wrote on the concept to worry about its ability to correct and mitigate law. Certainly, John Calvin thought that equity could lead to what Perkins—discussing those too attracted to mercy—called “the high way to abolish lawes, and consequently to pull downe authoritie, and so in the end to open a dore to all confusion, disorder, and all licentiousness of life.” Because human laws were shadows of divine laws, the flexibility intrinsic to equity was anathema to Calvin: O thers—which is a fault more common than criminality—think that unjust which legislators have sanctioned as just, and on the contrary, pronounce that to be laudable which they have forbidden. ... T he controversy of these is by no means repugnant to that original idea of equity ... for when men dispute with each other on the comparative merits of different laws, it implies their consent to some general rule of equity. T his clearly argues the debility of the human mind, which halts and staggers even when it appears to follow the right way.31

F or Calvin, the paradoxical suppleness of equity—capable of making the unjust just and the forbidden laudable—called all law, divine as well as human, into question. H owever, even some defenders of equity felt that it was important to stress that the written law had equity built into it—that equity was not, as H ooker had it, “above the law,” but lurked within, awaiting the wise interpreter who could find it. John Rastell, in his Les Termes de la Ley (1523/1607), addresses this idea by dividing equity into “two sortes, differing much the one from the other,” which “are of contrary effects”:

falling out afterwards, which at the time of the Law-making was not fore-seene: Whereas otherwise, to apply one generall L aw to all particular cases, were to make all Shooes by one Last, or to cut one Glove for all Hands, which how unfit it would prove, every man may readily perceive ... because it doth not onely weigh what is generally meet for the most part, but doth also consider, the person, time, place, and other circumstances in every singular case that commeth in question, and doth thereof frame such judgement as is convenient and agreeable to the same: So that in sum the written Law is like to a stiffe rule of Steel, or Iron, which will not be applied to the fashion of the Stone or Timber whereunto it is laid: A nd Equitie (as Aristotle saith well) is like to the leaden rule of the Lesbian Artificers, which they might at pleasure bend, and bow to every stone of whatsoever fashion” (43). 31 �������� Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion 1:295.

Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox


for ye one doth abridge, diminish and take frō ye letter of the law. T he other dooth enlarge, amplifie, & adde therunto. The first is thus defined, Equitie is the correction of a L aw generally made in that part, wherein it faileth, which correction of the generall words, is much used in our L aw. ... T he other ... E quitie is when the wordes of the law are effectually directed, and one thing only prouided by the wordes of the law, to the end that all things of ye like kind may be prouided by ye same, & so whē the wordes enact one thing, they enact all other thinges yt are of like degre. 32

The first version is the standard one—equity as correction and mitigation—but the second suggests that equity is part of the law, a part that has yet to be accurately expressed and enacted. A similar logic is expressed by E dmund Plowden in one of his Reports as he explains the double power of equity to extend or limit the law: it is not the Words of the L aw, but the internal Sense of it that makes the L aw, and our Law (like all others) consists of two parts, viz. of Body and Soul, the L etter of the L aw is the Body of the L aw, and the Sense and R eason of the L aw is the Soule of the L aw, quia ratio legis est anima legis. ... A nd equity, which in L atin is called E quitas, enlarges or diminishes the L etter according to its D iscretion. ... E quity or Epichaia makes an E xception ... from the general Words of the T ext, which E xception is as strong as if it had been expressly put in the A ct.33

E quity can enlarge or diminish the law “according to its discretion,” but Plowden’s version of equity—unlike the view put forth in H ooker—is part of the law, its “internal Sense.”34 E quity is law’s soul, while the letter is law’s body.35 T he ��������� R astell, Les Termes de la Ley (1523), 81r–v. ������������������������������ Plowden, “E yston v. Studd,” in The Commentaries, or Reports of Edmund Plowden, 465–66. Plowden seems to be quoting from Rastell when he discusses the two types of equity. H e also notes a gap between the two types, which he calls “a great D iversity ..., for the one abridges the Letter, the other enlarges it, the one diminishes it, the other amplifies it, the one takes from the Letter, the other adds to it” (467). I examine his solution in the final paragraphs of the present chapter. 34 ������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� Leonard Lawlor has argued that Jacques Derrida, in effect, also located an “internal sense” within the law: “A lthough the law is always empirically and historically determined, located in particular cases and documents, the law must cover an indefinite number of cases. T he law does not and cannot belong to any particular case in which it is found. T he law must remain minimally the same and yet be open to indefinite extension or differentiation.” D errida’s notion of an “empirically and historically determined” law that nevertheless “must cover an indefinite number of cases” and that is “minimally the same” yet “open to indefinite ... differentiation” reveals the recognition of a paradox similar to that explored by Edward Hake and his contemporaries (“From the Trace to the Law,” 10). In a 2002 lecture, D errida asserted: “T he heterogeneity between justice and law does not exclude but, on the contrary, calls for their inseparability; there can be no justice without an appeal to juridical determinations and to the force of law; and there can be no becoming, no transformation, history, or perfectability of law without an appeal to a justice that will nonetheless always exceed it” (Rogues,150). 35 ������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� Plowden also compares the law to a nut: “the L etter of the L aw represents the Shell, and the Sense of it the kernel” (The Commentaries, or Reports of Edmund Plowden, 465). Again, the emphasis is on the “profit” that resides internally. 32 33

“To Do a Great Right, Do a Little Wrong” or Gaining by Relaxing


paradox of equity has been made part of a Christian binary system that does not threaten law’s predominance.36 T he clearest articulation of equity as law’s “internal sense” comes in E dward H ake’s Epieikeia: A Dialogue on Equity in Three Parts, which was written in about 1600 but stayed in manuscript until 1953. Consciously or not, when Samuel T horne paraphrases H ake’s vision of equity in the preface to the modern edition, he echoes Plowden: “in exposition, the judge applies the law, though not perhaps its letter; he does not correct, reform or change it, but rather affirms its true internal sense.”37 T his other view of equity emphasizes interpretation from within instead of from without. In putting forth his theory of internal equity, H ake cites Saint German’s chapter 16, on the limits of the letter of the law: “in some cases it is necessarye to leave the wordes of the lawe and to followe that [which] Reason and Justice requireth, and to that intent is E quity ordeyned.” Instead of emphasizing corrrection and mitigation—and the concomitant ambiguity and paradox—H ake attempts to resolve the problem of equity, which, he says, “is of some tearmed tacita exceptio, yea, even in that chapter yt is said to be a secreat exception, that is, an exception secreatlie understoode in every generall rule of every positive lawe” (13). But attempting to resolve paradoxes, H ake creates new ones: “E quity which seemeth to be owte of the lawe or besides the lawe, bicause it is not to be seene in the wordes of the lawe (but yet within the lawe as being within the meaninge of the lawe), is by the judge or expositor of the lawe to be applyed to the same lawe” (15). U nlike H ooker, H ake does not see equity as “owte of the lawe or besides the lawe.” But just what Hake does see is difficult to pin down. Equity “is not to be seene in the wordes of the lawe,” but it is there, “within the lawe as being within the meaning of the lawe.” T he burden, it seems, is on the judge or expositor to find the meaning, the “secreat exception,” beneath the letter of the law. While this approach may seem only to reformulate the notion that equity uncovers intention, it is different, for H ake will not let go of the law, will not look beyond it. L aw does “fayle in the deciding of a particularity,” but when this failure occurs, “the judge or expositor of the lawe is thereuppon by and by to investigate the hidden sense or Equity thereof ...” (23). If the danger in interpreting equity as beyond the law is that either legal or extra-legal relativism can ensue, the danger in Hake’s view of equity as residing secretly in the law is that the judge or chancellor can assume too much interpretive power. O ne of H ake’s interlocutors, E lliott, shrewdly raises this issue: “it is a thing most daungerous that judges shoulde be lefte to the liberty of their owne exposition of the lawe” (25). Hake answers Elliott by affirming that equity resides not in the letter of the law but in some deeper, secret meaning that it has: the 36 ���������������������������������������������������������������������������������� For an extremely useful explication of Plowden’s being “virtually identified with the range of learning associated with the equity of statutes” by later T udor and Stuart writers on equity, see Hutson, “‘Our Old Storehowse,’” 258. 37 �������������������������������� Samuel T horne, preface to H ake, Epieikeia, x; emphasis mine.

Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox


judge’s job “is not [to] chaunge the lawe, but is indeede to sett the lawe in his right place, and rather to give life to the lawe which otherwise in the letter thereof would be dead” (28).38 In some sense the problem is the same, whether the defenders of equity stress its external or internal force: the judge, chancellor, or interpreter had tremendous power over the common law, and there is a sense in all of these documents of the damage that might be done in the process of correction. William L ambarde, in his Archeion (1591/1635), claimed that equity could end up replacing one kind of tyranny with another: Equitie should not bee appealed unto but only in rare and extraordinary matters, lest on the one side, if the Iudge in Equitie should take Iurisdiction over all, it should come to passe (as Aristotle saith) that a Beast should beare the rule: F or so he calleth man, whose Iudgement, if it bee not restrained by the Chaine of Law, is commonly carried away, with unruly affections.”39

T he judge in an equity case can have too much power, can become a tyrannical beast unrestrained by the “Chaine of Law.” In the mid-seventeenth century, John Selden worried in a similar fashion about the power of the chancellor, going so far as to suggest that equity allowed a kind of legal relativism: Equity is a Roguish thing: for Law we have a measure, know what to trust to; Equity is according to the Conscience of him that is Chancellor, and as that is larger or narrower, so is E quity. ’T is all one as if they should make the Standard for the measure, we call a Foot, a Chancellor’s Foot; what an uncertain Measure would this be? One Chancellor has a long F oot, another a short F oot, a T hird an indifferent F oot: ’T is the same thing in the Chancellor’s Conscience.40

F or Selden, equity—that which is supposed to combat the problem of measuring the incommensurable—makes measurement impossible because it shifts with every new interpreter.41 ���������������������������������������� F or a similar formulation, see Grotius, The Law of War and Peace, 2.20.27: “For he [F ernando Vázquez] has not distinguished between equity, which serves to interpret the law, and relaxation. U pon this ground in another place he censures T homas A quinas and Soto for saying that the law continues to be binding even if the cause should cease in a particular case, as though they thought that the law consisted merely in what was written; an idea that never occurred to them.” When Samuel D aniel writes on equity in his poem celebrating E llesmere, he—unlike Grotius—will link equity and relaxation. 39 ���������� L ambarde, Archeion, 44. 40 �������� Selden, The Table-Talk of John Selden, 49. 41 ���������������������������������������������������������������������������������� T he period under question is a liminal one in terms of equity. A ccording to W. S. Holdsworth, the Tudor-Stuart period saw a “substitution of the background of material force, on which the sovereign state was based, for the religious and moral background which underlay the political theories of the Middle Ages” (A History of English Law 4:279– 80). Indeed, as J. H. Baker has claimed, by the end of the seventeenth century “equity hardened into law. T rusts and mortgages were governed by rules as clear as any rules of 38

“To Do a Great Right, Do a Little Wrong” or Gaining by Relaxing


T he implications are even more serious when we factor in the monarch’s role in the system of equity. King James, perhaps unsurprisingly, defended equity in several of his writings.42 But the way in which he developed the concept raises serious questions—issues that make their way into both The Merchant of Venice and Measure for Measure. In The Trew Law of Free Monarchies (1598), written before he ascended the English throne, James used equity as a method by which a king could moderate his absolutism:43 F or albeit it be trew that I haue at length prooued, that the K ing is aboue the law, as both author and giuer of strength thereto; yet a good king will not onely delight to rule his subiects by the lawe, but euen will conforme himselfe in his owne actions thervunto, alwaies keeping that ground, that the health of the common-wealth be his chiefe law: A nd where he sees the lawe doubtsome or rigorous, he may interpret or mitigate the same, lest otherwise Summum ius bee summa iniuria: A nd therefore generall lawes, made publickely in Parliament, may vpon knowen respects to the K ing by his authoritie bee mitigated, and suspended vpon causes onely knowen to him.44

common law.” Baker cites a chancellor who asserted in 1676 “the conscience by which I am to proceed is merely civilis et politica, and tied to certain measures” (An Introduction to English Legal History, 127). 42 ������������������������������������������������������������������������������� Stephen A. Cohen—in an otherwise excellent article—ignores James’s writings on equity and links the concept instead to E lizabeth I and romantic comedy: “E quity was a natural ideological correlative for romantic comedy’s valorization of E lizabeth’s style of governance: mercy and intercession were traits associated with female rulers, and as a form of royal power exercised by a surrogate equity was well suited to the genre’s displacement of agency onto its heroines” (“From Mistress to Master,” 439). Instead of exploring the way in which the D uke manipulates equity for potentially absolutist ends, Cohen sees the play moving from equity to royal fiat as a method of enforcing the law. 43 ����������������������������������������������������������������������������� T his discussion takes me—with some trepidation—into debates that continue to rage among historians of early modern E ngland. F or the purpose of the present chapter, I am taking my definition of “absolutism” from Johann P. Sommerville: “The theory of absolutism vested sovereign power in the ruler alone and forbade disobedience to the sovereign’s commands unless they contradicted the injunctions of God Himself” (“English and European Political Ideas in the Early Seventeenth Century,” 168.) See also Kastan, Shakespeare after Theory: “the claim of a number of recent historians of seventeenthcentury E ngland that the Stuarts ruled within and through the law and cannot be thought of as ‘absolutist’ seems to run the risk of losing a useful distinction in considering not only the centralization of power in the crown but more crucially how the monarch conceived of the sources and sanctions of its authority” (247n15). Historians such as Glen Burgess and Paul Christianson have seen James—as his reign progressed—as moving from absolutism to constitutionalism. His views on equity, though, are remarkably consistent. As far as James and equity are concerned, then, once an absolutist, always an absolutist. F or the consistency and coherence of James’s comments on equity, see Fortier, “Equity and Ideas.” 44 ���������������� James VI and I, Political Writings, 75. Further references to the texts of King James are taken from this edition unless otherwise noted.

Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox


We have reentered the paradoxes of equity: because “Summum ius [can] bee summa iniuria—E xtreme justice can be extreme injustice—the true comprehension of the law is achieved only by going “aboue the law.” But here the stakes are higher, for by allying himself with equity—like the king, equity is “aboue the law”—James is able to justify mitigating or suspending those “generall lawes, made publickely in Parliament ... vpon cause onely knowen to him.” What seems to be mitigation of the letter of the law can in fact become a kinder, gentler absolutism. James also stresses the mitigating quality of equity in his handbook on kingship, Basilikon Doron, written for his son Prince Henry and first published in Edinburgh in 1598. Invoking once again the Ciceronian paradox of equity, James tells H enry to Vse Iustice, but with such moderation, as it turne not in T yrannie: otherwaies summum Ius, is summa iniuria. ... for lawes are ordained as rules of virtuous and sociall liuing, and not to bee snares to trap your good subiects: and therefore the lawe must be interpreted according to the meaning, and not to the literall sense thereof: Nam ratio est anima legis [For reason is the soul of law] (43).

Interpreting law literally can lead to tyranny, but so can being too loose with the law: “what difference is betwixt extreame tyrannie, delighting to destroy all mankinde; and extreame slacknesse of punishment, permitting euery man to tyrannize ouer his companion” (44). For James, the solution comes both in recognizing that extremities can collapse into sameness—“... Nam in medio stat virtus [F or virtue lies in the middle]. ... and the two extremities themselues, although they seeme contrarie, yet growing to the height, runne euer both in one” (43)—and in achieving moderation and equity: “For Iustice, by the law, giueth euery man his owne; and equitie in things arbitrall, giueth euery one that which is meetest for him” (45). But in this last quotation we are back to the problem explored in the Trew Law: who is to decide “that which is meetest” for “euery man”? T he answer, of course, is the K ing—and the Court that represented the “K ing’s conscience”: the court of Chancery. A major controversy erupted in 1616 when Sir E dmund Coke challenged the reversal of a common law decision by the Chancery. E ventually, Coke, who vehemently defended the letter of the common law, was taken off the King’s Bench, as James defended Chancery’s decision.45 F or Coke, the common law of E ngland was “the golden metwand, whereby all men’s causes are justly and evenly measured.”46 T aking an approach that envisioned more elasticity to the law than Coke had, T homas E gerton, L ord E llesmere, issued a famous defense of equity and Chancery in the Earl of Oxford’s Case of 1616: “Equity speaks as the Law of God speaks,” E llesmere asserted, and went on to claim that “T he Cause why there is a Chancery is, for that Mens Actions are so divers and infinite, That it is impossible to make any general L aw which may aptly meet with every particular A ct, and 45

����������������������������������������������� See Fortier, “Equity and Ideas,” esp. 1259–67. ������ Coke, The Fourth Part of the Institutes of the Laws of England, 290.


“To Do a Great Right, Do a Little Wrong” or Gaining by Relaxing


not fail in some Circumstances.”47 E llesmere recognized what A ristotle had: the incommensurability of human experience required a flexible legal measurement; the golden metwand was insufficient. In June of the same year, James addressed the Star Chamber and defended both Chancery and equity: this is a Court of E quitie, and hath power to deale likewise in Ciuill causes: It is called the dispenser of the K ings Conscience, following alwayes the intention of L aw and Iustice; not altering the Law, not making that blacke which other Courts made white, nor e conuerso; But in this it exceeds other courts, mixing Mercie with Iustice, where other Courts proceed onely to the strict rules of L aw: A nd where the rigour of the L aw in many cases will vndoe a Subiect, there the Chancerie tempers the L aw with equitie, and so mixeth Mercy with Iustice, as it preserues men from destruction. (214)

James addresses and critiques the idea that Chancery and equity distort, reinvent, transform law: they do not make “that blacke which other Courts made white.” But James also makes it clear that what undergirds equity is the King: T he Chancerie is vndependant of any other Court, and is onely vnder the K ing: T here it is written Teste meipso [with myself as witness]; from that Court there is no Appeale. ... It was a foolish, inept, and presumptuous attempt, and fitter for the time of some vnworthy King: vnderstand mee aright; I meane not the Chancerie should exceed his limite; but on the other part, the King onely is to correct it, and none else: And therefore I was greatly abused in that attempt: F or if any was wronged there, the complaint should have come to mee. N one of you but will confesse you haue a K ing of reasonable vnderstanding, and willing to reforme; why then should you spare to complaine to me, that being the high way, and not goe the other way, and backe-way, in contempt of our Authoritie? (214–15)

Chancery and equity exist to correct “the rigour of the L aw,” but the K ing is the final judge: “the King onely is to correct it.” The problem is that, in Ian Maclean’s words, “N o clear demarcation can be drawn between legitimate extension of the law to casus omissi and illegitimate correction or emendation of the law by the judge or interpreter.”48 T he court of Chancery and its use of equity become an extension of the K ing’s power: the Chancellor mitigates any violation of the spirit of the law, but the K ing—and certainly not E dward Coke—is the only one who can correct the court. H e claims to be a “K ing of reasonable vnderstanding,” but

47 ���������������� T homas E gerton, Earl of Oxford’s Case, quoted in F ortier, “E quity and Ideas,” 1262. See also Ellesmere’s earlier comment to the two houses of Parliament (1595): “you are therefore to enter into a due consideration of the said laws, and where you find superfluity to prune, where defect to supply, and where ambiguity to explain, that they be not burthensome but profitable to the commonwealth” (quoted in Andrews, Law versus Equity in The Merchant of Venice, 34). 48 ��������� Maclean, Interpretation and Meaning in the Renaissance, 178.


Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox

equity and his ultimate control over it potentially give him power that flies above the law. The Merchant of Venice T he connection between The Merchant of Venice and equity is an essential one.49 N onetheless, there has been a strain of Shakespeare criticism that has attempted to downplay, even negate, the link. T he legal historian Sir F rederick Pollock claimed in 1914, “There is no question of equity in any technical sense [in Merchant].” More recently, William Chester Jordan claimed that “The key terms [of the play] are neither ‘equity’ nor ‘mercy’; they are ‘reason’ and ‘nature.’” And B.J. and Mary Sokol claim that “many later twentieth-century students of Shakespeare who have taken an interest in the legal contexts of his plays have persistently misapplied a particular legal-historical background [equity and mercy] to an early Shakespeare play [Merchant],” though the Sokols do find application of this background to King Lear “most illuminating.”50 In making their case for Lear but neither Merchant nor Measure, the Sokols completely ignore King James’s writings on equity, even though these writings were published in the late 1590s—more or less contemporaneously with Merchant. A nd just as there was a spate of writings on equity around the time of the production and publication of Measure, which I discuss below, the year 1596–97 saw the publication of a group of important texts that establish “E quity and mercy as attributes of Chancery”: an edition of Saint German’s Doctor and Student; West’s Symboleography; Lambarde’s Archeion; books 5 and 6 of Spenser’s Faerie Queene; and Merchant.51 H enry Saunders—citing some of the skeptical critics of the Merchant-equity connection—claims that invoking equity works if the doge’s court in the play is seen as related to the Staple Court, housed in the Staple Inn, which was completed in 1592: “Created by the Ordinance of Staples ‘to give Courage to Merchant Strangers’ ... the Staple Court was by way of being an E quity Court of first instance: appeals lay to Chancery.” Saunders has convincingly linked 49 ���������������������������������� F or classic studies, see A ndrews, Law versus Equity in The Merchant of Venice; Brockbank, “Shakespeare and the Fashion of These Times,” esp. 38–40; MacKay, “The Merchant of Venice: A Reflection of the Early Conflict between Courts of Law and Courts of Equity”; Keeton, Shakespeare’s Legal and Political Background, 132–50; O. Hood Phillips, Shakespeare and the Lawyers, 91–118; Zeeveld, The Temper of Shakespeare’s Thought; W. Nicholas Knight, “Equity, The Merchant of Venice, and William Lambarde”; T ucker, “T he L etter of the L aw in The Merchant of Venice”; and Danson, The Harmonies of The Merchant of Venice, esp. 82–125. 50 ���������������������������������������������������������������������������������� Pollock, “A Note on Shylock v. Antonio,” 175; William Chester Jordan, “Approaches to the Court Scene in the Bond Story,” 58; Sokol and Sokol, “Shakespeare and the English Equity Jurisdiction,” 417. 51 ��������������������������������� See W. N icholas K night, “E quity, The Merchant of Venice, and William Lambarde,” 96.

“To Do a Great Right, Do a Little Wrong” or Gaining by Relaxing


the Staple Court to Shylock’s trial, which “suggests a forum and proceedings for merchants who could not tolerate the (common) law’s delay.”52 These equity-skeptics notwithstanding, Shakespeare’s invocation of the concept—and problem—of equity in Merchant seems extremely clear. I will restrict my discussion primarily to the speech most often cited as an example either of Shakespeare’s exploration of equity or of his failure to invoke equity—Portia’s speech on mercy: The quality of mercy is not strained; It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest; It blesseth him that gives and him that takes. ’Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes T he thronèd monarch better than his crown. H is scepter shows the force of temporal power, T he attribute to awe and majesty, Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings; But mercy is above this scept’red sway; It is enthroned in the hearts of kings, It is an attribute to God himself, A nd earthly power doth then show likest God’s When mercy seasons justice. (4.1.183–204)

T oo many critics have gone wrong in interpreting this speech in terms of equity by trying to see direct equations, leaving themselves open to criticisms from those who do not see equity operating in a strict sense. A nd although there seems to be an uncanny preview of E llesmere’s language in the E arl of O xford’s Case in 1616 here—“Equity speaks as the Law of God speaks. ... The Cause why there is a Chancery is, for that Mens Actions are so divers and infinite, That it is impossible to make any general L aw which may aptly meet with every particular A ct, and not fail in some Circumstances”—it is probably a stretch to claim that Portia influenced Ellesmere’s decision, though that is what Mark Edwin Andrews famously argued.53 A nd more recently, W. N icholas K night—so helpful in ���������������������������� Saunders, “Staple Courts in The Merchant Of Venice,” 191. In his “The Merchant of Venice and the Law Merchant,” B.J. Sokol recognizes the “legal incertitude” (61) in the play and “the many unresolvable paradoxes of Portia’s and Shylock’s case at law” (67). Instead of locating the uncertainty and paradox in the discourse of equity law, however, Sokol connects them to the L aw Merchant tribunals, which were grounded in “a body of rules which stood apart from the common law” (62). 53 Earl of Oxford’s Case, 6, quoted in Fortier, “Equity and Ideas,” 1262. See Andrews, “Law versus Equity in The Merchant of Venice,” 41. Andrews’s claim is based on Ellesmere’s advice to his fellow judges “to maintain the power and prerogative of the King; and in cases in which there is no authority and precedent, to leave it to the K ing to order it according to his wisdom and the good of his subjects, for otherwise the K ing would be no more than the Duke of Venice” (quoted in Campbell, Lives of the Lord Chancellors, 385). But the Venetian duke, or doge, was famously ineffectual, and E llesmere’s reference need not be to 52


Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox

situating Merchant within late-1590s writings on equity—provided a classic case of this tendency to equate Chancery and Portia/the Venetian court: O bserve, in the familiar passage [“T he quality of mercy is not strained”], operating at the same time, Portia’s, and of course Shakespeare’s, precise sense of how equity accomplishes justice, how Chancery has a remedial function over the strictures of the common law, how a person within an institution can reflect the hope that the application of its system can transcend the system’s own limitations to achieve the idealized purpose for which the institution was constructed.54

I would argue that this is certainly not Shakespeare’s “precise sense”—how would we know?—and probably not even Portia’s: to summon Chancery in this way is to limit the complexity of the scene, to over-historicize it, to confine it in allegory.55 A nd Portia invokes mercy, which—as many sticklers have noted—is not the same thing as equity.56 But to swing back the other way and deny the presence of equity-related issues is even more misguided. F or equity does surround the speech, in spirit if not in letter. Portia does, after all, assert that “earthly power doth then show likest God’s / When mercy seasons justice” (195–96), a claim that is firmly within the discourse of equity. A nd Shylock sounds like one of Perkins’s extremists—“such men as haue nothing in their mouthes, but the lawe, the lawe” (A8v)—when he claims, “I stand for judgment” (102), “I stand here for law” (141), and “I crave the law” (201). F urther, Bassanio certainly asks for an equitable decision—in the strict sense— when, after Shylock rejects the merciful option, Bassanio beseeches Portia-asBalthazar to “Wrest once the law to your authority. / T o do a great right, do a little wrong, / And curb this cruel devil of his will” (4.1.214–16). Bassanio makes a plea for equity—with all of its paradoxical power—and asks Portia to get to “right” through “wrong,” to remember that strict justice can be unjust. Significantly, Portia then expressly rejects equity and reaffirms the law-as-written: It must not be. T here is no power in Venice Can alter a decree established. ’T will be recorded for a precedent, A nd many an error by the same example Will rush into the state. It cannot be. (4.1.217–21) Shakespeare’s D uke. See E dward Muir, Civic Ritual in Renaissance Venice, esp. 251–96, and my chapter 2, above. Andrews’s claim is accepted by Stephen A. Cohen, who finds it compelling because—as W. Nicholas Knight noted before him (“Equity, The Merchant of Venice, and William Lambarde,” 108n8)—King James and his court saw Merchant twice in 1605 (Cohen, “‘The Quality of Mercy,’” 36). 54 ����������������������������� W. N icholas K night, “E quity, The Merchant of Venice, and William Lambarde,” 96. 55 �������������������������������������������������������������������������������� E.F.J. Tucker blames “Shakespearian criticism” for presenting “an erroneous and distorted view of equity” because of its “myopic concentration upon the court of Chancery” (“The Letter of the Law in The Merchant of Venice,” 94). 56 ����������������������������������������������������������������������������� See, most recently, B.J. and Mary Sokol, “Shakespeare and the English Equity Jurisdiction.”

“To Do a Great Right, Do a Little Wrong” or Gaining by Relaxing


“It must not be” and “It can not be”: equity is invoked as a potential but unrealizable solution.57 N either paradox nor equity disappears completely from the scene, however. A s several commentators have noted, Portia wins the day by getting to seeming equity through its opposite. T he Sokols are contemptuous of any invocation of equity in this scene because “T o assert these presumptions one must overlook the facts that Portia asks Shylock for human mercy, not the bench for the benefit of an equitable remedy, and moreover that Portia ripostes Shylock’s refusal not with an equitable injunction but with positive law.”58 Babies are thrown out with bath water here: Portia asks for mercy, yes, but Bassanio asks for “equitable remedy,” and Portia’s “riposte” highlights not the absence of “equitable injunction” but the failure of equity to solve all legal problems. J.P. Brockbank was much closer to the scene’s heart when he noted, while registering the paradoxes of the scene, that “Shylock, in refusing the mercy plea, refuses to allow Equity its most human opening; the words of the bond are squeezed harder, and an ultimate loyalty to the letter of the law is found, after all, to vindicate its spirit.”59 U ltimately, this view may be too sunny. T he paradoxes of equity seem to be summoned here to show their ultimate insufficiency instead of their arrival by means of the letter of the law. When a resolution is necessary, Portia employs what D anson calls “diabolic literalism” to bind and silence the alien (86). The paradoxical flexibility often associated with equity becomes hyper-rigidity: James’s “moderation” becomes “Tyrannie,” and equity—meant to check power—has become power’s instrument.60 T here is another paradox of equity, then: avoiding the tyranny of the letter, equity can help reinforce the tyranny of the ruler—or at least of the law’s interpreter (who, in James’s view, could be one and the same).61 H inted at in Merchant, this paradox lies at the heart of Measure for Measure. Measure for Measure Much more than Merchant, Measure for Measure takes the paradoxes of equity and justice as its subject.62 Indeed, Measure for Measure participates in this paradoxical ������������� See F ortier, The Culture of Equity: “In The Merchant of Venice ... Shakespeare presents equitable remedy as powerless, of no legal force” (125). See also Danson, The Harmonies of The Merchant of Venice, 95: “The absence of any enforceable concept of equity allows the Venetian law’s excessive literalism to suggest the most general and inexorable law of all, the law of mortality; and it therefore also increases our desire for some mitigation of that universal rigor.” 58 ������������������������������������������������������������������������ Sokol and Sokol, “Shakespeare and the English Equity Jurisdiction,” 426. 59 ������������������������������������������������������������ Brockbank, “Shakespeare and the Fashion of These Times,” 39. 60 �������������������������������������� James VI and I, “Basilikon Doron,” in Political Writings, 43. 61 ���������������������������������������������������������������������������� See Richard Wilson, “The Quality of Mercy,” esp. 132, and Stephen A. Cohen, “‘The Quality of Mercy,’” 51–52. 62 ����������������������������������� Marci A . H amilton has claimed that Merchant is about—among other things—the New Testament proverb “Judge not lest ye be judged,” part of the same section of the 57

Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox


discourse even in its title.63 F or critics and editors have long recognized that—in the area of justice, mercy, and equity—the phrase “measure for measure” could cut in opposite directions. In his Arden edition of the play, J.W. Lever notes that the roots of the saying seem to be double. O ne is biblical and, as L ever puts it, stresses “just retribution and reward, or the just exaction of revenge”: the first two verses of Matthew, chapter 7, which in The Geneva Bible (1560) read “Judge not, that ye be not judged. F or with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged, and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.” The other, the counter-sense, is proverbial and suggests, says L ever, “moderation or temperance as a virtue: ‘H e that forsakes measure, measure forsakes him’ (Tilley M 803).”64 E ven on the level of title, then, Shakespeare’s play stages a paradox involving strict justice and mitigation. Situated in its context, however, this passage from the seventh chapter of Matthew complicates matters further: it is part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, which continues with a warning against judgment: A nd why seest thou the mote, that is in thy brother’s eye, and perceivest not the beam that is in thine own eye? 4O r how sayest thou to thy brother, Suffer me to cast out the mote out of thine eye, and behold, a beam is in thine own eye? 5Hypocrite, first cast out that beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye. 3

When returned to its context, then, “with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged, and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again” seems less a text of retribution and revenge and more one of moderation and mitigation: look to your own eye rather than desiring an eye for an eye. Yet, if editors sometimes forget the context of the lines, so does Shakespeare’s D uke Vincentio, who proclaims in act 5, scene 1, as he calls for Angelo’s punishment, “‘An Angelo for Claudio, death for death.’ / Haste still pays haste, and leisure answers leisure; / Like doth quit like, and measure still for measure” (5.1.401–3). Whether he is posing as severe in order to get Isabel to be merciful and pardon A ngelo or is demonstrating a newfound severity, the D uke reveals the potential for the verses from Matthew to be invoked with a sense of retribution and revenge behind them.65 Just to underscore the paradoxicality of this scriptural citation—and thus Shakespeare’s title—we need to emphasize the tension that exists between sixteenthand early seventeenth-century commentaries on this passage. The gloss on Matthew 7:2–5 in the 1560 edition of the The Geneva Bible stresses the need for hesitation Sermon on the Mount that gives Measure for Measure its title (see Hamilton, “The End of Law,” 125). 63 ������������������������������������������������ F or a very compelling discussion of paradox and Measure for Measure, see Bate, The Genius of Shakespeare, 301–16. 64 �������������������������� See J.W. Lever, intro. to Measure for Measure, Arden edition, 3. 65 �������������������������������������������������������������� H arry Berger sees a paradox within the “titular paradoxes” of Measure for Measure: “the tension between the explicit reduction of sin to illicit sex and the implicit critique of the reduction as itself an act of moral evasion and bad faith” (Making Trifles of Terrors, 415).

“To Do a Great Right, Do a Little Wrong” or Gaining by Relaxing


and moderation in judgment: “H e commandeth, not to be curious or malicious to trye out, and condemne our neighbors fautes: for hypocrites hide their owne fautes, and seke not to amëde them, but are curious to reproue other mens.” But the marginal commentary in the 1602 edition stresses the much harsher interpretation of the lines: “We ought to finde fault one with another, but we must beware we doe it not without cause, or to seem holier than they, or in hatred of them.”66 If it has always been difficult to decipher what Measure for Measure means, that is at least partly because—in Shakespeare’s England as now—it is difficult to know what “measure for measure” means.67 T here is little question that Measure for Measure—indeed, all of the Shakespearean plays that explore these issues—evinces a sympathy toward mitigating the harshness of the letter of the law.68 Further, in 1603—close to the date of Shakespeare’s composition of Measure—Samuel D aniel held out equity and its personification in Lord Ellesmere as a hope for solving the problem of strict justice and rule by the letter of the law.69 O ne of his Certain Epistles (1603), 66 ���������������������������������������������������������������������������������� It is as if, in the margins of the Geneva Bible, E scalus and A ngelo were debating justice and equity—Escalus taking the position of the 1560 gloss, Angelo that of the 1602 gloss. For a helpful commentary on Luke 6:36–42, see Pope, “The Renaissance Background of Measure for Measure.” Pope points out that the gloss on Luke 6:37, “Iudge not, and ye shall not be iudged,” in the 1602 edition of the Geneva Bible—which cautions that Christ “speaketh not here of ciuill iudgements, and therefore by the word, forgive, is meant that good nature which the Christians vse in suffring and pardoning wrongs”—attempts to solve the problem by stressing to the reader that “the commands to be merciful, to forgive, and to abstain from judging are meant to bind only the private individual, not to restrict or abolish the authority of the State” (69). For similar paradoxical glosses in the Geneva Bible, see Crockett, The Play of Paradox, 98. 67 ������������������������������������������������������������������������� A .D . N uttall puts forth an elegant formulation of the paradox of rule in Measure for Measure: “So the Prince qua man has no duty save to love and forgive his fellow creatures, but as God’s substitute he must hunt out and punish the malefactor. ... A s the bloodless instrument of God’s will he must perform actions which in a human creature count as sins; his office is eschatologically a millstone round his neck, for the obligation it confers is an obligation to sin” (“Measure for Measure: Quid Pro Quo?” 237). See, more recently, Barnaby and Wry, “Authorized Versions,” 1236–37. 68 ���������������������������������������������������������������������������������� W. Gordon Zeeveld situates Shakespeare within the discursive tradition of equity: “Whether sixteenth-century commentators base their position on classic or Christian ethics, whether on the written law or the law within one’s heart, they uniformly agree on the necessity for tempering the rigor of the common law” (The Temper of Shakespeare’s Thought, 145). See also the closing paragraphs of the present chapter. 69 ������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� Elizabeth Marie Pope notes significantly that there was an “outburst of concern with the theory of government” around the time of James’s accession: in addition to Measure for Measure and Daniel’s poem, the years 1603 and 1604 brought Perkins’s Treatise of Christian Equity and Moderation; Ben Jonson’s Panegyre, on the K ing’s initial entrance into Parliament; two reprintings of James’s True Lawe of Free Monarchie; and seven reprintings of James’s Basilikon Doron (nine, Pope notes, “if we count the Welsh translation and William Willymat’s digest in L atin and E nglish verse”). See Pope, “T he R enaissance


Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox

“T o Sir T ho[mas] E gerton, K night, L ord K eeper of the Great Seal of E ngland,” announces that L ord E llesmere is the embodiment of true justice, one who can navigate the paradoxical space between “rigor and confused uncertainty.”70 D aniel goes on to celebrate E llesmere by celebrating equity: Which equity, being the soul of law T he life of justice, and the spirit of right, D wells not in written laws, or lives in awe O f books—deaf powers that have nor ears nor sight— But out of well-weighed circumstance doth draw T he essence of a judgment requisite, And is that Lesbian square, that building fit, Plies to the work, not forc’th the work to it; Maintaining still an equal parallel Just with the th’occasions of humanity, Making her judgments ever liable To the respect of peace and amity; When surly law, stern and unaffable, Cares only but itself to satisfy, A nd often innocency scarce defends, A s that which on no circumstance depends. But equity, that bears an even rein U pon the present courses, holds in awe By giving hand a little, and doth gain By’a gentle relaxation of the law; A nd yet inviolable doth maintain T he end whereto all constitutions draw, Which is the welfare of society, Consisting of an upright policy. (121–44)

N either dwelling “in written laws” nor living “in awe of books,” equity is adaptable, plying “to the work, not forc[ing] the work to it.” Significantly, too, equity works paradoxically, achieving wondrous power or “awe” by loosening power, “by giving hand a little”; it “doth gain / By’a gentle relaxation of the law.” Background of Measure for Measure,” 70. In his “Justice and Equity in the English Morality Play,” J. Wilson McCutchan sees the intersection of equity and literature occurring before the reign of James. Focusing on morality plays with “Justice as a personified abstraction” (405)—and claiming that the first such work is The Castle of Perseverance (c. 1405)— McCutchan charts in these plays the rise of the allegorical figure Equity, which by the sixteenth century “has replaced Justice and has assumed the judiciary function formerly performed by Justice” (408). 70 ��������������������������������������������������������������������������� D aniel, “T o Sir T ho[mas] E gerton, K night, L ord K eeper of the Great Seal of England,” line 5, in Selected Poetry and “A Defense of Rhyme,” 157. All further references to this poem are taken from this edition; line numbers are in the text in parentheses.

“To Do a Great Right, Do a Little Wrong” or Gaining by Relaxing


In spite of a general sympathy toward equitable principles in Shakespeare’s plays, however, Measure for Measure seems less certain than D aniel’s poem that equity can provide “the welfare of society, / Consisting of an upright policy.”71 T he whole process of judging in the play becomes deeply vexed, as my examination of the paradoxes of the title has already suggested. G. Wilson K night, with whose interpretation of the D uke I vehemently disagree, is nevertheless certainly right to claim that this play reveals that “‘justice’ is a mockery: man, himself a sinner, cannot presume to judge.”72 But Knight is too confident that, Christlike, the D uke resolves the problems of justice that plague this play.73 By emphasizing the inability of human beings to judge each other, K night claims, the D uke and the play remind us that only God can judge. In a more convincing argument that stresses the distinction between the jurisdictions of the secular common law courts and the ecclesiastical courts, D avid L indley claims that the D uke recognizes in the Barnardine scene (4.3) “the vulnerability of the governor before a greater law than his own.”74 A nd H uston D iehl has recently included the D uke among those characters who reveal the play’s interrogation of the problems of judgment: these difficulties lie not only in Angelo and Isabella but in the Duke’s performances as “an imperfect, even a bungling, playwright.” With this interrogation, she argues, Shakespeare “creates in his audience a profound sense of the infinite space that separates them from the divine.”75 Building on Diehl’s point, I would argue that—as we saw with James’s reading of his role in relation to equity—the D uke’s seemingly equitable gestures serve ultimately to consolidate his power. A s D iehl has noted, “like the law as Calvin conceives it, the play can only reveal, not correct, imperfection, and it thus arouses a longing for what it acknowledges it cannot deliver: divine forgiveness” (410). I would add that the play also cannot deliver equity—that which is supposed to correct imperfection in the law—even though it arouses a yearning for both equity and equitable leaders. ������������� See Goldman, Shakespeare and the Energies of Drama, 166–67, for a lucid description of the paradoxes of justice and mercy in Measure for Measure: “T hough justice and mercy have their separate and theologically well-defined claims, human justice is often actually unjust when it leaves mercy out of account, just as mercy by itself can often prove a bawd, a mask for permissiveness. Because man is weak and ignorant, because he is most ignorant of what he’s most assured, his justice and mercy are constantly passing into their opposites.” 72 ������������������ G. Wilson K night, The Wheel of Fire, 76. 73 ����������������������������������������������� F or a skeptical critique of G. Wilson K night’s The Wheel of Fire, see Watson, “F alse Immortality in Measure for Measure.” Critics like K night, writes Watson, “fall victim to the same manipulation of pious reflexes by which the Duke controls his citizens. They overlook the fact that the D uke prepares his redemptive intervention by its opposite: this lord turns judgment over to a bad son who insists on the punitive letter of the law rather than the established principle of mercy. T he D uke strategically regresses Vienna from the N ew T estament to the O ld so that he can claim credit, as head of state, for reinventing Christian forgiveness” (431). 74 ������������������������������������������������ Lindley, “The Stubbornness of Barnardine,” 347. 75 ����������������������������������������������������������������������������������� Diehl, “‘Infinite Space,’” 410; subsequent citations are annotated within the text. 71


Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox

Many critics have noted that equity plays a role in Measure, but there is disagreement about what this role is and who plays it.76 E rnest Schanzer sees Escalus as equity personified because he is able to provide “the via media between the two excesses in the administration of justice. H e possesses the proper mixture of severity [A ngelo] and mercy [D uke] which marks the ideal judge.”77 Initially attractive, this idea is less convincing when we remember that E scalus shows both the problem of being too lax and the problem of being too severe. H e reveals the former in act 2, scene 1, when he lets Pompey go and worries that “Pardon is still the nurse of second woe” (2.1.254). Although Escalus is discussing Claudio’s case, the comment has clear implications for the comic subplot. Yet E scalus turns away from equity and mercy when he encounters Mistress Overdone in act 3: “D ouble and treble admonition, and still forfeit in the same kind! T his would make mercy swear and play the tyrant” (3.1.423–24). And he becomes just this sort of tyrant in act 5, scene 1, when he calls for Friar Lodowick (the Duke’s alias) to be sent to prison and tortured for slandering the D uke: “T o th’rack with him!— We’ll touse you / Joint by joint, but we will know his purpose” (5.1.309–10). On closer inspection, E scalus seems capable of calling for both of Perkins’s extremes (“Mercy, Mercy” and “the Law, the Law”) but not of negotiating the paradox of equity.78 O ther critics have seen the returned D uke as a force of equity, undoing the letter of the law and replacing it with the kind of divine forgiveness that D iehl sees lacking in the play; in this version, both Angelo and Isabella need to learn from

76 ���������������������� See G. Wilson K night, The Wheel of Fire, 73–96; Dunkel, “Law and Equity in Measure for Measure”; Dickinson, “Renaissance Equity and Measure for Measure”; Schanzer, The Problem Plays of Shakespeare, esp. 114–20; Skulsky, “Pain, Law, and Conscience in Measure for Measure”; J.W. Lever, intro. to Measure for Measure, Arden edition, esp. lxiii–lxxii; Hawkins, Measure for Measure (Harvester New Critical Introductions to Shakespeare), chap. 2; Bradshaw, Shakespeare’s Scepticism, 164–218, esp. his discussion of the conflict between legal and moral obligation in the play; Richard Wilson, “The Quality of Mercy”; Crockett, The Play of Paradox, 104–8; Barnaby and Wry, “Authorized Versions”; Diehl, Staging Reform, Reforming the Stage; and Shuger, Political Theologies in Shakespeare’s England, esp. 72–101. 77 ���������� Schanzer, The Problem Plays of Shakespeare, 116. See also Dickinson, who calls Escalus “the type of the just judge”—“Escalus illustrates equity” (“Renaissance Equity and Measure for Measure,” 294). 78 ����������������������������������������������������������������������� It is also important to note that—as Graham Bradshaw points out in his Shakespeare’s Scepticism (195)—Escalus wants to spare Claudio at least partly because he is of noble birth: “this gentleman, / Whom I would save had a most noble father” (2.1.6–7).

“To Do a Great Right, Do a Little Wrong” or Gaining by Relaxing


the D uke how to mitigate their severity.79 But the D uke’s return and his subsequent actions raise as many questions about equity as they answer.80 *** When the play opens, Vienna is suffering from what King James called “slacknesse of punishment,” according to none other than the D uke: “We have strict statutes and most biting laws, / T he needful bits and curbs to headstrong weeds, / Which for this fourteen years we have let slip” (1.3.19–21). And, like James, the Duke sees that tyranny can come from not enforcing laws as well as from enforcing them too strictly: N ow, as fond fathers, H aving bound up the threat’ning twigs of birch O nly to stick it in their children’s sight F or terror, not to use, in time the rod More mocked becomes than feared: so our decrees, Dead to infliction, to themselves are dead; And Liberty plucks Justice by the nose, T he baby beats the nurse, and quite athwart Goes all decorum. (1.3.23–31)

“More mocked ... than fear’d,” law has been replaced by paradoxical, carnivalesque topsy-turvydom. “Liberty” is now the tyrant, and “the baby beats the nurse.” E ven though a new tyranny reigns, however, the D uke worries that “T o unloose this tied-up Justice” now—as Friar Thomas chides him for not doing earlier—“would be my tyranny to strike and gall them / F or what I bid them do” (1.3.32, 36–37). Since it was his fault for giving “the people scope” and allowing them to become tyrants of L iberty, he thinks it unfair for him to become a tyrant

79 ��������������������������������� See especially G. Wilson K night, The Wheel of Fire; Battenhouse, “Measure for Measure and the Christian Doctrine of Atonement”; R.W. Chambers, “The Jacobean Shakespeare and Measure for Measure,” in his Man’s Unconquerable Mind, 277–310; Marion Parker, The Slave of Life; and Coghill, “Comic Form in Measure for Measure,” 14–27. For a compelling complication of overtly Christian interpretations of the play, see E lizabeth Marie Pope’s “T he R enaissance Background of Measure for Measure.” More recently, Lake and Questier have written: “The problem with most of the Christian readings ... lies not so much in their concern to set the play in a Christian context as in their consensual, univocal, essential ‘A nglican’ notion of what a Christian context might look like. ... If the play’s anti-puritan aspects are emphasised then it becomes clear that, insofar as it operates as a piece of Christian polemic, it addresses, indeed becomes, in effect, a party to often bitter contemporary debates and disagreements over what Christianity meant” (The Antichrist’s Lewd Hat, 681n19). 80 ������������������������������������������������������������������������������� Still others—most recently, Stephen A . Cohen, in his “F rom Mistress to Master” (see esp. 443–46)—view Isabella as equity’s spokesperson.


Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox

of Justice now: “for we bid this be done / When evil deeds have their permissive pass, / And not the punishment” (1.3.35, 37–39). Instead, the Duke has on Angelo imposed the office, Who may in th’ ambush of my name strike home, And yet my nature never in the fight T’allow in slander. (1.3.40–43)

T he D uke, then, “to behold his [A ngelo’s] sway,” asks T homas to provide him with a monk’s “habit” and to “instruct me / H ow I may formally in person bear / Like a true friar” (1.3.43, 46–48). Whether this action—surrounded as it is with ambushes, costumes, forms, and bearings—is deceptive and cowardly or noble and responsible is a point of great debate for Measure for Measure scholars. While that debate is not central to my argument, I should note here that—judgments aside—the D uke displays paradoxical and theatrical tendencies from a very early point in the play: he is “slacknesse” and Justice, a Duke and a Friar, an actor and an audience. As the Duke’s law-enforcing substitute, Angelo comes to represent strict justice and the letter of the law in this play. As early as act 1, scene 2, Claudio has been arrested under the new regime for impregnating Juliet out of wedlock.81 Claudio’s initial response takes us straight to the issues of judgment that are so crucial to Measure: T hus can the demigod, A uthority, Make us pay down for our offence, by weight, The bonds of heaven. On whom it will, it will; On whom it will not, so; yet still ’tis just. (1.2.100–103)

Whether Claudio believes in this comparison between “the demigod, A uthority” and the “bonds of heaven” and is describing his predicament or has contempt for it and is making “a daring, even blasphemous comparison between A ngelo’s arbitrary punishment and God’s election, for reasons known only to him, of the saved and the damned,” the main point is clear: under A ngelo’s command, the rulings of both the demigod and God are beyond question.82 T hough they may seem arbitrary, “yet still ’tis just.” Shakespeare makes his exploration into strict justice even more complex by— as D avid L indley has pointed out—not dividing legal jurisdictions in the play: there 81 ������� In his Shakespeare’s Scepticism, Graham Bradshaw makes the “heretical” but very convincing case that the crime in question is Claudio’s impregnating Juliet: his “legal offense presupposed, but does not consist in, fornication” (215). Nevertheless, the murkiness that surrounds their contract—and the other two relationships involving broken promises of marriage (Antonio and Mariana, Lucio and Kate Keepdown)—does not dissipate. 82 �������������� N .W. Bawcutt, Measure for Measure, Oxford edition, 98n121. In the Arden edition, 14n112, J.W. Lever says “no sarcasm need be inferred” and cites precedents for Claudio’s analogy.

“To Do a Great Right, Do a Little Wrong” or Gaining by Relaxing


is no separation between common law courts, which would have heard murder cases (think Barnardine), and ecclesiastical courts, which would have heard cases of sexual morality (think Claudio and Juliet).83 Indeed, equity plays a role here, too, as T homas R idley made clear in his A View of the Civile and Ecclesiastical Law (1607): As God doth dispose his gouernment by Justice and mercie ... so the Princes of this L and to the imitation of that heauenly representation, haue appointed two supreame seats of Gouernment within this L and, the one of Iustice, wherein nothing but the strict letter of the law is obserued, the other of Mercie, wherein the rigor of the L aw is tempered with the sweetnesse of equitie, which is nothing els but mercie qualifying the sharpnesse of Justice.84

Common law courts here, like A ngelo, observe only “the strict letter of the law,” while ecclesiastical courts—like at least some versions of the D uke—focus on mercy and equity. T he justice and mercy tension is mirrored, then, in the tension between the secular and ecclesiastical courts. And Shakespeare makes the conflict into a paradox by refusing to acknowledge the distinctions. Shakespeare complicates matters further still by giving Claudio an ambiguous, even paradoxical crime. Claudio and Juliet represent the only fully mutual love in the play, and their fornication is at least in some sense mitigated by a “true contract” (1.2.122). When Claudio tells his friend Lucio that “to speak of [his offense] would offend again” (1.2.115), Lucio asks first whether it is murder, then lechery. To the latter Claudio answers, “Call it so” (1.2.116). When asked “Is lechery so looked after?” (1.2.121), Claudio responds by describing his precontract with Juliet (see 1.2.133–48). T he R enaissance marital precontract caused numerous legal problems because it involved a promise to marry that in some cases was binding (though a church service—at least at the time of this play—was expected to follow). Claudio and Juliet’s seem to have been a spousal de futuro, one that was more conditional but was nonetheless binding if intercourse occurred.85 So Claudio and Juliet are and are not married: theirs is a particularly knotty case upon which to reassert strict justice.86 A nd Claudio is clear that this enforcement of the law—“the enrolled penalties / Which have, like unscour’d armour, hung by th’wall / So long that


����������������������������������������������������������� See Lindley, “The Stubbornness of Barnardine,” esp. 337–40. �������� R idley, A View of the Civile and Ecclesiastical Law, 227. 85 ���������������������������� See N .W. Bawcutt, intro. to Measure for Measure, Oxford edition, 6–8. A spousal de praesenti occurs in John Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi: by having declared their intent to marry in the present, the D uchess and A ntonio in effect were married. 86 ��� In The Antichrist’s Lewd Hat, Lake and Questier write: “The liminal status of their marriage, caught between competing contemporary moral and legal codes, is surely no accident, for here resides the traditional means whereby marriages were made and sexual relations legitimated” (679). 84


Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox

fourteen zodiacs have gone round, / And none of them been worn” (1.2.143–46)— is “tyranny” (1.2.140). A ccusations of tyranny lie at the heart of Claudio’s sister Isabella’s argument on Claudio’s behalf in front of Angelo in act 2, scene 2. Accompanied by Lucio (who in act 1, scene 4, convinces Isabella to meet with Angelo), Isabella explains to the deputy her paradoxical quandary: T here is a vice that most I do abhor, A nd most desire should meet the blow of justice, For which I would not plead, but that I must; F or which I must not plead, but that I am At war ’twixt will and will not. (2.2.29–33)

What puts Isabella at war with herself is that she is a novice at the order of St. Clare and categorically is opposed to sex out of wedlock, yet she does not want her brother to die. In what looks like an argument from equity, Isabella asks A ngelo to “let it be his fault, / And not my brother” (2.2.35–36). Wanting a particular instead of a universal approach to the law, Isabella is scolded by A ngelo for attempting to “Condemn the fault, and not the actor of it” (2.2.37). Isabella exclaims, “O just but severe law!” (2.2.41). But it takes Isabella’s critique of judgment, as it were, to force A ngelo to reconsider. Her initial appeals to pity and mercy (2.2.59–68 and 2.2.74–81) are answered when A ngelo tells Isabella that he does, in fact, show pity when he enforces the law: I show it most of all when I show justice; F or then I pity those I do not know Which a dismissed offence would after gall, A nd do him right that, answering one foul wrong, Lives not to act another. (2.2.102–6)

A ngelo thus tries to bridge the gap between pity and mercy on the one hand and justice and law on the other by turning Justice into Mercy de futuro. Isabella will not be deterred, and her retort earns “T hat’s well said” honors from L ucio (2.2.111): “O, it is excellent / To have a giant’s strength, but it is tyrannous / To use it like a giant” (2.2.109–11). Isabella—like her brother—connects Angelo’s strict justice with tyranny. A nd her critique of this tyrannical approach to the law is founded on a dismantling of the analogy between God and God’s substitute that Claudio articulated, cynically or otherwise. F or Isabella, the gap between the two is a vast one, and only arrogant leaders act as if they were God: Merciful heaven, T hou rather with thy sharp and sulphurous bolt Splits the unwedgeable and gnarlèd oak, T han the soft myrtle. But man, proud man, D ressed in a little brief authority,

“To Do a Great Right, Do a Little Wrong” or Gaining by Relaxing


Most ignorant of what he’s most assured, H is glassy essence, like an angry ape Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven A s makes the angels weep, who, with our spleens, Would all themselves laugh mortal. (2.2.117–26)

Isabella not only separates “heaven” and “proud man” but suggests that only the former is capable of mercy because only the former can judge the difference between a serious and a trivial crime, can make a distinction in forms of punishment. God saves his wrath—H is “sharp and sulphurous bolt”—for the “unwedgeable and gnarlèd oak” and leaves alone “the soft myrtle.” “Most ignorant of what he’s most assured,” the human leader is unable to judge in any fair and equitable way; indeed, his supreme acts of judgment are reduced to “fantastic tricks.” Isabella succeeds in penetrating A ngelo’s fortress of certainty and dogmatism by taking the argument one step further, claiming that those with earthly power have the ability to conceal their own innate wickedness and errant ways: “ authority, though it err like others, / H ath yet a kind of medicine in itself, / T hat skins the vice o’ th’ top” (2.2.137–39). Hiding his own vices behind a legal scab, a severe ruler is the ultimate hypocrite. Arguing for what Stephen Cohen has called “empathyinspired equity,” Isabella asserts that, without an utterly clear conscience— impossible for fallen humanity—human beings should be very careful how they judge—how they measure—others:87 Go to your bosom; K nock there, and ask your heart what it doth know T hat’s like my brother’s fault. If it confess A natural guiltiness, such as is his, L et it not sound a thought upon your tongue Against my brother’s life. (2.2.139–44)

Whether it is her theological soundness—exhorting A ngelo to go to his bosom is reminiscent of Christ’s advice to “cast out that beame out of thine owne eye”— or her uncanny ability to remind him of the romantic flaw of his past, Isabella changes A ngelo’s mind, noting immediately after this speech that “She speaks, and ’tis such sense / That my sense breeds with it” (2.2.142–43). A rguing effectively as she does in this scene for merciful behavior in light of flawed human laws and human interpreters, Isabella might seem to be the play’s emblem of equity. But, as H arold Skulsky has argued, she is actually one of the characters responsible for “the betrayal of equity.”88 F or Isabella has a dogmatic and legalistic streak that does not recognize the paradoxical inbetweenness of equity. She is the character, after all, who will demand “justice, justice, justice, justice!” from the Duke at the beginning of act 5. 87

�������������������������������������������������� Stephen A . Cohen, “F rom Mistress to Master,” 444. ��������������������������������������� Skulsky, “Pain, L aw, and Conscience in Measure for Measure,” 165.


Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox


Blackmailed by A ngelo—who has discovered how appealing an intellectual, impassioned nun can be89—Isabella must decide whether to save Claudio and forfeit her virginity or lose him and keep it. E ven before meeting with her brother, though, Isabella declares in soliloquy, “More than our brother is our chastity” (2.4.185). She reasserts this conviction in act 3, scene 1, when she informs Claudio of A ngelo’s terms. When he does not immediately adopt her perspective, Isabella lashes out at Claudio and at Mercy: “Thy sin’s not accidental, but a trade; / Mercy to thee would prove itself a bawd. / ’Tis best that thou diest quickly” (3.1.151– 53). This statement is so shocking—implying as it does that Mercy would merely procure Claudio more sinful opportunities—that it forces the disguised D uke— who has been watching the scene—out of hiding (though not out of disguise). A lthough given a horrible choice, Isabella ultimately chooses the letter of the law of her conviction, telling the F riar/D uke that “I had rather my brother die by the law, than my son should be unlawfully born” (3.1.189–90). What follows this scene is the beginning of the D uke’s elaborate, theatrical plotting to save Claudio’s life, to reunite A ngelo with Mariana—the woman A ngelo discarded after making an agreement to marry her similar to Claudio’s with Juliet—and, ultimately, to marry Isabella. Part of what the Duke may want from Isabella is to remind her that charity and mercy are as important as chastity, but the D uke’s plottings are so convoluted and morally dubious that any telos of this kind is put under suspicion. Before looking at the culmination of the D uke’s play in the self-consciously theatrical last act, however, I would like to examine the theory of the good ruler that emerges in the middle of the play and how—for better or worse—the Duke emerges as the chief figure of equity in Measure for Measure. T he play seems to suggest that the most just ruler is the one who judges according to his own moral code; he should punish his subjects only for faults that he does not commit himself. As the disguised Duke tells us late in act 3, scene 1, H e who the sword of heaven will bear Should be as holy as severe, Pattern in himself to know, Grace to stand, and virtue go; More nor less to others paying Than by self-offences weighing. Shame to him whose cruel striking K ills for faults of his own liking! T wice treble shame on A ngelo, To weed my vice, and let his grow! (3.1.481–90)

T he D uke glosses this speech in act 4 when he pretends to defend A ngelo to the Provost: 89

������������������������������������������������������������������������������� Inspired by Empson, Jonathan Bate has neatly focused the paradox of Isabella’s appeal around the word “sense,” as used by Angelo in act 2, scene 2: “She speaks, and ’tis such sense / That my sense breeds with it” (lines 144–45): rational argument begets sexual desire (The Genius of Shakespeare, 305–6).

“To Do a Great Right, Do a Little Wrong” or Gaining by Relaxing


H e doth with holy abstinence subdue T hat in himself which he spurs on his power T o qualify in others. Were he mealed with that Which he corrects, then were he tyrannous; But this being so, he’s just. (4.2.73–77)

O n one level, this is a critique of the hypocritical prince and resonates with E scalus’s warning to Angelo against severity in act 2, scene 1, and Isabella’s argument to Angelo about the hypocrisy of harsh judgments in act 2, scene 2. In other words, it is an idea put forth by several characters in the play and is not just the D uke’s private philosophy of rule.90 But in its focus on the personal ethics of the prince, the D uke’s political theory calls to mind King James’s writings on equity.91 F or notably absent from the D uke’s vision is a discussion of the law. Instead, the basis of morality and good judgment is the individual ruler.92 T his is not to say that D uke Vincentio advocates tyrannical rule without law: tyranny comes when either the law is too severe or the ruler is too hypocritical.93 But by ultimately staging his correction of A ngelo’s tyranny, the Duke—like James in the Star Chamber speech—puts himself in the sole position to make equitable judgments, mixing mercy with justice and preserving men from destruction.94 ����������������������� See Lake and Questier, The Antichrist’s Lewd Hat, for a reading of Measure for Measure as revealing “a potentially very serious contradiction within contemporary notions of good government: juxtaposing, if you like, the rather wintry absolutist pessimism of King James’s True Law of Free Monarchies (what one might term the case for Nero) with the altogether different feel-good moralism of the Basilikon Doron (what we might term the case for Constantine)” (665). 91 ����������������������� See Lake and Questier, The Antichrist’s Lewd Hat, 659: “Thus the Duke (with James I and a host of contemporaries) locates the essence of good government or kingship in the complete congruence between the ruler’s inner virtues and the justice of his outward rule.” 92 �������������������������������������������������������������������������������� K athleen McL uskie sees form working against content in the D uke’s speech in act 3, scene 1, asserting in her “The Patriarchal Bard” that the Duke’s “moral absolutes are rendered platitudinous by the language and verse”—“the jingling rhyme of the couplet mocks the very morals it asserts” (94). 93 ������������������������������������������������������������������������������ But, then again, he may be a tyrant. Jean Bodin made this distinction between kings and tyrants in book 2, chapter 4, of his The Six Bookes of a Commonweale: the king “measureth his manners, according vnto his lawes,” and the tyrant “measureth his lawes according to his owne disposition and pleasure” (212) . See also Lake and Questier, The Antichrist’s Lewd Hat, 690–98. 94 �������������� N oting in her Puzzling Shakespeare a struggle between the crown and the city, L eah Marcus claims that “In the last act, the duke himself in effect becomes the law, the lex loquens or speaking law, as the Roman civil code and the speeches of James I would have it, an independent source of legal authority which transcends the city’s ordinance, coming down like universal ‘power divine’ to reveal the defects in a fallible local human system” (178). Stephen A. Cohen—breaking with Marcus in his “From Mistress to Master”— 90


Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox

T he D uke’s organization and manipulation of many characters in Measure for Measure make him one of Shakespeare’s playwright figures: he creates dramatic tension by putting characters into confusion and error; he leads them to various forms of cognitio by means of reversals; and he provides his recognition scenes with surprise and wonder.95 The Duke’s explicit goal is two-fold: to save Claudio while exposing A ngelo’s hypocrisy and to make A ngelo marry Mariana, whom he deserted years before and who still desires him. T o these ends, he directs Isabella to arrange a tryst with Angelo; Mariana, however, will be Isabella’s substitute. A ngelo, then, thinking he has slept with Isabella, will pardon Claudio. A s the Duke tells Isabella, “The maid I will frame and make fit for his attempt. If you think well to carry this, as you may, the doubleness of the benefit defends the deceit from reproof” (3.2.256–59). Ideally, then, Angelo’s rigid enforcement of the letter of the law will be corrected, and Mariana will marry Angelo; equity and comedy will reign.96 But A ngelo reneges on his promise and still wants Claudio dead, and the D uke is forced to improvise. When he decides to follow the bed trick with the head trick— giving Angelo a substitute head for Claudio’s—his first choice, Barnardine, refuses to be executed. Angelo is finally presented with the head of another prisoner—the pirate R agusine—so that, without A ngelo’s knowledge, Claudio is saved. T he D uke frames the arrival of R agusine’s head as “an accident that heaven provides” (4.3.69), turning the event into an act of providence. This is, of course, a complicated claim, more so because the D uke’s makes it in F riar’s clothing.97 sees the Duke and the play abandoning equity for “royal juridical action” (448) and an “extralegal personal fiat” (462n48). But by ignoring James I’s writings on equity, Cohen does not recognize that the “extralegal personal fiat” lay in waiting within the theory of equity. My contention is that Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure stages this very problem and collapses Cohen’s binary. 95 �������������������������������������������������������������������������������� F or an extremely effective catalogue of “bewildered audiences” in the play, see Marcia Riefer [Poulsen]’s “‘Instruments of Some More Mightier Member’” (repr. in Measure for Measure, ed. S. Nagarajan, Signet Classic edition [New York: Signet, 1998], 153–72). 96 ��������������������������������������������������������������������������������� T o equity and comedy, one might add paradox. F or as A ngelo discovers doubleness, his language follows suit: “Alack, when once our grace we have forgot / Nothing goes right; we would and we would not” (4.4.31–32). Unlike other Shakespearean characters (think of O rsino’s recognition in Twelfth Night: “O ne face, one voice, one habit, and two persons, / A natural perspective that is and is not!” [5.1.208–9]), Angelo finds paradox not a liberating but a tortured discovery. 97 ����������������� T he problem does not exist in one of Shakespeare sources, George Whetstone’s Promos and Cassandra. T he Gayler—who comes up with and enacts the idea for the head trick—is neither ruler nor friar and thus does not raise the problem of agency. F or him, it is clearly God who has provided the head: “But see how God hath wrought for his safety: / A dead mans head, that suffered th’other day, / Makes him thought dead throughout the citie. / Such a just, good and righteous God is he.” In the second part of the play, A ndrugio—the Claudio figure—also clearly attributes his salvation to God: “This savage life, were hard to brooke, if hope no comfort gave: / But I whose life from T yrants wrath Gods providence did

“To Do a Great Right, Do a Little Wrong” or Gaining by Relaxing


F or just as the paradoxical D uke is and is not a F riar, providence is and is not providence in this scene. While I would not go as far as the O xford editor and gloss “accident” as “unexpected event, chance happening”—adopting a denotation that strips the word of providence—I would claim that the D uke is using the language of providence in the same way he is using the clothing of a F riar. H e thus confuses religion and politics to his advantage, dressing up F ortune in the habit of providence and making design out of theatrical improvisation. F urther evidence of his manufacturing of providence comes a little later in the same scene when he withholds the fact of Claudio’s salvation from Isabella, telling her instead that Claudio has been executed—a move that Harry Berger Jr. calls “the dead trick”98: “H e hath releas’d him, Isabel,—from the world. / H is head is off, and sent to Angelo” (4.3.107–8). The Duke does not tell Isabella the truth because he is conflating divine and dramatic workings; he has a revelation—“heavenly” and Shakespearean—in store: “But I will keep her ignorant of her good, / T o make her heavenly comforts of despair / When it is least expected” (4.3.101–3).99 T he D uke wants miraculous and histrionic effects in act 5, and establishing himself as an equitable leader is thus bound up with theatricality.100 U nsurprisingly, paradoxes abound. F irst, Isabella must be Mariana’s substitute again: claiming to have slept with A ngelo, she once more plays the role of seemingly sexualized nun. A fter this part of the D uke’s play has produced the proper confusion and anxiety,

save, / D o take in worth this misery, as penaunce for my mys, Stil fed with hope to chaunge this state, when Gods good pleasure is” (see Bullough, Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare, vol. 2: The Comedies, 1597–1603, 471 and 501–2). For a reading that finds Shakespeare consistently complicating the theology of his sources for this play, see H oward C. Cole, “T he ‘Christian’ Context of Measure for Measure.” 98 �������� Berger, Making Trifles of Terrors, 393. My former student Laura Bingham trumped the seemingly untrumpable Berger by calling the nexus of events the “bed-trick head-trick dead-trick hat trick.” 99 ������������������������������������������������������������������������������������ A less skeptical reading of the Duke as a figure of providence is outlined by Peter Lake in chapter 15 of The Antichrist’s Lewd Hat (679–81). Eventually endorsing a darker view, L ake describes what happens in the R agusine scene as “providence in the shape of mere contingency” (683). I would argue that it is the Duke who shapes mere contingency into something he calls providence. See also L eggatt, “Substitution in Measure for Measure.” 100 �������������������������������������������� L uke Wilson has argued persuasively in his “Hamlet: E quity, Intention, Performance” that equity and theater are linked structurally because “both discourses were occupied with the representation of human intentions and actions ... as in equity, the fiction of authorial presence manages the need to transmit or delegate authority by establishing a procedure to authorize modifications made in the literal record. And in each case, this procedure is activated by the fictional corporalization of authorial intention, in court or theater, as and in a process of performance. ... What my argument describes ... is the way in which two historically related disciplines preserved structurally similar techniques for managing translations of the general into the practice of particularity” (95 and 106n13). See also D awson, “Measure for Measure, N ew H istoricism, and T heatrical Power.”

Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox


Mariana is brought on stage. She, too, plays a paradox.101 A sserting to the D uke that she is neither a married woman, nor a maid, nor a widow, she asserts that she is nevertheless not “nothing” (5.1.178): My lord, I do confess I ne’er was married A nd I confess besides, I am no maid. I have known my husband; yet my husband Knows not that ever he knew me. (5.1.182–85)

N ot long after, Mariana unveils herself to A ngelo, who continues to deny sleeping with her, though he admits to having broken off “some speech of marriage” (5.1.214) when “her reputation was disvalued / In levity” (5.1.218–19). It takes L ucio’s unveiling of the D uke to bring A ngelo to confession: O my dread lord, I should be guiltier than my guiltiness T o think that I can be undiscernible, When I perceive your Grace, like power divine, Hath looked upon my passes. (5.1.358–62)

Angelo recognizes the Duke as God’s substitute and significantly makes no appeal to the law. Asking merely that his “confession” be his “trial” (5.1.364), Angelo requests immediate death. But instead the D uke sends Mariana and A ngelo away to be married. O ne unveiling that does not take place at this time is the revelation to Isabella that Claudio is alive; in fact, Vincentio reiterates the fiction that her brother is dead, telling her “T hat life is better life, past fearing death, / T han that which lives to fear” (5.1.389–90). Stephen Greenblatt has called the Duke’s practices in this play, especially at moments like this, “the techniques of salutary anxiety ..., inflicting anxiety for ideological purposes.”102 A nd the ideological purpose here, first and foremost, is to assert himself as an equitable ruler. In order to do that, though, he must summon the specter of revenge and strict justice so that he can be seen to correct them, to be E quity itself. The Duke first raises the issue of strict justice to the people gathered at the city gate while he is still disguised as F riar L odowick. H e tells the crowd that he has been “a looker-on here in Vienna,” where he has seen laws for all faults, But faults so countenanced that the strong statutes Stand like the forfeits in a barber’s shop, As much in mock as mark. (5.1.313–16) Christy D esmet has argued for paradox in Measure for Measure as that which “subjugate[s] women to patriarchal authority by excluding them from the realm of moral agency with rhetorical sleight of hand” (“‘Neither Maid, Widow, Nor Wife,’” in In Another Country, 86). 102 Greenblatt, Shakespearean Negotiations, 138. 101

“To Do a Great Right, Do a Little Wrong” or Gaining by Relaxing


T here are “laws for all faults” and “strong statutes” that need enforcing. O nce fully himself again, he builds on this foundation by invoking the “measure for measure” passage from Matthew: “‘A n A ngelo for Claudio, death for death.’ / H aste still pays haste, and leisure answers leisure; / Like doth quit like, and measure still for measure” (5.1.401–3). While I agree with Andrew Barnaby and Joan Wry that the D uke “misapplies its central lesson in recalling not its new ethical ideal but rather the O ld T estament ethic of an eye for an eye,” I would argue that this misreading is an intentional part of his “equity effect”: he raises the possibility of a retributive punishment in order ultimately to correct it with his staged mercy.103 In doing so, he brings this paradoxical scriptural text into the site of paradox that his stage has become. For Mariana is now asked to take on the paradoxical role of wife-widow, a part that she does not wish to play: “I hope you will not mock me with a husband” (5.1.409). It is left to Isabella to plead for Angelo’s mercy, and Mariana invokes the paradoxical language of equity to try to convince Justice Isabella: “They say best men are moulded out of faults, / A nd, for the most, become much more the better / For being a little bad” (5.1.431–33).104 T he D uke has clearly manipulated his play toward this moment. While some critics have seen him trying to lead Isabella away from her own form of strict justice and toward mercy and (Christian) love, I would argue that the main point for the D uke here is not Isabella but the equitable persona that he is fashioning for himself. 105 A merciful plea from Isabella would add another important piece to his play—would add to the effect—but he will stage the coup d’equitie.106 Yet Isabella helps him out more than he could have imagined, for her words— unlike Portia’s in Merchant—focus not on mercy seasoning justice but on legal and logical loopholes: 103

������������������������������������������������������������������������������ Barnaby and Wry, “Authorized Versions,” 1244. For a view similar to mine with regard to the pardon of Barnardine, see Berger, Making Trifles of Terrors, 392: by pardoning Barnardine (5.1.474–80), the Duke, among other things, displays “his continuing competition with Angelo, opposing mercy to the deputy’s strict justice (‘Thou’rt condemned’—by A ngelo—but liberated by ‘this mercy’).” 104 ������������������������������������������������������������������������������� Compare Bassanio’s urgent command to Portia-as-Balthazar in the trial scene of Merchant: “Wrest once the law to your authority. / T o do a great right, do a little wrong” (4.1.210–11). 105 ������������������������������������������������������������������������������ T his position is eloquently laid out—but not adopted—by Craig Bernthal in his “Staging Justice”: “Many critics have viewed the play as a Christian humanist exploration of mercy’s relationship to justice, and justify Vincentio’s deceptive behavior on the grounds that he is acting for the benefit of Isabella’s spiritual growth, forcing her to recognize the value of mercy by forcing her to act on her own stated beliefs” (254). For a skeptical view toward any Christian reading that would celebrate the D uke’s mercifulness, see H oward C. Cole, “T he ‘Christian’ Context of Measure for Measure,” esp. 440–45. 106 ���������������������������������������������������������� Lars Engle finds paradox and undecidability everywhere in Measure for Measure. Instead of viewing the ending as an exploration of the problems of equity, though, E ngle sees it as “a sceptic’s [the D uke’s] failed experiment in the invocation of an absolute” (“Measure for Measure and Modernity,” in Shakespeare and Modernity, 101).

Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox


L et him not die. My brother had but justice, In that he did the thing for which he died. F or A ngelo, H is act did not o’ertake his bad intent, A nd must be buried but as an intent T hat perished by the way. T houghts are no subjects, Intents, but merely thoughts. (5.1.440–46)

F irst, Isabella maintains that Claudio was correctly sentenced, while A ngelo would be killed for an act he did not actually commit; she upholds the letter of the law in her brother’s case. E ven more helpful for the D uke—who wants to establish himself as the most equitable—she goes on to argue against equity, which typically made a claim in favor of intention over action; here, “Intents [are] but merely thoughts.”107 It is a speech that poses as merciful but is not.108 T he D uke looks even more equitable at the end, then, because Isabella raises rather than dissipates the specter of strict justice. A nd, although Mariana takes Isabella’s speech as a plea for mercy, none is granted until the D uke unveils Claudio and thus A ngelo’s crime disappears. What follows is a series of pardons and proposed marriages, an “orgy of clemency,” as A .D . N uttall would have it.109 A lthough the ending of the Duke’s play is not without its problems—he first proposes to Isabella while she and Claudio are embracing,110 and she famously does not respond to his second proposal—the Duke’s equitable position (within the play, at least) has been established. Before returning to this vexed ending, I would like to look at another text written around the time of Measure for Measure and see what it can tell us about the relationship between equity, paradox, and theater. T hen drawing on Measure’s closing scene, I will finish with some claims about the essential connection between equity and fiction.


������������������������������������������������������������������������������������ Indeed, as L uke Wilson reminds us, “In legal discourse particularly, the maxim that actus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea (the act does not make one guilty unless one’s mind is guilty), where mens rea represented criminal intent or ‘prepensed malice,’ expressed one of the fundamental doctrines of the English common law” (“Hamlet, H ales v. Petit, and the Hysteresis of Action,” 27). In this scene Isabella is arguing for the opposite: because his act did not make him guilty, the fact that his mind was guilty is negligible. 108 �������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� F or our purposes, it is also worth noting that Isabella uses paradox—so often an ally of equity—against equity. L ike D iana describing Bertram in All’s Well (5.3.286), Isabella is in fact claiming “he’s guilty, and he is not guilty.” 109 ���������� N uttall, “Measure for Measure: Quid Pro Quo?” 239. 110 ��������������������������������������������������������������������������������� D irectors sometimes deal with this textual awkwardness by staging an icy silence between Claudio and Isabella, simply because there is silence. But a loving embrace between brother and sister can take the place of words. Why else would the D uke break off his first proposal so abruptly if he did not see that he had botched his discovery scene, that Isabella was preoccupied? “Give me your hand, and say you will be mine. / H e is my brother too. But fitter time for that” (5.1.486–87).

“To Do a Great Right, Do a Little Wrong” or Gaining by Relaxing


In 1603 King James had a pardon delivered to a group of conspirators on the scaffold at Winchester, the story of which is conveyed to us in the wonderful letter of Dudley Carleton to John Chamberlain, dated December 11, 1603. Part of the so-called Bye Plot, the conspirators were also part of James’s own salutary anxiety technique.111 But rather than focus on this element of the plot, I would like to see it as a key-text of equity enacted. Carleton clearly saw the theatrical nature of the event, and stressed that “A fouler day could hardly have been picked out, or fitter for such a tragedy,” though acknowledging that the drama would eventually be a problem play: “this was part of the same play and that other acts came betwixt to make up a tragical comedy.”112 It is significant to note that—before the description of the day that makes up the bulk of the letter—we are told that three men involved in the plot had already been executed: the priests (Watson and Clarke) and George Brooke. On the day in question, Sir Griffin Markham was the first scheduled to be killed, but the sheriff— after a discussion with one John Gib—told Markham that he “was so ill prepared” for death that he could have “two hours’ respite” (50). Lord Grey was next led up to the scaffold, but once there, the sheriff told him that “he had received orders from the king to change the order of the execution and that the L ord Cobham was to go before him” (50). Noting that no one could “yet dive into the mysteries of this strange proceeding,” Carleton explains that L ord Cobham “was now to play his part” (50). He, too, was forced to wait, while Grey and Markham were brought back onto the scaffold; they all “looked strange one upon the other, like men beheaded, and met again in the other world” (51). Carleton’s sense of the execution-as-theater comes through even more forcefully in the diction of the crucial passage: Now all the actors being together on the stage (as use is at the end of a play) the sheriff made a short speech unto them, by way of interrogatory of the heinousness of their offences the justness of their trials, their lawful condemnation, and due execution then to be performed, to all which they assented: then, saith the sheriff, see the mercy of your prince, who of himself hath sent a countermand and given you your lives. T here was then no need to beg a plaudite of the audience, for it was given with such hues and cries that it went down from the castle into the town and there began afresh, as if there had been some such like accident. (51)

T his is clearly a description of the theatricality of mercy and equity, and just as clearly James achieves the desired effect. The possibility of strict justice is held up only to make his pardon the more powerful and appreciated. E ven more interesting, though, is what Carleton adds next:

111 ������������ Greenblatt, Shakespearean Negotiations, 136. See also Craig Bernthal’s “Staging Justice” for a very thorough discussion of the Main and Bye plots. 112 ����� L ee, Dudley Carelton to John Chamberlain, 1603–1624, 47–49.

Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox


A nd this experience was made of the difference of examples of justice and mercy, that in this last, no man could cry loud enough, God save the king, and at the holding up of Brooke’s head, when the executioner began the same cry, he was not seconded by the voice of any one man but the sheriff. (51)

E quity—centered in the monarch—brings praise and popularity even as it entrenches the king more fully in power. Strict justice simply does not play as well.113 What often is not mentioned in discussions of this letter, however, is that Carleton—and James—stages the wonder of equity twice. In addition to the dramatic performance at Westminster, James—Carleton reports—narrated the story for his courtiers, holding the best for last again: calling them before him, he told them how much he had been troubled to resolve in this business, for to execute Grey, who was a noble, young spirited fellow, and save Cobham, who was as base and unworthy, were a manner of injustice. T o save Grey, who was of a proud, insolent nature, and execute Cobham, who had shewed great tokens of humility and repentance, were as great a solecism, and so went on with Plutarch’s comparisons in the rest till travelling in contrarieties but holding the conclusion in so indifferent balance that the lords knew not what to look for till the end came out, “and therefore I have saved them all.” T he miracle was as great there as with us at Winchester and it took like effect: for the applause that began about the king went from thence into the presence, and so round about the court. (52)

“Travelling in contrarieties”—as all who deal in equity must—James, through “like effect,” gets a second plaudite for his “miracle” of mercy.114 Describing events strangely akin to those found in Vincentio’s drama—James, too, had to negotiate with error and accident—Carleton closes his letter by noting that there were two occurrences that might have “marred the play” (32). James initially forgot to sign the countermand and had to have the messenger recalled, and the crowd around the scaffold was so dense that John Gill initially could not get the sheriff’s attention “and was fain to call out to Sir James Hayes, or else


See ������������������������������������������������������������������������������ also D unkel, who quotes a letter from Secretary R obert Cecil to Sir R alph Winwood dated December 12, 1603, which asserts—noting as Carleton did the marvelous theatricality of the event—that the pardons were “received ... with such Joy and Admiration, as so rare and unheard of a Clemency most worthyly deserved” (275). Dunkel cannily adds, “the King’s mercy came as the climax, a matter to be discussed and written about” (276). 114 ������������������������������������������������������������������������� Drawing on James’s own words, Sir Francis Bacon also made the connection between the royal prerogative associated with the king’s exercise of equity and the making of wonders, quoting an undocumented “observation so truly worthy of a king, which your Majesty delivered in the same sacred spirit of government, in deciding a great cause of judicature; which was, ‘That kings ruled by the laws of their kingdoms, as God did by the laws of N ature, and ought as rarely to put in use their extreme prerogative, as God does his power of working miracles’” (Bacon, Of the Dignity and Advancement of Learning, book 7, in Translations of the Philosophical Works, Volume 2, 16).

“To Do a Great Right, Do a Little Wrong” or Gaining by Relaxing


Markham might have lost his neck” (32). Like all forms of judgment, then, the fictions of equity are subject to contingency and human error. As a final focus here, I turn to the intersection of paradox and fiction—whether the context be a law court, the D uke’s Vienna, a scaffold in Westminster, K ing James’s palace, or Shakespeare’s stage. If, as Saint German said, equity recognizes that the greatest justice can be the greatest injustice, that “yf thou take all that the wordes of the law gyueth the thou shalte somtyme do agaynst the lawe,” equity is also essentially an act of imagination, an act of fiction. According to Edmund Plowden, in order to form a right Judgement when the Letter of a Statute is restrained, and when enlarged, by equity, it is a good way ... to suppose that the Law-Maker is present, and that you have asked him the Question you want to know. ... you must give yourself such an A nswer as you imagine he would have done. ... it is a good way to put Questions and give A nswers to yourself thereupon, in the same manner as if you were actually conversing with the Maker of such L aws.

Plowden suggests turning to fiction, imagination, dramatic dialogue—“conversing with the Maker of such L aws”—to negotiate the paradoxical waters of equity, which contain “great D iversity.”115 E quity attempts to deal with the paradoxes of true justice, then, by turning to the “suppose,” the “imagine.” Or to use Constance Jordan’s paradox, “the law ventures into art to be more true to itself.”116 Thomas Ridley, writing in 1607, makes a related point: A fiction ... [is] an assumption of the Law upon an untruth, for a truth, in a certaine thing possible to be done, and yet not done: vpon which fiction the Doctors hold there wait two things, the one is E quitie, the other Possibilitie. ... if that which is in controuersie may be obtained by any other meanes than by a fiction, a fiction is not to be afforded: but if ordinairie meanes cannot be had, then fictions may be entertained to supply the defect of the ordinairie meanes, that thereby, although the truth bee otherwise, yet the effect of the Law may be all one. ... the law cannot proceed to a fiction without equitie. 117 ��������� Plowden, The Commentaries, or Reports of Edmund Plowden, 467; emphasis mine. See also Wesley Trimpi’s formulation of the fictions of equity in his Muses of One Mind, 272: “It is only as a fiction ... that one might summon the original lawmaker from the dead to interpret his general statute as if he could have foreseen or could now see all individual cases and its application to them.” 116 ������������������ Constance Jordan, Shakespeare’s Monarchies, 140. 117 �������� R idley, A View of the Civile and Ecclesiastical Law, 115–17. As an acceptable fiction, Ridley mentions an instance “when the Law faineth an infant not yet borne, to bee born for his benefit, for that happily without that fiction, the poore infant should be remedilesse of his fillial portion, Legacie, or other right in conscience due unto him” (116). Another fiction that “the Law approueth”—one with Barnardinean resonance—occurs when “he that is obstinat and will not appeare in Judgement, being lawfully called thereto, is fained to be present, that neither himself should take benefit out of his obstinacie, neither his aduersarie hurt by his absence and iniurie” (116). Interestingly, there are limits: invoking 115


Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox

F ictions of equity operate, then, on “certaine thing[s] possible to be done and yet not done.” A nd this is the quality—what K athy E den has called “E quity’s accommodative power”118—that Shakespeare’s plays often explore and that gives his fictions of equity a sometimes exhilarating sense of “possibilitie”: in The Comedy of Errors, as we see at the start of this chapter, D uke Solinus of E phesus, after encountering paradox, practices equity by overriding the letter of the law and allowing E geon to live; in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Hermia and Lysander flee “the sharp Athenian law” (1.1.162), and in the forest find ways to “see these things with parted eye, / When everything seems double” (4.1.186–87), to gain by relaxing; and in Othello, O thello’s tales of love and travel—of wonders and paradoxes—convince the D uke not to allow Brabantio “to read in the bitter letter / A fter [his] own sense” “the bloody book of law” (1.3.67–69).119 A lthough arguably all of these examples contain problems that equity cannot fully solve, the “as if” of equity nevertheless affords these plays a new, more expansive way of imagining the world.120 What makes Measure for Measure, and The Merchant of Venice for that matter, different is that in these plays equity ultimately fails to provide this new perspective, fails to offer a way out of the letter’s prison, even if the equitable figures attempt to convince the audience—in the play and in the theater—otherwise.121 L ike Selden, Shakespeare seems aware that equity can lead merely to legalistic relativism or absolutism. Perhaps worse, it can be used by an interpreter to close down rather than to open up possibilities. H orace’s painter, who “would faine disproportionable things,” R idley asserts that “the L aw detesteth impossibilities, that it will not suffer a man to faine that which in common Sence and Nature might not be true indeed” (117). 118 ������ E den, Hermeneutics and the Rhetorical Tradition, 14. 119 ������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� T here is a hint of R idleian “possibilitie” in Isabella’s remark to the D uke early in act 5: “Make not impossible / That which but seems unlike” (5.1.54–55). 120 ��������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� It is in this fashion, L uke Wilson has argued, that equity is performative: theatrical performance consists of “a fictionalization through which script enters into its actualization and by which its inadequacies are repaired, its silences vocalized and filled with gesture, its excesses tempered, and its literality redressed—much as equitable judgment tempers the severity of the law and fills in the gaps revealed in its applications to particular cases” (“Hamlet: Equity, Intention, Performance,” 94). For “as if” as a conjunction related to fiction-making, see Iser, “What Is Literary Anthropology?” and The Fictive and the Imaginary, 12–21. See also Hans Vaihinger’s The Philosophy of “As If.” 121 ��������������������������������������������������������������������������� F or a similar skepticism towards the success of the D uke’s denouement, see D awson’s helpful formulation: “the elaborate restitution at the end of Measure for Measure is more hoax than reaffirmation” (“Measure for Measure, N ew H istoricism, and T heatrical Power,” 341). Connecting the problems of Measure for Measure to its awkward fusing of genres, Stephen A . Cohen argues that “the play’s true lesson [is] ... less about the mercy at the heart of romantic comedy than the authority at the center of the disguised monarch play” (“From Mistress to Master,” 452). For an elegant summary of the unresolved contradictions at play’s end, see Lake and Questier, The Antichrist’s Lewd Hat, 687–89, and more recently Blank, Shakespeare and the Mismeasure of Man, 178–90.

“To Do a Great Right, Do a Little Wrong” or Gaining by Relaxing


L ike paradox, Shakespeare’s version of equity can be seen to play it safe, to dance around the problem of power without committing to a critique of it, to recognize ambiguity as a way, inevitably, of reinscribing power. Is Vienna a more equitable place by the end of Measure for Measure? A lmost certainly not, though the Duke has emerged a more equitable-seeming leader.122 We may be tempted to say, like Escalus meditating on Claudio’s fate, “But there’s no remedy” (2.1.255). In the spirit of equity, however, Shakespeare leaves his play famously open-ended and gives Isabella and his audience some room to move, to think, to fashion an ending. T here is some space for thought and imagination—within and outside of the play; the paradox of equity survives in the engagement that it inevitably requires. Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, Isabella’s response to the Duke is paradoxical: eloquent silence that testifies to equity’s limitations and possibilities.123

122 ������������������������������������������������������������������������������ Wylie Sypher sees in both the character of E scalus and Isabella’s forgiveness of A ngelo an “intimation of this larger justice,” in which “the resolution must not be casuistical but ultra-legal” and in which “law is merely an instrument, not a definition of right and wrong” (“Shakespeare as Casuist,” 279). Debora Shuger interprets the ending, even more hopefully, as “a second version of political theology, another way of imagining the regnum Christi besides the Platonic-Puritan system of compulsory virtue and condign punishment”—a version that is characterized by “the crossover of penitential ideals into the aims and operations of the state that characterizes the D uke’s strange justice” and one whose origins Shuger ultimately locates in A ugustine’s The City of God (Political Theologies in Shakespeare’s England, 133). 123 I������������������������������������� share Paula Blank’s conclusions in Shakespeare and the Mismeasure of Man: for Shakespeare, “all law and all interpretations of law are always and already L esbian rules, bent or flexible measures that challenge the claims of human judgment to objectivity or absolute truth ... Shakespeare suspends the absolute rule of law indefinitely and indeterminately leaves us, instead, at the mercy of judges—to hope perhaps, but just as likely to new fear” (190).

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Chapter 4

“D ouble D ealing A mbodexters”: T he Paradoxes of Playing Poetrie. T ruth well met. Truth. T hanks, Poetrie. What makes thou vpon a stage? Poetrie. Shadowes. Truth. T hen will I adde bodies to the shadowes, T herefore depart and give T ruth leaue T o shew her pageant. —Anonymous (London, 1594), The True Tragedie of Richard the Third

When attempting to discern the best day for the young Prince E dward’s coronation in Shakespeare’s Richard III, R ichard’s supporters struggle to know, in Buckingham’s words, “the L ord Protector’s [R ichard’s] mind herein.” A sking, “Who is the most inward with the D uke?” Buckingham hears the Bishop of E ly respond, “Your grace, methinks, should know his mind.” Buckingham then answers him with a meditation on epistemology that goes far beyond the “nomination” of the best day for E dward’s crowning: “We know each other’s faces. F or our hearts, / H e knows no more of mine than I of yours, / O r I of his, my lord, than you of mine” (3.4.7–12). Buckingham’s reply cuts to the heart of the connection between being and knowing: we cannot know what people are, only what they seem to be; we know “faces” but not “hearts.” In the next scene Buckingham reveals to R ichard both that he knows the power of this gap between seeming and being and that this gap is connected to the world of the theater and the theater of the world: T ut, I can counterfeit the deep tragedian, T remble and start at the wagging of a straw, Speak, and look back, and pry on every side, Intending deep suspicion; ghastly looks A re at my service, like enforcèd smiles, And both are ready in their offices At any time to grace my stratagems. (3.5.5–11)

If “looks” can be “at [one’s] service,” the “deep tragedian” on the world’s stage can present a variety of masks without ever letting the audience get to the heart behind the face. Buckingham—and R ichard, and Shakespeare—understood what D enis Diderot would later call “the paradox of acting”: “One is one’s self by nature; one

Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox


becomes someone else by imitation; the heart one is supposed to have is not the heart one has.” If the preceding chapters have established that central aspects of Shakespeare’s culture were shot-through with paradox, then it may not seem surprising that one node of the “intersecting circuits” of this culture—Shakespeare’s theater—would contain paradoxes as well. But an examination of the paradoxes of playing shows that Shakespeare’s drama not only was constituted by paradox but also, by instilling a sense of paradox in the audience, helped to constitute—make, create, fashion—a culture of paradox. In some ways, of course, paradox is a crucial component of all theater, of any dramatic experience. A ntonin A rtaud described theater as that which is “in no thing but makes use of everything.” A nd Stephen O rgel has noted that “It is a linguistic fact of every Western language that the word for the imitation of an action—the classic definition of drama—is the same as the word for the action; both are act. In all theater the imaginary is presented as, is taken for, the real.” Similarly, K eir E lam has claimed that “T he founding principle of dramatic representation ... is the fiction of the presence of a world known to be hypothetical.” E ugen F ink, too, has argued that “We play in the so-called real world, but while playing[,] there emerges an enigmatic realm that is not nothing, and yet is nothing real. ... T he play world always has a real setting, and yet it is never a real thing among other real things, although it has an absolute need of real things as a point of departure.” Even more specifically, at the center of theater is Diderot’s “paradox of acting”: “A nd hence it is that the player in private and the player on the boards are two personages, so different that one can scarce recognise the player in private” (23). “H e, then, who best knows and best renders, after the best conceived ideal type, these outward signs, is the greatest actor” (53). Diderot recognized the paradox but celebrated the artifice, the duplicity, the imitation—in short, the “outward signs” of the “ideal type.” D iderot, The Paradox of Acting, 53; subsequent citations are annotated within the


�������������������� D awson and Yachnin, The Culture of Playgoing in Shakespeare’s England, 6. ���������������������� See R aymond Williams, Culture, for the sense of “cultural practices as ... constitutive” (13).  ������� A rtaud, The Theater and Its Double, 12; subsequent citations are annotated within the text.  ��������������������������������������������� Orgel, “Shakespeare Imagines a Theater,” 557.  ������ E lam, The Semiotics of Theatre and Drama, 102.  �������������������������������������� Fink, “The Oasis of Happiness,” 23–24.  ����������������������������������������������������������������������������������� In his “E go D istortion in T erms of T rue and F alse Self,” D .W. Winnicott noted that not all actors are able to engage in the paradox of acting: “In regard to actors, there are those who can be themselves and who can also act, whereas there are others who can only act, and who are completely at a loss when not in a role, and when not being appreciated or applauded (acknowledged as existing)” (150).  

“Double Dealing Ambodexters”


Shakespeare’s antitheatrical contemporaries seem to have found the artifice more troubling, however. In his A common Player (1615), the Inns of Court student John Cocke claimed that the actor was most false when he was at his best: “When he is most commendable, you must confesse there is no truth in him: for his best action is an imitation of truth, and nullum simile est idem.”10 O ne of the earliest antitheatrical writers, Stephen Gosson, expressed a similar fear that in acting nothing was the same as it seemed, doubting that “players can promise in woordes, and performe it in deedes.”11 Gosson’s Plays Confuted in Five Actions (1582), in fact, saw the paradox of acting as nothing more than lying and hypocrisy, “by outwarde signes to shew them selves otherwise then they are, and so with in the compasse of a lye.” Proof of this lying came—as Gosson pointed out in the same section of his Plays Confuted—“in Stage Playes for a boy to put one the attyre, the gesture, the passions of a woman.”12 T he practice of boys playing women’s parts intensified the paradox—or the lie—of acting.13 But there is more to the paradoxes of playing than the paradox of acting. F or if paradox is, technically, that which runs counter to standard opinion and teaching, then a crucial paradoxical element of the stage is what Austin E. Quigley has called the “philosophical work” of the theater: This is not necessarily, of course, a knowledge of pre-existing philosophical systems, but a recognition of, and a capacity to put at risk, the assumptions that ground our expectations about the nature and value of what occurs in life both on-stage and off. A nd this capacity necessarily opens us up to the possibility of recognizing and adopting others.14

 ������������������������������������������������������������������������� F or superb overviews of the antitheatricalism in the period, see Barish, The Antitheatrical Prejudice, esp. 80–190, and, more recently, Gurr, “Metatheatre and the Fear of Playing.” 10 ������� Cocke, A common Player (1615), in The Elizabethan Stage 4:257. 11 The Schoole of Abuse (1579), D3, in Kinney, Markets of Bawdrie, 101. 12 Plays Confuted in Five Actions (1582), E5r, in Kinney, Markets of Bawdrie, 177; subsequent citations are annotated within the text by signature only. See also R ainolds, Th’ Overthrow of Stage-Playes: “beautifull boyes by kissing doe sting and powre secretly in a kind of poyson, the poyson of incontinencie” (18). 13 ������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� Jonas Barish called this aspect of the power of playing “ontological subversiveness” (see his “The Antitheatrical Prejudice,” 331). See also Levao, Renaissance Minds and Their Fictions, 265–66: “Unregulated theatricalism becomes the dominant metaphor for any social, political, or religious force threatening the order of things, as if exposing the deceptiveness and illusoriness of all challenges to measured authority.” 14 ��������� Quigley, The Modern Stage and Other Worlds, 43. See also Armstrong, “Play and Cultural Differences,” 166–67: “the doubleness of play opens up a distance between interpreters and their assumptions which allows not only self-scrutiny but change. The possibility of wedging difference into the self-identity of one’s beliefs—of being able to play with them as if they were not inevitable—is a precondition for extending and altering the given and not forever remaining trapped by our starting point.”


Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox

Crucial to these concepts, of course, is the reconfiguring of audience “expectations” and “assumptions”: both paradox and theater—the paradox of the theater—have the potential to achieve this challenge to conventional teaching and modes of thought.15 Or, in the words of Artaud, theater “has the power not to define thoughts but to cause thinking” (69). Paradox is at the heart of the dramatic journey of knowledge for the “audience,” as Victor T urner’s work on the novice’s role in ritual revealed: the bizarre becomes the normal, and where through the loosening of connections between elements customarily bound together in certain combinations, their scrambling and recombining in monstrous, fantastic, and unnatural shapes, the novices are induced to think, and think hard, about cultural experiences they had hitherto taken for granted. T he novices are taught that they did not know what they thought they knew. Beneath the surface structure of custom was a deep structure, whose rules they had to learn, through paradox and shock. ... T he novices are at once put outside and inside the circle of the previously known.16

Whether drama in general always reaffirms a deep cultural structure is debatable, but the “loosening of connections” and the discovery that they “did not know what they thought they knew” seem essential components of any encounter with “paradox and shock.”17 F or T urner, drama is liminal, betwixt and between, “a time and place of withdrawal from normal modes of social action” that can provide “a period of scrutinization of the central values and axioms of the culture in which it occurs.”18 T his “scrutinization” is, I would argue, what lies at the heart of the dramatic experience, as performance and audience interact and intersect. O r, in T urner’s words, the “most characteristic midliminal symbolism is that of paradox, of being both this and that.”19 E ven more elemental to the audience’s theatrical experience is what D avid Cole has called “the paradoxes of mimesis.”20 Indeed, recent work on mimesis has foregrounded the paradoxical complexity of the concept. For Philippe LacoueL abarthe, “the logical matrix of the paradox is the very structure of mimesis. ... the logic of the paradox is always a logic of semblance, articulated around the division between appearance and reality, presence and absence, the same and the other, or identity and difference. This is the division that grounds (and constantly unsteadies) mimesis.”21 In the introduction to their important anthology of essays on mimesis, John D. Lyons and Stephen Nichols Jr. frame the issue in a similar fashion: 15 ����������������������������������������������������������������������������������� For an excellent historical survey of literary response and the audience, see Jane P. T ompkins, “T he R eader in H istory: T he Changing Shape of L iterary R esponse,” esp. 202–11. 16 ��������������� Victor T urner, From Ritual to Theatre, 42. 17 ����������� See N ardo, The Ludic Self, 15–34. 18 ��������������� Victor T urner, The Ritual Process, 167. 19 ��������������������������������������������������������� Victor T urner, “Variations on a T heme of L iminality,” in Secular Ritual, 37. 20 ������������ D avid Cole, The Theatrical Event, 161. 21 ����������������� Lacoue-Labarthe, Typography, 260.

“Double Dealing Ambodexters”


What we miss in these theories [of art as an imitation of an independent reality outside of itself] might be summed up as the concept of representing, taken as the active participation of the reader/viewer in the cognition and definition of the work of art. In recent years, mimesis has come to imply not simply depiction of phenomenal reality, but also the incorporation into the figurative act of the problematics of portrayal; that is, how the sheer fact of reproducing the world as sign, the world as language, may expose and call into question precisely those conventions meant to systematize and objectify representation.22

T hese “twin faces of mimesis” reveal a “fragile equilibrium between the act of representing ... and the object represented” (19). “The active participation of the reader/viewer” is crucial to the “problematics” of mimesis. “Impossibly double,” mimesis has etymological roots in the paradoxical, as E lin D iamond—following Göran Sörbom—has recently emphasized. In the original Greek, mimema or mimemata are the concrete products of the verb ‘mimesthai’ (the activity of representing), at the ‘origin’ of which, as A ristotle seems to note in Chapter 4 of the Poetics, is the mimos or mimetes, the person(s) performing (and improvising) the activity. ... Mimos is both the performer and what is performed (a mime), just as mimesis denotes both the activity of representing and the result of it—both a doing and a thing done. 23

Bert O . States has located a similar doubleness in mimesis: imitation implies not only an “imitation of” something “outside the drama” but also “the medium in which the work presents its representation.” States argues for “theater as a process of mediation between artist and culture, speaker and listener; theater becomes a passageway for a cargo of meanings being carried back to society (after artistic refinement) via the language of signs.”24 T he audience encounters a theatrical mimesis that reflects and makes but also distorts and “unmakes.”25 ����������������������������� L yons and N ichols, intro. to Mimesis, 3; subsequent citations are annotated within the text. 23 ��������� D iamond, Unmaking Mimesis, iv–v. 24 �������� States, Great Reckonings in Little Rooms, 5–6. 25 ������������������������������������������������������������������������������������ See H élène Cixous’s “T he Character of ‘Character’” for a radical call to accept the second view of mimesis and repudiate the first: “In this system, the ‘character’ represents a set of externals. ... T he ideology underlying this fetishization of ‘character’ is that an ‘I’ who is a whole subject (that of the ‘character’ as well as that of the author), conscious, knowable; and the enunciatory ‘I’ expresses himself in the text, just as the world is represented complementarily in the text in a form equivalent to pictorial representation, as a simulacrum. ... So long as we take to be the representation of a true subject that which is only a mask, so long as we ignore the fact that the ‘subject’ is an effect of the unconscious and that it never stops producing the unconscious—which is unanalysable, uncharacterizable—we will remain prisoners of the monotonous machination that turns every ‘character’ into a marionette” (385–87). 22

Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox


Mimesis in the theater, then, is paradoxically involved both with representing what is and with seeming. T erry E agleton has addressed this connection, linking the paradox of acting to the paradox of mimesis: “If representation is a lie, then the very structure of the theatrical sign is strangely duplicitous, asserting an identity while manifesting a division, and to this extent it resembles the structure of metaphor. F or metaphor works simultaneously by difference and identity, claiming that passion is fire, while undermining that claim in the same breath—for how can one thing be another thing? N othing is but what is not, metaphor proposes.”26 L ike the actor, mimesis is something and is not something—asserts an identity “while manifesting a division.” T his paradoxy or “contrariety” of mimesis is what R obert Weimann has famously located in the tension between locus and platea on the medieval and R enaissance stage.27 F or Weimann, the Shakespearean stage saw a mutual interpenetration of these sites, which are both physical and conceptual. Because the locus was often the site of the throne in medieval drama, Weimann develops the locus as a place of stability, authority, and decorum; the platea—closer to the audience both materially and symbolically—becomes a site of flux, impertinence, topsy-turvydom: the place where the medieval Vice, and later Iago, Thersites, and E dmund, reigned. Whereas Weimann connects the locus to verisimilitude and representation, he links the platea to disguise, clowning, presentation, a disruption of strict mimesis—the place of “antic disposition” where the “stage-as-stage and the cultural occasion itself are made to assist or resist the socially and verbally elevated, spatially and temporally remote representation.”28 T his contrariety is, then, another element of the paradoxes of playing on the Shakespearean stage—and one that, crucially, reveals the audience as an actor in the paradoxical experience of theater.29 F or the audience, along with Shakespeare’s characters, struggle not only to know but to determine what is and what is not.30 ���������� E agleton, William Shakespeare, 13–14. ��������� Weimann, Author’s Pen and Actor’s Voice, 4. 28 ��������� Weimann, Author’s Pen and Actor’s Voice, 181. See also Weimann’s earlier discussion in Shakespeare and the Popular Tradition in the Theater, 73–85 and 196–246. This doubleness led T .S. E liot to call “the art of the E lizabethans ... an impure art,” characterized by an “artistic greediness, their desire for every sort of effect together, their unwillingness to accept any limitation and abide by it.” Particularly frustrating for E liot was the mixture of locus-like “realism” with platea-like “unrealistic conventions [like soliloquies, asides, ghosts, violations of place and time ‘unities’].” (See Eliot, “Four Elizabethan Dramatists,” in Selected Essays, 114–16. For Weimann’s critique, see his Shakespeare and the Popular Tradition in the Theater, 250—Eliot’s impurity is Weimann’s “flexibility.” 29 ������������������������������������������������������������� F or H enk Gras, there is much less ambiguity. A s he argues in Studies in Elizabethan Audience Response to the Theater, early modern audiences largely identified with “a reified illusion” (1:39), and thus with a character, and were not involved in a “dual consciousness” (1:21–22)—a simultaneous awareness of the actor and the character. 30 ����������������� See also Mooney, Shakespeare’s Dramatic Transactions, esp. 2. In her Shakespeare’s Theory of Drama, Pauline K iernan has argued for a similar doubleness: a tension between 26 27

“Double Dealing Ambodexters”


In this chapter I develop the three major areas of paradoxical playing sketched above: the paradox of the actor; the paradox of the boy actor; and the paradox of the audience-play dynamic. In each section, I will show how several of Shakespeare’s plays engage with and are shaped by these paradoxes. In the first, the doubleness that surrounds the actor will help to elucidate some of the questions of seeming and being in the H enriad and Hamlet. In the second, the paradox of the boy actor will be linked to the paradoxes of gender performance, and both will guide my readings of As You Like It, Twelfth Night, and Antony and Cleopatra, all of which foreground problems of the unstable and variable (gendered) self. Finally, the audience’s encounters with the paradoxes of the stage help unlock the complexities of The Winter’s Tale and The Tempest, both of which rely on the audience not only to witness but also to participate in these dramas. Playing Someone Else: The Paradoxes of Acting “A nd as for those stagers themselues, are they not commonlie such kind of men in their conuersation, as they are in profession? A re they not as variable in hart, as they are in their partes?” Anthony Munday asked in 1580.31 A s a playwright and antitheatricalist, as well as a translator of a famous paradox book, Munday is a crucial figure for this study. His interrogation of “stagers” focuses on the “paradox of acting”: a separation between the true self—the “hart”—and the false self—the “parte.”32 A nd in Munday’s view there is a fairly clear sense that playing parts is at least related to—and may be responsible for creating—falsehood: the actors are, he implies with his leading question, “variable.” T his split between self and part—what R ichard Schechner has called the actor’s “not me–not not me” dynamic—was, as we have seen, the key to good acting for D iderot.33 T he actor is at his best when he is farthest from himself, when he plays most. A s D iderot explains in The Paradox of Acting, “One is one’s self by nature; “mimetic illusion, which is treated within the plays as an activity which falsifies human life” and “dramatic illusion, the self-proclaimed fiction which paradoxically explores realities and compels belief” (3). Kiernan has a strong preference for the latter, arguing that Shakespeare “uses a convention of mimetic art to demonstrate how inadequate the imitation of life really is. Fiction is used to explore realities not imitate them; realities can only be explored with such force through fiction, a paradox which, as we will see, causes Hamlet so much pain” (99). Kiernan sees the paradox ultimately dissolving into a triumph of “dramatic art” whereas I see it continuing to resonate. 31 �������� Munday, A second and third blast of retrait from plaies and Theaters, 111. 32 �������������������������������������������������������������� For more on Munday’s career of doubleness, see Jeffrey Knapp, Shakespeare’s Tribe, 152–54. For my discussion of Munday’s paradox book, see chapter 1, above. 33 ��������������� See Schechner, Between Theater and Anthropology, 127, and “Collective Reflexivity: R estoration of Behavior,” in A Crack in the Mirror, esp. 74–77. Robert Weimann frames the paradox in this way: “T he trouble with these agents was that, thereby, they themselves came into the picture ... ; these performers, representing something and someone else, also represented themselves” (Authority and Representation in Early Modern Discourse, 204–5).


Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox

one becomes someone else by imitation; the heart one is supposed to have is not the heart one has” (53): But they say that an actor is all the better for being excited, for being angry. I deny it. H e is best when he imitates anger. A ctors impress the public not when they are furious, but when they play fury well. In tribunals, in assemblies, everywhere where a man wishes to make himself master of others’ minds, he feigns now anger, now fear, now pity, now love, to bring others into these divers states of feeling. What passion itself fails to do, passion well imitated accomplishes. (71)

Diderot celebrates the actor’s departure from “nature,” from “one’s self”; “he is best when he imitates anger,” when he “feigns.” E ven the defenders of acting and the stage in Shakespeare’s age would not go that far. A lberico Gentili—an Italian Protestant O xford law professor who defended the stage in a debate with the Puritan John Rainolds—saw paradox as an intrinsic problem of the acting profession: acting bad characters may not be either decorous or tolerable. F or with what modesty can a man perform a woman’s part, a free man a slave’s, a sober man a drunkard’s, an honest man a vile man’s part, a man a beast’s? [quo enim cum pudore vir aget partes mulieris, liber servi, sobrius ebrii, honestus impuri, homo etiam belluae?] But in sport, and sometimes for the sake of utility, these things can be done, as Plato himself ... admits [in The Republic 3.396c–e].34

Gentili’s L atin text focuses the paradoxes beautifully: to act is to be “liber servi, sobrius ebrii, honestus impuri.” A ll Gentili was able to offer is the reminder that plays can, at times, delight and instruct. An Excellent Actor (1615), written possibly by John Webster in response to John Cocke’s tract cited above, tries to turn the doubleness and falsehoods of acting into truths, commending actors for bringing into the light the theatricality of everyday life: “A ll men haue beene of his occupation: and indeed, what hee doth fainedly [,] that doe others essentially: this day one plaies a Monarch, the next a priuate person. H eere one A cts a T yrant, on the morrow an E xile: A Parasite this man to night, to morow a Precisian, and so of diuers others.”35 We all play 34 ������������������������������������������������������������������������������ A lberico Gentili, quoted in Binns, “A lberico Gentili in D efense of Poetry and Acting,” 246–47 (the original Latin) and 269 (Binns’s translation of Gentili’s statement). See Binns’s “Women or Transvestites on the Elizabethan Stage?” for the definitive account of Gentili’s debate with R ainolds—one that R ainolds began with William Gager, a friend of Gentili whom Binns here describes as “the leading writer of academic L atin drama at Oxford” (96). 35 �������������� John Webster, An Excellent Actor (1615), in E.K. Chambers, The Elizabethan Stage 4:258. See also John Harington’s “A Treatise on Play,” which discusses the power of dissimulation via a defense of “counterfet gaming”—gambling for stakes that only seem to be high: “I say in defence of this honest or at least harmless dissimulacion, in making the play seeme greater then it is, that thear is almoste no parte of owr lyfe in which we doe not generally affecte and effect more dangerows practyses of dissimulacion in matters of

“Double Dealing Ambodexters”


parts “essentially,” but the actor does so overtly, “fainedly.” R evealing shades of Sidney, T ouchstone, and D iderot, An Excellent Actor praises the player for being most truthful when he is most feigning. T he more typical response, though, was to deride the paradox of acting as hypocrisy. F or Philip Stubbes, theater was constituted by duplicity: and doe these Mockers and flouters of his Maiesty, these dissembling Hypocrites, & flattering Gnatoes [parasites] think to escape vnpunished? Beware therfore you masking Plaiers, you painted Sepulchres, you double dealing A mbodexters, be warned betimes, & like good Computists, cast your accomptes before what will be the reward thereof in the end, least God destroy you in his wrath.36

These “dissembling,” “flattering,” “painted,” “double dealing Ambodexters” were as far as possible from the ideal of men like Stubbes and Gosson: “euery man,” Gosson writes in Plays Confuted in Five Actions (1582), “must show him selfe outwardly to be such as in deed he is” (E5r).37 A lthough not addressing acting in particular, William Perkins focused the issue nicely in 1608 in the third book of his The Whole Treatise of the Cases of Conscience: H ere comes to be iustly reprooued, the straunge practise and behauiour of some in these daies, who beeing not contented with that forme and fashion, which God hath sorted vnto them, doe deuise artificiall formes and fauours, to set vpon their bodies and faces, by painting and colouring; thereby making themselves seeme that which indeede they are not.38

As Peter Lake and Michael Questier have recently shown, in the minds of Gosson and Stubbes, the actors’ “deceit ... stood as a synecdoche for the wider project ernest and wayght than this I bring in, in matter only of sport and game” (Harington, Nugae Antiquae, 2:209). 36 ��������� Stubbes, The Anatomie of Abuses, 199. Thomas Preston’s Cambyses, King of Persia (c. 1560) includes a Vice character named “Ambidexter,” who introduces himself by noting “I signifie one, / That with bothe hands finely can play.” He asks the audience later in the drama, “H ow like you Sisamnes for using of me? / H e plaid with bothe hands, but he sped il favouredly. T he K ing him self was godly up trained: / Professed vertue—but I think it was fained. / H e playes with bothe hands, good deeds and il.” L ater the K ing says to Ambidexter: “Thou plaist with both hands, now I perceive well!” (See Johnson, A Critical Edition of Thomas Preston’s Cambises, 605–9 and 687.) 37 ��������������������������������������������������������������������������������� A s Stuart Clark has recently shown, the master of ambidextrous manipulation was, for Shakespeare’s period, the D evil: “H e could make men and women think, wrote the clergyman Theodor Thumm in 1621, ‘that that which is not, is, and imagine that which is, to be something else’ [Tractatus theologicus (Tübingen, 1621), 28], and that the likenesses (species) of things were the things themselves” (Clark, “Demons, Natural Magic, and the Virtually R eal,” in Paracelsian Moments, 239). For a catalog of the connections between theater and demonism, see Gras, Studies in Elizabethan Audience Response to the Theater 1:187–97, esp. 194–97. 38 ��������� Perkins, The Whole Treatise of the Cases of Conscience, 323.


Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox

of the theatre which was inherently false, involving people pretending to be that which they were not, creating a complete division between the inward and the outward, appearance and reality.”39 This “complete division” struck at the heart of the Elizabethan and Jacobean order of things: outward was supposed to reflect or correspond with the inward; the world was supposed to be mimetic in the traditional sense. A ccording to Pierre de L a Primaudaye, “the heart doeth so enlarge it selfe, that it is represented in the face, as it were in a glasse, or in an image framed to expresse the ioy and gladnes which it hath.”40 O r in the words of L emnius, not onely in the inward mynd of man, do these ornamentes and giftes of nature appeare & expresselye shew out themselues, but euen in outward shew, shape and behauiour of the bodye. ... F or in the countenaunce, whych is the Image of the mynde, in the eyes, which are the bewrayers and tokentellers of the inwarde conceiptes: in the colour, lineamentes, proportion and feacture of the whole bodye.41

T o act was to shatter the mirror, to rend the correspondence asunder. A t stake for those who attacked the theater, then, was protecting a system that allowed the legibility of the world; actors made the world frighteningly illegible.42 But antitheatricalists feared something else as well: that the inward would become consumed in the outward, that the self would become lost in the part. John R ainolds, in his Th’ Overthrow of Stage-Playes (1599), expressed this fear. It is one that Ben Jonson would later record in his Discoveries.43 A nd it is one that, as 39 ������������������� Lake and Questier, The Antichrist’s Lewd Hat, 443. See also William Prynne’s Histriomastix (1633): “For God, who is truth it selfe, in whom there is no variablenesse, no shadow of change no feining, no hypocrisie; as he hath given a vniforme distinct and proper being to every creature, the bounds of which may not be exceeded: so he requires that the actions of every creature should be honest and sincere, devoyde of all hypocrisie, as all his actions, and their natures are. H ence he enioy[n]es all men at all times, to be such in shew, as they are in truth: to seeme that outwardly which they are inwardly; to act themselves, not others’” (X4r). 40 ��������������� L a Primaudaye, The Second Part of the French Academie (1594), 251. See also Foakes, “The Player’s Passion,” 64. 41 ��������� L emnius, The Touchstone of Complexions (1578), 36–37. See also Foakes, “The Player’s Passion,” 64. 42 ��������������������������������������������������� See my discussion of the epistemological crisis of Twelfth Night’s A ntonio later in this chapter. F or A ndrew Gurr, the problem is “the fear of illusion,” hence the prevalence for metatheatricality in the period: “One of the fitter words for the early concept of acting might be anti-realism. ... We talk now about the danger on stage of breaking the illusion. Setting up any kind of illusion was a concept the E lizabethans were extremely wary of” (“Metatheatre and the Fear of Playing,” 91). 43 ���� See Timber: or, Discoveries, in Jonson, Ben Jonson 8:597: “I have considered, our whole life is like a Play: wherein every man, forgetfull of himselfe, is in travaile with expression of another. Nay, wee so insist in imitating others, as wee cannot (when it is necessary) returne to our selves: like Children, that imitate the vices of Stammerers so long, till at last they become such; and make the habit to another nature, as it is never forgotten.”

“Double Dealing Ambodexters”


Rainolds tells us, has its roots in Quintilian: “because such as those are[,] whom we imitate much, such our selves become” [Frequēs imitatio transit in mores].”44 R ainolds provides a graphic image of this problem earlier in Th’ Overthrow of Stage-Playes: F or, the care of making a shew to doe such feates, and to doe them as lively as the beasts them selues in whom the vices raigne, worketh in the actors a maruellous impression of being like the person whose qualities they express and imitate: chiefly when earnest and much meditation of sundry dayes and weekes, by often repetition and representation of the partes, shall as it were engraue the things in their minde with a penne of iron, or with the point of a diamond. (19)

R ainolds is also concerned with the effect that the actor’s transformation can have on audience transformation, but that is for later discussion. F or now, it is important to stress that R ainolds fears not just the duplicity of the paradox of acting but the constitutive power of the paradox—the power that L aura L evine has called the “‘magical’ idea that representations in general can alter the things they are only supposed to represent.”45 Henry V T he paradoxical power of acting does not initially trouble Prince H al in 1 Henry IV; indeed, he seems to thrive on it. Having just schemed with his tavern friends ���������� R ainolds, Th’ Overthrow of Stage-Playes, 121. Rainolds provides the Latin but gives the citation as “Lib 1 ca 19.” In the Loeb edition, the passage—which is from bk. 1, chap. 11, of Quintilian’s Institutio oratoria—is translated as follows: “F or I do not of course wish the boy, whom we are training to this end, to talk with the shrillness of a woman or in the tremulous accents of old age. N or for that matter must he ape the vices of the drunkard, or copy the cringing manners of a slave, or learn to express the emotions of love, avarice or fear. Such accomplishments are not necessary to an orator and corrupt the mind, especially while it is still pliable and unformed. F or repeated imitation passes into habit [Nam frequens imitatio transit in mores]. N or yet again must we adopt all the gestures and movements of the actor. Within certain limits the orator must be a master of both, but he must rigorously avoid staginess and all extravagance of facial expression, gesture and gait. F or if an orator does command a certain art in such matters, its highest expression will be in the concealment of its existence” (1:183–85). 45 �������� L evine, Men in Women’s Clothing, 5. In his “Twelfth Night, Puritanism, and the Myth of Gender A nxiety,” R obin H eadlam Wells takes on the idea of “postmodern critics” like Levine that antitheatricalists wrote about “gender anxiety” (82), yet he replaces one form of totalizing theory with another. Mocking the idea that Gosson, Stubbes, and Prynne actually believed that “dressing boy actors up as women didn’t just effeminize them” but “could actually bring about a physical transformation and turn them into women” (86–87), Wells ignores comments like Jonson’s (based in Quintilian) that do seem to express anxiety about the slippage of identity and comments like Gosson’s and Stubbes’s that worry about the slippery nature not only of ontology but also of gender and class. 44

Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox


to help in a robbery that will also involve embarrassing F alstaff, H al delivers a soliloquy telling us that what they think of as his heart is really only a part: If all the year were playing holidays, To sport would be as tedious as to work; But when they seldom come, they wished-for come, A nd nothing pleaseth but rare accidents. So when this loose behaviour I throw off A nd pay the debt never promisèd, By how much better than my word I am, By so much shall I falsify men’s hopes. (1.2.182–89)

He admits to “playing” here but suggests that there is more to him than “sport”; only to play would be “tedious.” H e will create a stage wonder—a “rare accident”—by “throw[ing] off” the costume or “loose behaviour” that has established his role. Paradoxes abound: he will create a theatrical moment by renouncing his part; he will tell the truth—be “better” than his “word”—by lying; he will “falsify men’s hopes” as he becomes the true prince. A s he tells us earlier in the speech, he will “please again to be himself” (1.2.178) by “imitat[ing] the sun” (1.2.175). It is possible to read the speech as a rationalization—this was, famously, Samuel Johnson’s interpretation46—but this reading leaves H al nothing to learn about his role-playing. Even after establishing himself as a war hero at Shrewsbury by the end of 1 Henry IV, H al worries that in some sense he will not be able to reassert himself; perhaps there can be no return from the part. For in act 2, scene 2, of 2 Henry IV, Hal fears—as Rainolds and Jonson feared—that playing a role might mean losing a self. Instead of celebrating the paradox of acting as he did early in 1 Henry IV, H al here laments to Poins that “my heart bleeds inwardly that my father is so sick; and keeping such vile company as thou art hath, in reason, taken from me all ostentation of sorrow” (2.2.36–39). He cannot show “sorrow”—cannot give an “ostentation” that his “heart bleeds inwardly”—because it would not be believed. Were he to cry, Poins assures him, “I would think thee a most princely hypocrite” (2.2.42). Hal, then, is caught in his own paradoxical bind: having played a rogue for so long, he fears that his display of true emotion would be interpreted as that of an actor, a “hypocrite.” R evealing his heart would be seen as merely playing another part. A lthough he assumes royal power at the end of 2 Henry IV and is praised by the Bishop of E ly for his mastery of the paradox of acting early in Henry V—“the Prince obscured his contemplation / Under the veil of wildness” (1.1.64–65)—Hal is never again completely at ease with histrionic doubleness.47 Walking among his soldiers in disguise before the battle of A gincourt, H enry V—as H al is now called—finds out that some of his soldiers doubt their king’s sincerity. Indeed, Michael Williams comes very close to calling his king a hypocrite: ����������������� See Shakespeare, The Plays of William Shakespeare 4:123. ��������������� See H onigmann, Shakespeare, Seven Tragedies Revisited, 207.

46 47

“Double Dealing Ambodexters”


King Harry [in disguise] I myself heard the K ing say he would not be ransomed. Williams Ay, he said so, to make us fight cheerfully, but when our throats are cut he may be ransomed, and we ne’er the wiser. (4.1.177–81)

Williams makes clear his suspicion of the gap between what a king says (what he represents as the truth) on the one hand and what he does (how truth is actually realized) on the other. Presented with this gap by Williams, H al meditates on the necessary gaps required to perform kingship. F or H al, the success of being a king is wholly dependent on theater: props, seeming, forms—“the balm, the sceptre, and the ball, / The sword, the mace, the crown imperial” (4.1.242–43). Without “ceremony,” the true king is as powerless as “private men” (4.1.219): O ceremony, show me but thy worth. What is thy soul of adoration? A rt thou aught else but degree, place, and form, Creating awe and fear of other men? (4.1.226–29) O , be sick, great greatness, A nd bid thy ceremony give thee cure. Think’st thou the fiery fever will go out With titles blown from adulation? Will it give place to flexure and low bending? Canst thou, when thou command’st the beggar’s knee, Command the health of it? N o, thou proud dream That play’st so subtly with a king’s repose. (4.1.233–40)

F or H al, ceremony is everything and nothing. L ike A rtaud’s theater, it is “in no thing but makes use of everything.” It commands respect, but in itself has little or no substance. “Titles” may help force “flexure and low bending,” but they can neither cool the “fiery fever” nor “command the health of” the bending knee should it need healing.48 T he play reinforces this point when the K ing—unmasked as himself—meets Williams again. A lthough he asks for a royal pardon, Williams strongly suggests as part of his defense that the clothes make the king: Your majesty came not like yourself. You appeared to me but as a common man. Witness the night, your garments, your lowliness. A nd what your highness suffered under that shape, I beseech you take it for your own fault, and not mine, for had you been as I took you for, I made no offense. (4.8.46–50)

Garments, shapes, what “I took you for”—royal identity is defined not essentially but symbolically or, as Peter Stallybrass would say, prosthetically.49 A s if in playful recognition of the power of ceremony and accoutrements, the king gives Williams 48

����������������������������������������������������������������������������� For more on this paradox, see Dawson, “The Arithmetic of Memory,” esp. 57–58. �������������������������������������������������������� See Stallybrass, “T ransvestism and the ‘Body Beneath.’”



Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox

a glove full of crowns. In serious recognition of his manipulation at the hands of the king, Williams can be seen to refuse them.50 The turn toward comedy in act 5 attempts to solve many of the Henriad’s problems, including those surrounding the paradox of acting. Indeed, Queen Isabel invokes God and the paradox of marriage in an attempt to domesticate the doubleness that has plagued her country as well as Shakespeare’s tetralogy: God, the best maker of all marriages, Combine your hearts in one, your realms in one. A s man and wife, being two, are one in love, So be there ’twixt your kingdoms such a spousal That never ill office or fell jealousy, Which troubles oft the bed of blessèd marriage, T hrust in between the paction of these kingdoms To make divorce of their incorporate league; T hat E nglish may as F rench, F rench E nglishmen, Receive each other, God speak this “Amen.” (5.2.331–40)

T he paradoxical equilibrium of two being one—E nglish being F rench and F rench being English—is short-lived, however, as we learn from the epilogue. After H enry’s death, H enry’s son will have “lost F rance and made his E ngland bleed” (12); two are two again. But—at least within the world of his fiction—Shakespeare instills doubt in us about the paradoxical “paction” even before the epilogue. A lthough H enry claims to be exactly what he seems—“a fellow of plain and uncoined constancy, for he perforce must do thee right, because he hath not the gift to woo in other places” (5.2.148–51)—Catherine does not fully believe him. In a lighter realization of H al’s fears in 2 Henry IV, Catherine thinks of him not as “a fellow of plain and uncoined constancy” but as a hypocrite: “O bon Dieu! Les langues des hommes sont pleines des tromperies” (5.2.115–16) and “Your majesté ’ave faux F rench enough to deceive de most sage desmoiselle dat is en France” (–5). Even more significantly, when Henry invokes the kinds of paradox that Queen Isabel leans on at play’s end, he leaves Catherine at best confused and at worst skeptical: King Harry ... and K ate, when F rance is mine, and I am yours, then yours is F rance, and you are mine. Catherine I cannot tell vat is dat. (5.2.167–69) 50 ��������������������������������������������� O f course, Williams refuses to take anything from Fluellen—“I will none of your money” (4.8.62)—and Fluellen has offered him “twelve pence” (4.8.58) immediately before Williams’s refusal. But since F luellen is supposed to give Williams the crowns for H enry, the resonance of the rejection is deeper than it would be otherwise. Indeed, in rejecting the money of the king’s surrogate, Williams can be seen as rejecting—in a displaced manner— the crowns of the king.

“Double Dealing Ambodexters”


“I cannot tell vat is dat”—this is just the problem that the antitheatricalists had with the paradox of acting. It made true selves, true words, and true hearts indecipherable—and indistinguishable from performances, lies, and parts.51 Hamlet A similar fear of the paradox of acting troubles H amlet early in Hamlet; in many ways, he begins the play as an antitheatricalist. But he will take a journey different from H al’s—from a fear and loathing of playing to an embrace of it as a paradoxically necessary part of being.52 When we first meet him, Hamlet questions the truths and certainties around him even as he tries to find something that he can believe in. For Harry Levin, Hamlet “takes place in an open universe; its signs and omens, though evident, are equivocal.”53 O n one level we can see this questioning of his “open universe” in puns, where he unhinges words from their conventional meanings and challenges the rhetorical assumptions of other characters.54 T his tactic emerges early in act 1, scene 2, when Claudius has smoothed over difficulties and contradictions and linked them in seemingly benign paradoxes, as he speaks of “mirth in funeral” and “dirge in marriage” (1.2.12). Some paradoxes sustain and call attention to problems. Claudius uses paradox, though—like a dark version of Queen Isabel— in an attempt to erase troubles. H amlet, on the other hand, rips apart this verbal and political harmony in an aside, when he replies to Claudius’s assertion that H amlet is now Claudius’s son with “A little more than kin and less than kind.” H amlet and Claudius are a little too related now, but H amlet does not feel kindly toward Claudius and, more importantly, is not like him: H amlet and Claudius are not of the same kind, and H amlet focuses on difference and on gaps between seeming and actual meaning. In

����������������������������������������������� See Barton, “T he K ing D isguised: Shakespeare’s Henry V and the Comical H istory” (1975), in her Essays, Mainly Shakespearean, for the connection between disguise and “a dramatist apparently determined to stress the equivalence of mutually exclusive views of a particular complex of historical events” (217). 52 ����������������������������������������� See R ouget, “Paradoxe et Subversion dans Hamlet,” in Le Mal et Ses Masques, for a recent study that seeks to find “l’aspect concilateur du paradoxe et de l’oxymore” (326). 53 ������� L evin, The Question of Hamlet, 41–42. In his “On the Value of Hamlet,” Stephen Booth treats the play as fundamentally paradoxical—consistently “both coherent and incoherent” (24) and focused on a “contrariety of values” (29) and “a multitude of intense relationships in an equal multitude of different systems of coherence, systems not subordinated to one another in a hierarchy of relative power” (35). See also Leverenz, “The Woman in Hamlet,” for the play’s “mixed signals” (299) and “discord of other voices and expectations” (301). 54 ������� In his Shakespeare and the Popular Tradition, Weimann links these “illusionbreaking speech patterns” to Hamlet’s “dissociation from the locus of the court” (230–31). See also R ouget, “Paradoxe et Subversion dans Hamlet,” 286–87. 51

Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox


the next few lines H amlet plays with and examines the words “sun” and “common,” interrogating what F rank K ermode has called “conjoined disjuncts.”55 But it is his disquisition on “seems” that is so important to the play and for our purposes. For here Hamlet brings to the foreground his problem with figurative language: any external fails to match and is inferior to its corresponding internal. In response to Gertrude’s question about why “common” “seems ... so particular with thee,” H amlet responds, Seems, madam? nay it is. I know not “seems.” ’T is not alone my inky cloak, good mother, N or customary suits of solemn black, N or windy suspiration of forced breath, N o, nor the fruitful river in the eye, N or the dejected haviour of the visage, T ogether with all forms, moods, shows of grief T hat can denote me truly. T hese indeed “seem,” For they are actions that a man might play; But I have that within which passeth show— These be but the trappings and suits of woe. (1.2.76–86)

Not only “trappings” and “suits” but even breath (and speech!), tears, and facial expressions are connected to “actions that a man might play.” A ll representation— even in the theater of the world—is a lie, to bring back Eagleton’s formulation; all of our accoutrements are similarly false props and costumes. H amlet begins the play with an antitheatricalist perspective and thus links the “actions that a man might play” to “show” and seeming. T hat there is a change in H amlet from this antitheatrical position is usually recognized, even if there are disagreements about what this change signifies.56 I would argue that H amlet moves beyond rigid binaries—acting/being, to be/ ��������������������������������������� K ermode, “Cornelius and Voltemand,” in Forms of Attention, 38. A figure related to paradox is hendiadys, a term meaning “one through two”; two famous Hamletian examples are “ponderous and marble jaws” (1.4.31) and “book and volume of my brain” (1.5.103). In his classic essay “H endiadys and Hamlet” (originally published in 1981 in PMLA), George T. Wright calls attention to the figure’s paradox-like tendency to engage in “an interweaving, indeed sometimes a muddling, of meanings, a deliberate violation of clear sense” (“Hendiadys and Hamlet,” in Kastan, Critical Essays on Shakespeare’s Hamlet, 87). In Hamlet specifically, hendiadys “serves to remind us ... how uncertain and treacherous language and behavior can be. ... the doublenesses we perceive here are characteristic of the whole play and ... hendiadys is a stylistic means of underlining the play’s themes of anxiety, bafflement, disjunction, and the falsity of appearances. ... What the play suggests, and what hendiadys helps to convey, is that the conjunctions on which life depends, on which this world’s customs and institutions are founded, cannot be trusted” (91, 95, and 100). 56 ���������������������������������������������������������������������������������� D avid H illman is certainly right to see the journey of H amlet as a “movement away from this clear dichotomy [of seeming and being, outside and inside],” one that “echoes Hamlet’s ripening away from the stark alternatives of ‘To be or not to be’” (“The Inside Story,” in Historicism, Psychoanalysis, and Early Modern Culture, 315). 55

“Double Dealing Ambodexters”


not to be—to an acceptance of paradox. T hat is, he ceases to see doubleness as falsehood and begins to see it as the inevitable coinciding of irresolvable opposites; he finds both power and pathos in the gap between self and role. And what provides this new insight is exactly what he begins the play by deriding: the paradox of acting. O n one level, of course, H amlet never seems a true antitheatricalist. In act 2, he is thrilled to see the players: “You’re welcome, masters, welcome all.—I am glad to see thee well.—Welcome, good friends” (2.2.405–6). Too, he recalls fondly a particular performance from their past: “But it was—as I received it, and others whose judgements in such matters cried in the top of mine—an excellent play, well digested in the scenes, set down with as much modesty as cunning” (2.2.418–22). And though he reveals a technical and formal appreciation for the play—he notes “no matter in the phrase that might indict the author of affectation, but called it an honest method, as wholesome as sweet and by very much more handsome than fine” (2.2.423–26)—he also evinces an emotional connection to their drama. H amlet begins by asking generally for a “passionate speech” (2.2.414) and then gets more specific: “One speech in it I chiefly loved, ’twas A eneas’ tale to D ido, and thereabout of it especially where he speaks of Priam’s slaughter” (2.2.426–28). Yet as we might expect given his early remarks on seeming, H amlet’s relationship to theater is an ambivalent one. I mentioned above that he remembers a “performance” from the Players’ past, but strictly speaking this is probably inaccurate. F or it is fairly clear that H amlet never saw the play performed in public: “I heard thee speak me a speech once, but it was never acted, or, if it was, not above once; for the play, I remember, pleased not the million. ’Twas caviare to the general” (2.2.416–18). What Hamlet “heard” he almost certainly did not see “acted”; he and the “others whose judgments in such matters cries in the top of” his must have “heard” either a court reading or a closet drama. T he public stage and its audience (“the general”) saw the play “not above once,” and H amlet seems not to have been in attendance. But we must believe either that H amlet has a superb memory, or has heard private/court readings several times, or owns a copy of the playbook because—after a faltering start—he begins to recite twelve lines from the speech in question. My point is that H amlet has an uneasy relationship with theater. A lthough he clearly loves some elements of it and commits some of its speeches to memory, he is not comfortable with the stage in all of its forms. H is preference—as he reveals in his advice to the players in act 3—is for an elite, “caviare” theater that is under strict control, unlike the unruly, improvisatory plays staged at the public theaters and witnessed by, among others, the “groundlings” (3.2.9). We will turn to that advice later, but first we need to examine Hamlet’s encountering the unruly emotions that nonetheless are released by “a passionate speech” that he “chiefly loved.” And it is the Player’s Hecuba speech that both troubles and empowers Hamlet so: where truth fails to move, fiction—especially paradoxical, theatrical fiction—can succeed. As Anna K. Nardo has shown, playing provides just the sort of paradoxical power that H amlet needs: “By its very nature,

Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox


play is double ... [and] creates a context in which actions both are and are not real, both are and are not serious. ... T he paradox of play ... [is] its way of transcending the rigid distinction between reality and illusion.”57 Hamlet has little doubt about the power of the fictive; his humanist training has clearly instilled a belief in the value of literary models.58 F or the speech he summons contains the story of Pyrrhus’s revenge on Priam, whose son Paris earlier killed Pyrrhus’s father, Achilles. Hope for inspiration through a father-son revenge drama surely explains part of H amlet’s interest in the Player’s excerpt. But after listening to the description of Pyrrhus’s violent murder of Priam, H amlet meditates primarily on acting and not on revenge: Is it not monstrous that this player here, But in a fiction, in a dream of passion, Could force his soul so to his whole conceit T hat from her working all his visage wanned, T ears in his eyes, distraction in’s aspect, A broken voice, and his whole function suiting With forms to his conceit? A nd all for nothing. For Hecuba! (2.2.528–35)

T o H amlet, it is “monstrous” that one’s “soul” and “function” could be forced to one’s “conceit,” that one’s self could be molded to fit one’s part. H is meditation on acting soon does become linked to his own predicament, however. The Player’s powerful performance is based on a fiction. Were it based on truth—on “the motive and the cue for passion” that H amlet himself has— H e would drown the stage with tears, A nd cleave the general ear with horrid speech, Make mad the guilty and appal the free, Confound the ignorant, and amaze indeed The very faculty of eyes and ears. (2.2.538–43)

But even as H amlet worries over the paradox of acting, we see that his speech, at least, is influenced by it. For his description of his life—his self, that which he opposes to the Player’s fiction—has been permeated by the theatrical language of “motive” and “cue.” When he imagines the Player in this real situation, he cannot imagine the Player out of a drama. H amlet conceives of the Player’s new speech drowning life’s stage with tears and deeply affecting the audience, who would have their faculties amazed and astonished. What is fascinating is that, when H amlet conceives of the theater of the world in this comparison, he imagines the audience as one beyond that of the closet drama—indeed, it is the audience 57

���������������������������������������������������������� Nardo, “Hamlet, ‘A Man to Double Business Bound,’” 188–89. ������������������������������������������������������������������ F or H amlet and the imitation of literary models, see Mark T aylor, Shakespeare’s Imitations, 107–41, and Kastan, “‘His Semblable Is His Mirror,’” in Kastan, Critical Essays on Shakespeare’s Hamlet, 198–209. Taylor sees Hamlet as not imitating Pyrrhus (128–29). 58

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of the public theater that he originally declared could not appreciate this play. Now, however, he imagines that the Player’s words—with a base in a real-life drama—would “cleave the general ear.” T his blending of actor and role allows H amlet to conceive of a blending of theaters: the theater of the Players and the theater of the world of E lsinore. H e thus moves from a theoretical meditation on drama’s power—a speech that “would drown the stage with tears” and would “Make mad the guilty”—to a practical one: I have heard that guilty creatures sitting at a play H ave, by the very cunning of the scene Been so struck to the soul that presently They have proclaimed their malefactions; F or murder, though it have no tongue, will speak With most miraculous organ. I’ll have these players Play something like the murder of my father Before mine uncle. (2.2.566–73)

T he man who knew not seems, who drew a sharp distinction between shows and that which passeth show, has decided to use these same shows to uncover the truth: “T he play’s the thing, / Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the King” (2.2.581–82). The next scene has baffled many readers and critics of Hamlet: why, if H amlet now has a plan, does he meditate on suicide in act 3, scene1? It is only partly explained if H amlet sees O phelia—who is still on stage—or even Claudius and Polonius withdrawing to spy on him. H is suicidal musings, then, would be a performance—part of his antic disposition—for his internal audience. But the complexity of the speech as well as its relative coherence sets it off from other such performances, and ultimately the position seems like a dodge. A nother point to consider in trying to answer the question about this speech’s placement is that in the first quarto a version of the speech appears before H amlet meets the players and develops his Mousetrap. In Q1, then, he considers suicide twice—first in a version of the “too too solid flesh” speech and then in the “To be or not to be” speech; his idea for using the players solves the problem, as it were, by giving a new purpose to his life. But the new placement of the speech and the addition of the lines about conscience (86–90) make this speech less about suicide than about the paradoxical double bind.59 A t this point H amlet still does not see past the paralysis of binaries: “to be”/”not to be”; “native hue of resolution”/“pale cast of thought”; “conscience”/“action.” And as G.R. Hibbard has noted, there is nothing in Hamlet’s use of pronouns to suggest he is talking about himself; his meditations are universal here, and he does not use “I” or “me” anywhere in the speech.60 O f course, there is an internal debate about the merits of living versus dying:

59 ��������������������������������������������������������������������� F or the notion of the double bind in psychology and its relevance to Hamlet, see Nardo, “Hamlet, ‘A Man to Double Business Bound,’” esp. 183–84. 60 �������������� G.R . H ibbard, Hamlet, Oxford edition, 239.


Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer T he slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, O r to take arms against a sea of troubles, And by opposing, end them. (3.1.59–62)

But by the time we get to the speech’s final five lines—for which there is no equivalent in Q1—Hamlet’s equations are much more complicated than they at first appear:61 T hus conscience does make cowards of us all, A nd thus the native hue of resolution Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought, A nd enterprises of great pitch and moment With this regard their currents turn awry, And lose the name of action. (3.1.85–90)

“Conscience” and doubt are connected to the lack of resolution and action. But since resolution and action are—in the logic of this speech—equated with suicide, a complicated bind emerges: While thinking and doubting allow H amlet to live in a strict sense, life becomes a sickly, pale, cowardly vestige of itself. O n the other hand, should H amlet summon the resolution to act, he would be killing himself. T his works on several levels. F irst, of course, suicide would literally take his life. Second, and more philosophical, to act—to play the part of a R evenger like Pyrrhus—would be to annihilate his self and replace it with a part.62 H amlet’s fear seems akin to R ainolds’s cited earlier: “because such as those are[,] whom we imitate much, such our selves become.” T o doubt is to live weakly. But to act is to murder himself by taking on another role.63 A nd this is where we return to Hamlet’s difficulties with embracing the paradox of acting. To think is to “lose the name of action,” but action is fraught with such negative connotations for H amlet that he emerges from this speech seemingly more confused than ever. A fter all, would acting—“action”—solve anything for a man who “know[s] not seems”?64

61 ������������������������������������������������������� I include the line about conscience—a version of which does appear in Q1—for continuity and syntactical clarity. 62 ����������������������������������������������������������������������������������� David Leverenz has made a similar point, arguing that Hamlet “has to deny his selfawareness, just as Gertrude and O phelia have done. T hat denial is equivalent to suicide, as the language of the last act shows” (“The Woman in Hamlet,” 292). 63 ����������������������������������������� F or a parallel formulation, see Goldman, Shakespeare and the Energies of Drama, 74–93. “Hamlet sees his situation as paradoxical—action results in not being. To be is not to act” (80). 64 ������������������������������������������������������������������������������������ H ere it is important to remember Stephen O rgel’s paradox of “action” cited earlier: “It is a linguistic fact of every Western language that the word for the imitation of an action—the classic definition of drama—is the same as the word for the action; both are act. In all theater the imaginary is presented as, is taken for, the real” (“Shakespeare Imagines a Theater,” 557).

“Double Dealing Ambodexters”


“Suit the action to the word, the word to the action,” H amlet tells the players at the beginning of act 3, scene 2. One of the reasons Hamlet is so particular with the actors is that he wants to fill the gap exposed by the paradox of acting: he hopes the players can link word to action in the Mousetrap because this linkage has seemed impossible in the theater of the world. It is not surprising, either, that H amlet, who is so uneasy with theater’s seeming, would try to make his production as close to the script and as mimetic in the traditional sense—or, as Weimann would have it, in the “scholarly” sense—as possible.65 H e tries to have his acting and keep L a Primaudaye’s vision of the world intact. F or H amlet famously wants the play “to hold as ’twere a mirror up to nature, to show virtue her own feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure” (3.2.20–22). H amlet not only wants action and word to match up but warns clowns to “speak no more than is set down for them” (3.2.35); they are the chief suspects in the crime of mismatching word and action. Yet there is a part of H amlet himself that resists these rules. A s we have seen, he violates the correspondence between word and thing when he puns and speaks in paradoxical riddles. Furthermore, Harold Jenkins and more recently Robert Weimann have noted that the Q1 Hamlet verbally enacts the clownish behavior he is trying to control: A nd doe you heare? let not your Clowne speake More then is set downe, there be of them I can tell you T hat will laugh themselues, to set on some Quantitie of barren spectators to laugh with them, A lbeit there is some necessary point in the Play T hen to be obserued: O t’is vile, and shewes A pittifull ambition in the foole that vseth it. A nd then you haue some agen, that keepes one sute O f ieasts, as a man is knowne by one sute of A pparell, and gentlemen quotes his ieasts downe In their tables, before they come to the plat, as thus: Cannot you stay till I eate my porrige? and, you owe me A quarters wages: and, my coate wants a cullison: And your beere is sowre: and, blabbering with his lips, A nd thus keeping in his cinkapase of ieasts, When, God knows, the warme Clowne cannot make a iest Vnlesse by chance, as the blinde man catcheth a hare: Maisters tell him of it.66 65 ��������� Weimann, Shakespeare and the Popular Tradition, 199. See also Weimann’s “Mimesis in Hamlet,” in Shakespeare and the Question of Theory, where he calls it the “classical version of mimesis (the naturalizing of the sign, the unacknowledged presence of authority and hierarchy in the ‘mirror’ metaphor, the privileged focus on Produktionsästhetik, the harmonizing language of unity and homogeneity)” (276). 66 ������������� Shakespeare, The Tragicall Historie of Hamlet, F2r–v; my emphasis. For Jenkins’s comment, see Hamlet, Arden edition, 289; for Weimann’s comment, see Author’s Pen and Actor’s Voice, 23–24.


Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox

Privileging writing—what is “set down” for the Clowns—the Q1 Hamlet nevertheless goes on in this same speech to clown and improvise himself, providing examples from the unwritten texts of clowns—unwritten except, of course, by the gentlemen who “quote” the jests “In their tables.” Interestingly, too, the Q1 Hamlet bears a resemblance to the antitheatrical Malvolio, claiming, as the steward would in similar terms of F este, that “the warme Clowne cannot make a iest / Vnlesse by chance.”67 The difference, of course, is that this Q1 Hamlet is connected to what Weimann calls a “double-dealing poetics that, simultaneously, informed Hamlet’s antic clowning and his own advice against it”—“T he ‘mirror’ of R enaissance representation and the ‘antic disposition’ constitute the two most prominent purposes of playing in Hamlet. ... H amlet is cast into this doubleness, with a capacity for both rupturing and forging the link between his high role and his low craft.”68 Mirroring nature and making nature afraid—as Ben Jonson accused Shakespeare of doing in his late plays—are both part of the “double-dealing poetics” at work here.69 F or just as we have an antitheatrical H amlet who inevitably decides that “the play’s the thing,” so we have a naturalistic/“mimetic” H amlet who at the same time sees the power of fashioning the world for his own ends and in his own—as opposed to nature’s or virtue’s or scorn’s—image.70 67 ����������������������������������������������������������������������������� Malvolio remarks to O livia about F este, “L ook you now, he’s out of his guard already. Unless you laugh and minister occasion to him, he is gagged” (Twelfth Night, 1.5.73–75). 68 ��������� Weimann, Author’s Pen and Actor’s Voice, 28 and 169. Most productions—rightly, I think—contain a vestige of the Q1 flavor by having Hamlet in his speech of advice enact the “crimes” that he is warning the players against committing. In his The Authentic Shakespeare and Other Problems of the Early Modern Stage, Stephen O rgel notes a similar tension at work in act 1: “in Hamlet’s first scene with the Ghost, Hamlet’s own behavior, the jokes about the voice in the ‘cellarage’ and all the rushing about the stage to avoid the ‘old mole’ beneath, will look to an audience without access to the script like a particularly disruptive kind of comic improvisation. This is Shakespeare making the anti-textual textual, but it also puts Shakespeare the actor in league with the audience against Shakespeare the playwright, and it strikingly reveals a divided loyalty” (22). 69 ���������������������������������������������������������������������������� Hamlet can be seen to stage the two versions of mimesis put forward by John D. Lyons and Stephen G. Nichols Jr. in their introduction to Mimesis as well as by E lin D iamond in her Unmaking Mimesis, iv–v. Robert Weimann contends (Author’s Pen and Actor’s Voice, 169) that the tension is between the H amlet whom O phelia calls “T he glass of fashion and the mould of form” (3.1.152) and the Hamlet who is of the “antic disposition” (1.5.173). See also George Puttenham, The Art of English Poetry, 309: “arte is not only an aide and coadiutor to nature in all her actions, but an alterer of them, and in some sort a surmounter of her skill.” Ben Jonson’s accusation against Shakespeare occurs in the induction to Bartholomew Fair, where the Scrivener contrasts Jonson, who “is loth to make N ature afraid in his Playes,” with Shakespeare, who is one of “those that beget Tales, Tempests, and such like Drolleries” (see Ben Jonson 6:16). 70 ��������������������������������������������������������������� It is not for nothing that H amlet distorts the mirror image in The Mousetrap, making “one Lucianus, nephew to the King” (3.2.223), when strict mimesis would have

“Double Dealing Ambodexters”


Indeed, a world that knows not seems becomes increasingly impossible, as the play foregrounds the inevitability of theatricality in act 3, scene 2. In addition to H amlet’s theory of theater, the scene gives us plays embedded within plays embedded within plays: A n audience watches H amlet help stage The Mousetrap (which is a version of The Murder of Gonzago), which is prefaced by a dumb show. Or as Frank Kermode puts it, “the play-within-the play is an uneasy double of Hamlet, and the dumbshow an imperfect shadow or show of the play-withinthe play.”71 O ne way of reading Hamlet is that there is nothing but “imperfect shadows” in the world of the play, nothing that “passeth show.” T his somewhat postmodern conclusion—not inappropriate for Shakespearean analysis—is one put forward by T erry E agleton: H amlet has no “essence” of being whatsoever, no inner sanctum to be safeguarded: he is pure deferral and diffusion, a hollow void which offers nothing determinate to be known. H is “self” consists simply in the range of gestures with which he resists available definitions, not in a radical alternative beyond their reach. ... Hamlet’s jealous sense of unique selfhood is no more than the negation of anything in particular. H ow could it be otherwise, when he rejects the signifiers by which alone the self, as signified, comes into being.72

T his reading of Hamlet, though powerful, seems stuck in the contradictions of act 1, scene 2—the scene in which Hamlet avers that he knows not seems. For Hamlet certainly learns and evinces the power of externals and signifiers. Further, while E agleton’s version of the self and the world does appear in Shakespeare— see my discussion of Antony and Cleopatra below—I think H amlet embraces the paradox, rather than the nihilism, of acting. Perhaps E agleton is right, and H amlet—unlike A ntony—simply does not know that he has no essential self. But I would argue that H amlet—especially in the theatrical manipulations of act 3—seems very much in control of the gap between self and part.73 H e no longer it be “brother of the king.” By doing so, Hamlet makes the reflection both imperfect (less dangerous) and ominous (more dangerous). See also Robert S. Knapp, Shakespeare—The Theater and the Book, 29. 71 ��������������������������������������� K ermode, “Cornelius and Voltemand,” in Forms of Attention, 51. 72 ���������� E agleton, William Shakespeare, 72. 73 ������������������������������������������������������������������������������� D .A . Miller’s important essay “Secret Subjects, O pen Secrets”—now published as a chapter in his The Novel and the Police—contains a discussion of “the paradox of the open secret” (207) that is very helpful here, and it may allow room for both Eagletonian skepticism and H amletian interiority: “secrecy would seem to be a mode whose ultimate meaning lies in the subject’s formal insistence that he is radically inaccessible to the culture that would otherwise entirely determine him” (195) “In a world where the explicit exposure of the subject would manifest how thoroughly he has been inscribed within a socially given totality, secrecy would be the spiritual exercise by which the subject is allowed to conceive of himself as a resistance: a friction in the smooth functioning of the social order, a margin to which its far-reaching discourse does not reach” (207). Jean Starobinski has also remarked


Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox

tries to erase the gap; he knows, instead, that he must manipulate it.74 Or, as Jean Starobinski has claimed in another context, “it is outside, through the mediation of exteriority, that the hidden part, the dissimulated identity, can become manifest.”75 What succeeds in affecting Claudius at the play after all is what N ardo calls “the paradox of a true illusion.”76 A lthough H amlet at once exploits and attempts to eradicate this paradox as early as act 1 when he puts on his “antic disposition,” a moment of clarity about his relationship to the theater of the world seems to have come to him on board the ship for England. As he tells Horatio in act 5, scene 2, he was uneasy about R osencrantz and Guildenstern, “F ingered their packet,” and discovered that a “commission” from Claudius ordered that his “head should be struck off” (5.2.16, 19, 26). It is at this moment that Hamlet realizes “Ere I could make a prologue to my brains, / They had begun the play” (5.2.31–32). It is tempting to refute E agleton utterly and assert that H amlet has discovered selfhood and agency as he begins to write his play: I sat me down, Devised a new commission, wrote it fair. I once did hold it, as our statists do, A baseness to write fair, and laboured much How to forget that learning; but, sir, now It did me yeoman’s service. Wilt thou know T h’effect of what I wrote? (5.2.32–38; my emphasis)

T he effect, of course, is to rewrite the writ and have R osencrantz and Guildenstern put to death in E ngland. T he emphasis on writing highlights H amlet’s move to authorship, which is interestingly linked to theater. Just as Hamlet had connected theater to the unappreciative “million” and “general” (2.2.418), so here he connects that “what goes unsaid is actively hidden in the heart, the space of the inside—the interior of the body is that place in which the cunning man dissimulates what he doesn’t say” (“The Inside and the Outside,” 336). Thanks to David Hillman for introducing me to Starobinski’s essay. 74 ������������� See Weimann, Shakespeare and the Popular Tradition, 233: “the paradox ... [is] that H amlet, who knows no ‘seems,’ has to develop his platea-like Figurenposition within the ‘seems,’ that is, the illusionistic frame of the R enaissance play.” 75 ������������������������������������������������������������������������������������ Starobinski, “The Inside and the Outside,” 348. In two excellent articles—“Painting the Ghost: Wittgenstein, Shakespeare, and T extual R epresentation” and “Performing T heory: Wittgenstein and the T rouble with Shakespeare”—Peter H ughes has helpfully linked to Hamlet a number of remarks made by L udwig Wittgenstein in his late notebooks, among which is this: “If outward mien, gestures, and circumstances are unequivocal, then the inside seems to be the outside; only when we cannot read the outside does an inside seem to be concealed behind it” (“Painting the Ghost,” 382). See also Maus, “Inwardness and Spectatorship in E arly Modern E ngland.” 76 �������������������������������������� Nardo, “Hamlet,” 192. See also Levao, Renaissance Minds and Their Fictions, 334–64.

“Double Dealing Ambodexters”


writing to “baseness.” Both have aroused his contempt, but both are now essential if he is to live in the theater of this world.77 But H amlet’s entry into playwriting and theater is as ambivalent as we might expect, and a clear-cut claim of agency ultimately fails to hold up. Earlier in the same scene Hamlet has confided to Horatio that there are limitations to individual authorship: “and that should teach us / T here’s a divinity that shapes our ends, / Rough-hew them how we will” (5.2.9–11). Just as passing show may prove impossible, so shaping our ends may be left only to “divinity.” O ur “action” in this world may be limited to rough-hewing—partial carving, partial truths, shadows, incompleteness.78 H owever, H amlet’s peace with this incompleteness, this unknowing, marks a shift for him, and the play ends with death in the midst of paradoxy: There is special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, ’tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come. The readiness is all. Since no man, of aught he leaves, knows aught, what is’t to leave betimes? L et be. (5.2.215–20)79

Harold Jenkins utterly dismisses the notion that “Let be” could be “part of Hamlet’s reflections” and reads it to mean “Enough, forbear”; the royal entourage is entering, and it is time for such talk to end.80 But whereas it seems a little too tidy to see “L et be” as an unequivocal answer to “T o be or not to be,” it seems too austere not at 77

����������������������������������������������������������������������������������� H amlet’s strong sense of class is registered later in the scene when H oratio notes that R osencrantz and Guildenstern must be dead, and H amlet replies, “T hey are not near my conscience. T heir defeat / D oth by their own insinuation grow. / ’T is dangerous when the baser nature comes / Between the pass and fell incensèd points / O f mighty opposites (5.2.59–63). One of the many puzzles of Hamlet is that the Prince should reassert his nobility after the gravedigger scene, in which station has been utterly mocked, by the Clown as well as by H amlet himself. 78 ��������������������������������������������������������������������������� Stephen Booth sees this sort partiality and incompleteness at the heart of Hamlet: “T ruth is bigger than any one system for knowing it, and Hamlet is bigger than any of the frames of reference it inhabits. Hamlet allows us to comprehend—hold on to—all the contradictions it inhabits” (“On the Value of Hamlet,” in K astan, Critical Essays on Shakespeare’s Hamlet, 41). 79 ���������������������������������������������������������������������������� Here I have adopted Harold Jenkins’s Arden text, based on Q2 (“since no man of ought he leaues, knowes”) and not on the Folio (“since no man ha’s ought of what he leaues”), which The Norton Shakespeare adopts. It is an obscure passage, but in the F olio’s attempt to “make sense of what was found awkward and obscure ... the sense it makes is not the sense required” (Jenkins, Hamlet, Arden edition, 565). The shift in the key verb from “knowes” to “ha’s” erases the central idea of the passage: that one will die before one knows anything and therefore dying early is not so horrible. T he F olio turns the passage into one about possession instead of one about knowledge—clearly “not the sense required.” F or a compelling defense of the Folio version of the lines, see James Shapiro, A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare, 1599, 314–15. 80 ���������������� Harold Jenkins, Hamlet, Arden edition, 407.

Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox


least to consider the link. T he point is especially compelling given what has just been said: Hamlet resigns himself to the powerlessness of being authored; there is only so much rough hewing he can do, only so much he can know. Indeed, he is ready and knows that “no man, of aught he leaves, knows aught.”81 By accepting the paradox of acting—to be and not to be?—H amlet can be ready for the paradox of being (and dying).82 Playing at Femininity: The Paradoxes of the Boy Actor If there is a crucial, paradoxical split in acting’s separation of “hart” and “parte,” this split was all the more pronounced when the acting took the form of boys playing women, what Lisa Jardine has called oxymoronically “male effeminacy.”83 Bert O . States—in discussing the E lizabethan Children’s companies, in which all parts were played by boys—makes a crucial point about the boy actors of the period: “T heir success—their raison d’etre—depended heavily on the audience’s ‘double vision.’ ... T he point is not so much that they are children but that they are conspicuously not identical with their characters.”84 Catherine Belsey has stressed that the transvestism of the Shakespearean stage—and those Shakespearean comedies that foreground it—unfixes not only gender conventions but the stability of meaning itself: “I want to suggest that Shakespearean comedy can be read as disrupting sexual difference, calling in question that set of relations between terms which proposes as inevitable an antithesis between masculine and feminine, men and women.” Belsely continues, “those moments when the plurality of meaning is most insistent are also moments of crisis in the order of existing values. A contest for meaning disrupts the system of differences which we take for granted, throwing into disarray the oppositions and the values which structure understanding.”85 Cross-dressing—so important to Shakespearean comedy—foregrounds the instability of not only selfhood but also

����������� See L evao, Renaissance Minds and Their Fictions, 360–64. ���������������� See Calderwood, To Be and Not To Be. 83 ��������� Jardine, Still Harping on Daughters, 31. See also Sedinger, “‘If Sight and Shape Be T rue,’” and Breitenberg, Anxious Masculinity in Early Modern England, 150–74. Breitenberg suggests that “what lies at the heart of the [cross-dressing] controversy is an anxiety about ambivalence itself—the perceived confusion of those gender and status boundaries by which individual and collective identities are forged and guaranteed” (150). F or an essay that historicizes this epistemological moment, see Stuart Clark, “D emons, N atural Magic, and the Virtually R eal,” in Paracelsian Moments. 84 �������� States, Great Reckonings in Little Rooms, 31–32. See also Thomson, “Rogues and R hetoricians,” in A New History of Early English Drama, esp. 333. 85 ����������������������������������������������������� Belsey, “D isrupting Sexual D ifference,” in D rakakis, Alternative Shakespeares, 166–67 and 178. For a broader study that explores the exhilaration that the paradoxes of cross-dressing bring to culture, see Garber, Vested Interests, and the excellent review of Garber’s book by A dam Phillips, “H aving It Both Ways.” 81 82

“Double Dealing Ambodexters”


interpretation itself, of how we make sense of the world. T he paradox of acting again contributes to uncertainty and to intellectual reevaluation. T his disruption of the system of sexual difference—exhilarating to Belsey and probably many of us—was at the root of the discomfort with theater for its critics in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Philip Stubbes argues that “O ur apparell was giuen as a signe distinctiue, to discerne betwixt sexe and sexe, and therfore one to weare the apparell of another sexe, is to participate with the same, and to adulterate the veritie of his owne kinde.”86 T here is a fear of a slippage in category and “kinde,” what Belsey calls a disruption of “the system of differences which we take for granted.” A nd although Stubbes is discussing not boy actors—as has been incorrectly claimed87—but cross-dressing women here, Stephen Gosson is addressing the problem of the boy actor when he makes an identical point in Plays Confuted in Five Actions: The Law of God very straightly forbids men to put on womēs garments, garments are set downe for signes distintiue betwene sexe & sexe, to take vnto vs those garments that are manifest signes of another sexe, is to falsifie, forge, and adulterate, contrarie to the expresse rule of the worde of God. Which forbiddeth it by threatning a curse vnto same” (E3v).

Stubbes goes even further, linking a slippage with clothes to a slippage in the semiotics and—for him, because signs and things should correspond—the realities of class: But now there is such a confuse mingle mangle of apparell in E ngland, and such preposterous excesse therof, as euery one is permitted to flaunt it out, in what apparell he listeth himselfe, or can get by any meanes. So that it is very hard to knowe, who is noble, who is worshipfull, who is a Gentleman, who is not.88

��������� Stubbes, The Anatomie of Abuses (1583), 118. ������������ See L evine, Men in Women’s Clothing, 22–24, and for a correction, Stubbes, The Anatomie of Abuses, 32–34. 88 ��������� Stubbes, The Anatomie of Abuses, 71. In A Meruailous Combat of Contrarieties (1588), William Averell links cross-dressing to both paradox and monstrosity: “from the top to the toe, [they] are so disguised, that though they be in sere Women, yet in attire they appeare to be men, and are like Androgini, who counterfayting the shape of either kind, are in dede neither, so while they are in condition women, and woulde seeme in apparrell men, they are neither men nor women, but plaine Monsters” (B1v). A similar point is made by William H arrison in his Description of England (1587): “What should I say of their doublets with pendant codpieces on the breast, full of jags and cuts, and sleeves of sundry colors? their galligaskins to bear out their bums and make their attire to fit plum-round (as they term it) about them? their farthingales and diversely colored netherstocks of silk, jersey, and such-like, whereby their bodies are rather deformed than commended? I have met with some of these trulls in L ondon so disguised that it hath passed my skill to discern whether they were men or women. T hus it is now come to pass that women are become men and men transformed into monsters” (147). 86 87

Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox


“The confuse mingle mangle” makes both interpretation and knowledge difficult, and this difficulty is precisely the point for those Shakespearean plays that foreground the convention of the paradoxical boy actor, who throws “into disarray the oppositions and the values which structure understanding.”89 T he boy actor has been especially interesting to historians and critics of the early modern period attempting to historicize sex and gender. If gender was a part of the “confuse mingle mangle,” then perhaps gender was not a stable category for the early moderns. T homas L aqueur has famously—and some would say notoriously—extended the instability of gender to the instability of sex in his analysis of the “oxymoronic one-sex model,” which stems, he claims, from A ristotle and Galen.90 A ttempting to provide a “history of how sex, as much as gender, is made” (ix), Laqueur stresses that the Renaissance operated under the old model, in which men and women were arrayed according to their degree of metaphysical perfection, their vital heat, along an axis whose telos was male. ... T his ‘one flesh,’ the construction of a single-sexed body with its different versions attributed to at least two genders, was framed in antiquity to valorize the extraordinary cultural assertion of patriarchy, of the father, in the face of the more sensorily evident claim of the mother. ... In the blood, semen, milk, and other fluids of the one-sex body, there is no female and no sharp boundary between the sexes. Instead, a physiology of fungible fluids and corporeal flux represents in a different register the absence of specifically genital sex. E ndless mutations, a cacophonous ringing of changes, become possible where modern physiology would see distinct and often sexually specific entities. (5–6, 20, 35)

Laqueur’s vision seeks to ground historically the kind of flux in gender that troubled the antitheatricalists and that Shakespeare stages and interrogates in the transvestite comedies: “fungible fluids,” “corporeal flux,” “Endless mutations,” “a cacophonous ring of changes” all suggest that the unfixed boundaries of biological sex were very similar to the unfixed boundaries of gender, those “boundes of modestie and comelinesse” that “he transgresseth” whenever “anie man doe put on Womans raiment.”91 We are in a gendered version of the world of Quintilian, Rainolds, and Jonson where the flux of identity is so great that, as Laqueur observes, “it seems that inappropriate behaviors might really cause a change of sex” (126). Acting and behavior may reconstitute being and reality.


���������������������������������������������������������������������������������� See Victor T urner’s “Variations on a T heme of L iminality,” where the “liminaries” include androgynes: “They evade ordinary cognitive classification, too, for they are neitherthis-nor-that, here-nor-there, one-thing-not-the-other. Out of their mundane structural context, they are in a sense ‘dead’ to the world. ... T hey are also ‘polluting,’ as Mary D ouglas might say, because they transgress classificatory boundaries” (37). On the paradox of the androgyne, see Mircea E liade’s essay “Mephistopheles and the A ndrogyne or the Mystery of the Whole,” in his The Two and the One, 78–124. 90 ��������� L aqueur, Making Sex, 19; subsequent citations are annotated within the text. For a helpful historicizing of sex, gender, and the body, see Porter, “H istory of the Body.” 91 ���������� R ainolds, Th’ Overthrow of Stage-Playes, 16.

“Double Dealing Ambodexters”


As influential as Laqueur’s ideas have been, they have not been universally accepted. In a famous early dissent, K atharine Park and R obert A . N ye revealed tremendous skepticism about the major argument: “a more complete reading of the sources shows that there never was a one-sex model in Laqueur’s sense— not in A ristotle, not in Galen, not in Paré—although sexual difference was defined somewhat differently than in the nineteenth century.”92 In L aqueur’s flux and instability, Park and Nye see women both stripped of power and erased: “Laqueur’s celebration of the pre-modern period as a time of somehow greater sexual indeterminacy and freedom reads in some respects like a male fantasy of a womanless world.”93 Inevitably, the question becomes whose “male fantasy”— L aqueur’s or early modern culture’s? In an essay influenced by Laqueur’s research, Stephen Greenblatt attributes the fantasy to the culture and sees the Shakespearean stage as a site for interrogating the paradox of gender: From the perspective of the medical discourse we have been exploring, this final transvestism serves to secure theatrically the dual account of gender: on the one hand, we have plays that insist upon the chafing between two sexes and the double nature of individuals; on the other hand, we have a theater that reveals, in the presence of the man’s (or boy’s) body beneath the woman’s clothes, a different sexual reality. The open secret of identity—that within differentiated individuals is a single structure, identifiably male—is presented literally in the all-male cast. Presented but not represented, for the play—plots, characters, and the pleasure they confer—cannot continue without the fictive existence of two distinct genders and the friction between them.94

There is one gender; there are two genders. There is a “single structure”; there is a “double nature.” It is this more nuanced, paradoxical angle on the issue that I would like to use as a working premise because it seems to answer part of Park and N ye’s critique by being less totalizing.95 T o be fair to L aqueur, though, his vision is less monological than Park and N ye suggest. Indeed, Greenblatt’s linking the one-sex model to the theater was in some sense part of L aqueur’s vision all along: 92 �������������������������������������������������������� K atharine Park and R obert A . N ye, “D estiny is A natomy,” New Republic, 18 February 1991, 54. 93 ����������������������������������������������������������������������� Park and Nye, “Destiny Is Anatomy,” 56. Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick has also cautioned against discussing gender paradoxically. In her view, one of the two terms is always inferior. In an analysis of gender and paradox, then, women inevitably get written out of the dualistic tension: “in the discourse of most cultures, beneath a rhetoric of ‘opposites’ and ‘counterparts’ and ‘complementarity,’ one gender is treated as a marginalized subset rather than as an equal alternative to the other” (Between Men, 47). 94 ������������ Greenblatt, Shakespearean Negotiations, 93. 95 ����������������������������������������������������������������������������������� It should be noted, however, that Greenblatt is challenged on similar grounds: his argument has been seen as stripping the R enaissance stage’s heroines—and thus women— of agency and power. See H oward, “Crossdressing, the T heatre, and Gender Struggle in Early Modern England,” esp. 431.

Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox


the body is like an actor on stage, is ready to take on the roles assigned it by culture. In my account sex too, and not only gender, is understood to be staged. ... the paradox of the one-sex model is that pairs of ordered contrarieties played off a single flesh in which they did not themselves inhere. F atherhood/motherhood, male/female, man/woman, culture/nature, masculine/feminine, honorable/dishonorable, legitimate/illegitimate, hot/cold, right/left, and many other such pairs were read into a body that did not itself mark these distinctions clearly. O rder and hierarchy were imposed on it from the outside. (61–62)

In suggesting that the body is an actor, L aqueur recognizes “the paradox of the one sex model.” T he body, like the player, is and is not what it seems to be. It is feminine and masculine; it is two and one. Focusing on the body’s taking part in the paradox of acting, Judith Butler’s work on gender instability and performativity has important ramifications for the Shakespearean stage. In an essay that originally appeared in 1988, Butler laid out the core argument of Gender Trouble, which focused on the body’s taking part in the paradox of acting: The body is not a self-identical or merely factic materiality; it is a materiality that bears meaning, if nothing else, and the manner of this bearing is fundamentally dramatic. By dramatic I mean only that the body is not merely matter but a continual and incessant materializing of possibilities. O ne is not simply a body, but, in some very key sense, one does one’s body and, indeed, one does one’s body differently from one’s contemporaries and from one’s embodied predecessors and successors as well.96

One is and is not one’s body; the body is both matter and materializing. By suggesting that “one does one’s body,” Butler makes it “dramatic,” like L aqueur’s body-as-actor; Laqueur’s sex-in-flux has its analogue in Butler’s “continual and incessant materializing possibilities.” A figure that provides an emblem of this gender “dramatics” for Butler is the transvestite, who does what the boy actor, I would argue, did for Shakespeare’s playgoers—foregrounds the theatrical nature of gender: In imitating gender, drag implicitly reveals the imitative structure of gender itself—as well as its contingency. Indeed, part of the pleasure, the giddiness of the performance is the recognition of a radical contingency in the relation between sex and gender in the face of cultural configurations of causal unities that are regularly assumed to be natural and necessary. In the place of the law of heterosexual coherence, we see sex and gender denaturalized by means of a performance which avows their distinctness and dramatizes the cultural mechanism of their fabricated unity.97

A s gender and sex crack apart, we see their seeming “coherence” as a “fabricated unity.” But as we have seen in other paradoxes, the “dramatic” nature of the paradox of performed sex and gender does not have to be part of a “crisis.” Butler’s 96

���������������������������������������������������������������� Judith Butler, “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution,” 272. ��������������� Judith Butler, Gender Trouble, 137–38.


“Double Dealing Ambodexters”


invocation of pleasure and giddiness makes this clear. A nd Shakespeare’s most thorough experiments in this realm come in his comedies. Indeed, Mary Bly has recently called the boy actor a “visual pun.” In discussing the Whitefriars—one of the all-boy theaters that thrived in 1607–08—Bly notes the connection between the paradoxical boy-heroine (any boy-heroine) and the paradoxical Fool: “In many ways the ludic characteristics of Whitefriars heroines parallel the traditional wordplay of Folly, or the Fool. Dressed in two-part clothing, the medieval Fool specializes in doubles entendres. ... the Whitefriars dressed their waggish pages in women’s clothing in a similar, living double entendre, a similar visual acknowledgement of the ironic acuity of puns.”98 Just as the Fool gives Shakespeare a double perspective on language, this “living double entendre” allows Shakespeare his paradoxical explorations of gender in the cross-dressing comedies.99 Before turning to two of those—As You Like It and Twelfth Night—I want to focus on a famous seventeenth-century moment when the double entendre collapsed. Fittingly, it was a tragedy—a 1610 production of Othello at O xford. Henry Jackson, a member of Corpus Christi College, Oxford, records his response to the death of D esdemona as follows: A t verò D esdemona illa apud nos a marito occisa, quanquam optimè semper causam egit, interfecta tamen magis movebat; cum in lecto decumbens spectantium misericordiam ipso vultu imploraret. [Moreover, that famous D esdemona killed before us by her husband, although she always acted her whole part supremely well, yet when she was killed she was even more moving, for when she fell back upon the bed she implored the pity of the spectators by her very face.]100 ���������� Mary Bly, Queer Virgins and Virgin Queans on the Early Modern Stage, 23 and 60. ����������������������������������������������������������������������������������� For a very helpful survey of the Shakespearean criticism on the topic, up to 1994, see Michael Shapiro, Gender in Play on the Shakespearean Stage, 1–11. Shapiro separates himself from the then-current feminist and poststructuralist readings by advocating a position that stresses experiment and play over polemic and crisis: “the disguised-heroine plays, like most plays of the period in my view, usually acted as fields of play, that is, as arenas in which spectators could test or try on imaginary roles or respond to hypothetical situations without having to bear responsibility for their choices” (6). For a useful distinction between Elizabethan and Jacobean treatments of cross-dressed heroines, see Berggren, “‘A Prodigious Thing,’” 385: “The Elizabethans frankly expose the machinery of their characters’ sexual disguise, with the paradoxical result that their disguised women never seem mechanical. Conversely, by contriving to cover the machinery of the convention, these Jacobean dramatists produced prodigies in place of human beings.” Sandra Clark’s “Hic Mulier, Haec Vir, and the Controversy over Masculine Women” provides a helpful summary of similar issues arising from the Hic Mulier–Haec Vir pamphlet debate. D avid Cressy’s “Gender Trouble and Cross-Dressing in Early Modern England” provides an excellent corrective that both doubts “subversive abomination” and “eroticized transgression” (464) and focuses on a fascinating 1633 example of a man dressing as a woman. 100 ���������������������������������������������������������������������������������� Letter (written in Latin) from Henry Jackson to “G. P.” September 1610, in Corpus Christi Library’s Fulman papers, X, 83r–84v; English translation quoted from Salgādo, ed., Eyewitnesses of Shakespeare, 30. 98


Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox


Besides the refreshing emphasis on the spectators’ being moved, the Jackson letter reveals an effect contrary to that “double vision” that States and T homson suggested was a result of an audience witnessing the boy actor. F or here, the boy has become the young woman: he has become she; the doubleness has collapsed. A s Stephen O rgel nicely puts it, “T he original L atin is of course without pronouns, but the two past participles (‘occisa,’ ‘interfecta’) agree with a female Desdemona, not with the male actor. The boy here has disappeared; Desdemona as both actor and character is gendered female.”101 More often than not, though, the dynamic must have been closer to that described by Michael Shapiro: “the known physical presence of male performers must have registered at some level in the spectators’ consciousness and thus raised questions about the stability of gender roles, generally defined as male assertiveness and female submissiveness.” F or Shapiro, these were “theatrical constructions of the social constructions that constituted the culture’s notions of femininity. ... Whether femininity in the social world was an essential or a constructed phenomenon, its representation on stage was obviously the result of theatrical artifice and was therefore to some degree or at certain times transparent.”102 This artifice could cause a meditation on gender roles, suggesting the possibility of instability that deeply frightened the enemies of the theater.103 A t least part of this tension comes from the boy actor, who almost never let the audience forget that his heroine was a performance, a dressing up, or, in Peter Stallybrass’s configuration, a prosthetic display: The actor is both boy and woman, and he/she embodies the fact that sexual fixations are not the product of any categorical fixity of gender. Indeed, all attempts to fix gender are necessarily prosthetic: that is, they suggest the attempt to supply an imagined deficiency by the exchange of male clothes for female clothes or of female clothes for ������� O rgel, Impersonations, 32. The collapse of character and actor could take place without boys being involved at all. A poem by Richard Corbet, originally published in 1618, describes such an event: “Mine host was all full of ale and history. ... / Besides what of his knowledge he could say, / He had authenticke notice from the Play; / Which I might guesse, by’s mustring up the ghosts, / And policyes, not incident to hosts; / But chiefly by that one perspicuous thing, / Where he mistooke a player for a K ing. / F or when he would have sayd, King Richard dyed, / And call’d—A horse! a horse!—he, Burbidge cry’de” (“Iter Boreale,” in Poems [1807], 193–94, quoted in Gurr, Playgoing in Shakespeare’s London, 233). 102 Michael ����������������� Shapiro, Gender in Play on the Shakespearean Stage, 39–41. See also D usinberre, Shakespeare and the Nature of Women, 270: “The more impersonal the actor, the more dissociated he is in the audience’s mind from what he projects as a professional, the greater the freedom of the dramatist to explore and take risks. The Children [i.e., the all-boy companies] of their nature provided the maximum contrast between the bawdy or vicious talk of, for example, Marston’s courtiers, and the actual presence of the boy actor.” 103 Malcolm �������������������������������������������������������������������������������� E vans sees the crucial gap as that between process and product: “In the Comedies the process of representation is never finally effaced from its product, leaving these categories themselves indistinct” (“Deconstructing Shakespeare’s Comedies,” in D rakakis., ed., Alternative Shakespeares, 68). 101

“Double Dealing Ambodexters”


male clothes; by displacement from male to female space or from female to male space; by the replacement of male with female tasks or of female with male tasks. ... It is not so much a moment of indeterminacy as of contradictory fixations. On the one hand, the clothes themselves—the marks of D esdemona’s gender and status—are held up to our attention; on the other, we teeter on the brink of seeing the boy’s breastless but “pinned” body revealed. It is as if, at the moments of greatest dramatic tension, the R enaissance theatre stages its own transvestism.104

“Both boy and woman,” Shakespeare’s boy heroines underscore that gender is not fixed—indeed, the boy actor can be said, in Catherine Belsey’s term, to “unfix” gender. In staging its own transvestism, Shakespeare’s drama uses paradox to interrogate not only the meaning of sex and gender categories but meaning itself.105 As You Like It A classic moment of Shakespearean gender performance comes early in As You Like It when Celia and Rosalind are contemplating flight from the court. Celia’s father D uke F rederick has banished R osalind, and Celia wishes to accompany her. Celia’s plan is to seek her uncle, R osalind’s father—D uke Senior—in the F orest of A rden. She suggests the crucial strategy of the plot: I’ll put myself in poor and meane attire A nd with a kind of umber smirch my face. T he like do you, so shall we pass along And never stir assailants. (1.3.105–8)

In order to protect themselves, they will become what they are not—“poor and meane.” Rosalind modifies the plan, suggesting Were it not better, Because I am more than common tall T hat I did suit me all points like a man, A gallant curtal-axe upon my thigh, A boar-spear in my hand, and in my heart, L ie there what hidden woman’s fear there will. We’ll have a swashing and a martial outside, A s many other mannish cowards have, That do outface it with their semblances. (1.3.108–16) 104 ������������������������������������������������������� Stallybrass, “T ransvestism and the ‘Body Beneath,’” in Erotic Politics, 77. See also Sedinger, “‘If Sight and Shape Be True,’” 69. 105 ����������������������������������������������������������������������������� The limitation of David Cressy’s important article “Gender Trouble and CrossD ressing in E arly Modern E ngland” is his unwillingness to explore the problems that the boy actor raises—and the metadramatic games and interrogations in which the E nglish theater thus engages—for interpreters of the semiotics of cross-dressing on the English stage. A significant article that foregrounds the issues that Cressy sidesteps is Steve Brown’s “T he Boyhood of Shakespeare’s H eroines.”


Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox

T his is obviously a crucial passage for our purposes because R osalind imagines gender being performed by manipulating the split between her feminine “heart” and her masculine “outside” or part. Indeed, she says, “mannish cowards” play the part of brave men all the time and “outface it with their semblances.” Why can’t she? R osalind’s theory—though challenged often in the play—suggests the instability of the masculine and feminine: a curtal-axe and a boar-spear turn a woman into a man—or at least a “Ganymede.” Whether we should read much into “Ganymede” is a source of some debate. O n one level, it means next to nothing since Shakespeare inherited the name from L odge’s Rosalynde. But Shakespeare often changes the names of his source-texts,106 and Ganymede has enough of a history to bear some comment.107 A cup-bearer of Jove’s, Ganymede was abducted and “has featured not only in tales of androgyny or hermaphrodism but, since antiquity, of same-sex, ‘homosexual’ relations.”108 Indeed, one of these needs to go T homas Middleton referred to “Ioues own Ingle (Ganimed)” in Blurt master-constable, and Gordon L ell has noted that Shakespeare added a reference to “Jove’s own page” to his Lodgian source.109 F urther, in his A Worlde of Wordes (1598), John Florio defines the Italian “catamito” as “a ganimed, an ingle, a boie hired to sinne against nature.” A nd A lan Bray sheds light on the paradoxical connotations of “Ganymede”: “T he word is nearly always pejorative, and often refers to nothing more elevated than a male prostitute or a servant kept for sexual purposes; and yet its original meaning, the beautiful boy who was loved by divine Zeus, could never wholly be shaken off.”110 F or our purposes Ganymede 106 ������������������������������ F or two of many examples, see The Winter’s Tale, when R obert Greene’s Pandosto and Bellaria become Shakespeare’s L eontes and H ermione. 107 In ��� Still Harping on Daughters, Lisa Jardine notes that “With good classical precedent, the sixteenth century’s primary understanding of Hermaphrodite is not a figure incorporating both sets of sexual parts (though medical discussions of such individuals do exist), but the erotically irresistible effeminate boy” (17). Other useful studies of Ganymede include Panofsky, Studies in Iconology, 212–18; Boswell, Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality, 243–66; Saslow, Ganymede in the Renaissance; Barkan, Transuming Passion; and Brown, “The Boyhood of Shakespeare’s Heroines,” esp. 250–54. 108 ���������������������������� Michael H attaway, intro. to As You Like It, New Cambridge edition, 36. 109 Middleton, ����������� Blurt master-constable (London, 1602), G4v; Lell, “‘Ganymede’ on the Elizabethan Stage,” 12. On paiderastes—and other analogs for Ganymede—see Coke, The Third Part of the Institutes of the Laws of England (1644), 58. See also Michael Hattaway, intro. to As You Like It, New Cambridge edition, 36–37. 110 ������ Bray, Homosexuality in Renaissance England, 65. In his Studies in Iconology, E rwin Panofsky outlines another double tradition: Plato’s “realistic version” of the Ganymede myth, which he believed “to have been invented by the Cretans in order to justify amorous relations between men and boys or adolescents,” and X enophon’s “idealistic version” of the myth as “a moral allegory denoting the superiority of the mind in comparison with the body” (214). Closer to Shakespeare’s time, Henry Peacham presented the “realistic” version, entitling the emblem concerning Ganymede “Crimina gravissima” (Minerva Britanna, 48).

“Double Dealing Ambodexters”


focuses the issue nicely: a figure famous for his doubleness. Certainly, this is the paradoxical portrait of Ganymede that Phoebe provides in act 3: It is a pretty youth—not very pretty— But sure he’s proud; and yet his pride becomes him. H e’ll make a proper man. T he best thing in him Is his complexion; and faster than his tongue D id make offence, his eye did heal it up. He is not very tall; yet for his years he’s tall. His leg is but so-so; and yet ’tis well. T here was pretty redness in his lip, A little riper and more lusty-red T han that mixed in his cheek. ’T was just the difference Betwixt the constant red and mingled damask. (3.5.114–24)

Ganymede is a he/she who is “pretty”/“not very pretty”; “tall”/“not very tall”; “constant red”/ “mingled damask”—in short, a paradox. “Betwixt” and between, “mixed” and “mingled,” Ganymede forces a reconfiguration of thought wherever he/she goes.111 U sing these paradoxes, Shakespeare goes to great lengths in this play to foreground the performance of gender by highlighting the material fact that his theater’s women were played by boys. T he layers are thicker than ever here: the boy actor plays Rosalind; Rosalind becomes a young man, Ganymede; in the forest, in order to teach O rlando how to woo, Ganymede becomes “R osalind.” The conclusion would seem to be Rosalind’s from act 1, scene 3: that the part, the props, the prostheses make the man and keep hidden the “woman’s fear” and self. But what is so fascinating about As You Like It is that the essential inside, the heart, continues to make its presence felt and known. T he self, in fact, is not lost in the part. T here is a fruitful debate about what makes a person and what makes a person a man or a woman; the play will not really tip its hand.112 Indeed, the paradoxical treatment of the issue extends beyond the play itself into the epilogue. But the tension surfaces as early as our first encounter with Rosalind after her translation into Ganymede. R osalind, Celia—now A liena—and T ouchstone are all exhausted from the seemingly endless walk. T hough T ouchstone admits “I care not for my spirits, if my legs were not weary” (2.4.2), and Celia announces, “I pray you, bear with me. I cannot go further” (2.4.7), Rosalind in an aside tries to hold onto her theory of gender: “I could find in my heart to disgrace a man’s apparel and to cry like a woman. But I must comfort the weaker vessel, as doublet and hose ought to show itself courageous to petticoat; therefore, courage, good Aliena!” (2.4.3–6). Already she recognizes that the doublet and hose cannot fundamentally In ������� his Shakespeare, Seven Tragedies Revisited, E.A.J. Honigmann makes the nice observation that “The sexes ... converge in her [Rosalind/Ganymede]” (214). 112 ����������������������������������� Michael Shapiro’s useful phrase in Gender in Play on the Shakespearean Stage for the nexus of “boy actor/female character/male disguise” (7) is “theatrical vibrancy— a layering of gender identity and the rapid oscillation between layers” (59) that reveals characters’ “mysterious depths and shadows ... fluid yet multiple layers of identity” (62). 111

Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox


alter what lies “in [her] heart”: her performance is not constitutive, does not make her a man. But at this point she feels she must honor the role because “doublet and hose ought to show itself courageous to petticoat.” L ater in the play, when her love for O rlando cannot be hidden, R osalind lets Celia in on the secret of her paradox of playing: “Good my complexion! D ost thou think, though I am caparisoned like a man, I have a doublet and hose in my disposition?” (3.2.178–80). Again, there is a gap between her “disposition” on the one hand and her caparison and “doublet and hose” on the other: she is most definitely not a man, only playing one, only “counterfeit[ing] to be a man” (4.3.71–72). But this attention to playing gender keeps the issue in front of us and reminds us of the material fact that women on the Shakespearean stage were always boys underneath; there was always a tension between disposition and caparison. Indeed, there is—paradoxically—a kind of essentialist theory of gender that competes with R osalind’s performative one. A s Ganymede, R osalind makes several statements that suggest gender is anything but in flux: “Do you not know I am a woman? When I think, I must speak” (3.2.227–28), she tells Celia. And O rlando hears this from Ganymede preparing to play “R osalind”: Women are May when they are maids, but the sky changes when they are wives. I will be more jealous of thee than a Barbary cock-pigeon over his hen, more clamorous than a parrot against rain, more new-fangled than an ape, more giddy in my desires than a monkey. I will weep for nothing, like D iana in the fountain, and I will do that when you are disposed to be merry. I will laugh like a hyena, and that when thou art inclined to sleep. (4.1.124–33)

Ganymede’s essentializing women—often in a bad light—raises protests from Celia: “You have simply misused our sex in your love-prate. We must have your doublet and hose plucked over your head, and show the world what the bird hath done to its own nest” (4.1.172–74). Celia does not doubt that there is a stable “sex”; she just thinks that—while in her “doublet and hose”—Rosalind has misrepresented it. T his tension between competing gender theories is connected to a tension between competing theories of theatricality.113 L ike the essentialist position, Jaques’s view of the theater of the world is very restrictive: A ll the world’s a stage, A nd all men and women merely players. T hey have their entrances and their exits, And one man in his time plays many parts. (2.7.138–41)

But the parts are prewritten and stereotyped; life is predetermined. Although often read as an example of Shakespeare’s philosophy, the speech is actually followed by—or, better yet, overlaps with—O rlando’s carrying A dam in an act of See Greenblatt, Sir Walter Ralegh, 22–56, esp. 44–45.


“Double Dealing Ambodexters”


kindness and compassion that belies the cynicism behind Jacques’s vision.114 T he play’s foregrounding of self-fashioning and “translating”—the verb comes from Amiens in act 2 and is an important one for this comedy of metamorphosis—is directly opposed to the scripted nature of the world put forth in Jaques’s famous speech.115 T hese two sets of competing visions—of gender and of theatricality—come together nicely in the epilogue, though Shakespeare refuses to give us a clear winner. Whether the essentialist or performative theory of gender, the deterministic or liberating view of theatricality, predominates is as difficult to determine as the subject of the reason/wonder clause spoken by Hymen in act 5: “Feed yourselves with questioning / That reason wonder may diminish” (5.4.127–28).116 Paradox and doubleness abound at the end of the play, as they have throughout. It is possible, of course, to read the epilogue as a restoration of order and realism.117 F or the boy actor admits that his femininity has been a “suppose,” a fiction all along: “If I were a woman, I would kiss as many of you as had beards that pleased me” (14–16).118 But because he has begun by calling himself a woman (“It is not the fashion to see the lady the epilogue” [1–2])—and by linking his craft to magic (“My way is to conjure you” [9])—the player of Rosalind/ Ganymede/“R osalind” reminds us of the transformational power of theater. A s Jean Howard has observed, “Dressed like a woman but declaring she is not, this unpredictable figure, this he/she, continues to the end to defy the fixed identities and the exclusionary choices of the everyday world, offering instead a world of multiple possibilities and transformable identities, a world as perhaps we might come to like it.”119 114 Michael ��������������������������������������������������������� H attaway, editor of the N ew Cambridge edition of As You Like It, also finds Jaques’s ideas undercut because “Neither Orlando nor Adam conforms to the stereotypes” (125n166). 115 ������������������������������������������������������������������������������������ Amiens says to Duke Senior early in act 2, scene 1, “Happy is your grace / That can translate the stubbornness of fortune / Into so quiet and sweet a style” (2.1.18–20). See also Oliver’s claim of “conversion” (4.3.135) in the forest in act 4. 116 ������� See my Reason Diminished, xi–xii. 117 ������������������������������������������������������������������������ F or a useful survey of approaches to the epilogue, see Michael Shapiro, Gender in Play on the Shakespearean Stage, 132–33. 118 ������������������������������� For “if” and fiction-making in As You Like It, see Maura Slattery K uhn, “Much Virtue in If”; Iser, Prospecting, 98–130; Sedinger, “‘If Sight and Shape Be True,’” esp. 72–73; and Weimann, Author’s Pen and Actor’s Voice, 240–45. For “as if” constructions more generally, see Iser, The Fictive and the Imaginary, 7–21, and Hans Vaihinger, The Philosophy of “As If.” In his The Semiotics of Theatre and Drama, K eir E lam notes the paradox at the heart of “as if”: “Dramatic worlds are hypothetical (‘as if’) constructs, that is, they are recognized by the audience as counterfactual (i.e. non-real) states of affairs but are embodied as if in progress in the actual here and now” (91). 119 H������������������ oward, intro. to As You Like It, in The Norton Shakespeare, 1598. For an extremely optimistic—and useful—reading of Shakespeare and androgyny, see R obert K imbrough’s Shakespeare and the Art of Humankindness: “Because a woman dressed as a


Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox

Conjuring us with all of its paradoxes, the epilogue does, I would argue, what Phyllis R ackin claims that Shakespeare does with all of his “boy heroines”: “R efusing to collapse the artistic representation into a simple replica of the world outside the theater or to abandon that world for a flight into escapist fantasy, he insists on the necessary ambivalence of his play as a kind of marriage, a mediation of opposites, which can be brought together only by the power of love and imagination.”120 Neither traditionally mimetic nor escapist, these fictions mediate rather than reconcile opposites.121 It was just this mixing of opposites that so deeply concerned the enemies of the paradoxes of playing. Ben Jonson—the most significant example we have of an antitheatrical playwright in this period—criticized comedy that violated mimesis by “cross-wooing.” In the chorus after act 3, scene 6, of Every Man out of His Humour, Mitis suggests that a “cross-wooing” comedy, “as of a duke to be in love with a countess, and that countess to be in love with the duke’s son, and the son to love the lady’s waiting maid,” would be politically safer than the satirical comedy that Jonson is attempting. Cordatus replies, I would faine heare one of these autumne-judgements define once Quid sit Comoedia? [What is Comedy?] if he cannot, let him content himself with CICEROS definition (till hee have strength to propose himselfe a better) who would haue a Comoedie to be man has simultaneously two genders, the theatrical device of girl-into-boy disguise provided Shakespeare with a kind of laboratory testing-ground where he could isolate moments of heightened, broadened androgynous awareness. A s ‘men’ Shakespeare’s women are able to display a broader range of human thoughts and emotions than they could as women only; they are liberated from the confines of socially appropriate gender behavior. ... Androgyny is accommodation—accommodation not as compromise and diminishment, but in the fullest, most positive sense of taking in, digesting, understanding, embracing, encompassing, building, growing” (12–13). For a similar view, focusing on androgyny and Neoplatonism, see Michael H attaway’s remarks in the N ew Cambridge edition of As You Like It, 37–38. F or an opposing view, see Woodbridge, Women and the English Renaissance, 154–55. 120 ������������������������������������������������������������������������ R ackin, “A ndrogyny, Mimesis, and the Marriage of the Boy H eroine on the E nglish R enaissance Stage,” in Speaking of Gender, 126. [Rackin’s essay was originally published in PMLA 102, no. 1 (1987): 29–41.] For a similar view linking cross-dressing in Shakespeare to K eatsian negative capability, see Bruce Smith, Homosexual Desire in Shakespeare’s England, 145–57, esp. 153–54. 121 Jean ��������������������������������������������������������������������������������� Howard argues that “if a boy can so successfully personate the voice, gait, and manner of a woman, how stable are those boundaries separating one sexual kind from another, and thus how secure are those powers and privileges assigned to the hierarchically superior sex, which depends upon notions of difference to justify its dominance? T he E pilogue [to As You Like It] playfully invites this question. T hat it does so suggests something about the contradictory nature of the theatre as a site of ideological production, an institution that can circulate recuperative fables of crossdressing, reinscribing sexual difference and gender hierarchy, and at the same time can make visible on the level of theatrical practice the contamination of sexual kinds” (“Crossdressing, the Theatre, and Gender Struggle in Early Modern England,” 435).

“Double Dealing Ambodexters”


Imitatio vitae, Speculum consuetudinis, Imago veritatis [A n imitation of life, a mirror of manners, an image of truth].

For Cordatus—and, one suspects, Jonson—to be true to nature was to avoid the boundary-crossing that Shakespearean comedy had at its core. Once again, Jonson, unlike Shakespeare, “is loth to make N ature afraid.”122 A “cross-wooing” and cross-dressing play, As You Like It leaves us in a state of paradoxical uncertainty by foregrounding the number of acting layers (boy actor/R osalind/Ganymede/“R osalind”), highlighting the role of Ganymede, and ending with its complicated epilogue. We are caught between nature and role, “between you [men] and the women” (epilogue 14), between character and “anticharacter.”123 As You Like It’s between-ness, mixing, and blending gently forces a reconfiguration of thought. Twelfth Night Twelfth Night, another play featuring cross-dressing and an even more pure version of Jonsonian cross-wooing, delves into the paradox of acting in a deeper, darker way, interrogating both gender and identity with even more ambiguity. O ne crucial difference between the plays lies in the motivation for transformation of each of the heroines. Initially, R osalind becomes Ganymede to protect herself from the evils of the forest, and fear of imminent danger may be why Viola changes into Cesario. But the motivations—potentially many, but none certain—are murky. Does she go to find Orsino—“I have heard my father name him” (1.2.24)? If so, why? Because “He was a bachelor then” (1.2.24) and still is? Or, conversely, does she prefer the safe haven of a woman’s court? H aving heard that, like herself, O livia has lost a father and a brother, she tells the Captain, O that I served that lady, A nd might not be delivered to the world T ill I had made mine own occasion mellow, What my estate is. (1.2.37–40)

T o serve O livia would be to enwomb herself in a feminine space until the proper time for her “delivery.” Finally, though, she decides, “I’ll serve this duke” (1.2.51). 122

See ���������������������������������������������������������������������������� R ackin, “A ndrogyny, Mimesis, and the Marriage of the Boy H eroine on the E nglish R enaissance Stage,” in Speaking of Gender, 122–23. Robert Kimbrough claims in Shakespeare and the Art of Humankindness that “A s a magician/alchemist, R osalind will take the male-Rosalind and the female-Rosalind and merge them into a human Rosalind” (112). 123 ����������� See Soule, Actor as Anti-Character. F or another paradox raised by the epilogue, see H ayles, “Sexual D isguise in As You Like It and Twelfth Night,” 66–67: “The epilogue continues the paradox of consummation through renunciation that has governed sexual disguise within the play, as the final unlayering of the disguise coincides with a plea for the audience to consummate the play by applauding.”


Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox

In order to do so, however, Viola must play, act, dissemble, even though she is uneasy doing so because “that nature with a beauteous wall / D oth oft close in pollution” (1.2.44–45). After praising the Captain for having “a mind that suits / With this thy fair and outward character” (1.2.46–47), she paradoxically asks him to “Conceal me what I am, and be my aid / F or such disguise as haply shall become / The form of my intent” (1.2.49–51). Initially praising the Captain for holding the mirror up to nature and not having his outside lie about his inside, she asks him to dissemble about her dissembling. Concealing what she is, Viola becomes the page Cesario, and the paradoxical quality of Viola/Cesario is foregrounded from the outset. A ccording to O rsino, Cesario is neither man nor woman: F or they shall yet belie thy happy years T hat say thou art a man. D iana’s lip Is not more smooth and rubious; thy small pipe Is as the maiden’s organ, shrill and sound, And all is semblative a woman’s part. (1.4.29–33)

This in-betweenness, Orsino thinks, will allow Cesario the access that he himself has been denied.124 Indeed, O livia falls for Cesario, who—in the “willow cabin” speech (1.5.237–45)—woos Olivia so effectively because “he” is thinking of Orsino as he pretends to be Orsino. A fter Cesario leaves, O livia reveals to us that, while she is certainly physically attracted to Cesario—“T hy tongue, thy face, thy limbs, actions, and spirit / Do give thee five-fold blazon” (1.5.262–63)—she is also attracted to his paradoxical social status: “‘What is your parentage?’ / ‘A bove my fortunes, yet my state is well. I am a gentleman’” (1.5.259–61). A gentleman and not a gentleman, Cesario admits—foregrounding the paradox of all acting—“I am not that I play” (1.5.164). Later, he will go farther, telling Olivia, “you do think you are not what you are” (3.1.130) and “I am not what I am” (3.1.132). For he is and is not a man (is a boy actor and is Viola; is Cesario and is Viola); is and is not a woman (is Viola and is a boy actor; is Viola and is Cesario). Viola even calls herself “poor monster” (2.2.32), suggesting that in her disguised doubleness, she has become a paradoxical, “strange, hybrid creature.”125 124 �������������������������������������������������������������������������������� Malvolio emphasizes a different paradox, telling O livia that O rsino’s messenger Cesario is “N ot yet old enough for a man, nor young enough for a boy,” is “between boy and man” (1.5.139–42). Arguing in his “The Fertile Eunuch” for the importance of Viola’s initial claim that she will be “as an eunuch” (1.2.52) to Orsino, Keir Elam has stressed the paradoxes involved both in the dramatic tradition of the castrated boy and in its manifestation in Twelfth Night: Viola’s “eviration is simultaneously an act of sexual selfdenial and an exercise in irresistible sexual allure. ... it recuperates the full theatricality and centrality of the eunuch role itself with all its paradoxical erotic force” (36). 125 Greenblatt, ���������������������� intro. to Twelfth Night, in The Norton Shakespeare, 1761. For an extremely useful treatment of Viola and Twelfth Night as part of the tradition of the androgyne myth, see William W.E . Slights, “‘Maid and Man’ in Twelfth Night”: Slights uncovers an “ambivalent treatment of the hermaphrodite in classical and R enaissance

“Double Dealing Ambodexters”


We must add to these another paradox—one that leads to the reconfiguring of perspectives that we have come to expect from the paradoxical: for Viola is and is not her twin brother Sebastian. T he addition of twins adds a level of paradoxy not found in As You Like It. F or Viola not only pretends to be a man but pretends to be a particular man: we find in act 3 that she has modeled her performed masculinity on her brother. A fter A ntonio, thinking Cesario is Sebastian, has asked for his money back and has been offered pocket change in return, A ntonio laments that Sebastian, in effect, is not what he plays: But O , how vile an idol proves this god! T hou hast, Sebastian, done good feature shame. In nature there’s no blemish but the mind. N one can be called deformed but the unkind. Virtue is beauty, but the beauteous evil Are empty trunks o’er-flourished by the devil. (3.4.330–35)

A locus classicus for the antitheatrical position, this speech laments the gap between part and heart, between “good feature” and “empty trunks.” “Virtue is [still] beauty,” but beauty is not necessarily virtue; it can be merely “beauteous evil.” It is at this point that Viola tells us that, in her acting, she has been trying to hold the mirror up to the nature that is her brother: H e named Sebastian. I my brother know Yet living in my glass. E ven such and so In favour was my brother, and he went, Still in this fashion, colour, ornament, F or him I imitate. O , if it prove, Tempests are kind, and salt waves fresh in love. (3.4.344–49)126

E ven though she has a clear referent for her performance, Viola’s disguise—her doubleness—begins to wreak havoc on the world of the play. T he play, then, through the paradox of the boy actor and the paradoxy of twins, explores the powers and dangers of acting. Can the gap between part and heart be manipulated to any other end than a “beauteous evil” one? N ot surprisingly in Shakespeare, these issues are also highlighted by the presence of a F ool, F este, who highlights language’s doubleness by claiming that “A sentence is but a cheverel glove to a good wit, how quickly the wrong side may be turned outward” (3.1.11–12). A cheverel glove was one made out of goatskin and literature” (345): the hermaphrodite as monster and the hermaphrodite as emblem of perfect union, as coincidentia oppositorum. Slights reads the play, then, as a movement from love characterized by the inward-turned “monstrous androgyne” (346) to the love that— through “the paradox of two-in-oneness” (330)—seeks “fulfillment outside of the self” and wondrously reconciles “independence and mutuality, physical passion and visionary idealism” (348). 126 ������������������������������������������������������������������������������ F or the idea that Viola becomes Sebastian to preserve his memory, see H oward, The Stage and Social Struggle, 113.

Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox


was both flexible and easy to turn inside out. Building on this notion that language is slippery and malleable, F este claims later that “words are grown so false that I am loath to prove reason with them” (3.1.21–22). Indeed, Feste says both “N othing that is so, is so” (4.1.7) and “‘T hat that is, is.’ So I, being Master Parson, am Master Parson; for what is ‘that’ but ‘that,’ and ‘is’ but ‘is’?” (4.2.13–14). But the cheverel glove gives us a metaphor not just of language but of selfhood and identity. And it is significant that in the second instance above Feste is pretending to be Sir T opas the curate. H e is turning himself inside out to torture Malvolio, mocking Malvolio’s monological view of the world—“T hat that is, is”—while doubling himself to do so: “[as Sir Topas:] Maintain no words with him, good fellow. [as himself:] Who I, sir? N ot I, sir. God b’wi’ you, good Sir T opas. [as Sir Topas:] Marry, amen. [as himself:] I will, sir, I will” (4.2.91–94). H ighlighting the doubleness of acting, this scene underscores Malvolio’s antifestive, antitheatrical singleness. We have seen earlier hints of these tendencies in Malvolio’s dislike of F este’s clowning, “I protest I take these wise men that crow so at these set kind of fools no better than the fools’ zanies” (1.5.75–76); in his chiding of Sir Toby and company for their “uncivil rule” (2.3.111); in Maria’s calling him a “puritan” (2.3.125, 131); and in Fabian’s remembering that Malvolio “brought me out o’ favour with my lady about a bear-baiting here” (2.5.6–7). Once all business and incapable of appreciating “cakes and ale” (2.3.104), then, Malvolio’s transformation into a love-sick fool after discovering the letter from “Olivia” in act 3, scene 4, is so complete that Fabian remarks, “If this were played upon a stage now, I could condemn it as an improbable fiction” (3.4.114–15). But Fabian also notes the power of fiction to make something real—even if unpleasant—when he says “Why, we shall make him mad indeed” (3.4.119). Theatrical fictions can transform, but Twelfth Night includes in its exploration of theatricality the negative possibilities of deceptive and harmful transformations. T he “madhouse play” ultimately seems too cruel to be wholly sanctioned by the play proper. Indeed, if the fiction were meant to change Malvolio permanently by pointing out his folly and by adjusting his distorted view of the world, it ultimately fails: Malvolio seems more bitter than ever and resists inclusion in the closure of Shakespeare’s fiction, his comic ending. What about Viola’s acting and her play? Can it rise above the problems raised by A ntonio and the theories and acting of F este? N othing that is so, is so in this play, of course, but one is tempted to give Viola’s play more moral weight if for no other reason than the change of perspective that her doubleness begets in others. In the statement of paradox cited early in this book, O rsino marvels at seeing the twins: “O ne face, one voice, one habit, and two persons, / A natural perspective, that is and is not” (5.1.208–9). They form something like an anamorphic painting, yes, but also provide an emblem of acting—something “that is and is not.”127 T he ������������ See Gilman, The Curious Perspective, 129–66. And, more recently, see Stuart Clark, who draws on D ella T orre’s Tractatus de potestate ecclesiae coercendi daemones to make the connection between demonic “prestiges” and artistic representation: “By forms of local motion the D evil makes men and women take the images they see ‘to be the things they represent’ (ut putent esse eas res, quas repraesentant). It was, indeed, one of artistic 127

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foregrounding of paradox suggests a victory if not a total triumph of doubleness and theatricality.128 T he play seems to tell us that if one has any hope of decoding and at least partially knowing the world, he or she must embrace a paradoxical vision—a recognition that one can be two, for example. But the paradoxical vision doubles back on the play itself.129 Whether you choose to focus on the constructive or destructive power of fiction and doubleness; on the paradoxical or inscrutable nature of the world; on the redemptive or the ultimately unresolvable nature of androgynous love presented in the play, there is no denying the tentative quality of Twelfth Night’s ending: in addition to Malvolio’s bitterness and cry for revenge, there are Toby’s nasty rebuke of Andrew’s offer of help (“Will you help—an ass-head, and a coxcomb, and a knave; a thin-faced knave, a gull?” [5.1.198–99]); Antonio’s losing his beloved friend to Olivia; and Feste’s bittersweet closing song that recognizes unpredictability as the only predictable quality in the journey of life. Perhaps most strikingly, the play ends with a suggestion that the part does make the woman, that the clothes do make the “man.” E ven after a historical and biological interrogation in which Sebastian and Viola seek to establish “What countryman? What name? What parentage?” (5.1.224); that their father “had a representation, since the D evil was only doing what sculptors and painters do when, by local motion too, they produce shapes or apply colors and sometimes make the things they depict ‘seem real and natural’ (ut interdum verae, et naturales videantur). ... A nd, finally, in the field of optics, itself, [the Devil] could outdo the anamorphisms of the most dedicated perspectivists: ‘If those engaged in optics (perspectivae) can make the outlines of a long irregular painting look distorted if they are observed directly, but, when they are viewed through an aperture or with the painting rotated, restore the likeness of some artistic image, why cannot the devil, most skilled in every art, do this and stranger things?’” (Clark, “Demons, Natural Magic, and the Virtually Real,” 240–41). Clark’s work—and especially this connection among the paradox, the demonic, and representation—sheds important light on the madhouse scene involving the paradoxical F este, the seemingly possessed Malvolio, and the “improbable fiction” performed by Sir Toby and company. 128 ������������������������������������������������������� Kimbrough finds little ambiguity by the end, argues for wholeness coming out of paradox (see his Shakespeare and the Art of Humankindness, 118–19). Jonathan Crewe partially accepts this line of thinking in his “In the F ield of D reams”: “Some credence is lent to the familiar topos of Shakespeare’s creative androgyny by such outcomes as these. T he point is not, of course, that Shakespeare’s mind is constitutionally androgynous, but that one potentiality of the marriage plot is the construction of bigendered subjectivity” (120n25). See also Greenblatt, who argues in “Fiction and Friction” that paradox and indirection are the keys to the play: Viola “embraces a strategy that the play suggests is not simply an accident of circumstance but an essential life-truth: you reach a desired or at least desirable destination not by pursuing a straight line but by following a curved path. T he principle underlines Sebastian’s explanation of O livia’s mistake: ‘N ature to her bias drew in that’” (71). 129 ��������������������������������������������������������������������������� Nancy Hayles sees cross-dressing and androgyny linked to wholeness only in Cymbeline’s Imogen, where “sexual ambiguity moves inward, reflecting, not a confusion of gender, but a wholeness of being” (“Sexual Disguise in Cymbeline,” 243).

Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox


mole upon his brow” (5.1.235); and that this father “died that day when Viola from her birth / Had numbered thirteen years” (5.1.237–38), the play will not confirm Viola’s feminine identity until her clothes are recovered from the Captain. O rsino closes the formal part of the play by announcing, Cesario, come— For so you shall be while you are a man; But when in other habits you are seen, Orsino’s mistress, and his fancy’s queen. (5.1.372–75)

So stability is deferred beyond the play’s frame—and probably longer. F or the Captain, who holds the key to Viola’s identity, “Is now in durance, at Malvolio’s suit” (5.1.269), and Malvolio has promised to “be revenged on the whole pack of you” (5.1.365). Although not quite a romance, Twelfth Night leaves us by its end in between joy and despair, closure and indeterminacy. R equiring its action in the audience, as Colie would have it, paradox in Twelfth Night continues to engage even as it seems to dissipate into narrative order.130 F or in this play, the paradox of acting has both the power to deceive and the power to reconfigure. Perhaps it is not surprising that a play subtitled “What You Will” refuses clearly to choose which power is most potent. Antony and Cleopatra More than any other Shakespeare play Antony and Cleopatra suggests that the part may be as close as we get to the heart. F oregrounding the paradox of acting, the play sees seeming at the heart of being. What appears playful at the end of Twelfth Night—that identity can be known only through one’s clothes—becomes a much more serious statement in this play. Indeed, the greatest truths in Antony and Cleopatra take the form of representations, a locus classicus coming in act 2, scene 2. Throughout his report of the first encounter of Antony and Cleopatra at Cydnus, E nobarbus establishes who Cleopatra is by describing whom she played: F or her own person, It beggared all description. She did lie In her pavilion—cloth of gold, of tissue— O’er-picturing that Venus where we see T he fancy outwork nature. O n each side her Stood pretty dimpled boys, like smiling Cupids, With divers-coloured fans whose wind did seem T o glow the delicate cheeks which they did cool, And what they undid did. (2.2.203–11)

����������� See Colie, Paradoxia Epidemica, 518.


“Double Dealing Ambodexters”


T he paradoxes of Cleopatra’s “person” outdo even a portrait of Venus, “where we see / T he fancy outwork nature.” But does this mean that Cleopatra’s reality helps “nature” claim a victory over art, which had previously—with the image of Venus—outworked nature or reality?131 To the contrary, the participle “o’erpicturing” suggests that it is the image of Cleopatra that bested the image of Venus; reality had nothing to do with it. A similar point is made after A ntony’s death, when Cleopatra is attempting to eulogize A ntony in front of D olabella. Cleopatra reports a marvelous and paradoxical dream: F or his bounty, There was no winter in’t; an autumn ’twas, T hat grew the more by reaping. H is delights Were dolphin-like; they showed his back above T he element they lived in. In his livery Walked crowns and crownets. R ealms and islands were As plates dropped from his pocket. (5.2.85–91)

Cleopatra then asks, “T hink you there was, or might be, such a man / A s this I dreamt of?” (5.2.92–93). When Dolabella replies, “Gentle madam, no” (5.2.93), Cleopatra responds, You lie, up to the hearing of the gods. But if there be, or ever were one such, It’s past the size of dreaming. N ature wants stuff To vie strange forms with fancy; yet t’imagine A n A ntony were nature’s piece ’gainst fancy, Condemning shadows quite. (5.2.94–99)

Cleopatra’s argument is similar to E nobarbus’s. T ypically, nature cannot match the stuff of the imagination (“fancy”). But Cleopatra suggests that Antony might give nature an atypical victory: A ntony would become “nature’s piece ’gainst fancy, / Condemning shadows quite.” Yet like “o’erpicturing” in act 2, scene 2, “t’imagine” here suggests that fancy wins again because, paradoxically, for nature to triumph, nature would have “t’imagine / A n A ntony.” L ike Cleopatra, A ntony is always mitigated by fancy, representation, playing. As he would be the first to tell us, there is no essential A ntony.132 Antony and Cleopatra seems to me the play that fits Terry Eagleton’s portrait of selfhood quoted earlier with regard to Hamlet: we are all parts, and there are 131

������������������������������������������������������������������������������������ Pauline Kiernan thinks the victory is indeed nature’s: “Cleopatra’s flesh-and-blood presence surpasses the art which has surpassed nature” (Shakespeare’s Theory of Drama, 176). Similarly, Kiernan links Cleopatra’s re-presentation of Cydnus at play’s end to the triumph of a kind of nature over artifice: “The body that stands before us is ‘nature’s piece, ’gainst fancy, / Condemning shadows quite’” (190). 132 ������������� See A delman, The Common Liar, 167–68.

Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox


no discernible hearts; nothing “passeth show.” The vision of a divided Antony is established almost from the outset, when in the play’s first scene, Philo tells D emetrius that “sometimes when he is not A ntony / H e comes too short of that great property / Which still should go with Antony” (1.1.59–61 ). This split Antony at least in some respects pleases Cleopatra: she calls him a “well divided disposition” and a “heavenly mingle” in act 1, scene 5 (52, 58). She also displays this view of A ntony in the description of him as an anamorphic or perspective painting at the end of act 2, scene 5: “Let him for ever go!—let him not, Charmian; / Though he be painted one way like a Gorgon, / The other way’s a Mars” (116–18). Besides showing us the double, conflicted emotions of Cleopatra (“Let him for ever go!—let him not!”), this reference reveals an A ntony who changes form depending on the perspective of the viewer. A nd we should note the two A ntonies revealed. O ne— the R oman war God Mars—makes perfect sense, but the other gives us reason to pause, for it is a Gorgon—one of the monstrous women whose faces were wreathed in snakes and could turn those who gazed on them into stone. T here is something monstrous about A ntony but also something feminine or effeminized. T hat Cleopatra feminizes A ntony in calling him a Gorgon comes as no surprise, for earlier in the same scene, we have heard of their most famous act of love play: having “drunk him to his bed,” Cleopatra tells us, she “put my tires and mantles on him, whilst / I wore his sword Philippan” (2.5.21–23); he wears her headdresses and gowns, she takes his sword. N amed after the site of his most famous victory— at Phillipi, over Brutus and Cassius—this sword represents all that is R oman, masculine, and noble in A ntony, and Cleopatra has taken it from him by giving him wine and arousing his desire. But we need to note, too, that A ntony is not just figuratively emasculated but also effeminized, wearing Cleopatra’s clothes. Like Rosalind in act 1 of As You Like It and Orsino in act 5 of Twelfth Night, Cleopatra suggests that clothes really may make the man; there may be no essential self, especially no essential masculine self.133 T his is certainly what A ntony suggests in his speech to E ros in act 4 comparing himself to the clouds. A sking E ros, “thou yet behold’st me?” and receiving an affirmative answer, Antony describes the forms that clouds can take: Sometime we see a cloud that’s dragonish, A vapour sometime like a bear or lion, A towered citadel, a pendent rock, A forkèd mountain, or blue promontory With trees upon’t that nod unto the world And mock our eyes with air. Thou hast seen these signs; They are black vesper’s pageants. (4.15.2–8)

A ntony’s cloud images are paradoxical: wispy and formless by nature, they also take the shape of strong, solid, even masculine beasts and things: dragons, bears, lions, citadels, rocks, mountains, trees. But “T hat which is now a horse ������������ See L evine, Men in Women’s Clothing, 44–72, esp. 44–57.


“Double Dealing Ambodexters”


even with a thought / T he rack distains, and makes it indistinct / A s water is in water” (4.15.9–11). These dissolving clouds are Antony: “My good knave Eros, now thy captain is / E ven such a body. H ere I am A ntony, / Yet cannot hold this visible shape, my knave” (4.15.12–14). Shapeless, Antony also sees himself as emasculated by Cleopatra, whom he fears has “Packed cards with Caesar” (4.15.19) and betrayed him. To underscore the emasculation, Shakespeare has Mardian the eunuch enter at just this point, and A ntony says immediately, “O thy vile lady, / She has robbed me of my sword” (4.15.22–23). Playing in the theater of the world with Cleopatra has reduced A ntony to a man who cannot control his shape—his self—or his gender; all is in flux in this stage-play world. A nd perhaps beyond it. A fter hearing that Cleopatra has killed herself—this is Cleopatra’s ruse to get herself back in his good graces—A ntony softens his position toward her a bit. Still bent on suicide, however, he contemplates their after-life. He imagines them as players after death as well, though these thoughts of the inescapability of shape-shifting seem more optimistic than those earlier in the scene: Where souls do couch on flowers we’ll hand in hand, A nd with our sprightly port make the ghosts gaze. D ido and her A eneas shall want troops, And all the haunt be ours. (4.15.51–54)

A lthough these words show a return of some R oman swagger—Antony and Cleopatra will steal the audience away from A eneas and D ido—A ntony clearly cannot imagine himself offstage, out of a role. John Rainolds’s and Ben Jonson’s greatest fear about the paradox of acting has come true: heart has been lost in part. But can the paradox of acting have a beneficial role in this play? Paradox plays a very large part in Antony and Cleopatra, as Janet Adelman and, a recent editor of the play, Michael N eill, have claimed.134 A delman’s view is at least partly optimistic: for her, a key to Antony and Cleopatra is variety—of perspectives, genres, places, times, scenes (she counts forty-three ): “It is precisely in forcing us to move from one perspective to the next abruptly and without mediation that Antony and Cleopatra achieves its most characteristic effects. Such anticipated shifts in perspective force upon us an awareness of scope, how various a place the world is.”135 In stressing the play’s perspectivalism, A delman links the variety of the world to paradox and doubleness, and a crucial paradoxical binary is that of R ome/E gypt.136

134 See ������������� A delman, The Common Liar, 102–68, esp. 110–16, and Neill, Anthony and Cleopatra, Oxford edition, 100–107. 135 A��������� delman, The Common Liar, 43. 136 ������������� See A delman, The Common Liar, 40–50, and Macdonald, “Late Shakespeare,” esp. 277–81.


Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox

T here is no doubt that R ome and E gypt are more than locations in Antony and Cleopatra: they represent worldviews. T he R ome of this play is like the R ome of Shakespeare’s other R oman plays: whether dealing with R epublican R ome (rule by a senatorial aristocracy [Coriolanus, Titus Andronicus, Julius Caesar]) or Imperial Rome (rule by a single leader or Caesar [Antony and Cleopatra and Cymbeline]), Shakespeare portrays Rome as a place of patriarchy; a place of stoical and dogmatic beliefs that tend to be resistant to ambiguity; and a place of personal honor, to which all other values must be subordinated. Shakespeare’s R ome is masculine, single-minded, rational, and constant, then, while his Egypt is feminine (or emasculated); multiple and ambiguous; sensual and passionate; and mutable and shifting. It is important to remember that most of the misogyny directed toward Cleopatra and E gypt comes via the largely unsympathetic R omans, whose world most—in the play and in the audience—are happy to leave for E gypt. We get a parodic version of R oman singleness in the hilarious discussion of the crocodile between Antony and Lepidus on board Pompey’s ship in act 2, scene 7. As he usually does, then, Shakespeare in this play highlights the dogmatism and rigidity of a R ome that will be unable to comprehend the complexities and ambiguities of the Egyptian ethos. (The one real exception besides Antony is Enobarbus, whose hymn of praise for Cleopatra in act 2, scene 2, we examined earlier.) T his is not to say that Shakespeare completely disparages R ome or completely celebrates E gypt. T here is an integrity and honor to the R omans that Shakespeare never completely dismisses. F urther, in the medieval and R enaissance literary traditions Cleopatra is linked to women who emasculated or side-tracked men from their larger, often epic designs, turning them away from rationality and responsibility and toward passion and lust. Pairs of such problematic lovers include H ercules and O mphale, Mars and Venus, A eneas and D ido, Samson and D elilah. Lustful, scheming, and emasculating as she might be (and as she is seen by R ome), however, Cleopatra is not the only double character in the play. Indeed, doubleness abounds in Antony and Cleopatra, even if Shakespeare’s helpful binaries collapse somewhat. T he boundaries between R ome and E gypt are literally bridged by messengers and travel, more figuratively bridged by thoughts; Enobarbus and A ntony muse on E gypt when they are in R ome, Cleopatra on R ome when A ntony is away from her. A s A ntony says paradoxically upon leaving Cleopatra for R ome at the end of act 1, scene 3: L et us go. Come. Our separation so abides and flies T hat thou residing here goes yet with me, And I hence fleeting, here remain with thee. Away. (1.3.102–6)

But the blurring of worlds goes deeper. F or the play has many double, mutable men from R ome: think of Menas, who tries to get Pompey to kill the triumvirate when they are on board Pompey’s ship in act 2, scene 7; of Enobarbus’s ill-calculated (but calculated) abandonment of Antony; of Decretas’s taking of Antony’s sword

“Double Dealing Ambodexters”


as a means to preferment with Caesar in act 4, scene 15; of Caesar’s political maneuverings, especially those involving O ctavia and later Cleopatra. T he play is filled with “Egyptian” Romans, then, and, as we will see, a “Roman” Egyptian who chooses to stage a “R oman” death. F or it is Cleopatra’s paradoxical relationship to theatricality that is so important to Shakespeare’s play. In one sense Antony and Cleopatra does not seem to belong to the cross-dressing group, since there is no overt gender transformation. But we have already encountered both Antony’s cross-dressing in his love-play described by Cleopatra in act 2, scene 5, and his sense that just living with Cleopatra has robbed him of his sword. A ntony plays the woman, then, but Cleopatra, the play makes clear, is the actress—one who has no interest in seeing “Some squeaking Cleopatra boy my greatness / I’th’ posture of a whore” (5.2.216–17). Cleopatra’s attempt to stage her death is more successful than A ntony’s—which includes a botched suicide attempt and an awkwardly prolonged death—largely because she has seemed so intensely aware of theater and the paradoxes of playing to begin with. Thus, it is somewhat unsettling to hear her at the beginning of act 5, scene 2, discuss her death as a calculated end of mutability, as an almost R oman act “that ends all other deeds, / Which shackles accidents and bolts up change” (5.2.5–6). L ater in the scene she extends her meditation on her theatrical metamorphosis: My resolution’s placed, and I have nothing O f woman in me. N ow from head to foot I am marble-constant. Now the fleeting moon No planet is of mine. (5.2.234–37)

Although the enjambment here gives Cleopatra some of her “Egyptian” flux and flow, it is pretty clear that, for her final role, Cleopatra will play the constant R oman—and a man. Cleopatra’s great fear—expressed obsessively throughout act 5—is that of being displayed by Caesar in a triumphant pageant. She will die rather than be staged by someone else; she and her women will not play the “Egyptian puppet” (5.2.204). In addition, she wants to control the way she is represented in history and in art, avoiding, if possible the “scald rhymers” and “quick comedians” who will “Extemporally stage us, and present / Our Alexandrian revels” (5.2.211–14). Then, forgetting or internalizing her claims to masculine stability, she carefully represents herself as she looked when Antony first saw her at Cydnus and described to us by E nobarbus—“Show me, my women, like a queen. Go fetch / My best attires. I am again for Cydnus / To meet Mark Antony” (5.2.223–25). Cleopatra thus makes sure that all future versions of her will have to include her E gyptian, eroticized version of the R oman death: suicide with the poisoned asp. How triumphant is Cleopatra’s staged death? To some extent, she is victorious; she has stripped Caesar of the display of power that he dreams of in act 5, scene 1, as he says, “for her life in Rome / Would be eternal in our triumph” (65–66). And the theatrical nature of her life and death has spawned productions that allow her— as Enobarbus puns in act 1, scene 2—to die again and again; she lives immortally

Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox


in literary and theatrical history. But in one sense this is what she did not want: to be represented by the silly boy actor. H er triumph is that she controlled to some extent what the boy represented; she could not control, however, that she was represented, that the boy represented her—this would have been immediately clear to Shakespeare’s original audience. Cleopatra, then, paradoxically gives precedence to the actual over the imaginative: her hymn to Antony in act 5, scene 2, after all, revealed her attempt to convince D olabella that the real A ntony truly was as great as her dream. Cleopatra seems to doubt representations, and this fact reveals one of the play’s many paradoxes, given how difficult it is to know her amidst her many theatrical roles. T hus Shakespeare’s imagined version of her would undoubtedly be disappointing since it inevitably reveals someone other than Cleopatra staging her life. Antony and Cleopatra seems to suggest that—even for Cleopatra, and A ntony’s fantasy of displacing A eneas and D ido on the underworld stage notwithstanding—death inevitably ends our control over the theater of our world, no matter how adept we are at directing our lives. But Antony may be right about something: the real beneficiaries of the paradoxes of playing are, inevitably, the audience, the “troops” of gazing ghosts (4.15.53). For it is the audience whose vision is renewed by the encounter with paradox, discovering that E gypt can be fruitful, playful, and complex as well as deceptive and devious; that Rome is constant yet manipulative; that men may play at—even get lost in—femininity; that women may steal swords and perform masculinity.137 T his kind of double perspective makes plays into anamorphic paintings and similarly forces the reevaluation of certainties and stable meanings, opening up possibilities for thought that were previously unimagined.138 O r, to bring back the language of W.V. Quine, paradoxes prepare us for “a surprise that can be accommodated by nothing less than a repudiation of part of our conceptual heritage” (88). And as its conceptual heritage is repudiated, the audience itself is altered as the print of playing is stamped onto it. Just as one can lose herself in a role, the audience can become the play(ers). “They Al by Sight and Assent Be Actors”: Playing (to) the Crowd— The Paradoxes of the Audience-Play Dynamic It is probably unsurprising that the very antitheatrical writers who feared the loss of self in the act of playing also dreaded the transformation of the audience into actors. John Rainolds—who argued that players could “by often repetition and representation of the partes, shall as it were engraue the things in their minde with a 137

�������������������������������������������������������������������������������� Michèle Rouget finds in Cleopatra “un traitement plus positif, plus unificateur des contraires” (“Paradoxe et Subversion dans Hamlet,” 326). Russ Macdonald instead highlights Shakespeare’s “ambiguous attitude towards ambiguity at this crucial moment in his career” (“Late Shakespeare,” 281). 138 ���������� See Iser, Prospecting,128–29.

“Double Dealing Ambodexters”


penne of iron, or with the point of a diamond”—also feared that audience members could become the characters they witnessed: “N either would the Massiliās suffer any stageplayers to come amongst thē: least the custome of beholding euil things represented should breed licentiousnes of folowing them.”139 T he L ord Mayor of L ondon had similar fears of “beholding” turning into “folowing”: T hey [“Stage playes”] are a speciall cause of corrupting their Youth, conteninge nothinge but vnchast matters, lascivious devices, shiftes of Cozenage, & other lewd & ungodly practizes, being so as that they impresse the qualitie & corruption of manners which they represent. ... Whearby such as frequent them, being of the base & refuze sort of people or such young gentlemen as haue small regard of credit or conscience, drawe the same into imitacion and not to the avoidinge the like vices which they represent.140

A nthony Munday, translating Salvianus, a disciple of St. A ugustine, put the matter even more directly: A l other euils pollute the doers onlie, not the beholders, or the hearers. F or a man may heare a blasphemer, and not be partaker of his sacriledge, inasmuch as in minde he dissenteth. A nd if one come while a roberie is a doing, he is cleere, because he abhors the fact. Onlie the filthines of plaies, and spectacles is such, as maketh both the actors & beholders giltie alike. F or while they saie nought, but gladlie look on, they al by sight and assent be actors.141

Worse than “al other evils,” “plaies” and “spectacles” turn the “beholders” into “actors.” Just witnessing a play made one “giltie” because to watch was to assent. D efenders of the stage also admitted the transformational power that plays could wield over the minds of an audience. Confining himself to the potency of rhetoric, T homas Wright noted that even a “christian O rator ... questionlesse may effectuate strange matters in the mindes of his A uditours”—“both thorow the eares and the eyes of their auditors, they intend to imprint them in their soules the deeper: 139 R���������� ainolds, Th’ Overthrow of Stage-Playes, 19–20. Rainolds wondered whether it could be doubted that “men are made adulterers and enemies of all chastity by coming to such playes? that senses are mooved, affections are delited, heartes though strong and constant are vanquished by such players? that an effeminate stage-player, while hee faineth love, imprinteth wounds of love?” (18). 140 Letter ������������������������������������������������������������������������������� from Lord Mayor and Aldermen to the Privy Council, 28 July 1597, quoted in E .K . Chambers, The Elizabethan Stage 4:322; my emphasis. 141 Munday, �������� A Second and Third Blast of Retrait from Plaies and Theaters, 3. See Salvianus, On the Government of God, bk. 6, sec. 3: “The indecencies of spectacles involve actors and audience in substantially the same guilt” (163). For the Latin, see Migne, Patrologia Latina: “Solae spectaculorum impuriates sunt quae unum admodum faciunt et agentium et aspicientium crimen” (111). See also Crosse, Vertves Common-wealth, P4r: “in stead of morallitie, fictions, lies, and scurrilous matter is foisted in, and is cunningly conceiued into the hearts of the assistants, whereby they are transformed into that they see acted before them: the rustic & common sort, are as A pes, that will imitate in themselues, that which they see done by other [sic].”


Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox

for indeed, words and actions spring from the same root, that is, vnderstanding and affections: and as leaves, floures, and fruit declare the vertues of trees, so wordes and actions the qualities of minds.”142 A ble to imprint on souls, “words and actions” were even more potent when placed on the stage.143 T homas H eywood famously described how hearing and seeing a character in a play could fashion an audience member in that character’s image: A D escription is only a shadow receiued by the eare but not perceiued by the eye: so liuely portrature is meerley a forme seene by the eye, but can neither shew action, passion, motion, or any other gesture, to mooue the spirits of the beholder to admiration: but to see a souldier shap’d like a souldier, walke, speake, act like a souldier: to see a Hector all besmered in blood, trampling vpon the bulkes of K inges. ... O h these were sights to make an Alexander.144

A nd in his Apology for Poetry, Sir Philip Sidney discusses the way in which a poet works not only to fashion “a Cyrus, which had been but a particuler excellencie, as N ature might haue done, but to bestow a Cyrus vpon the worlde, to make many Cyrus’s.”145 Similarly, H eywood here imagines a theatrical encounter making “an A lexander.” But H eywood is clear that drama is more potent than any other art form because it blends verbal “description” with that which is “perceiued by the eye” and puts both in motion: theater “shew[s] action, passion, motion, or any other gesture, to mooue the spirits of the beholder to admiration.” T he result is a kind of magic: T o turne to our domesticke hystories, what E nglish blood seeing the person of any bold E nglish man presented and doth not hugge his fame, and hunnye at his valor, pursuing him in his enterprise with his best wishes, and as beeing wrapt in contemplation, offers to him in his hart all prosperous performance, as if the Personater were the man Personated, so bewitching a thing is liuely and well spirited action, that it hath the power to new mold the harts of the spectators and fashion them to the shape of any noble and notable attempt.146 142 ��������������� T homas Wright, The Passions of the minde in generall, 3 and 124–25. This is the same image that R ainolds used to discuss the effect of a role on a player, the same used by the L ord Mayor, and the same used by T heseus in discussing the power of the father over the daughter in Midsummer: “What say you, H ermia? Be advised, fair maid. / T o you, your father should be as a god, / O ne that composed your beauties, yea, and one / T o whom you are but a form in wax, / By him imprinted, and within his power / To leave the figure or disfigure it” (1.1.46–51; my emphasis). 143 ��������������������������������������������������������������������� See John Taylor’s “To my approued good friend M. Thomas Heywood,” in H eywood, An Apology for Actors: “A Play’s a brief E pitome of time, / Where man my [sic] see his vertue or his crime / L ayd open, either to their vices shame, / O r to their virtues memorable fame” (A3v). 144 ��������� H eywood, An Apology for Actors, B3v. 145 ������������������������������������ Sidney, “A n A pology for Poetry,” in Elizabethan Critical Essays 1:157. 146 H��������� eywood, An Apology for Actors, B4v. H owever, as Michael Shapiro reminds us (Gender in Play on the Shakespearean Stage, 38), Heywood makes the opposite point about

“Double Dealing Ambodexters”


F or H eywood, the paradox of acting collapses: “the Personater” becomes “the man Personated”; the self becomes the role. For the antitheatricalist, it gets worse: not only is the boundary between actor and role crossed, but the play seeps across its own borders, “bewitching” the audience and “new mold[ing] the harts of the spectators and fashion[ing] them to the shape of any noble attempt.” T he enemies of the stage were quick to point out that this being fashioned to a new shape could also occur when the “attempt” was less than noble. In a piece written to answer Heywood’s, one “I.G.” (supposedly, John Green) claimed that on the way home from the theater, playgoers “begin ... to repeate the lasciuious acts and speeches they haue heard, and thereby infect their minde with wicked passions.”147 This boundary-crossing, then, was also seen as a kind of contamination by antitheatrical writers. As we have seen, John Rainolds claimed that playgoing initiated a chain of corruption, from mind to body, as well as from actor to audience: Seeing that the diseases of the mind are gotten farre sooner by counterfeiting, then are diseases of the body: and bodily diseases may be gotten so, as appeareth by him, who, faining for a purpose that he was sicke of the gowte, became (through care of counterfeiting it) gowtie in deede. So much can imitation & meditatiō doe.148

William Prynne also drew on the metaphor of infection: theater-goers are “contagious in quality, more apt to poyson, to infect all those who dare approach them, than one who is full of running Plague-sores.”149 O f course, the antitheatricalists raged against the theater as a site of literal contamination from the plague. But as Prynne reveals above and Jean Howard has shown, there was a fear of a figurative plague, too. For part of what was so upsetting to the enemies of the stage was “the contamination of sexual kinds” and social roles.150 boy actors: “T o see our youth attired in the habit of women, who knowes not what their intents be? who cannot distinguish them by their names, assuredly, knowing they are but to represent such a Lady, at such a time appoynted” (C3v). 147 ������������� See H eywood, An Apology for Actors, with A Refutation of the Apology for Actors, by I.G., 61. See also Maus, “Horns of Dilemma,” esp. 563–68. 148 ���������� R ainolds, Th’ Overthrow of Stage-Playes, 20. 149 �������� Prynne, Histriomastix, 152. Keir Elam describes the “symptomatological chain that leads from the represented role ... to the actor’s ‘defiled’ body; from the actor’s body to the spectator’s ‘entised’ mind; from the spectator’s mind to the spectator’s ‘diseased’ body; and from the spectator’s body to the community at large”—“a veritable mimetic epidemic” (“‘In What Chapter of His Bosom?’” in Alternative Shakespeares, Volume 2, 153–54). 150 ������������������������������������������������������������������������� H oward, “Crossdressing, the T heatre, and Gender Struggle in E arly Modern England,” 435. Howard’s point about contamination is confirmed by the author of Hic Mulier, or, The Man-Woman (London, 1620), who claimed that cross-dressing was “an infection that emulates the plague and throws itself amongst women of all degrees, all deserts, and all ages” (B1v). Howard also nicely expands the notion of the paradoxical blurring to class as well as gender: “The theatre as a social institution signified change. It blurred the boundaries between degrees and genders by having men of low estate wear the


Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox

For many twentieth- and twenty-first-century commentators, however, this infectious blurring of boundaries is one of the paradoxes of playing that give theater a unique power. A ntonin A rtaud, for example, claimed “we must recognize that the theater, like the plague, is a delirium and is communicative” (27): “A direct communication will be re-established between the spectator and the spectacle, between the actor and the spectator, from the fact that the spectator, placed in the middle of the action, is engulfed and physically affected by it” (96).151 Building on Ionesco and Artaud, Austin Quigley has called the blurring a “mutual contamination”: “T he world of the audience and the world of the play are not radically separable, and neither are the world of the play and the world of the theatre. Each of these opposing worlds in part constitutes and in part is constituted by the others.”152 T he audience is fashioned by the play—as H eywood suggested—but also makes the play. It is just this accommodation to epistemological change that Jean Alter has seen as part of the “performant function”: D eprived of its natural exercise [of restructuring], our structuring drive then seeks outlets in games that do not involve our life, notably in the structuration of fictional worlds offered by theatre. ... the performant function serves to keep our notion of the world in a state of balance, using harmless performances to minimize the pain of adapting it to change.153

It is when the play enters the audience and “our notion of the world [is] in a state of balance” that this adaptation to change is possible.154 F or Bert States, this movement constitutes the essence of theatrical performance, which is a way of seeing—not, that is, the thing seen or performed (from ritual to parade to play to photograph) but seeing that involves certain collaborative and contextual functions (between work and spectator) which are highly elastic. ... Here is what we might call the kernel or gene of performativity from which all divided forms of artistic performance spring: the collapse of means and ends into each other, the simultaneity of producing something and responding to it in the same behavioral act.155 clothes of noblemen and of women, and by having one’s money, not one’s blood or title, decide how high and how well one sat, or whether, indeed, one stood. T o go to the theatre was, in short, to be positioned at the crossroads of cultural change and contradiction— and this seems to me especially true for the middle-class female playgoer, who by her practices was calling into question the ‘place’ of woman, perhaps more radically than did Shakespeare’s fictions of crossdressing” (440). 151 ��������������� See also Cope, The Theater and the Dream, 9–10. 152 ��������� Quigley, The Modern Stage and Other Worlds, 37 and 40. 153 A������� lter, A Sociosemiotic Theory of the Theatre, 57. 154 ������������ See Crease, The Play of Nature, esp. 74–102. 155 ���������������������������������������������������������������������������������� States, “Performance as Metaphor,” 13 and 25. For a similar view of “the artistic transaction,” see Cope, The Theater and the Dream, 2: “process and product fuse to create an effect stylistically analogous to the simple optical illusion, which demands as much

“Double Dealing Ambodexters”


Paradoxically, there is a “simultaneity of producing something and responding to it in the same behavioral act”: the audience helps create the play, just as it is at least partly created by the play. T he role of the audience outlined above has been a focal point of recent discussion of the early modern stage. As early as 1971, E.A.J. Honigmann stressed the “rich rewards” that would come out of a turn toward an examination of audience response in Shakespeare.156 And in 1976, he noted that “although there are signs of a new ‘movement’ in literary and dramatic criticism, it has not so far made much progress.” But by 2002—in a revision of the 1976 work—Honigmann can lament something else as well: “We have, alas, become fashionable.”157 F ocusing on mixtures of all kinds, H onigmann reminds us how complex audience response could be. F irst, he shares A lfred H arbages’s view that—as H onigmann puts it—an “E lizabethan audience consisted of a mix of people, differing in age, sex, social class and even nationality.”158 More than that, though, H onigmann sees mixture as part of the plays themselves: I find it perfectly natural that, at a time when English drama, reacting against classical purists and continuing the native tradition, so decisively committed itself to mixed modes, such as tragi-comedy, the greatest dramatists should also be fascinated by the mixed response. A nd this is not just a question of O thello’s response, but of ours to O thello.159 from the process of the seeing eye as from the patterns of the object itself, with its spurious, ironic claim to a formal existence independent of that eye.” 156 ��������������� See H onigmann, Shakespearian Tragedy and the Mixed Response, 5. 157 H����������� onigmann, Shakespeare, Seven Tragedies Revisited, 245. There can be no greater testimony to the change in fashion than the R outledge collection of essays focusing on catharsis—based on sessions at H arvard’s E nglish Conference and edited by A ndrew Parker and E ve K osofsky Sedgwick—Performativity and Performance. 158 ����������� H onigmann, Shakespeare, Seven Tragedies Revisited, 242. See Alfred Harbage’s three crucial books on the subject: Shakespeare’s Audience (1941), As They Liked It (1947), and Shakespeare and the Rival Traditions (1952). See Ann Jennalie Cook’s dissent—which Honigmann regards as an overreaction (see his Shakespeare, 240)—in The Privileged Playgoers of Shakespeare’s London 1576–1642. F or later assessments, see Martin Butler, Theatre and Crisis 1632–1642, 293–306, and Gurr, “Metatheatre and the Fear of Playing,” 3–5. 159 ����������� H onigmann, Shakespearian Tragedy and the Mixed Response, 13. This connection between the “mingle-mangle” sociological makeup and the structures and genres of the Shakespearean stage is central to the work of R obert Weimann: “O lder conceptions of honor were confronted by the new pride of possession, hatred of usury by the fervor for gold, the idea of service by the idea of profit, deeply rooted community consciousness by passionate individualism. F eudal family pride mingled with the bourgeois sense of family, pomp with thrift, frivolity with chastity, pessimism with optimism. In the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries these heterogeneous ideas and attitudes jostled each other, and the resulting wealth and depth of conflict was reflected, more than anywhere else, in the R enaissance theater, where the popular tradition was free to develop relatively independent


Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox

T he playwrights gravitated toward “mixed modes” like tragicomedy and romance but also were “fascinated by the mixed response.”160 H onigmann’s crucial next move is linking the “mixed response” of the internal audience to that of the external audience. Just like Othello, we find it difficult to sort out clear meanings: no one can ever hope to speak definitively about the response to Shakespeare. Not because every spectator reacts differently—after all, we go to the theatre to enjoy a shared experience, and a good producer will subjugate and unite his audience—but largely ... because our responses mix, they interpenetrate one another and may not be tidily unscrambled.161

Shakespeare and the audiences he helped to fashion, then, were “myriad-minded,” to steal a title from H onigmann and a phrase from Coleridge. Paradox resides in the author’s work, helps shape the audience’s thinking, and constitutes the response to the work.162 I would like to go one step further and suggest that the onstage characters’ responses and the external audience’s responses are not just analogous but are themselves interpenetrating and “may not be tidily unscrambled.”163 T his paradoxical blurring of characters/play and audience was a part of N orman Rabkin’s pioneering work of the late 1970s and early 1980s, as he noted the need for Shakespeare critics “to consider the play as a dynamic interaction between of, and yet in close touch with, the conflicting standards and attitudes of the dominant classes. ... the Tudors helped to bring about that ‘mingle-mangle’ which the theater in its organization and audience, the drama in its genres, structure, and speech conventions, reflected” (Shakespeare and the Popular Tradition, 169 and 172–73). 160 On �������������������������������������������������������������������������������� the connection between mixed world and mixed genre, see John Lyly’s prologue to Midas (London, 1592): “Time hath confounded our mindes, our mindes the matter, but all commeth to this passe, that what heretofore hath beene serued in seueral dishes for a feaste, is now minced in a charger for a Gallimaufrey. If wee present a mingle-mangle, our fault is to be excused, because the whole worlde is become an Hodge-podge” (A2r–v). For a trenchant analysis of the social and political implications of a “hodgepodge” world, see Weimann, Authority and Representation, esp. 190–207. 161 H����������� onigmann, Shakespearian Tragedy, 24. In his review of Norman Rabkin’s Shakespeare and the Problem of Meaning, H onigmann argues for the need to link “the coexistence of meanings in one play” to “the coexistence of motives in dramatic character, and of responses in the spectator” (896). See also Altman’s “‘Vile Participation’” for the connection between “contrariety” and “complexity of response” (8) in Henry V. 162 ���������������� See H onigmann’s Myriad-Minded Shakespeare, esp. 1–3. Coleridge’s “our myriadminded Shakespeare” occurs in chapter 15 of his Biographia Literaria. 163 See ������������������������������������������������������������������������������ James Shirley’s epistle to the 1647 Beaumont and Fletcher folio: “You may here find passions raised to that excellent pitch and by such insinuating degrees that you shall not chuse but consent, & go along with them, finding your self at last grown insensibly the very person you read, then stand admiring the subtile Trackes of your engagement” (“To the R eader,” in Comedies and Tragedies; my emphasis. See also Glover and Walker, The Works of Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher 1:xii.

“Double Dealing Ambodexters”


artist and audience, to learn to talk about the process of our involvement rather than our considered view after the aesthetic event.”164 F or L ouis Montrose, this involvement helps to fashion self-fashioning protei in an audience. By crossing the boundary between play and playgoers, “Shakespeare’s theatre does more than reproduce particular human actions and cultural forms in fictional contexts. It projects into the world of the audience a paradigm for human action which directly reflects its own cultural form: the complex, adaptive, inquiring self, created and discovered in performance.”165 Similarly, R obert Weimann has asserted that, “unlike the theater of the subsequent three hundred years, the actoraudience relationship was not subordinate, but a dynamic and essential element of [Shakespearean] dramaturgy.”166 It is this “dynamic and essential element” of the paradox of playing that I will want to examine in The Winter’s Tale and especially The Tempest. But first I would like to explore briefly the connection between what Rabkin has called “communal aesthetic experience” and the communal sacramental experience because both the play-audience and the communicant undergo a “border

R�������� abkin, Shakespeare and the Problem of Meaning, 27. Rabkin also warns against the tendency “to deny the possibility of authorial communication or communal aesthetic experience, to deny that at a certain level of experience a work of art controls the responses of audiences who share its culture, even though each member of the audience may interpret those responses differently” (22). T.S. Eliot noted this power of the Elizabethan stage, but he saw it as an artistic flaw, part of the impurity of the Elizabethans’ art: “I would have a work of art such that it needs only to be completed and cannot be altered by each interpretation” (“Four Elizabethan Dramatists,” in Selected Essays, 115). Perhaps, then, all drama is necessarily “impure art.” See also Gurr, Playgoing in Shakespeare’s London, xiv and 3. Like Rabkin before him, Michael Mooney has called for a renewed interest in the role of the audience—especially in the paradoxical relationship between presentational and representational modes of performing, highlighted by R obert Weimann and discussed above (see Mooney, Shakespeare’s Dramatic Transactions, esp. 21–22). More than a decade after Mooney’s book, A nthony B. D awson and Paul Yachnin have answered the call in their The Culture of Playgoing in Shakespeare’s England by exploring Shakespeare’s audience as part of “an affective engagement” and describing “playgoing as a cultural practice, and hence inseparable from playing itself” (6). 165 ��������������������������������������������������������������������������������� Montrose, “The Purpose of Playing: Reflections on a Shakespearean Anthropology,” 66. More recently, Jeffrey Knapp has suggested that “Players ... taught their audiences how to comport themselves in a time of religious controversy, how to bear the thought of a possible spiritual hypocrisy in others and in themselves, how to recognize that a tolerant acceptance of such pseudo-Christianity was the practice of true religion” (Shakespeare’s Tribe, 145). Whether emphasizing the transformation of playgoers into flexible performers in the theater of the social world or in the theater of religion, Montrose and K napp both stress the penetration of the stage into the lives of its audience members. 166 ��������� Weimann, Shakespeare and the Popular Tradition, 213. See also Kernan’s excellent “Shakespeare’s Stage A udiences.” 164


Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox

crossing” that brings profound meaning and life-altering transformation.167 Both the audience and communicant must agree to become actors in the drama—just as Salvianus and his E lizabethan translator A nthony Munday recognized: “F or while they saie nought, but gladlie look on, they al by sight and assent be actors.” T he paradox of “person” is crucial to this blending of audience and play, as A nthony D awson has established in his recent work. In addition to H eywood’s formulation cited above—“as if the Personater were the man Personated”— D awson draws on N ashe’s defense of the stage in Pierce Penilesse: H ow would it haue ioyed braue Talbot (the terror of the French) to thinke that after he had lyne two hundred yeares in his T ombe, hee should triumphe againe on the Stage, and haue his bones newe embalmed with the teares of ten thousand spectators at least (seuerall times), who, in the Tragedian that represents his person, imagine they behold him fresh bleeding?168

Both H eywood and N ashe use “person” in a way that highlights the paradox of acting, for as D awson explains, “Person,” for the Elizabethans, is primarily an embodied character, a real fiction, and bespeaks the impossibility of splitting body from self or self from role. ... T he body of the actor both represents and is what it impersonates, since it is that body, as identified with the character’s, that generates emotions, or ‘passions,’ to use the favored R enaissance word. ... In N ashe’s evocation of Burbage’s T albot, we note that the fruit of imitation is precisely to affect the audience’s bodies, to effect a rhetorical and physiological exchange (real tears for impersonated bleeding, however fresh).169

The paradoxical “embodied character” and “real fiction” allows the audience to have its “persons” affected by the “person” of the actor.170 F or D awson this 167 See ����������� Skura, Shakespeare the Actor and the Purposes of Playing, 27, and Brook, The Empty Space, 42–64. 168 ������� N ashe, Pierce Penilesse, His Supplication to the Diuell (1592), in The Works of Thomas Nashe 1:212. 169 �������������������������������������������� D awson, “Performance and Participation,” in Shakespeare, Theory, and Performance, 32–33 and 35. 170 ���������������������������������������������������������������������������������� In spite of his fondness for the theater of Shakespeare’s age, Brecht’s theory of alienation runs exactly counter to the process described by N ashe and H eywood. F or Brecht, “the audience identifies itself with the actor” but only “as being an observer, and accordingly develops his attitude of observing or looking on.” A s Brecht sees it, “T he artist’s object is to appear strange and even surprising to the audience.” Accordingly, “the performer’s selfobservation, an artful and artistic act of self-alienation, stopped the spectator from losing himself in the character completely. ... T he coldness comes from the actor’s holding himself remote from the character portrayed, along the lines described. H e is careful not to make its sensations into those of the spectator. Nobody gets raped by the individual he portrays; this individual is not the spectator himself but his neighbor” (Brecht on Theatre, 92–93.) T he point, for N ashe and H eywood, however, is to be ravished by the performer—or to be “possessed,” as D awson would have it.

“Double Dealing Ambodexters”


“personation process” produces “interiorization in at least two ways—first for the character who leaves the actor behind but retains his (her) body as a sign of an internal life, and second for the audience, who are encouraged into double consciousness by being led to respond to the represented person (being possessed by him/her we might say) and simultaneously being made aware of the very process by which the player constructs the fictional character.”171 D awson’s scheme neatly combines two paradoxes of playing: that of the self/role and that of the audience/ play, and sees both as in flux and oscillation.172 L inking this “personation process” to the concept of “participation,” as elaborated by Richard Hooker in book 5 of his Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, allows D awson to discuss the connection between audiences and communicants.173 D awson’s work in this regard is exemplary, and I want to build on it by focusing on the role of paradox in this dynamic. For Hooker’s definition of “participation” is utterly paradoxical: “Participation is that mutual inward hold which Christ hath of us and we of him, in such sort that each possesseth other by way of special interest, property, and inherent copulation” (5.56.1). For Hooker, Christians participate with Christ in this paradoxical way because Christ participates with God in a similar fashion: “H is incarnation causeth him also as man to be now in the Father, and the Father to be in him” (5.56.4). This original merging allows for the penetration of our bodies by H is spirit: his body and blood are in that very subject whereunto they minister life not only by effect or operation, even as the influence of the heavens is in plants, beasts, men, and in every thing which they quicken, but also by a far more divine and mystical kind of union, which maketh us one with him even as he and the Father are one. (5.67.5)

A nd, though the sacrament is the physical vehicle for this “mystical kind of union,” “the real presence of Christ’s most blessed body and blood is not ... to be sought for in the sacrament, but in the worthy receiver of the sacrament” (5.67.6). Christ’s

�������������������������������������������� D awson, “Performance and Participation,” in Shakespeare, Theory, and Performance, 36–37. 172 �������������������������������������������������������������������������������� Weimann calls these paradoxes “the interplay between role and actor and between actor-role and audience” (Shakespeare and the Popular Tradition, 223). 173 Focusing �������������������������������������������������������������������������� on the concept of “participation,” Joel Altman has shown how, in Henry V, “a play about H arry the K ing might offer itself to Shakespeare’s imagination as a problem of representing presence. ... There, on the stage, a fifteenth-century past is urged into presence by contemporary players, while in the galleries and yard contemporary auditors ‘entertain conjecture’ of that time and piece out its imperfections by presencing it in their imaginations” (“‘Vile Participation,’” 7 and 16). Or, as Jeffrey Knapp has it, “The audience of the plays [of the H enriad] ‘participates’ in H arry’s experience, as communicants were said to ‘participate’ in Christ; the exclusive hold of the clergy on a spiritual power commodified into lands and paxes gives way, it seems, to the more inclusive and also immaterial communion enabled by the play” (Shakespeare’s Tribe, 132). 171

Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox


sacramental play needs an audience to realize it fully.174 Just as in the experience of communion the sacrament itself both is a representation and effects something real, so in the theater the actor is both a role and a present body. Because the actor is more than just a representation, the audience can “participate” him, can experience a “presented” yet “represented” passion, moment, event. A gain, the audience becomes part of the play by both believing in the fiction and encountering the “real,” material body.175 The Winter’s Tale The Winter’s Tale has been linked to this kind of literal and figurative sacramentalism before.176 In his seminal essay “T he Purposes of Playing,” L ouis Montrose makes the connection overt: It is precisely by means of the boldest theatricality that the climax of The Winter’s Tale is transformed into a rite of communion. T he audience on the stage and the audience in the theatre are atoned by the great creating nature of Shakespeare’s art—an art fully realized only when it is incarnated by human players. If we take the attackers and defenders of the theatre at their word, and if we credit our own experience as playgoers, we may be willing to consider the possibility that a Jacobean audience could experience as intense an emotional and intellectual satisfaction from a performance of The Winter’s Tale as from a divine service.177


A������������������������������������������������������������������������������ nthony D awson writes: “U nlike for the R eformed Protestants ... the sacrament is not simply representation. A t the same time, ‘presence’ is no longer absolute and unquestioned, behind appearances of bread and wine, but rather is itself troubled or mediated—unreal but also efficacious” (“Performance and Participation,” in Shakespeare, Theory, and Performance, 38). See also Jeffrey Knapp’s statement in Shakespeare’s Tribe: “the Chorus to the play [Henry V] insists that Shakespeare’s players could not so much as represent king and clergy without the communal participation of the audience. ... by framing his play as a sacrament whose real power lay in the minds of its spectators, Shakespeare represented his theater as a means not to ‘fight against [God’s] word’ but to save it from papists and preachers” (120). 175 ������������������������������������������������ See D awson, “Performance and Participation,” in Shakespeare, Theory, and Performance, 38–39. See also Meredith Skura’s claim in Shakespeare the Actor and the Purposes of Playing that “Much more so than today, successful acting—even successful mimesis—was defined not in terms of the actor’s ability to ‘personate’ a character, but in terms of his ability to move the audience to laughter or to tears. T he player’s passion was ‘lively’ or lifelike only to the degree that the audience responded as if it were” (55). 176 ������������ See Bishop, Shakespeare and the Theatre of Wonder, 161–75; Lupton, Afterlives of the Saints, 175–218; and Gash, “Shakespeare, Carnival, and the Sacred,” in Shakespeare and Carnival, esp. 189–99. 177 Montrose, “The Purpose of Playing: Reflections on a Shakespearean Anthropology,” 62.

“Double Dealing Ambodexters”


A “rite of communion,” the end of the play brings atonement through a kind of incarnation in the bodies of the players.178 T he “emotional and intellectual satisfaction” comes in the experience of embodiment—of something fictional and spiritual made real and fleshy.179 But the language of ceremony and participation that links theater and sacrament is introduced well before act 5. In the early acts of the play, the King of Sicilia, L eontes, is so convinced that his wife H ermione has sexually betrayed him with his best friend Polixenes, that he has done two rash things: first, he has sent away his new-born daughter—whom he is sure is a product of the adulterous union—to almost certain death; and second, he has sent Dion and Cleomenes to the oracle to confirm his plans to execute his wife. Looking back on his encounter there, Dion describes the power of the sacred event180: F or most it caught me, the celestial habits— Methinks I should so term them—and the reverence Of the grave wearers. O, the sacrifice— H ow ceremonious, solemn, and unearthly It was i’th’offering. (3.1.4–8)

D ion here foregrounds the problems with even verbal embodiment: he must give shape to “celestial habits,” even though he doubts whether he can “term them” adequately. Cleomenes, too, suggests that they had an experience that is difficult to recount: “The temple much surpass[es] / The common praise it bears” (3.1.2–3) and “the ear-deaf’ning voice o’th’oracle, / Kin to Jove’s thunder, so surprised my sense / That I was nothing” (3.1.9–11). Cleomenes goes so far as to suggest that he was annihilated, rendered bodiless by the encounter with the holy. T his scene stages the problem with representing the “solemn” and “unearthly,” for these two characters are part of a sacramental process. Indeed, Cleomenes and D ion enact the paradox of participation explored by D awson. F or, though in some sense negated—in some sense “nothing”—they and the “contents” (3.2.20) of the oracle that they bear are at the same time all the other characters have of the sacred; they are the gods’ embodiment. Similarly, actors are all we have of the dramatic fiction. To react to the theater as Leontes does to the oracle— 178

������������������������������������������������������������������������������������ Surely Michael O ’Connell has it right that “We are aware of the distinction between drama and religious ritual, but the play’s own symbolic terms and the demands it makes on the audience appear to blur the boundary” (The Idolatrous Eye, 142). For Montrose’s somewhat testy statement distancing himself from an earlier essay by O ’Connell, see his The Purpose of Playing: Shakespeare and the Cultural Politics of the Elizabethan Theatre, 32n21. For O’Connell’s judicious retort, see The Idolatrous Eye, 176n38. 179 Julia Reinhard Lupton claims that “The Winter’s Tale constitutes ‘secular drama’ as the reanimation of the fragments left over by the repeated breaking of idols in the history of the West” (Afterlives of the Saints, 178). 180 See ���������������� Greenblatt, Hamlet in Purgatory, 203: “there is an odd echo of the Catholic Mass in the awestruck description of the oracle of A pollo.”

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“T here is no truth at all i’th’oracle. / T he sessions shall proceed. T his is mere falsehood” (3.2.138–39)—would be to practice a kind of dramatic sacrilege.181 F or his religious violation, L eontes is punished with the death of Mamillius and the seeming death of H ermione. Both he and we will have our respective faiths in our respective sacraments tested in the final scenes. As act 5, scene 3, opens, the guests have been on a tour of Paulina’s “gallery,” which, L eontes says, has provided them with “much content / In many singularities” (5.3.10–12). I think it is clear that they have witnessed the rarities— the “singularities”—of a wunderkammer. Paulina thus helps Shakespeare’s stage become a curiosity cabinet writ large, where we witness an astonishing version of the paradoxical blending of nature and art that is characteristic of the these cabinets. F or we—along with the other visitors—see a statue of H ermione, but one that miraculously seems to have aged; she is and is not Hermione. More paradoxical still, the “dead” H ermione—at Paulina’s beckoning—steps from the pedestal into life. Many critics have seen this moment as the triumph of life and reason over art and wonder: Paulina, they argue, preserves H ermione all along.182 I would claim, however, that the play presents the naturalistic and the marvelous participating in a tense, paradoxical dynamic, one that requires not the subordination of one to the other, but rather an ongoing dialectical exchange between the two.183 E xamples of this sort of exchange can be found in the interplay between Paulina, H ermione, and their audience onstage. A ddressing the sculpture of his dead wife, Leontes suggests he is “more stone than it” (5.3.38). His daughter Perdita, he further observes, is “standing like stone” (5.3.42). When Paulina addresses the 181

����������������������������������������������������������������������������� For some similar ideas, see Kernan, “Shakespeare’s Stage Audiences,” 142–49. K ernan goes on to claim that stage audiences—in plays such as Love’s Labor’s Lost and A Midsummer Night’s Dream—“are images of the actual audience. ... O nce an audience’s certainty about itself and its world is unsettled in this way, and it is forced to consider itself as a group of actors, then it is in the proper frame of mind, poised between belief and disbelief, to accept the fiction of the play as both real and unreal. Real because it is worthy of consideration as an alternate and possible image of the world, unreal because all images of the world, including the audience’s, are no more than fictions, the ‘baseless fabrics of [a] vision’” (151–52). 182 ������������������������������������������������������������������������������� A lthough stressing the triumph of naturalism rather than reason, R osalie Colie abandons paradox in her reading of The Winter’s Tale’s ending (see her Shakespeare’s Living Art, 278–83). More recently, Pauline Kiernan has suggested that both Perdita’s debate with Polixenes and H ermione’s movement from statue to woman are moments that expose “the absurdity of art which arrogantly attempts to imitate, perfect and surpass nature” (Shakespeare’s Theory of Drama, 81). For Kiernan, what emerges triumphant in this play is an “insistence on art that has the power to include in its creations nature’s organic processes through time” (73). 183 Julia ����������������������������������������������������������������������� Reinhard Lupton sees this dynamic as one between iconography and iconoclasm: “The Winter’s Tale neither melancholically glorifies the icons of the Church nor manically participates in their smashing; rather, it takes up the fragments of the idols as fragments, stones of R ome whose vestigial thaumaturgy and iconographic deployments animate Shakespearean drama” (Afterlives of the Saints, 218).

“Double Dealing Ambodexters”


statue—“’Tis time; descend; be stone no more; approach; / Strike all that look upon with marvel” (5.3.99–100)—onlookers of the spectacle are astonished— astonied—with wonder as they watch the stone become flesh. Hermione goes from stone to life, as the living audience inside and outside the play turn with astonishment to stone. In the paradoxical space of wonder cabinet/stage, audience and players interpenetrate and cross boundaries. H ermione thus becomes—like D ion and Cleomenes—an emblem of sacramental/theatrical participation.184 We take in her stoniness, and she becomes flesh. Moving and eventually speaking, she straddles the boundaries between role and self, art and life, play and audience.185 As such Hermione is a key-text of the Shakespearean paradoxical project. F or it is in this moment of oscillation across borders that the audience—in H ooker’s terms, “the worthy receiver”—fully enacts the play’s true meaning. A nd what is that meaning? Is epistemological order restored by the play’s tentative suggestion that there is some explanation for H ermione’s wondrous resurrection because Paulina knew she was alive all along? I am suggesting it is not. U nlike the audience of even Shakespeare’s other plays of wonder—Pericles, Cymbeline, and The Tempest—the external witnesses of The Winter’s Tale are ignorant of many of the play’s crucial details and share the astonishment at Hermione’s being alive with most of the on-stage audience. We become part of a textbook case both of the marvelous and of paradox, both of wonder and the Wondrer: we see the statue-become-woman but are not at all sure how this can be. Ignorant of cause, we wonder—we marvel and inquire—how we are able to see what we see.186 Perhaps the Shakespearean sacramental experience instills in us a method, a way of viewing the world, that is at peace with unknowing, doubt, and questions. We complete the play by accepting incompleteness. The Tempest T he ending of The Tempest also affords us a key-text of the paradoxes of playing, as Prospero comes forward and is at once the actor playing Prospero and a vestige of the character himself. A nd, once again, the audience’s role is crucial in completing �������������������������������������������������������������� Note Jean Howard’s felicitous phrasing in her introduction to The Winter’s Tale in The Norton Shakespeare: “under Paulina’s guidance, the spectators both onstage and off seem to participate in willing the statue into life” (2881; my emphasis). 185 ��������������������������������������� See Barton, “‘E nter Mariners Wet,’” in Essays, Mainly Shakespearean, esp. 193. 186 F or the connections between wonder and paradox, see my “‘T he Meruailouse Site,’” esp. 125–27. For the paradoxes of visual wonder, see Summers, The Judgment of Sense, 127. See also, more recently, Stuart Clark, “Demons, Natural Magic, and the Virtually R eal,” for the insight that “contemporary intellectuals were ... looking at an issue that has come to characterize modern discussions of visuality—the extent to which sight is a constructed medium and the eye not the innocent reporter of the world but, in some sense, its creator and, always, its interpreter” (230–31). 184

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the paradoxical project. I will turn to this crucial part of the play in a moment. But I would like to start with an earlier paradox—that of the “monster” Caliban.187 Early in act 2 of The Tempest, Trinculo tries to find the cause behind the effect that is Caliban: What have we here, a man or a fish? Dead or alive? A fish, he smells like a fish; a very ancient and fish-like smell; a kind of not-of-the-newest poor-John. A strange fish! Were I in England now, as once I was, and had but this fish painted, not a holiday-fool there but would give a piece of silver. T here would this monster make a man. A ny strange beast there makes a man. When they will not give a doit to relieve a lame beggar, they will lay out ten to see a dead Indian. Legged like a man, and his fins like arms! Warm, o’my troth! I do now let loose my opinion, hold it no longer. This is no fish, but an islander that hath lately suffered by a thunderbolt. (23–34)

Before deciding that Caliban is an islander, Trinculo first thinks that he has encountered a “monster,” a “strange beast.” But Caliban is also described as a paradox: a man/fish with arms/fins that is not clearly dead or alive. And monsters and paradoxes could do similar cultural work in the early modern period.188 Based in the L atin monstrare verb—to show—monsters were thought to point to and demonstrate aspects of the world that would otherwise be unknown. Isidore of Seville famously noted that monsters and portents do not “arise contrary to nature but contrary to what nature is understood to be.”189 A s we have been examining throughout this book, paradoxes, too, were meant to instruct by means of going contrary to received wisdom or knowledge. Indeed, by the end of his speech, the paradoxical monster has caused T rinculo, comically, to reevaluate his earlier position—about the very status of the monster, no less: “I do now let loose my opinion, hold it no longer: this is no fish, but an islander, that hath lately suffer’d by a thunderbolt.” But there is more to be demonstrated by our “monster.” If T rinculo clearly imagines a monster bringing economic profit—“There would this monster make a man; any strange beast there makes a man. When they will not give a doit to relieve a lame beggar, they will lay out ten to see a dead Indian”—we see that monsters can bring a more Horatian kind of profit, too. For just as the islander helps Trinculo let loose his opinion, Caliban—in all of his liminality—forces the audience to reconsider many of the seemingly stable binary relationships in The Tempest, especially those between nature and culture and between freedom and slavery.190 T he encounter with paradox can make—and remake—men and women. F or Caliban and the monster tradition, see—most recently—Burnett, Constructing “Monsters” in Shakespearean Drama and Early Modern Culture, 125–53. 188 See Burnett, Constructing “Monsters” in Shakespearean Drama and Early Modern Culture, 152–53, for the connection between monstrosity and paradox—or “twinning.” 189 Isidore of Seville, Etymologiae 11.3.1–2, quoted in David Williams, Deformed Discourse, 13. 190 A lthough skeptical of its tidiness within messy plays, T erry E agleton helpfully frames the nature-culture paradox in his William Shakespeare: “N ature itself produces the 187

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F or example, to determine, as Prospero does, that Caliban is one “on whose nature / Nurture can never stick” (4.1.188–89) is to be too severe, too hasty, too certain. For the Shakespearean theater—like that of Artaud—does not define thoughts but causes thinking. Prospero ends the play having reevaluated—with Caliban’s help—another binary: that of self and other. Seeing Caliban late in The Tempest, you will recall, the magician remarks, “T his thing of darkness I / Acknowledge mine” (5.1.278–79). Prospero has taken in Caliban, has recognized Caliban’s presence in his life, within the boundaries of himself. A sacrament “of darkness,” Caliban is nevertheless part of Prospero. A nd at play’s end—in the epilogue—we are asked to take into ourselves the Prospero who has taken Caliban into himself.191 T his epilogue is justly famous, for in it a once tremendously powerful character—a man who could not only raise storms but also raise the dead (as we find out in act 5)—puts his fate into our hands, quite literally.192 T he epilogue continues the dissolution of strict dualisms that the play proper has initiated. Just as Prospero has acknowledged the blurring of lines between him and Caliban, so here he makes us the magus who can enslave or imprison him; we become the actors as he becomes an expectant audience:193

means of its own transformation, contains that which goes beyond it. What goes beyond it— art, civilization, culture, language, and love—is thus no mere external ‘supplement’ to it, but is internal to its very design. If N ature is always cultural, then a particular culture can always be seen as natural” (91). I take issue, however, with Eagleton’s assumption that this paradox is part of a “glaring contradiction” that serves as a “flagrant mystification of Nature” (96). E agleton’s reading closes down the paradox that I think Shakespeare left open. 191 See �������������������������� Greenblatt, intro. to The Tempest, in The Norton Shakespeare: “T he words need only be a claim of ownership, but they seem to hint at a deeper, more disturbing link between father and monster, legitimate ruler and savage, judge and criminal” (3053). 192 Harry Berger Jr. writes in his Second World and Green World: “T he theatrical experience is more openly represented in plays which feature prologues, choruses, and epilogues to set up analogies between the experience of characters in the play and that of the audience at the play. ... The audience a player addresses is given a role (as audience) within the play. Just as the observer of a perspective painting stands in both the actual space of the gallery and the extension of the three-dimensional picture space, so by direct address the audience is doubled, re-created, given a fictional role. ... The direction of influence here moves from fiction to audience, so that the fictional world may be extended beyond the stage into the pit and galleries, and beyond the theater to readers” (118). For a recent analysis of the liminality of the Shakespearean prologue, see Bruster and Weimann, Prologue to Shakespeare’s Theatre, esp. 1–30. 193 See Weimann, Author’s Pen and Actor’s Voice, 242: there is “an exchange of roles, in the performers’ silence and the audience’s applauding, memorizing, and talking.” See also Stephen O rgel’s note in the O xford edition of The Tempest: “Prospero puts himself in the position of A riel, Caliban, F erdinand, and the other shipwreck victims throughout the play, threatened with confinement, pleading for release from bondage; and his magical powers are now invested in the audience” (204n322–27).


Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox N ow my charms are all o’erthrown, A nd what strength I have’s mine own, Which is most faint. N ow ’tis true I must be here confined by you, O r sent to N aples. L et me not, Since I have my dukedom got, A nd pardoned the deceiver, dwell In this bare island by your spell; But release me from my bands With the help of your good hands. Gentle breath of yours my sails Must fill, or else my project fails, Which was to please. N ow I want Spirits to enforce, art to enchant; A nd my ending is despair U nless I be relieved by prayer, Which pierces so, that it assaults Mercy itself, and frees all faults. A s you from crimes would pardoned be, Let your indulgence set me free. (1–20)

Prospero seems finally to have learned to let go of his urge to control the world, an urge that is figured throughout the play by his magic. Now the audience has the “spell,” the powerful “breath” of inspiration and prayer, the ability to confine or pardon and “set ... free.” H aving renounced this magic, he—like A riel, Caliban, F erdinand, Miranda, A lonso, A ntonio, and Sebastian—is now a prisoner: our prisoner. With our blessing and forgiveness, and our applause, Prospero can leave the island, his magic, and his power behind. But this power we have over Prospero is itself short-lived: if and when we release Prospero, we also end our brief dominion over him; with our applause, the play and the fantasy are over. T his is an important Shakespearean moment. F or if Shakespeare’s plays are going to signify, are going to matter, are going to leave more than a rack behind, we have to leave the island, the green world of the theater, and allow the world of the play to “participate”—penetrate into—our lives. N ot to do so would be to repeat the errors of the early Prospero and F erdinand watching the masque—both wished to stay in a world removed: one of fantasy, ideals, wonders. A nd so Shakespeare, who has created a theater of illusion and marvels, paradoxically makes sure to warn us against becoming lost in these dreams and wonders. Just as the Milanese and Neapolitans return home, variously transformed by the experiences of Prospero’s theater and spectacles, so we leave after applauding and return to uncertain futures. T he only thing that will make Shakespeare’s art different from the insubstantial pageant that haunted Prospero—the “nothing” of H amlet and Cleomenes, the “no thing” of A rtaud—is if Shakespeare’s play in some way has become part of the “worthy receivers” that make up his audience. Shakespeare’s uncertainty about the power of his art is profound in The Tempest; he had to hope audiences would be made up more of Gonzalos and A lonsos than

“Double Dealing Ambodexters”


of Sebastians and A ntonios. L ike Prospero’s, Shakespeare’s power is disturbingly contingent. L ike Prospero, Shakespeare nonetheless lets go, trusting us to negotiate the treacherous moral waters that await us outside. T he paradoxes of playing are many and profound. A s we have asked in each of this book’s sections, we must ask again: are these paradoxes benign or malevolent, constructive or destructive? Perhaps all we can say for certain is that they are transformative—for characters and audience alike—and that something important happens in the in-between space of paradox. Influenced by studies of the relationship between ritual and the brain, Victor T urner wrote about liminality late in his career as a mostly benevolent paradox: at heightened theatrical moments, “there is an ecstatic state and a sense of union, belief in ritual, prolonged meditation, where culturally transmitted techniques and intense personal discipline sustain the peak experience. O ne is aware of paradox, but rejoices in it.”194 D .W. Winnicott also saw paradox as a crucial but healthy element of play and of culture in general, contending that “T he place where cultural experience is located is the potential space between the individual and the environment.”195 “T his intermediate area of experience, unchallenged in its respect of being inner or external ... reality,” he explained, “is retained in the intense experiencing that belongs to the arts and to religion and to imaginative living, and to scientific work. ... What emerges from these considerations is the further idea that paradox accepted can have positive value” (14). Even the lie at the heart of playing, the paradox of acting that troubled Stephen Gosson so much—“by outwarde signes to shew them selves otherwise then they are, and so with in the compasse of a lye” (E5r)—can have this “positive value.” Indeed, theater can possess the quality of “heavenly fraud” and “holy cozenage” that was sometimes defended by Christian theologians.196 Victor T urner, The Anthropology of Performance, 166. ����������� Winnicott, Playing and Reality, 100; subsequent citations are annotated within the text. D rawing on Winnicott’s notion of “potential space”—a paradoxical place where contraries intermingle—Murray Schwartz has argued in “Shakespeare through Contemporary Psychoanalysis,” that Shakespeare moves from the “rupture of potential space” (28) in the tragedies to an “interplay of contraries” and a recovery of potential space in Antony and Cleopatra and the romances (30). Schwartz values this latter state because “if we can both re-create and use the potential spaces available to us, we create meanings that did not exist before the interplay of dualities occurred” (25). 196 F���������������������������������� or “heavenly fraud,” see H ooker, Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, bk. 5, chap. 35, sec. 2: “These multiplied petitions of worldly things in prayer have therefore, besides their direct use, a service, whereby the Church underhand, through a kind of heavenly fraud, taketh therewith the souls of men as with certain baits” (2:140–41). “Holy cozenage” is a phrase from the poet Jasper Mayne, in praising the sermons of William Cartwright (see Crockett, The Play of Paradox, 50, and Jeffrey Knapp, Shakespeare’s Tribe, 36). See also K napp’s discussion in Shakespeare’s Tribe, 34–55, of Erasmus’s defense—via St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:22—of “a sort of holy cunning [sancta quadam vafricie]” necessary in the act of creating converts to Christianity. Indeed, in his Ratio verae theologiae (1519), Erasmus notes, “With how much cunning [vafricie] did not Paul play the chameleon, if I may say so 194 195


Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox

When playing with paradox, Shakespeare seems to join forces with the young H al at the end of 1 Henry IV, who tells the counterfeiting F alstaff: “F or my part, if a lie may do thee grace, / I’ll gild it with the happiest terms I have” (5.4.150– 51). “Heavenly fraud,” “holy cozenage,” “holy cunning,” grace-ful lying— Shakespeare’s theater is constituted by this type of paradox: truly transforming with happy terms while it falsely deceives and gilds. A nd it goes the other way too: for if drama is paradoxical, the paradox is also dramatic. Paradox requires an audience, a listener, a reader in order to resonate; those who encounter paradox are both witnesses and players. Paradox resembles theater, then, as described by the chorus in Shakespeare’s Henry V: it must “on your imaginary forces work,” but it also requires that the audience “piece out our imperfections with your thoughts ..., / For ’tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings” (1.cho.18, 23, 28). Paradox and theater both work on and require work from their audience if they are to be fully realized, if their power is to be fully released. In the nexus of paradox and playing that was the Shakespearean stage, we as readers, we as audience, through the heavenly fraud of Shakespeare’s secular theater, help create that which has fashioned us.

..., so that from all directions he might bring some gain to Christ?” (Des. Erasmi Roterodami opera omnia, ed. J. Leclerc [Leyden, 1703–], 5.98F, quoted and translated in Bietenholz, History and Biography in the Work of Erasmus of Rotterdam, 86). Stressing Erasmus’s claim that Christ resembled “Proteus” and “adjusted himself to those he wanted to pull over to himself” (Opera omnia, 5.94B and 5.97F), Bietenholz makes it clear that “Paul, above all, resembles his master by adjusting himself to various groups and individuals”: “Paul followed his Lord’s example when acting various roles to suit his varying audiences” (86–87).

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Index absolutism 109, 136 actors; see also boy actors audience as actor 144 duality of 11, 145, 146, 180 inHamlet 11, 153–64 inHenry V 149–53 paradoxes of acting 139–41, 144, 145–64, 165, 168, 182, 185, 188, 205 Adelman, Janet 91n103 All’s Well That Ends Well (Shakespeare) 15, 132n108 Alter, Jean 192 Altman, Joel 197n173 Ambassadors, The (Holbein) 2, 6 anamorphosis Antony and Cleopatra alludes to 2n4, 184 as encounter with uncanny 2n6 etymology of 2n5 inH olbein’s The Ambassadors 2, 6 intellectual power attributed to 27 L acan on 6, 6n20 The Merchant of Venice alludes to 2n4, 85 plays compared with 188 Shakespeare’s allusions to 2 and Twelfth Night 180 A ndrews, Mark E dwin113, 113n53 antifoundationalism 70 antinomies 8, 31, 48 antitheatricalism on audience transforming into actors 188–9 of H amlet 153–5, 160 of Jonson 176 on paradoxes of acting 141–2, 145–9 inTwelfth Night 179, 180 antithesis 29, 30 Antony and Cleopatra (Shakespeare) A ntony emasculated by Cleopatra 184–5 Cleopatra’s death 187–8 Cleopatra’s eulogy for A ntony 183, 188 Cleopatra’s paradoxical relationship to theatricality 187–8

paradox of the boy actor in11, 182–8 postmodernist view of self and world in161, 183–4 recovery of potential space in205n195 R ome and E gypt represent worldviews in186 Venus compared with Cleopatra 182–3 aporia 5, 8, 12 Archaeology of Knowledge, The (Foucault) 7 Archeion (Lambarde) 104n30, 108, 112 argument contra opinionem omnium 2–3, 17, 23–30 A ristotle 19, 44n88, 65, 96, 98–9, 111, 166, 167 A rmstrong, Paul B. 141n14 A rtaud, A ntonin140, 142, 151, 192, 203, 204 Arte of English Poesie, The (Puttenham) 12, 19, 81, 160n69 As You Like It (Shakespeare) “A ll the world’s a stage” 174–5 crucial strategy of plot 171 epilogue 175–6 heroine’s motivation 177 leaves us instate of uncertainty 177 paradox of the boy actor in11, 171–7 on poetry and paradox 16 R osalind as Ganymede 172–3, 174, 177 the self not lost inthe part 173–4 A shley, I. 69–70, 87 Ashworth, E.J. 32 A uden, W.H . 84 audience as beneficiaries of paradoxes of acting 188 communicants compared with 195–8 composition of E lizabethan 193 Munday on actors and spectators as equally guilty 11, 11n41, 189, 196 paradox of relationship of play and 11, 188–206 A verell, William 165n88 Babcock, Barbara 15n59 Bachelard, Gaston 59


Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox

Bacon, Sir F rancis 34n59, 80, 134n114 Baker, J.H. 108n41 Bakhtin, Mikhail 15n55, 43–5, 47, 51 Baltrušaitis, Jurgis 2, 27 Barber, C.L . 78 Barish, Jonas 141n13 Barkan, L eonard 12, 12n43, 50n101 Barnaby, A ndrew 131 Bartels, E mily 90n98, 91n103 Barthes, R oland 52, 53–5, 55n112 Bartholomew Fair (Jonson) 160n69 Barton, A nne 153n51 Basilikon Doron (James VI and I) 110, 117n69 Bate, Jonathan 46n92, 51n104, 126n89 Beaumont, F rancis 9, 19, 194n163 Belsey, Catherine 2n6, 58n3, 164, 165, 171 Bennett, R .E . 20n10 Berger, Harry, Jr. 116n65, 129, 203n192 Berggren, Paul S. 169n99 Berlin, Isaiah 78 Bernthal, Craig 131n105 Bhabha, H omi 65n27 Bietenholz, Peter B. 206n196 Bingham, L aura 129n98 Bishop, T homas 50n101 Blank, Paula 11n40, 137n123 Blurt master-constable (Middleton) 172 Bly, Mary 169 Bodin, Jean 67, 103n27, 127n93 Bohr, N iels 8n28, 46 Booth, Stephen 153n53, 163n78 Boughner, D aniel C. 71n46 Bourdieu, Pierre 52–3 Bowen, Barbara 27n35 boy actors; see also cross-dressing (transvestism) inAntony and Cleopatra 11, 182–8 inAs You Like It 11, 171–7 double vision insuccess of 164, 170 foreground theatrical nature of gender 168–9 inOthello 169–70 paradox of 11, 164–71 inTwelfth Night 11, 177–82 as visual pun 169 Bradshaw, Graham 120n78, 122n83 Bray, A lan 172 Brecht, Bertolt 196n170

Bredvold, L ouis 19 Breitenberg, Mark 164n83 “Breuiate of the H istory & liues of the Venetian Princes” (Lewkenor) 73 Bristol, Michael 47 Brockbank, J.P. 115 Brooke, George 133 Brooks, Cleanth 40 Browne, Sir T homas 37 Buci-Glucksmann, Christine 6n21 Bullokar, John 27n34 Burgess, Glen 109n43 Butler, Judith 168–9 Bye Plot 133 Calvin, John 9, 36–7, 105, 119 Cambyses, King of Persia (Preston) 147n36 Carleton, D udley 133–5 carnivalesque, the 43, 45, 47 Carpaccio, Vittore 62 Castiglione, Baldassare 21 Castle of Perseverance, The 118n69 casuistry 102, 103 Cecil, Sir R obert 134n113 CertainEpistles (Daniel) 117–19 Chancery, court of 110–11, 114 Christianity Calvin9, 36–7, 105, 119 E rasmus 34, 37–8 on letter and spirit of law 103, 103n25 L uther 9, 38, 38n71 Matthew, chapter 7 116–17, 131 paradox in8–9, 18, 22, 34–40 St. Paul 36–7, 95, 205n196 Christianson, Paul 109n43 Cicero 2, 10, 17, 19, 23, 30, 30n43, 96n2 Cixous, H élène 143n25 Clark, Sandra 169n99 Clark, Stuart 28–30, 34, 35n63, 147n37, 180n127, 201n186 Cobham, L ord 133, 134 Cocke, John 141, 146 Cohen, Stephen A . 109n42, 113n53, 121n80, 125, 127n94, 136n121 Cohen, Walter 77 Coke, Sir E dmund 110, 111 Cole, D avid 142 Coleridge, Samuel T aylor 49

Index Colie, R osalie on epidemic of paradoxy 19 on essence of paradox 13 on paradox and audience 182 on paradox and commitment 13, 14, 14n53 on paradox and wonder 20 on paradox as involved indialectic 5, 19, 48 on paradox revealing new orthodoxy 27 Paradoxia Epidemica 5, 19 quietism attributed to 13, 47–8 seen as defusing paradox 13n50 seen as overemphasizing paradox 7–8 and Silenus box 38 on The Winter’s Tale 200n182 Collinson, Patrick 35 Comedy of Errors, The (Shakespeare) 12–13, 95, 136 Commentaries, The, or Reports of Edmund Plowden 106 common law 110, 123 Common Player, A (Cocke) 141, 146 Commonwealth and Gouernment of Venice, The (Contarini) E nglish translation of 9 on merchandise available inVenice 64, 74 on mixed government inVenice 65–6 Othello and view of Venice of 10 poems that introduce L ewkenor’s translation of 68–70 on political unity of Venice 66–7 on reconciliation of opposites inVenice 64 Shakespeare as familiar with 71, 73 on situation of Venice 62–3 Venetian instability and writing of 73 on Venice as marvelous 61–2 Commynes, Philippe de 61 conscience 102, 103, 105, 157, 158 Contarini, Gasparo see Commonwealth and Gouernment of Venice, The (Contarini) contrariety Cusanus’s formulation of 70 as early modern term for paradox 3, 19 pervasiveness of language of 28–9, 30, 34 inR enaissance paradox 17 inShakespeare’s plays 3


Conversos 84–5 Cope, Jackson I. 192n155 Corbet, R ichard 170n101 2 Corinthians 6 103, 103n25 Coriolanus (Shakespeare) 46n91 Cornwallis, Sir William 26, 26n30 Coryate, T homas 57n2, 61, 61n17, 62, 64, 67, 91 Cressy, D avid 169n99, 171n105 Crockett, Bryan 9, 14n52, 35, 36 cross-dressing (transvestism) inAntony and Cleopatra 182–8 anxiety about ambivalence incontroversy about 164n83 foregrounds instability of selfhood and the world 164–5 foregrounds theatrical nature of gender 168–9 monstrosity associated with 165n88 as plague 191n150 inTwelfth Night 177–82 inAs You Like It 171–7 Crosse, H enry 189n141 Crouzet-Pavan, Elisabeth 58n4, 60n14, 61, 66, 72n52, 75, 80 Culler, Jonathan 40n76, 51 Cusanus, N icholas 70 Cymbeline (Shakespeare) 201 Cyprus 72, 92 D aniel, Samuel 117–19 D anson, L awrence 76, 115, 115n57 D avis, Philip 46n91 D awson, A nthony B. 136n121, 195n164, 196–8, 198n174, 199 de Man, Paul 5n16, 40, 51 De Republica Anglorum (Smith) 100 De venetis magistratibus (Sabellico) 67 de Vivo, F ilippo 60n15 deconstruction 51–2, 51n104 Defence of Contraries, The (Munday) 23, 24, 24n23, 24n25 Derrida, Jacques 5–6, 10n38, 42, 51–2, 106n34 D esmet, Christy 130n101 Dialogic Imagination, The (Bakhtin) 43, 45 dialogization 43–4, 45 Diamond, Elin143, 160n69 D iderot, D enis 139–40, 145–6


Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox

D iehl, H uston 15n57, 119, 120 Discourse of Conscience, A (Perkins) 103 “D ivine Paradox, The” (anonymous) 36, 37 Donne, John 12, 14n53, 20n10, 23, 25–6, 27 D ornavius, Caspar 20n10 doubleness of actors 11, 145, 146, 180 inAntony and Cleopatra 184, 185, 186–7 Bakhtinon 43, 44, 45 boy actors and double vision 164, 170 cognitive growth results from 4, 8 inThe Comedy of Errors 95 E rasmus and 38, 39 as essence of paradox 13 of Ganymede 173 of H amlet 155, 160 inHenry V 150, 152 injestbooks 34 inMeasure for Measure 128 inThe Merchant of Venice 81 inmimesis 143 of O thello 86, 88, 89, 91–2, 92n105 as political fence-sitting 12, 48, 49 R enaissance fascination with 6 of rhetorical figures 87 inTwelfth Night 2, 179–80 of Venice 10, 59–60, 62, 70, 71, 74, 76, 92 D ouglas, Mary 166n89 doxa Barthes on 52, 53–5 Bourdieu on 52–3 doxon inetymology of paradox 2–3 Dusinberre, Juliet 170n102 E agleton, T erry 144, 154, 161, 162, 183, 202n190 Earl of Oxford’s Case (1616) 110–11, 113, 113n53 ecclesiastical courts 123 E .D . 26 E den, K athy 136 E gypt 186 E lam, K eir 140, 175n118, 178n124, 191n149 E liade, Mircea 70n42 E liot, T .S. 144n28 Elizabeth I, Queen 109n42

E llesmere, T homas E gerton, L ord 110–11, 111n47, 113, 113n53, 117, 118 E lmes, H enry 69 E lton, William 4n12 E mpson, William 1n2, 46n92 encomium, mock 20–23, 33, 52n108 E ngle, L ars 15n58, 131n106 Epieikeia: A Dialogue on Equity inThree Parts (Hake) 107 Epieikeia: or, A treatise of Christian Equitie and moderation (Perkins) 103–4, 117n69 E pimenides 30 epistemology Buckingham on being and knowing 139 paradox related to 19–20, 87 paradox reveals limits of knowledge 15 performance inaccommodating epistemological change 192 place linked to 59 equity 95–137 accommodative power of 136 A ristotle on 98–9 casuistry and 102 D errida on problem of 10n38, 106n34 ecclesiastical courts focus on 123 empathy-inspired 125 and fiction and imaginative possibility 96–7, 135–6 flexibility of 10, 97, 97n7, 105 justice corrected by 98–9, 104 King James on 109–12, 115, 119, 121, 127 inMeasure for Measure (Shakespeare) 10, 11, 97, 115–37 as measuring the incommensurable 11, 95, 97, 99, 108, 111 inThe Merchant of Venice 10–11, 112–15 mercy and 104 as paradoxical 10, 95–6 inpardon of Bye Plot conspirators 133–5 positive law and 96n4, 99, 100, 101–12 private 104 Saint German on 100–102 theatricality of 133–5 E rasmus, D esiderius on holy cunning 205n196 on paradoxes disturbing Christianity 34

Index paradoxical approach to Christianity of 37–8 on predestination 9 Summum jus, summa injuria 10n39 on tolerating uncertainties 14 works The Free Will 37–8 The Praise of Folly 16n61, 21–3, 30n42, 31n47, 39 “T he Sileni of A lcibiades” 38–9 E stienne, Charles 23 E ubulides 30 E vans, Malcolm 170n103 Every Man out of His Humour (Jonson) 176 Excellent Actor, An (Webster) 146–7 Faerie Queene (Spenser) 96n5, 112 F eatley, D aniel 39 F enton, Geoffrey 72n53 F eyerabend, Paul 13 Fineman, Joel 52n108 F ink, E ugen 140 F inlay, R obert 66n30 Fletcher, John 9, 19, 194n163 Florio, John 19, 172 F ortier, Mark 96n4, 97–8, 97n7, 115n57 F oucault, Michel 7, 22n17, 59, 60 F ranck, Sebastian 18n3, 22n17, 34, 38n74 Free Will, The (Erasmus) 37–8 “From Work to Text” (Barthes) 54 Gadamer, Hans-Georg 96 Gaeta, F ranco 67 Galen 166, 167 Galileo 8n30 Gallagher, L owell 96, 96n5, 98n10, 102 Garden of Eloquence, The (Peacham) 17–18, 18n2 Geertz, Clifford 7 gender inAntony and Cleopatra 184–6 inAs You Like It 172, 173, 174, 175 boy actors foreground theatrical nature of 168–9 historicizing sex and 166–8 theatrical cross-dressing disrupts 164–5 inTwelfth Night 177 Geneva Bible, The 116–17 Gentili, A lberico 146


Gerson, Jean 100n14, 102 Gillies, John 71 Goldberg, Jonathan 68–9, 70–71 Goldman, Michael 119n71, 158n63 Goldstein, R ebecca 32 Gosson, Stephen 141, 147, 149n45, 165, 205 Grady, H ugh 16n62 Gras, H enk 144n29 Green, John 191 Greenblatt, Stephen 6n17, 13, 79, 81, 92n104, 130, 167–8, 181n128, 203n191 Grey, L ord 133, 134 Grootenboer, H anneke 2n5, 6n18 Grotius, H ugo 97n6, 108n38 Guazzo, Stefano 25n27 Guicciardini, F rancesco 72n53 Gurr, A ndrew 148n42 Guy, John 100n14 H ake, E dward 106n34, 107–8 H amilton, D onna B. 24n23 H amilton, Marci A . 115n62 Hamlet (Shakespeare) on beauty and honesty 27 “double-dealing poetics” of 160 H amlet as antitheatrical 153–5, 160 H amlet knows not “seems” 154, 155, 158, 161 H amlet’s doubleness 160 H amlet’s meditation on suicide 157–8 H amlet’s move to authorship 162–3 H amlet’s puns 153–4, 158 H amlet’s verbal clowning 159–60 hendiadys in154n55 movement from players’ world to real world in156–7 paradox as antinomy in8n29 paradoxes of acting in11, 153–64 the players 155–7, 159 play-within-the-play 161 postmodernist reading of H amlet 161 R osencrantz and Guildenstern 162, 163n77 Harington, John 146n35 H arrison, William 165n88 H arvey, Gabriel 25, 25n28 H attaway, Michael 175n114 H auser, A rnold 27n36 H awkes, D avid 23n20


Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox

H ayles, N ancy K . 177n123, 181n129 H azlitt, William 1n3 hendiadys 154n55 Henriad; see also Henry V (Shakespeare) audience participation in197n173 duality of the actor in11 1 Henry IV (Shakespeare) 149–50, 206 2 Henry IV (Shakespeare) 150, 152 Henry V (Shakespeare) on audience imagination intheater 206 audience participation in197n173, 198n174 epilogue 152 paradoxes of acting in149–53 turn toward comedy inact 5 152 1 Henry VI (Shakespeare) 17, 78 H epburn, R onald W. 35n60 H eraclitus 34n58 H erbages, A lfred 193 heteroglossia 43–4, 45 H eywood, T homas 190–91, 190n146, 192, 196, 196n170 H ibbard, G.R . 157 Hic Mulier, or The Man-Woman (anonymous) 191n150 H ill, T racey 23n20, 24n25 H illman, D avid 154n56 history plays; see also H enriad decentering of E lizabethan principles in51n103 Histriomastix (Prynne) 148n39 H odges, D evon L . 13n50 H olbein, H ans 2, 6 H oldsworth, W.S. 108n41 H olquist, Michael 44 Honigmann, E.A.J. 193–4, 194n161 H ooker, R ichard 104–5, 107, 197, 201, 205n196 H orkheimer, Max 22n17 Howard, Jean 41, 175, 176n121, 191, 191n150, 201n184 H ughes, Peter 162n75 H umboldt, Wilhelm von 44n88 H uyssen, A ndreas 55n112 hybridity 65n27, 90n101 insolubilia 32–3 Institutio oratoria (Quintilian) 81, 149, 149n44

Iser, Wolfgang 15n59 Isidore of Seville 202 Jackson, Henry 169–70 Jackson, Ken 14n52 James VI and I, King Bye Plot conspirators pardoned by 133–5 on equity 109–12, 115, 119, 121, 127 on knowledge of falsehood and truth 29 works Basilikon Doron 110, 117n69 Lepanto 73n56 The Trew Law of Free Monarchies 109–10, 117n69 Jardine, Lisa 164, 172n107 Jenkins, Harold 159, 163, 163n79 jestbooks 33–4 Jew of Malta, The (Marlowe) 79 Jews Christian/Jew binary inThe Merchant of Venice 79 Conversos 84–5 paradoxical status of 9, 77 Venetian discrimination against 84n87 Johnson, Samuel 150 Jonson, Ben on actor’s self lost inpart 148, 148n43, 149n45, 185 as antitheatrical 176 Contarini read by 71, 71n46 “cross-wooing” opposed by 176–7 on Shakespeare making nature afraid 160, 160n69, 177 works Bartholomew Fair 160n69 Every Man out of His Humour 176 Panegyre 117n69 Timber: or, Discoveries 148, 148n43 Volpone 71, 71n46 Jordan, Constance 135 Jordan, William Chester 112 justice; see also equity A ngelo represents inMeasure for Measure 122 common law courts focus on 123 equity corrects 98–9, 104 versus mercy inMeasure for Measure 120, 124–6, 127, 131–2

Index inpardon of Bye Plot conspirators 133–4 tyranny due to lack of enforcing laws inMeasure for Measure 121–2, 130–31 K astan, D avid Scott 109n43 K atz, D avid 77 Keats, John 1, 1n3, 5, 14, 49 K enner, H ugh 92 K ermode, F rank 154, 161 Kernan, Alvin71–2, 200n181 K iernan, Pauline 144n30, 183n131, 200n182 K iffen, Maurice 69 K imbrough, R obert 175n114, 177n122, 181n128 K ing, Margaret 66, 67 King and No King, A (Beaumont and F letcher) 9, 19 King Lear (Shakespeare) equity and mercy in112 functional shift in46n91 L ando paradox in23 L ear and Gloucester as “singletons” 78 Knapp, Jeffrey 14, 37, 195n165, 197n173, 205n196 K neale, Martha 32 K neale, William 32 K night, G. Wilson 114n53, 119, 119n73 K night, W. N icholas 113–14 K nolles, R ichard 72 K uhn, T homas 8n30 L a Primaudaye, Pierre de 148, 159 Lacan, Jacques 6, 6n20 L aCapra, D ominick 43–4 Lacoue-Labarthe, Philippe 3, 142 L ake, Peter 35, 121n79, 123n86, 127n90, 127n91, 129n99, 147–8 L ambarde, William 104n30, 108, 112 L ando, O rtensio 23, 24–5 L ane, F rederic C. 72n53 L aqueur, T homas 166–8 laughter 33–4 law; see also equity; justice Chancery court 110–11, 114 common 110, 123 equity’s relationship to 96n4, 99, 100, 101–12 letter versus spirit 103


L awlor, L eonard 106n34 L awson, H ilary 42 L eibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm 44n88, 54 L ell, Gordon 172 L emnius 148 L epanto, Battle of 73 Lepanto (James VI and I) 73n56 L evao, R onald 141n13 Lever, J.W. 116, 122n82 L everenz, D avid 158n62 L evin, H arry 153 L evine, L aura 149 Levith, Murray J. 72n48, 74n61, 92 L ewkenor, L ewes Contarini’s The Commonwealth and Gouernment of Venice translated by 9 Othello and view of Venice of 10 poems that introduce translation of Contarini of 68–70 on Venice as marvelous 61, 63 L iar Paradox 30–33, 34, 48 liminality of Caliban 202 of Claudio and Juliet’s marriage 123n86 of drama 142 of Jews 77 Venice as liminal site 9–10, 72–3, 74 L indley, D avid 119, 122 Lion of St. Mark (Carpaccio) 62 literary-rhetorical paradoxes 19–30, 31–2 locus 144 L odge, T homas 172 logical paradoxes 30–34 L oomba, A nia 89n98 Love’s Labor’s Lost (Shakespeare) 200n181 L uhmann, N iklas 27–8, 41–2, 42n81, 43, 51 Luke 6:36–42 117n66 Lupton, Julia Reinhard 58n4, 92n104, 93n113, 199n179, 200n183 L uther, Martin9, 38, 38n71 Lyly, John 194n160 Lyons, John D. 142–3, 160n69 McA lindon, T homas 48n96 McCutchan, J. Wilson 118n69 Macdonald, R uss 188n137 Mackenney, R ichard 59n8 Maclean, Ian 97, 97n8, 111


Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox

McL uskie, K athleen 127n92 McPherson, D avid 71, 73, 84n87 “Madness and Society” (Foucault) 22n17 Malloch, A .E . 14, 26 Marcus, L eah 127n94 marital precontracts 123 Markham, Sir Griff�in133 Marlowe, Christopher 79 Marotti, A rthur F . 14n52 Matheson, Mark 71n46 Matthew 7:2–5 116–17, 131 Maus, K atharine E isaman 93 Mayne, Jasper 205n196 Measure for Measure (Shakespeare) ambiguity and paradox of Claudio’s crime 123–4 A ngelo represents letter of law 122 deceptive behavior of D uke 122 D uke as playwright 128 D uke’s plot to save Claudio and reunite A ngelo and Mariana 126–32 D uke’s seemingly equitable gestures 119, 120, 126–7, 129–32, 137 ending of 132, 137 equity in10, 11, 97, 115–37 failure of equity in136 Isabella and A ngelo as “singletons” 78 Isabella chooses letter of the law for Claudio 126, 132 Isabella’s paradoxical position indefending Claudio 124 Isabella’s plea for mercy for A ngelo 131–2 legal jurisdictions not divided 122–3 manufacturing providence 128–9 as open-ended 137 title phrase’s meaning 116–17 tyranny due to lack of enforcing laws inVienna 121–2, 130–31 who plays equitable role 120–21 Medvedev, P.N . 45 Merchant of Venice, The (Shakespeare) 74–86 anamorphosis alluded to 2n4, 85 antipathy and sympathy for Shylock in78 Basanio’s speech before he chooses the casket 81–3 Christian/Jew binary in79 ending of 85–6 E nglish reality and Venetian ideal in78

equity in10–11, 97, 112–15 failure of equity in136 harmonizing of opposites in76–7 Merchant/Usury binary in80–81 ornamentation in81–3 plainness as impossible inVenice of 10, 76 Portia’s speech on mercy 113–15, 131 Revenge/Mercy binary in79–80 Shylock as alien 84 Shylock as paradox 9, 77 Shylock as resistant to festivity 78 Shylock as “singleton” 78 Shylock rejects merciful option 114, 115 Shylock’s approach to the bond 83–4 Shylock’s conversion 84–5 Shylock’s plainness of language 83 singleness punished in83–4 skepticism toward rhetoric of 82 Staple Court and Shylock’s trial 113 stereotypes inportrayal of Shylock 78–9 value pluralism in78 Venetian decline and 73–4 Venice’s liminality and 72, 74 ventures connect two plots in76 wonder and paradox connected in57 mercy ecclesiastical courts focus on 123 equity and 104, 105 inMeasure for Measure 120, 124–6, 127, 131–2 Portia’s speech on 113–15, 131 R evenge/Mercy binary inThe Merchant of Venice 79–80 Shylock begs for 84 theatricality of 133 Midas (Lyly) 194n160 Middleton, T homas 12, 50, 49n99, 172 Midsummer Night’s Dream, A (Shakespeare) 136, 190n142, 200n181 Miller, D .A . 161n73 Miller, H enry K night 26n30, 26n31 Miller, J. Hillis 51 Milles, T homas 23 mimesis “cross-wooing” seen as violating 176–7

Index inHamlet 159n65, 160, 160n69, 160n70 paradoxes of 142–4 misrule 29 mock encomium 20–23, 33, 52n108 Moisan, T homas 80 monsters 202 Montaigne, Michel de 30, 42, 62 Montrose, L ouis 51, 51n103, 195, 198 Mooney, Michael 195n164 Muir, E dward 60n14 Munday, A nthony on actors and spectators as equally guilty 11, 11n41, 189, 196 The Defence of Contraries 23, 24, 24n23, 24n25 E stienne’s paradoxes translated by 23 as paradox 23n20 on paradox of acting 145 narcissism paradox connected with 12, 12n43 of Venice 69 N ardo, A nna K . 155–6, 161 N ashe, T homas 196, 196n170 Nealon, Jeffrey T. 5, 5n15, 51, 52 N eely, Carol T homas 86n93 N eill, Michael 90 N evil, T homas 25 N ew Criticism 40 N ew H istoricism 41 N ewman, K aren 89n97 Nichols, Stephen, Jr. 142–3, 160n69 N ietzsche, F riedrich 22n17, 42, 85 N orris, Christopher 51 N uttall, A .D . 117n67, 132 N ye, R obert A . 167 O ’Connell, Michael 199n178 Of Learned Ignorance (Cusanus) 70 Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity (Hooker) 104–5, 197, 205n196 “Of Usury” (Bacon) 80 Ong, Walter J. 37n68 O rgel, Stephen 40–41, 140, 158n64, 160n68, 170, 203n193 ornamentation 81–3 Orthodox Paradoxes (Venning) 35 Othello (Shakespeare) 86–93


boy actor plays D esdemona 169–70 Contarinian version of Venetian justice in10 death results from attempt to eradicate paradox 13 D esdemona and O thello turned into what they are not 89 D esdemona as true Venetian 87 D esdemona’s death 89, 92–3, 169–70 equity’s sense of possibility in136 functional shift in46n91 handkerchief story 90, 93 Iago represents and employs paradox 86–8 movement from Venice to Cyprus 71–2 O thello as hybrid 90n101 O thello as storyteller 91 O thello embodies problem of Venice 92 O thello’s death 92 O thello’s doubleness 86, 88, 89, 91–2, 92n105 Othello’s final story 91–2 O thello’s hatred of paradox and doubt 88 O thello’s language becomes paradoxical 89 O thello’s marginal status 89–91 symbolic geography of 71–2 unresolved problems in93 Venetian decline and 73–4 Venice’s liminality and setting of 72 Overthrow of Stage-Players, Th’ (Rainolds) 148–9 Palmer, H erbert 34n59 Palmer, K enneth 4n9 Panegyre (Jonson) 117n69 Panofsky, Erwin172n110 Paradossi cioè (Lando) 23 paradox; see also Shakespearean paradox of acting 139–41, 144, 145–64, 165, 168, 182, 185, 188, 205 of audience-play relationship 11, 188–206 of boy actors 11, 164–71 inChristianity 8–9, 18, 22, 34–40 conceptual change as result of 8, 26–7, 188 darker side of 28–9


Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox

deferral of commitment in13–14 as engaging 14–15 epistemology related to 19–20, 87 of equity 10, 95–137 etymology 2–3 extremity in3 L iar 30–33, 34, 48 limits of knowledge revealed by 15 literary-rhetorical 19–30 logical 30–34 of marriage 152 medieval versus R enaissance 32–3 of mimesis 142–4 our culture of 40–45 of person 196 inphysics 46 poetry’s connection with 15–16 political quietism associated with 12, 13, 24, 36, 47–52, 55n112 after poststructuralism 5–6 problem of 28 problems result from 11–13 Quine on types of 8 R enaissance culture of 1, 5–9, 17–55 Shakespeare’s drama infashioning culture of 11, 140 theater as paradoxical 4, 11, 139–206 of Venice 57–93 wonder associated with 12, 19–20 Paradox of Acting, The (Diderot) 139–40, 145–6 Paradoxa (Franck) 18n3, 22n17, 34 Paradoxa stoicorum (Cicero) 17, 23 Paradoxes and Problems (Donne) 20n10, 23, 25–6, 27 Paradoxia Epidemica (Colie) 5, 19 Park, K atharine 167 Parker, Patricia 60n12 Patrizi, F rancesco 19 Paul, St. 36–7, 95, 205n196 Peacham, H enry 172n110 Peacham, T homas 17–18, 18n2, 19, 21 Pericles (Shakespeare) 201 Perkins, William 103–4, 114, 117n69, 147 “person,” paradox of 196 Peter of Spain32 Peters, H elen 20n10 Pierce Penilesse (Nashe) 196 platea 144

Plato 95, 145, 172n110 Playfere, T homas 1 Plays Confuted inFive Actions (Gosson) 141, 147, 165 Plett, H einrich F . 4n9 Plowden, E dmund 96, 106, 106n33, 106n35, 107n36, 135 Pocock, J.G.A. 65 Pollock, Sir F rederick 112 Polybius 65, 69 Pope, E lizabeth Marie 117n66, 117n69 postmodernism 41, 70, 161 poststructuralism 5–6, 40, 42–3, 51–2 Poundstone, William 32 Praise of Folly, The (Erasmus) 16n61, 21–3, 30n42, 31n47, 39 Prall, Stuart 100 “Prayse of Nothing, The” (E.D.) 26 predestination 9 Prescott, A nne L ake 32–3 Preston, T homas 147n36 Promos and Cassandra (Whetstone) 128n97 Prynne, William 148n39, 149n45, 191 Puttenham, George 12, 19–20, 81, 87, 160n69 Questier, Michael 121n79, 123n86, 127n90, 127n91, 147–8 Quigley, AustinE. 141, 192 Quine, W.V. 8, 26–7, 28, 30, 31, 48, 188 Quintilian 81, 149, 149n44, 166 R abkin, N orman 2n3, 45–7, 76–7, 194–5, 195n164 R ackin, Phyllis 176 Rainolds, John on actor’s self lost inpart 148–9, 149n44, 158, 185 on audience transformation 149, 188–9, 189n139 debate with Gentili 146 on playgoing initiating chainof corruption 191 R apoport, A natol 32 R asch, William 41–2, 42n81, 55 Rastell, John 105–6, 106n33 Reflexivity: The Post-Modern Predicament (Lawson) 42 relativism 107, 108, 136

Index Religio Medici (Browne) 37 R enaissance culture of paradox 1, 5–9, 17–55 on doubleness, undecidability, and ambiguity 6 habitual magnetic poles in29 medieval insolubilia and paradoxes of 32–3 R escher, N icholas 32 Richard III (Shakespeare) 139 R idley, T homas 123, 135, 135n117 Roberts, James 77 R ome 186 Rosalynde (Lodge) 172 R ossiter, A .P. 1n3 R ouget, Michèle 188n137 Sabellico, Marcantonio 67 Saint German, Christopher 100–102, 107, 112, 135 St. German’s Doctor and Student 100, 100n15, 112 Salvianus 189, 189n141, 196 Sansovino, F rancesco 63 Saunders, H enry 112–13 Schanzer, E rnest 120 Schwartz, Murray 205n195 Sedgwick, E ve K osofsky 167n93 Selden, John 97n7, 103, 108, 136 self-reference 42 Sermon on the Mount 116 sex; see also gender historicizing gender and 166–8 theater seen as contaminating roles 191 theatrical cross-dressing disrupts sex differences 164–5 Shakespeare, William; see also Shakespearean paradox anamorphosis alluded to 2 as Catholic 49–50 characters and audiences placed inuncertainty, mystery, and doubt 2 meaning intexts of 16n62 as uncertainabout power of his art 204–5 Shakespeare Thinking (Davis) 46n91 Shakespearean paradox as agents of action and change 4 cognitive growth as result of 4, 8, 12–13 contemporary approaches to 45–55


increation of culture of paradox 11, 140 governing conditions of 13–16 Hermione as key-text of 201 means of operation of 3 as multivalent 13 inparticular plays All’s Well That Ends Well 15 Antony and Cleopatra 182–8 As You Like It 11, 16, 171–7 The Comedy of Errors 12–13, 95, 136 Hamlet 11, 27, 153–64 Henry V 149–53 King Lear 23 Measure for Measure 10, 11, 97, 115–37 The Merchant of Venice 9, 10–11, 57, 74–86, 97, 112–15 Othello 13, 86–93 The Tempest 11, 201–5 Troilus and Cressida 3–5 Twelfth Night 1, 2, 3, 4, 177–82 The Winter’s Tale 198–201 Shapiro, James 9, 77, 78, 84–5 Shapiro, Michael 169n99, 170, 173n112, 190n146 Shirley, James 194n163 Shuger, D ebora 137n122 Sidney, Sir Philip 16, 16n61, 190 “Sileni of Alcibiades, The” (Erasmus) 38–9 Sinfield, Alan 92n104 Skulsky, H arold 125 Skura, Meredith 198n175 Slights, Camille Wells 10n37, 86n93, 102 Slights, William W.E . 178n125 Smith, Sir T homas 100 Snow, E dward 92n105 Soja, E dward W. 59n7 Sokol, B.J. 112, 113n52, 115 Sokol, Mary 112, 115 Sommerville, Johann P. 109n43 Spade, Paul 32, 33 Spenser, E dmund 68–9, 87, 96n5, 112 Stallybrass, Peter 92n104, 151, 170 Stanley, F erdinando 24n23 Staple Court 112–13 Starobinski, Jean 161n73, 161 States, Bert O . 143, 164, 170, 192 Statesman (Plato) 95 Stevens, Paul 12, 13, 31, 40, 47–8, 65n27


Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox

Stoics 17 “Structure, Sign and Play inthe H uman Sciences” (Derrida) 42 Stubbes, Philip 147, 149n45, 165 Summulae Logicales (Peter of Spain) 32 Swynnerton, John 24 Symboleography (West) 103, 112 Sypher, Wylie 137n122 T anner, T ony 64n26 T aylor, Gary 12, 48–51, 49n97, 49n99, 52 T aylor, H olly 93n107 T aylor, Mark 156n58 Tempest, The (Shakespeare) audience’s role incompleting 11, 201–5 Caliban as paradoxical monster 202 epilogue 201–2, 203–5 pun on Miranda’s name 20n9 The Winter’s Tale contrasted with 201 T enenti, A lberto 70, 75 Termes de la Ley, Les (Rastell) 105–6 theater; see also actors; antitheatricalism; audience “A ll the world’s a stage” from As You Like It 174–5 Cleopatra’s paradoxical relationship to theatricality 187–8 drama as liminal 142 D uke’s theatricality inMeasure for Measure 122, 126, 128 paradoxes of 4, 11, 139–206 inpardon of Bye Plot conspirators 133–5 play-within-the-play inHamlet 161 relationship of audience and play 11, 188–206 “Theatrum Philosophicum” (Foucault) 7 T heobald, L ewis 83 T homas, K eith 33–4, 50n101 T homas, William 61, 62 T homas A quinas, St. 98n11 T homson, Peter 170 T humm, T heodor 147n37 Timber: or, Discoveries (Jonson) 148, 148n43 T oulmin, Stephen 7n26 transvestism see cross-dressing (transvestism) Treasurie of Auncient and Moderne Times, The (Milles) 23

“Treatise on Play, A” (Harington) 146n35 Trew Law of Free Monarchies, The (James VI and I) 109–10, 117n69 T rimpi, Wesley 135n115 Troilus and Cressida (Shakespeare) 3–5 True Tragedie of Richard the Third (anonymous) 139 T urner, Victor 72, 77, 89, 142, 166n89 Twelfth Night (Shakespeare) antitheatricalism in179, 180 A ntonio’s epistemological crisis 148n42, 179 ending 181–2 F este on doubleness of language 179–80 H amlet compared with Malvolio 160 heroine’s motivation 177–8 Malvolio as “singleton” 78, 180 Malvolio’s bitterness at end 4, 181, 182 Malvolio’s paradox 178n124 O rsino’s epistemological growth 92 O rsino’s “natural perspective that is and is not” 1, 2, 3, 4, 128n96, 180–81 paradox of the boy actor in11, 177–82 subtitle 182 twins add level of paradoxy 179 Viola/Cesario as paradoxical 178–9 usury 80–81 Vaughan, Virginia Mason 72n48, 89n97 Venetia città nobilissima (Sansovino) 63 Venice 57–93 as coincidentia oppositorum 60, 70 D esdemona as true Venetian 87 discrimination against Jews in84n87 doubleness of 10, 59–60, 62, 70, 71, 74, 76, 92 foreign languages spoken in57n2, 64 as heterotopia portrayed as utopia 59, 60 hybridity of 65n27 inbetweenness of 63–4 as liminal site 9–10, 72–3, 74 maritime decline of 72–3 as marvelous 61–3 mixed government in65–7 O thello embodies problem of 92

Index postmodern emphasis on dark side of 70–71 as site of paradox 58–74 unanimity sought in66 uncertainty of merchant ventures in74–5 as virgin69–70 Venning, R alph 35 Vickers, Brian 27 View of the Civile and Ecclesiastical Law, A (Ridley) 123, 135, 135n117 Vitkus, D aniel 72n50, 90n101, 92n104 Volpone (Jonson) 71, 71n46 Watson, R obert N . 119n73 Webster, John 146–7 Weimann, R obert 144, 145n33, 153n54, 159, 159n65, 160, 160n69, 193n159, 195, 203n193 Wells, R obinH eadlam 78, 149n45 Well-Wrought Urn, The (Brooks) 40 West, William 103, 112 Whetstone, George 128n97 Whole Treatise of the Cases of Conscience, The (Perkins) 103, 147 Wilde, O scar 12


Wiley, Margaret L . 60n16 Willems, Michèle 36, 36n65 Williams, R aymond 6 Willymat, William 117n69 Wilson, L uke 98n10, 129n100, 136n120 Winnicott, D .W. 140n8, 205, 205n195 Winter’s Tale, The (Shakespeare) audience sacramental participation in11, 198–201 Hermione as key-text of Shakespearean paradox 201 rite of communion at end 199, 200–201 Worlde of Wordes, A (Florio) 19, 172 Wotton, Sir H enry 59n11 Wright, George T . 154n55 Wright, T homas 189–90 Wry, Joan 131 X enophon 172n110 Yachnin, Paul 13, 51n103, 195n164 Yates, F rances 7–8, 31, 38 Zeeveld, W. Gordon 117n68 Zeno’s paradoxes 30, 31–2