Shame in Shakespeare (Accents on Shakespeare)

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Shame in Shakespeare (Accents on Shakespeare)

ACCENTS ON SHAKESPEARE General Editor: TERENCE HAWKES Shame in Shakespeare One of the most intense and painful of our

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Shame in Shakespeare

One of the most intense and painful of our human passions, shame is typically seen in contemporary culture as a disability or a disease to be cured. Shakespeare’s ultimately positive portrayal of the emotion challenges this view. Drawing on philosophers and theorists of shame, Shame in Shakespeare analyses the shame and humiliation suffered by the tragic hero, providing not only a new approach to Shakespeare but a committed and provocative argument for reclaiming shame. The volume provides: • • • • •

an account of previous traditions of shame and of the Renaissance context a thematic map of the rich manifestations of both masculine and feminine shame in Shakespeare detailed readings of Hamlet, Othello, and King Lear an analysis of the limitations of Roman shame in Antony and Cleopatra and Coriolanus a polemical discussion of the fortunes of shame in modern literature after Shakespeare.

The book presents a Shakespearean vision of shame as the way to the world outside the self. It establishes the continued vitality and relevance of Shakespeare and offers a fresh and exciting way of seeing his tragedies. Ewan Fernie is Lecturer in English at the Queen’s University of Belfast. He is the author of several articles on Renaissance literature and culture.

ACCENTS ON SHAKESPEARE General Editor: TERENCE HAWKES It is more than twenty years since the New Accents series helped to establish ‘theory’ as a fundamental and continuing feature of the study of literature at the undergraduate level. Since then, the need for short, powerful ‘cutting edge’ accounts of and comments on new developments has increased sharply. In the case of Shakespeare, books with this sort of focus have not been readily available. Accents on Shakespeare aims to supply them. Accents on Shakespeare volumes will either ‘apply’ theory, or broaden and adapt it in order to connect with concrete teaching concerns. In the process, they will also reflect and engage with the major developments in Shakespeare studies of the last ten years. The series will lead as well as follow. In pursuit of this goal it will be a twotiered series. In addition to affordable, ‘adoptable’ titles aimed at modular undergraduate courses, it will include a number of research-based books. Spirited and committed, these second-tier volumes advocate radical change rather than stolidly reinforcing the status quo. IN THE SAME SERIES Shame in Shakespeare Ewan Fernie Shakespeare and Appropriation Edited by Christy Desmet and Robert Sawyer Shakespeare Without Women Dympna Callaghan Philosophical Shakespeares Edited by John J. Joughin Shakespeare and Modernity: Early Modern to Millennium Edited by Hugh Grady Marxist Shakespeares Edited by Jean E. Howard and Scott Cutler Shershow Shakespeare in Psychoanalysis Philip Armstrong Shakespeare and Modern Theatre: The Performance of Modernity Edited by Michael Bristol and Kathleen McLuskie Shakespeare and Feminist Performance: Ideology on Stage Sarah Werner

Shame in Shakespeare EWAN FERNIE

London and New York

First published 2002 by Routledge 11 New Fetter Lane, London EC4P 4EE Simultaneously published in the USA and Canada by Routledge 29 West 35th Street, New York, NY 10001 Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group This edition published in the Taylor & Francis e-Library, 2005. “To purchase your own copy of this or any of Taylor & Francis or Routledge’s collection of thousands of eBooks please go to” © 2002 Ewan Fernie All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilized in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers.

British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data Fernie, Ewan, 1971– Shame in Shakespeare / Ewan Fernie. p. cm. – (Accents on Shakespeare) Includes bibliographical references and index. 1. Shakespeare, William, 1564–1616–Tragedies. 2. Shakespeare, William, 1564–1616–Views on shame. 3. Shame in literature. 4. Tragedy. I. Title. II. Series.

PR2983 .F47 2002 822.3’3–dc21


ISBN 0-203-99674-7 Master e-book ISBN

ISBN 0–415–25827–8 (hbk) ISBN 0–415–25828–6 (pbk)

For Colin Manlove, Je remy Newton and Deanna Fer nie

Shame need not crouch In such an earth as ours; Shame, stand erect, The universe is yours! Emily Dickinson Many of Shakespeare’s characters, it is true, are constrained to take stock of things of which they are bitterly ashamed. L.C. Knights


General editor’s preface Acknowledgements

ix xi





Shame before Shakespeare



Shame in the Renaissance



Shame in Shakespeare









King Lear



Antony and Cleopatra and Coriolanus





Notes References Index

247 255 265

General editor’s preface

In our century, the field of literary studies has rarely been a settled, tranquil place. Indeed, for over two decades, the clash of opposed theories, prejudices and points of view has made it more of a battlefield. Echoing across its most beleaguered terrain, the student’s weary complaint ‘Why can’t I just pick up Shakespeare’s plays and read them?’ seems to demand a sympathetic response. Nevertheless, we know that modern spectacles will always impose their own particular characteristics on the vision of those who unthinkingly don them. This must mean, at the very least, that an apparently simple confrontation with, or pious contemplation of, the text of a 400-year-old play can scarcely supply the grounding for an adequate response to its complex demands. For this reason, a transfer of emphasis from ‘text’ towards ‘context’ has increasingly been the concern of critics and scholars since World War II: a tendency that has perhaps reached its climax in more recent movements such as new historicism or cultural materialism. A consideration of the conditions – social, political or economic – within which the play came to exist, from which it derives and to which it speaks, will certainly make legitimate demands on the attention of any well-prepared student nowadays. Of course, the serious pursuit of those interests will also inevitably start to undermine ancient and inherited prejudices, such as the supposed distinction between ‘foreground’ and ‘background’ in literary studies. And even the slightest awareness of the pressures of gender and of race, or the most cursory glance at the role played by that strange creature


General editor’s preface

‘Shakespeare’ in our cultural politics, will reinforce a similar turn towards questions that sometimes appear scandalously ‘non-literary’. It seems clear that very different and unsettling notions of the ways in which literature might be addressed can hardly be avoided. The worrying truth is that nobody can just pick up Shakespeare’s plays and read them. Perhaps – even more worrying – they never could. The aim of Accents on Shakespeare is to encourage students and teachers to explore the implications of this situation by means of an engagement with the major developments in Shakespeare studies over recent years. It will offer a continuing and challenging reflection on those ideas through a series of multi- and single-author books which will also supply the basis for adapting or augmenting them in the light of changing concerns. Accents on Shakespeare intends to lead as well as follow. In pursuit of this goal, the series will operate on more than one level. In addition to titles aimed at modular undergraduate courses, it will include a number of books embodying polemical, strongly argued cases aimed at expanding the horizons of a specific aspect of the subject and at challenging the preconceptions on which it is based. These volumes will not be learned ‘monographs’ in any traditional sense. They will, it is hoped, offer a platform for the work of the liveliest younger scholars and teachers at their most outspoken and provocative. Committed and contentious, they will be reporting from the forefront of current critical activity and will have something new to say. The fact that each book in the series promises a Shakespeare inflected in terms of a specific urgency should ensure that, in the present as in the recent past, the accent will be on change. Terence Hawkes


An earlier version of Chapter 6 was published in The Cambridge Quarterly 28 (1). The material is reprinted by kind permission of Oxford University Press. I am also grateful to Professor Werner Gundersheimer for permission to quote from his (currently unpublished) translation of Pocaterra’s Due dialogi della vergogna. Colin Manlove suggested the subject, reading and commenting on much preparatory work. He has been a main inspiration for ten years now. Sarah Brown and Neil Rhodes made salutary comments and suggestions, as did Jerry Brotton, Martin Dodsworth, Ian Donaldson, Tom McAlindon and Boika Sokolova. Michael Alexander had a shaping influence, as did Kiernan Ryan. I have been sustained by Kiernan’s hearty support for the book. I have also been fortunate in my Renaissance colleagues at the Queen’s University of Belfast: Mark Thornton Burnett, Clare McManus and Ramona Wray. Mark deserves special mention for reading and responding to most of my chapters. Gail Kern Paster was kind enough to discuss my work with me on a visit to the Folger Shakespeare Library. Elizabeth Brake, Stephen Kelly, Kevin Mulligan and Alex Neill each talked or corresponded with me about shame from their diverse philosophical perspectives. I am grateful to Terence Hawkes and Talia Rogers for their enthusiasm for and commitment to the project, and to Liz Thompson, Rebecca Dear, Ruth Graham and everyone at Routledge for their efficiency and good cheer. Terry has been an exemplary and a charming editor. Private friends and family have also had a decisive input. Writing the book has been easier and more pleasurable for the



intellectual help and friendship of particularly Harry Acton, Mark Cullum and Rana Haddad. Jeremy Newton has been one of my most valued advisers. I am grateful to my parents, Rab and Heather Fernie, and to my brother, Ally Fernie, who procured for me a couple of pertinent books. My wife, Deanna Fernie, has been dearly supportive, editorial and inspirational.

1 Introduction

Shame is among the most intense and painful of our human passions. It is also one of the most interestingly ambiguous; for although it can inhibit, constrain and even destroy a person, it can also cause them to reform and begin a new life. This book aims to reveal a constant preoccupation, even an obsession, with shame in the work of William Shakespeare.1 It presents a Shakespearean vision of shame as a painful rehearsal for the dissolution of death or an experience of dreadful metamorphosis, and yet ultimately also a liberation from the illusions of pride into truth. Shakespearean shame turns out to be the way to relationship with the world outside the self. This positive recommendation of shame is contrasted with the dominant contemporary view, fostered by psychotherapy, of shame as a disease to be cured. An informed reading of Shakespeare has much to offer us in our current understanding of shame and what is shameful within and around us. The pattern of breakdown followed by renewed relationship with the world is very pertinent to our time, when so many suffer from psychological turmoil and collapse.2 Can shame, the very thing we are most scared of, be at the same time the source of an answer? Do we then deny it at our peril?



Shakespeare uses the word ‘shame’ 344 times and the word ‘guilt’ only 33 times (Spevack 1968). Striking instances of Shakespearean shame include the Mozartian sequence of hiding and exposure in Love’s Labour’s Lost; Richard II shattering his mirror-image into ‘an hundred shivers’ (Richard II, 4.1.287–90) in a paroxysm of self-disgust; and Antony wistfully comparing the evanescent formations of the clouds with his own dissipated selfhood. But it would be impossible to convey the full vitality and scope of this neglected motif in short form; as we shall see, it enlivens and suffuses all of Shakespeare’s work. With notable exceptions, such as Sartre and Scheler, shame has been largely neglected by intellectuals. But Helen Merell Lynd’s On Shame and the Search for Identity (1958) remains a classic treatment, as does Carl Schneider’s Shame, Exposure and Privacy (1992; first published 1977), while philosophical books such as Gabriele Taylor’s Pride, Shame and Guilt (1985) and Bernard Williams’s Shame and Necessity (1993) evince new interest in the subject. Although little has been written on literary shame, this is changing also. Seminal studies of the related phenomenon of embarrassment include Christopher Ricks’s Keats and Embarrassment (1974) and Thomas R. Edwards’s ‘Embarrassed by Jane Austen’ (1987). The success of 1997’s The Shameful Life of Salvador Dalí by Ian Gibson, which proposes shame as the biographical key to the surrealist painter, proves the popular potential of the subject. So too does a spate of articles in the UK national press, such as the Independent on Sunday’s piece on ‘The hero who died of shame’: footballing legend Hughie Gallagher.3 Nor is this appeal surprising if we consider that shame is a powerful experience, of which only the pathologically shameless remain ignorant, and a much less hackneyed subject than, say, love or death. As a culture we are perhaps now remembering shame. This is partly because of the spiritual bankruptcy of late capitalism. Increasingly omnipresent in a more and more ‘virtual’ world, advertising serves its own ends (and those of its masters) by creating, stimulating and exploiting shameless desire; the Marxist thinker Theodor Adorno memorably saw this as putting psychoanalysis in reverse, aiming at wholesale replacement of the Ego by the Id. Contemporary art is often brazenly sensationalist, to the point that a recent high-profile exhibition was simply entitled ‘Sensation’. Disgraced politicians, most notably



in recent years President Clinton, will not resign. Yet there is evidence of a revulsion from shamelessness. Considering, say, a Damien Hirst or a Tracey Emin, not a few of our contemporaries would concur with the Nietzsche who, as Schneider observes, said that: there is nothing about so-called educated people and believers in ‘modern ideas’ that is so nauseous as their lack of modesty and the uncomfortable insolence of their eyes and hands. (Nietzsche 1963: 213; quoted in Schneider 1992: 13) Roger Shattuck has written a luminous and best-selling book arguing for the reinstatement of the concept of ‘forbidden knowledge’ (Shattuck 1997); Roger Scruton, following Scheler, has written on the creative role shame plays in the sphere of sexual desire (Scruton 1986). As we shall see in the concluding chapter, there is a strain of contemporary fiction that reinstates shame, including Salman Rushdie’s Shame (1983) and J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace, winner of the 1999 Booker Prize. It is also becoming apparent that, although it is denied and derided as oppression or inhibition, shame has not been eradicated. The tabloids make sufficiently plain a lust for the shaming of others. Following an Australian initiative, Eire’s National Safety Council and Britain’s Department of the Environment’s Christmas 2000 campaign against drinking and driving was called ‘Shame’, and sought to stimulate the prospective sense of moral shame of every driver, showing on cinema and TV screens footage of a small child mown down in his own backyard. Perhaps more often than not our culture seems morally shameless, yet the amoral shame of loss of status and sheer humiliation would seem to have reached epidemic proportions. As Oliver James has argued in Britain on the Couch (1998), advertising and the media compel ideals of the self which are difficult to attain and impossible to maintain, as well as being ultimately unsatisfying. Our streets are, therefore, full of people who feel deformed, degraded or simply a failure. Many break down into serious depression and a state of alienation from their own selves and lives; this is worsened by the fact that shame and depression are themselves regarded as failure. An obscure hunger for shame is curiously



evidenced by the phenomenon of the TV confession, as in, for instance, The Jerry Springer Show, which turns shame into ratings in a technological version of the Last Judgement, when the soul stands naked before all. Given the state of literary criticism ‘after theory’, it is perhaps worth saying that this book, though it draws on poststructuralist ethics and the proliferation of new historicist work in early modern studies, emerges less from a committed critical position than from direct engagement with Shakespeare’s text. In this respect, it represents a polemical intervention in favour of the new turn in criticism towards empiricism and the aesthetic.4 In particular, it casts light on the major tragedies, offering fresh readings of Hamlet, Othello and King Lear. Far from accepting this effort towards critical objectivity as politically irresponsible, I see it as attempting exactly that rigorous concession to otherness which is the foundation of justice. It is unnecessary to point out, I hope, that I do not think that any one of Shakespeare’s plays is just about shame. Many other concerns are evident: as a dynamic and a variable experience, literature has the power to generate a multiplicity of responses and interpretations. True criticism is a responsive but contingent conversation; scientific objectivity is neither achievable nor desirable. Thus even the same reader will not experience the same text in quite the same way twice; in the case of Shakespearean drama, there is a more complex interaction that also includes those who put the play on in the theatre. Yet it is precisely this unpredictable power – even, and sometimes especially, in the radical and postmodern academy – which the forces of academic consensus threaten to dam up. In its unfamiliar emphasis, this book is a testimony to the resistant, kaleidoscopic vitality of literature, and of Shakespeare especially. It is a particular revelation of Shakespeare’s work and a provisional one, but that is as it should be, for literature is a living process. Which is not to say that literature ultimately means nothing for certain, but rather that while it remains worth reading literature always means more. I hope that in the following pages I shall show that shame is objectively ‘there’ in Shakespeare, and that Shakespeare’s vision of shame is of real significance and value, but I also hope that the effect of this will be to surprise my readers into fresh relationship with Shakespeare’s text and to set their minds moving in different as well as similar directions.



It will be apparent that – even though a student of much of the current literature could be forgiven for thinking that shame went out with the warrior code, and some anthropologists treat it as a curiosity of life in, say, Japan or rural Andalucía – Shame in Shakespeare is written out of a passionate conviction of shame’s importance. Salman Rushdie says that to address the topic he had to ‘go back East’ (Rushdie 1983: 116), but in fact we in the modern West are still ashamed and not infrequently of the same sort of thing that shamed our forebears. As Rushdie puts it, ‘Shame, dear reader, is not the exclusive property of the East’ (ibid.: 29). What has changed is that we have lost the traditions – heroic and, as we shall see, more crucially Christian – which in different ways positively valued the experience. Whereas modernity almost systematically lifted the taboo on what is shameful, it also rendered shame itself shameful and taboo. Nevertheless, conspicuous examples of the survival of shame have been noted above, and its partial disappearance from modern culture, far from being its deathknell, can be seen as itself a form of abashed concealment. I have written this book in full confidence that my readers will know what I am talking about, but I am aware of opening what is, at this late date, a difficult and even a painful subject. Shame in Shakespeare is historicist in that it attends to the historical variation of shame and explores a recommendation of shame now foreign to us; but, far from being irrelevant, that plea, that solicitation of shame, which it finds in our most valued writer, speaks directly to our contemporary condition. There are revealing continuities between this hitherto obscure Shakespearean theme and a strain of contemporary thought about identity and ethics. We shall see in due course that Shakespearean shame functions as the revelation of a fundamental lack in human being. More recently Marxism, and afterwards Foucault and new historicism, have dissolved selfhood into the power struggle; structuralism has diffused it through vast signifying systems; and the poststructuralist subject is a constantly decomposing textual effect. This paucity of human being is affirmed by psychoanalysis, and the consequence for the analysand is existential shame: Freud sees the self as endlessly dissolving into the anarchy of the unconscious; the French feminist philosopher and psychoanalyst Julia Kristeva asserts that a stable self can only be sustained by



excluding our inalienable animality, mutability and death, which leaves it tremulously vulnerable to ‘abjection’ and shame. The phenomenological-philosopher-turned-experimental-theologian Hans Jonas has memorably pointed to the borrowed and dissipating being of metabolic organisms, which compares unfavourably with the integrity and durability of inorganic things (Jonas 1996). The Lacanian subject is shamed by the appearance in the mirror of a complete image which it knows is not truly representative of its experience of itself from inside as an unintegrated chaos of drives and desires; observing its shapelessness thus collected into a unified image dooms it to a secret sense of inadequacy and unbeing. Whereas the Kristevan subject is shamed by the chaotic body, in Lacan the subject is shamed by the body’s superior coherence. According to a traditional model of shame with which we will become well acquainted, the world reflects the subject back in a way offensive to its own self-conception; for Lacan, the world pays the subject the compliment of seeing it as better than it is, and yet this is no less productive of shame. We will discover in the course of this book that shame in Shakespeare works as an ethical wake-up call, the dissolution of the anxious subject’s phantasmal self automatically revealing the world beyond it. This notion, I contend, fills a gap in contemporary ethics. The poststructuralist philosopher Emmanuel Levinas suggests that the human person may exist in a different, more moral way, ‘otherwise than being’. Clifford Geertz, Foucault and the New Historicists have proposed that identity is culturally constructed; Levinas follows through the ethical implications of that claim. Though he exposes the nullity of the isolated self, he maintains that personhood can nonetheless be achieved through active participation in ethical life: what he calls ‘a humanism of the other man’.5 Simon Critchley has suggested that the original impulse of deconstruction was an ethical passion for alterity (Critchley 1999) and, as Colin Davis observes, both Derrida and Levinas resist the ontological imperialism of Western thought, whereby, for instance, the Platonic theory of recollection asserts that all knowledge is already contained within the self; Husserlian phenomenology makes the Ego the source of knowledge; and the Heideggerian relation of beings to Being precludes anything outside (Davis 1996). The Levinasian subject exists



only by relation to the Levinasian other, individuated and defined by its difference from this other. To use Levinas’s own arresting phrases, the subject is the hostage of the other; it is persecuted by the other, from whose domination it can never escape. Since its subjectivity is entirely founded on the other, it is responsible to the other before it is responsible to itself. Since such subjects have no independent substance, they can find themselves only by sacrificing themselves for the other. Unlimited responsibility devolves absolutely on them. In a sense, the Levinasian subject is responsibility. I am I in the sole measure that I am responsible, a noninterchangeable I. I can substitute myself for everyone, but no one can substitute himself for me. Such is my inalienable identity of subject. (Levinas 1985: 100–1) Ethics, according to Levinas, precedes ontology and defines the domain we inhabit. It is the realm of the human. What is missing in Levinas is much sense of the difficulty for human beings of making the transition from self-absorption to relationship. A less modish thinker, Iris Murdoch, supplies this deficiency. Like Levinas, Murdoch argues for the intrinsic poverty of selfhood and locates fulfilment in selfless relationship, but she is sternly realistic about the arduous moral journey this entails. ‘By opening our eyes’, she writes, we do not necessarily see what confronts us. We are anxiety-ridden animals. Our minds are continually active, fabricating an anxious, usually self-preoccupied, often falsifying veil which partially conceals the world. (Murdoch 1999: 368–9) Goodness, for Murdoch, involves the attempt to pierce this veil. This is her non-metaphysical version of more traditional religious ideas of enlightenment and transcendence. The question now is how to achieve ‘a clarity which does not belong to the self-centred rush of ordinary life’ (Murdoch 1999: 353); how to dissipate the fog of sentimental and selfserving notions which, in Murdoch’s view, so envelops consciousness as to be virtually indistinguishable from it? This book



finds an answer in Shakespeare, and that answer is shame. Shame purifies our bad consciousness, offering salvation from the tyranny and prison of the self. It opens a door, pointing the way to spiritual health and realisation of the world beyond egoism. This ethical achievement is a necessary precondition for the just politics which so much recent criticism of Shakespeare has nobly championed. It is not merely that the politics of Shakespearean drama is inevitably derived and generalised from the ethics of the dramatic interaction of a small number of characters: in Levinas’s phrase, ‘ethics is first politics’6 – it discovers the values on which politics must build. A study of Shakespearean shame necessitates certain preliminaries. Since shame is a slippery thing often misunderstood, I offer a working definition and a first exploratory discussion of the concept below, drawing on the philosophy of emotion. Although examples will be taken from diverse sources, this will introduce the kind of picture of shame we will subsequently find in Shakespeare. This introduction concludes with some observations on shame and literature, particularly tragedy. Since shame in literature is by and large a critical terra incognita, and it is difficult or impossible to understand or distinguish Shakespearean shame without context, the following two chapters will briefly discuss the motif as it appears in previous literature and define the immediate context of shame in the literature and culture of the Renaissance. We will then be in a position to get to grips with shame in Shakespeare itself. Though its power fluctuates through time with the premium put upon selfhood, shame throughout literary history is the experience of personal degradation or corruption. Families, nations, races may suffer collective shame, but the subject of shame is centrally the individual human person as it exists in society and in its own consciousness. Although people may be ashamed of an other or others – anybody or any group with whom self-respect is involved – the most intense, and painful, case is when they are ashamed of themselves. Normally, shame takes the form of falling short of a specific standard, which, we shall see, may be historically specific or more enduring: for example, ‘a soldier never runs away, but I have done so: I am no true soldier’. This negative self-apprehension is experienced as debasement, defilement or disfigurement. The



feeling of disfigurement or deformity seems best to express the sensation of loss of selfhood and identity in shame. Shame reveals our very physical concept of personality: we imagine even our most disembodied qualities in physical terms. Antonio in Twelfth Night goes so far as to say, ‘In nature there is no blemish but the mind: / None can be call’d deform’d but the unkind’ (3.4.375–7). In the worst case, shame is experienced as the disintegration of selfhood. Shame alienates self from self: hence the immediate physiological effects of blushing, fluster and loss of control. It brings a strong sense of exposure, producing an urgent desire to be concealed and hidden. It generates the wish not to be what one is or has become, which in extreme cases may lead to suicide, but may also motivate reformation and rebirth. A sense of shame is knowledge of what is shame-producing; it operates as a form of restraint and forbearance. While investigating the conceptual issues, I do not wish to lose sight of the corrosive experience of shame. This rupture of the subject’s most fundamental relationship – its relationship with itself – is an extremely visceral feeling, a psychosomatic event, as we see from blushing and also from its use as a sexual stimulant by sadomasochists. Something of this visceral intensity emerges from Rushdie’s rendition of the mentally underdeveloped Sufiya Zinobia’s experience in Shame: Then the bad shapes again, because if she has a husband, and a husband is for babies, and babies aren’t for you, then something must be wrong. This gives her a feeling. Just like a blush, all over, hot, hot. But although her skin tingles and her cheeks burn it is only happening on the inside, nobody notices these internal blushes. That is strange also. It makes the feeling worse. Sometimes she thinks, I am changing into something, but when those words come into her head she doesn’t know what they mean. How do you change into a something? The bad words and the feeling sharper and more painful. Go away go away go away. Go away. (Rushdie 1983: 215) In the history of art, as Ian Gibson points out in The Shameful Life of Salvador Dalí, it is part of the Spanish surrealist’s achievement to have provided a unique window on shame.



Dalí’s canvases are thickly populated with figures of ashamed men and women. Perhaps most memorably, in the foreground of The Lugubrious Game there is an agonised young man fainting on the shoulder of a demented father-figure who has apparently castrated him, hiding his face and clawing into the crown of his hairless, down-turned skull. The same motif also dominates the composition of William Tell. Here the young man, head in hand in a shadowy foreground, points over his shoulder at a muscular, bearded, similarly deranged father, who is pointing back, lolling heavily out of his underpants, bleeding from the eyes, and holding an open pair of scissors. Such nightmare images give a good idea of the quality of shame. Helen Merrell Lynd describes it as ‘a crumpling or failure of the whole self ’ (Lynd 1958: 52). Sartre calls it ‘an immediate shudder which runs through me from head to foot without any discursive preparation’, an ‘internal haemorrhage’ (Sartre 1956: 222). Shame constitutes an unwelcome revelation of the self. Lynd writes: Experiences of shame appear to embody the root meaning of the word – to uncover, to expose, to wound. They are experiences of exposure, exposure of peculiarly sensitive, intimate, vulnerable aspects of the self. The exposure may be to others but, whether others are or are not involved, it is always … exposure to one’s own eyes. (Lynd 1958: 27–8) This is perhaps suggested by Zinobia’s internal blushes. It is explicit in Dalí’s The Great Paranoiac where, in one of his most successful double-images, the painter has fashioned a downcast visage from several smaller figures slumped in shame. Shakespeare renders this ‘visionary’ aspect of shame in the usurped Richard II’s expectation that he will meet a disfigured anti-self in his looking-glass. And Joyce does something similar in ‘The Dead’ when Gabriel Conroy finally succumbs to feelings of embarrassment and shame which he has been staving off since his onerous evening began: A shameful consciousness of his own person assailed him. He saw himself as a ludicrous figure, acting as a penny-boy



for his aunts, a nervous, well-meaning sentimentalist, orating to vulgarians and idealizing on his own clownish lusts, the pitiable fatuous fellow he had caught a glimpse of in the mirror. (Joyce 1977: 197–8) Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra provides an example of the ‘total shame’ of disintegration: With you I broke whatever my heart revered; I overthrew all boundary stones and images … ‘Nothing is true, all is permitted’: thus I spoke to myself. Into the coldest waters I plunged, with head and heart. Alas, how often have I stood there afterward, naked as a red crab! Alas, where has all that is good gone from me – and all shame [used here to denote that sense of shame or modesty which would have withheld the speaker from this fall], and all faith in those who are good. (Nietzsche 1954: 386; cited in Schneider 1992: 15–16) These words, as Schneider observes, represent the ‘shadow side’ of Nietzsche’s ‘impassioned self-affirmation’ (Schneider 1992: 16), and Zarathustra rejects them as a temptation; but Schneider argues that Nietzsche reinstates this conception of shame as self-loss and of the sense of shame as a mode of selfprotection in Beyond Good and Evil (ibid.: 16–17). I shall return later to the fact that shame in this passage, the speaker’s loss of faith in himself, is also a loss of faith in all humankind. Shame (as the brief examples above begin to show) is a richly varied phenomenon, and there are many fine distinctions to be made. Its immediate source may be personal judgement or the judgement of others, as Lynd indicates. In the second case, the subject may accept the censure of others or feel it is shameful to be seen in a bad light, irrespective of self-assessment. In literature as in life, many are susceptible to public disgrace but less concerned with what it is that is disgraceful, mortified by exposure but unrepentant. As the inventors of the stocks and the pillory well knew, the actual presence, the gaze, of a hostile or accusing audience is a strong stimulus to shame; public scorn is known as shaming. Shame as a disciplinary mechanism, a Foucauldian resource of power, is



the aspect of the topic that has hitherto drawn most attention from literary critics. Gail Kern Paster’s The Body Embarrassed: Drama and the Disciplines of Shame in Early Modern England (1993) and Laura Lunger Knoppers’s ‘(En)gendering shame: Measure for Measure and the spectacles of power’ (1993) are useful instances from the sphere of early modern studies. Depending on whether the subject discounts the reproach of inferiors or feels all the more degraded, it may or may not feel ashamed before an unworthy audience. In the following pages, while I shall recognise the force and pain – and the interest – of public scorn and exposure, I shall argue that the public aspect of shame has been exaggerated. As Lynd asserts, though it may indeed be a pair or a multitude of other eyes that turn one’s own upon oneself, shame is paramountly shame in one’s own eyes. This book aims to fill in the critical picture of shame itself, treating shaming as of secondary importance, rather than the other way about. The subject of shame may be ashamed of itself directly or because of others upon whom its honour depends: the closer the connection the greater the shame here; the disgrace of one’s own parent, spouse or child is especially grievous. The subject may feel shame as a part of a group. Or it may feel shame vicariously, on the part of another or of others. There is also a broad gender difference: although all sensitive human beings remain more or less susceptible to both kinds, masculine shame traditionally derives from weakness or lack of power, feminine shame from unchastity or some other form of intemperance. Certainly this has changed, but how much? It is still the case that a woman will incur shame and disgrace for a sexual transgression which a man could hope to avoid. Finally, different sorts of shame may be distinguished morally: amoral or worldly shame is loss of personal power or prestige, moral or spiritual shame the loss of virtue as goodness; the former typically leads to renewed, sometimes violent, self-assertion, the latter to repentance. I have suggested already that there is a deficit of moral shame today, though vicarious moral shame (as was provoked in the UK by the murder of the toddler Jamie Bulger) is not so rare: we are not prepared to feel it ourselves, but we are able to feel such shame from a distance. It is worth noting that traditionally feminine shame, which operates as a self-effacing and restraining force, and answers



partly to the moral law and / or God, is more ethical than its masculine counterpart, which motivates self-promotion and does not answer to any ethical or religious authority. I shall suggest in the next chapter that Christianity, with its revolutionary programme of meekness, humility and love, turned manly disgrace and shame upside down, reconceiving low status and lack of power as positive, as a blessed state for men as much as women. To the Christian, only wickedness and impiety are shameful. In human experience and conduct there is often a tension between the shame of worldly humiliation and moral or spiritual shame, particularly for a man: for instance, it may seem shamefully passive not to retaliate but morally shameful to strike back. And yet, in spite of all these variations and subtleties, and in spite of historical change (with which we will be especially concerned in the next two chapters), shame – private or public, amoral or moral – is also always crucially the same: a sense of falling short, of difference from the ideal pattern of what one should be, of degradation, deformity, defilement. To that extent, it will be treated here as a single, thinkable phenomenon. Having offered a first definition of shame, it is now necessary to distinguish it from the associated phenomena of embarrassment and guilt. Embarrassment is a weak and transient form of shame: shame is absolute failure, embarrassment failure in a given situation. Personal embarrassment arises when the subject feels degraded in a way which does not implicate what it essentially is. An embarrassing situation typically presents a difficult demand: a table laid with unfamiliar cutlery, a question imperfectly understood, being all of a sudden confronted by a person with no clothes on. The crucial distinction is between shame and guilt. According to philosopher Gabriele Taylor, ‘Guilt, unlike shame, is a legal concept’ (Taylor 1985: 85). It implies responsibility for an offence. Whereas shame is focused inward, on the damaged self, guilt focuses outward, on the subject’s transgression or the violated victim or law or other authority. Conscience transmits a sense of guilt; a clear conscience brings an awareness of freedom from guilt. Much shame has nothing in common with guilt, because it is not to do with wronging another or breaking a law, although it can operate in that context; then the two emotions come together, but they may



still be conceptually distinguished: guilt is other-directed, shame comes from within. Bernard Williams supplies a helpful example: In a moment of cowardice, we let someone down; we feel guilty because we have let them down, ashamed because we have contemptibly fallen short of what we might have hoped of ourselves. (Williams 1993: 91) Shame and guilt are also distinguishable by their effects. Shame requires renegotiation of the subject’s relationship with itself; guilt requires negotiation with the party offended, usually by accepting punishment from it or offering some other compensation. Guilt is the oppressive consciousness of a duty still to be discharged, a debt yet to be paid; that is why it is often imagined as a burden. The nub of the distinction between shame and guilt is that shame is a function of being whereas guilt is a function of doing and interacting (Lynd 1958: 49–56). Sartre recognises that shame is a shameful apprehension of something and that something is me. I am ashamed of what I am. Shame therefore realises an intimate relation of myself to myself. Through shame I have discovered an aspect of my being. (Sartre 1956: 221–2) Because of the overlap of guilt and conscience with shame, the cases of moral shame discussed below will usually involve some element of guilt. I will try in my analyses to distinguish shame and guilt as here, but it is important to bear in mind that what is experienced and represented is a mixed state. There are other cases where it is difficult to tell where shame ends and some other emotion begins. In the case of shame experienced before the sacred, for instance, awe and shame interpenetrate. And yet, as with shame and guilt, the element of reverential astonishment may tentatively be separated from the feelings of unworthiness with which it is mingled. The criterion for shame here will be its focus on the degraded self.



Here I urge the reader largely to set aside the traditional distinction between ‘shame-cultures’ and ‘guilt-cultures’ first essayed by Margaret Mead, fully formulated by Ruth Benedict, and influentially applied to classical Greece by E.R. Dodds.7 It is still very much in use but increasingly rejected as both inaccurate and oversimple by scholars who have given the matter close attention, such as Hugh Lloyd-Jones, Werner L. Gundersheimer, J.G. Peristiany and Julian Pitt-Rivers, and Douglas L. Cairns.8 According to Benedict’s formulation, ‘True shame cultures rely on external sanctions for good behaviour, not, as true guilt cultures do, on an internalized conviction of sin’ (Benedict 1947: 233). But this misconceives shame and guilt. Benedict says of shame, ‘A man is shamed either by being openly ridiculed and rejected or by fantasying [sic] to himself that he has been made ridiculous’ (op. cit.); but men or women may equally be self-shamed simply because they feel they have let themselves down. Early modern literature provides a good example of this. After her rape in The Unfortunate Traveller, Thomas Nashe’s Heraclide notes, while gazing in the mirror ‘to see if her sins were not written on her forehead’, ‘Myself do but behold myself, and yet I blush’ (Nashe 1972: 338); and we may again recall here Rushdie’s Zinobia’s ‘internal blushes’. Even Benedict’s man is, as she omits to say, ashamed because he himself regards reputation as integral to his being. A feeling of shame is never purely external; as Cairns puts it, ‘in every case [it] is a matter of the self ’s judging the self in terms of some ideal that is one’s own’, although that ideal may be socially derived (Cairns 1993: 16). Like shame, guilt is a matter of violating standards, only here those standards are not for the self but for its acts. It is no more often ‘an internalised conviction of sin’ than a sense of having offended arbitrary or conventional social mores, as in, for example, a parking offence. Moreover, guilt and shame are both exacerbated by being seen. The exposure of a shamed self or guilty deed will make the subject feel worse because more conscious of shame or guilt. Sin, which Benedict associates with guilt, is always exposed to God. In so far as shame and guilt are defined socially, even the most private instance will perhaps involve some obscure sense of exposure. In the case of shame, it is true that if the exposed subject regards the



opinion of others as part of its own identity, it will feel an additional shame, as in Benedict’s example. But far from being less personal than guilt, shame (as suggested above) points at the self, whereas guilt points to the other, the non-self. The public aspect of shame has been misunderstood and exaggerated. It is precisely because shame is so private, so intimate a sensation, because the shamed self is literally not fit to be seen, that it recoils from exposure. As has been said, the crucial thing about shame is that for whatever public or private reason the subject’s relation with itself has broken down. The cruelty of shaming is that it can interfere with the subject’s sense of self; if it does not, one is able to brazen it out. This is a subsidiary form of shame where one is shamed in the eyes of others but not in one’s own eyes, shamed but not ashamed. If public disgrace does interfere with the subject’s self-conception, it will be unable to relate to the world and will loathe its eyes upon it. Therefore, it is true that shame more than any other emotion entails and is partly experienced as a sense of nakedness and a horror of exposure. As we shall see, this is important for the theatre of shame. But the traditional shame-culture / guilt-culture antithesis is really a poor expression of a different distinction between cultures which operate by internal sanctions and cultures where sanctions are external. This is not to consign the relevant work of first-generation anthropologists entirely to the dustbin; they have convincingly shown that societies such as Japan and ancient Greece depend heavily on the sanction of social exposure, as well as paving the way for the more nuanced reconsiderations of later writers. It may also be that the redundant antithesis could be salvaged to distinguish (shame-)cultures where morality centres on the self in the world and (guilt-)cultures where morality centres rather on the relations of the self with others and the law. But, as it stands, Benedict’s formulation has also fostered a crude and misleading notion of shame as simply public, which is both inadequate to the experience and to its representation in literature.9 In the quarto text of King Lear, The History of King Lear, Shakespeare uses the telling phrase ‘sovereign shame’ (17.43). Today this idea of the supremacy of shame seems remote. In a culture which emphasises personal satisfaction above all else, we tend to think of shame as an illness or a disability. But in fact (as I have suggested already) shame is not so dispensable or



simply pernicious. Williams points out that whereas guilt can direct one to one’s victims and demand reparation in the name of what has happened to them, only shame can help one understand one’s relationship to one’s own guilty deeds, and thus enable one to rebuild the self that committed them. In other words, The structures of shame contain the possibility of controlling and learning from guilt, because they give a conception of one’s ethical identity, in relation to which guilt can make sense. Shame can understand guilt, but guilt cannot understand itself. (Williams 1993: 93) Lynd likewise perceives that ‘a sense of identity cannot be reached along the guilt axis alone’, while shame offers ‘identity, freedom’ (Lynd 1958: 215). If integrity is the condition of selfhood, shame is an alarm bell for psychological danger, as bodily pain is for physical threat: a warning that the subject’s identity is in peril. It is not always reliable; the subject may later find that it has accepted under pressure a standard not really its own. Alternatively, it may decide that its sense of self is unrealistic or impossible and so revise it. Here shame penetrates illusion and is a form of self-discovery. But if it has truly fallen short, shame is the signal for the subject to make amends; if it is irrevocably debased and broken, shame asks the hard question of whether to go on living on such terms. A sense of shame is the knowledge, the faculty for perception, of what would be unbecoming or impossible for the person the subject takes itself for: to be shameless, regarding nothing as shameful, is to be without self-respect. As we shall see, this is the case with Shakespeare’s Parolles. Schneider points out that the important role of reserving what should be kept private is also played by our sense of shame. Altogether, reasonable shame is like an immune system maintaining identity in a perilous world. It is the emotion of self-loss, but, in Taylor’s phrase, also ‘the emotion of self-protection’ (Taylor 1985: 81).10 Yet, beyond this, shame is an important human experience, because flawless integrity is an impossible dream. With its involuntary desires, its blemishes, wounds and diseases, its excrement, and its eventual death, the gross, steadily decaying



body irresistibly offends the sense of self, as Kristeva emphasises. And so too with intellectual and moral imperfections. How could it be otherwise? As Schneider puts it, we are ‘valuing animals’ and shame is ‘the partner of our value awareness’ (Schneider 1992: xix). The Renaissance writer Juan Huarte recognised, as much later did Scheler, that without shame we would be merely animals, without reason for it, gods or angels (Huarte 1594: 266; Emad 1972: 369). Shame defines our place in the universe: in Erich Heller’s phrase it is ‘a sine qua non of humanity’ (quoted in Schneider 1992: xvii). Kristeva describes powerfully the subject’s agonising and ashamed reaction to that which it has excluded but could not divorce from its own identity, such as its excrement or the idea of itself as a corpse: A massive and sudden emergence of uncanniness, which, familiar as it might have been in an opaque and forgotten life, now harries me as radically separate, loathsome. Not me. Not that. But not nothing, either. A ‘something’ that I do not recognize as a thing. A weight of meaningless [sic], about which there is nothing insignificant, and which crushes me. On the edge of non-existence and hallucination, of a reality that, if I acknowledge it, annihilates me. (Kristeva 1982: 2) If such self-annihilating shame is irresistible in the face of death, then it is inevitable and universal. If contemporary thinkers are right that there is no aspect of our being that is stable and unchanging, it would seem that our relation to unbeing may yet be so. Jonathan Sawday, cultural critic of human dissection and anatomy in the early modern period, recognises that ‘what has not changed’ over the centuries is our agonised mortality (Sawday 1995: 266). Joseph Heller’s 1961 novel about World War II, Catch 22, furnishes a revealingly concrete example of a man’s encounter with that which his sense of self and of humanity ‘abjects’ or excludes: Yossarian ripped open the snaps of Snowden’s flak suit and heard himself scream wildly as Snowden’s insides slithered down to the floor in a soggy pile and just kept dripping out. A chuck of flak more than three inches big



had shot into his other side just underneath the arm and blasted all the way through, drawing whole mottled quarts of Snowden along with it through the gigantic hole it made in his ribs as it blasted out. Yossarian screamed a second time and squeezed both hands over his eyes. His teeth were chattering in horror. He forced himself to look again. Here was God’s plenty, all right, he thought bitterly as he stared – liver, lungs, kidneys, ribs, stomach and bits of the stewed tomatoes Snowden had eaten that day for lunch. Yossarian … turned away dizzily and began to vomit, clutching his burning throat … ‘I’m cold,’ Snowden whimpered, ‘I’m cold.’ ‘There, there,’ Yossarian mumbled mechanically in a voice too low to be heard. ‘There, there.’ Yossarian was cold too, and shivered uncontrollably. He felt goosepimples clacking all over him as he gazed down despondently at the grim secret Snowden had spilled all over the messy floor. It was easy to read the message in his entrails. Man was matter, that was Snowden’s secret. Drop him out of a window and he’ll fall. Set fire to him and he’ll burn. Bury him and he’ll rot like other kinds of garbage. Ripeness was all. (Heller 1973: 553–4)11 There is terror here and panic, but in so far as Yossarian experiences Snowden’s demise as an ontological shock, as a disclosure of the degradation of all humanity, including himself, he feels profound, then bitter shame. In this case of the shame of mortality, intensely physical shame blends with and into existential shame. Lynd confirms that identifications with other persons who have been degraded and shamed lead to the confrontation of the human condition …. This confrontation may be the beginning of the realization of shame as revelation – of oneself, of one’s society, and of the world. (Lynd 1958: 71) The ironic allusion to King Lear is, as we shall see, also appropriate to the exposure by Shakespeare, and by that play in particular, of mortal nothingness.



All forms of shame, however trivial or momentous, recognise that we fall short. Shame resists pragmatic self-deception, bringing us closer to truth, closer to acknowledging our necessary relation to materiality, animality and death – what in religious terms is called ‘original sin’, the infected root from which all other sins spring. Scheler writes, ‘[shame] opens up the path to ourselves’ (quoted in Schneider 1992: xvii). Contemplating his mother’s shameful sexuality, Hamlet sees that his own flesh is dirty. I have already remarked that the personal shame expressed in my quote from Zarathustra involved a loss of faith in the world at large. Hawthorne’s Hester Prynne feels that the scarlet letter pinned to her breast for adultery has endowed her with a new sense of the concealed corruption in the hearts of others, even those of the most reputable and exalted Puritans: Sometimes the red infamy upon her breast would give a sympathetic throb, as she passed near a venerable minister or magistrate, the model of piety and justice, to whom that age of antique reverence looked up, as to a mortal man in fellowship with angels. ‘What evil thing is at hand?’ would Hester say to herself. Lifting her reluctant eyes, there would be nothing human within the scope of view save the form of this earthly saint! Again, a mystic sisterhood would contumaciously assert itself, as she met the sanctified frown of some matron, who, according to the rumor of all tongues had kept cold snow within her bosom throughout life. (Hawthorne 1990: 263) Hester’s blatant shame makes her a stimulus to and a representative figure for the concealed shame of everybody. We have seen how shame functions to protect limited integrity, but it is also an experience of the limitation. If shame as a recognition of falling short is a revelation of our mortal condition, as an experience of disintegration it resembles and anticipates death itself. For shame is a spiritual death. This is evident in ordinary language: ‘I was mortified’, ‘I could have died of shame’. Creative writers have sometimes made the closeness of death and shame explicit: as we shall see, several of Shakespeare’s characters perish of pure, unaided



shame, as does William Golding’s Reverend Colley in Rites of Passage (1980). In these literary cases, the emotion is so extreme that it tips over into death, but all shame is, in the Elizabethan phrase, ‘a little death’.12 Those habitually afflicted with shame have died many times; they live with death. This not only means that they have a fundamental self-knowledge not granted to all of us; it may lead to a better and more fulfilling life. For this experience of the tremulous insubstantiality of the self, of a Coleridgean death-in-life, of Lacanian lack-in-being, should encourage people to live beyond themselves and bring them into a new relationship with the world – and perhaps also, if their shame has been a revelation of the general shamefulness of our human estate, with absolute values or with God. That is why shame plays such an important part in the Christian scheme, and how it comes to be revealed as ‘sovereign shame’ in King Lear. It is why all shame, and not just moral shame, can be a spiritual opportunity. In the perspective I am outlining here, we get a first glimpse of the paradox that outright shame is more ethically valuable than modesty. Modesty shrinks from what is shameful. Modest persons will not only refrain from shameful behaviour, but also conceal the essentially shameful parts of themselves, both from themselves and from others, drawing a defensive veil against the would-be all-seeing eye, like the models of piety and justice Hester Prynne encounters. Shame rips away this veil and encounters the inherent degradation or obscenity of the self, which is what makes it so suitable for the theatre as Artaud understood it. It divorces the judging self from the self judged to be inadequate, showing that we are not worthy of our own highest standards and impulses. It is a deadly enlightenment, but one that makes way for a new integrity and truthfulness, and perhaps for the only kind of happiness of which we are capable, the happiness of an unselfish life. The great Russian philosopher of the nineteenth century, Vladimir Soloviev, declares that shame is the ‘true spiritual root of all human good and the distinctive characteristic of man as a moral being’ (quoted in Schneider 1992: 5). This book will show how Shakespeare’s tragic heroes are glorified by shame. I have been employing literary examples, and the argument of this book will be that shame has a central place at the very



centre of the Western literary tradition, in Shakespeare. A theme of literary shame may be traced through classical works such as Homer’s Iliad, Sophocles’s Ajax and Oedipus Rex, Euripides’s Heracles and Seneca’s Phaedra; through Old Testament stories such as the Fall, Noah’s drunkenness and nakedness, Tamar and Amnon, and (from the Apocrypha) Susannah and the Elders, as well as – crucially – through the Gospel accounts of the crucifixion; through medieval texts such as Sir Gawain and the Green Knight; in Renaissance works such as Marlowe’s Edward II, Jonson’s comedies, Milton’s Samson Agonistes, Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress; and in eighteenth-century novels such as Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels and Richardson’s Pamela and Clarissa, right up to The Scarlet Letter and Henry James, and (as has been observed already) in our own century Rushdie’s Shame and Coetzee’s Disgrace. Shame affords the writer compelling material: the immediate physical detail of blushing and gestures of concealment, scenes of hiding and exposure, violence against the self and suicide, repentance and redemption. As a partly external social or religious experience, partly physical as well as intensely inward, and also as a vicarious spectacle, it is especially apt for drama, the most physical, primitive, social and ritualistic of all the forms of literature, because drama involves symbolic action and not just words, and because it involves agonists and an audience. The raised stage pillories any character degraded or humiliated by the plot. In particular the tragic hero, as a heightened representative brought low, enacts and suffers an experience of shame which is imaginable to, and significant for, the society represented collectively and personally in the theatre. This is even more the case because of the new interiority of Shakespearean drama, in which, for example, Hamlet’s deeply personal shame is laid bare before the audience. But all tragedy presents a spectacle of humiliation and death. The tragic hero’s shame acts upon the audience’s capacities for pity and fear. And a crucial element of tragic catharsis is the purging of latent shame. Sadomasochism is also partly a purge for shame, and sadomasochism and tragedy in this respect may usefully be compared. Like tragedy, sadomasochism ritualises shame. In the typical sadomasochistic fantasy, the masochist adopts the subject-position of an insubordinate small child required to



remove its trousers and bend over. The masochist knows exactly what punishment and humiliation is to be meted out and this removes the fear of it; the sadist who hurts and degrades the masochist gains power over shame as well. The aesthetic distance of the audience from the shameful spectacle of tragedy similarly mitigates shame. But shame in sadomasochism is subverted and turned into erotic pleasure, whereas the pleasure in tragedy lies in its clear-eyed vision. As Artaud asserted, theatre is revelation, and individually and collectively the audience at a tragedy confronts its own shameful humanity, while the sadomasochist celebrates a private victory over and release from shame. No doubt sadomasochism appeals to a certain kind of shame-afflicted personality; to that extent it is a wholly understandable perversion. But it is a perversion nonetheless – and of shame as well as love and sex. The contrasting truthfulness of tragedy is explicit in the Ajax of Sophocles, when the goddess Athena reveals the luridly shameful prospect of the protagonist’s insane self-glorification amid the slaughtered sheep and oxen he has mistaken for his enemies. His chief enemy Odysseus murmurs, ‘This touches / My state as well as his. Are we not all, / All living things, mere phantoms, shadows of nothing?’ (lines 126–8). That is the final revelation of shame. It pervades Shakespeare; the paradoxical intuition dramatised in his plays, and also the argument of this book, is that it has the potential radically to transform our lives for the better.

2 Shame before Shakespeare

Up till now, in an effort to establish the transhistorical reach of shame, I have tended to leave history out of this account. But of course shame has a history like everything else, as well as an anthropological prehistory. Shame in history is a variable constant. It has been part of experience for as long as societies have had a concept of identity and individuals have had selves, however far those are conceived and felt according to family and communal norms. But, as the cultural configuration and value of the self changes through history, shame alters too, so that what is shameful in one epoch is not always so in the next, and the severity, depth and issue of the experience varies also. Less shame is found in cultures with a debased view of the self; it is in societies where individual integrity and dignity is prized most highly that corruption and disgrace are most lamented. As we shall see in the next chapter, there is thus a marked increase of shame between the medieval and Renaissance periods. The classical and Christian notions of shame described below combined in the early modern period, and were part of the intellectual atmosphere that Shakespeare breathed. They influenced his conception of shame, and of the world, and hence the direction of his plays. But these two

Shame before Shakespeare


opposing senses of shame also left Shakespeare and his contemporaries with something of an intellectual and an ethical quandary. Classical shame The significance of shame in the classical period was recognised long before 1951 when, applying Benedict’s theory, E.R. Dodds designated ancient Greek civilisation a ‘shame-culture’ (Dodds 1951: 17–18). Greek and Roman thinkers gave no extended attention to the phenomenon – perhaps they took it for granted – but nonetheless produced a jumble of heterogeneous insights. Democritus makes an important distinction, one which has eluded many later thinkers, including Dodds, when he urges, Do not say or do what is base, even when you are alone. Learn to feel shame in your own eyes much more than before others. (Democritus 1948: 113) Democritus’s high regard for shame follows from his perception that ‘Repentance for shameful deeds is salvation in life’ (ibid.: 99). Like Democritus, Plato is most concerned with the inner, essential role of shame. In his Phaedrus, it is shame which causes the charioteer to rein in the bad horse of concupiscence – ‘drenching his jaws and railing tongue with blood’ (Plato 1936: 242) – guiding the chariot of the soul away from crude, corporeal beauty to the more resplendent ideal kind: perhaps the most memorable vindication of sexual shame in literature, and one alluded to by Shakespeare in Venus and Adonis and Antony and Cleopatra.1 For Aristotle, who particularly influenced thinking about shame in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, shame is, expectedly, a more prosaic affair: a feeling, not a virtue, defined as fear of ill-repute, which attends ill-action; praiseworthy in a younger man, but culpable in his elder, yet only because he should never give himself occasion to feel it (Aristotle 1988: 169–70). And for Cicero, a prescribed author for Elizabethans, the emphasis is similarly public: shame is ‘the sense of … decency which secures observance and firm authority for what is honourable’ (Cicero 1949: 331).


Shame before Shakespeare

Shame is more central in the imaginative literature of the classical period, and the living images this literature affords are, for the most part, more impressive and memorable than the oddments of the philosophers. Imaginative literature also provides, and furnished early modern writers with, a more coherent picture of classical shame. Shame is the motive force of The Iliad. Before the epic story has even begun, Paris has cuckolded Menelaus and abducted his wife, Helen. In Book 1, Achilles withdraws to his tent, refusing to fight the Trojans, because Agamemnon has publicly dishonoured him by robbing him of his captive, Briseis. When he learns that his friend Patroclus has been killed in battle by Hector in Book 18, he is seized by a greater shame. He feels that he has ‘proved a broken reed to Patroclus’s and all the other Greek casualties, ‘an idle burden on the earth’ (Homer 1988: 339). In a fit of despairing self-contempt, bringing shame together with grief and distraction, he debases himself: He picked up the dark dust in both his hands and poured it on his head. He soiled his comely face with it, and filthy ashes settled on his scented tunic. He cast himself down on the earth and lay there like a fallen giant, fouling his hair and tearing it out with his own hands. (ibid.: 337) It is a powerful evocation, but Achilles’s passion subsequently gives way to a burning desire to eradicate shame:2 he takes to the field furiously, securing victory for the Greeks. He pays back shame with shame by not only slaying Hector, but also stripping him, affixing his heels to his chariot, and dragging his corpse through the dust. Achilles’s shame begets shame for his enemy. Shakespeare’s Troilus says of his brother, ‘He’s dead and at the murderer’s horse’s tail / In beastly sort dragg’d through the shameful field’ (Troilus and Cressida, 5.10.4–5). Hector’s father, Dardanian Priam, witnessing this outrage on his son’s corpse, grovels in dung. The outstanding portraits of classical shame are to be found in Greek tragedy. Sophocles’s Ajax and Oedipus Tyrannus and Euripides’s Heracles, revised by Seneca as Hercules Furens, are perhaps the most excellent and terrible examples, plays of shame equalled only by Shakespeare and Racine. In Ajax, the

Shame before Shakespeare


chorus announces, ‘’Tis a powerful tale … and its offspring is shame / On all of us’ (lines 171–2). The hero is revealed covered in gore, exulting over the carcasses of dead animals he supposes to be those of his enemies. I have indicated already that even his worst enemy, Odysseus, is smitten with shame at this grotesque prospect of human frailty. Thereafter, ‘slowly, painfully’ (line 309), the fallen Ajax regains his senses. We see him sitting among the slaughtered beasts, weeping like a child, as he never has before; then passing into a trance, refusing meat or drink. When at last he is able to speak, he tells his wife, Tecmessa, and the chorus of Salamian sailors, who vainly attempt to soothe him, that he wants to be hidden; he wants to die. He is tormented by the thought of facing his father. His pain ends only when he hurls himself on his sword. In Oedipus Tyrannus, it dawns on the hapless protagonist that he has killed his father Laius and married his mother Jocasta, and that thus it is he who has brought pestilence on his kingdom. His shame generates a feeling of horrible nakedness: ‘Alas! All out! All known, no more concealment! / O light ! May I never look on you again, / Revealed as I am’ (lines 118–91). He savages his eyeballs in an attempt to blind himself to his disgrace, so as not to see others looking at him: a concrete realisation of shame as the internal reflex of social judgement, a form especially prevalent under the strong public honour code of antiquity. This is his pathetic exchange with Jocasta’s brother Creon: Oedipus: I only ask one thing, my gentle friend, Whose gentleness to such a one as I am Was more than could be hoped for. One thing only – For God’s love – for your good, not mine – Creon: What thing, So humbly begged? Oedipus: Cast me away this instant Out of this land, out of the sight of man. (lines 1,428–35) The shame theme in Heracles recollects that of Ajax. Just as Athena drives the hero of that earlier play into madness and shameful behaviour, so in Euripides’s piece Hera drives Heracles into the unwitting murder of his wife and children.


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Coming to consciousness and finding himself surrounded by their dead bodies, Heracles asks his aged father Amphitryon who has killed them, only to be told that he has done it himself. He is overcome with shame; when, suddenly, Theseus, whom he once rescued from the underworld, enters, we witness some extraordinary theatre. Before our eyes, the great hero of legend curls up in a ball. His father tells Theseus what has passed. Theseus goes over to Heracles; Heracles waves him back. Theseus tries to persuade his friend from shame. Heracles, still huddled up, says he considers himself an abomination, deformed and branded; wherever he goes he will be pointed at and cursed, even the ‘earth [would] find a voice forbidding [him] to touch her’ (lines 1,295–6). He is alienated from himself; he hates the very arms that did the deed. When Theseus bids him rise, he finds himself paralysed with shame, and he has to be led away like a cripple, ‘a wreck in tow’ (line 1,424). Since Heracles is also taken into transvestite servitude by Omphale – an episode which influenced Shakespeare’s portrayal of Antony and, more especially, Spenser’s of Artegall in Book 5 of The Faerie Queene – he is a particularly notorious example of classical shame. The drama clearly influenced Shakespeare through Seneca’s Hercules Furens. This is less dramatic but poetically richer than Heracles. The flavour of the climax anticipates Othello’s deadly enlightenment and revulsion from himself. It may also have given Shakespeare the conceit for guilt and shame of a permanently bloodstained hand which he deploys in Macbeth.3 In Hamlet too, as we shall see in Chapter 5, Claudius imagines his hand ‘thicker than itself with brother’s blood’ (3.3.43–6). Ajax exposed. Oedipus howling. Heracles utterly broken. These are indeed terrible images of shame, suggestive, perhaps, of the anguished distorted figures of the twentieth-century painter Francis Bacon. All of these classical plays exhibit leitmotifs of disfigurement and exposure, supporting one of the overall arguments here that, in spite of considerable variations, the experience of shame throughout history nonetheless exhibits significant continuities. Ajax and Heracles present shame as psychosomatic paralysis. However, the Greeks and Romans we meet in classical literature are especially susceptible to worldly shame, because they live in a relatively man-centred epoch (and I use that gender-specific term advisedly) rather

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than the God-centred Middle Ages: issues of personal dignity and integrity, ignominy and self-loss are their single most important concern. Heroic classical genres emphasise the warrior code, and regard most gravely any who fall short. But in medieval times this is softened by Christianity, which inverts the hierarchy of worldly rank and prowess. It is noteworthy that there is no real distinction between public and private shame in these antique texts: the protagonist’s sense of shame in his own eyes and of shame in the eyes of others are one and the same. Nor is there any difference between moral and amoral shame: Ajax’s dishonour – it would be more morally shameful had he fulfilled his intent – seems substantially the same as the shame that Oedipus and Heracles incur for incest and shedding the blood of their relatives. Where guilt occurs – as in the agony of Oedipus over the body of Jocasta, and of Heracles over the corpses of his children – shame swamps it, and to that extent we may think of these texts as manifesting ‘shame-culture’. Another feature in this classical literature is that shame is entirely circumstantial and imposed from without: no one is, or has reason to be, inherently ashamed of themselves; whereas with the advent of Christianity shame is absorbed within, to the extent that human flesh itself becomes intrinsically shameful. Shame here is also severed from reformation or redemption. In classical tragedy, it is pure accident. There is no sense of motive or mens rea: we are dealing with something close to ritual humiliation. Paradoxically, because the protagonist is not responsible, his shame is more absolute. He cannot release himself via repentance, nor is there any available grace: death is his only exit. In the sequel to Oedipus Tyrannus, Oedipus does receive divine favour, yet only to the extent of putting him out of his misery and removing him from life. It could be argued that such plays represent the power of unconscious evil in humanity, but that could not be said of the Lucretia of Livy or Ovid, who takes her own life though she has clearly done no wrong, an action questioned by Shakespeare’s Brutus in The Rape of Lucrece.4 In spite of the distinctions and didactic intentions of the philosophers, classical poets and playwrights are most interested in the visceral experience, the shattering effect of shame – how it wrecks otherwise exemplary lives. As a dramatist, Shakespeare predictably shares this interest in shame’s spectacular power. It is conspicuous that Ajax, Oedipus and Heracles


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are all more or less unconscious at the time of their shameful acts. The shame of those acts therefore belongs to them and yet at the same time is an act of fate that has fallen upon them. These plays of antiquity seem to be almost systematically manoeuvring around any authentically internal and fully owned shame. It is as though they are trying to be about shame before ideas of shame and the self have reached maturity. A more sophisticated and varied conception of shame is found in Euripides’s Hippolytus, which would have been familiar to Shakespeare as Seneca’s Phaedra. This play introduces distinctions between private and public, moral and amoral shame into the drama. Hippolytus rejects the advances of his stepmother Phaedra out of independent ethical shame, but Phaedra is more susceptible to the shame of public disgrace. Terrified of scandal and exposure, she commits suicide, leaving a note stating that her stepson tried to rape her, which ultimately leads to his death. But the fact that Ajax, Oedipus and Heracles’s experience of shame extends beyond the personal is not just an indicator of a still-developing archaic conception of the self. At the heart of classical tragedy is a cold knowledge – Odysseus’s knowledge – of the shameful frailty and transience of the human estate. If the exalted Ajax and Heracles can be so degraded, what of you or I? Tragic shame, which does not derive from character or deliberate action, and in Ajax and Heracles is explicitly associated with the supernatural, is a mysterious, possibly metaphysical power which strikes at random to reveal the brittle insecurity of human being. Yet if it is a religious experience, the classical shame we have discussed here is more of a curse than a revelation. The shame-driven feats of arms achieved by Achilles before Troy may partly recommend the emotion, and Euripides implies that it would have been better for Hippolytus and herself had Phaedra been guided by it, but the literature of antiquity for the most part reveals shame’s destructive face. Christian shame Within the scope of its radical transformation of culture and knowledge in general, Christianity reconceived shame as a positive experience. We know, thanks especially to Robert S. Miola, that classical works influenced some of Shakespeare’s

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plays; that he was influenced by Christian religion and the Bible we may take for granted.5 His inherited attitudes also drew much on the predominantly Christian culture of the Middle Ages. I shall furnish a few examples of shame in medieval literature in this section, alighting again on the subject in the next chapter. If it is common knowledge that shame is central to classical literature, it is a rather well-kept secret that Christianity is actually founded on shame. ‘Christian shame’ – the phrase comes from Othello’s lips (Othello, 2.3.163) – has received scant scholarly attention, probably because Christianity was identified as a ‘guilt culture’ by Mead and Benedict: even the percipient Williams assumes that Christianity and shame are mutually exclusive. But Christ on the cross, Christianity’s central event and symbol, is the most shameful thing in the history of the universe – to himself, to God and to humanity. Jesus is exposed, degraded and torn apart before all; he is stripped, spat upon, crowned with thorns, mocked as the King of the Jews and crucified between two thieves. His voluntary degradation in the incarnation and passion is taken by Christians to be the essence of God’s sacrifice and the measure of his grace. Christ was ‘despised and rejected of men’, as Isaiah says; he had ‘no form nor comeliness’ in him, ‘no beauty that we should desire him’ (Isaiah 53.2–3):6 he even washed his disciples’ feet. [He] made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant … . And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. (Philippians 2.7–8) According to an extraordinary reversal of values, shame and humiliation thus become divine, and are mingled and equated with love, with triumph and with glory. And if this seems far away from our secular twenty-first century, it was nonetheless an important constituent of Shakespeare’s intellectual inheritance. His contemporary John Donne, in one of his Divine Poems, admired the ‘strange love’ which led God to clothe himself ‘in vile mans flesh’ and sought to participate in the redeeming shame of the crucified Christ. The ‘good’ characters in King Lear also cultivate shame, and it will be the burden


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of this book to suggest that the shame suffered by the tragic heroes is ultimately a salutary experience. Christ’s shame is redeeming primarily because he takes upon himself the shame which his creatures first brought into Eden when they ate the forbidden fruit: And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked, and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons. And they heard the voice of the L ORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the L ORD God amongst the trees of the garden. And the L ORD God called unto Adam, and said unto him, where art thou? And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself. And he said, Who told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded that thou shouldest not eat? (Genesis 3.7–11) This is a central text in the literature of shame and suggestive but difficult. It is not hard to see why God’s fallen creatures are ashamed to appear before their perfect creator, but the connection between knowledge and shameful nakedness is puzzling. It may partly be elucidated if we consider that before they fell our ‘first parents’ were unclothed but not naked, for they were perfectly innocent and good and had nothing to conceal – Milton imagines them ‘with naked Honour clad’ (Paradise Lost, 4.289): that is, dressed in nakedness – but now, polluted with sin and disobedience, they are horribly exposed. Their passage from innocence to guilty knowledge has brought them into novel and terrifying proximity to their own newly corrupted selves, and in so far as they can consider themselves as objects of knowledge at all, they are no longer self-identical or whole. They are thus aware of themselves, and particularly of their bodies, as things – of their bodily desires as gross and foreign. In addition, they realise that the visible parts of themselves, especially those that express their fleshly lusts, are exposed to each other, and to God; this sense of other eyes upon them turns their own eyes upon themselves more forcibly. They have fallen into divisive, shame-ridden self-consciousness. As I have

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said already, the Renaissance writer Juan Huarte, drawing on the Vulgate Genesis, affirms the origin of shame in selfconsciousness (Huarte 1594); Milton’s Adam cries out, ‘Cover me ye Pines, / Ye Cedars, with innumerable boughs / Hide me’ (9.1,088–90). This is shame which does not originally derive from the body but nevertheless is felt there. It is archetypal because shame often involves a sense of actual, physical nakedness. The subject sees itself for the first time, and sees that it is, in some way, to some degree, obscene: Hamlet’s consciousness of his ‘too too sullied flesh’ is relevant here (Hamlet, 1.2.129ff.). This ancient tale of Adam and Eve is a milestone in the developing historical consciousness of shame. It has retained something of its explanatory power through Shakespeare’s and even into our own day. In his discussion in The Body Emblazoned of the late medieval / early modern anatomical illustration of a pregnant woman from Johannnes de Ketham’s Fasciculus Medicinae, Jonathan Sawday notes that the tiny exposed foetus is covering its face in abashed recognition of original sin (Sawday 1995: 104–5). Milton’s first couple ‘devise’ rudimentary clothes and cover their loins ‘that this newcomer, Shame, / There sit not, and reproach as unclean’ (9.1,097–8). The clothes we now wear can be seen as signifying our sense of Adam and Eve’s mythical transgression. Sartre says all ‘shame is an experience of an original fall’ (Sartre 1956: 290). ‘Thou art inexcusable, O man’, says Paul in his Epistle to the Romans (2.1): Christianity explicitly regards the human condition itself as shameful, something which was only implicit in classical literature. We saw in the introduction that this resonates with more postmodern thinking than we might expect. In Death, Desire and Loss in Western Culture (1998), Jonathan Dollimore observes that recent theories of disunity, crisis and fragmentation in the self, which are typically presented as a critical act of demystification, in fact echo and perpetuate the myth of the Fall (Dollimore 1998a: 91). In any individual human life, puberty and loss of virginity, which bring ‘carnal knowledge’ and new fantasies and temptations that, as Kierkegaard says, make the spirit foreign to itself (Kierkegaard 1995: 62), can be seen as parallel experiences to the original loss of innocence in the Garden. The metamorphosis of shame into triumph on the cross is part of the felix culpa, the happy fall, whereby the lapse of


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Adam and Eve is seen to have made possible the sacrifice of Christ. Christians are called to follow Christ in embracing shame, for which they are promised a share in his exaltation. It is hard to think of a more conventionally shameful figure than the poor man Lazarus – who eats the scraps from the tables of the rich and whose exposed sores are licked by dogs – but he is glorified in heaven. Luke writes, ‘every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted’ (18.14).7 We read that the apostles ‘departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were accounted worthy to suffer shame for his name’ (Acts 5.41). St Francis wrote that when [he] and his companions were called of God and elect to bear in their hearts and in their deeds and preach with their tongues the cross of Christ, they seemed and were men crucified … and because they desired rather to bear shames and insults for the love of Christ than the honours of the world and the respect and praise of men: yea, being reviled they rejoiced, and at honours they were afflicted. (Francis 1906: 10) A literary example is the story of patient Griselda, as recounted in Chaucer’s ‘The Clerk’s Tale’. All this may strike modern readers as morbid, but it has a positive rationale. It is partly that shame is a loving sacrifice for God; but honour is also a lie, as Falstaff perceives. The shame suffered by Christ on the cross and fostered by his followers makes explicit the human condition of mortal shamefulness. Welcoming shame is a form of honesty. Furthermore, the death-in-life that Christians are called to suffer is ultimately life-in-death. The erosion and destruction of individuals’ corrupt post-lapsarian selves liberates them into their true selves – that is, the soul or spirit. Shame is seen in terms of removal from one’s own mortality: ‘whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord’ (2 Corinthians 5.6). Out of the wreckage of the rejected worldly self, the immortal soul emerges like a butterfly out of a chrysalis. It is for this reason that Paul recommends deliberate mortification (for example, Colossians 3.5). Christ’s shameful death on the cross is the image of the fate most-to-be-desired, because only such

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absolute mortification will completely annihilate what Paul calls ‘the body of sin’. And ‘if we be planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection’ (Romans 6.5). In addition to being the way to true spiritual being, to freedom from our mortal nothingness, shame in Christianity is a mystic road to God. In this case, we may imagine the shameful self as a gap or hole, through which the shamed, enlightened spirit may crawl into God’s presence. It is when the vainglorious idolater Nebuchadnezzar is degraded by Heaven to a bestial existence that he really sees God for the first time. Death and obliteration of the self is religious fulfilment. Paul writes, ‘I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me’ (Galatians 2.20). This is the crucial distinction: whereas in classical times shame suspends or in serious cases destroys life, often motivating actual suicide, for Christians the one life which is worth living actually begins with shame. The reader will notice that this discussion of Christian shame has so far been rehearsed more in terms of ontology and spiritual self-realisation, of epistemology and the knowledge of God, than in terms of Christian morality. These supernatural dimensions of Christian shame are centrally important – we are, after all, dealing with a religion, not just a moral code – but Christian shame is also always suffused with ethical considerations, because shame is a consequence of original sin. Where renewed transgression is added to this, guilt and shame are construed as especially the dues of God, and specifically repentant shame is often evoked in the Bible. It is penitent shame that brings the immaturely sinful Ephraim home to God: he recalls, ‘Surely after that I was turned, I repented; and after that I was instructed, I smote upon my thigh; I was ashamed, yea, even confounded, because I did bear the reproach of my youth.’ ( Jeremiah 31.19) Penitent shame is typically imagined by Christians as a turning back to confront the degraded self, an image taken up later by Scheler (see Emad 1972: 363). In a particularly vivid instance


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in Augustine’s Confessions, the saint recollects that, when Ponticianus told the story of his conversion, he felt God removing him from his hiding place behind his own back, setting him before his eyes, ‘so that I could see how sordid I was, how deformed and squalid, how tainted with ulcers and sores’ (Augustine 1971: 169). For Ephraim and Augustine alike, shame is a spiritual revolution which does not originate from themselves, but is a gift from God, a revelation of the self impossible from the ordinary standpoint of self-centredness. Augustine subsequently musters all the hidden and obscene secrets of his soul before what he calls ‘the eyes of my heart’ and bursts into a great storm of tears, which he feels is an acceptable sacrifice to God (ibid.: 177). This gives him the moral and spiritual impetus to cast himself at the foot of the cross and be redeemed. Such repentant shame is a change of heart; it overlaps with and is a form of contrition. But the sorrow it entails is strangely mingled with happiness at finding out the truth – the truth of oneself – and the promise of grace. This casts light on that otherwise curious Shakespearean moment in Measure for Measure when Juliet bursts out, ‘I do repent me as it is an evil, / And take the shame with joy’ (2.3.35–6). We have seen that in Christianity all shame, as a revelation of our mortal condition, may initiate or be an aspect of true religious experience, and that for this reason Christians welcome scorn and degradation from the world. But, as I mentioned in the introduction, Christianity nevertheless insists upon a distinction between worldly and spiritual shame, as classical authors typically do not. Worldly shame is of no account in a heavenly perspective. Christian shame proper is not social: classical shame takes place at the interface between the individual and society, whereas Christian shame takes place at the interface between the soul and God. Oedipus is exposed to the world, whereas Augustine is exposed to God. Secular shame is that which hurts and diminishes the corrupt worldly self – a good thing in religious terms – whereas Christian shame is that which hurts the soul, the essential self – a bad thing, though it may be the route to reformation. In Summa Theologiae, St Thomas Aquinas writes,

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Only the feeble in virtue are ashamed for the unpopularity they suffer on account of virtue. The more virtuous he is the more a man scorns mere externals, pleasant or the reverse: so it is written in Isaiah, ‘Fear ye not the reproach of men’. (Aquinas 1963: 63) Despite its spiritual uses, there is a strain of sublime indifference to worldly and amoral shame in Christianity. Proverbs puts it succinctly: ‘When pride cometh, then cometh shame: but with the lowly is wisdom’ (Proverbs 11.2). Christ says in Isaiah, I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and spitting. For the Lord G OD will help me; therefore shall I not be confounded: therefore have I set my face like a flint, and I know that I will not be ashamed. (Isaiah 50.6–7) Hebrews says, ‘he endures the cross, despising the shame’ (Hebrews 12.2). The overall Christian picture is that shame ultimately means nothing to those already living beyond the self but, at a lower and more common level of spiritual development, it is the salutary route beyond selfhood. We shall see in the following chapters that Renaissance writers were simultaneously shocked and fascinated by shamelessness, but Shakespeare ultimately repudiated it in favour of shame. The marked gender distinction in classical and later secular culture between masculine shame, which derives from low power or status, and feminine shame, deriving from loss of chastity or temperance, is not really found in Christianity, despite Paul’s strictures on hairstyles. As the Apostle himself says, There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3.28) But Christian shame is closer to female shame, Christian honour to female honour. As Julian Pitt-Rivers notes,


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one must renounce one’s claim to honour as precedence if one is to attain the fellowship of the Holy Ghost, or more precisely one must invert it, adopt the counter-principle represented by the honour of women, whose sex excludes them in theory from the agonistic sphere. (Peristiany and Pitt-Rivers 1992: 242) If moral shame is a good thing in scripture, then, as we would expect, moral shamelessness is a wicked vice. In a memorable phrase, God tells the indifferently sinful people of Judah, ‘thou hast a whore’s forehead, thou refusest to be ashamed’ ( Jeremiah 3.3). Shame invites redemption, whereas shamelessness brings damnation and death. God says of the unrepentant Jews, Were they not ashamed when they committed abomination? nay they were not at all ashamed, neither could they blush: therefore shall they fall among them that fall: in the time of their visitation they shall be cast down. ( Jeremiah 6.15) I have noted that Adam and Eve’s shame is a sense of nakedness. Scriptural shame is consistently linked with being unclothed, in a way which reveals a particular distaste for bodiliness and sensuality. Ham discovers his father Noah lying drunk and uncovered in his tent (Genesis 9.20–7) and later spiritual writers, from Augustine to Milton, associate the Fall with the shame of sex.8 This has no doubt helped to fix the sense of being stripped and exposed at the heart of the traditional experience of being ashamed. But nakedness is also such a prevailing theme in Christianity because human beings are conceived as continuously naked to God – another reason why, contrary to popular belief, shame plays at least as substantial a part in Western religion as guilt. Chaucer says in ‘The Parson’s Tale’, the last of The Canterbury Tales and really more of a sermon, A man sholde eek thynke that God seeth and woot alle his thoghtes and alle his werkes, to hym may no thyng been hyd ne covered.

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He goes on, Men sholden eek remembren hem of the shame that is to come at the day of doom … . For alle the creatures in hevene, in erthe, and in helle shullen seen apertly al that they hyden in this world. (‘The Parson’s Tale’, lines 1,061–3) This aspect of the Christian sublime haunted the Renaissance as well as the medieval imagination. According to Joel 3.11 and 12, it will take place in the Valley of Jehoshaphat. As may be inferred from the etymology ‘Yahweh shall judge’ or from Joel 3.14 where the same site is called ‘valley of decision’, this is a symbolic place, but most medieval exegetes also interpreted it literally, identifying it with the Valley of the Kidron. Although Blake’s amazing Last Judgement may help, it is difficult to see how such thinkers envisioned any earthly setting accommodating the whole assembled universe, yet such literalism makes the thought of shame and nakedness at judgement day almost unbearable. And the placing of a climactic scene of exposure and judgement at the end of life makes shame in Christianity the ultimate human experience. Some idea of what happens when the soul comes before God is given by the spasm of shame that afflicts Gawain when he is accused by his supernatural judge in Gawain and the Green Knight. He is temporarily paralysed; his heart is in uproar; ‘Alle the blode of his brest blende in his face’ (line 2,372);9 he shrinks in horror from the green knight’s words. The veritable epilepsy of shame which Lancelot suffers when he grovels on his belly twice before the grail in Malory’s ‘The Noble Tale of the San Grail’, and its French original, is even more vivid. The first time Lancelot is paralysed and struck unconscious. When he awakes, a voice addresses him: Sir Lancelot, more harder than is the stone, and more bitter than is the wood, and more naked and barer than is the leaf of the fig tree! Therefore go thou from hence, and withdraw thee from these holy places. (Malory 1998: 331)


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Lancelot resorts to an anchorite who shrives him. Reformed, he is granted another glimpse of the sacred vessel, but, approaching it, he is once again invaded by shame: Right so entered he into the chamber, and came toward the table of silver; and when he came nigh it, he felt a breath that him thought it was intermeddled with fire, which smote him so sore in the visage that him thought it burnt his visage; and therewith he fell to the earth and had no power to arise, as he that had lost the power of his body and his hearing and sight. Then he felt many hands which took him up and bore him out of the chamber door, and left him there seeming dead to all people. (ibid.: 391) Here the familiar effects of shame are exponentially increased: a face burning as if on fire, paralysis and dislocation from the self like death, shrinking and withdrawal which are like being forcibly removed by ‘many hands’. This all-surpassing warrior finds his worldly success is as nothing: there is a wholly different, a spiritual scale of honour and shame which he has neglected and which is cast in crudely secular culture as exclusively feminine. Such tension between worldly and heavenly values pervades all Christian literature. Lancelot lies unconscious for twenty-four days and nights, which he perceives as punishment for so many years of adultery. We shall see that Shakespeare creates a theatrical remembrance of judgement day in the shameful denouement of Measure for Measure. Intense, ultimate and universal, shame in Christianity is even more important than in classical literature, and Christianity provides a teleology of shame which classical literature lacks. As we shall see in the next chapter, the combination of classical and Christian ideas in early modern culture helped to create an epoch peculiarly subject to shame. It was to prove a fertile territory of complexity and contradiction for Shakespeare to work in.

3 Shame in the Renaissance

Now that we have established the two major concepts of shame which Shakespeare inherited, we turn to the immediate context of shame in the Renaissance. This chapter will indicate the power and prevalence of shame in early modern English culture within its wider Western context, and suggest something of the content and texture of that historical experience. It will also suggest reasons for the centrality of shame in the period. It builds on the relevant work of Werner L. Gundersheimer, Brian Cummings and Gail Kern Paster, also drawing on the researches of Michael Neill, Jonathan Sawday and Jonathan Dollimore into early modern death.1 Neill explicitly nominates shamefulness as an outstanding feature of death in the period (Neill 1997: 8), and each of these latter critics has something to say about the shame of mortality. Since we have now reached Shakespeare’s day, this account will become more detailed. We will find secular and sacred considerations strangely intermingled. A picture will emerge of an epoch with high expectations inevitably disappointed, an age which experienced the original fall afresh. In a pioneering article, Gundersheimer has shown that it is during the Renaissance that shame first becomes a substantial


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philosophical subject (Gundersheimer 1994: 34–56). A similar increase of shame is evident in the imaginative literature of the day. Except in the extraordinary supernatural situation of Lancelot or Gawain, shame in medieval English literature is often surprisingly minimal or absent. In ‘The Death of Arthur’, the last book of Malory’s Le Morte Darthur, for instance, Arthur overlooks the adultery of Lancelot and his queen: the King had a deeming of it; but he would not hear thereof, for Sir Lancelot had done so much for him and for the Queen so many times that, wit you well, the King loved him. (Malory 1998: 470) Even when the shameful affair is published to the world, Arthur takes up the cause, and the cudgels, of his offended honour with extreme reluctance: ‘the tears burst out of his eyes, thinking of the great courtesy that was in Sir Lancelot more than in any other man’ (ibid.: 488). Such generous indifference to shame is unthinkable in a nobleman of the Renaissance. Othello murders his wife at the mere suggestion of adultery. We may put the relative paucity of shame in medieval literature partly down to the convinced transcendentalism of an age that looks not to this world but the next. Secular shame is often simply not very meaningful to the persons of the Middle Ages. When he is killed by Achilles, at the end of Troilus and Criseyde, the rejected Troilus’s ‘lighte goost’ travels ‘ful blisfully … / Up to the holughnesse of the eighthe spere’ (lines 1,087–8), where it looks down with contempt on earthly vanity. Furthermore, the extreme negativity of the prevailing view of humanity tends to deaden shame’s impact, factoring it out, making it natural and expected: that is why Robert Henryson, in The Testament of Cresseid, is able to ascribe Cresseid’s whoredom to fate and largely excuse her. In this pre-Renaissance epoch, shame is a condition, the atmosphere of the fallen world, rather than a personal disaster or tragedy. Moreover, as we may gather from the examples cited in Chapter 2 of the shameembracing St Francis and patient Griselda, medieval Christians value the shame incurred by the righteous positively. In the archetypal stories of the abasement of a proud king, shame is not a pain but a gift, teaching proper humility before God.2

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Shame in Renaissance literature is much more painful and importunate. In The Malcontent, Marston calls death and shame ‘two of the ugliest shapes / That can confound a soul’ (2.3.65–6). Supervacuo’s comment on The Revenger’s Tragedy, ‘Shame heaped on shame!’ (4.3.15), could serve as an epigraph for this chapter. Webster’s phrase in The White Devil, ‘Only the deep sense of some deathless shame’ (2.1.330), points to contemporary susceptibility to the emotion. There are many more remarkable expressions of shame in the early modern canon. Antonio, in Marston’s Antonio’s Revenge, raises his father’s ghost with these words: O, in what orb thy mighty spirit soars, Stoop and beat downe this rising fog of shame, That striues to blur thy blood, and girt defame About my innocent and spotless browes. (3.1.27–30) Francis Quarles has an affecting poem on the subject.3 In Poems and Phancies, Margaret Cavendish imagines ‘The House of Shame wherein Dishonour lives’, where ‘Mouths are the Taps, whence Spue for Drink doth flow’; there are ‘Kitchens of Slander, where Good Names are Burn’d’ and ‘The Matrimonial Bands Dishonour link / With Infamy, which is as Black as Ink’. In A Chaste Maid in Cheapside, Middleton’s memorable expression of spiritual shame at the body and at fleshly indulgence is: ‘When man turns base, out goes his soul’s pure flame, / The fat of ease o’erthrows the eyes of shame’ (2.2.40–1); and in the same vein there is also, of course, Shakespeare’s ‘Th’expense of spirit in a waste of shame / Is lust in action’ (Sonnet 129). As a final, more personal instance, Sir Thomas Browne writes memorably of the shame that particularly afflicts him: I am naturally bashfull, nor hath conversation, age, or travell, beene able to effront, or enharden me, yet I have one part of modesty, which I have seldome discovered in another, that is (to speake truly) I am not so much afraid of death, as ashamed thereof; tis the very disgrace and ignominy of our natures, that in a moment can so disfigure us that our nearest friends, wife, and children stand afraid and start at us. (Browne 1977: 111)


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Part of the overall argument of this book is that Browne’s feeling, though often unspoken, is not so peculiar as he thinks, and that more or less latent shame at death and mortality is unavoidable. But there is something amazingly immediate about this passage; it is so private and confessional, as though talking about shame were itself shameful. The way horrified faces rise up at him at the end suggests that shame reafflicts Browne even as he writes. Another indicator of shame’s lively presence in Renaissance literature is its frequent and vivid personification. Shame was given a local habitation and a name as far back in literary history as Hesiod. In Works and Days, he imagines Shame (or, more accurately, the sense of shame, which is typically embodied in a female) forsaking Earth in the Iron Age, hiding her loveliness in robes of white, and leaving humanity defenceless against its wrongs. Shame also makes personal appearances in medieval works. In the second battle of Prudentius’s Psychomachia, Pudicitia or sexual shame defeats Libido and washes her sword in the Jordan river.4 The Romaunt of the Rose presents a beguiling creation myth for Christian shame different from the Fall. Shame is conceived when her mother Resoun catches sight of her hideously ugly father Trespas; she is immediately appointed ‘keper of the roser’ (Chaucer 1990: 3,059) – guardian of virginity – by Chastity. She is pictured as a fastidious, feminine spirit who sports ‘a vayle in stide of wymple / As nonnys don in her abbey’ (ibid.: 3,865). But shame is much more often and more particularly personified in Shakespeare’s period. The malevolent figure of Worldly Shame – as opposed, presumably, to the spiritually beneficial religious variety – appears on the early modern stage in the 1550s interlude Nice Wanton to tell Xantippe that her daughter has died of pox, and that her son has been hanged, because she has failed as a mother, failed in bringing them up. He insists that people will blame and scorn her; Xantippe faints and, reviving, considers suicide; Worldly Shame retires so as not to be blamed for her death.5 We have seen that Hesiod conceives of the sense of shame as female and, whereas this remains the case in later literature, outright shame is usually (as here) embodied in a male. This resonates with the fact that Shakespeare’s women tend to exemplify a perfect sense of shame, while his men typically bring shame upon themselves.

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Shame, ‘unseemly shame’, manifests itself too in Thomas Preston’s Cambises, equipped with a black trumpet to proclaim the protagonist’s ‘shameless deeds’ (lines 341ff.; quoted in Gundersheimer 1994: 42, n.22). A similar image of infamy as a blemished or befouled figure blowing a clarion features in the well-known frontispiece of Sir Walter Ralegh’s The History of the World. In the anonymous Emblemata, there is an image of shame: ‘In pudoris statuam’ (Gundersheimer 1994: 43, n.23). Spenser has Shame hiding his ugly face from living eyes at Pluto’s gate in The Faerie Queene ( and ‘most ill fauourd, bestiall and blind’, flourishing burning ‘brond-yrons’ in the Mask of Cupid (, 8). Yet he lovingly depicts Shamefastnesse, whose name is an appealing medieval and Renaissance word for sense of shame: Straunge was her tyre, and all her garment blew, Close round about her tuckt with many a plight: Vpon her fist, the bird which shonneth vew, And keeps in couerts close from liuing wight Did sit, as yet ashamd, how rude Pan did her dight (–9) Vnto the ground she cast her modest eye, And euer and anone with rosie red The bashfull bloud her snowy cheekes did dye, That her became, as polisht yuory, Wich cunning Craftesmans hand hath ouerlayd With faire vermilion or pure Castory (–7) This more detailed personification of shame in its various aspects suggests that it really did seem to the persons of the period to have a multifaceted, independent being. At the end of The Faerie Queene, the Blatant Beast – a spirit of slander with a thousand tongues derived from Virgil and cousin to Shakespeare’s Rumour in 2 Henry IV – breaks loose after being captured and seemingly tamed by Calidore: ‘So now he raungeth through the world againe, / And rageth sore in each degree and state’ (–2). This last quote points to rampaging infamy and shame in the world outside the poem, and other contemporary sources bear the suggestion out. Philemon Holland, for instance, in his


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1603 translation of Plutarch’s Moralia, calls the emotion ‘one of the greatest shaking cracks that our soul can receive in her tranquillity’ (Plutarch 1911: 187). Nor is this mere rhetoric: as Naunton recounts, the scorn that Queen Elizabeth showed to Lord Perrot ‘brake in pieces the cords of his magnanimity’ (quoted in Watson 1960: 72). And when he was accused by Cobham of having betrayed his country to the Spanish, Walter Ralegh wrote to his wife, his syntax becoming steadily more and more deranged by his passion: Oh intollerable infamie, Oh God I cannot resiste theis thoughts, I cannot live to thinke how I am derided, to thinke of the expectation of my enemies, the scornes I shall receive, the crewell words of lawyers, the infamous taunts and dispights, to be made a wonder and a spectacle. O death hasten thee unto me, that thow maiste destroye … my memorie which is my Tormentor, my thoughts and my life cannot dwell in one body. (ibid.: 180) Robert Ashley’s Of Honour (1596) portrays a world gone mad with fear of shame and humiliation: One boy will fight another to death that he may not be compted a coward amongst his companions: Learned men do even kyll themselves with studie that they not be overgone in knowledge and understanding of things. (Ashley 1947: 50) We will witness other powerful instances of actual Renaissance shame, but we turn now, in this first survey of the literature of the day, to Gundersheimer’s discovery that in the course of the sixteenth century a proper theoretical literature of shame develops. Cummings has pointed out that ‘shame resists humouristic classification’, and that the passions contravened and blurred the supposed dualism of mind and body, so that this literature is often consciously tentative and experimental (Cummings 1999). In The Book of the Courtier (1528), Cesare speaks in defence of shame as a virtue of women (Castiglione 1976: 244). Juan Luis Vives’s De anima et vita (1538) features a brief chapter on shame. Like Castiglione, Vives

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adopts Aristotle’s formulation, whereby shame is simply fear of disgrace or infamy (Vives 1990). This slavish obedience to the Greek philosopher is the besetting weakness of accounts in the period but, crucially, Aristotle’s definition would not have meant the same in the Renaissance as it did to Aristotle himself, for an early modern person is always, even in his or her most private moments, exposed to God. Thus shame as disgrace does not, in this epoch, define shame as merely social. In 1540, Antonio Luiz’s essay ‘De pudore’ appeared in Lisbon: a compilation of classical references to sexual shame and shaming in ancient military situations, and part of his De occultis proprietatibus.6 Like Vives, Luiz asserts that shame preserves social order. Pierre de la Primaudaye’s The French Academy, which was translated into English in 1586, features an essay entitled ‘Of shame, shamefastnesse and dishonour’. This is particularly concerned with the inner discipline and moral benefits of shame: ‘Shame is the keeper of all the virtues’ (Primaudaye 1586: 256) and unblushing brows giveth a great argument of a very blockish and senceless nature, which is ashamed of nothing, by reason of his long custome and confirmation in doing of evill. (ibid.: 258) Following the discovery of new worlds, the seemingly shameless nakedness of some indigenous peoples both troubled and fascinated European writers – now suggesting to them a prelapsarian innocence, now sheer brutality, as it is the main purpose of Cummings’s essay to show. This burgeoning literature confirms the new consciousness of shame in the Renaissance, and I have not yet mentioned that the first ever book-length study of shame appeared in Ferrara in 1592. Its author, Annibale Pocaterra, a brilliant young physician, courtier and poet of that city,7 died in the year of publication. His book was never reprinted and has only recently been translated, by Gundersheimer. Yet Due dialogi della vergogna is certainly an important event in the history of shame. Stressing its vitality and richness, Gundersheimer rates it very highly indeed. What it lacks in philosophical rigour, it makes up for in empirical detail, vivid metaphor and energetic speculation; and the Socratic device of a conversation between


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intellectual friends, touched with a special cinquecento graciousness, lends it charm and atmosphere. Pocaterra, too, recycles the Aristotelian dictum ‘shame is nothing more than the fear of infamy’, but the dialogue form allows him to explore beyond its confines. Several times he introduces and commends the private shame that has nothing to do with infamy or public disgrace: Leaving aside God, who has excellent knowledge not just of human actions but also of human thoughts, don’t we always have ourselves with us? Who could know our defects better than we ourselves? And knowing them, condemn them? And condemning them, amend them? If only we could arrive at this truth with our understanding, how attentively we would stalk ourselves; how much more studiously we would observe our customs, more so, even, than our enemies do. And it is true that no one is as good a friend to himself as one who can be his own good enemy.8 The Due dialogi also show a new interest in blushing and the physiology of shame: for instance, Pocaterra notes that since shame threatens the soul revealed in the face, blood rushes to the face to cover it, with gestures of covering-up and concealment providing a second line of defence. The literary vitality of the book is unusual. Pocaterra explains the role of reason with a helpful hydraulic metaphor: ‘reason stirs and awakens shame, but she also governs its flow so it is neither too scarce nor too abundant’. He contends that it is possible to die of shame and that thus ‘died Homer – simply for the shame of being unable to solve an enigma that some fishermen had proposed to him’. We will come across similar deaths in Shakespeare. The Due dialogi are full of memorable images of shame. An especially lovely moment is when Pocaterra’s spokesman Horatio Ariosto says: ‘Believe me, Signor Castello, the dawn preceding the sunrise does not grow so beautiful or so crimson as the shame which precedes virtue.’ Yet, in spite of its relative empiricism and what it says of Homer’s death, Pocaterra’s book shares in the general detachment of theoretical writings from shame. As with classical writing in the last chapter, we must look to imaginative literature for the truth as it is felt on the pulses. Although it has hitherto escaped critical notice, extreme shame is a salient

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feature of much of the major work of Shakespeare’s most famous contemporaries – as well as of his greatest successor, Milton. There are conspicuous instances of shame in Spenser, and they have a powerfully caustic flavour. The disrobing of the seemingly lovely Duessa in The Faerie Queene, for example, is an extremely nasty affair: Her craftie head was altogether bald, And as in hate of honorable eld, Was ouergrowne with scurfe and filthy scald; Her teeth out of her rotten gummes were feld, And her sowre breath abhominably smeld; Her dried dugs, like bladders lacking wind, Hong downe, and filthy matter from them weld … (–7) Duessa even has a ‘foxes taile’ ( decorated in excrement. She takes to her heels, ‘her open shame to hide’ (, and is discovered later by Archimago, Where she did wander in waste wildernesse, Lurking in rockes and caues farre underground, And with greene mosse cou’ring her nakednesse, To hide her shame and loathly filthinesse. (–5) If that seems strong stuff, Marlowe creates even stronger, melodramatic spectacles of shame on stage before a live audience, evincing a sadistic, sometimes explicitly sexual interest in the phenomenon. In the first part of Tamburlaine the Great, Tamburlaine, by birth a shepherd, keeps Bajazeth, the defeated Emperor of the Turks, in a cage. He brings him out to use as a footstool, stepping on his back while Bajazeth hisses: as I look down to the damned fiends, Fiends, look on me! And thou, dread god of hell, With ebon sceptre strike this hateful earth, And make it swallow both of us at once! (4.2.26–9) In a private moment with his wife, Zabina, Bajazeth complains through his bars of the shame, hunger and horror that is


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‘griping’ his ‘bowels with retorqued thoughts’ (5.2.173–4). Ultimately, he brains himself on the cage and Zabina follows suit. More famously, at the beginning of Act 4 Scene 3 of Tamburlaine’s second part, Tamburlaine enters ‘drawn in his chariot by the KINGS OF TREBIZON and SORIA , with bits in their mouths, reins in his left hand, and in his right hand a whip with which he scourgeth them’: ‘Holloa, ye pamper’d jades of Asia!’ In the luridly shameful Edward II, Edward is washed in puddle-water and his beard is shaved away; he is kept in the dungeon of Berkeley Castle, knee-deep in sewage. As Mario di Gangi notes, ‘These tortures are scatological: they take place in, and allude to, the grotesque lower regions of the castle and the body’ (Gangi 1998: 207). Finally, Edward is murdered by means of anal penetration with a red-hot poker. Jonson also uses his stage as a pillory – to broader comic effect, but it makes for corrosive comedy. His plays allude to the shaming rituals of Elizabethan law and order, to which we shall return later. In Bartholomew Fair, for instance, the whipping post (4.5.71–2), the cucking stool (2.5.103–5) and the cart (4.5.73–4) are mentioned, and the stocks are among the most important props. Many of Jonson’s characters, such as Bobadilla and Matheo in Every Man in his Humour, Corvino in Volpone and Morose in Epicoene, are frozen in postures of ridiculous humiliation. In The Alchemist, the hilariously oblivious Dapper, believing he is about to be interviewed by the Fairy Queen, is blindfolded, bound, pinched, robbed, gagged with a piece of gingerbread and locked in a privy for two hours, where he is almost stifled. He gets a brief visit from a whore, wriggles on his knees before her as instructed and kisses her ‘departing part’ (5.4.57): he emerges in a state of beatification. Another shameful image extraordinary to behold is that of Sir Politic Would-be cowering in his tortoise shell. But then the whole experience of the extended theatrical exposure of Volpone in his bedchamber, with his family of freaks and his aged and predatory visitors, creates a powerful atmosphere of shame. Jonson’s goal is to induce reforming shame in his audience, goading them with images of their own absurdity. Asper, his surrogate in Every Man out of his Humour and ‘the presenter’ of the play, declares his intention to ‘unmask public vice’ (induction, line 22), ‘strip the ragged follies of the time / Naked, as at their birth’ (lines 17–18), ‘to these courteous eyes

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oppose a mirror, / As large as is the stage whereon we act: / Where they shall see the time’s deformity / Anatomized in every nerve and sinew’ (lines 18–21). Here is a first concrete indication of the way shaming theatre may turn on its audience and reveal them, shockingly, to themselves. If biographical reflection is permitted, it is perhaps also possible to trace the theme of shame in Jonson’s work back to Jonson the man. It may be that shame lurked behind his desire for intellectual respectability; it is likely that he felt angry with himself for the wildness that persisted in him. This most prominent didactic poet of his day told Drummond that when he had charge of Walter Ralegh’s son in Paris, the youth got him dead drunk, laid him in a cart and paraded him through the city, telling those they passed by that here ‘was a more lively image of the crucifix than any they had’ ( Jonson 1985: 601). That this hilarious shaming is placed in such uneasy proximity to the sublime shame of the crucifixion is deeply apposite given Jonson’s own serio-comic preoccupation with the subject. As we shall see below, Jonson’s great weight may also have embarrassed him.9 Shame is just as clearly a salient theme in Milton. In a mode of fearful inwardness, his shamed Samson tells how his thoughts mangle his apprehensive tenderest parts, Exasperate, exulcerate, and raise Dire inflammation which no cooling herb Or med’cinal liquor can assuage, Nor breath of vernal air from snowy Alp. (Samson Agonistes, lines 623–8) Milton, himself blind and at least once unhappily married, may have partly identified with Samson and perhaps more than usually with Adam, in so far as that first man was also brought low by a woman. Samson Agonistes owes something to Sophocles’s Ajax, and when, earlier, Milton enlarged upon the shame of Adam and Eve in Paradise Lost, he blended the scriptural narrative with the idiom of classical tragedy to create a vicarious shame experience of unique intensity. Adam finds ‘in our Faces evident the signs / Of foul concupiscence’ (9.1,076–7). His unforgettable cry – we have heard a fragment of it already – reverberates through the Garden:


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How shall I behold the face Henceforth of God or Angel, erst with joy And rapture so oft beheld? Those heav’nly shapes Will dazzle now this earthly, with their blaze Insufferably bright. O might I here In solitude live savage, in some glade Obscur’d, where highest Woods impenetrable To Star or Sun-light spread their umbrage broad, And brown as Evening: Cover me ye Pines, Ye Cedars, with innumerable boughs Hide me … (9.1,080–90) A still more horribly shameful episode is when Satan’s ‘triumph’ in engineering the Fall of Man turns visibly to ‘shame’ (10.545). In his infernal seat of Pandemonium, Satan relates his success to a full assembly of devils. He breaks off to receive applause, but is instead regaled with ‘A dismal universal hiss, the sound / Of public scorn’ (10.508–9). He wonders bemusedly, but not long Had leisure, wond’ring at himself now more; His Visage drawn he felt to sharp and spare, His Arms clung to his Ribs, his Legs entwining Each other, till supplanted down he fell A monstrous Serpent on his Belly prone (10.509–14) He tries to speak, but his forked tongue splits his words. Late arrivals enter Pandemonium in a spirit of celebration and festivity, only to find the place crawling with agitated serpents, and directly feel themselves changing. A grove of forbidden trees springs up. The deformed devils, afflicted with inexorable thirst and hunger, hurl themselves at the fruit, and chew on dust and ashes. This humiliation is itself a mocking repetition of Satan’s intervention in human history, brilliantly realising its true degradation and fruitlessness. It is to be repeated annually on ‘certain number’d days’ (10.576), perhaps mimicking the way in which a shameful act may keep resurfacing in the mind strangely undimmed by time. That the poetic force of

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Milton’s vision of shame remains is borne out by the late twentieth-century American poet Robert Lowell’s more intimate recreation of the scene.10 The intuition that Milton was plagued by an extraordinary susceptibility to shame has recently inspired Peter Ackroyd’s fantasy, Milton in America, where the poet falls into sexual sin upon emigrating to the Americas after the Restoration (Ackroyd 1996). The hysterical indecorum of Dapper’s humiliation in the privy; the exposure of Duessa’s horrible nakedness; the obscene degradation of Edward’s death and of onetime angels shrivelling routinely into demented worms – this is a new kind of literary shame, not really found in the classical and biblical sources examined in the last chapter. There is no more appalling moment of shame in literature than the crucifixion, and yet it is rather sparely described by the Gospel writers: Christ is stripped, whereas Duessa’s diseased and sagging ‘dugs’ and her filthy tail are laid bare, and we are even alerted to her diseased genitalia. The classical heroes Ajax, Oedipus and Heracles retain their manly grandeur notwithstanding degradation. Indeed, since their shame is presented as a mysterious visitation, it is a mark of their special status: only they are great enough to receive the terrible truth of our condition. But, in the Renaissance, shame is a complete explosion of being, as the experience of Shakespeare’s disgraced Antony indicates explicitly: ‘Here I am Antony, / Yet cannot hold this visible shape, my knave’ (Antony and Cleopatra, 4.14.13–14). No shred of dignity remains to Duessa or to Dapper. And when the red-hot poker is thrust into Edward’s rectum, there is no consoling sense of greatness in defeat. Secular reasons for Renaissance shame Paradoxically, the first and foremost reason for the powerful increase of shame is the humanist tenor of the age. As I have said above, in the Middle Ages people tend to measure themselves by an absolute, divine standard so that human unworthiness is a fact, a given. It is not typically felt in ordinary life, but only when the individual comes before God to repent or be judged; the great medieval texts of shame are thus Gawain and the Green Knight and Piers Plowman. By contrast, the Renaissance reintroduces the very high human standard of


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the classical period, as, for example, in the heroic figures of Michelangelo. Ficino writes in his commentary on Plato’s Symposium, ‘it is clear that in loving God we have loved ourselves’ (quoted in Davies 1978: 56). This is to put it at its most extreme, but some sense of human potential and worthiness is axiomatic in Renaissance art and thought, and lies at the heart of the original position from which Shakespeare’s tragedy develops. While shame is fundamental to medieval concepts of personality, it is incompatible with this proud view. The notion, ‘What piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable … ’ (Hamlet, 2.2.303–5), makes any discovery of corruption or imperfection in the species or the self intolerable: ‘Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds’ (Sonnet 94). Shame in the Renaissance becomes a great fear and pain, a contradiction, a kind of death – just as it is in classical tragedy. Errors and blemishes may no longer be referred back to our fallen condition in the way that Henryson excused Cresseid. The new power of shame in the Renaissance is also a consequence of the second salient feature of the age: enhanced self-awareness. Rediscovered classical writers promoted this. Montaigne is the obvious early modern exemplar, but one could equally cite the Donne of Devotions and ‘Death’s Duel’. Shame in Spenser is more intimately internal than anything in earlier literature, extending to erotic dreams. In the first canto of The Faerie Queene, the Redcrosse Knight is shocked and shamed when he awakes from reveries of unwonted lust, particularly as he is faced with the ‘uncouth’ apparition of a seductive Una (lines 48–55). In an age of great but not always attainable expectations, self-conscious individuals will naturally be prone to shame, negative self-assessment, disappointment in themselves; again we need only think of Hamlet. I have quoted Sir Thomas Browne’s acutely personal apprehension of the shame of death already. A more everyday example is provided by Ben Jonson’s comic poem, ‘On my Picture Left in Scotland’: I now think love is rather deaf than blind, For else it could not be That she

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Whom I adore so much should so slight me, And cast my love behind; I’m sure my language to her was as sweet And every close did meet In sentence of as subtle feet, As hath the youngest he That sits in shadow of Apollo’s tree. Oh, but my conscious fears That fly my thoughts between, Tell me that she hath seen My hundred of grey hairs, Told seven-and-forty years, Read so much waste, as she cannot embrace My mountain belly, and my rocky face; And all these through her eyes have stopped her ears. This creates an impression of inwardness by its reluctant admission of sexual anxiety. The material about spurned poetic excellence is clearly a red herring. As the stilted and strained first stanza gives way to the fluency of the second, the shame of a cultivated older man rejected in love overwhelms his resistance and he recognises himself as grey, fat and decayed. Jonson self-accusingly reverts to the topic of his weight, again in the context of his dealings with women, at the end of his sharper, less wistful ‘Epistle to my Lady Covell’: So you have gained a servant and a muse: The first of which I fear, you will refuse; And you may justly, being a tardy, cold, Unprofitable chattel, fat and old, Laden with belly, and doth hardly approach His friends, but to break chairs or crack a coach. His weight is twenty stone, within two pound, And that’s made up as doth the purse abound. Nothing is more suggestive of wry self-loathing than the way the syntax crashes forward here, mimicking the unwieldy poet himself. In Shakespeare’s Sonnet 110, there is what Orwell calls ‘a half ashamed allusion to his career as an actor’;11 in the next poem in the sequence the poet is shamed by his ink-stained


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hand, the mark of a low-born scribbler. Jonathan Bate has ingeniously suggested that we read the opening of Sonnet 112 as a response to Robert Greene’s well-known gibe against Shakespeare: there is an upstart Crow, beautified with our feathers, that with his Tigers heart wrapped in a Player’s hide, supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blank verse as the best of you; and, being an absolute Johannes fac totum, is in his own conceit the only Shake-scene in a country. (Quoted in Bate 1997: 15)12 This is the first quatrain of Shakespeare’s poem: Your love and pity doth th’impression fill Which vulgar scandal stamped upon my brow For what care I who calls me fair or ill, So you o’er green my bad, my good allow. Bate notes that the original text reads ‘ore greene’ (Bate 1997: 19). Besides high standards and self-consciousness, there are other reasons for the increase of shame in the period. The fragmentation of truth – which results from the breakdown of the consensus fidelium, the new level of interest in antiquity, the pressure of Islam, the discovery of human society in the new world and the growth of reading – creates new possibilities for intellectual embarrassment. It makes the subject more responsible for its own thought and outlook, but it might be wrong – and in matters of religion its soul is at stake, as Donne’s ‘Satire 3’ is acutely aware. New social mobility, evidenced in the rise of Spenser, Marlowe and Jonson, combines with the pluralism of values to produce the conditions for what Stephen Greenblatt calls ‘Renaissance self-fashioning’, but, in so far as faith in a creating and lovingly sustaining God has failed, human identity is just so much stuff to disintegrate and come apart. If there is existential freedom, there is also a loss of essence. Self-image, the product of self-fashioning, is often a fragile illusion; when it breaks, the defaced subject is left desolate and ashamed, as Richard II finds out and expresses by dashing a looking-glass in ‘an hundred pieces’ at his feet (Richard II,

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4.1.290). In an illuminating reassessment of the implications of Descartes’s cogito, Jonathan Sawday points out that the Cartesian subject could be confident in its own being only when assuming a specular distance from itself, and was thus condemned to a restless shuttling between unfounded insecurity and self-division and alienation (Sawday 1995: 159). Moreover, the fragmentation of religious sense makes an apparently autonomous human society much more vividly present and important, to the effect that the individual in society feels newly exposed. The early modern subject, like its classical forebear, is very much constructed in the eyes of others. This is a crucial reason for shame’s new power. The Renaissance is a great age of display and spectacle, of desire to cut a figure before the world, as was epitomised, for instance, by the sumptuous meeting on French soil in 1520 between Henry VIII and Francis I – dubbed ‘The Field of Cloth of Gold’. The theatrical metaphor from contemporary literature – ‘all the world’s a stage’ (As You Like It, 2.7.139) – should be seen in this context. ‘We Princes’, said Elizabeth, ‘are set on stages, in the sight and view of all the world duly observed’ (quoted in Neale 1965: 119). Her subjects were putting on a show as well. Such was their sartorial extravagance, it had to be regulated by sumptuary laws. In a world with less regard for heaven, the ultimate end of such role-playing is to win a good name which will survive the grave: at the beginning of Love’s Labour’s Lost, Navarre et al. project achievements which will ‘grace us in the disgrace of death’ (1.1.3). But there is fear of turning out a poor player, who struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more – and is remembered, if at all, with contempt. As we have seen from the examples of Perrot and Ralegh, the pains of dishonour and ill repute in the Renaissance could be more than usually lacerating. Having deserved the extreme disfavour of the Queen, the renegade Earl of Essex writes, ‘[I] saw my reputation not suffered to die with me, but buried and I alive’; he feels ‘as if I were thrown into a corner like a dead carcase, I am gnawed on and torn by the basest creatures on earth’. He concludes as follows:


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The prating tavern haunter speaks of me what he lists; they print me and make me speak to the world, and shortly they will play me on the stage. (Quoted in Watson 1960: 157)13 Note that infamy here is not only analogous to but will apparently culminate in exposure on the satirical stage. It will actually end in theatrical exposure on the scaffold. The metaphor is no longer metaphoric; no wonder infamy is a main theme in contemporary drama. Occasionally Shakespeare’s characters compare their experience of notoriety to being in a play, this making it no less real to them. I have mentioned the shame of Shakespeare in his guise as sonneteer at befooling himself on stage. Here is the (as he thinks) cuckolded Leontes: Go play, boy, play. Thy mother plays, and I Play too; but so disgrac’d a part whose issue Will hiss me to my grave. Contempt and clamour Will be my knell. (The Winter’s Tale, 1.2.187–90) Anxiety about playing a part before the world is fuelled by the new emphasis on manners in the Renaissance, which creates a range of often bodily embarrassments, as well as novel forms of sophistication: this is part of Gail Kern Paster’s theme in The Body Embarrassed (1993).14 Though there were courtesy books in the Middle Ages, the locus classicus of manners is Erasmus’s slight treatise of 1530, De civilitate morum puerilium (Manners for Children). It was the publishing sensation of its day: there were at least eighty editions and fourteen translations, and by 1600 tens of thousands of copies had been printed and distributed. As late as 1833, the Guizot Commission discovered that it remained a basic text in French schools. Based on the traditional wisdom that physical behaviour expresses the inner disposition of the soul, it discusses public demeanour and how to behave in church, in meetings, while gambling and in going to bed. It spawned a vast literature of civility which became increasingly intrusive and prescriptive: for example, thirty years after Erasmus, Calviac wrote,

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It is most decent in a young child not to handle his shameful parts even when necessity requires it and he is alone, except with shame and reluctance, for this indicates great modesty and decency. (Quoted by Revel 1989: 186–7) As here, so generally with this courtesy literature: readers are encouraged to regard all their acts as public; they learn what is civil, and therefore good, and what is uncivil, and thus unfit to be seen, even by themselves. More of the self, more of the body, is to be hidden away in ‘silent shame’ (Revel 1989: 182). Fear of being seen, of being caught at a disadvantage, is epidemic. Jonson told Drummond that Sir Philip Sidney’s mother ‘after she had the little pox never show[ed] herself in court but masked’ (Jonson 1985: 602). Absolom in ‘The Miller’s Tale’ provides a medieval example of male vanity and fastidiousness, but Margaret Pelling finds the enormous population in early modern London of barber-surgeons, who provided a full range of personal services – cosmetic, quasimedical and even sexual – to nearly all ranks of men in the social order, evidence of acute anxiety about bodily appearance. Pelling also notes that Elizabethan and Jacobean clothing, although strong in outline and attractive in surface, played an important role in concealing the body from public view. Very little of the surface of the body was allowed to appear. Beggars offended by baring their limbs and sores in public. (Pelling 1986: 92) The creation of an autonomous sphere of private life fostered a similar dread of exposure. After changing slowly over the centuries, houses change considerably from the late medieval period, with rooms getting smaller and with private stairways, halls, corridors and vestibules being added to allow them to be entered without the need to pass through other rooms (Ariès 1989: 6–7). But privacy is a tentative and insecure affair, vulnerable to all kinds of intrusion: one thinks of the Titian painting in the Scottish National Gallery of Actaeon surprising


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the naked Diana, and of Iachimo in Cymbeline in the bedchamber of the sleeping Imogen. In September 1599, the Earl of Essex returned in disgrace from Ireland and embarrassed the Queen by bursting in while she had her hair about her face.15 Renaissance authorities played upon and maximised this susceptibility to shame by employing a wide range of shaming punishments, some of which are described by Stephen Greenblatt in his general introduction to The Norton Shakespeare (1997). As Greenblatt notes, the stocks, the pillory and the whipping post played an important and conspicuous part in English town life. In a solitary Lancashire case, a Bolton woman received five strokes on her bare back on market day, then was set in the stocks with a paper on her head reading, ‘This person punished for fornication’ (Emmison 1970: 201). Offenders had since Chaucer’s day been carted and mounted backward on asses and paraded through the streets and pelted with rubbish. Scolds, by definition female, were, as Lynda E. Boose has shown, publicly muzzled with a horrid and painful iron contraption called a ‘brank’, or dunked in the river in a ‘cucking stool’.16 A Barking man and a West Ham woman charged with incontinence in 1565 were assigned penance in Romford market on a November day ‘stripped out of their clothes for an hour and a half ’ (Emmison 1973: 286). But the church courts normally required transgressors to stand before the congregation on the following Sunday in a white sheet holding a wand. Thousands of Elizabethans underwent this humiliation in Essex alone (ibid.: 281). In 1616, Shakespeare’s son-in-law, Thomas Quiney, was tried for fathering an illegitimate child and ordered to perform penance in a white sheet during service time on three successive Sundays (Brinkworth 1972: 81). We have seen how Jonson put such shaming sanctions to theatrical use, and we will see the same with Shakespeare: in 2 Henry VI, he has an aristocrat paraded through the public street in just such shameful garb. The most serious crimes were punished by mutilation and disfigurement: the ears of convicted criminals were cropped, their noses slit, their foreheads or cheeks branded. Edward Kelly, the sinister assistant of Dr John Dee, lost his ears in Lancaster around 1580 (Nicholl 1980: 20); in 1598 Jonson was indicted for killing Gabriel Spencer in a duel on the notorious Mile End Road: he pleaded guilty, was convicted of manslaughter, read his neck verse and was branded

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on the thumb by a hot iron with the letter popularly known as the ‘Tyburn T’ (Emmison 1970: 64). Moreover, he nearly lost both his ears and his nose for the libellous references in Eastward Ho! (see his ‘Conversations’, in Jonson 1985: 601). Public beheadings and hangings were a familiar London attraction. In the worst cases you were sentenced to be hanged by the neck, and being cut down, and your privy members to be cut off, and your bowels to be taken out of your belly and there burned, you being alive. (Quoted in Greenblatt 1997: 34) Religion and Renaissance shame I have suggested that the early modern period combines both classical and medieval susceptibility to shame, and we have seen how vulnerable people of the period are to secular shame. The more serious business of spiritual shame (not according to the world’s standards, but before God and one’s own soul) is extremely volatile – now hardly present, now returning with redoubled force. Shakespeare’s great forebear, Marlowe, is (as we shall see below) exemplary in his dualism, managing to be simultaneously shameless and rich in spiritual shame. Because of the uncertainty born of religious schism and the subordination of church to state, there is more tension between worldly and Christian shame in the Renaissance than in the Middle Ages, and worldly shame is more importunate. Jonson, for instance, reports that ‘Ralegh esteemed more of fame than conscience’ ( Jonson 1985: 599). The erosion of established faith allows for the development of a novel philosophy of freedom from guilt and moral and spiritual shamelessness. In the Middle Ages, values were so established that one who offended could be sure of conviction both by society and their own conscience; but in the Renaissance religious doubt provided scope for moral experiment.17 The crucial figure here is Machiavelli. In developing the first autonomous politics, he contends that the prince must ‘learn how not to be virtuous’, ‘act in defiance of good faith, of charity, of kindness, of religion … know how to do evil’; he formulates the doctrine of ‘cruelty used well’ (Machiavelli 1961: 48, 56, 29). ‘This bad fellowe … blusheth not’, says Primaudaye (quoted in Meyer 1897: 77).


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Machiavelli’s ambiguous influence on contemporary drama, and on Marlowe in particular, is well known. Machevill (‘make evil’) inducts The Jew of Malta in person. Marlowe’s joke is that he finds only moral shame and outrage shameful: ‘Birds of the air will tell of murders past / I am asham’d to hear such fooleries!’ (Prologue, lines 17–18). As Greenblatt observes, Marlowe’s protagonists are violators: Tamburlaine violates all feeling for hierarchy; Faustus offends against heaven; Edward outrages noble pride and sexual convention (Greenblatt 1980: 203). The Jew of Malta is Machevill’s protégé. He remarks, ‘Haply some hapless man hath conscience’ (1.1.121). His life is a continual performance of shamelessness, his favourite pastime to ‘walk abroad a-nights / And kill sick people groaning under walls’ (2.3.179–80). This should partly be seen in terms of guilt, but we are ultimately dealing with shame and shamelessness. For Marlowe’s characters are, as Greenblatt says, engaged on a self-fashioning project and (as I have argued earlier) it is shame that is concerned with being, whereas guilt comes from doing. Ordinary language suggests that guiltlessness is a matter of mere legal culpability; it is shamelessness that is the quality of a morally outrageous person. Tamburlaine and the Marlovian protagonists who succeed him want to give their lives ‘a clear fixed shape’, to leave an ‘enduring mark in the world’. The great fear, in Barabas’s words, is ‘That I may vanish o’er the earth in air, / And leave no memory that e’er I was’. (Greenblatt 1980: 197) By defying the shame of transgressing conventional standards and supposedly eternal verities, they gain the sense, and the sensation, of individual being. Marlowe is interested in the social origins of shamelessness. By making Barabas a Jew in a Christian society, he proposes shamelessness as especially tempting for the stigmatised, introducing a radical political view whereby it becomes a response to, and a liberation from, shame that is socially imposed. As Webster later puts it in The Duchess of Malfi, ‘there’s in shame no comfort, / But to be past all bounds and sense of shame’ (3.2.81–2). We shall see in the next chapter that Shakespeare struggles with Marlovian shamelessness, and ultimately rejects

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it. His hunchbacked Richard III and the illegitimate Edmond are Barabas’s direct successors. In Doctor Faustus, Marlowe himself, exemplifying the volatility and contradiction of his age, finds that shamelessness is bankrupt and not at all the security of being. Although Tamburlaine’s eyes menace God, it is Faustus who takes Marlovian impudence to its sacrilegious extreme, consciously pitting his own freely-determined individuality against the sanctions of his doubted maker. This act of experimental blasphemy is grand and appeals to the imagination, but otherwise Faustus’s life descends into silliness. As Greenblatt notices, it is a general problem for Marlowe’s characters that none of them successfully forges his own values: they all remain perversely but wholly in thrall to the standards they violate (Greenblatt 1980: 209). Alienated from God and goodness, Faustus finds he has no positive being after all: his freedom and defiance turn out to be a form of spiritual death. When he is dragged off to hell at the end of the play, he discovers concretely that shameless Marlovian egoism is a vain mistake and that there is truly a higher, larger reality than self which is being’s true foundation. The cultural flirtation with shamelessness in the period, manifested especially but not exclusively by Marlowe, produces an outraged reaction in many works. Hamlet asks, ‘O shame, where is thy blush?’ (Hamlet 3.4.81). In The Malcontent, Altofronto opposes a society grown ‘blushless’ (2.3.46, 3.2.31, 4.3.35) and degenerate. In The Revenger’s Tragedy, Vindice utters this ironic prayer: Impudence! Thou goddess of the palace, mistress of mistresses, To whom the costly-perfumed people pray, Strike thou my forehead into dauntless marble, Mine eyes to steady sapphires; turn my visage, And if I must needs glow, let me blush inward That this immodest season may not spy That scholar in my cheeks, fool-bashfulness, That maid in the old time, whose flush of grace Would never suffer her to get good clothes. (1.3.5–14)


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This passage interestingly anticipates Rushdie’s internal blushes. But if we look past the misogyny of its specifically feminine terms, it mainly gives us shamelessness as hideously sinful and trivial: a spiritual pimp or pander, prostituting its subjects; a form of dehumanisation, paralysis, insentience; the handmaiden of stupidly unrestrained covetousness, in this case of costly perfume and ‘good clothes’. According to Vindice, the vice has become so commonplace, and therefore normative, that the sight of a modest blush is itself embarrassing. Shame has become shameful, the whole world Machiavellian. As William Drummond says, ‘All good hath left this age, all trackes of shame’ (Drummond 1913: 174). Fear of pervasive shamelessness no doubt contributed to the widespread literary defence and assertion of moral and spiritual shame in the period. We have seen that Castiglione, Vives, Primaudaye and, particularly, Pocaterra write in praise of a virtuous sense of shame, which, in an earlier age, Ambrose had appealingly called the companion and familiar of the mind at rest, which flees wantonness, is a stranger to any excess, loves sobriety, supports what is honourable and seeks what is beautiful. (Quoted in Aquinas 1963: 63) Reformed religion, both Protestant and Catholic, enjoined muscular and vigilant habits of shame and self-scrutiny: ‘Examine thy life by a diligent and daily inquisition’, ‘Place all thy transgressions before thy eyes: place thyself before thy selfe, as it were before another and so bewaile thyselfe’ (quoted in Martz 1962: 119). Donne approaches God in his Divine Poems by tackling and taking shame for his own sinfulness: ‘Oh my black soule! … / Oh make thyselfe with holy mourning blacke, / And red with blushing, as thou art with sinne’. He also, as we have seen, covets and desires the shame that Christ suffered on Calvary: ‘Spit in my face you Jewes, and pierce my side, / Buffet, and scoffe, scourge, and crucifie mee’. I have remarked already on Spenser’s lyrical, approving description of the blushes of Shamefastnesse, and he gives a fully realised idea of the life-enhancing qualities of a specifically female sense of shame. Women blushing are a feature of his work. Consider, for instance:

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And euer and anone the rosy red, Flasht through her face, as it had been a flake Of lightning, through bright heaven fulmined … (–8) The doubtful Mayde, seeing her selfe descryde, Was all abasht, and her pure yuory Into a cleare Carnation suddeine dyde … (–2) With that she turn’d her head, as halfe abashed, To hide the blush that in her visage rose, And through her cheeks like sudden lightning flashed, Decking her cheeke with a vermillion rose … (–4)18 Such finely ardent writing, which at once anticipates and excels Pocaterra, bespeaks a deep, physically-felt love of female shame and modesty, characterised by Spenser as instinctive confusion and recoil in the face of unseemliness and evil, and a sure sign of purity and refinement. We should note that such modesty is seen not in terms of spiritual husbandry and restriction, but of shining radiance and sumptuous colour. This presents the strict observance of a sense of shame as a way of living fully and intensely: a view diametrically opposed to the late twentieth- and early twenty-first-century equation identified by Roger Shattuck of being and ‘experience’ (Shattuck 1997). Throughout The Faerie Queene, Spenser demonstrates a clear commitment to shame, which is exemplified by women, but which men must learn to emulate. His Redcrosse Knight, after verging on suicidal despair, takes upon himself the guilt and shame of his dereliction of Una, and is thus redeemed from sin and granted a vision of the New Jerusalem. We shall see later that Shakespeare shares this spiritual construction of female shame. According to the Spenserian view, Marlovian shamelessness does not involve self-expansion and aggrandisement, but deformity and careless dissipation. But we are not finished with Marlowe just yet, for his darkly ambivalent art – even while it celebrates shamelessness – also plays on shame. ‘My chaster Muse for shame does blush to write’, says Spenser, refusing to extend his description of Duessa’s shaming to her ‘neather parts, the shame of all her


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kind’ (The Faerie Queene, 1.8.48). By contrast, Marlowe readily reveals obscene materiality; think, again, of Edward’s death by anal penetration, of Faustus dismembered. That he does so live on the public stage imbues his drama with a strange air of ritual. Though less explicitly and directly than Jonson’s plays, Marlowe’s co-opt the power of shaming revelation no less powerfully. Greenblatt writes of his ‘theatrical proof of the body’s existence’ (Greenblatt 1980: 210), highlighting that curious and disturbing moment – for him ‘a zany parody of Christ and Doubting Thomas’ (ibid.: 211) – when Tamburlaine wounds himself for the edification of his sons: ‘Come boys, and with your fingers search my wound, / And in my blood wash all your hands at once’ (2 Tamburlaine, 3.2.126–9). Tamburlaine is a veritable orgy of death, and Greenblatt notes that Marlowe’s dying multitudes ‘speak of themselves in an oddly detailed, almost clinical language, as if to insist upon the corporeal reality of their experience’ (Greenblatt 1980: 210): I feel my liver pierced, and all my veins, That there begin and nourish every part Mangled and torn, and all my entrails bathed In blood that straineth from their orifex. (2 Tamburlaine, 4.3.417–20) This dramatic exposure of the material specifics of existence lends Marlowe’s work an unsettling gravitas. The spiritual power of his plays is not just negative, a reductio ad absurdum of shamelessness; whether the inspiration be virtuous or demonic, he removes the Spenserian fig-leaf, confronting his audience with what they are. And not just physically either: Marlowe’s characters act out the secret life of desire. Hence the strange and disturbing resonance of Tamburlaine’s megalomaniac sadism or of Edward’s feckless sexuality. Shame in Jonson is largely a matter of falling short of proper standards of reasonable behaviour and classical decorum, whereas shame in Marlowe has an ontological aspect that looks forward to Shakespeare’s most serious treatments of shame. The degradation and death of Bajazeth, and all the other shameful episodes in Marlowe, are coloured with the shame of mortality. In this period as in any other, it is the trauma of death which most moves individuals to consider themselves meta-

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physically. Given the fact of death, shamefast Spenserian purity is, as Marlowe shows, an empty dream. Sawday, Neill and Dollimore have done much in recent years to raise critical awareness of the shaming experience of early modern death. As Neill points out in Issues of Death: Mortality and Identity in English Renaissance Tragedy (1997), the plague and the Protestant disestablishment of the intervening realm of purgatory (where the souls of the dead at least were within reach of the prayers of the living) made death at once more physically present and more terribly absolute. As I have mentioned already, for Neill a salient characteristic of death in the Renaissance is its shamefulness. Sawday notes that in this period, by a curious reversal of the gracious and redeeming effects of contact with the sovereign, the executioner’s touch produced ‘infamy’: Like a contagious disease, ‘infamy’ would descend on those who were tainted by coming into contact with the executioner’s person, or even objects associated with him. Anything handled by the executioner was tainted, as were his goods, his children, and his money. Touching the gallows could produce infamy, so that an elaborate ceremony was required to protect the artisans involved in its construction. (Sawday 1995: 81–2) Sawday has also brought the anatomy theatres of the day to our attention, emphasising that to peer into the body was to undertake a journey into a corrupt world of mortality and decay … a voyage into the very heart of the principle of spiritual dissolution. (Sawday 1995: 21) Neill writes: In the theatre of anatomy the shameful nakedness of death was violently dramatized in the progressive stripping of the corpse to expose the signs of death within. It was an important feature of this ritual that the bodies so disgracefully exposed to the prying gaze of the crowd should have been those of condemned criminals. For it was precisely


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the public display of all that should remain hidden which rendered this final punishment so degrading. The drama of dissection extended the humiliation of the malefactor beyond execution, with an exemplary cruelty that not even prolonged exposure on a gibbet could match. (Neill 1997: 118) The prevalence and power of death in Renaissance life and culture – and we might think also of the St Bartholomew’s Day massacre, or the millions dead from the first colonial interventions in the Americas – combined with the loss of religious certainty following the schism to make the pain and shame of mortality a defining experience of the age. Milton elaborates the few verses in Genesis describing the Fall into death into the entire, tremendous ninth book of Paradise Lost. If death is the first effect of the Fall, lust is the second, and Milton also gives extended expression to this fevered mortal passion as it afflicts his fallen Adam and Eve (Paradise Lost, 9.1,034ff.). Dollimore’s Death, Desire and Loss in Western Culture (1998a) shows how death is found in the heart of desire. The early modern pun on orgasm as death is relevant here: Dollimore notes Spenser’s warning in ‘Two Cantos of Mutabilitie’, ‘thy decay thou seekest by thy desire’ (5.7.59), as well as Shakespeare’s starker statement in Sonnet 147 that ‘Desire is death’. Historically, as Dollimore observes, desire has been seen in relation to death because it wholly overwhelms the mind and will, because it is caught up in the lethal logic of mutability and because it has its origin in Lacanian lack-inbeing. Donne’s sermons are a sustained testimony that life is pervaded by death. In his last sermon before he himself died, Donne preached that the womb is a morbid place from which we are delivered unto ‘the manifold deaths of this world ’. The progress of life for Donne is a progress ‘from death to death’ and our state, if it can be so described, is one of ‘everlasting dissolution, dispersal, dissipation’ (Donne 1987: 313, 312, 172). Outright death is a release from a multitude of deaths, both as an absolute terminus and as, in Christian terms, the way to eternal life. Using the classic imagery of shame – a horrible encounter in a looking-glass, deformity, nakedness, putrefaction – Ralegh acknowledges death as the deepest and most grievous of shames in this world:

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[Death] tells the proud and insolent that they are but abjects, and humbles them at the instant; makes them cry, complain, and repent, yea, even to hate their forepast happiness. He takes the account of the rich, and proves him a beggar, a naked beggar, which hath interest in nothing but the gravel that fills his mouth. He holds a glass before the most beautiful, and makes them see therein their deformity and rottenness and they acknowledge it. (Ralegh 1971: 396) Death makes reputation meaningless, carrying the individual beyond the social to the verge of the ultimate. Although, as I have suggested, the loss of consensus had shaken religious faith, if we are to reconstruct even an approximation of the experience of the persons of the early modern period, we must imagine them as more or less aware at any particular moment of existing simultaneously in society and before God. Katherine Eisaman Maus argues that the inwardness of persons is constituted by the disparity between what a limited, fallible human observer can see and what is available to the hypostasized divine observer. (Maus 1995: 10) If they felt that they were acting on the stage of the world, Renaissance people also knew that the play would soon be over and judged by God. In fact, God is always taken to be watching, looking down on his theatrum mundi, his judgement necessarily more definitive than that of any earthly audience; for He ‘unto whom all hearts be open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid’, as the Book of Common Prayer puts it, has perfect evidence. Maus points out: In a Christian scheme, temporal judgement differs importantly in this respect from divine judgement. What matters to the truly devout ought to be not what other human beings see, but what God sees: ‘Beware of practising your piety before men in order to be seen by them’, Christ warns his disciples (Matthew 6.1). The New Testament is continually declaring the insufficiency of a mere ‘external’ compliance with the Law, insisting upon the significance of


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socially unavailable material like unspoken intentions and unacted desires. Lascivious thoughts, declares Christ, are as much an evil as outright fornication: ‘I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart’ (Matthew 5.28). (Maus 1995: 108) Moreover, God’s values are ultimate. What is admired or honoured in the world’s eyes often turns out to be shameful from a heavenly perspective. Where personal slight motivates revenge, for instance, secular shame – at outraged honour – and spiritual shame – at morally ugly revenge – come into stark opposition, recommending contrary courses of action. After killing the man who had bereft him of an eye, Lord Sanquire admitted, I considered not my wrongs upon terms of Christianity … but being trained up in the courts of princes and in arms, I stood upon the terms of honour. (Quoted in Watson 1960: 133) Sanquire wished not to be exposed before men, but, as he now realises tragically late, his resultant exposure to God is more absolute. Even if worldly shame in the period is more prevalent, religious shame is still ultimate. We have seen that disturbance of the Christian consensus ensures that the early modern world is more profane; but the Renaissance mind remains deeply religious, and that world sometimes trembles and disappears before the subject’s eyes, revealing its ‘baseless fabric’: The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces, The solemn temples, the great globe itself, Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve, And, like this insubstantial pageant faded, Leave not a rack behind. (The Tempest, 4.1.151–6) When this dissolution takes place, the subject will, it is assumed, stand exposed before the absolute, and the worldly individual who has lived without regard to what is true and

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real will be caught in a grotesque posture, like that of Faustus when he disdains proffered grace for a clinch with a phantasmal Helen. Though he assumes too much divinity for himself, the following utterance of Richard II is sustained by a perfectly orthodox sense of what it will be like to be undressed by the eyes of God: when this thief, this traitor Bolingbroke, Who all this while hath revelled in the night Whilst we were wandering with the Antipodes, Shall see us rising in our throne, the east, His treasons will sit blushing in his face, Not able to endure the sight of day, But self-affrighted, tremble at his sin. (Richard II, 3.2.47–53) We should pause here to consider further what it meant, and what it felt like, to live under the expectation of absolute judgement, as now we do not. At that moment of truth, there will be no shuffling, as Hamlet’s agonised uncle recognises. Pocaterra’s Ariosto says that on the great day of universal judgement of the world, as I understand it, all sins, hidden though they may be, will be sculpted on the forehead of the damned. The dignity of this spiritual shame is perhaps that it represents something approaching an objective experience of the self. Self-experience normally is clouded and blurred by pragmatism and hedonistic considerations:19 Kristeva affirms that we cannot acknowledge our abjection. Here we must imagine a sudden and total enlightenment. It is an experience of coming face to face both with the incarnate truth of the godhead and with one’s own true self, from both of which one has spent one’s whole life hiding; it is more real than anything in worldly experience, which it shows up as dishonest and trivial. Being disgraced in the eyes of God is not the same as being disgraced in the eyes of any particular group or person; for, unless the subject is spiritually blind or self-deceiving, shame in God’s eyes will entail shame in its own, because it is shame essentially.


Shame in the Renaissance

That is to say, it is an ultimate and pure shame, in which all private cases of shame take part to varying degrees; it is fundamentally shameful because the subject’s relationship with God is construed as going to the core of its private essence. There is nothing it can do except stand (or grovel like Lancelot) before the source of being – like Richard’s imagined Bolingbroke, self-affrighted, trembling at his sin. This trembling is entirely involuntary, practically a chemical reaction: the trembling of corrupt flesh before pure spirit. We may recollect any of a number of scriptural examples, such as that of the seer of Patmos collapsing as if dead before the Son of Man (Revelation 1.17). The moment of judgement comes unavoidably after death, deciding the soul’s eternal destiny, as in Faustus and also in Everyman, but it may be vouchsafed earlier, while there is still a chance for redemption. This is the case for Spenser’s Redcrosse Knight and for Sir Walter Whorehound in Middleton’s otherwise very secular A Chaste Maid in Cheapside, which shows how spiritual shame in this period may arise in unlikely contexts. The male writers of the Renaissance particularly – Donne with his Augustine-style conversion, Marston who forsook literary London at the height of his powers to become a provincial curate, Greene with his death-bed repentance – are highly vulnerable to such crises. Often talented whorehounds themselves, at first they look down on the world as if they owned it; but when – however casually – they glance up to heaven, they are convulsed with bitter shame at their vanity and corruption. Following St John Chrysostom, Donne sees himself as ‘Spontaneous Satan’, so corrupt as to be actually infecting God (Donne 1920: 6–7). The somewhat later female religious writer, Susanna Parr, is floored with profound shame upon realising that her sectarian separatism is a dividing and dismembering of Christ (Parr 1989: 110). And yet even such terrible shame as this is not taken as a wholly negative religious experience. It may turn all to joy and glory. As Donne wrote: Humiliation is the beginning of sanctification … without humility, no man shall heare God speake to his soule, though hee heare three two houres Sermons every day. But if God bring thee to that humiliation of soule and body

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here, hee will emprove, and advance thy sanctification abundantìus, another maner of abundance in the life to come. (Donne 1920: 219) In sum, because of their accustomed pride and generally secular orientation, Renaissance people are at once far more sensitive to the goads and pricks of worldly shame and to revolutionary spiritual shame than their medieval forebears. Such was the atmosphere of raging shame in which Shakespeare plied his pen.

4 Shame in Shakespeare

This chapter offers a first dedicated account of shame in Shakespeare. Examples are taken especially from the early, pre-tragic poems and plays. This lays the groundwork, both conceptually and in terms of Shakespeare’s development, for the new readings of Hamlet, Othello and King Lear which follow. As I have said already, for the most prominent contemporary critics – Lynda E. Boose, Gail Kern Paster, Laura Lunger Knoppers – shame is a Foucauldian resource of power, used especially for the repression of women; a female sense of shame is prescribed by patriarchy in order to proscribe sexual revolution. There certainly is truth in this, and we have seen that the authorities of Shakespeare’s day understood the oppressive potential of shaming. But work in such a vein does not fully represent Shakespeare’s interest in shame as a psychological, an ethical and a ritual experience, a transforming moment extraordinary to behold on stage, which may motivate or complete a dramatic action, sending ripples of more or less vicarious shame through the theatre and thereby perhaps having a more positive ethical and political effect outside it. Nor, to be fair, is it meant to. Paster, indeed, regards it as an embarrassment that Shakespeare’s plays bulk so large in her

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discussion; they simply afford convenient because well-known evidence to support her assertions about the culture of the English Renaissance in general. But we shall see that Shakespeare’s vision and theatrical use of shame richly repays investigation in its own right. The Shakespearean concept of shame The earliest memorable episode of Shakespearean shame is the shaming of Eleanor Cobham, the treasonous Duchess of Gloucester in 2 Henry VI. It is one of the few scenes to come fully to life in the often rather inert first Henriad. Shakespeare appropriates the common sanctions of the church courts for this scene, his stage-direction reading, ‘Enter the Duchess of GLOUCESTER , barefoot in a white sheet, and a taper burning in her hand; with Sir JOHN STANLEY , the Sheriff, and Officers’. As he waits for her to be paraded through the common highway, Eleanor’s husband, who discouraged her treason, moans in apprehensive sympathy: Sweet Nell, ill can thy noble mind abrook The abject people gazing on thy face With envious looks, laughing at thy shame, That erst did follow thy proud chariot wheels When thou didst ride in triumph through the streets. (2.4.10–14) Like Ralegh and Essex, Eleanor is shamed by her public exposure. Like Coriolanus in the market place, she is degraded further by the gaze of a specifically lower-class audience – in her case, one which is brazenly mocking and contemptuous. By debasing Eleanor in the theatre, Shakespeare not only recreates but actively perpetuates her original shaming; we should recall Essex’s apprehension that ‘soon they will play me on the stage’ (quoted in Watson 1960: 157 and mentioned in Chapter 3). A germ of the Bard’s later self-consciously sophisticated manipulation of theatrical shame is encapsulated in the, somewhat tactless, applicability of Humphrey’s description of ‘the abject people gazing on thy face’ to the off-stage audience as well as to that on stage. The fact that its mute witness is all that is required of this audience in the theatre to compound the


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shame on stage, making it expand and reverberate in another dimension, demonstrates the strangely compulsive inclusiveness of shame as a dramatic phenomenon and its ritual effectiveness. Theatrical shame unites the audience in a collective and (as it seems) cruelly pain-inflicting act of beholding the shamed figure before them. The material circumstances of the Shakespearean stage multiplied these inherent possibilities for shaming degradation in the theatre. As Bruce R. Smith aptly observes, ‘For a common player to impersonate a noblewoman was an outrage; for a boy actor to play a noblewoman was a double outrage’ (Smith 1996: 96). Thus the blurring and solubility of class and gender which modern critics have shown to be implicit in early modern transvestite theatre involves embarrassment and shame-anxiety as well as liberation from conventional constraints. Later in his career, Shakespeare brings this home himself when his Cleopatra has an intuition of the social degradation and sexual deformity involved in some ‘squeaking’ Renaissance actor ‘boying’ her greatness (Antony and Cleopatra, 5.2.219–20). While Marlowe is preoccupied with the spectacle of shame, and Jonson is concerned to provide a shameful image of the times that will shame his audience into reformation, Shakespeare is as much concerned with the inner workings of the emotion. His is a more analytic and cerebral interest in shame, which nonetheless makes his representations of the emotion more rather than less experientially plausible. After her first shameful entrance, the following exchange ensues between the Duchess and her husband: Duchess: Come you, my lord, to see my open shame? Now thou dost penance too. Look how they gaze! See how the giddy multitude do point, And nod their heads and throw their eyes on thee! Ah! Gloucester, hide thee from their hateful looks, And, in thy closet pent up, rue my shame, And ban thine enemies, both mine and thine. Gloucester: Be patient, gentle Nell; forget this grief. Duchess: Ah! Gloucester, teach me to forget myself; For whilst I think I am thy married wife, And thou a prince, Protector of this land, Methinks I should not thus be led along,

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Mail’d up in shame, with papers on my back, And follow’d with a rabble that rejoice To see my tears and hear my deep-fet groans. The ruthless flint doth cut my tender feet, And when I start, the envious people laugh, And bid me be advised how I tread. Ah! Humphrey, can I bear this shameful yoke? Trowest thou that e’er I’ll look upon the world, Or count them happy that enjoys the sun? No; dark shall be my light, and night my day; To think upon my pomp shall be my hell. (2 Henry VI, 2.4.19–41) Though superficial when compared to Shakespeare’s later work, these lines capably evoke shame. We note that Eleanor feels the shame of social degradation rather than the taint of criminality, and that her shame also encompasses her husband, but the passage focuses on her experience of this shaming. As feminist film theorists would argue, Eleanor is subjected to a kind of rape by looking.1 The pointing, nodding and throwing of eyes bereaves her of her private personality, indicting her as thoroughly known and exposed. She is unavoidably stigmatised and cast out, for the blatant shame of an aristocrat contradicts the political pieties upon which her society is built. She cannot be patient and accept shame, as her husband suggests, without accepting a broken and degraded self. Her disgrace has destroyed the image by which she knows herself and is known to others. She is obliterated. Never again will she look upon the world; she will immure herself in darkness. It is suggestive that her husband and his party are clad in mourning garments, as if she had actually died. Part of what is exposed is her mortal, vulnerable body: her tears are seen, her ‘deep-fet groans’ and shudders of pain attended to; she is especially betrayed by her bruised and bleeding feet. Already, even in so early a production of his pen, we dimly discern the lineaments of Shakespeare’s richly intuitive and profound comprehension of shame. Eleanor’s shaming plays upon and participates in death. If in Henry VI shame is opposite to identity and a kind of death, in The Rape of Lucrece it is visualised as horrible disfigurement. Tarquin admits that Lucrece’s rape will ‘live engraven in his face’ (line 203), that her husband Collatine will be marked


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with ‘The blemish that will never be forgot, / Worse than a slavish wipe or birth-hour’s blot’ (lines 523–4) and that her children will be ‘blurred with nameless bastardy’ (line 496). When he appears before his victim, and she has to struggle to recognise him as himself, the total threat which shame poses to identity becomes vividly explicit: In Tarquin’s likeness I did entertain thee: Hast thou put on his shape to do me shame? To all the host of heaven I complain me, Thou wrong’st his honour, wound’st his princely name; Thou art not what thou seem’st, and if the same, Thou seem’st not what thou art. (lines 596–601) The frightened Lucrece first supposes her rapist is a doppelgänger; then it dawns on her that he is Tarquin’s real – and obscene – self, previously concealed under a benign façade. This lucid realisation of shame as self-dissolving deformity is also found in Measure for Measure. Inflamed with brutal passion for the novice Isabella, the puritanical judge Angelo pictures himself as a putrefying corpse (2.2.166–8), which fuses in a single image ideas of shame as deformity and death. When he supposes he has fulfilled his perverse intent, Angelo admits, ‘This deed unshapes me quite’ (4.4.18–19); it is a remark which looks forward to Antony comparing himself with disintegrating cloud-formations after his defeat in the second sea battle: ‘Here I am Antony, / Yet cannot hold this visible shape, my knave’ (Antony and Cleopatra, 4.14.13–14). For Shakespeare, shame is a form of not being, of not being one’s ideal self, or else an experience of hideous deformity, of being something horrifically other, somebody else. Othello kills himself in disgust when he realises he has turned into his own worst enemy. Coriolanus imagines shame as a hideous metamorphosis whereby he is invaded with ‘some harlot’s spirit’, his ‘throat of war’ shrinking into a eunuch’s pipe, a beggar’s tongue thrusting through and moving between his lips (Coriolanus, 3.2.111–23). Shame in Shakespeare devastates selfhood. In Troilus and Cressida and Antony and Cleopatra it is understood as a form of explosion. Upon witnessing his beloved Cressida making love

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to Diomed, Troilus bursts out, ‘If there be rule in unity itself, / This is not she’ (5.2.136–41). But of course it is. He is forced to admit, ‘This is and is not Cressid’ (5.2.145), and is therefore seized by a terrible passion of vicarious shame, which, as her lover, rebounds on his sense of himself. Cressida had wryly anticipated self-division in love: ‘I have a kind of self resides with you, / But an unkind self, that itself will leave / To be another’s fool’ (3.2.146–8). She is resigned to this, whereas Troilus experiences it as a shock threatening his very sense of an intelligible world: Within my soul there doth conduce a fight Of this strange nature, that a thing inseparate Divides more wider than the sky and earth, And yet the spacious breadth of this division Admits no orifex for a point as subtle As Ariachne’s broken woof to enter. (5.2.146–51) Here is a Cressida hideously distended beyond breaking-point; Troilus then pictures her degraded love in terms of burst entrails: ‘fragments, scraps, the bits and greasy relics / Of her o’er eaten faith’ (5.2.158–9). She has exploded and he is revolted by the mutable, disintegral, unbridled physical self that remains. In Lacanian terms, shame has revealed the chaotic ‘real’ here which the imaginary and symbolic processes of identity are designed to exclude. For Antony, this exclusion becomes so obvious and strained that he experiences an altogether softer, more dream-like explosion almost analagous to sexual release. Richard II presents the most elaborate portrait of shame in Shakespeare’s early work. Impending shame has been looming over Richard ever since John of Gaunt’s tremendous though ultimately unsuccessful rhetorical effort to shame him into good government: England bound in with the triumphant sea, Whose rocky shore beats back the envious siege Of wat’ry Neptune, is now bound in with shame, With inky blots and rotten parchment bonds; That England, that was wont to conquer others, Hath made a shameful conquest of itself. (2.1.61–6)


Shame in Shakespeare

This presents a traditionally proudly independent nation selfdefeated and bound-over, with implications of defilement and decomposition of its very landscape. Gaunt says later: Why, cousin, wert thou regent of the world, It were a shame to let this land by lease; But for thy world enjoying but this land, Is it not more than shame to shame it so? (2.1.109–12) Gaunt is at his last gasp, yet it is Richard who is dying the graver death, for, as Gaunt puts it, ‘Thy death bed is no lesser than thy land, / Wherein thou livest in reputation sick’ (2.1.95–6). Again shame is opposed to being: Richard is squandering both self and nation, seen by Gaunt according to an established monarchal trope as of more or less one substance, in a spirit of suicidal indifference. He falls lamentably short of the minimal masculine – not to mention kingly – requirement of impenetrable self-possession. It is ironic that at the core of what is often seen and quoted as the most resoundingly patriotic of Shakespeare’s speeches is this powerful statement of shame within an attempt at shaming. Richard vainly assumes he is ‘shame-proof ’, to purloin a phrase from Love’s Labour’s Lost (5.2.508), until Bolingbroke takes his crown from him. He appears at Flint Castle like ‘the blushing discontented sun’ (3.3.62–7). Shakespeare is fond of this image of a darkened sun, which is also found in Sonnet 33 and, ‘smothered with base contagious clouds’, in Hal’s first soliloquy in 1 Henry IV (1.2.190–212); there is also the guilty sun ‘with purple-colour’d face’ taking ‘his last leave of the weeping morn’ at the beginning of Venus and Adonis. In order to speak to Bolingbroke, Richard has to descend the castle ramparts to the base court; perceiving this as a metaphor for his fall, he comes ‘like glist’ring Phaeton’, obsessively repeating the words ‘down’ and ‘base’ (Richard II, 3.3.176–82). In the deposition scene in Westmister Hall of Act 4 Scene 1, which since Pater has been recognised as an inverted coronation ceremony,2 Shakespeare exploits the shaming resources of the theatre to the full. Peter Ure writes of ‘a sacred tragedy, the divesting of royalty of its mysterious panoply’;3 René Girard explores the same theme in Violence and the Sacred (1977); and, in

Shame in Shakespeare


Carnival and Theater: Plebeian Culture and the Structure of Authority in Early Modern England, Michael D. Bristol describes the episode in terms of ‘royal abjection’ and ‘violent uncrowning’ (Bristol 1985: 197–8). ‘Fetch hither Richard’, Bolingbroke commands, ‘that in common view / He may surrender’ (Richard II, 4.1.155–6), and the common view of course, though it is unbeknown to either character, encompasses the gaze of the audience in the theatre as well as that of the dramatis personae on stage. The scene has particular affective intensity in the context of the monarchal Renaissance, where the degradation of the sovereign necessarily degrades the people, as does the humiliation of the tragic hero proper, in so far as he too is a heightened representative. Northumberland asks Richard to read a statement of his crimes so that ‘the souls of men / May deem that you are worthily depos’d’ (4.1.226–7). Richard returns, ‘If thy offences were upon record, / Would it not shame thee, in so fair a troop, / To read a lecture of them?’ (4.1.228–32). As his eyes are filled with tears, he is unable to make out the letters of the text, but he remarks shortly that he can see well enough to recognise traitors. Then, more quietly, he acknowledges that he is one himself, ‘For I have given here my soul’s consent / T’undeck the pompous body of a king’ (4.1.245–9). He is naked. When Northumberland addresses him with the familiar ‘My lord’, he snaps: No lord of thine, thou haught insulting man; Nor no man’s lord. I have no name, no title; No not that name was given me at the font, But ’tis usurp’d. (4.1.234–9) He is not only no longer king, he is no longer Richard. Most fundamentally of all, he no longer is. The piling up of negatives – no, nor no, no, no, no not, but – gives a strong sense of his bitter experience of nothingness. Shakespeare now proceeds intricately to play with the conceit of shame as a dreadful encounter in a mirror. He also uses a mirror to symbolise shaming self-reflection in The Sonnets (as we shall see below) and he complexly reverts to a broken mirror in Measure for Measure, where, alluding to the shattered glass of lost virginity, Isabella says women are as frail ‘as the


Shame in Shakespeare

glasses where they view themselves, / Which are as easy broke as they make forms’ (2.4.123–5). Richard demands a mirror ‘That it may show me what face I have’ (Richard II, 4.1.266); he is curious to see ‘the very book indeed / Where all my sins are writ, and that’s myself ’ (4.1.274–5). He expects to meet a different, disfigured self in the glass, to see the face of ‘unking’d Richard’ (4.1.220), but he detects no physical change. At the sight of his own visage he is temporarily overcome with self-pity, but this quickly subsides into more shame. ‘Thou dost beguile me’, he berates the glass (4.1.281), and – saying, ‘A brittle glory shineth in this face; / As brittle as the glory is the face’ (4.1.287–8) – he dashes it on the ground. It is a theatrical representation of the inevitable shattering of his self-image, the final crack-up. When his face first looms in the glass, he finds his fine aristocratic features offensively false to his actual predicament; but then he realises that their delicacy truly expresses how fragile he has proved. His ill-tempered action symbolises the shame he feels, his bitter repudiation of his broken, fragmented self. It suggests a degree of specifically masculine shame in the form of violent repudiation of erstwhile ‘feminine’ vanity. His image ‘crack’d in an hundred shivers’ (4.1.287–90) signifies what has happened to him and his accustomed majesty. He is now a man without a face: a no-one. It is an affecting and a chilling rendition of shame as self-loss. Shame as death, as self-dissolving deformity, as an explosion of being, as the shattering of the self: these are painfully clear and commanding images, which betoken Shakespeare’s cognitive power. But shame in Shakespeare is not simply negative. Its potential spiritual force is brought out by the Richard who says to his usurpers ‘you Pilates / have here delivered me to my sour cross’ (4.1.240–1). Though bordering on blasphemy, this clothes the usurped king’s experience of shame with a divine aspect, resonating with the Pauline scriptural injunctions to embrace shame discussed in Chapter 2. Coming upon his distracted wife, Richard tells her, Learn, good soul, To think our former state a happy dream; From which awak’d, the truth of what we are Shows us but this. (5.1.17–20)

Shame in Shakespeare


This presents shame as awakening – a revelation of the self, which Donne nominated, in his ‘Obsequies to the Lord Harrington’, ‘the hardest object of the sight’ (Donne 1994). Richard realises also that shame is an opportunity to be reborn in the spirit, saying to his quondam queen, ‘Our holy lives must win a new world’s crown / Which our profane hours here have thrown down’ (5.1.24–5). But he has such a butterfly mind, his passions are so fleeting, that he is unable to achieve the transfiguration through shame which he is intellectually nimble enough briefly to conceive of here. It is also the case, of course, that generically the play is more concerned with the forward march of history than with the spiritual development of yesterday’s man. That is not true of tragedy, however, and (as we shall see in the next chapter) where Richard fails, Hamlet succeeds. Shame and gender If Shakespeare, then, has an encompassing concept of shame as opposite to being, it is nonetheless strongly gendered. What is shamefully degrading for a man is loss of power or authority, position or self-command. As well as Richard II’s unresisting capitulation to Bolingbroke, Henry VI soliloquising on a molehill while his wife fights the Battle of Towton for him and the petulant, pint-sized Adonis being scooped up by Venus and carried along under her arm, all present lurid scenes of male shame. In theory, this is modified by moral and spiritual considerations, but in practice the Shakespearean male in crisis loses all sense of civilised and religious values, which he violates in a desperate assertion of power. By battering at his male anxiety and capacity for shame, Lady Macbeth propels her husband into murdering Duncan; the supposedly cuckolded Othello betrays his ‘Christian shame’ (Othello, 2.3.163), becoming an obscene wife-murderer. Diana in All’s Well that Ends Well gives us a central text for female shame when she says: My chastity’s the jewel of our house, Bequeathed down from many ancestors, Which were the greatest obloquy i’th’world In me to lose. (4.2.46–9)


Shame in Shakespeare

The basis of female shame is unchastity or a reputation for unchastity. But in addition to the sexual purity of self and family which Diana stresses, it protects spiritual chastity as well. Helena asks an uncharacteristically violent Hermia in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, ‘Have you no modesty, no maiden shame, / No touch of bashfulness?’ (3.2.285). Shakespeare regards violence as particularly shameful in a woman. In 3 Henry VI, after she has offered him a handkerchief steeped in the blood of his youngest son, York rebukes the shameless Margaret thus: How ill-beseeming it is in thy sex To triumph like an Amazonian trull Upon their woes who fortune captivates! But that thy face is vizard-like, unchanging, Made impudent with use of evil deeds, I would assay, proud queen, to make thee blush. (1.4.111–20) By repeatedly transgressing the boundaries of shame, Margaret has deformed herself as woman. Another moment shameful in specifically feminine terms is Lady Macbeth’s avowal that she would pluck her nipple from her baby’s boneless gums and dash its brains out. Whereas not doing enough is shameful for a man, doing too much – overdoing or transgression – is shameful for a woman. Male shame sustains the busy, self-justifying worldly self, but it is female shame which ministers to the guiltless perfection of the spirit. A corollary is that men should never feel shame, which would indicate failure; but, as sensitive souls in a fallen world, women will often feel it. Shakespeare’s men thus do anything to repudiate shame, while his women are generally more susceptible and open. Feminist critics such as Paster, Boose and Knoppers have exposed the ideology of female modesty. It is sufficient indication of its oppressive aspect that this was the standard which justified such cultural practices as ‘bridling’ and the cucking stool. The contradiction between Margaret Cavendish’s lively spirit and protestations of the shame thought suitable to her sex in A True Relation of My Birth, Breeding and Life is a more personal instance (Cavendish 1998). Shakespeare was a man of his time, his conception of women coloured and limited by his

Shame in Shakespeare


time, but we will find in this book that his text does not simply endorse a crude patriarchal displacement of guilty shame onto them. As the examples above begin to suggest, for Shakespeare, as for Spenser, female modesty is a way of living fully and intensely – as Cordelia does, while her sisters squander themselves in shameless indifference to shame, like Margaret and Lady Macbeth. Cordelia’s feminine modesty is active and heroic: so as to avoid betraying her ethical sense of shame, she risks and incurs a serious loss of caste. Besides this positive construction of women’s modesty and shame, Shakespeare shares with Spenser the conviction that men should ultimately learn shame from women, which is illustrated by Guyon’s encounter with Shamefastnesse in The Faerie Queene. Both figures are disabled by a reciprocal paroxysm of blushes till Alma – the soul – addresses Guyon thus: why wonder yee Faire Sire at that, which ye so much embrace? She is the fountaine of your modestee; You shamefast are, but Shamefastnesse it selfe is shee. (–9) For Shakespeare, as for Spenser here, the distinction between masculine and feminine shame is at the deepest level blurred, and female modesty should be enthroned in the souls of men as well as women. In Chapter 7, we will see Cordelia assume the psychomachic role of Shamefastnesse in King Lear. Lear, in thrusting her away from him, can be said to have thrust off shame, and it is through embracing the feminine shame she represents that he is both reconciled to her and finally redeemed towards the end of the play. Shakespeare first fully explored the gendered dimension of shame in Much Ado About Nothing. Fear of humiliation and degradation in the eyes of the world is so strong in his male characters that it undermines all higher sense of shame. Like Spenser’s Redcrosse Knight, they are so prone to the dishonour of cuckoldry that their suspicions scarcely need confirmation from the world. Claudio plans to take revenge for Hero’s murmured infidelity before he has even tried to obtain proof, cruelly resolving to cast her off on their marriage day. As August Wilhelm Schlegel observes,


Shame in Shakespeare

The mode in which the innocent Hero before the altar at the moment of her wedding, and in the presence of her family and many witnesses, is put to shame by a most degrading charge, false indeed, yet clothed with every appearance of truth, is a grand piece of theatrical effect. (Quoted in Bate 1992: 473) Yet what is most interesting about the episode is that, though Hero bears the brunt of it, shame remains a largely male affair. Claudio does not so much accuse Hero as attempt to shame her father Leonato. Honour, and that worldly shame which is its opposite, are matters for men; a bride is part of a man’s honour. The woman exchanged between father and groom should be ripe and wholesome, whereas Hero is a ‘rotten orange’ (Much Ado, 4.1.130): a corrupt thing dishonouring its possessor. In the same way as later we shall see Iago’s taunts affecting Brabantio, this summons Leonato’s patriarchal fears to the surface: ‘Are these things spoken, or do I but dream?’ (4.1.66). Shakespearean shame reaches into the unconscious. Like Claudio, Leonato is rapidly overwhelmed by shame. Hero is innocent, horrified to be accused of that which would most offend against ‘her maiden truth’ (4.1.152), but something like a homosocial virus of shame has been triggered by the mere idea of a contaminated woman. Even the personally unconcerned Don Pedro scorns her. The scene becomes even more crazy. When Claudio walks out on Hero, Leonato turns suicidal, howling ‘Hath no man’s dagger here a point for me?’ (4.1.109). Hero swoons; her cousin Beatrice pronounces her ‘dead, I think’ (4.1.113). Leonato screams: O Fate, take not away thy heavy hand! Death is the fairest cover for her shame That may be wish’d for. (4.4. 115–17) A pure bride has died of the shame of being accused of infidelity by her bridegroom; that her distracted father is pleased with her death confirms the frenzy. We seem now to have a tragedy on our hands.

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Hero is not really dead, of course. But when she revives, Leonato says chillingly: Hero, do not ope thine eyes; For did I think thou wouldst not quickly die, Thought I thy spirits were stronger than thy shames, Myself would on the rearward of reproaches Strike at thy life. (4.1.121–5) He laments: O, she is fall’n Into a pit of ink, that the wide sea Hath drops too few to wash her clean again, And salt too little which may season give To her foul-tainted flesh! (4.1.118–43) This tragic language of pollution and befoulment bespeaks real suffering, but its excessiveness and the threat of violence against his own child – not to mention its mad baselessness – indicate that Leonato’s shame, like Claudio’s, is a form of pathological concern with self. Although Hero is virtually perishing from shame, the emphasis is all on the quite unnecessary shame suffered by her bridegroom and father. Much Ado reveals an ethical chasm yawning between different modes of masculine and feminine shame. Hero is perfectly shamefast, but her men are so distracted by the mere whiff of dishonour they are ready to believe that she is shameless and are shamed by association, treating her with shameful hate. Her female shame in fact has kept her from bad behaviour, but their shame has caused them terribly to harm her, whom of all people they should most honour, not to mention cherish and protect. The rest of the play teaches Claudio the superiority of female shame. Hero’s family have decided to maintain that she has died in order to keep her out of the public gaze. When her innocence comes to light, Leonato requires Claudio to make amends by advertising it, composing an epitaph for Hero and singing this to her bones. In his performance of these duties, Claudio takes a graver shame upon himself than that of


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supposed cuckoldry. In his desperation to evade worldly and masculine shame, he has morally deformed himself, as his bride would never have done. But since he is reformed, and the slur on Hero’s virginity is removed, there can be new life. Leonato’s second demand is that Claudio wed his niece: ‘And since you could not be my son-in-law, / Be yet my nephew’ (5.1.281–2). But after the wedding, with a gesture perfectly expressive of renewed confidence and self-possession, the masked bride reveals that she is Hero: Hero: [Unmasking.] And when I liv’d, I was your other wife; And when you lov’d, you were my other husband. Claudio: Another Hero! Hero: Nothing certainer: One Hero died defil’d, but I do live, And surely as I live, I am a maid. Don Pedro: The former Hero! Hero that is dead! Leonato: She died, my lord, but whiles her slander liv’d. (5.4.62–6) This ‘death’ and rebirth in Much Ado constitutes a double revelation of shame’s deadliness and of resurrection through shame. Hero has been passively subjected to slander and has retained her innocence; it is really Claudio who has been reborn from within. Much Ado gestures towards the ‘great’ tragedies in which, we shall see in the next chapters, Shakespeare’s heroes are routinely driven by fear of shame into violent self-assertion, before learning the priority of a more moral or spiritual sense of shame as, ironically, it is exemplified by their own daughters and wives. Increasingly in these later plays, female susceptibility rather than male resistance to shame will be seen as exemplary and desirable for all, to the point that, in King Lear, the shame of the cast-off Cordelia halos her in unworldly greatness. The climactic shame finally accepted by the fallen men spells a timely end for the corrupting illusions of male pride. Shame and love As will be clear from the above discussion of Much Ado, Shakespeare is also fascinated by the relationship between

Shame in Shakespeare


shame and love. Spenser again preceded him in representing sexual bashfulness and shame, as Theresa M. Krier has pointed out (Krier 1986), and also the shame of the loss of love; but the dramatist develops the interest to the point where it becomes one of the great themes of the tragedies and The Winter’s Tale. Much Ado suggests that love is a confident relation of confident selves. Earlier Love’s Labour’s Lost had dealt with the embarrassments of young men in love, especially in its bravura Act 4 Scene 3, which (like the deposition scene in Richard II) provides a showcase for Shakespeare’s developing sense of the theatrical possibilities of shame and shaming. One of the protagonists walks on stage and reads a love poem, only to hide and look on when another does the same. This happens twice more. The last one to hide then steps forth to accuse the one currently exposed, only to be shamed by the one who hid before him, who in turn is indicted by the one who hid first; and the first is shamed when a messenger enters and mistakenly delivers his earlier love letter to one of the others. The whole episode points forward to the exposure of Beatrice and Benedick’s mutual affection in Much Ado. Since the messenger’s girlfriend is with him, all four young men are exposed before a representative female. Of course, they have also been progressively exposed to the audience in the theatre. As Louis A. Montrose well says, The brilliantly effective dramaturgy … derives from a discrepancy between the illusory privacy and independence of action that each successive character believes he possesses and the highly formalised and predictable pattern of action they collectively present to the audience on behalf of the dramatist. (Montrose 1993: 63) The significance of this is that just when young men acquire a precious, unsettling erotic inwardness, they become most transparent and predictable, and thus desperately vulnerable to the gaze of others. At least there is, as one of the characters here recognises, the consolation of ‘sweet fellowship in shame’ (4.3.47) – if they are humble enough to take it.


Shame in Shakespeare

Since the theme of the sexual bashfulness of immature men stimulated Shakespeare’s imagination powerfully in Love’s Labour’s Lost, it seems possible that the motif of sexual disguise in the comedies partly represents the sexual bashfulness and anxiety of young women, which is cast off in maturity, in readiness for marriage. A disguised figure is an apt representation of embarrassment and shame, drawing on archetypal associations: we saw in an earlier chapter that Adam and Eve cover themselves with leaves and branches, and as the etymological root of ‘shame’ most scholars assume a pre-Teutonic ‘skem’, a variant of ‘kem’, meaning to cover (OED). There are definite textual indicators that Shakespeare considers disguise a sign of shame. The maliciously gleeful Princess of France in Love’s Labour’s Lost expects her shamed suitors will ‘hang themselves tonight / Or ever, but in visors, show their faces’ (5.2.270–1); Cymbeline confirms that faces may be ‘cas’d’ for shame (5.3.21–2). Caliban covers himself up out of shame in The Tempest. In the quarto text of King Lear, Albany calls Goneril ‘thou changed and self-covered thing for shame’.4 Julia’s assuming the aspect of a boy in The Two Gentlemen of Verona provides a powerful image of the effect on her sexuality of Proteus’s infidelity. Sexual bashfulness and unreadiness can account for Viola’s otherwise inexplicable presentation of herself as ‘an eunuch’ (1.2.56) throughout Twelfth Night: she decides to ‘Conceal me what I am’ (1.2.53) ‘Till I had mine own occasion mellow what my estate is’ (1.2.43). That Rosalind specifically requires Hymen to help her remove her disguise at the end of As You Like It is also suggestive. Of course, as has been said by many contemporary critics – such as Catherine Belsey, Lisa Jardine, Phyllis Rackin, Michael Shapiro and Stephen Orgel5 – Shakespeare’s sexually disguised women partly represent gender instability, especially as the real female underneath is in turn being played by an adolescent boy. But the thesis that Shakespearean sexual disguise can be seen as representing sexual bashfulness provides a plausible dramatic motive for disguise as arising out of the protagonists’ experience as young women falling in love for the first time;6 it accounts for their unhappiness as lovers cut off from love by their own inability to reveal themselves; and it accommodates the happy endings when they are revealed and make plans for marriage.

Shame in Shakespeare


Shakespeare goes beyond his comic preoccupations with sexual coyness and embarrassment in The Sonnets, which unmask the pretending love of the sonneteer as selfish desire to escape from the tyranny of shame. As in the Renaissance generally, shame in Shakespeare is ultimately seen as an aspect of the mortal condition. We are ‘merely our own traitors’, in the phrase of All’s Well that Ends Well (4.3.20), or as Richard II puts it: But what e’er I be, Nor I, nor any man that but man is, With nothing shall be pleased till he be eased With being nothing (Richard II, 5.5.38–41) The Sonnets see human life very much in terms of degrading decay and death. All tends to bereavement and a murky oblivion: Nativity, once in the main of light, Crawls to maturity, wherewith being crowned, Crookèd eclipses ’gainst his glory fight, And time that gave doth now his gift confound. (Sonnet 60) Again invoking an unhappy experience in front of a mirror, the sonneteer warns the fair youth: The wrinkles which thy glass will truly show Of mouthèd graves, will give thee memory; Thou by thy dial’s steady stealth mayst know Time’s thievish progress to eternity. (Sonnet 77) It is because Time will inexorably deface him, because death will soon appear in his face, because his face is as a sundial with the shadow slowly wiping it out, that the sonneteer desires to preserve his beloved in poetry; his chosen form of sonnet sequence itself bespeaks a repetitive effort to wrest the vanishing moment of his perfection from Time’s thievish progress. The sonneteer is himself old and decrepit already, appalled at the sight of his ravaged countenance in a mirror, as


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we shall see below. He regards lust, with which he is powerfully afflicted toward the end of the sequence, as another selfdissolving effect of mutability, pronouncing in Sonnet 147 that ‘Desire is death’. The famous first clause of Sonnet 129 (‘Th’expense of spirit in a waste of shame / Is lust in action’) plays richly on the ambiguity of the word ‘shame’, suggesting simultaneously that degraded sex is a shameful spiritual waste; that it wastes or despoils the sense of shame; and that it is a waste of the deterrent of shame as an emotion, since lust is incorrigible. As John Kerrigan has observed, it also grossly describes the process of copulation itself: th’expense of spirit (semen) in a waist of shame.7 Even beyond his sense of shameful mortality, the sonneteer feels desperately tentative, continuously uncreated. I have noted already that he is ashamed of his coarse manners and ink-stained hand, the results of having had to earn his living in the world (Sonnet 111). He tells his beloved, ‘you in me can nothing worthy prove’ (Sonnet 72). He values his poetry only for the excellence of its subject: ‘thou art all my art’ (Sonnet 78), and his vocation as an artist is therefore threatened when the rival poet begins also to write of the young man: ‘When your countenance filled up his line / Then lacked I matter; that enfeebled mine’ (Sonnet 86). He is so paranoiacally susceptible to shame that he wonders if the image of the beloved which haunts him is his spirit sent by him ‘into my deeds to pry / To find out shames and idle hours in me’ (Sonnet 61). The semi-dramatic unfolding of his sequence is haunted by shame as well. Tennyson once wrote of ‘the shame that cannot be explain’d for shame’,8 and some such unspeakable ignominies are half glimpsed here: ’Tis not enough that through the cloud thou break To dry the rain on my storm-beaten face, For no man well of such a salve may speak That heals the wound and cures not the disgrace. (Sonnet 34) Alas ’tis true I have gone here and there, And made myself a motley to the view, Gored mine own thoughts, sold cheap what is most dear, Made old offences of affections new. (Sonnet 110)

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A vague and horrible suggestiveness is the essence of these passages. However, in the first case, the main implication is perhaps that the beloved’s return restores the sonneteer to himself but that self is irrevocably damaged by public shame and disgrace. In the second case, which glances forward to Hamlet, there is a strong sense of deforming foolishness and exposure, as well as of desecrated standards, and an implication of promiscuity. Like the image of the ink-stained hand, that of the fool in motley evokes the professional history of Shakespeare the man; The Sonnets also afford an image of an actor afflicted with stagefright. Even the fair youth is not exempt from suspicion of shame. After all, as a connoisseur of mortality, the sonneteer knows better than anyone that he, like everybody else, is wedded to death, that youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies. We also hear of his ‘sensual fault’ (Sonnet 35) and he is described in metaphors of debased or disfigured beauty: as a cankered rose, a muddy fountain, a darkened sun. Yet the shameful aspects of human being are for the most part misogynistically displaced onto the dark lady: ‘my female evil’ (Sonnet 144), ‘the wide world’s common place’, ‘the bay where all men ride’ (Sonnet 137). Of his young man, the besotted, self-deceiving poet writes, As on the finger of a thronèd queen The basest jewel will be well esteemed, So are those errors that in thee are seen To truths translated and for true things deemed. (Sonnet 96) The whole history of his infatuation should perhaps be seen less in terms of love than as a doomed effort to discover a refuge in experience from all-pervading shame. Sonnet 29 (‘When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes’) begins to bear this out. In the octave, social exclusion and illrepute present the writer with an unfavourable self-image, causing him feelings of self-disgust, which tip over into jealousy. Unhappy with himself, he imagines a better-looking and more promising man, the embodiment of the standard to which he compares himself adversely, and he wishes he were that person. He envies anyone else’s advantages – this man’s art, that man’s scope – and can take no pleasure in his own


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talents and achievements; indeed, he is so far out of sympathy with himself that his blessings especially discontent and irk him. Yet, with the turn at the beginning of the sestet, the remembrance of love lifts him out of this slough of shame and despond. It is a sudden transfusion of worth and value: Yet, in these thoughts myself almost despising, Haply I think on thee, and then my state, Like to the lark at break of day arising From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven’s gate; For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings That then I scorn to change my state with kings. Love redeems the sonneteer’s faltering pride. But his love is a form of narcissistic dependency, and it is given a distasteful cast in Sonnet 37. Here he describes himself as lame, poor and despised; but he does not despair, for, having enumerated his lover’s excellences, he admits that ‘I in thy abundance am sufficed / And by a part of all thy glory live’. This is sheer parasitism, and does not teach him truly to love himself. Sonnet 62 tells how when he looks in the mirror he finds himself ‘Beated and chopped with tanned antiquity’, but contrives to avoid shame by identifying instead with the image of the loved one. But he has acquired his lover as a second and better self only by amorous hyperbole, and, as the rest of the sequence indicates, life is continually bringing him face to face with his real and (in his view) shameful self. Moreover, love gives no security against shame, for, since he feels so degraded and unattractive as to be entirely unlovable, he has no confidence in it. As he puts it to himself, ‘to leave poor me thou hast the strength of laws, / Since why to love I can allege no cause’ (Sonnet 49). Loss of love would cause the sonneteer even more shame. I have mentioned already that in The Two Gentlemen of Verona Julia’s disguise is redolent of her rejection by her beloved Proteus. Speaking of her real self in character as the page Sebastian when Proteus is about to send her ring to Sylvia, she says, ‘It seems you loved her not, to leave her token. / She is dead belike?’ (4.4.72–4). At another point, she speaks as if she has withered with rejection into prepubescent boyhood and is not disguised at all (4.4.647–54). This again resonates with

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Spenser, since, in Book 4 of The Faerie Queene, Belphebe’s rejection of the squire causes him to abase and abandon himself. The sonneteer is haunted by the prospect of such abandonment, becoming obsessed with the thought that his beloved will eventually ‘place my merit in the eye of scorn’ (Sonnet 88). In his desperation to preserve his shame-deferring identification with the loved one, but also out of sheer self-hate, he promises that he will accuse and degrade himself when his beloved is disposed to shame him, boasting perversely in Sonnet 89, Thou canst not, love, disgrace me half so ill, To set a form upon desired change As I’ll myself disgrace, knowing thy will. He never achieves a tolerable relation with his fair youth or himself, so it is not surprising when, in Sonnet 72, we find him looking forward to an absolute cessation of being: ‘My name be buried where my body is / And live no more to shame nor me nor you’. The tyranny of shame in The Sonnets goes beyond anything else we have come across in early modern literature. Should we think of them as love poems at all if what looks like love is rather a selfish desire to be fulfilled in love and redeemed from shame, which is no basis for relationship? In the fallen world to which these poems testify, the poet’s search for a haven from shame is a vain one. Real love – by which is meant both love which is true and love which is realistic and therefore has a chance of success – perhaps does transcend shame, but only by first humbly accepting it in the self and the loved one. This, as we shall see in Chapter 7, is one of the lessons which King Lear must learn. Shamelessness Shakespeare derives the theme of shamelessness from Marlowe, its Renaissance laureate, but he develops a more precise philosophical comprehension of it than his great forebear. I have alluded already to the Shakespearean scene of shamelessness in 3 Henry VI, in which Queen Margaret barbarically taunts York at Wakefield. York sees Margaret’s unblushing face as a grotesque mask incapable of humane inflection, and we may


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be reminded of the biblical ‘whore’s forehead’ ( Jeremiah 3.3). But given the pain of shame we have just witnessed in The Sonnets, the appeal of shamelessness is not surprising and that of Richard III is given a more positive cast. He allegorises his monstrous birth thus: The midwife wonder’d, and the women cried ‘O Jesu bless us, he is born with teeth!’ And so I was, which plainly signified That I should snarl, and bite, and play the dog. Then, since the heavens have shap’d my body so, Let hell make crook’d my mind to answer it. (3 Henry VI, 5.6.74–9) This takes Marlowe’s aperçu that shamelessness is particularly tempting for the stigmatised much further. As we have seen, all shame involves deviation from a certain standard; Richard is physically deformed. He looks vicious, so he will be vicious; he is physically warped and bent, so he rejects straightness and makes, in J.P. Brockbank’s phrase, ‘deformity license depravity’ (Brockbank 1972: 115). By making crookedness his rule, he makes the shame disappear and puts an end to his estrangement from himself and his own body, achieving a perverse integrity. It is a brilliant manoeuvre: shame would cripple the hunchback’s life; shamelessness offers him freedom. Committing himself to a life of deviancy, he embarks on a career which will be a continual enactment of his freedom from shame. He makes the above speech having freshly murdered the divinely anointed Henry and gratuitously stabbed his corpse. When he approaches Henry’s funeral procession at the beginning of Richard III, the chief mourner, Lady Anne, notes that the dead king’s wounds ‘Open their congeal’d mouths and bleed afresh’ (1.2.56). ‘Blush, blush, thou lump of foul deformity’, she demands, For ’tis thy presence that ex-hales this blood From cold and empty veins where no blood dwells. Thy deed, inhuman and unnatural, Provokes this deluge supernatural. (1.2.57–61)

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But Richard does not blush. Heaping outrage on outrage, he proceeds successfully to woo her, almost literally over her father-in-law’s dead body. ‘Was ever woman in this humour wooed? / Was ever woman in this humour won?’ (1.2.232–3); it is difficult not to share his excitement. Falstaff makes the attractions of shamelessness even more obvious. One would have thought that the fat knight has every reason to be ashamed. He is singularly obese: when the Lord Chief Justice tells him, ‘Well, the truth is, Sir John, you live in great infamy’, he admits that ‘he that buckles himself in my belt cannot live in less’ (2 Henry IV, 1.2.177–8).9 He is probably an alcoholic, and his name perhaps implies sexual impotence.10 He is unprincipled, if not immoral, and he is a thief and a parasite. Among his worst actions are pressing into the King’s service only those men from whom he is unable to extort bribes, then sending them into the thick of the Battle of Shrewsbury so he can claim their pay, and stabbing the noble Hotspur’s corpse. But, like the unblushing Margaret and Richard, and as Shakespeare makes clear, Falstaff is ‘shameproof ’.11 When Hal asks him, ‘Art thou not ashamed?’, he responds: Dost thou hear, Hal? Thou knowest in the state of innocency Adam fell, and what should poor Jack Falstaff do in the days of villainy? Thou seest I have more flesh than another man, and therefore more frailty. (1 Henry IV, 3.3.164–8) This is a joke which takes the orthodox Christian presumption of mortal sinfulness as a licence for shameful behaviour. Yet Falstaff does not really attract our censure. A.C. Bradley observes that he refuses to recognise old father antic the law, and the categorical imperative, and our station and its duties, and conscience, and reputation, and other people’s opinions, and all sorts of nuisances concluding brilliantly,


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They are to him absurd; and to reduce a thing ad absurdum is to reduce it to nothing and to walk about free and rejoicing. (Bradley 1970: 69) Falstaff is a fantasy of invulnerable selfhood; that is why he is so satisfying, almost heroic. In him shamelessness is revealed as the fullness and facility of uninhibited being, what Stephen Greenblatt calls ‘a dream of superabundance’ (Greenblatt 1988: 41). If in Margaret it is detestable, in Richard it is plausible and exciting, and in Falstaff it is fascinating, even loveable, shamelessness in the ambiguous figure of Parolles is simultaneously all of these. His story represents Shakespeare’s most searching and balanced critique of the phenomenon before Antony and Cleopatra. Parolles is threatened with shame throughout All’s Well that Ends Well, chiefly by Lord Lafew. As his name indicates, he is form without content, surface without depth, mere meaningless words. Lafew realises that ‘the soul of this man is his clothes’ (2.5.44). He tells him, ‘So, my good window of lattice, fare thee well; thy casement I need not open, for I look through thee’ (2.3.212–14); in a locution fusing shame as deformity with shame as nakedness and an insinuation of sexual deviance, he imagines him with his ‘lower part’ in place of his nose (2.3.48). Parolles is exposed when he is captured and blindfolded by his own comrades at arms, who are posing as a Muscovite regiment. He unstintingly betrays and slanders them to that supposed enemy in order to save his skin. Unmasked, he finds he is facing the very men he has just extravagantly broken faith with. The fiction of his honour, of his manly identity, is exploded. It is a variation on Plautus’s theme of the miles gloriosus, but the sting in the tail here is that Parolles is not ashamed. We sympathise with him, only to discover he feels nothing himself: Yet am I thankful. If my heart were great ’Twould burst at this. Captain I’ll be no more, But I will eat and drink and sleep as soft As captain shall. Simply the thing I am Shall make me live. Who knows himself a braggart, Let him fear this; for it will come to pass

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That every braggart shall be found an ass. Rust, sword; cool, blushes; and Parolles live Safest in shame; being fool’d, by fool’ry thrive. There’s place and means for every man alive. I’ll after them. (4.3.319–29) Parolles is blithely able to dismiss his humiliation because he has no real identity; he never has had and is pleased to be relieved of the pretence. He no longer need fear exposure; he is free to opt for mere subsistence. In fact, he determines to make a living out of his disgrace, becoming a professional fool. It is very funny, of course, and Parolles partly impresses as an attractive pragmatist with strong survival instincts, but it is also an outrage on human dignity. As Rossiter well says, ‘The joke of unsuspecting gull surveyed is broken into by the sudden straight look down into degradation. Momentarily we see into rats’ alley’ (Rossiter 1989: 93–4). Though he experiences the revelation of shame, Parolles does not resolve to reform, nor to move beyond selfhood: ‘the skunk recognizes his stink and accommodates his ambition to it’ (ibid.: 94). This is not to accept shame but to deny it. When we next see him, Parolles is effectively covered in excrement: ‘I am now, sir, muddied in Fortune’s mood, and smell somewhat strong of her strong displeasure’ (All’s Well, 5.2.4–5). The clown stops his nose, crying in response to his request that he deliver a petition to Lord Lafew, ‘A paper from Fortune’s close-stool, to give to a nobleman!’ (5.2.4–5, 16–17). Where Claudio and his successors feel too much shame, Parolles feels none. It is still possible to find him anarchically appealing, but for T.S. Eliot he is more disturbing and frightening than Richard III and perhaps Iago (quoted in Hapgood 1965: 274). His example reveals shamelessness as the nemesis of the human, as gross and unredeemed animality. Moral and religious shame In spite of his fascination with the shamelessness he found in Marlowe, Shakespeare exhibits a developing ethical or religious commitment to shame. In early Shakespeare there is a motif of morally significant blushing. One thinks of the baroque,


Shame in Shakespeare

Spenserian description of the modest Lucrece’s blushes when she first hospitably receives the malevolent Tarquin, ‘This silent war of lilies and of roses’ (line 71). Shakespeare offers a pagan moral myth for the genesis of the blush, which virtue gave the golden age to gild Their silver cheeks, and call’d it then their shield; Teaching them thus to use it in the fight, When shame assail’d, the red should fence the white. (lines 60–3) Blushing is also an important moral indicator in Titus Andronicus, where the dramatist insists, with Senecan distastefulness, that his mutilated rape-victim Lavinia blushes even though she is losing so much blood from three wounds as to resemble some macabre fountain,12 and makes much of what we would now recognise as a racist presumption that his villainous Moor Aaron is too black to blush:13 as we will see in Chapter 6, Shakespeare deals with shame and race more satisfactorily in Othello. In Much Ado, Claudio falsely contends that Hero’s blush is ‘guiltiness, not modesty’ (4.1.41), but Friar Francis, after long, silent perusal of her face, correctly concludes that the ‘thousand blushing apparitions’ (4.1.159) to be seen there are the flickering flames of a chaste fire of innocent shame and outrage. Though it remains firmly subordinate to plot, and seems crude enough when compared to similar representations in the mature tragedies, spiritually redeeming shame is first dramatised by Shakespeare in The Two Gentlemen of Verona. Valentine catches Proteus attempting to rape his fiancée Silvia – shaming at its most sensational – but Proteus responds: My shame and guilt confounds me. Forgive me, Valentine: if hearty sorrow Be a sufficient ransom for offence, I tender’t here; I do as truly suffer, As e’er I did commit. (5.4.73–7) Mark Rylance, playing Proteus in 1996 at ‘Shakespeare’s Globe’, said these words grovelling on his belly. Valentine answers, ‘Then I am paid; / And once again I do receive thee

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honest’ (5.4.7–8). Though far too curt and absolute for modern audiences with a predilection for psychological realism – and additionally objectionable because the apology is addressed to Valentine and not to Silvia – this emblematic transformation through shame and grace is informed by Christian notions of contrition and atonement. Through most of the play Proteus, as his name indicates, has had no fixed self; that is why he is able to betray his friend and his faithful lover Julia. But by means of repentant shame he now discovers the grounds of positive and assured being in goodness. This separates him from his earlier degenerate self and he gets Julia back and is included in the happy ending. We might recall Chapter 2’s discussion of scriptural examples and of St Augustine’s rebirth through shame in The Confessions, as well as the dramatisation of shame and resurrection in Much Ado. The same process of finding good and true identity in shame is also a feature of As You Like It, where Oliver repents his jealous attempt on his brother Orlando’s life and is born again. Looking back on his earlier, unregenerate self he comments beautifully: ’Twas I. But ’tis not I. I do not shame To tell you what I was, since my conversion So sweetly tastes, being the thing I am. (4.3.135–7) The repugnance he has felt for the previous Oliver has happily divorced him from that unworthy predecessor. He feels luxuriously renewed and refreshed. A more developed and intimate representation of spiritual shame is found in Richard III. Here the wicked and habitually shameless protagonist is assailed by unforeseen shame and guilt on the eve of Bosworth Field: Have mercy, Jesu! – Soft, I did but dream. O coward conscience, how dost thou afflict me! The light turns blue. It is now dead midnight. Cold fearful drops stand on my trembling flesh. What do I fear? myself ? there’s none else by: Richard loves Richard, that is, I and I. Is there a murderer here? No. Yes, I am! Then fly. What, from myself ? Great reason: why?


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Lest I revenge. What, myself upon myself ? Alack, I love myself. Wherefore? For any good That I myself have done unto myself ? O, no, alas, I rather hate myself For hateful deeds committed by myself. I am a villain – yet I lie, I am not! Fool, of thyself speak well! Fool, do not flatter. My conscience hath a several thousand tongues, And every tongue brings in a several tale, And every tale condemns me for a villain: Perjury, perjury, in the high’st degree; Murder, stern murder, in the dir’st degree; All several sins all us’d in each degree, Throng to the bar, crying all, ‘Guilty, guilty!’ I shall despair. There is no creature loves me, And, if I die, no soul will pity me – Nay, wherefore should they, since that I myself Find in myself no pity to myself ? Methought the souls of all that I had murder’d Came to my tent, and every one did threat To-morrow’s vengeance on the head of Richard. (5.3.179–207) Richard begins by appealing to Christ’s mercy; with its fragmented syntax, irregular metre and rapid shifts of setting – from the imagined battlefield, to ‘now dead midnight’, to the theatre of conscience, to the bar of judgement, to the after-life, ‘to my tent’, to ‘to-morrow’s vengeance on the head of Richard’ – this strongly evokes spiritual crisis. ‘The light turns blue’; ‘cold fearful drops stand on [Richard’s] trembling flesh’. As the philosopher Gabriele Taylor recognises, two selves are speaking (Taylor 1985: 96n.), which we see from the use of both first and third person, question and answer, disagreement. This represents an important Shakespearean insight, for shame always involves some such opposition between the judging self and the self judged to be inadequate: we may recall Richard II’s repudiation of his mirror image here. In contrast, pride, the more positive emotion of self-assessment, marries satisfied self with the self judged satisfactory. We can still make out the familiar voice of the shameless Richard: ‘O coward conscience’, ‘Richard loves Richard’, ‘Alack, I love myself ’, ‘Fool, of thyself

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speak well’. But now a sternly conscientious voice, the voice of moral shame previously muffled and repressed, is audible too: ‘I … hate myself, / For hateful deeds committed by myself ’, ‘I am a villain’. With its ‘several thousand tongues’, this voice necessarily drowns out shamelessness. Richard is afraid that his usurping, more moral self will wreak revenge on his previously dominant shameless self, which betrayed it to evil: afraid, that is, that he will kill himself. His conscience is informing against him, his sins rising up to accuse him. Shocked out of his villainy, he relapses into a pathetic complaint of lack of love. His sense of being unlovable is based not now on a helpless and pitiable consciousness of physical deformity, but on a belated recognition of the spiritual ugliness, for which he is entirely responsible, having deformed his soul. There is no refuge in self-pity for him, because he knows that condemnation and punishment are his just deserts: he is on the verge of siding with the enemy, against himself. In the end he chooses to persevere in wickedness, defying shame like Macbeth. But it is a pyrrhic victory, for he is not therefore redeemed, and the implication is probably that he goes to hell. Measure for Measure, which is contemporary with the great tragedies, exhibits a philosophically-elaborated religious sense of shame. Isabella speaks of ‘our natural guiltiness’ (2.2.140). When Angelo refers to ‘the strong and swelling evil / Of my conception’ (2.4.6–7), it is impossible not to hear in the phrase a visceral recognition of original sin. Venereal disease is epidemic in the Vienna of the play; wickedness is hatching like frog spawn (2.2.96–100); ‘corruption boil[s] and bubble[s] / Till it o’errun[s] the stew’ (5.1.315–6). As Claudio puts it, ‘Our natures do pursue, / Like rats that ravin down their proper bane, / A thirsty evil, and when we drink, we die’ (1.2.120–2). In his celebrated speech to Claudio, Vincentio as Friar Lodowick presents human life in terms of manifold non-being: Thou art not noble; For all th’accomodations that thou bear’st Are nurs’d by baseness. Thou’rt by no means valiant … Thou art not thyself, For thou exists on many a thousand grains That issue out of dust. Happy thou art not; For what thou hast not, still thou striv’st to get,


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And what thou hast, forget’st. Thou art not certain … (3.1.13–23; my emphasis) There is a strong sense of physical corruption and mutability, for we hear too of ‘thine own bowels’, ‘The mere effusion of thy proper loins’, ‘the gout, serpigo and the rheum’ and ‘palsied eld’ (3.1.29–31). Human beings are construed as grossly beholden unto the flesh, ‘stinkingly depending’ (3.2.26). Dr Johnson glosses, All the delicacies of the table may be traced back to the shambles and the dunghill, all magnificence of building was hewn from the quarry and all the pomp of ornaments dug from among the damps and darkness of the mine. ( Johnson 1989: 174) Vincentio’s rhetorical masterstroke is ‘Thou hast nor youth, nor age, / But as it were an after-dinner sleep / Dreaming on both’ (3.1.31–2). Looking backwards at youth, forward at the future, human beings see life always from the outside, in effect from the perspective of death, and soon enough ‘this sensible warm motion’ becomes ‘a kneaded clod’ (3.1.119–20). Vincentio’s speech is a vivid expression of Lacanian lack-inbeing sharpened and made concrete by a Christian awareness of mortality. Given this morbid and degrading condition, the rules of Vincentio’s catechism are ‘Be absolute for death’ (3.1.5) and ‘take the shame with joy’ (2.3.30). Death is a total destruction and clearing away of the obscene self vividly exposed here; it will end the shameful dearth of being which we think of as existence, making ‘all odds even’ (3.1.41). Shame, as a loss of being, tends towards this consummation devoutly to be wished and, as self-repudiation, is a displacement from corrupt mortality. Shame also is a liberation into truth: the more degraded thing is to be, like the permanently inebriated Barnardine, ‘insensible of mortality, and desperately mortal’ (4.2.142–3). There is little sense of the bliss to be gained hereafter in Measure for Measure; it is rather a matter of mitigating the hell that is the here-and-now, the hell which is ourselves. Shame

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enables human beings to live against the grain of their shameful condition. There is reference to grace: all the souls that were, were forfeit once, And He that might the vantage best have took Found out the remedy. How should you be If He, which is the top of judgement, should But judge you as you are? (2.2.73–9) But even here grace is not explicitly mentioned. The shameful experience spared by grace of being exposed in horrible nakedness before the absolute is more powerfully evoked. That there is a stronger sense of mortal sinfulness in this play than of its possible redemption is also suggested by one of Lucio’s throwaway remarks: ‘Grace is grace, despite of all controversy: as for example, thou thyself art a wicked villain, despite of all grace’ (1.2.24–6). It is confirmed by the fact that the exposure of Angelo is much more memorable than the muted forgiveness and renewal which succeeds it. In the cosmic perspective not infrequently adopted by Measure for Measure, human life is simply an excruciating embarrassment: man, proud man, Dressed in a little brief authority, Most ignorant of what he is most assured – His glassy essence – like an angry ape Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven As make the angels weep; who, with our spleens, Would all laugh themselves mortal. (2.2.118–24) This establishes the ambiguous ontological station of human beings between apes and angels, seen in the Renaissance by Juan Huarte and later by Max Scheler as the condition of shame (Huarte 1594: 266; Emad 1972: 369). It is only angelic kindness which prevents the universe from resounding with laughter at human vanity. The more ambitious the particular life, the more painfully ludicrous it is, the greater the failure to acknowledge the ‘glassy essence’, the fact and ramification of sin and death. Shame is destiny in Measure for Measure.


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The main thrust of the play is therefore its exposure of overweening pride. In her stimulating Foucauldian reading, Laura Lunger Knoppers argues that Isabella is shamed for her politically subversive chastity. But Isabella’s shaming is dramatically related and then firmly subordinated to Angelo’s. Both are shamed because of their spiritual presumption in a decidedly fallen world. For all the recent and intriguing speculation about Shakespeare’s supposed Catholicism, it seems reasonable to speak here of an Anglican distaste for both puritan and monastic arrogance. By a sublime irony, Isabella’s protestation of absolute chastity turns into what is in effect a sexual fantasy of her own martyrdom: Th’impression of keen whips I’d wear as rubies, And strip myself to death as to a bed That longing have been sick for, ere I’d yield My body up to shame. (2.4.101–4) She ultimately pretends in public that Angelo ravished her, knowing that it was not truly her he violated, as part of the Duke’s ruse to bring Angelo to book, and in doing so she forsakes the appearance and what a psychoanalyst might call the ‘ego-ideal’ of a spotless perfection. At the climactic moment of the play, Angelo is unmasked for real transgressions, with a corresponding increase in the intensity of shame. It is ironically neat that this strict deputy, who ‘scarce confesses / That his blood flows; or that his appetite / Is more to bread than stone’ (1.3.51–3), falls into sexual sin when, just as he has revived draconian laws to reform a depraved Vienna, his repressed desire fastens on Isabella, the novice who has come before him to plead for the life of her brother Claudio. Angelo recognises that his identity is at stake: ‘what dost thou, or what art thou, Angelo?’ (2.2.173). Yet he succumbs to temptation nonetheless, offering to spare Claudio if Isabella will yield to him, ultimately pleasuring himself on what he thinks is her body. What he supposes is a hurried rape of a nun in the dark gives us ‘lust in action’ at its most shamefully disgusting. But Angelo is all of a sudden quite shameless: ‘I have begun, / And now I give my sensual race the rein’ (2.4.158–9). His virtue has instantaneously crumbled into nothing because it was never

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more than pride and self-gratification, and now he simply wishes to be fulfilled in a different way. He tells Isabella to ‘lay by all nicety and prolixious blushes’ (2.4.161). She threatens to expose him: Sign me a present pardon for my brother, Or with outstretch’d throat I’ll tell the world aloud What man thou art. (2.4.150–3) But he is not afraid: such is the wide fame of his reputation for purity, no mud will stick, and when he supposes he has bedded her, he presumes ‘her tender shame / Will not proclaim against her maiden loss’ (4.4.19–20). He is oppressed by a sense of self-loss, yet he compounds his villainy by perjuring himself, declining to spare Claudio even though Isabella has (as he thinks) fulfilled her part of the bargain. The tension mounts, and Isabella prays, O you blessed ministers above, Keep me in patience, and with ripen’d time Unfold the evil which is here wrapt up In countenance. (5.1.118–21) Answering her prayer, the Duke, operating as a kind of secular providence, strips Angelo of ‘all his deservings, caracts, titles, forms’. Now bereft of his ‘little brief authority’, Angelo is the naked ‘arch-villain’ (5.1.59–60), the Duke’s removal of Friar Lodowick’s habit eliciting from him the following speech: O my dread lord, I should be guiltier than my guiltiness To think I can be undiscernible, When I perceive your Grace, like power divine, Hath looked upon my passes. Then, good prince, No longer session hold upon my shame, But let my trial be mine own confession. Immediate sentence, then, and sequent death Is all the grace I beg. (5.1.364–72)


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It is a secular equivalent of the day of judgement. Angelo feels like the soul at the bar of heaven. He does not suffer for himself and his loss of face, as we might expect, but rather that he has betrayed his ‘good prince’ by his transgressions. The analogy of exposure before God is brilliantly reinforced in the theatre since, just as the soul on judgement day is said to be exposed before heaven and the dead, as well as all the world, Angelo is exposed in more than one dimension: not only before the audience on stage, but also before that in the theatre. He is an angel with horns (2.4.16–17), the devil on his burning throne (5.1.290–1). It is a tremendous dramatic experience, which gathers into itself Isabella’s former presumptions and shaming. She is overshadowed; he is framed. The tragic significance of this is that the most aspiring person is also the worst. In Rossiter’s words, ‘We uncomfortably watch the exposure of human shortcoming, human stupidity, selfishness, blindness, and limitation’ (Rossiter 1989: 89). Understandably, Angelo wants to die. And yet, paradoxically, this is Measure for Measure’s most positive moment. According to Wilson Knight, The horror of self-deception is at an end. For the first time in his life [Angelo] is quite honest with himself and with the world. (Knight 1949: 94) Richard P. Wheeler senses a strong feeling of release and a curiously compelling dignity in Angelo … [who] finds in the shaming presence of the Duke … the strength to snap even the durable thread of self-preservation that has led him to compound his corruption. (Wheeler 1981: 98) When this villainous and corrupt judge finally takes his shame upon himself, he becomes an existential hero, and this resonates profoundly with the strange exaltation in humiliation which we will now proceed to probe at the heart of the ‘great’ tragedies.

5 Hamlet

The remainder of this book will be about Shakespearean tragedy. Comment on the Roman tragedies and their anthropological concern with a limited classical concept of shame will be reserved for the end of the book, and we will be focusing on Hamlet, Othello and King Lear. Macbeth has been largely omitted as more concerned with shamelessness. As I suggested in the introduction, tragedy is the shameful genre par excellence, since it degrades a heightened representative on a raised stage before a large audience. The shock, the maximum impact of the degradation and exposure of the Shakespearean hero is always powerfully felt in the theatre, but often ignored by criticism. Though it is uncomfortable to contemplate, I want, in the following pages, to recover and bring into focus the iconic image of the abject hero and the uncanny sensation it produces in us. We are all humiliated in the fall, the shameful death of the champion; it is a revelation, a vicarious experience of universal shame, and in a Christian context a re-enactment of the original Fall. If I am right that the Renaissance period itself entailed a fresh experience of the Fall, then tragedy was inevitably destined to become its preeminent form.

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A shame-based view of tragedy marries well in certain respects with Antonin Artaud’s visionary conception of theatre. In The Theater and Its Double, the double is the plague, with its tragic exposure of ‘man considered metaphysically’ (Artaud 1958: 92): [The] action of theater, like that of plague, is beneficial, for, impelling men to see themselves as they are, it causes the mask to fall, reveals the lie, the slackness, baseness, and hypocrisy of our world; it shakes off the asphyxiating inertia of matter which invades even the clearest testimony of the senses. (ibid.: 27–8) This resonates powerfully with Measure for Measure and Shakespeare’s tragedy. The plague, like shame, is ultimately an experience of mortality. As a revelation of mortality, shame possesses precisely ‘the exceptional power of redirection’ that Artaud required of theatre and ascribed to plague (ibid.: 83). Though he conceived of this power existentially and only obscurely ethically, he does nonetheless find an Aristotelian purifying function in drama, and the cruelty he notoriously advocated he describes as ‘a kind of severe moral purity’ (ibid.: 122). I will argue that the strange joy and exaltation of Shakespearean tragedy, which goes beyond classical catharsis – an experience of terrible truth – derives from a sense of victory and fulfilment at the destruction of the corrupt mortal self. It is a commonplace that, in the process of losing their standing in the world, Shakespeare’s heroes achieve an obscure spiritual greatness, but it has never before been seen in terms of the deadly enlightenment of shame. This positive view of tragedy challenges Stephen Greenblatt’s presentation of theatre as cultivating anxiety in the interests of power (Greenblatt 1990) and Jonathan Dollimore’s latest sense of tragic drama as ‘the most politically regressive of all aesthetic forms’ (Dollimore 1998b: 266), arguing that, by humiliating and exposing the fallible and fragile self, Shakespeare’s tragedy reorients its audience to the world outside the self. It has something in common with the Nietzschean epistemological/existential understanding of the genre, whereby

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under the mystical jubilant shout of Dionysus the spell of individuation is broken, and the path to the Mothers of Being, to the inmost core of things is laid open. (Nietzsche 1999: 76) But also, more practically, it sees tragedy as creating that responsiveness which is the beginning of justice and our best hope for a better future. In the springtime of professional Shakespeare criticism, A.C. Bradley and G. Wilson Knight both recognised Hamlet’s shame (Bradley 1971; Knight 1949), as have critics since. A.P. Rossiter paves the way towards the insight that it is shame that causes Hamlet’s delay by distinguishing between fineness of being and crudeness of doing (Rossiter 1989). Martin Dodsworth and Graham Bradshaw have described something of the complex workings of shame in Hamlet’s speech (Dodsworth 1983; Bradshaw 1987), and Philip Fisher reminds us that mourning such as Hamlet’s habitually involves selfreproach (Fisher 1992), while Philippa Berry goes further, calling the prince ‘furiously self-loathing’ (Berry 1999: 50). Other feminist critics, such as Patricia Parker and Janet Adelman, have commented on the stigmatisation and shaming of the feminine and of female characters in the play (Parker 1987, 1996; Adelman 1992). Lacan discerned his own ‘mirror-stage’ in Hamlet, and Philip Armstrong has brought the affective power of the play into focus by proposing as a critical key the dialectic in Lacan’s psychological model between pleasurable identification with the reflected image and a sense of exposed inadequacy before its supposedly accusing gaze (Armstrong 1996). Like Jonson, Hamlet himself presents the stage as a moral mirror (3.2.19–24), using it as such when tricking Claudius into a public act of guilty self-recognition, and Armstrong’s suggestion is that the audience in the theatre are accused and ‘unfounded’ by Hamlet just as Claudius is by ‘The Mousetrap’ (Armstrong 1996: 228–9). The French poststructuralist thinkers Jean François Lyotard, René Girard and Jacques Derrida have all interpreted Hamlet as a fundamentally ethical play (Lyotard 1977; Girard 1991; Derrida 1994, 1995), and I will argue with them that this theatrical experience of shaming is ritually redeeming and ethically productive.

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Hamlet dramatises the hard process of moving beyond selfconcern through shame. The prince is ashamed from the very beginning, but he comes to terms with this only at the end, and is rewarded with an obscure experience of transcendence. He suffers shame from two sources. The first is his mother’s indecently rapid, and probably by Renaissance standards incestuous,1 second marriage. This discloses her degraded sensuality to him. Since he derives half his being from her, it makes him despise his own body. And it is an offence to his father’s memory. Furthermore, and most profoundly, it strikes him as an exposure of general corruption, so that he feels ashamed of the world and of himself as part of it. The disclosure by Old Hamlet’s ghost that Gertrude’s new husband is his murderer compounds these shames. But, try as he might, Hamlet is not able to take revenge against Claudius, as the ghost bids him; this is the second source of his shame in the play. He is trapped between two different senses of shame here: from an instinctive Christian perspective, associated in secular terms with feminine modesty, he feels revenge is perverse and shameful; but from the more worldly standpoint, advocated by the ghost and wholly bound up with ideas of masculine honour, he feels it is shameful not to vindicate his father and family. He languishes painfully, periodically tries to rouse himself, considers he has failed as a son and a prince, and feels reproached by, and envious of, every unscrupulous man of action. Like Shakespeare’s sonneteer before him, he is constantly struggling with negative conceptions of himself: ‘O that this too too sullied flesh would melt’ (1.2.29), ‘O what a rogue and peasant slave am I’ (2.2.544), ‘How all occasions do inform against me’ (4.4.32). He is more or less released from shame when he accepts his own and the world’s mortal nature and, therefore, puts himself and his revenge in the hands of providence. Even then, the dying Hamlet is anxious that Horatio vindicate him to Denmark – and, when his friend tells his story in the thoroughly external terms of a crude revenge play (5.2.385–90), we may wonder if there is not a hint of posthumous shame. However, if Horatio’s last wish for him is fulfilled, Hamlet is on his way to everlasting rest under an angelic escort. In Hamlet, as in all tragedy, the increasingly abject and humiliated figure of the fallen hero is the central revelation

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and symbol of shame. But the language of the play is also thoroughly imbued with shame’s imagery. There is Hamlet’s picture of himself lying ‘worse than the mutines in the bilboes’ (5.2.6), the latter being iron shackles used on ship to confine prisoners by the ankles, nautical stocks. In the first scene, the ghost starts ‘like a guilty thing’ and ‘hie[s]’ to his ‘confine’ as the cock crows to herald first light (1.1.152–161), and Marcellus recalls the folklore that in the ‘hallow’d’ and ‘gracious’ season of Christmas ‘This bird of dawning singeth all night long’ so ‘no spirit dare stir abroad’ (1.1.162–9): images of sin’s fear of exposure. The famous figure of a man crouched behind the arras, though certainly a token for the cloak-and-dagger atmosphere of the play, is another emblem of what Hamlet calls ‘occulted guilt’ (3.2.80). And the poetic totem of Hamlet is a grotesquely deformed body, recollecting the imagery of disfigurement and loss of purity and integrity in The Rape of Lucrece, and gesturing towards the pervasive disgust of Measure for Measure. We hear of the ‘unmatch’d form and feature of blown youth / Blasted’ (3.1.161–2); of an ‘o’ergrowth of some complexion’ (1.4.27); of ‘eyes purging thick amber and plum tree gum’ (2.2.198–9); of a diseased cheek concealed under thick make-up (3.1.149); of ‘a mildewed ear’ (3.4.64); of a ‘bosom black as death’ (3.3.67). There are also horrible images of posthumous decay: Polonius’s worm-eaten body;2 ‘pocky corses … that will scarce hold the laying in’ (5.1.160–1); ‘the noble dust of Alexander … stopping a bung hole’ (5.1.196–8). And there is Old Hamlet’s memorable description of what happened to him when he was poisoned while napping in his orchard: a most instant tetter bark’d about, Most lazar-like, with vile and loathsome crust All my smooth body. (1.5.71–3) The alliterating consonants extended by postponement of the object overwhelm the long sonorous vowels of the last line to create a vivid portrait in sound of the deformation of Old Hamlet’s kingly beauty. All of these images, which deeply taint the atmosphere of the play, emanate from the apprehension of fallenness – of lust and death – which is both Hamlet’s original trauma and the signal experience of this drama.

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Hamlet’s shame Hamlet’s sophisticated sense of shame and what is degrading is part princely superiority – ‘It offends [him] to the soul to hear a robustious periwig-pated fellow … split the ears of the groundlings, who for the most part are capable of nothing but inexplicable dumb-shows and noise’ (3.2.8–12); part Roman stoicism – he deplores a man who is ‘passion’s slave’ (3.2.72) and the plaything of fortune; and part Christian modesty and humility – hence his distaste for violence and the strong Christian overtone of his ‘special observance, that you o’erstep not the modesty of nature’ (3.2.181–9). This sense of shame has been lacerated by his father’s death and his mother’s remarriage. It is not until the last act that Hamlet faces up to the disgust and shame with which death has filled him, though this is powerfully implicit throughout; and he is scarcely able to contemplate what his mother has done either. His first soliloquy (1.2.129–58) is therefore full of sighing and lamentation: ‘O God! O God!’, ‘Fie on’t, ah fie’, ‘Heavens and earth’, ‘O God’, ‘break, my heart’. The conjunction of repetition and tautology3 with oblique syntax4 betrays a reluctance to address the subject of Gertrude’s remarriage directly; when finally he does so, Hamlet deviates uncontrollably into parenthetical expressions of horror. By remarrying with her eyes still red and swollen from tears shed for Old Hamlet’s death, Gertrude has shown fickleness; by marrying the inferior Claudius, want of discrimination. She is revealed as a creature of the moment, of low bodily appetite, selfish but not self-respecting, without integrity. The shock to her sensitive son is almost as profound as that of his father’s death. As Curtis Brown Watson writes, for the Elizabethan and Jacobean, shameful behaviour on the part of members of one’s own family was just as reprehensible as offences which one commits oneself. (Watson 1960: 373) The Renaissance philosopher Juan Luis Vives, whom we first met in Chapter 3, attests: We are ashamed not only of our own defects but also of the defects of those who are extremely close to us … . The

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infamy of our parents is by far the worst, as the Greek saying goes: ‘Nobody is so excellent and self-confident that he could not be destroyed by a parental disgrace’. (Vives 1990: 111) In The Winter’s Tale, Leontes says of Mamillius: To see his nobleness, Conceiving the dishonour of his mother! He straight declin’d, droop’d, took it deeply, Fasten’d and fix’d the shame on’t in himself, Threw off his spirit, his appetite, his sleep, And downright languish’d. (2.3.12–17) Curiously, these words apply also to Hamlet.5 That the dishonour of Mamillius’s mother is only a projection of his father’s diseased mind makes his pains, and eventual death, wantonly cruel, but does not invalidate the principle here that susceptibility to external shame implies rare ‘nobleness’ and sensibility in a corrupt world. If Hamlet is ashamed of his mother, he is also ashamed for his father, for the offence his wife has done to his memory. This shame is sympathetic and generous, born of a capacity to identify with others. And, in the determining context of the early modern concept of shame, there is sufficient reason for it. While ‘medieval philosophy had never given the idea … serious consideration, holding nothing more evanescent than human opinion and praise’ (Watson 1960: 69), people in the Renaissance set new store by posthumous reputation, as the classical world had; the humanist and moralist Etienne Dolet even advances the heretical view that there is ‘no immortality except glory or renown, a lasting name, such as Cicero’s or Caesar’s’ (quoted in Buckley 1932: 14).6 By forsaking Old Hamlet, Gertrude has deprived him of a crucial portion of his afterlife on earth in the hearts and minds of those left behind him. By replacing him so swiftly with his inferior brother, she has equated ‘Hyperion’ with ‘a satyr’ (1.2.140), making his death no loss and his life meaningless. Furthermore, Hamlet is ashamed of himself. Continuing from the passage quoted already, Vives observes, ‘The vices of

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our parents seem to be transferred to us by natural resemblance, as if they were hereditary’; Hamlet feels contaminated by his father’s death and his mother’s unclean flesh. His first words in soliloquy express this: O that this too too sullied flesh would melt, Thaw and resolve itself into a dew. (1.2.129–30) He is polluted: his body is dirty and frozen – as William Kerrigan says, ‘perhaps the image is that of smutched snow or ice’ (Kerrigan 1994: 44). The use of three verbs where one would do intimates a sensuously imagined dissolution. Moreover, Hamlet wants to leave Elsinore; his ‘nighted colour’ (1.2.68) is the colour of disguise as well as of mourning; and he insists he is unknowable:7 all partly because he is reluctant to reveal a self which he feels is tainted and untrustworthy. That he is preoccupied with his own supposed sensual fault is evident in his speech contemplating the drinking bouts customary in Denmark (1.4.17–38); he rapidly loses contact with the subject, distracted by his own peculiar shame. He says that just as sottishness soils Denmark’s good name, so it is with ‘particular men’ that ‘one defect’ is enough to bereave them of their reputation, ‘be they [otherwise] as pure as grace’; he goes on to speak of ‘some vicious mole of nature in them, / As in their birth, wherein they are not guilty / (Since nature cannot choose his origin)’. He fears that, like his mother, he will be unexpectedly overwhelmed by sensuality, imagining ‘the o’ergrowth of some complexion, / Oft breaking down the pales and forts of reason’. In psychological terms, this transfer of shame must seem grievously mistaken. But we should pause a moment, for Hamlet’s discovery of a hereditary taint within himself suggests original sin. Purely psychological criticism, though it can take us very far indeed with Hamlet, leaves a crucial dimension of its meaning and power unacknowledged, if not unfelt. At the deepest level, Hamlet is ashamed of the world. Whatever its effects on him as her son, he experiences Gertrude’s unfaithfulness as evil – it is no accident that during his first soliloquy he mentions God and heaven some five times. His disgust at his father’s death and his mother’s unscrupulous sexuality, and in consequence

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his disgust for his own body, generates a more general hatred of the physical:8 What piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god: the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals – and yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust? (2.2.295–308) This sentence articulates the essential experience of postlapsarian humanity, a sense of divinity squandered. Hamlet approaches the function of a cleric, offering a parodic funeral sermon for humanity as such. The first soliloquy laments the present state of nature thus: O God! O God! How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable Seem to me all the uses of this world! Fie on’t, ah fie, ’tis an unweeded garden That grows to seed; things rank and gross in nature Possess it merely. (1.2.132–7) In effect, as this evocation of a decidedly post-Edenic garden intimates, Hamlet’s experience of lust and death constitutes an acutely personal experience of the Fall. Derrida awards him the special spiritual status of a lone witness (Derrida 1995). We can enrich this picture of Hamlet’s shame by reflecting on a snatch of his dialogue with Ophelia: Ophelia: Will he tell us what this show meant? Hamlet: Ay, or any show that you will show him. Be not you ashamed to show, he’ll not shame to tell you what it means. (3.2.139–41) That their subject is the meaning of a play is sufficient warning to pay special attention. They are watching the dumbshow which introduces The Murther of Gonzago; both pieces represent the regicide and wifely infidelity which have precipitated Hamlet. That dirty business, Hamlet’s bawdy reply

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suggests, was analogous to exposure of the pudendum. The Arden editor notes, ‘The obvious indecency … may be heightened by a pun on shoe, referring to the woman’s sexual part’. These replays are fresh exposure, designed to catch the conscience of the king and trick him into betraying his guilt, and doubtless also to arouse feelings of shame in the queen’s breast. In addition, Hamlet and Ophelia’s exchange serves to remind us of the shaming procedures of Hamlet as they operate on the audience in the theatre, for, in its extended revelation of sinfulness and mortality, this tragedy itself functions as an experience of nakedness and exposure. Hamlet’s trauma, we may now say, is to have seen the nakedness of humankind and in particular, and most painfully, of his own father and mother. Old Hamlet’s death is a form of exposure, a betrayal of his absolute, quasi-divine status in the mind of his son; we may recall Thomas Browne musing, ’tis the very disgrace and ignominy of our natures that in a moment can so disfigure us that our nearest friends, wife, and children stand afraid and start at us. (Browne 1977: 111) Gertrude’s fervently quick remarriage has filled Hamlet’s head with unwanted images of her. That is the origin of any Freudian symptoms he may show. He is left with a preoccupation with death and sex: his ‘gorge rises at it’ (5.1.182). Hence the imagery detailed already of bodily corruption and concealment. It is because Hamlet cannot see a woman without also seeing her horrible nakedness that he utters his misogynistic cruelties to Ophelia. The theme of shameful nakedness in Hamlet is perhaps informed by biblical stories such as that of Noah’s nakedness (Genesis 9.20) and 1 Samuel 20 where Saul tells his son Jonathan that his excessive (romantic?) attachment to David has uncovered and disgraced the nakedness of his mother. Hamlet’s shame expands from dreadfully particular personal origins to embrace the entire species. That he remains distracted by exposure and nakedness we may gather from the curious and suggestive wording of his letter informing Claudius that he has returned from England: ‘High and mighty, you shall know I am set naked on your kingdom’

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(4.7.42–3). From a Christian point of view, to sense our human nakedness is, as we know from Chapter 2, to relive the shame of the Fall, when Adam and Eve first knew that they were naked. Hamlet has seen that human beings decay and die, and he senses that sin is a form of death; he feels that his mother has died as much as that he has lost his father. Later, in the Closet Scene, he asks in anguish, ‘O shame, where is thy blush?’ (3.4.81), but it is he and only he who blushes for the world. That he does so is an essential component of his noble stature. But Hamlet’s sense of the corruption of sublunary nature – ‘it is not, nor it cannot come to good’ (1.2.158) – is excessive, in Christian terms close to the sin of despair. As Rossiter recognised, Hamlet sees human being as shameful to the root, a slavery of grunting and sweating under the burden of undesirable existence (Rossiter 1989: 176). Fortune is ‘outrageous’ (3.1.58); time ‘whips and scorns’ us (3.1.70); social life is a series of insults: Th’oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely, The pangs of dispriz’d love, the law’s delay, The insolence of office, and the spurns That patient merit of th’unworthy takes … (3.1.71–4) As Wilson Knight puts it, ‘Hamlet’s soul is sick’ (Knight 1949: 23); he suffers from impotent rage and bitterness. In modern parlance, he is chronically depressed. He is unable to accept his shameful condition and only this would make life bearable to him. Hamlet and the ghost Still – Hamlet is right to be ashamed. His shame preserves for the play the high idea of the human as more than subject to chance and death. As rapidly becomes clear by contrast, Hamlet’s shame is also of the right sort. In Act 1 Scene 3 and Act 2 Scene 1, the family affairs of Polonius punctuate the action. We are invited to compare Polonius’s thoroughly conventional concern for the reputation of his son Laertes and for his daughter Ophelia’s virginity with Hamlet’s more

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spiritual shame. Hamlet’s shame is shame in his own eyes, the instinctive recognition of what is degraded or obscene; Polonius’s is shame in the eyes of others, a calculation of what will damage his social standing. As we have seen, Hamlet’s generous sense of shame encompasses his mother, his father and the whole of the human race, but Polonius’s is narrowly focused on self. He is not really concerned with others, only with the way that they reflect on him: thus he says to his daughter, with a revealing pun which turns affection into finance, ‘Tender yourself more dearly … or you’ll tender me a fool’ (1.3.103–9). Laertes inherits this meaner sense of shame from his father. It is the worldly measure of Hamlet’s fineness. In the midst of his psychological and spiritual crisis, Hamlet is visited by Old Hamlet’s ghost (1.4.5). The revelation that the man with whom his mother is sleeping is his father’s murderer predictably intensifies his shock and shame. Hamlet agrees to revenge, but even as he does so betrays a fundamental antipathy to the task. Here he experiences the prospective moral shame that restrains the subject from ill action. And not without reason: it is no new thing to say that revenge is morally reprehensible because it turns the revenger into the mirror image of the outrageous enemy who has provoked him. Christian teaching on the subject is plain; as René Girard puts it, ‘To all previous religious laws, the Gospel substitutes a single command: “give up retaliation and revenge in any form” ’ (Girard 1991: 282–3). Old Hamlet, who slew the ‘ambitious Norway’ (1.1.64) in ceremonious single combat, stands for mannish and primitive honour and shame, but his references to purgatorial suffering testify to the God who condemns revenge. Claudius resembles Cain, as he himself realises – ‘O, my offence is rank, it smells to heaven; / It hath the primal eldest curse upon’t / A brother’s murder’ (3.3.36–8) – and God decreed that Cain should not be killed: ‘whosoever slayeth Cain; vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold’ (Genesis 4.15). As a student in Luther’s Wittenberg, Hamlet would also know the text ‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord’ (Romans 12.19): his eventual submission of his revenge to God (5.2.215–18) confirms that he does. Among the authorities of Shakespeare’s day, Cleaver says a revenger strips himself of grace, Bishop Hall that he will die a double death of body and soul (Watson 1960: 130); Charron, Du Vair and Primaudaye

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all deem patient suffering of injury the badge of virtue (Shalvi 1972: 82). We have observed that Hamlet’s mood is one of contemptus mundi; revenge, which confounds the distinction between crime and justice, between good and evil, partakes of the fallen nature that repels him. When the ghost first mentions murder, Hamlet responds: Haste me to know’t, that I with wings as swift As meditation or the thoughts of love May sweep to my revenge. (1.5.29–31) But his expression belies him: the separation of subject and verb suggests hesitancy (Dodsworth 1983: 61), and meditation and thoughts of love are not wings with which to sweep to revenge but checks to hold one back (Fisher 1992: 89). Further, all of Hamlet’s briefer comments during the dialogue – ‘Alas, poor ghost’ (1.5.4), ‘O God!’ (1.5.25), ‘Murder!’ (1.5.26), ‘O my prophetic soul!’ (1.5.41) – evoke a religious conscience passionately averse to violence. When the ghost leaves him – although first he asserts that revenge is heavenly, a tactic he repeats later and one intended to release him from the Christian prohibition – Hamlet is seized with the dread of a soul in peril: ‘And shall I couple hell? O fie!’ (1.5.93). Far from being ready to kill, his body is fainting: ‘Hold, hold, my heart, / And you, my sinews, grow not instant old’ (1.5.93–4). He makes an effort to rally, promising the departed ghost, ‘thy commandment all alone shall live / Within the book and volume of my brain, / Unmixed with baser matter’ (1.5.102–4). But this scholarly metaphor of books and editing is not a promising one in a would-be avenger. When he actually plucks out his notebook and indites ‘that one may smile and smile and be a villain / – At least I am sure it may be so in Denmark’ (1.5.108–9) he looks woefully, indeed comically inadequate. This embarrassing aspect prepares for the wholesale humiliation to come. Hamlet’s subsequent ridicule of the ghost to Horatio and the watch stems partly from resentment of the unwelcome duty he has acquired from him. Hamlet is a man divided: outraged filial love and respect for himself as a man of honour prompt him to revenge; deeper moral feelings forbid it. Either way will entail shame: he will be

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a murderer or he will be an unfeeling son and coward. It is clear that he chooses to kill: Shakespeare’s achievement is to dramatise the subversion of that conscious intention by the moral shame which Hamlet suppresses. His failure to revenge saves him from outright moral shame, but leaves him prone to other bitter self-reproaches. Guilt clearly plays its part, but as the play develops it becomes evident that Hamlet recoils less from the deed itself than from the obscene picture of himselfas-revenger with which it presents him. Such shame is an indicator of his purity, as has been said already, but it may also remind us of the Isabella in Measure for Measure who declares, ‘I have spirit to do anything that appears not foul in the truth of my spirit’ (3.1.205–7). The fundamental and instinctive goodness of the Dane is not really in question but at this point he, like Isabella, is the unwitting idolater of his own soul. It seems natural to compare Hamlet with a female character in this fashion, for his tender susceptibility, his shrinking from what is vulgar and evil, characterise what we have seen is traditionally construed as feminine rather than masculine shame. In the previous chapter, we saw that, at the most profound level, Shakespeare blurs the secular distinction between gendered shames, presenting (like Spenser) ‘feminine’ shamefastness as a fountain of spiritual vitality for all. Hamlet is extraordinary but also exemplary among men in his instinctively spiritual sense of shame. He feels shame in excess owing to his more customarily masculine trait, which the early Isabella also exhibits, of too much self-concern. The deed undone Shame offers a solution to the age-old critical problem of why Hamlet delays. The link between shame and incapacity is an established one. We saw in Chapter 2 how both Heracles and Lancelot are paralysed by shame. Hamlet’s original state of shame is a form of dislocation and paralysis: in spite of his best efforts, he is unable to break the deadlock of his incapacity in response to the ghost’s call to revenge. After the exceedingly dramatic first act, the pace of the second slows considerably. This ‘contrast … has a point: the call to honour is followed by a reaction into distress and selfdoubt’ (Dodsworth 1983: 82). It is also a send-up of the crude

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melodrama of revenge tradition, which makes Hamlet’s doubts intelligible.9 But, crucially, the play develops at this point into a portrayal of a man subject to more and more shame. As with The Sonnets, we may speak of the tyranny of shame here. Hamlet tries to shame himself into action, but, since he secretly finds revenge so shameful, is not able to; so he relapses into confirmed impotence and more shame. Towards the end of Act 2, he asks one of the players to recite a purple passage of revenge rhetoric. It is already unpromisingly intellectual of him to look to art for help. His chosen piece, with its grotesque revenger – ‘rugged Pyrrhus’, ‘hellish Pyrrhus’, ‘horridly trick’d / With blood of fathers, mothers, daughters, sons, / Bak’d and impasted with the parching streets’, ‘Roasted in wrath and fire’, ‘o’ersiz’d with coagulate gore’ (2.2.448–59) – hardly seems likely to justify vengeance to a man of his civilised temper, especially as it ends with a poignant evocation of the suffering victim. Nor is the ensuing soliloquy much use as a provocation to kill. Hamlet calls himself ‘a rogue and peasant slave’ (2.2.544) because the player can weep for a fiction while he can ‘say nothing’ for a murdered king, but he needs action, not pity or words. ‘Is it not monstrous that this player here, / But in a fiction, in a dream of passion, / Could force his soul so to his own conceit’ (2.2.545–7) reads first as a disgusted condemnation of the kind of synthetic ecstasy he requires to propel him to act. And the shocking exhibition he says the player would give ‘had he the motive and the cue for passion / That I have’ (2.2.555–6) – drowning the stage with tears, cleaving the general ear with horrid speech – is just the sort of overacting which in the next scene he tells us most revolts him. In short, his attempt to persuade himself to act dissolves in the expression. Despite himself, virtuous shame still withholds him from revenge. By contemplating Pyrrhus and the player, Hamlet is deliberately soliciting a cruder, more worldly and masculine kind of shame and envy. Their effectiveness makes him look impotent and he hopes this will spur him on. He wants to shame himself into removing what Dodsworth calls ‘the shame that makes him inferior even to a player’ (Dodsworth 1983: 90). Yet, as T. McAlindon observes, he cannot help seeing both character and actor as shamefully violent (McAlindon 1996: 112). At the same time, he cannot permit himself to acknowledge this revulsion

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from the task which is his sworn duty to his father and which he is hell-bent on fulfilling. ‘Am I a coward?’ (2.2.566), he asks, and is suddenly overwhelmed by pathological humiliation: Who calls me villain, breaks my pate across, Plucks my beard and blows it in my face, Tweaks me by the nose, gives me the lie i’th’throat As deep as to the lungs – who does me this? (2.2.567–70) The answer to this question is his own self, or, more precisely, one of his two selves: the would-be avenger disgusted by the dishonourable apathy of the conscientious ditherer. We have seen already that all shame involves some such division and friction between the judging self and the self being judged, and that Shakespeare first exploited this schizophrenic effect in Richard III. But the physical sensation of self-assault described here is more intimate, extreme and painful than the shame and self-fragmentation in that earlier play. Hamlet’s experience of shame is more distressingly inward than any yet described in these pages and Shakespeare exploits this for its full theatrical effect, with the prince’s unwitting exposure of his inmost self to the audience producing a frisson of shame in the theatre. It is embarrassing, as well as unwholesomely enthralling, to see him mentally undress in this way, a form of that shameful nakedness which, as we have seen, in a rather more concrete sense is the central material of Hamlet. Hamlet’s psychological position is now turned round: the revenger has superseded the anti-revenger, the shame of impotence surmounted the shame of violence. There is perhaps a discernible wilfulness; it does not seem entirely unforced. Yet, for a moment, Hamlet simply regrets his inertia: ’Swounds I should take it: for it cannot be But I am pigeon liver’d and lack gall To make oppression bitter, or ere this I should ha’ fatted all the region’s kites With this slave’s offal. (2.2.572–5) This self-accusation of cowardice might have been the first step in successfully goading himself to kill, but in the horrid

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description of vengeance – feeding the local carrion birds with the murderer’s fat – a resurgence of nausea and repugnance for revenge is evident. In response to his own recalcitrant humanity, Hamlet desperately enlists his hatred of Claudius: ‘Bloody, bawdy villain / Remorseless, treacherous, lecherous, kindless villain!’ (2.2.576–7); but the ‘facile alliteration and jingle underline the words’ superficial quality’ (Knight 1949: 302). No ire arises in Hamlet’s breast: his inborn knowledge of the shame of revenge defeats his attempt to shame himself into killing. As I have said already, this irrepressible moral shame is a credit to his ultimate goodness, if also an indication of a certain preciousness. But, from the secular, filial and honourbased perspective which he occupies consciously, Hamlet feels only that he has failed, collapsing into involuntary brooding and hopeless shame and contempt for his useless talk. He senses that he has stripped himself not just of caste, but also of masculinity: as well as a ‘peasant slave’, he sees himself as a whore, ‘a very drab, / A scullion’ (2.2.582–3). As Patricia Parker observes: In the traditional opposition of genders in which ‘women are words, men deeds’, Hamlet’s comparison of his wordless and deedless delay to the impotent anger of a ‘drab’ sets up a link between his entire period of delay and womanish wordiness, in contrast to such one-dimensional emblems of masculinity and the aptly named Fort-in-bras. (Parker 1987: 23) This combination of class and sexual shame piles on top of the spiritual shame and prostration he is already suffering because of his mother’s remarriage. As Wilson Knight puts it, ‘There is a continual process of self-murder at work in Hamlet’s mind’ (Knight 1949: 26). The specific painfulness of the play is that every step Hamlet takes forward is really a step back. He advances, dagger brandished, away from revenge. His whole being is focused on a task he cannot fulfil. Shirking makes him feel ever more incapable and cowardly, and ultimately as if he were dead. To provoke a sense of momentum, he devises a plan, but it is not a hopeful one: he is going to watch Claudius’s reaction to an actor’s performance of fratricide. This suggests a weakening

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rather than a strengthening of purpose. Claudius’s guilt has not before been doubted (Dodsworth 1983: 94). Just before this test, we find Hamlet’s mind unpromisingly elsewhere. In ‘To be, or not to be’ (3.1.56–90) he is thinking about several things at once – suicide, death, revenge – and in a profoundly generalised fashion, which is why this most famous of speeches has attracted such diverse interpretations. I agree with Wilson Knight that Hamlet’s deeper question is: What is it really to be, rather than merely to subsist, which is not to be (Knight 1949: 308)? It is an urgent question for Hamlet, because the shame with which he is constantly afflicted is a sense of not being: first of not being pure; now also of not being a proper man, not being his father’s son. His answer is that to be is to be noble. But what is nobility? Stoicism, suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune in the mind? Or action, taking arms against a sea of troubles? Hamlet is not free to choose the former, which obviously would be more amenable to him, and for which he admires Horatio; he has a filial duty to perform. He says that merely opposing the sea of troubles will end it, but that can only be so because it will be inevitably to drown: revenge will somehow entail his death. Given his Weltschmerz, death is not unattractive to Hamlet, but he does not therefore make a firm decision for revenge. As usual, he cannot – not because he is afraid to die, but because revenge would be not just a physical but also a psychological or spiritual death, would be to drown his soul in the deed, would be absolutely not to be. This is the bottom of the abyss of unbeing, lower than death, deeper far than not being a real man. It is Hamlet’s spiritual shame that makes this manifest to him. The reason for the vagueness of his speech is that he cannot recognise the shame of revenge without betraying his father and his wish to revenge him. Actual suicide, a subject he opens with grateful intellectual zeal for the distraction, would solve his dilemma: to die with integrity would at least be always to have been himself. But ‘in that sleep of death what dreams may come’? He might awake in hell for his sin against creation or find himself facing the shaming presence of his father’s furious ghost. A mixture of conscience and fear thus bereaves him of the freedom to end his misery. Consciousness, or thought, has restrained him from even debating his revenge.

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Hamlet the revenger is given his great chance after Claudius’s guilt has been securely established to him by ‘The Mousetrap’: a moment alone with his prey, an easy opportunity to skewer him while he is facing in the other direction, kneeling in prayer. But he puts up his sword, blustering that it would be no revenge to kill a penitent uncle and send him to heaven. The proposal to slay him instead in a moment of sin is an excuse, a palpable play for time. The longer this goes on, the more Hamlet desires revenge but fails to commit it, the more depressing and static the play becomes, the more and more incapable Hamlet looks. I have suggested that Hamlet’s shame, if it indicates virtue, also has an overtone of moral narcissism. We feel disquieted by his disgust, sensing something repugnant in his repugnance for revenge; and his hysterical cruelty to Ophelia, whom he courted once and who therefore reminds him of his sex nausea, as well as his eventual slaughter of Polonius, confirm that Hamlet has fallen shamefully himself. A sad paradox of shame is expressed here: where shame does not disable the subject, it can generate shameful behaviour; the fastidious person violated responds with unmitigated violence. Under the stress of the shame generated by his mother’s remarriage and his father’s death, and then by his own failure to avenge that death, Hamlet has become his own opposite.10 His noble mind is overthrown (3.1.152). The hero has become a tormented and a shameful parody of himself, the best of men has become vulgar and cruel, and this tragic revelation must send shockwaves through an audience which, in Aristotelian fashion, has recognised Hamlet as its own better, as Derrida’s lonely witness to the trembling moral world, as its sole spiritual champion. Hamlet tries again to shame himself into action in his soliloquy contemplating the army of Fortinbras, ‘How all occasions do inform against me’ (4.4.32–66). That this is so obviously parallel to the ‘O what a rogue and peasant slave’ speech of more than two acts previously emphasises that he has got nowhere. Like that earlier speech, this one is also difficult and confused because Hamlet’s heart is not in it. First, he accuses himself of being insufficiently thoughtful, which of course is nonsense. Being too thoughtful has disabled his revenge. It is Fortinbras, now leading 20,000 men to their graves ‘for a fantasy and a trick of fame’ (4.4.61), who does not

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think enough. Hamlet admits a couple of lines later that ‘thinking too precisely on th’event’ (4.4.41) may instead be his problem, but again he cannot bring himself truly to admire violence. As with the player, his shaming comparison with a more effective person self-destructs. That ‘examples gross as earth exhort [him]’ (4.4.46) to act is at best ambiguous. And ‘Exposing what is mortal and unsure … Even for an eggshell’ (4.4.51–3) and finding ‘quarrel in a straw’ (4.4.55) must strike the advocate of proportion in everything – ‘Suit the action to the word, the word to the action … ’ (3.2.17ff.) – as outrageously stupid and unseemly. It does genuinely disturb and shame Hamlet that Fortinbras is prepared to spend thousands of lives for nothing when he cannot himself dispatch the man who murdered his father; but that he can barely restrain his contempt for this bloody, thuggish Norwegian, whose very name exemplifies brute strength, renders worse than useless his efforts to use him as a stalking horse. He ends this soliloquy by crowing, ‘O, from this time forth / My thoughts be bloody or be nothing worth’ (4.4.65–6): thoughts not deeds – he is no nearer his revenge (Manlove 1981: 43). The play by now seems simply stuck. In spite of himself, Hamlet shrinks from being Fortinbras, just as he did from Pyrrhus and the wild actor. He recoils, too, from Laertes, whom he recognises as his alter ego: ‘by the image of my cause I see / The portraiture of his’ (5.2.76–7). For Laertes, a father’s murder is a simple, if terrible, matter of outraged family honour. No scruple of spiritual shame deters him from revenge: ‘To hell, allegiance! Vows to the blackest devil! / Conscience and grace, to the profoundest pit! / I dare damnation’ (4.5.131–3). It is perhaps difficult for a modern audience to comprehend the terrible audacity of this defiance. In his effort to be the man of honour, Laertes deforms his spirit, as Hamlet does not. Though Hamlet tries to see Laertes – and Pyrrhus and the rest – as ideal images of himself, he actually sees them as horrible anti-selves, who irresistibly repel him even while embarrassing him with their proficiency. He wants them to shame him and they do, but he cannot help feeling that they are more shameful. There is no role model, no ego ideal, no desirable mirror-image for him – not his peers, not his father. He moves as through a maze, unable to find himself. Only

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when he recognises that he is a dying animal at the end of the play is he liberated from this quest. Claudius and Gertrude and Christian shame The reader who doubts the place of specifically spiritual shame in Hamlet should turn to the villain’s prayer of anguished self-reproach (3.3.36–72) and also to the Closet Scene (3.4). Claudius senses his sin, outside himself but inextricably his, smelling to heaven with the ‘primal eldest curse upon’t’. He wants to pray, but guilt encourages despair. In a trope of profound Shakespearean shame more familiar from Macbeth, he imagines his hand ‘thicker than itself with brother’s blood’ (3.3.44). He considers the sweet grace that would wash it clean, but cannot forsake the fruits of sin: his crown, his Gertrude. And yet he acknowledges quietly: In the corrupted currents of this world Offence’s gilded hand may shove by justice, And oft ’tis seen the wicked prize itself Buys out the law. But ’tis not so above: There is no shuffling, there the action lies In his true nature, and we ourselves compell’d Even to the truth and forehead of our faults To give in evidence. (3.3.60–4) This is an anticipation of the day of judgement, which in the last chapter we saw that Shakespeare evokes at the end of Measure for Measure. Unfortunately for Claudius, such vivid and concrete knowledge of the shame to come is not as strong as his worldly covetousness. He does not feel enough shame to alter his heart and be redeemed. Hamlet’s decision not to assail a truly repentant uncle is thus ironically mistaken. Much psychoanalysis has been expended on the Closet Scene, and no doubt, as Adelman says, Hamlet is partly concerned to ‘repair his own selfhood’, jeopardised when Gertrude so quickly forsook his father (Adelman 1992: 31). But his main motive is the explicit one and it is perverse to ignore it: he loves goodness and virtue, and he loves his mother; he hates sin and depravity, and hates it more in her. Why should

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we not take the scene literally and take Hamlet at his word? Ann Thomson and Neil Taylor have acknowledged that Hamlet wants to confront his mother with her state of sin, force her to reveal publicly (by blushing) her ‘shame’ at her trespass (3.4.81, 146). (Thomson and Taylor 1996: 16) The image of Olivier’s Hamlet pawing at Gertrude is deeply embedded in our cultural imagination, but in fact the basis for this Oedipal subtext is negligible. It is true that Hamlet dwells uncomfortably on his mother’s sexual arrangements, but disgust in such matters is as obsessive as desire. We may feel that Gertrude is guilty of nothing more vicious or cruel than a morally lazy worldliness,11 but, if so, we are more like Polonius than Hamlet. Her son has higher standards and is convinced that his mother is en route to perdition. When he passes up his opportunity to kill Claudius to try and save her soul, we see once and for all that he is a not a revenger but a reformer.12 His father’s ghost appears before him in this scene precisely to shame him back into revenge. He is wicked to speak to Ophelia as he does, but he wishes to shock Gertrude into her own redemption. He sets about teaching her to repent with a pedagogical brilliance and briskness that spring from deep and touching concern for her: Come, come, and sit you down, you shall not budge. You go not till I set you up a glass Where you may see the inmost part of you. (3.4.17–19) The earnest, urgent tone here is reminiscent of the devotional literature of the day.13 Hamlet’s purpose is to make Gertrude face her own depraved spirit: its hideous ugliness will compel the change of heart of which Claudius has just proved incapable. We saw in the last chapter that Shakespeare first used an encounter in a mirror with a grotesque anti-self as a metaphor for the interior process of shame in Richard II; and we have seen that, in this play, Hamlet fails to revenge because he recoils in shame from the men who mirror to him his potential revenging self. To open his mother’s eyes to what she has

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become, to make her look in the spiritual mirror he is holding up for her, he has first to defeat her shamelessness, her self-ignorance, which protects her present sensual bliss but augurs ill for her fate in eternity. Her heart is ‘braz’d’ with ‘damned custom’ (3.4.37) and he must pierce the hard crust that is ‘proof and bulwark against sense’ (3.4.38). In an amazing rhetorical onslaught, Hamlet represents Gertrude’s life in terms of its debilitating effect on universal shame. It ‘blurs the grace and blush of modesty’; ‘takes off the rose’ – also a modest blush – ‘From the fair forehead of an innocent love / And sets a blister there’ (3.4.40–4) – a sign of the deformity of the shameless, alluding to the branded forehead of a Renaissance whore, as well as to sexually transmitted disease. It ‘proclaim[s] no shame’ (3.4.85), plucking the soul from marriage, virtue and religion. ‘Heaven’s face does glow / … / With tristful visage, as against the doom, / Is thought-sick at the act’ (3.4.48–51), which gives us God Himself blushing and ashamed at the degradation of his creature. Hamlet is able to treat his killing of Polonius indifferently because, in his view, it is nothing beside Gertrude’s outrage on universal shame and the consequent jeopardy of her immortal soul. Ultimately he sees the death of Ophelia’s father in terms of just religious punishment of both himself and his victim (3.4.175–7). Hamlet knows that, at last, he is getting through to Gertrude when she moans, O Hamlet, speak no more. Thou turn’st my eyes into my very soul, And there I see such black and grained spots As will not leave their tinct. (3.4.88–91) This sign of shame is his assurance that she is not spiritually dead. But there is a real danger she will evade this shame – the pain of it – so he warns her in a careful, measured voice: Mother, for love of grace, Lay not that flattering unction to your soul, That not your trespass but my madness speaks. It will but skin and film the ulcerous place, Whiles rank corruption, mining all within, Infects unseen. Confess yourself to heaven,

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Repent what’s past, avoid what is to come; And do not spread the compost on the weeds To make them ranker. (3.4.146–54) When she complains, ‘O Hamlet, thou hast cleft my heart in twain’ (3.4.158), he tells her with a curt severity, ‘O throw away the worser part of it / And live the purer with the other half ’ (3.4.158–60). Hamlet’s recovery and death If we feel that, in spite of his good purpose, Hamlet is hysterical and even vicious to his mother, this is because he remains unable to accept shame in others and himself – though an additional ingredient perhaps unfairly added to the disgust he feels for Gertrude’s behaviour is that which he cannot allow himself to feel for his father’s death. If, following Armstrong’s Lacanian reading and noting the absolute and generalising tendency of Hamlet’s speech, we recall that the Dane sees the stage as a moral mirror, as his production of ‘The Mousetrap’ has indeed just reminded us, we may become susceptible to the uncomfortable thought that, through the impassable barrier which separates the world of the play from the theatre, Hamlet is unconsciously addressing us as well as Gertrude. ‘O shame, where is thy blush?’ is a question that Hamlet asks in the world of the play, but Hamlet asks in the world of its audience. The Hamlet of Act 5 is famously a changed Hamlet. He not only has Polonius’s blood on his hands, he has had a taste of action on the high seas and he is very proud of it: it proves he is not ‘John a dreams’ (2.2.563) and brings him nearer to revenge. As well as boarding a pirate ship, he has blown Rosencrantz and Guildenstern at the moon. This was selfdefence and we do not much regret their passing. Yet the cool response of Horatio and the quick self-justification it elicits indicate that it is not to be overlooked either: it contributes to the developing taint in Hamlet, as does the moment when he leaps into Ophelia’s grave to fight with Laertes. However, a more significant and profound cause of Hamlet’s metamorphosis than what we merely hear about is (as we would expect in a play) what we actually see dramatised.

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Act 5 commences in a graveyard with Hamlet contemplating mortality. That the gravedigger has been digging graves since the prince was born prepares us for powerful consequences and lends the scene an aura of predestination. Hamlet’s killing of Polonius first brought him into physical contact with death; now the spectacle of the dumb skull, insensible bones, the handful of dust, persuades him from his ‘daintier sense’ (5.1.69): since all must come to this, it is a mistake to stand on purity. Among the debris of mortality, Hamlet recognises that degradation is a necessary and natural component of human life: we might find ‘the noble dust of Alexander stopping a bung hole’ (5.1.197–8). This liberates him from his paralysing condition of shame. And it makes revenge conceivable. The shameful ambivalence of the deed no longer obsesses him, for Hamlet is reconciled to the fact that he is an ambivalent creature ‘crawling between earth and heaven’ (3.1.128–9); he can only do his best, to think otherwise is presumption. Still, he does not go to it shamelessly, like Laertes. He remains committed to good, but recognises it as beyond himself. He submits his will to God: 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. (5.2.215–18) Since the sparrow was a familiar emblem of lechery, we may assume that Hamlet is referring to Claudius here. But the context suggests, and – as also with ‘To be, or not be’ – the syntax is sufficiently open to include, his own (now imminent) death, intimating a novel solidarity with his sinful uncle just as he has resigned himself to killing him. This solidarity will find its paradoxical expression in their ultimate, pseudo-eucharistic communion in death, a communion shared also with Hamlet’s mother, and with his doppelgänger and antagonist, Laertes. Hamlet is now able to identify with all mortal creatures. He has shrugged off the burden of mere filial obligation, substituting his heavenly father for the earthly one. He will not exact revenge on his own behalf, but as the trusting agent of the higher power when he is called to do so, as apparently he knows he will be. The merging of his and his arch-enemy

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Claudius’s deaths in the above quotation hints, in addition, at a prophetic sense that he knows his own life will be required of him, as he seemed also to guess in ‘To be, or not to be’. He is now in the relaxed and confident – almost indifferent – position necessary to make the positive difference which he achieves when he finally kills Claudius, not in premeditated revenge but in an impulsive, botched up, almost accidental fashion, through which we are asked to see inexorable destiny move nonetheless: Our indiscretion sometimes serves us well When our deep plots do pall; and that should learn us There’s a divinity that shapes our ends, Rough hew them how we will – (5.2.8–11) A radical shift of being has taken place. As Harold Bloom says, ‘a mysterious and beautiful disinterestedness dominates this truer Hamlet’ (Bloom 1989: 57). Shame at the last has proved, in this extraordinary and difficult tragedy, a mystic road to the absolute, enabling the protagonist, as soon as he manages to accept it, to see through his own filmy and unfounded selfhood, and thus through corrupt human nature generally, and to find a more substantial reality. Finally free of selfish concerns, and the kind of familial concerns which grow out of them, Hamlet has obscurely seen God. Throughout, he has been abstracted from ordinary life – from his political role as prince, from his relationship with Ophelia – and, to that extent, this transcendence seems natural. It also helps explain the strange quality of sweetness and happy resolution which mingles with more conventionally tragic sentiments at the end of the drama. This can hardly be a simple matter of the fulfilment of revenge, since Hamlet has so much exposed revenge. But plays are not programmatic and, as Hamlet has found out, human beings are not perfect; it is right that his ‘dying voice’ (5.2.361) should express an ordinary mortal concern for the shame of his ‘wounded name’ (5.2.349). He asks Horatio to justify him to posterity, then he expires. As I have observed already, Horatio’s bald summing up inevitably sells Hamlet short. Yet no matter. After all his bitter resistance to the course of his own life, Hamlet’s tragedy

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comes to an end not only with a peculiar ease and swiftness but also with the implication of a destiny in heaven: ‘Good night, sweet prince, / And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest’ (5.2.364–5).

6 Othello

For almost all critics, readers and theatregoers, Othello is a play about jealousy.1 It will be part of the argument here that, though based in fact, this consensus distorts the play, preventing recognition of its full achievement. Harold Bloom says in Ruin the Sacred Truths that Othello’s ‘name in effect becomes jealousy’ (Bloom 1989: 66). But let us consider Othello’s jealousy for a moment. His feeling that he has lost sexual possession of his wife is intensely focused on himself, on the consequences for him. He is remarkably indifferent to the supposed seducer, Cassio, and though he thinks about Desdemona and her imagined adultery, his most recurrent and vehement feeling is that he has himself been degraded and defiled. In other words, the soul of Othello’s jealousy is shame. This is no mere quibble. It is but a short step from here to seeing that, despite tradition, it is shame, not jealousy, that is the signal and unifying passion of Othello. In an influential essay, Michael D. Bristol has described the play as ‘a comedy of abjection’ (Bristol 1996: 176). He argues that Othello, in the blackface familiar from carnival, is ‘a grotesque embodiment of the bridegroom – an exotic, monstrous, and funny substitute



who transgresses the norms associated with the idea of a husband’ (ibid.: 186). He also states that: Like all Shakespeare’s women characters, Desdemona is an impossible sexual object, a female artifact created by a male imagination and objectified in a boy actor’s body. This is, in its own way, just as artificial and grotesque a theatrical manifestation as the black-faced Othello who stands in for the category of husband. (ibid.: 188–9) In Bristol’s account, Iago thus becomes the hero in the ritual ‘unmaking of a transgressive marriage’ (ibid.: 180). This reading conveys the quality of shame in Othello with shocking power, but, in what follows, I will seek to recover its fundamentally tragic as opposed to farcical aspect, arguing that the shame Othello undergoes paradoxically exalts him far above Iago. Shame, more than jealousy, spreads like a disease through this play, and jealousy is not so much begotten on itself as also bred out of shame. Iago feels shamed and slighted rather than envious that Othello has promoted Cassio over him – that is why he, too, is for the most part unconcerned with the new lieutenant. His mysterious suspicion that Othello has cuckolded him, expressed later in soliloquy, causes him a similar feeling of resentful degradation; it is a shame bred from shame. Thus, Coleridge and ‘motiveless malignity’ notwithstanding (Coleridge 1971: 53), the reason why he persuades Othello that Desdemona has betrayed him is to pay back shame with shame. Othello credits his wife’s supposed revolt because as a Moor in white Venice he is already secretly ashamed; critics such as Ania Loomba and Jonathan Burton have indicated and explored the issue of Othello’s racial hybridity and self-division (Loomba 1989; Burton 1998). Driven into a shameful fit, Othello brings moral shame on himself by killing Desdemona in revenge. Realising her innocence, he then takes his own life. The nightmare, the tragic terror of the play, is that Othello’s shame has justified itself, made him exactly what he most feared to be, and what he felt Desdemona’s assumed infidelity revealed him as: a gross and

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repugnant barbarian. Shame in this play has something like the power of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Whereas Hamlet is the only one ashamed of his shameful world, shame in Othello is epidemic. Shame breeding shame, just as jealousy breeds jealousy, is a signature of the play, and it passes between as well as proliferating within individual characters. The important figures besides Iago, Cassio and Othello are also overtaken by shame. Brabantio is so ashamed that his daughter has eloped with and married a Moor that he dies; the main business of the second act is the dramatic shaming of Cassio; Desdemona suffers the shame of accusations of whoredom and adultery from her husband, culminating in execution at his hands. And shame prevails even in the suburbs of the action. Roderigo is ashamed of doting on Desdemona – and no doubt also of being neglected for ‘the thick lips’ (1.1.65) by her and rejected as unsuitable by her father. Bianca is publicly denounced as a wicked strumpet guilty of an attempt on the life of Cassio. As a play of shame, Othello may productively be compared with Hamlet in various ways. Shame in Othello is more touched with horror and more sensationally compelling than in the earlier tragedy. While Hamlet evokes the paralysis of shame, Othello shows it may issue in monstrous violence. Both plays dramatise the tension between worldly and religious shame, but while Hamlet feels too much spiritual shame, Othello, at the critical juncture, feels too little. Whereas Hamlet finally transcends shame, Othello kills himself in disgust. Othello is more of a shameful Everyman than the scrupulous and even rather precious Dane, even though he is racially alien in Venice. In the following pages we will see how he brings on himself both the shame of the world of the play and that of the audience in the theatre. We saw above that the most memorable image in Hamlet is a diseased or decaying body; the central figure in Othello is that of the human person as beast.2 It is established by Iago’s imagery of debased animality. He pictures Othello coupling with Desdemona as ‘an old black ram / … tupping [a] white ewe’ (1.1.87–8). He tells her father, ‘your daughter, and the Moor, are now making the beast with two backs’ (1.1.114–15) and ‘you’ll have your daughter cover’d with a barbary horse’ (1.1.109–10); he insists that her progeny will be horses. He



depicts Cassio and Desdemona in flagrante delicto ‘as prime as goats, as hot as monkeys, / As salt as wolves in pride’ (3.3.406–7). He confides to Roderigo, ‘Ere I would say I would drown myself for the love of a guinea hen, I would change my humanity with a baboon’ (1.3.316–18). And he is himself ultimately seen as a beast by the other characters. Roderigo calls him, ‘O damn’d Iago! O inhuman dog’ (5.1.62); he is also called ‘viper’ (5.2.284) and, most memorably, ‘O Spartan dog, / More fell than anguish, hunger, or the sea’ (5.2.361–2). In addition, Othello exclaims, ‘I had rather be a toad’ (3.3.274), and Cassio says, ‘I ha’ lost the immortal part, sir, of myself – and what remains is bestial’ (2.3.255–6), ‘O God … that we should transform ourselves into beasts!’ (2.3.280–3) and ‘to be now a sensible man, by and by a fool, and presently a beast!’ (2.3.295–6). There is also the related imagery of the cuckold’s shameful metamorphosis, here given disconcertingly concrete form: as though rubbing rudimentary horns, Othello says, ‘I have a pain upon my forehead here’ (3.3.288). Such bestial metamorphosis belongs more generally in the category of the monstrous, which is evoked by the play on several occasions, such as in the deformity of ‘the beast with two backs’ or when Othello discerns a monster in Iago’s thoughts ‘too hideous to be shown’ (3.3.110–11). Bestiality, monstrosity and shame envelop all the action. Othello envisions an inundation of pain and shame: ‘Had it pleas’d heaven’ to rain ‘all kinds of sores and shames on my bare head … ’ (4.2.48–50). There is imagery of defilement,3 and of nakedness and exposure.4 In a passage alluding to the Christian day of doom, Emilia imagines herself being indicted by the whole population of the cosmos: ‘Let heaven, and men, and devils, let ’em all, / All, all cry shame against me’ (5.2.221–2). Othello feels that he has become ‘The fixed figure for the times of scorn / To point his slow and moving finger at’ (4.2.55–6) and also that, if he told his wife’s supposed misdeeds, he could make forges of his blushing cheeks that would burn modesty to cinders (4.2.75–7). In response to Patricia Parker and Michael Neill, who have emphasised its procedures of exposure and of laying open, Philippa Berry has shown that the play is also preoccupied with concealment ‘and is centrally concerned with what cannot be seen’: Desdemona’s supposedly corrupted and defiled sex organs (Parker 1996;

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Neill 1997; Berry 1999). This is the hidden monster in Iago’s thought which Othello guesses at. The dialectic between shameful concealment and exposure culminates when the curtains around the marriage bed are drawn back to reveal Desdemona’s dead body, and the equation between sex and death here also sums up some of the play’s concerns with bestial mortality. Although, as we shall see, the imagery of shame in King Lear is more dramatic, the sheer power and precision of Othello’s poetic imagery of shame is unparalleled in Shakespeare’s canon and a prime example of what we now are in a position to recognise as shame’s prodigious visual imagination. Iago’s shame Othello follows on from the investigation of shame and gender in Much Ado. As in the previous play, shame in Othello spreads like some male virus – from Iago, to Brabantio, to Cassio, to Othello. The first scenes of the play are given over to Iago’s and Brabantio’s shame, Cassio’s shame dominates the second act, and the last three acts focus on Othello’s shames. As I have indicated already, Desdemona and Bianca are incidentally shamed in the course of the action, but (as also in Much Ado) the shame to which the female characters are subjected is a dramatic consequence of and remains thoroughly subordinate to that of the men. I will follow the sequence of male shames here, before suggesting that seeing the action through Desdemona’s eyes affords a different perspective on it. A crucial premise of the interpretation will be that Iago is the agent of shame. By this, two things are meant: first, he is motivated by shame; second, he acts to cause shame, both in Othello and in others. Terence Hawkes has recently reminded us that Shakespearean drama functions emblematically (Hawkes 1995: 25), and Othello is partly a psychomachia – an allegorical portrayal of conflict in the soul; to that extent, Iago is shame. But we must first attend to the vexed question of his motive. Coleridge proclaimed his ‘motiveless malignity’. Stanley E. Hyman wrote a book entitled Iago: Some Approaches to the Illusion of his Motivation (Hyman 1970). And in current criticism there is still a strong opinion that he has no personal reason to act as he does. Stephen Greenblatt argues that he is an ‘improviser of



power’ (Greenblatt 1980: 232–52). A.D. Nuttall sees him as the forerunner of ‘the literature of existentialism, according to which any assumption of motive by the ego is an act of unconditional, artificial choice’ (Nuttall 1983: 142). But such critics must discount Iago’s own statements.5 Within the first forty lines of the play, he explains why he hates his general: Three great ones of the city, In personal suit to make me his lieutenant, Off-capped to him, and by the faith of man, I know my price, I am worth no worse a place. But he, as loving his own prides and purposes, Evades them, with a bombast circumstance, Horribly stuff ’d with epithets of war, And in conclusion Nonsuits my mediators. For ‘Certes,’ says he, ‘I have already chose my officer,’ And what was he? Forsooth, a great arithmetician, One Michael Cassio, a Florentine, A fellow almost damn’d in a fair wife That never set a squadron in the field Nor the division of a battle knows More than a spinster – unless the bookish theoric, Wherein the toged consuls can propose As masterly as he. Mere prattle without practice Is all his soldiership – but he, sir, had th’election, And I, of whom his eyes had seen the proof At Rhodes, at Cyprus, and on other grounds, Christian and heathen, must be be-lee’d and calmed By debitor and creditor. This counter-caster He, in good time, must his lieutenant be, And I, God bless the mark, his Moorship’s ancient! (1.1.8–33) If critical tradition is ignored, this has all the marks of authenticity. Indeed, Shakespeare deliberately makes it convincing. It is given before we know Iago’s slipperiness; there is no reason to doubt him, unless the production makes him an evident machiavel. It is a torrential utterance and – in its harshness, rapidity and concentrated energy – has the cadence of bitter

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outrage. This outrage is not hard to understand or credit. Iago had thought to be lieutenant, but finds he is his ‘Moorship’s ancient’ and cannot accept this diminished self.6 What rankles more is that he, a seasoned soldier of whom Othello’s ‘eyes had seen the proof ’, has been passed over for an aristocratic amateur, an armchair tactician. He is also offended because his application has – apparently – been refused without consideration, without even the courtesy of a plain ‘no’; because his failure is known by ‘three great ones of the city’; and because he cannot lick his wound in private, because he ‘must be belee’d and calm’d’. He is slighted and exposed, ashamed and angry. The vehemence with which Shakespeare establishes this lends his opening admirable impetus.7 Iago does not blame Othello only, but also the system of patronage and recommendation: ’tis the curse of service: Preferment goes by the letter and affection, Not by the old gradation, where each second Stood heir to the first. (1.1.34–7) He is oppressed with class resentment as well as humiliation. In spite of merit, unlike the cultivated Cassio, he is outside the charmed circle. Juan Luis Vives anticipates his feelings in his philosophical remarks on shame: Those who are aware that they are not shown the respect they think they deserve from some people in particular, or in a certain place, time, occupation, or circumstance are not only ashamed but also angry in proportion to their self-esteem and greed for honour. (Vives 1990: 112) There is simply no need to impute motivelessness here. Iago also has a second, separate grievance. He says to himself in soliloquy: I hate the Moor, And it is thought abroad that ’twixt my sheets He’s done my office. I know not if ’t be true,



But I for mere suspicion in that kind, Will do as if for surety. (1.3.384–8) Later he confirms this: I do suspect the lusty Moor Hath leaped into my seat, the thought whereof Doth like a poisonous mineral gnaw my inwards … And nothing can, nor shall content my soul Till I am evened with him, wife for wife … (2.1.292–6) He believes Othello has cuckolded him. This supposed loss of sexual ownership produces a mixture of jealousy and shame. But it is puzzling: we cannot accept that Othello has bedded Emilia. It is inconsistent with his romantic idealism and his shocked horror when Iago later presents the social world to him as a place of rampant licence in which Desdemona has betrayed him. Nor do we hear the supposed rumour from anybody else, except Emilia – and she has had it from Iago by way of accusation. Perhaps, then, Iago has dreamt it up? Emilia encourages us to think so, identifying its source as ‘some such squire’ as he who lied to Othello about his wife (4.2.147). She also tells us jealousy is fantasy – ‘a monster, / Begot upon itself, born on itself ’ (3.4.161–2) – and Iago himself admits, ‘oft my jealousy / Shapes faults that are not’ (3.3.150–1). But if there is no external reason for his suspicion, and if my contention that Iago already feels seriously slighted and shamed is accepted, there is a plausible internal cause: he feels Othello has violated him professionally and this has spawned the feeling that he has also violated his wife.8 Thus we have not jealousy ex nihilo, but shame and jealousy bred from shame. Iago almost chooses to believe he has been cuckolded, though frankly he ‘know[s] not if ’t be true’, not (as Nuttall would have it) because he is a proto-existentialist, but because he is overwhelmed with shame already. As soldiership and husbandly honour are both characteristic of a healthy male Renaissance pride, it is not implausible that deep-felt professional shame should manifest, engender, be transposed into sexual shame; it

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is the first hint of the fertility of shame which will be a central premise of Othello. But the suddenness is disturbing. Shame is proliferating within like cancer. The ‘poisonous mineral’ Iago says is gnawing his ‘inwards’ sounds like a malignant tumour. Thus Iago’s motive for attacking Othello is shame that Othello has promoted Cassio over him, which also causes him to resent the social order, and the shameful supposition to which this has given rise: that Othello has also debauched his wife. His project is to shame his shamer and pay back shame with shame, ‘to serve my turn upon him’ (1.1.41) and make him ‘egregiously an ass’ (2.1.306): he wants the general to suffer the agony he is suffering. Since he believes Othello has doubly usurped his position by promoting Cassio and bedding Emilia, his first and only predetermined step is to create an illusion of adultery between Cassio and Othello’s wife. But no doubt he has other projects, too. By defeating the war hero of Venice he topples the hierarchy that has kept him down, and since Othello is not just a hero but also, in his different way, an outsider, at the same time Iago punishes himself vicariously for failing to find a position in society. The hypothesis of shame also sheds light on Iago’s behaviour besides his villainy. He conceals his schemes because he is a good machiavel, of course, but there is at least a hint of a more general, psychological revulsion from openness: when my outward action does demonstrate The native act and figure of my heart In complement extern, ’tis not long after, But I will wear my heart upon my sleeve For daws to peck at. (1.1.60–4) This fear of the gaze of others is the classic sign of shame. Iago’s grotesque image of himself indifferently feeding his exposed heart to the birds evokes the ridicule and pain he would suffer if he were seen. He conceals himself completely: ‘I am not what I am’ (1.1.64). He has no relationships; the nearest he comes to intercourse with another human being is his contemptuous association with Roderigo. One need not feel degraded before clear inferiors. Iago does, towards the end of the play, express jealousy of Cassio, but, as with Othello’s



jealousy, the accent falls strongly on his own debasement: ‘He hath a daily beauty in his life, / That makes me ugly’ (5.1.19–20). I am not suggesting that this notorious villain is some wilting lily: if he has a too often unacknowledged vulnerable ego, he is also hard as flint and shameless. As A.C. Bradley tells us, his creed … he has a definite creed – is that absolute egoism is the only rational and proper attitude, and that conscience or honour or any other kind of regard for others is an absurdity. (Bradley 1971: 179) Iago is finely tuned to the personal, dishonourable shame of hurt pride, but incapable of ethical shame for his wickedness; he knows, as he says, how to ‘distinguish betwixt a benefit and an injury’ (1.3.314–15), but has not the sensibility to recognise his own depravity. There is an important causal relationship here: as with Richard III, it is precisely Iago’s worldly shame, his sense of social degradation in the world’s and also his own eyes, that leads him to become unscrupulously self-assertive and morally shameless; in his anxiety to shame his shamer, and re-establish self-esteem, he becomes evil. Here we see, as we did in Richard III, how (worldly) shame may breed (spiritual) shamelessness as well as more shame. The irony of Iago’s career is that in his shameless effort of self-assertion he degrades himself much further, metamorphosing into an ‘inhuman dog’ (5.1.62), a ‘Spartan dog, / Fell as anguish, hunger or the sea’ (5.2.361–2). In this he foreshadows Othello, who will himself turn into a wife-murderer in his later effort to defeat supposed shame. Brabantio’s shame I am arguing that Iago is the agent of shame; directly he has divulged his own professional humiliation in the first scene, he forces the shame of Desdemona’s elopement upon her father, Brabantio, reminding us of Claudio’s shaming of Leonato in Much Ado. Iago shames Brabantio in order to incite anger against Othello, but also to bring another man to shame, as he feels shamed himself.

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He employs basically the same technique as he will use later on Othello, one of horrible suggestion. Shouting from the dark street, he goads Brabantio out of bed, and presents him with gross images of his daughter’s flight, playing on sexual and racial fears. Each of these lurid fantasies employs the second person to stigmatise Brabantio personally: ‘an old black ram is tupping your white ewe’, ‘the devil will make a grandsire of you’ (1.1.90) and so forth. This presents him with a shameful vision of himself as a dishonoured patriarch, whose daughter – a beast, a whore and a pervert – is subjected to an old black ram, a Moor-land horse, the devil himself, whose posterity will be a race of braying horses. Because Iago speaks his calumnies from the shadows, he is a disembodied voice for Brabantio – like a voice inside his own head. Maud Bodkin writes, even when a critic sets out, as A.C. Bradley does, to study Iago’s character as if he were an actual living man, what seems to emerge most clearly is the dominance of the man by a certain force or spirit. (Bodkin 1934: 221) It is at this point that it may first occur to us that Iago is behaving as if possessed by shame. We might also notice that the scene seems almost to be constructed as a pictorial allegory of shame – with Iago downstairs skulking in the darkness, howling slanderous monstrosities; with the sleepy Brabantio emerging naked on the balcony like an emblem of exposure, so that Iago has to say to him, ‘for shame put on your gown’ (1.1.85). This literally sets the stage for everything to follow. Brabantio goes in, finds Desdemona is not there, and returns in an ecstasy of shame and grief: ‘It is too true an evil, gone she is / And what’s to come, of my despised time / Is nought but bitterness’ (1.1.158–60). Henceforth he is passion’s slave. He hauls Othello before the Duke. The Senate is in emergency session because of the Turkish threat to Cyprus; he demands a hearing anyway. The trial is granted, but the marriage of Desdemona and Othello is vindicated. With a muttered ‘Good be with you, I have done’ (1.3.190), Brabantio gives in. When we next hear of him, near the end of the play, we are told that the ‘match was mortal to him, and pure grief / Shore his old thread in twain’ (5.2.205–6). It is the shame



brought home to him by Iago of Desdemona’s marriage to the Moor, and the prospect with which this presents him of the miscegenation of his race, that has been specified by the play and which we therefore assume is the cause of his grief and death. Of course, that he has lost his daughter is a factor, but he has lost her only because his wounded patriarchal vanity keeps him from relating to her and her new husband. Brabantio is the only person in Othello to perish thus, but not the only one in Shakespeare: as we have seen, Hero apparently dies of the shame of being accused of infidelity at the altar by her own bridegroom in Much Ado, and in Antony and Cleopatra, in a wet, moonlit field, Enobarbus’s heart breaks from the moral shame of having betrayed a kind master. Though Brabantio does not deliberately assume a course of shameless wickedness like Iago, his shame is nevertheless a moral fault of excessive self-absorption – not to mention an effect of racism. He forgets not only ‘the general care’ (1.3.55) but, in his lather of outraged honour, all consideration for his own child. Unlike Leonato, he dies without being reconciled to her. Alongside a portrayal and exploration of the horror of shame, a moral analysis is progressing. Cassio’s shame Shame provides the dramatic momentum of the first act of Othello, which moves from Iago’s expression of shame, to Brabantio’s shaming, to Brabantio’s indictment of Othello. Act 2 focuses on Cassio’s public shaming and his reaction. This is further proof of the importance of the shame theme in the play – especially since, as H.A. Mason points out, much of it is ‘not strictly required by the plot’, which has simply to ‘make plausible Cassio’s reluctance to face Othello and his desire to appeal to Desdemona for help’ (Mason 1970: 94). Cassio’s shame is carefully dramatised and considerably intensifies the shame so far expressed by the play. Othello has given command of Cyprus to Cassio for the night, so – at last – he can enjoy his interrupted nuptials with Desdemona. He has ordained a regimental party to celebrate both his marriage and the recently reported failure of the Turkish fleet; he has specifically charged Cassio to prevent the revelling from getting rowdy. But Iago gets Cassio drunk. Like Lepidus and Caesar in

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Antony and Cleopatra, Cassio has a light head and rapidly makes an ass of himself: Cassio: Do not think, gentlemen, I am drunk, this is my ancient, this is my right hand, and this is my left hand. I am not drunk now: I can stand well enough, and I speak well enough. Gentleman: Excellent well. Cassio: Why, very well then; you must not think then that I am drunk. (2.3.106–12) For an officer, especially one so proudly sophisticated as Cassio, such loss of self-control is a serious embarrassment. And Iago stage manages events to maximise it, presenting him to the company as a habitual drunkard: Montano: But is he often thus? Iago: ’Tis evermore the prologue to his sleep: He’ll watch the horologe a double set, If drink rock not his cradle. (2.3.121–4) Iago then sets Roderigo on to engage Cassio in a violent quarrel and rings the alarm, whispering in his victim’s ear ‘you will be shamed for ever!’ (2.3.154) and crying out when the risen Othello approaches: Hold, ho! Lieutenant! sir – Montano, – gentlemen – Have you forgot all place of sense, and duty? Hold, the general speaks to you; hold, for shame! (2.3.158–60) Cassio is not able to answer the general’s outraged questions, so Othello has no choice but to dismiss him: ‘Cassio, I love thee, / But never more be officer of mine’ (2.3.240–1). A deputy drunk in charge, apprehended and sacked by his superior. It is the second shaming engineered by Iago in as many acts, and he has not yet begun abusing Othello’s ear with dirty hints about his marriage. Iago’s preference for shame means we cannot see him as a plain villain happy to do any ill



deed; once again, there is a strangely impersonal suggestion. Iago has not yet spoken of his plan to turn Cassio’s shame to account by persuading him to sue for Othello’s forgiveness via Desdemona. His main motive is probably a desire to shame the man who has painfully superseded him, but he does not say so. Given this opacity of intention, it is tempting to suppose that, as with Brabantio, he is acting as some kind of active spirit of dishonour: Arthur Kirsch asserts that ‘Iago’s psychomachic role would have been unmistakable to Elizabethans’ (Kirsch 1990: 63). We may compare him in this respect with Nathaniel Hawthorne’s later American Iago, the cuckolded Roger Chillingworth, who is also, in his quest to revenge himself upon the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale, effectively possessed. As Hawthorne puts it, a terrible fascination, a kind of fierce, though still calm, necessity seized the old man within its gripe, and never set him free again, until he had done all its bidding. (Hawthorne 1990: 129) This is not to invalidate the psychological reading of Iago’s shame advanced earlier; the point is precisely that Iago is so overwhelmed with such shame as to have become in part shame’s demonic puppet. One of the glories of Renaissance drama is that it readily combines in this way the typological suggestiveness of its medieval antecedent with the realism of modernity. Iago continues to prompt and promote shame by supervising Cassio’s reaction. This is much more closely depicted than Brabantio’s shame. As a formal and somewhat ostentatious man, what strikes Cassio first is his loss of face, and it strikes him very forcibly indeed. He avers he is hurt ‘past all surgery’ (2.3.252) and, even more now than when intoxicated, his eloquence and composure are in pieces: Reputation, reputation, reputation! O, I have lost my reputation, I have lost the immortal part of myself – and what remains is bestial. My reputation, Iago, my reputation! (2.3.254–7)

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Here shame is construed as a kind of castration of the spirit, public honour having superseded soul to become Cassio’s priceless ‘immortal part’: without it, he feels he is just flesh, stuff, unredeemed earth. This extreme sentiment is not uncommon in Shakespeare. Though at least he pays lip-service to alternative, heavenly values, Mowbray anticipates it almost exactly when he tells Richard II: My dear dear Lord The purest treasure mortal times afford Is spotless reputation – that away Men are gilded loam, or painted clay. (Richard II, 1.1.76) Such curiously spiritualised social shame must be seen in the overall context of late Renaissance culture. Donne rationalised it as follows: The shame of men, is one bridle that is cast upon us. It is a morall obduration, to be Voyce-proofe, Censure-proofe, not to be afraid, nor ashamed, what the world sayes. He that relyes upon his Plaudo domi, Though the world hisse, I give my selfe a Plaudite at home, I have him at my Table, and her in my bed, whom I would have, and I care not for rumor; he that rests in such a Plaudite, prepares for a Tragedy, a Tragedy in the Ampitheater, the double Theater, this world, and the next too. (Donne 1920: 84–5) We note, in this presentation of shame in the eyes of the world as a moral bridle, Donne’s invocation of the theatrical metaphor, and his acknowledgement of God’s witness in the theatre of divine judgement. But we have seen that whereas in the medieval world the emphasis is on the afterlife of the soul, and shame is felt most intensely and most often before God and in fear of His judgement, in the more secular Renaissance world there is a shift of emphasis towards the afterlife lived here on earth through lingering reputation, and shame is more powerfully and frequently felt before men and in fear of the judgement of posterity. With respect to Donne, the unhappy consequence of this is that social shame tends to subdue all



sense of inherent shame known to God and to the self, and people fear worldly exposure rather than doing wrong. Thus Iago says it is the custom of Venetian wives to commit secret adulteries (3.3.205–7); bearing him out, his own wife, in her conversation with Desdemona about adultery, states a tolerance for shamelessness provided it is profitable and concealed (4.3.59ff.). Cassio is next struck by the shame of drunkenness. This is shame intermixed with guilt as a sense of transgression, but shame predominates as consciousness of personal debasement. It is a moot point from the point of view of this study that shame in Shakespeare typically overwhelms guilt in this fashion: the dramatist sees the relationship to the self as fundamental in experience and in ethics, and moving beyond self-concern through shame, like Hamlet, as perhaps the most difficult but also the highest achievement in life. But we are still a long way from any such transcendence in Othello. When Iago tells Cassio he has only to sue to Othello to be reinstated, Cassio responds, ‘I will rather sue to be despised, than to deceive so good a commander with so light, so drunken, and so indiscreet an officer’ (2.3.268–70), flashing upon the retina of imagination a picture of himself begging Othello to loathe him that is shockingly disjunct from that of the ‘smooth disposed’ (1.3.395) ladies’ man we have known previously. It is in such fine details that Shakespeare’s representations of shame are most richly convincing. Cassio goes on: O God, that men should put an enemy in their mouths, to steal away their brains! that we should with joy, pleasance, revel, and applause, transform ourselves into beasts. (2.3.280–3) I will ask for my place again, he shall tell me I am a drunkard: had I as many mouths as Hydra, such an answer would stop them all. To be now a sensible man, by and by a fool, and presently a beast! (2.3.293–5) This recurring sense of brutality is the central fact of Cassio’s shame: a horrid vision of himself as a beast, a monster. It is generated from but goes deeper than public shame, representing

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a breakdown of Cassio’s relation to himself, and preparing for Othello’s experience. A man is fundamentally master of himself in Shakespeare, and Cassio realises he is a man unmanned. At first his grotesque idea of drunkenness as a gleeful descent into animalism may seem excessive; it is somewhat shrill, but it emanates from a more fastidious respect for personal dignity and the sovereignty of reason than we are used to. More importantly, it is part of the wider pattern of extreme shame in the play already observed in Iago’s paranoid, delusional shame and Brabantio’s fatal attack. Third, Cassio grows ashamed of his outburst of violence. As with Iago, shame is breeding shame internally here. Cassio explicitly reflects on this: ‘one unperfectness shows me another, to make me frankly despise myself ’ (2.3.287–8). This formulation of the overmastering, self-perpetuating power of shame is one of the central insights of Othello. It presents Cassio as the passive victim of a team of his own faults, which mobilise and impress themselves upon him in sequence: shame as psychological battery. It also lends weight to the suggestion that Iago’s sense of his professional ‘unperfectness’ has bred his suspicion of sexual shame. Cassio does not die of shame, like Brabantio, but hereafter cuts a poor, disgraced figure, importuning Desdemona for her husband’s favour, sneaking away from Othello himself. Like Hamlet, he is ‘very ill at ease, / Unfit for mine own purpose’ (3.3.32–3). Before the curtain, he is even cut down by the paltry Roderigo. Though he is given command of the isle in the last scene, it does little to mitigate our general sense of diminution. His leg is maimed by Roderigo’s thrust, his spirit maimed by his shaming. He is crestfallen, wholly bereft of his original self-belief. As with both Iago and Brabantio, we note that Cassio, too, is more susceptible to worldly indignity than any purely ethical shame, since, for all his tender self-respect, he is not too scrupulous to toy with the affections of the courtesan Bianca, who loves him. Though no doubt this is normal officer conduct, the male dramatis personae we have met so far show a limited sense of what is improper and degrading. We should also note that shame in the play is getting progressively more extreme and excessive. Cassio, as the proud possessor of a gleamingly untinctured self-image, is especially unable to cope



with it; next we encounter the horribly phantasmal menace of Othello’s shame. Again as in Much Ado, because of acute male susceptibility, shame is beginning to encroach upon reality. Othello’s shame By Act 3, Iago has shamed Brabantio and Cassio. Now he infects Othello. He is dispersing his own feelings of sexual and professional shame throughout the world of the play, but his main and most cherished task is the shaming of the man he believes shamed him. As apparently the sole Moor in white Venice, we would expect Othello to be vulnerable to shame, but he seems invulnerable at first. He is confident; he is noble, innocent and good. When we meet him, he survives an ordeal designed to shame him without a trace of shame. Iago is telling him Brabantio has spoken ‘scurvy and provoking terms / Against [his] honour’ (1.2.6–7), and is coming to accuse and be revenged on him, but Othello is unmoved: Let him do his spite; My services, which I have done the signiory, Shall out-tongue his complaints. ’Tis yet to know – Which, when I know that boasting is an honour, I shall promulgate – I fetch my life and being From men of royal siege, and my demerits May speak unbonneted to as proud a fortune As this that I have reached. (1.2.17–24) It is a formidable attitude. The tone is level and calm. Othello is confident in his professional record and his lineage. And he is sanguine about his faults: they pay their respects to his proud fortune; they are not important by comparison. As well as modest civility, this image of unbonneted defects suggests blemishes readily admitted, reinforcing the general sense of natural immunity to shame. This noble Moor is the opposite of the morbidly sensitive Iago, who shrouds himself in deceit and mystery to avoid being seen. When Brabantio’s gang come for him brandishing their weapons, Othello splendidly adjures them: ‘Keep up your bright

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swords, for the dew will rust ’em’ (1.2.59). This famous line breathes heroic authority and aristocratic disdain for a vulgar brawl. It also suggests Christian distaste for violence, recalling Christ’s words to Peter when similarly arrested at night by an armed gang, ‘Put up again thy sword into his place’, and to his assailants, ‘Are you come out as against a thief with swords and staves for to take me?’ (Matthew 26.52, 26.55). It is a crucial point that Othello originally has a sense of what is unfitting for a Christian, as well as what would degrade a warrior. When later he comes across Cassio and other officers rioting, he appeals directly to this ‘Christian shame’: Are we turned Turks? and to ourselves do that Which heaven hath forbid the Ottomites? For Christian shame, put by this barbarous brawl … (2.3.161–3) Religious shame mixes with racial shame here, as Jonathan Burton has pointed out (Burton 1998). Part of the disgrace is that Othello’s men are descending into barbarity; they are becoming racial others and, as in Iago’s slanderous opening shots, shame is being racialised. But, as their general sees it, they are also betraying their Christian God. Othello now meets Brabantio’s hysterical charge that he has laid Desdemona under some vile African enchantment, and explains to the Senate how a Venetian girl could love him naturally – without blushing, or blenching, or losing his temper, with heroic dignity and Christian forbearance. Exceptionally among the male characters here, his sense of shame combines worldly and spiritual considerations. Juliet’s lovely praise of Romeo would seem to apply to him also: He was not born to shame. Upon his brow shame is asham’d to sit, For ’tis a throne where honour may be crown’d Sole monarch of the universal earth. (Romeo and Juliet, 3.2.91–4) And yet the hint of racial shame in his rebuke to his officers somewhat threatens this dominant impression. How Iago is able to persuade this apparently ‘shame proof ’ hero that his wife has cuckolded him provides much of the



interest of Act 3. We must put it down partly to Iago’s genius for suggestion. As with Brabantio, he employs a technique of horrid hints and intimations, but he greatly improves it so that the Moor will allow a purely confected shame to fasten itself on him. Iago assumes the guise of a sober, Horatio-like friend, anxious for Othello’s honourable well-being but loath to conclude that he has been disgraced and extremely careful in his judgements, which avoids any appearance of villainy and increases the credit of his pretended surmise. He betrays a particle of that surmise, then hastily withdraws it, rousing Othello’s suspicions. As Peter Stallybrass has suggested, ‘his is the voice of “common sense”, the always-already “known”, the culturally “given” ’ (Stallybrass 1987: 179). He repeatedly stops short of any simple statement, see-sawing instead between expression and reticence, persuasion and dissuasion, as though struggling with the thought himself, until he has wrought Othello to such a pitch of unresolved trepidation that he would rather accept the worst. He dwells on the horrors of lost reputation – horrors recently witnessed in Cassio’s fall – and he suggests, as Brabantio had earlier, that since Desdemona deceived her father, she will deceive Othello in turn. He plays on the hero’s social insecurity and sexual innocence, and he skilfully manipulates his ‘proofs’ of Desdemona’s sponsorship of Cassio and Cassio’s possession of Desdemona’s handkerchief. Iago is also extremely lucky. Shakespeare arranges it that everything goes his way. Desdemona is a vehement advocate for Cassio, true to her vow that My lord shall never rest, I’ll watch him tame, and talk him out of patience, His bed shall seem a school, his board a shrift, I’ll intermingle every thing he does With Cassio’s suit … (3.3.22–6) Her harping on him much increases the likelihood of the proposed affair. Furthermore, when Iago has hidden Othello to observe himself and Cassio unseen, Bianca storms up unsolicitedly and flings Desdemona’s handkerchief in Cassio’s face, complaining it is a keepsake from another woman. When

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Othello challenges Desdemona, she answers with a cliché of ‘revealed whoredom’ (Manlove 1981: 170): ‘Alas, he is betray’d, and I undone’ (5.2.75). But Iago’s expertise and luck do not by themselves explain why Othello takes the bait, and Iago’s luck is so extreme that it begs interpretation. Bloom rightly points out, [Othello] is peculiarly vulnerable to Iago precisely because Iago is his standard bearer, the protector of his colors and reputation in battle, pledged to die rather than allow the colors to be taken. (Bloom 1989: 68–9) It is the ancient’s job to guard his general from infamy and shame. A different reason is that Iago has found Othello’s weak spot: he does not know Desdemona. His earlier summary of the course of their love revealed so much: ‘She lov’d me for the dangers I had pass’d, / And I lov’d her that she did pity them’ (1.3.168–9). In Colin Manlove’s words, ‘what they share is Othello only’ (Manlove 1981: 77). Othello is powerless to confute Iago’s image of Desdemona because he has nothing to confute it with. Yet even this will not tell us why Othello almost anticipates Iago’s suggestion or why he barely resists at all. The matter arises between them as follows: Iago: Ha, I like not that. Othello: What dost thou say? Iago: Nothing, my lord; or if – I know not what. Othello: Was not that Cassio parted from my wife? Iago: Cassio, my lord? … no, sure, I cannot think it That he would sneak away so guilty-like Seeing you coming. Othello: I do believe ’twas he. (3.3.34–40) Othello is exceedingly quick on the uptake here: ‘Was not that Cassio parted from my wife?’ Iago no more suggests it to him than he suggests it to himself. He only has to push a little further for the general to accept the whole thing lock, stock and barrel as ‘destiny unshunnable, like death’ (3.3.279).



Before any more words pass between them, Othello is contemplating marital breakdown: ‘Excellent wretch, perdition catch my soul, / But I do love thee, and when I love thee not, / Chaos is come again’ (3.3.90–2). Hereafter he seems partly to be persuading himself, at one point giving Iago new grounds for his wife’s betrayal:9 Othello: I do not think but Desdemona’s honest. Iago: Long live she so; and long live you to think so! Othello: And yet how nature, erring from itself – Iago: Ay, there’s the point. (3.3.229–32) Mason confirms that ‘when we look over the dialogue we see that Iago is not really leading Othello, but Othello Iago’. He suggests ‘Othello is using Iago to give himself permission to go even lower in his suspicions, to encourage what is so rapidly expanding inside him’ (Mason 1970: 107). This prodigiously nervous Othello is not the hero of previous scenes. His confidence has collapsed. Why? Shame gives us two answers. One is that Othello has simply caught the disease of shame which we have seen spreading through the play. There is more than aesthetic reason for this: the shame of others truly is a prime stimulus to feel ashamed oneself. We have already seen that in Sophocles’s Ajax the prospect of the hero’s shame and degradation elicits this response from his enemy Ulysses: ‘This touches / My state as well as his. Are we not all, / All living things, mere phantoms, shadows of nothing?’ (lines 126–8). Furthermore, though we have seen Othello resist shame once, that could have weakened his defences. This reading also encourages the surmise that the otherwise inexplicably lucky Iago represents the increasingly potent force of shame in the play. Another possibility is that, below his magnificent surface confidence, Othello is latently ashamed and so expects his wife to betray him. The possibility of upheaval from the subconscious has been mooted already: Iago played on Brabantio’s dream of shame, and Brabantio’s image of his overbearing flood of passion (1.3.56–8) suggests the invasion of lower forces into the precincts of the ego. That Othello is unconsciously ashamed is very plausible. He is a minority of one in a society

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which regards his colour as a disfiguring blemish. We have seen it call upon him to justify in public how a white woman could love him. Even his adoring wife implies mistrust of his appearance when she explains ‘I saw Othello’s visage in his mind’ (1.3.254). Iago has words hinting at anxiety despite prosperity: ‘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’ (3.3.174–6). The thesis of unconscious shame also sheds new light on Othello’s reported past. He has made a vocation of opposing the infidel and heathen, we now see, partly to distinguish himself from them. As I have hinted already, what outrages him most, before Iago tells him that his Desdemona has crowned him with horns, is the prospect of his officers ‘turn’d Turks’ because he secretly feels that, civilisation and Christianity notwithstanding, he is still barbarian; so their degrading metamorphosis presents him with a concrete image of his fear of reversion to that state. Latent shame also explains why Iago is able to speak to Othello so tellingly, for it means that he is speaking to him with the voice of a hitherto unacknowledged part of his own self. Earlier we saw him do something of this sort when he persuaded Brabantio that his nightmare of dishonour had come true. His dialogue with Othello has the quality of nervous thought or monologue. At one point their separate voices become indistinguishable:10 Iago: Indeed? Othello: Indeed? Ay, indeed. Discern’st thou aught in that? Is he not honest? Iago: Honest, my lord? Othello: Honest? Ay, honest. Iago: My lord, for aught I know. Othello: What dost thou think? Iago: Think, my lord? Othello: Think, my lord! By heaven, thou echo’st me. (3.3.101–9) ‘By heaven, he echoes me’: we are clearly encouraged to identify Iago with Othello’s thoughts. René Girard has written of ‘mimetic desire’ elsewhere and in Shakespeare;11 in Much Ado and Othello Shakespeare uncovers mimetic shame. F.R. Leavis



writes, ‘Iago’s power, in fact, in the temptation scene is that he represents something in Othello … the essential traitor is within the gates’ (Leavis 1978: 140–1). I am suggesting that this internal traitor is Othello’s secret shame. Burton tells us that As a man of colour in a white-dominated society, he is consequently prone to a brand of self-doubt founded in what [Frantz] Fanon terms ‘affiliation neuroses’. (Burton 1998: 57) His previous, seemingly supreme confidence rested on an impossible denial of his racial origins, a pathetically wishful presumption that he is simply Venetian. Like his tragic successor Coriolanus, Othello is absolute in temperament: when reunited with Desdemona after the stormy sea-crossing to Cyprus, he declares himself so perfectly happy he would gladly die. There are no gradations of feeling for him: now persuaded he is a cuckold, he is utterly ashamed. He considers himself lower, less enviable, than a toad living off ‘a vapour in a dungeon’ (3.3.275). He rationalises Desdemona’s supposed infidelity by finding fault with himself: there is no wonder his wife does not love him – he is black, he is uncourtly, he is old. He tries to rally himself, unsuccessfully. He supposes both he and his wife have lost their reputation: ‘Her name, that was as fresh / As Dian’s visage, is now begrim’d and black / As mine own face’ (3.3.389–91). That Othello uses his own blackness as his standard for defilement here reveals openly that he accepts the Venetian prejudice that his colour is evil. Something like Althusserian interpellation is evident: as Alan Sinfield puts it, ‘Venice hails Othello as a barbarian, and he acknowledges that it is he they mean’ (Sinfield 1992: 31). His honourable generalship and Christian faith had previously for the most part redeemed and mitigated his blackness, so he enjoyed the paradoxical reputation of a good black; now, dishonoured, he is reduced to the whites’ stereotype. As earlier it consumed Iago, shame now eats Othello up too. As with Cassio, one defect shows him another to make him frankly despise himself. Othello’s shame seems all the more cancerous and insane than Iago’s, Brabantio’s and Cassio’s

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because it has no just cause whatever. The following speech shows the full pathos of his disease: I had been happy if the general camp, Pioneers, and all, had tasted her sweet body, So I had nothing known. O now for ever Farewell the tranquil mind, farewell content! Farewell the plumed troop and the big wars, That makes ambition virtue! O farewell, Farewell the neighing steed and the shrill trump, The spirit-stirring drum, th’ear-piercing fife, The royal banner, and all quality, Pride, pomp and circumstance of glorious war! And, O you mortal engines whose rude throats Th’immortal Jove’s dread clamours counterfeit; Farewell: Othello’s occupation’s gone. (3.3.350–60) This is shame interlaced with jealousy and panic. Like Oedipus, who actually blinds himself, Othello would rather be blind to his disgrace, would rather the wholesale degradation of Desdemona’s prostitution to the entire regiment, if only he could remain in ignorance. He says this doleful valediction to his soldiership because he has been overtaken by private passion, but also because, as a disgraced husband, he now feels unworthy of his noble calling. Whereas Iago’s professional shame produced a conviction of sexual shame, Othello’s supposed sexual shame produces professional inadequacy and self-doubt. He does not so much resign as feel his occupation drop from him: the glorious show of arms recedes and fades, leaving him no more the general. His profession has been his life, ‘the flinty and steel couch of war’ his ‘thrice-driven bed of down’ (1.3.231–2). He has lost the greater part of himself – his reference to himself in the third person hints as much. Here again Shakespeare dramatises the self-splitting effect of shame. Like Antony after his disgrace at Alexandria, Othello finds his personality evaporating here: he, too, is ‘unqualitied with very shame’ (Antony and Cleopatra, 3.11.44). All his glory is behind him now, and before him nothing but dishonour and disgrace. This farewell to arms is a eulogy for his former self. Shame in Shakespeare again takes the form of death here.



Othello restates this absolute sense of shame much more explicitly in another important speech: ‘Had it pleas’d heaven … ’ (4.2.48–65). He says first that he could have endured any quality or quantity of pain and shame from providence. He deploys mostly water imagery to present a picture of a resolute man all but drowning in unearnt misfortune, with the still visible portion of his head blistered and cut all over, horribly unbonneted – an image of heroic sufferance, recalling the earlier shame-proof Othello now sadly vanished: Had it pleas’d heaven To try me with affliction, had they rained All kinds of sores and shames on my bare head, Steeped me in poverty to the very lips, Given to captivity me and my utmost hopes, I should have found in some place of my soul A drop of patience … He then switches abruptly from this image – and the subjunctive, and the imagery of water – to contemplate his present shame. He imagines himself a ‘fixed figure’ for the ‘times of scorn’ to point ‘his slow and moving finger at’: he is in the stocks being indicted. Is there also a secondary, surreal suggestion that he is bound on a clockface, as Lear is bound upon a wheel of fire? The apparent redundancy of ‘slow and moving’ is resolved when we realise that he feels he is being pointed out even as he speaks. It is a most intense realisation of the pain of public shame and obloquy, all the more remarkable when we reflect that it is conveyed in just a couple of lines. But Othello says he could also have borne such scorn ‘well, very well’. What he cannot abide is expulsion from the barn where he has garnered up his heart; exile from the home where he must live or bear no life; severance from the pure source from which his current runs or else dries up (the water imagery again) or its colonisation and poisoning by lustful toads: that is, rejection by Desdemona and the defilement and putrefaction of their marriage. He challenges Patience itself to outface this and declares himself utterly overcome. We are already more deeply and intimately involved with shame than ever we were with Cassio. The overall claim Othello makes is that he could have endured anything except

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the ruin and pollution of his very self. The water imagery – of rain without and the fountain within – illustrates this concretely: he would withstand a tempest and a flood of blows, but cannot possibly withstand being cut off from or defiled at the spring and head of his identity. We spiral down from circumstantial shame, to social shame, to the worst and lowest possible shame of personal extinction – and Shakespeare’s sense that shame is ultimately opposite to being becomes explicit. Othello invested all of himself in his marriage: now it has apparently failed, he feels that he has lost all – he has no self, or only a contaminated one not worth his having. He is confronting directly what remained implicit and symbolic in his lament for his lost occupation: in effect, he is dead. In fact, his experience is worse than death: it is a spiritual extinction in which the pain of death does not culminate with the release of death, but is ongoing nullity and rottenness. Othello’s experience of shame as Coleridgean death-in-life or life-in-death is grotesquely pitiable – more so when compared with his original self-confidence, and especially since we know it is the fruit of a cruel delusion. The mad creative power of shame is fully disclosed here. But the play takes us further into the territory of humiliation, for Othello now brings real and eventually deserved shame on himself. He becomes passion’s slave, disgracefully forsaking his heroic dignity, gibbering incoherently: ‘Pish! Noses, ears and lips. Is’t possible? Confess? Handkerchief ! O devil!’ (4.1.42–3); ‘Goats and Monkeys!’ (4.1.63). He collapses in a fit, the physical emblem for the fall of ‘the nature / Whom passion could not shake’ (4.1.261–2). The second phase of his fall is graver yet; for he who, in Lodovico’s phrase, was ‘once so good’ (5.2.290) becomes morally vicious. His sense of the worldly shame of impotence and indignity and his sense of the Christian shame of sin and sinfulness now conflict: he is overcome by hurt husbandly pride and so forsakes and flouts all the constraints of religion. Like Iago, Othello too determines to wreak a terrible revenge on his supposed shamer; shame breeds violent shamelessness in him as well. Dedicating himself to ‘black vengeance’ and ‘tyrannous hate’ (3.3.50–2), he enters evil; his heavenly eloquence turns into a repugnant idiom of crazed and stupid violence.



Thus to Cassio: ‘O, I see that nose of yours, but not that dog I shall throw it to’ (4.1.141–2). Othello’s metamorphosis from a magnificent, good and religious man into an abominable monster is the singular horror of the play. With an extraordinary as it were symphonic power, the imagery of bestial degeneration is all at once gathered into focus, as also is the imagery of exposure and defilement. Cassio’s apostrophe on his own comparatively trivial drunkenness, ‘to be now a sensible man, by and by a fool, and presently a beast!’, proves an exact prophecy of Othello’s fall: first he is a dupe, now a frothing animal – and I use that word advisedly, for part of the horror of Othello’s collapse is that it, not his illusory cuckoldry, confirms the worst of Venetian prejudice and his own fears. Mason argues that Othello ‘descends even lower and in his worst stage becomes a devil’. ‘This downward progression’, he goes on, is ‘in the direction of greater dramatic intensity’ and ‘is an exploration of the unbearable’ (Mason 1970: 112). As a corrective, McAlindon rightly insists, the transformation of Othello is never absolute nor entirely stable; vestiges of his noble self remain, lending plausibility both to the transformation process and the recovery which takes place in the last scene. (McAlindon 1996: 140) This is evident in his language, which alternates between the savage atrocity of his dreams of vengeance and an aching sensibility which bespeaks his not altogether extinct better nature. Nevertheless, the emphasis is certainly on his terrible debasement, which culminates in Desdemona’s murder. He poses then as the minister of divine justice, but everything else points to revenge: he is just loosening the leash on his ethical shame to permit himself the killing. As he advances on his sleeping wife, he speaks some fine words – ‘It is the cause, it is the cause my soul … ’ (5.2.1ff.) – but he is a poetical monster, rolling his eyes and gnawing his nether lip. Even when looking directly down on Desdemona – though he smells and kisses her – he is blind to her real presence. What he sees is the figment of his own shame, which he is trying to eradicate. He kills her by covering her up and he talks of putting out the light, partly because he sees her as the exposed part of

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himself: the public advertisement of his cuckoldry. The terrible irony of course is that in his attempt to end this non-existent shame of social degradation, Othello becomes the author of his eternal moral and spiritual shame, turning into an abominable wife-murderer. That he botches the killing, as Antony his suicide, is an extra shameful twist. Othello does not regain his sense of spiritual shame, nor feel the horror of what he has done, till he learns that Desdemona is innocent; even then it only dawns on him gradually. First his delusion of shame has to fade away. He also has to recognise that his deed is inexcusable, that the shame of killing his wife outweighs that which has led him to the murder: supposedly outraged honour. He has to resolve the tension now painfully apparent in himself between the warrior and the Christian. He suffers another pang of masculine shame when his sword is taken from him, a symbol of soldierly dishonour with more than a hint of emasculation: ‘I am not valiant neither, / But every puny whipster gets my sword’ (5.2.243–4). But then he acknowledges that such worldly dishonour is nothing compared to what he has done to his soul: ‘But why should honour outlive honesty? / Let it go all’ (5.2.245–6). It is the beginning of his recognition that he has disgraced himself far more absolutely than if Desdemona had really betrayed him, the tragic realisation that all his former, needless shame and suffering is minimal compared with what he must now suffer. It is also the beginning of ethical recovery. But the beginning only. Warrior pride still claims too much of Othello’s attention for him fully to understand his crime. He realises he has another weapon, ‘a sword of Spain, the ice brook’s temper’ (5.2.253), and he threatens to ‘come forth’ with it and make a Macbeth-style last stand. But he has seen external honour is meaningless without spiritual integrity: he retracts his ‘vain boast’ (5.2.264). What follows is reminiscent of the passion of Hercules when he realises that it was he himself who butchered his family, now littered at his feet. Seneca’s Hercules Furens was available to Shakespeare not only in Latin but also in Heywood’s translation of 1561. Othello has much more flavour of classical shame than Hamlet. That Othello has already been through an experience of profound, though unfounded, humiliation makes his second and worse



passion all the more painful. His previous sensations of spiritual death were mistaken; but now he has killed his wife, he is forced to acknowledge that he has really ceased to be the man he was – and become something immeasurably lower than a cuckold. His question ‘Where should Othello go?’ (5.2.271) is tersely expressive of his desire to get out of sight (we should note he is suffering in public, before an onstage audience as well as the audience in the theatre) and of a feeling that this world will not accommodate him now that he is so contaminated. This time his sense of terminus is absolute, as his plainer language indicates: ‘Here is my journey’s end, here is my butt, / And very sea-mark of my utmost sail’ (5.2.267–8). He resolves to die, but, as a newly awoken soul, he does not expect that death will bring relief from shame. In fact he anticipates that when he comes to the bar of celestial judgement, the sight of the resurrected Desdemona will make him reel to hell without God’s word of doom: O ill-starred wench, Pale as thy smock. When we shall meet at compt This look of thine will hurl my soul from heaven And fiends will snatch at it. (5.2.272–5) Continuing this prevision of his descent into the inferno, he invites diabolical tormentors to whip him, blow him about in winds, roast him in sulphur, wash him ‘in steep-down gulfs of liquid fire’ (5.2.277–80). Nuttall, who sees Othello as exemplifying a more primitive ‘shame-culture’ of honour and reputation (Nuttall 1983: 140–2), fails to recognise this spiritual shame. Admittedly, it is a late turning in the play. Up till now, all the shame we have seen – that of Brabantio, of Cassio and of the late Othello who supposed himself a cuckold – has been worldly masculine shame of soldierly and sexual disgrace and lost reputation. Othello had a sense of what he himself called ‘Christian shame’, but he dismissed this when he opted for vengeance. Now it has returned. And yet, of course, this is the external view only: there is no amelioration or comfort for Othello himself, only an excruciating sense of hellish corruption.

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Othello is on the brink of mental collapse. When Lodovico enters and asks ‘Where is that rash and most unfortunate man?’ (5.2.282), he answers ‘That’s he that was Othello; here I am’ (5.2.283): he has to labour hard to attain self-consciousness – first recognising not Othello, but the man who was Othello, only then recognising that man as himself. Suicide seems imperative, for it would be worse than hell to go on living as some barely recognisable, degraded other. As ‘he that was Othello’ puts it: ‘in my sense ’tis happiness to die’ (5.2.289). This final spectacle of Othello’s self-dissolving shame elicits tongue-tied pity from Lodovico: ‘O thou Othello … / What shall be said to thee?’ (5.2.292–4). To which Othello answers: ‘Why, anything; / An honourable murderer, if you will, / For nought did I in hate, but all in honour’ (5.2.294–6). The indifferent,ratherironictone–‘Why,anything…if youwill’–indicates that he is now beyond caring much for the views of others; he knows an honourable murderer is a self-contradicting, deluded, damnable creature, deserving the hell he has just wished on himself. He invites comparison with Brutus here: he has perceived the insufficiency of the heroic. Yet, in truth, and despite his gain in religious awareness, Othello’s consciousness is now supercharged with all kinds of shame, secular and sacred: one moment he recognises his spiritual obscenity, the next he bewails the fact that he is Iago’s gull. His climactic, hopeless passion is perhaps the most affecting of Shakespeare’s theatrical expressions of shame. The way in which the once glorious Othello has turned into an abject and disfigured creature elicits pity and fear in the audience, and the fear is for their own more fragile selves. In this way the disease of shame that has been spreading through the dramatis personae finally afflicts all the theatre. Othello’s last great speech (5.2.338–56) ends with shame. He draws himself up to his full height, pronounces judgement and performs his own execution. When he asks that his words be remembered in ‘your letters’, like Hamlet he shows a renewed concern with reputation – but reputation justly correspondent with truth. He says he has done the state some service and, more questionably, that he was not ‘easily jealous’ and that he loved ‘too well’. Then he acknowledges himself as the ‘base Indian’ who ‘threw a pearl away / Richer than all his tribe’ and breaks down in a fit of unaccustomed tears. He



abruptly recounts how he came across ‘a malignant and a turbanned Turk’ in ‘Aleppo once’ who ‘Beat a Venetian, and traduc’d the state’, took him by the throat and ‘smote him thus’ – so saying, he stabs himself. He thus admits identity with ‘the circumcised dog’, and words and action come together in a climax of shame. As Jack D’Amico observes, He executes the Turk in himself who has betrayed the Venetian state. In a sense, the original commission to defend the state has been carried out. (D’Amico 1991: 195) Racial and religious shame are at one here. Burton has written of ‘the religious meaning of his skin’ (Burton 1998: 59); Othello is ashamed because he has proved heathen, as spiritually benighted as his base Indian is. Moreover, as Michael Neill tells us: According to a widely circulated explanation for the existence of black peoples (available in both Leo Africanus and Hakluyt), blackness was originally visited upon the offspring of Noah’s son Ham, or ‘Cham’, as a punishment for the adulterate disobedience of his father. (Neill 1997: 146n.) Othello recognises he is now inseparable from the stereotype; he has confirmed the worst possible perception of himself – stripping off a Venetian veneer of capable generalship, magnificent composure and Christian baptism to reveal an unreconstructed and demonic barbarian. He has himself turned Turk, which is exactly what he most feared to be. His latent shame has become hideously actual and embodied: he is literally his own worst enemy, so he kills himself in disgust. It is a terrific climax, the most arresting instance of Shakespearean shame as a sense of being some horribly degraded other. There is little room for T.S. Eliot’s still influential and cynical view that Othello is ‘cheering himself up’ (Eliot 1951: 126–40).

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Conclusion Leavis justly warns that at the end of the play we should not be thinking about Iago much (Leavis 1978: 138); yet in the aftermath of Othello’s tragedy it is natural to revert, at least momentarily, to its plotter. Iago has now successfully shamed his shamer, and ensured that he has shamed and possibly damned himself. But he does not therefore exult; he withdraws into silence: ‘Demand me nothing, what you know, you know / From this time forth I never will speak word’ (5.2.302–3). This is normally seen as keeping the upper hand, frustrating justice by refusing even legal guilt, maintaining the unexplained horror of what he has done, but its weariness suggests that the fruit of victory has turned to ashes. That Iago conceals himself again as soon as he is visible hints at more shame: perhaps the grandeur of Othello’s moral shame has taught him how to regard himself. It may also be that he is spurning the shame of exposure. But it seems likely that with Othello’s final blow, the spirit of shame which has possessed Iago throughout has departed, leaving him exhausted and used up. With him it is as with Hawthorne’s Chillingworth once he has witnessed the disgrace and death of the man who shamed him: Nothing was more remarkable than the change which took place … . All his strength and energy – all his vital and intellectual force – seemed at once to desert him; insomuch that he positively withered up, shrivelled away, and almost vanished from mortal sight. (Hawthorne 1990: 260) I have argued that Iago represents the shame which is the tragedy’s motive force; but Iago manifests masculine, worldly shame only: he is spiritually shameless. Desdemona is the constant representative of ethical shame in the play. I turn to her now as, in Mason’s words, ‘an independent moral centre’ from whose vantage we may see Othello differently (Mason 1970: 139). She has an eye ‘right modest’ (2.3.23); her father remembers her from her life at home as ‘A maiden never bold, / Of spirit so still and quiet that her motion / Blushed at herself ’ (1.3.95–7). She is the most embodied and natural, and to that extent the most immediately sympathetic, of Shakespeare’s



exemplary women. It is certainly a less tentative Desdemona who elopes with Othello, swaps a quantity of sexy badinage with Iago on her arrival in Cyprus and becomes Cassio’s tireless advocate, yet one that nonetheless retains so fine a shamefastness as to be scarcely able even to say ‘whore’. For her, a sense of shame is not only an integral part of her selfconception, but also a Christian ethic. Hence her response to Othello’s accusations: Othello: Are you not a strumpet? Desdemona: No, as I am a Christian. If to preserve this vessel for my lord From any hated foul unlawful touch Be not to be a strumpet, I am none. Othello: What, not a whore? Desdemona: No, as I shall be sav’d. (4.2.83–7) It is an index of Othello’s madness that he abuses and eventually kills such a woman as an impudent harlot. But Desdemona bears the shame and pain of this treatment from her husband: ‘Comfort forswear me! Unkindness may do much, / And his unkindness may defeat my life / But never taint my love’ (4.2.161–3). Desdemona is capable of such forbearance because what strikes her as shameful is wickedness, not exposure and humiliation. In this she is outstanding: as we have seen, spiritual shame is habitually eclipsed in Othello by the shame of worldly dishonour. Part of the point, as in Much Ado About Nothing, is that feminine shame, which emphasises chastity and modesty, is more religious than masculine shame, which emphasises potency and precedence. The case of Emilia reinforces this; for though in her, partly playful, conversation with Desdemona she says she prefers shamelessness, hers is the true voice of outrage when the atrocities of the play come to light. And we never see Bianca – who as a courtesan is a priori short of womanly shame – do anything vicious, although she, like Desdemona, is shamed by her male lover’s treatment. The bawdy frankness of the women in Othello is counterpointed by a firm shamefastness in the face of what is truly evil. But Othello is a man’s world: a military world. Desdemona, a plausible embodiment of feminine spiritual

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shame, is smothered to death by a husband possessed by the cruder shame characteristic of the male. I have said (after Mason) that Desdemona’s is, and presents, an alternative perspective, and it always remains alternative. Her shame is important, but the end of the play leaves us rather with a profound, viscerally intense and inward impression of Othello’s outright shame: his morbid enlightenment, his terrible recognition of a self he has spent his life avoiding. Though this sense of black brutality and corruption is painfully peculiar to him, it is also all-encompassing, extending through Venice, even to Desdemona. Blackness in white Venice is invested with the shameful qualities of human existence: this is typical of Western culture generally, as we see from the black posterity of sinful Ham or even the assumed correlation in The Sonnets between the darkness of the dark lady and her corruption. Hence here particularly Iago’s appalling image of Othello as a fornicating ‘old black ram’ and Brabantio’s representation of him as a sooty-bosomed ‘thing’ (1.2.71). ‘Black Othello’ (2.3.29) represents to the citizen of Venice his own sinful and decaying body, the figure of his own displaced anxieties, which, unlike Prospero, he refuses to ‘acknowledge mine’ (The Tempest, 5.1.275–6). The imagery and action of Othello as a whole have revealed the brutality of human beings. We have seen Iago as an ‘inhuman dog’, Cassio as a body bereft of soul. Patricia Parker has shown that even the whiter than snow (5.2.4) Desdemona is ‘blackened’ by her husband’s assumption of her sexual taintedness. Parker observes that ‘ “Desdemon” (as she is called by Othello) sings toward the end the song of a “Maid call’d Barbary” ’ (Parker 1994: 95). In the context of Venetian colour prejudice, the implication of this is that she, more or less wittingly, accepts some sexual guilt and defilement – and, pure as she is, not entirely without reason; for, in a play which (as we saw with Othello) powerfully dramatises the subconscious, the hapless fashion in which she consistently promotes suspicions of adultery reminds us that she is a desiring as well as a desirable woman. The play’s scepticism about human purity can also be deduced from the irony of naming the character who is most explicitly tainted ‘Bianca’,12 as well as from the pairing of the ‘demon’ in Desdemona’s name with the ‘hell’ in Othello’s. Joyce Green MacDonald suggests that



[Cassio] discharges onto Bianca the bestial sexuality that he will not allow himself to impute to Desdemona (the sexual nature, that is, that her father implicitly believes she has demonstrated in seeking out Othello). (MacDonald 2000: 205) She finds in the play ‘a broadly racialised connection between prostituted Bianca and virtuous Desdemona, because of their mutual association with bestialized sexuality’ (ibid.: 205). Blackness stands in here and everywhere for mortality. When, as the earlier Arden editor had it, her husband asks Desdemona, ‘O thou black weed, why art so lovely fair?’ (4.2.69), he is madly mistaken in the specific misdeeds he is attributing to his young wife, but his words resonate profoundly as a question to her as one among fallen humanity. An important lesson of Othello is that any hateful perception of other races, or women, or any other stigmatised individual or group, is like as not an indirect expression of shame. It is emblematic here that Othello begins to see Desdemona as black and blackened at the very point that he is possessed by a sense of his own hideous blackness. It is not so much that none should be shamed, which we often assume today, as that all should be ashamed: more or less equally, although beyond this they may compound their shame by shameful behaviour. The shame of stigmatised minorities is properly the shame of the majority too. But, as the one black in the play, Othello conspicuously, and more involuntarily than Hamlet, bears the shame of the world, though his wife temporarily and fatally has to bear his shame. If, in his novel Shame, Salman Rushdie is right to define a saint as ‘a person who suffers in our stead’ (Rushdie 1983: 141), this is a saintly role. That Iago, Brabantio and Cassio are so precariously vulnerable to embarrassment and humiliation should instruct them that they are fallen – that they fall short – but they are not perceptive or courageous enough to accept this. Cassio’s shrill sense of his debasement in the eyes of the world does not recognise his more intrinsic degradation; that it is expressed in spiritual terms shows he is spiritually ignorant. Othello at the climax searingly sees that he is black, in a social context where blackness represents animalism, mortality and sinfulness. He sees this with an absoluteness the whites could not achieve, though in the same

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terms Iago especially is far, far blacker. Othello is morally degraded – we must never forget that he has killed his wife – but he is also a spiritual hero, one who shows up the cosseted and frightened self-deception of those who thrust off and misplace shame. He has been wicked, much more so than Brabantio and Cassio, but there is a real sense in which only Othello is great enough for his climactic experience of shame in the worsening series of shames which has constituted the play. Othello’s electric experience takes the audience in the theatre to the heart of our shameful condition. His despatching himself is an image familiar from the Christian tradition of strife between corrupt flesh and disgusted spirit. Like Hamlet, Othello also travels through shame and emerges, briefly, on the other side. According to the signifying logic of Western culture, his blackness additionally suggests the darkness of ineluctable human egoism and selfishness. Again, even the ‘divine Desdemona’ (2.1.73) is not altogether exempt from this. Her romantic perception of her husband is a selffulfilling failure to see and love him as he is, although she is astonishingly selfless at the end. But in the dying moments of the tragedy, Othello, too, emerges from the darkness of the self and its selfish concerns, and recognises the blinding reality of his wife. He kills himself to die upon her kiss (5.2.359), which gives us an amazingly concentrated image of the whole hard process of embracing shame and mortality in order to achieve love. He has murdered Christian shame by killing Desdemona, but his passion of repentant shame over her dead body has restored spiritual shame to the world of the play, though he may go to hell. Within a drama which is substantially a nightmare of shame we therefore find a strong hint of penitence, with intimations of redemption and atonement. Othello marries the power of classical tragedy with a deeper religious comprehension of shame. Here the horror and redemptive power of shame are revealed as one. Such is the doubleness of Shakespeare.

7 King Lear

King Lear now demands our attention, for it is in that play that Shakespeare’s vision of shame is most lucidly and completely revealed. Throughout this book I have argued that, for Shakespeare, shame is explicitly a form of not being, not being one’s ideal self; or else it is an experience of hideous deformity, of being something horrifically other, somebody else. Yet the Bard ultimately endorses this dreadful passion. A deep consciousness that, despite our hunger for more absolute being, we are not ideal or cogent selves pervades his work; it is shame which recognises and negotiates this, pointing the way to the world outside the self. We have seen that Hamlet’s experience of his father’s death and his mother’s lust is most deeply an experience of ingrained human fallenness and that when, in the Graveyard Scene, he is finally reconciled with this, he is rewarded with a revelation of the absolute. And we saw in the last chapter that Othello gains a sense of the objective reality of his own wife only when, after killing her in an egotistical frenzy of self-assertion and repulsion of shame, he at last accepts shame and recognises himself as an obscene barbarian. In Lear, the pattern of moving through shame towards relationship is even plainer. Before he

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can acknowledge, before he can really see his child Cordelia, and the dreadful wrong he has done her, the protagonist has to be stripped and reduced to nothing in a process which is as long as the play itself. This severe logic of the salutary destruction of the self is generalised beyond Lear’s case in the experience of other characters, with Gloucester suffering especially comparable rewarding pains. King Lear is Shakespeare’s most insistently significant play of shame. It is also his most trenchantly dramatic. As with Hamlet and Othello, much of the verbal detail of the play is imbued with shame. For instance, A.C. Bradley brilliantly sums up imagery of monstrous degradation: Goneril is a kite: her ingratitude has a serpent’s tooth: she has struck her father most serpent-like upon the very heart: her visage is wolvish: she has tied sharp-toothed unkindness like a vulture on her father’s breast: for her husband she is a gilded serpent: to Gloster [sic] her cruelty seems to have the fangs of a boar. She and Regan are doghearted: they are tigers, not daughters: each is an adder to the other: the flesh of each is covered with the fell of a beast. Oswald is a mongrel, and the son and heir of a mongrel: ducking to everyone in power, he is a wag-tail: white with fear, he is a goose. Gloster [sic], for Regan, is an ingrateful fox: Albany, for his wife, has a cowish spirit and is milk-liver’d: when Edgar as the Bedlam first appeared to Lear he made him think a man a worm. As we read, the souls of all the beasts in turn seem to have entered the bodies of these mortals; horrible in their venom, savagery, lust, deceitfulness, sloth, cruelty, filthiness; miserable in their feebleness, nakedness, defencelessness, blindness; and man, ‘consider him well’, is even what they are. (Bradley 1971: 218–19) This will remind us of Othello, but the symbolism of King Lear is essentially theatrical, not verbal.1 The concrete stage-imagery of the Fool in motley; the duke’s son a dirty and half-naked Bedlam beggar; his father horribly mutilated; another duke in the stocks; and, above all, the unaccommodated, raving king, clothed in soiled robes and crowned with weeds and flowers, makes King Lear the most wonderful and resonant of Shakes-

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peare’s spectacles of shame. Hamlet and Othello stand out as representative figures of shame, and Lear does too; his experience is a still more powerful recapitulation of the ritual uncrowning and degradation of Richard II. But when all King Lear’s deranged and humiliated creatures huddle together in the great storm, they provide an unforgettable image of a shared shameful condition. Recent critics such as Stanley Cavell and Andrew Dillon have written explicitly on shame in King Lear, with feminists such as Coppélia Kahn and Janet Adelman addressing its gendered dimension. In his unjustly neglected Sovereign Shame (1984), William F. Zak first presented the theme in something like its full prevalence and profundity. Zak’s thesis unfurls from an almost visionary ‘intuition that the old king and father we encounter initially in King Lear is a man in hiding’ (Zak 1984: 87). Zak recognised that Lear’s motive for the love auction is not vanity but very nearly its opposite – a dreadful insecurity about intrinsic worth, a shame for the self ’s insignificance that in its despair seeks in the obeisant eyes and acts of others a glimmer of affirmation of the value it fears may be lacking within. (ibid.: 89–90) This led him to the tragic truth that Lear throughout the play is in breathless flight from himself, from the shameful truth of himself. Stanley Cavell’s ‘The Avoidance of Love’ is another philosophical reading partly concerned with shame and hiding in King Lear (Cavell 1976). But Cavell does not recognise Zak’s perception that shame – sadly unbeknown to Lear – is the doorway to fulfilment and relationship. With respect to cultural materialism and new historicism, King Lear – although it would be true to say that its very essentialism is culturally inflected – is clearly concerned with the ultimate nature of personhood, ‘the thing itself ’ (3.4.99).2 But it cannot, for all that, be seen from a ‘liberal humanist’ perspective. When Lear discovers ‘the thing itself ’, he has actually found, in Greenblatt’s phrase, ‘a man playing a theatrical role’ (Greenblatt 1988: 126). Yet that role is truer to the precarious condition of selfhood disclosed by the drama, and it may be a reminder to the audience that theatre involves, as Artaud

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thought, revelation. More importantly, in its pitiless stripping away of all the existential glamour in which vanity finds refuge, Lear is anti-humanist. The painful absurdity of the Dover Cliff scene has long been recognised – Tolstoy found the humiliation to the actor unbearable (Tolstoy 1963) – and the Fool is a concrete emanation of Lear’s folly, like Sin sprung from the head of Milton’s Satan. Whereas in Hamlet and Othello shame is invested with the mysteries of iniquity and original sin, here it is risible and pathetic. In spite of the rapacity and cruelty of Edmond (I am adopting the spelling of the 1623 Folio – see note 2), Goneril and Regan, the human person in King Lear is ultimately no demon and no monster, just a ‘bare, forked animal’ (3.4.101–2). And yet, notwithstanding this clear-eyed realism, shame is simultaneously more mysteriously glorified in King Lear than in any of Shakespeare’s plays. It is not just that it is called ‘sovereign shame’ in the quarto (17.43); as Zak notes, [though] every character in Lear suffers, and suffers greatly … the peculiar note of grisly yet nearly farcical humiliation is reserved for a specific group of ‘good’ characters, namely Lear, Edgar, Gloucester, and Albany. (Zak 1984: 19) To this conspicuously all-male list we may add the discarded Cordelia of Act 1 Scene 1. Goodness, then, is intimately associated with disgrace, recollecting the Christian injunction to embrace shame explored in Chapter 2, as well as Donne’s dictum that ‘humiliation is the beginning of sanctification’ (Donne 1920: 219). We shall discover below that France actually falls in love with Cordelia because she has been cast off and shamed, while Lear’s passion of shame transports him to the heart of his mortal condition, liberating him from selfish illusion into the world. After taking upon himself the ‘sovereign shame’ of his mistreatment of Cordelia, he awakes arrayed in fresh garments, gazing up into her loving eyes. The revelation of the other so beautifully imagined in this scene is the great possibility contained in shame and the hopeful basis for the radical politics which the play imagines.

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The division of the kingdom Michael Neill characterises ‘shameful death’ as a confrontation with mortal nothingness and the flux of corruption (Neill 1997: 8), and we will recall Thomas Browne’s horror and shame at the wholesale disfigurement which death entails. At the beginning of King Lear, the impending death of the protagonist is the crucial dramatic fact and the deepest source of shame in the play. Lear has to cope much more directly and harrowingly with the shame of mortality than does Hamlet, who is originally confronted with his father’s death, not his own. Lear steps down from his throne in order to embark upon the process of dying. His first words in the play declare [a] fast intent To shake all cares and business from our age Conferring them on younger strengths while we Unburdened crawl toward death. (1.1.38–41) Politically, it is probably best to solve the problem of succession while he can (Manlove 1981: 102); spiritually, Lear needs to make friends with the necessity of dying. But he stages the division of his kingdom between his three daughters as grandiloquent political theatre. Hence the regal cadence of his speech and his grand gestures with the map: Of all these bounds even from this line to this, With shadowy forests and with champaigns riched, With plenteous rivers and wide skirted meads, We make thee lady. (1.1.63–6) Though superficially impressive, this is an embarrassing revelation of insecurity: a belated affirmation of royalty, a demonstration of unlimited power in the very moment of abdication. The following has already belied Lear’s formal magnificence:

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Tell me, my daughters – Since now we will divest us both of rule, Interest of territory, cares of state – Which of you shall we say doth love us most … (1.1.48–51) This starkly confuses public and private, as is evident at the level of verbal detail in the striking movement from ‘me’ and ‘my’ to ‘we’ and ‘us’. ‘Divested’ of power, Lear wishes immediately to clothe himself in love, a symptom of shame as nakedness; he is not sure of his naked worth. The same suggestion of physical exposure and shame was discernible too in his craven infantile image of crawling towards death. Frank Kermode writes: In this play, not for the first time, Shakespeare concerns himself with the contrast between the two bodies of the king: one lives by ceremony, administers justice in a furred gown, distinguished by regalia which sets him above nature. The other is born naked, subject to disease and pain, and protected only by the artifices of ceremony from natural suffering and nakedness. (Kermode 1969: 20) It is the second, mortal body revealed by death which Lear must own. His syntax (‘Since now we will divest us … which of you shall we say doth love us most’) makes plain his recognition that he will learn truth only after ridding himself of power, but he is not ready to give up power and make peace with his limited self. In his misconceived appeal for love we discern Zak’s ‘shame for the self ’s insignificance which in its despair seeks in the obeisant eyes and acts of others a glimmer of affirmation of the value it fears may be lacking within’ (Zak 1984: 90). As with the sonneteer, Lear’s attempt to fulfil himself in love is doomed, for where there is no confidence in the self, there can be no confidence in love. Trying to buy love reveals exactly what he is at pains to conceal: shame, the feeling that he cannot win affection and admiration for himself. Such shame has led Lear into the disgraceful shamelessness of bartering for the love of his children, but it is more deliberately and inexcusably shameless of Goneril and Regan to pretend and sell love to their father. Invoking shame as naked-

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ness again, Cordelia promises ‘Time shall unfold what pleated cunning hides, / Who covert faults at last with shame derides’ (1.1.280–1). The process of the play does indeed expose Goneril and Regan: they are shamed in that external sense. But they are never so good as to feel ashamed. Meanwhile, Lear gets for his bribe the false appearance of love, a smokescreen of comfort and protection against shame. Cordelia possesses the virtuous sense of guilt and shame which her father and sisters lack. She can say nothing to ‘draw a third more opulent than her sisters’ (1.1.85–6) because she loves Lear freely. It is sometimes said that she should humour him, sparing him embarrassment and pain, but this is a mistake. To sell Lear love would not only put her in a morally invidious position, it would ultimately confirm his suspicion that he is unlovable for himself. Flattering him might temporarily relieve his anxiety, but it would not be the office of a truly good daughter; for in order to transcend it and attain true health, Lear must first face his shame. Moreover, Cordelia has to say, even to emphasise, that she does not love Lear in any special and glorifying way, because he must, before he meets his end, accept himself as a man like any other, a particularly hard task for a king. It may still seem niggardly that Cordelia says she loves him as her father, no more, no less, and that she does not love him all, because she has love for others as well. But it would be sentimental to ask more of her, and this play is profoundly unromantic; it is finally modest, ordinary love, love for fathers and masters, love without a romantic conception of itself,3 that proves infinite and sacred here. If, as we saw in the last chapter, Othello mixes realistic and psychomachic meanings, Lear is even more explicitly allegorical, insufferably real though it was to Dr Johnson. The family dynamic played out in Act 1 Scene 1 should partly be seen in terms of shame. With his shameless daughters on one hand, and his modest daughter on the other, ‘Lear stirs memories of a far more ancient dramatic hero, variously called Mankind, Everyman, Genus Humanum, Rex Vivus, Rex Humanitas, Magnificence etc.’ (Mack 1972: 57). Since Goneril and Regan are shameless ever after, while Cordelia remains perfectly shamefast and modest, it is possible to see Lear’s daughters as embodied parts of his own mind or soul, especially in the absence of their mother. As Robert B. Heilman has argued,

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the co-presence of realistic and psychomachic meaning in King Lear is an aesthetic triumph because it combines the widespread action of a number of characters with the tightest symbolic integration (Heilman 1969: 174). At the level of surface realism, Lear has contrived the scene, and repels Cordelia’s implied censure and Kent’s direct rebukes, in order to avoid shame. At the deeper, allegorical level, by rejecting Cordelia he rejects the perfect sense of shame which she exemplifies; by preferring Goneril and Regan, he gives shameless evil scope both within and outside himself. King Lear presents the division and clamour in the external world as partly a consequence and a reflection of the struggle going on in Lear’s soul. In this way it provides an excellent image of the wider political implications and consequences of personal and ethical life. I have said that Cordelia exemplifies a sense of guilt and shame elsewhere lacking in the play. Zak argues that she also represents shame outright; that when she explains she can say nothing to draw a third more opulent than her sisters, it is an admission that she does not deserve love and can only receive it as a free gift. Zak sees Cordelia standing exposed in shame at her nakedness before [Lear] and ashamed at her impotence to help him without his cooperation, yet hoping to inform him that his charity is not something she can in any way secure for herself any more than he can secure or insure his daughters’ love in the verbal transaction he has staged. (Zak 1984: 88–9) He goes on: In the shame with which she offers her ‘nothing’ to Lear, Cordelia paradoxically presents him with the gift of an ideal image of what he could yet be, as in a mirror; for, if Lear is ever to attain, like her, to his naked manhood’s possible dignity he must recognize and acknowledge in her downcast eye and voice of shame the face of his own suppressed shame hiding in fear of discovery behind the still-soliciting mask of brazenness he presents to her and the world. (ibid.: 90)

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The philosopher Gabriele Taylor has suggested that Cordelia, like Hamlet, is also ashamed of her appalling parent, who has exposed himself and, in his shame and desperation, behaved so shamefully: ‘to be the daughter of a shameful father is to find oneself in a shameful position’ (Taylor 1985: 63n.). This is very possible, and may be manifested dramatically, though there is no positive evidence for it in the text. In any case, Cordelia is momentarily transfigured: she takes on the lineaments of shame itself. We have seen classical and medieval precedents for this, and also that in Othello Iago assumes a very different masculine aspect of shame, but I suspect that Shakespeare is remembering Guyon’s encounter with Shamefastnesse in Book 2 of The Faerie Queene of which I quoted a few lines in Chapter 4. Here is the moment in full: She answerd nought, but more abasht for shame, Held downe her head, the whiles her louely face The flashing bloud with blushing did inflame, And the strong passion mard her modest grace, That Guyon meruayld at her vncouth cace: Till Alma him bespake, why wonder yee Faire Sir at that, which ye so much embrace? She is the fountaine of your modestee; You shamefast are, but Shamefastnesse it selfe is shee. (–9) Shamefastnesse’s speechless unresponsiveness and pregnant awkwardness is very suggestive of Cordelia, and Lear, like Guyon, needs to recognise the mute and blushing figure before him as incarnating a crucial ‘feminine’ source of his own personality. But, unlike Guyon, he does not embrace Cordelia and shame. By suddenly, uncannily figuring forth shame in the everyday world of the play, she has presented him directly with exactly what he is most afraid of. In addition, he feels she has degraded him further. As Bradley writes, [Lear] loved Cordelia most and knew that she loved him best, and the supreme moment to which he looked forward was that in which she should outdo her sisters in expressions

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of affection … . And then – so it naturally seemed to him – she put him to open shame. (Bradley 1971: 204) He is not beloved, not compensated for abdication: worse, his attempt to appear thus is unmasked as the shameless ruse of an insecure old man. In increased anxiety and wounded pride, he thrusts her from him thus: by the sacred radiance of the sun, The mysteries of Hecate and the night, By all the operation of the orbs From whom we do exist and cease to be, Here I disclaim all my paternal care, Propinquity, and property of blood, And as a stranger to my heart and me Hold thee from this for ever. The barbarous Scythian, Or he that makes his generation messes To gorge his appetite, shall to my bosom Be as well neighboured, pitied, and relieved As thou, my sometime daughter. (1.1.109–19) It is an obscene speech. The effect of Lear’s invocations of the occult, of his self-dramatising grandeur and of his imagery of hugging and giving succour to not only the barbarous Scythian (Tamburlaine?) but also the cannibal who devours his offspring is at once terrible and pathetic. The picture of an excessively outraged father needlessly holding off a daughter erroneously supposed to have shamed him reminds us of those other benighted fathers Leonato and Brabantio. Of course, Lear cannot, any more than Leonato – is Shakespeare playing on the similar names? – truthfully declare Cordelia no longer his: it is a narcissistic failure to recognise an objective fact in the world, and one which gives us the measure of his foolish wickedness. The fact that in casting off his daughter who stands for shame Lear has immediately become horribly shameless confirms the symbolic resonances of the scene. Lear’s shamelessness is subsequently expressed in the sway of the shameless Goneril and Regan in his kingdom.

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By the end of Act 1 Scene 1, we have learned that shame, as exemplified by Cordelia and thrust off by her father, is a painful good and that shamelessness, as exemplified by Lear and his elder daughters, is aligned with wickedness. It is the most emblematic revelation of Shakespeare’s ethical vision of shame in the canon; it exposes this ethical vision in its most radical aspect. For even the brutal humiliation which the discarded Cordelia suffers is given a positive cast. Lear says, ‘her price is fallen’ (1.1.96), and revokes her dowry. Conceitedly identifying his own capricious feelings with the whole process of the universe, he calls her ‘a wretch whom nature is ashamed / Almost t’acknowledge hers’ (1.2.211–11). She asks her father to tell her suitors that she has done nothing wicked or dishonourable to be treated thus; he does not comply. Burgundy pragmatically rejects her. But France, his heart strangely ‘kindle[d] to inflamed respect’ (1.1.255), proposes anyway, with these beautiful words: Fairest Cordelia, that art most rich, being poor; Most choice, forsaken; and most loved, despised: Thee and thy virtues here I seize upon. Be it lawful, I take up what’s cast away. (1.1.250–3) France falls for Cordelia here without her regal trappings: he loves her for her naked self, as Lear secretly feels he cannot be loved. The paradoxical rhetoric of the passage works to infuse shame with positive value, rising in a series of crescendos towards the negative terms ‘poor’, ‘forsaken’, ‘despised’ and ‘cast away’. The expected worldly, not to mention aristocratic and regal, reaction is given in Burgundy’s recoil from damaged goods; but in Cordelia’s impoverishment France finds surpassing riches, in her rejected infamy beauty itself. His sudden infatuation with the disgraced daughter recollects, as well as Spenser’s beauteous Shamefastnesse, Hesiod’s lovely figure of shame and The Romaunt of the Rose’s ‘keper of the roser’, noted in Chapter 3. What Donne calls ‘the shame of men’, of public degradation and infamy, is radically turned about here (Donne 1920: 84–5). Are we meant to recall Othello as the ‘base Indian’ who threw away a pearl ‘richer than all his tribe’ (5.2.347–8)? France is his enlightened opposite. His worry whether it is

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‘lawful’ to take up Cordelia may have reference to the diplomatic context and be a courtly courtesy to the resigning king, but in combination with the allusion to 2 Corinthians 6.10 it also suggests a sense of religious taboo. France has been invaded by an inspiring vision of Lear’s youngest daughter and, even as he moves to take her hand, he wonders if she is not set apart from marriage and life in the world. His curious speech as a whole plunges us deep into the enigmatic spiritual territory of ecstatic mortification and shame. Gloucester and Edmond The parallel case of Gloucester confirms that Lear’s family crisis represents a spurning of shame in favour of shamelessness. Whereas Lear’s shame originates from his fear of waning power and his own mortality, Gloucester’s derives from a moral fault of which he says he is not ashamed: adultery, the fathering of his illegitimate son Edmond. In his conversation with Kent which opens the play, Gloucester attests that he has ‘often blushed’ for Edmond, but now he is ‘brazed to’t’ (1.1.9–10). He has not faced his shame, and been motivated to reform; he has apparently hardened and it has ceased.4 Yet, that he is ashamed of Edmond in spite of the explicit denial is, as Cavell says, shown by the fact that ‘he hath been out nine years, and away he shall again’ (1.1.31–2), and by the fact that Gloucester has to joke about him: joking is a familiar specific for brazening out shame, calling enlarged attention to the thing you do not want naturally noticed. (Cavell 1976: 277) Like Lear – and, for that matter, Richard III and Othello – in his very attempt to evade shame Gloucester brings more shame upon himself. Just as the king’s attempt to buy the love of his daughters and his aggression to Cordelia fall far short of the proper behaviour of parent to child, so too do Gloucester’s blokeish jokes about and neglect of Edmond. Coleridge said that Edmond is motivated by shame and, given his illegitimacy and Gloucester’s mistreatment of him, this is not implausible. The poet puts an admirable case:

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But alas! in his own presence his own father takes shame to himself for the frank avowal that he is his father … . He hears his mother and the circumstances of his birth spoken of with a most degrading and licentious levity, – described as a wanton by her own paramour, and the remembrance of the animal sting, the low criminal gratifications connected with her wantonness and prostituted beauty, assigned as the reason why ‘the whoreson must be acknowledged!’ This, and the consciousness of its notoriety; the gnawing conviction that every shew of respect is an effort of courtesy, which recalls, while it represses, a contrary feeling; – this is the ever-trickling flow of wormwood and gall into the wounds of pride, – the corrosive virus which inoculates pride with a venom not its own, with envy, hatred, a lust of that power which in its blaze of radiance would hide the dark spots on his disk … (Coleridge 1992: 386) Following Coleridge, Wilson Knight writes, ‘Edmund, too, has reason to complain of injustice: the world brands him with the shame of his birth and inflames his mind’ (Knight 1949: 191). But though dazzling as literature in its own right, as criticism Coleridge’s remarks go well beyond the evidence. Edmond, it is true, protests against the taint of illegitimacy, but with what Bradley recognised as ‘a certain genuine gaiety’ (Bradley 1971: 250). He is happy to be a bastard, for he is spiritually illegitimate: instinctively the champion of the outrageous and obscene. In this respect, he differs from Richard III. For Richard, deformity licenses depravity, but in Edmond’s case there is a perfect coincidence between shameful circumstances and shameless essence: though we expect the bastard to be ashamed, he is not. By contrast with Richard’s bitter selfreflections, Edmond’s great soliloquy, ‘Thou, nature, art my goddess … ’ (1.2.1–22), begins in self-admiration and love. He glories in his intellectual and physical endowments. He pronounces infamy, inhibition, shame ‘the plague of custom’, ‘the curiosity of nations’; he advocates instead the authentic shamelessness of ‘nature’, identifying with the ‘fierce quality’ and ‘lusty stealth’ of his own conception. He repeats the words ‘base’ and ‘legitimate’ not from hurt resentment, but with lofty

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irony and contempt for the ignorant multitude who use and live by them. His speech ends on a cocksure note: ‘I grow, I prosper / Now gods stand up for bastards’. Coleridge’s Edmond is too psychologised; Shakespeare’s is both less and more than a fully developed person. Despite Harold Bloom’s fulsome admiration – he calls Edmond ‘a genius’5 – Edmond is not a subtle or individualised character. After his first soliloquy, we learn nothing new about him until the very end, when he tries to save Lear and Cordelia; even this, according to the quarto text, he does ‘despite of mine own nature’ (24.240). His motivation is consistently opaque. At first he seeks to supplant Edgar, then he sets his sights on his father’s dukedom, then the throne; but he never expresses any interest in riches or royalty: there is nothing like Tamburlaine’s ‘sweet fruition of an earthly crown’ here (1 Tamburlaine, 2.7.29). And, though he promises himself to Goneril and Regan, and they hunger for him, we have no impression of Edmond’s lust for them, notwithstanding his protestations of a rough lewdness. In fact, Edmond exhibits only one true feeling: delight in his own diabolical cheek. This is his real motive for opposing his father and his brother and for seducing two jealous sisters. As with Lear’s daughters, Edmond’s simplicity, his singleness of being, encourages us to see him as standing for something larger. J.F. Danby writes, ‘No medieval devil ever bounced on the stage with a more scandalous self-announcement’ (Danby 1949: 32), and Edmond’s theatrical antecedents are certainly the vices and demons of the morality tradition, while his contemporary analogues are the Machiavellian figures of shamelessness discussed in Chapter 3. Maynard Mack gets it right: We need to be made aware also of the Edmond who is a force … and who in some sense seems more dangerous than he is because in recognizing his identity we recognize him in ourselves. (Mack 1972: 74) Just as Goneril and Regan caricature the shamelessness of their father, Edmond represents the shamelessness of his. And the symbolism here is particularly neat: Edmond is precisely that within Gloucester which led to his own birth. Cavell asserts that Gloucester should not be ashamed of his illegitimate child

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(Cavell 1976: 276), but on the deeper, symbolic level, where Edmond is a type of shamelessness, Gloucester should be more ashamed of him than he is. That he loves him as much as the good and legitimate Edgar (1.1.18–20) is evidence of his spiritual confusion. Like Richard III and Falstaff, Edmond exemplifies the energy and attractiveness of shamelessness. But until Edmond recognises himself as limited and flawed, when death closes in on him at the end of the play, he remains a two-dimensional and somewhat absurd character. Like most commentators, I began this analysis of King Lear with ‘the division of the kingdom’. It is the determining episode in the main plot, but the play actually begins with the dialogue between Gloucester and Edmond just discussed. Coleridge is best read as testifying to the shockingly shameful affect and resonance of that original exchange. It is also true to say that the stigmatised figure of the bastard contributes much to King Lear as a spectacle of shame. Edgar’s disguise If Edmond stands for the shamelessness that his father prefers, just as Lear prefers Goneril and Regan and shamelessness, Edgar comes to represent the shame which Gloucester spurns, just as Lear has spurned shame and Cordelia. Having swallowed Edmond’s story that Edgar is planning parricide, Gloucester initiates a manhunt for his supposedly treacherous son, going so far as to say that if he is ‘found, dispatch’ (2.1.57). Sheltering in ‘the happy hollow of a tree’ (2.2.165), Edgar resolves to disguise himself. But he goes utterly beyond expediency into an elaborate fantasy of self-abasement: Whiles I may scape I will preserve myself, and am bethought To take that basest and most poorest shape That ever penury in contempt of man Brought near to beast. My face I’ll grime with filth, Blanket my loins, elf all my hair in knots, And with presented nakedness outface The winds and persecutions of the sky. The country gives me proof and precedent Of Bedlam beggars who with roaring voices

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Strike in their numbed and mortifièd arms Pins, wooden pricks, nails, sprigs of rosemary, And with this horrible object from low farms, Poor pelting villages, sheep-cotes and mills Sometime with lunatic bans, sometime with prayers Enforce their charity. ‘Poor Tuelygod, Poor Tom.’ That’s something yet. Edgar I nothing am. (2.2.168–84) Like Hamlet’s delay, Edgar’s disguise is another time-honoured critical problem to which shame offers us an answer. Northrop Frye writes ‘No one can study King Lear without wondering why Edgar puts on this Poor Tom act’ (Frye 1967: 106); H.A. Mason finds it distasteful (Mason 1970: 192); Mack ‘implausible’ (Mack 1972: 5); Nahum Tate, whose revised version held the stage for one and a half centuries, and with Dr Johnson’s endorsement, altered the plot to ‘countenance’ it (Tate 1969: 25). But Edgar’s whole process of self-concealment is redolent of shame, and all the symptoms of severe shame are externalised in the details of his disguise: debasement and nakedness, disfigurement and defilement, self-mutilation and self-loss. Indeed, his disguise as such is itself dis-guise – disfigurement and deformation. Released from Bedlam with a licence to beg, insane by definition and, according to the prevailing conception of insanity, possessed, the Bedlam beggar – the Abram man, Poor Tom – was a type familiar to Renaissance readers from the popular vagabond literature of the day (Lascelles 1982: 56–7), and the lowest of the low. Assuming such an aspect simultaneously conceals Edgar and reveals his inner man. He feels his identity has been devastated (‘Edgar I nothing am’), that he has metamorphosed into something appalling and alien (‘Poor Tuelygod, Poor Tom’) which is a revelation of his true self and value. He is ashamed because his father thinks he is a murderer and is hunting him down like a dog. As Andrew Dillon has recently argued, he ‘performs a self-punishing enactment on his helpless flesh of his father’s hostility towards him’ (Dillon 1989: 90). In Chapter 4, we noted that the motif of sexual disguise in the comedies may partly function as a metaphor for shame. Like Viola, Edgar for the time being is not what he is (Twelfth Night, 3.1.143). We may also detect a remembrance of Julia’s shame in The Two Gentlemen of Verona:

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just as the removal of Proteus’s love removed her sense of self, so the removal of Gloucester’s love has removed Edgar’s. Hence his poignant choice of an aspect that customarily enforces charity. Such an understanding of Edgar’s disguise eases the problem of why he does not reveal himself sooner to the repentant Gloucester, thus sparing his father superfluous pain. This too has long troubled critics. Bradley is the first to ask ‘why does Edgar not reveal himself to his blind father, as he truly says he ought to have done?’ (Bradley 1971: 211), but many since have touched on it. Cavell calls it an ‘outstanding lapse, or crux’ (Cavell 1976: 282); Greenblatt concurs, ‘Why he does not simply reveal himself to Gloucester at this point is unclear’ (Greenblatt 1988: 177). Edgar himself admits it is a ‘fault’ (5.3.184). Pointing to the passage in the quarto where Edgar proclaims that ‘false opinion’ will have to bow to ‘just proof ’ of his integrity before he removes his disguise (13.105–6), Dillon argues that ‘the need to re-create and reestablish himself is stronger than pity’ (Dillon 1989: 86): ‘the renovation of his own shattered sense of worth is his main object’ (ibid.: 8). But we are not obliged to see Edgar in this selfish light. Shame cannot be put off at will. In the same way that the disguised heroines of the comedies are unable to reveal their unprotected womanhood until they have overcome their sexual bashfulness, Edgar cannot reveal himself to his father till he has recovered from shame. We can go even further with this association of Edgar’s disguise with shame. Edgar is not the only character to disguise himself in King Lear. Kent, having answered Lear’s rebukes during the division of the kingdom openly and squarely, does so too, and also demeans himself; where Edgar has lost his father’s love, Kent has lost the faith of his beloved master. There is a sense in which Kent and Edgar, wrongfully rejected good servant and good son, embody Lear’s and Gloucester’s guilty shame and resultant hiding, as Cordelia also embodies Lear’s guilt. Thus if Edgar and Kent are unable to reveal themselves owing to the inhibition of shame, it is also true to say that they cannot be recognised till Lear and Gloucester are ready to accept their mistakes. Moreover, the ‘self-covered’ (quarto, 16.61) figure of Kent and the more especially shameful figure of Edgar, like Cordelia abashed, symbolise the

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shame which Gloucester and Lear will have to go through if they are ever to become whole and the evasions they practise to avoid this. It is even possible to say that goodness itself is ashamed in King Lear, because it has been slighted and shunned. But later Lear recognises the dirty, bloodied, degraded and exposed figure of Edgar as Poor Tom as the ‘thing itself ’ (3.4.99) and a ‘philosopher’ (for example, 3.4.144) because in his experience and his own person Edgar represents a state of morbid enlightenment about the self, towards which Lear is slowly and painfully progressing. For the audience in the theatre, this manifestation of a self-mutilating vagrant on stage, coming as it does after the bastard and the cast-off Cordelia, gives fair warning that there is to be no let-up in King Lear’s insistent shameful spectacle. Lear’s journey Lear’s punishment for thrusting off and banishing shame is that he is horribly shamed by the shameless daughters to whom he has given all. On the realistic level, and according to the scriptural axiom of ‘do unto others’, the shamelessness he has shown himself invites such shameless cruelty from the world. In the symbolic and psychomachic Lear, where Goneril and Regan are agencies in and expressions of his own soul, the point is that shamelessness is itself self-mutilating and degrading, as we have seen already in Richard III, where Richard is increasingly responsible for his deformity. But a mysterious providence is also at work, perhaps recollecting the workings of the same force in Hamlet. Wickedly intentioned though they are, Goneril and Regan in forcing shame upon their father are making him a present of the truth about himself. As the dissolution of his false idea of himself, this shame is additionally valuable as a form of and rehearsal for his anticipated death. And, as we shall see, through shame Lear is finally released from the illusions of pride into truth. We saw in the last chapter that Iago’s wickedness partly subverts itself in the spiritual triumph of Othello’s shame. With Goneril and Regan, this strange reversal of the malicious intention of the shamer is even clearer. But the shaming of King Lear is among the worst in all literature. His own daughters mortify his pride by slow degrees.

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Goneril tells her unctuous steward Oswald to treat him with ‘what weary negligence you please’ (1.3.12). When Lear questions him, Oswald duly vanishes, failing to reappear when Lear calls him back. Lear’s knight responds to his king’s bewilderment, My lord, I know not what the matter is, but to my judgement your highness is not entertained with that ceremonious affection that you were wont. (1.4.56–7) When Oswald next glides over the stage, Lear buttonholes him angrily: ‘O you, sir, you, come you hither, sir, who am I, sir?’ (1.4.76). Oswald’s devastating reply is ‘My lady’s father’ (1.4.76–7), reminding Lear of his abdication, making mocking use of the criterion he foolishly applied himself in seeking selfaffirmation in his relation to his daughters. Lear hits Oswald, and Kent does so too; but the spectacle of majesty brawling is itself a shameful one. Goneril now complains to Lear about his ‘insolent retinue’ (1.4.184) and his own misgovernment, proposing ‘A little to disquantity [his] train’ (1.4.227). Both reproach and suggested remedy offend further against ‘The name and all th’ addition to a king’ (1.1.136) that Lear had carefully reserved for himself in the first scene. If we reflect that Lear is struggling already with unbeing and death, we will see how fearful it is for him to be treated thus by his own daughter, especially since it comes on top of the shame he feels Cordelia has inflicted on him. In high dudgeon, he leaves and rides to Regan’s, where he assures himself he will receive a more filial and respectful welcome, which would restore his sense of self. Kent goes before as messenger. When Lear arrives at Regan’s, he finds that she and her husband Cornwall have put Kent in the stocks, for quarrelling with Goneril’s envoy, the offensive Oswald, again. In the image of Kent in the stocks Gloucester perceives Lear ‘slightly valued in his messenger’ (2.2.138): Lear too sees himself bestocked. It gives, and is calculated to give, a hideously palpable focus to the erstwhile king’s gathering consciousness of humiliation. He murmurs, ‘’Tis worse than murder, / To do upon respect such violent outrage’ (2.2.199–200). Regan proposes that he return to her sister and apologise; Lear goes

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mockingly down on his knees to indicate the shameful impropriety of her request. Normal family pieties have collapsed. As with Othello, there is a dream-like quality to events, a sense of nightmares become real. Again shame in Shakespeare has attained that consummate dramatic power of horrible necessity and inexorable momentum which is reminiscent of classical tragedy. When Goneril enters, Regan insists to her father that he should leave with her, and halve his train as she has already requested. Goneril adds that she herself will allow only ‘five and twenty’ (2.2.421) followers. Stunned, Lear muses aloud, ‘Those wicked creatures yet do look well favoured / When others are more wicked. Not being the worst / Stands in some rank of praise’ (2.2.430–2); he turns to Goneril, saying, ‘I’ll go with thee. / Thy fifty yet doth double five-and-twenty, / And thou art twice her love’ (2.2.430–4). This is a pathetic surrender to their power over him and to the love by numbers of Act 1 Scene 1. Goneril now says, ‘What need you five-andtwenty, ten or five … ?’ (2.2.435), and Regan asks, ‘What need one?’ (2.2.437). As Lear exits, and the great storm begins to break, she concludes the remorseless subtraction: ‘For his particular I’ll receive him gladly, / But not one follower’ (2.2.464–5). This disbanding of his fellowship, and the cancellation of all privilege it represents, cannot but seem like death to Lear, for it is an absolute contravention of his kingship. As the Fool puts it, ‘Now thou art an O without a figure. I am better than thou art, now. I am a fool; thou art nothing’ (1.4.74–6). This dreadful sequence of King Lear’s shaming explores shame as death and unbeing. As we have seen, Lear, like Othello, feels worse than murdered. He also feels alienated and displaced from himself and deformed. He does not recognise, he cannot accept the ruined self which his daughter’s treatment has presented him with. He is thrown into confusion: Does any here know me? This is not Lear. Does Lear walk thus, speak thus? Where are his eyes? Either his notion weakens, his discernings Are lethargied – ha, waking? ’Tis not so. Who is it that can tell me who I am? (1.4.208–13)

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Implicitly recognising his disfigurement and deformity, he pathetically asserts, ‘Thou shalt find / That I’ll resume the shape which thou dost think / I have cast off for ever’ (1.4.288–900). He suffers a hysterical attack: ‘O, how this mother swells up toward my heart!’ (2.2.231). Being overcome by a specifically feminine passion and female uncontrol is an additional shame reminiscent of Hamlet; Coppélia Kahn has observed that Goneril and Regan partly ‘shame him by bringing out the woman in him’ (Kahn 1987: 45). Lear says too, ‘this heart shall break into a hundred thousand flaws’ (2.2.458), recollecting the scattered shards of the shamed Richard II’s looking-glass and anticipating the coming crackup. He tries to shame Goneril and Regan from shaming him: ‘Art not ashamed to look upon this beard?’ (2.2.366). When this fails, he says softly, ‘Let shame [theirs] come when it will, I do not call it’ (2.2.399). But, like Othello, he also turns monstrously violent in a rage of self-assertion, forsaking ethical shame himself. He beseeches nature to sterilise Goneril or ‘Create her child of spleen, that it may live / And be a thwart disnatured torment to her’ (1.4.261–2); he prays that ‘You nimble lightnings’ will ‘dart your blinding flames / Into her scornful eyes’ (2.2.338–9). Realising once more that they partly represent the shameless selfishness and cruelty within his own breast, we see Goneril and Regan in their father here. Out of desperate antipathy to shame, Lear has become shameless, but only to the effect of heaping more shame on his own head. As in Othello, shame in King Lear leads to shamelessness, which leads to more shame. There are intimations of reform. Lear says of Cordelia, ‘I did her wrong’ (1.4.24). Striking his forehead, he admonishes himself, ‘O Lear, Lear, Lear! / Beat at this gate that let thy folly in / And thy dear judgement out’ (1.4.249–51). He is also on the brink of realising that he himself unleashed the force now destroying him through the agency of his shameless daughters: But yet thou art my flesh, my blood, my daughter – Or rather a disease that’s in my flesh, Which I must needs call mine. Thou art a boil, A plague-sore or embossèd carbuncle In my corrupted blood. (2.2.394–8)

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We should compare this with the rejection of Cordelia where Lear disclaims property of blood. But it is as yet a reproach to his daughters, not a self-reproach. However, he does, the syntax seems to indicate, see his blood as already corrupted. He is inching towards accountability, but, we shall see, his pride must be completely annihilated before he can fully recognise what he has done. More clearly than in any other Shakespeare play, in King Lear it is egoism that obstructs virtue; this can be prevented only by sheer destruction of the ego, which is accomplished through such mortification and shame as Lear is now undergoing. That is why we are obliged to see Goneril and Regan as the unwitting agents of a kind of grace. But in being itself there is a natural antipathy to shame – which is loss of being – and Lear fights against mortifying shame with all the strength of his animal nature. Even his performance on the heath is a struggle to evade humiliation. His apocalyptic rage expresses a sense of universal prostration which includes himself: Singe my white head; and thou all-shaking thunder, Strike flat the thick rotundity o’th’world, Crack nature’s moulds, all germens spill at once That makes ingrateful man … (3.2.6–9) Yet it is also a pose, a near identification with the punishing thunderer, which shores up Lear’s pride. Later he utters a passionate prayer asking heaven to expose hidden guilt and shame: Let the great gods, That keep this dreadful pother o’er our heads, Find out their enemies now. Tremble, thou wretch That hast within thee undivulgèd crimes Unwhipped of justice; hide thee, thou bloody hand, Thou perjured and thou simular of virtue That art incestuous; caitiff, to pieces shake, That under covert and convenient seeming Has practised on man’s life; close pent-up guilts, Rive your concealing continents and cry These dreadful summoners grace. (3.2.49–59)

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This vision of guilty sinners invokes the last judgement, which we have also seen invoked in Richard II, Measure for Measure, Hamlet and Othello. The sense of trembling before the judgement seat, and of the man in hiding whom Zak perceived, betokens a new and sublime knowledge. But Lear does not identify the man in hiding as himself and his identification with the forces of retribution is an evasion of his own guilt. When he ends his severe diatribe with the statement, ‘I am a man / More sinned against than sinning’ (3.2.59–60), it is clear that he is exempting himself from an otherwise universal judgement. His more chastened plea to heaven on behalf of the homeless represents an astonishing access of political sympathy, as radical critics such as Annabel Patterson and Kiernan Ryan have been quick to see (Patterson 1989; Ryan 1995), and I would suggest that it is precisely shame’s corrosion of the self which now enables Lear to recognise those others for whom as king he was nominally responsible. But Lear’s new responsiveness should not be simply admired or even credited, for Zak is right to note that his prayer serves to distract him from a recognition that he cannot bear: he is utterly dependent on his own suffering servant and a fool for their charity and not vice versa. (Zak 1984: 159) It is no surprise that Lear prefers the shame of incompetent kingship – about which he is now in a position to do absolutely nothing – to the shame of being degraded below all others. In Zak’s phrase, his performance on the heath is ‘subtly selfglorifying’ (ibid.: 173). This terrible storm is in part a welcome diversion: ‘This tempest will not give me leave to ponder / On things would hurt me more’ (3.2.24–5). Lear takes a step towards honest shame when confronted with the shameful spectre of Edgar disguised as Poor Tom. This scene, which brings together in a hovel a young nobleman reduced to the appearance and condition of a beggar, the deranged, debased king, Kent in the guise of a servant, and the Fool in motley, presents Lear’s most composed and painterly tableau vivant of shame; it exploits the coincidence between shame and the dramatic arts as forms of exposure and revelation, and it has an electric impact in the theatre. Lear first

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apprehends Tom as a vision of his own humiliation, just as he saw himself in Kent in the stocks: ‘Didst thou give all to thy two daughters, / And art thou come to this?’ (3.2.46–7). But then he apprehends Tom as a revelation of the human condition in general: Is man no more than this? Consider him well. Thou owest the worm no silk, the beast no hide, the sheep no wool, the cat no perfume. Ha, here’s three on’s are sophisticated; thou art the thing itself. Unaccommodated man is no more but such a poor, bare, forked animal as thou art. (3.4.96–100) This is Lear’s version of Hamlet’s recognition in the graveyard. But whereas Hamlet discovers the degradation of being human in death, and this reconciles him to life, Lear finds such humiliation in life, which is part of his preparation for dying. Lear now truly identifies with Tom, and through him the whole human race, rather than identifying Tom with himself or generalising from a fallacious position of superior detachment. His attempt to undress, to be one with Tom – ‘Off, off, you lendings! Come, unbutton here’ (3.4.102–3) – is his first effort to acknowledge himself not just as king, but as a common creature who is born to die. Accepting this mortal, unavoidable shame will ultimately enable Lear to be reborn as a true and loving person, just as out of his foul chrysalis the noble and devoted Edgar will re-emerge. But Shakespeare knows how importunate the ego is, and, as he hearkens to its insistent voice once more, Lear’s eyes cloud over and Tom becomes just another figment of his own suffering pride: the image of the cruel and lamentable pass to which his daughters have brought him. Self-pity is renewed and with it shameless vengeance: ‘To have a thousand with red burning spits / Come hissing in upon ’em!’ (3.6.15–16). Kent rebukes his master sadly: ‘Sir, where is that patience now / That thou hast so oft boasted to retain?’ (3.6.17–18). The Fool As we have seen, the theatrical experience of King Lear is of constantly shuttling between the real and ideal. In the abashed

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Cordelia and the self-mutilating Edgar, not to mention the bastard Edmond, we have discerned different aspects of shame already; the Fool, of course, is an archetypally shameful figure. Not quite human, as we see in his enigmatic disappearence and apparent merging with Cordelia, he plays a crucial part in the symbolic drama of the play. Though Lear tries desperately to avoid shame, the Fool presents him with a parade of grotesquely degraded images of himself: for example, ‘thou madest thy daughters thy mothers … when thou gavest them the rod and puttest down thy breeches’ (1.4.153–5), an image of an infant offering himself for flagellation which presents Lear’s emasculating disempowerment in the most lurid terms. The Fool is also the embodiment of Lear’s folly. His great joke is that the proper antithetical relation between himself and the king has collapsed into identity or even reversed. As William Empson recognises, Lear’s first outburst of fear of madness is perhaps brought on by a fool standing before him claiming to be his reflection or superior (Empson 1951: 131): Fool: If thou wert my fool, nuncle, I’d have thee beaten for being old before thy time. Lear: How’s that? Fool: Thou shouldst not have been old till thou hadst been wise. Lear: O, let me not be mad, not mad, sweet heaven! Keep me in temper. I would not be mad. (1.5.40–6) This is another instance of shame as a horrible encounter in a mirror. In defiance of classical decorum, Shakespeare not only mingles kings and clowns, but actually makes a deranged clown of a king. This is the fruit of his profound realisation that tragedy, which must betray its exalted hero to degradation and death, necessarily offends against social decorum. Lear eventually learns that ‘When we are born, we cry that we are come / To this great stage of fools’ (4.5.178–9), and that none are exempt from the shame and debasement of mortality, for, in the words of Richard II, within the hollow crown That rounds the mortal temples of a king

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Keeps Death his court, and there the antic sits Scoffing his state, and grinning at his pomp … (Richard II, 3.2.160–3) The Fool performs this mocking role in King Lear. His is the recalcitrant voice of shame, which in this play is quite as insistent as that of self-justifying egoism, though Lear has tried to stifle it. The Fool suitably disappears when Lear at last recognises his folly, calling himself ‘the natural fool of fortune’ (4.5.187). Cordelia primarily exemplifies susceptibility to guilt and moral shame; the Fool represents and speaks of the shame of personal humiliation which she suffered at the hands of her father. The two are fused together in Lear’s great cry: ‘And my poor fool is hanged’ (5.3.281). For, in the great ethical vision of King Lear, the Fool is also good. The protagonists, Lear and Gloucester, are utterly dominated by pride, but he has achieved a mocking distance from self which enables him to live for others, particularly his ‘Nuncle’ – even this jokey nickname bespeaks an innocent and unassuming relationship to the world. The Erasmian paradox of praising folly is implicit here. Since the Fool welcomes public ridicule and debasement, and remains faithful to one whose star is clearly falling, he makes us think of the ‘fool for Christ’s sake’.6 In the quarto text, Goneril contemptuously calls Albany ‘a moral fool’ (16.57), a ‘Milk livered man, / That bear’st a cheek for blows’ (16.49–50), unaware that she is describing the ideal Christian. Goneril means by her scornful remark shamefully to feminise her husband, but the milk of human kindness is supposed to run through Christian veins irrespective of gender, which is why Christ himself is sometimes seen as ‘the female man’. This partly illuminates the Fool’s combination with Cordelia in Lear’s cry. Kahn regards the tragedy as charting ‘Lear’s progress towards acceptance of the woman in himself ’ (Kahn 1987: 46). This involves, as it does for Claudio, embracing that higher form of shame which is seen in secular terms as exclusively feminine. But Cordelia and the Fool, Kent and Edgar also gain spiritually from embracing humiliation: it is not just that their dereliction of themselves is identified with their living for others, there are hints of a supernatural reward. As France puts it to Cordelia, partly referring to his own kingdom but also introducing a

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heavenly perspective, ‘thou losest here, a better where to find’ (1.1.261). There is also Lear’s apprehension of Cordelia as ‘a soul in bliss’ (4.6.39). Degraded and despised, and yet seemingly thereby clothed in a mysterious holiness, the Fool sums up and reiterates in his strange and engaging person the ambivalent truth of shame that was manifested first in Cordelia’s shaming. Gloucester’s journey Gloucester makes fundamentally the same spiritual journey as does Lear. As with Lear and Cordelia, his ultimate recognition of what he has done to Edgar requires the destruction of his worldly self. Lear’s pride is battered throughout, whereas Gloucester’s is quickly despatched in a spectacular demonstration of the very physical vulnerability and precariousness of human identity. Betrayed by Edmond to Cornwall and Regan, he is pinioned ‘like a thief ’ (3.7.22), his ‘corky arms’ bound fast, (3.7.27) and Cornwall plucks out his eye. The extent of Cornwall’s and Regan’s depraved insensibility to all ethical or spiritual shame is revealed when their servant speaks up for it and all they hear is a reproach by a peasant, whom Cornwall subsequently kills, although not without sustaining his own death-wound, and in Gloucester’s view. Barking ‘Out, vile jelly!’ (3.7.81), Cornwall removes Gloucester’s remaining eye. Just as Lear is shamed by the shameless daughters he preferred, Gloucester’s fearful and foolish trust in his bastard son is punished. Duped and now usurped by Edmond, mutilated and deformed, with bleeding rings where his eyes should be, he is hideously disgraced. As Edgar’s later words suggest, his father’s blindness symbolises his adultery: The gods are just, and of our pleasant vices Make instruments to plague us. The dark and vicious place where thee he got Cost him his eyes. (5.3.161–4) Mack glosses this:

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The punishment is exemplary like the act. The blindness is not what will follow from adultery, but what is implied in it. Darkness speaks to darkness. (Mack 1972: 70) As Jonathan Goldberg says, ‘Gloucester emblematises, literalises and makes fully horrific a path of fulfilled desire – the desire not to see’ (Goldberg 1993: 146). He incarnates his former shamelessness and the shamelessness of other characters, especially Lear; but mortified and blinded, he is also released from the darkness of the self and of the material world and begins to ‘see feelingly’ (4.5.145). Gloucester’s ordeal gives an agonizingly real expression to what is required for redemption in this strict tragedy. He mutters with selfless generosity, even while the blood runs down his cheeks, ‘O, my follies! Then Edgar was abused. / Kind gods, forgive me that, and prosper him!’ (3.7.89–90). But he is not regenerate yet. King Lear is fastidiously realistic about the human potential for transcendence. Gloucester remains somewhat self-centred, as we see by his attempted suicide. He is led by the disguised Edgar to what he blindly supposes to be the edge of Dover Cliff, where he makes a pretentious speech: ‘O you mighty gods, / This world I do renounce, and in your sights / Shake patiently my great affliction off !’ (4.5.34–6). The grotesque effect of his ‘fall’ has been well known since Wilson Knight’s ‘King Lear and the Comedy of the Grotesque’ (Knight 1949). Goldberg writes: It suffices to say that Dover Cliff exists only in Edgar’s lines and nowhere else in the play. The refusal to allow the word Dover to arrive at the place it (apparently) names, the failure, in other words, for signifier to reach signified – the failure of the sign – establishes the place that Dover occupies in the text. It is a place of illusion – the illusion of the desire voiced by Kent and Gloucester, the illusion of recovery and the illusion of respite and end. (Goldberg 1993: 147) What Gloucester does with great solemnity is for the audience painfully ridiculous; we should contrast it with the honourable self-slaughter of Brutus and the intelligible suicide of Othello.

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No stoic recuperation of selfhood or dignity is conceivable or laudable in King Lear; the self is that which must be discarded, to find a truer self. A premature and self-determined end cannot be a good one: ‘Men must endure / Their going hence even as their coming hither. / Ripeness is all’ (5.2.9–11). Gloucester needs to submit to the larger process of the universe, which is a recognition of the significant world outside the self. The form of pride paradoxically expressed in his suicide attempt is hideous and of hellish provenance: as Edgar obliquely visualises it, ‘his eyes / Were two full moons. He had a thousand noses, / Horns whelked and wavèd like the enragèd sea’ (4.5.69–71). Dover Cliff reveals that it is impossible to triumph over shame. Any attempt to do so is itself shameful, for it is an evasion of the truth of an imperfect condition. Recovery and death Kent tells us in the seventeenth scene of the quarto that ‘A sovereign shame … burning shame / Detains [Lear] from Cordelia’ (17.43–8). It is a great turning point in the play. There is a familiar suggestion of the recoil and disabling effect of shame. What is new – cataclysmically so – is that, in his burning and craven subjection, Lear for the first time is feeling shame more than he is feeling shamed; that is to say, this is shame undiluted by blaming others. It originates from within Lear, and is an emanation from, a stirring of, that ethical self which until now has been very much submerged under all the outrage and assertion of the dying human animal. At last – we have been waiting for it since the first scene – Lear is simply and purely ashamed of his mistreatment of his daughter. This burning pain may be regarded as spiritual birth pangs since, as with Gloucester, it represents a more expansive ethical shame surmounting the narrowly personal shame of degraded pride. Once a king himself, Lear is now happily usurped by ‘sovereign shame’, and this has only been possible because he has had sufficient shame to destroy his kingly pride. Combined with the suggestion of overmastering power, there is a pharmacological resonance as in ‘sovereign remedy’; in 1 Henry IV, Shakespeare uses the word in this sense, writing ‘the sovereignest thing on earth / Was parmacity for an inward bruise’ (1.3.56–7). This medicinal meaning of ‘sovereign’

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blends with ‘burning’ to suggest the spiritual refining fire. Though the power of the experience for the time being prevents him from doing anything further, Lear is newly able to peer beyond self into the objective ethical world, where the figure of his wounded victim and daughter looms large. The latter part of Act 4 Scene 5, which Kermode regards as the most profound moment in all tragedy (Kermode 1969: 21) and Cavell calls ‘the great image’ (Cavell 1976: 280), brings Gloucester and Lear together as in a mirror. In Chapter 5 of this book, we saw Hamlet in terms of the protagonist struggling through a horrid hall of mirrors, a maze of anti-selves conjured up by his repressed sensibility. Here we have seen that Lear construes the spectre of Poor Tom as a self-revelation; that when he comes across his servant in the stocks, he sees himself in that ignominious position; and that as he gazes at the Fool, in his gaudy cap and bells, he finds that he is looking in a kind of spiritual mirror. In the mutilated, benighted Gloucester, Lear also sees himself; that is why he sweeps directly into self-reflection. The masterstroke is that Gloucester also recognises the disordered and degraded Lear as an image of himself. Here Shakespeare’s ingenious dramaturgical manipulation of shame, familiar especially from Love’s Labour’s Lost, is transposed into a tragic key. It is a sublime conjunction of main plot and subplot, which makes it plain to the audience in the theatre and, to a lesser extent, to the once proud and selfconcerned characters themselves that they are enacting a discovery of the shameful reality of human being. Gloucester envies Lear’s oblivion, but Lear’s deranged state instructs him not to seek death before his time. When Lear identifies Gloucester as ‘Goneril with a white beard’ (4.5.96), it confirms both that Gloucester’s punishment for adultery is to represent in his own person the spiritual deformity and blindness of shamelessness, and also that Lear truly is beginning to recognise his shameless daughter in himself. But Lear wanders from, or evades further consideration of, the shameful reflection who is standing before him, indulging instead in tirades on universal lechery and corruption and on the theme that ‘None does offend’ (4.5.164). Much of this is demonstrably false: Cordelia is not lecherous and Kent not corrupt, while Goneril and Regan are both. To be sure, as on the heath, there is truth

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in what he says – the truth of universal prostration under the burden of mortality. But this must not prevent us from seeing that, again, in so far as Lear’s words cancel sin or responsibility for sin, he is evading his own guilt. There are better portents in these words: I know thee well enough: thy name is Gloucester. Thou must be patient. We came crying hither. Thou know’st the first time that we smell the air We waul and cry. (4.5.173–6) This stoicism is, in the perspective of the play, better than Gloucester’s, for it is a submission to the inscrutable process of things reminiscent of the enlightened Hamlet. Yet it fails to recognise that Lear and Gloucester have themselves let wickedness into the world. As we have seen, Lear is in a deep, psychomachic sense responsible for both his own and Gloucester’s disfigurement. Since in effect he is looking in a mirror, at the self and selves he has himself deformed, he is still shamelessly evading his own shame. Yet the sleeping Lear produced in Act 4 Scene 6 is arrayed in ‘fresh garments’ (line 20): he has evidently been at least partly reborn. He is aware himself that he has died and been translated into some sort of afterlife. When he awakes, he feels he is being taken out of the grave. His confused apprehension of Cordelia, who is anxiously standing over him, as ‘a soul in bliss’ to whom he looks up from his station on ‘a wheel of fire, that mine own tears / Do scald like molten lead’ (4.6.39–41), breathes sublime purgatorial shame. Kahn observes, These are the tears of ashamed self-knowledge, manly tears caused by a realisation of what his original childish demands on his daughters had led to. (Kahn 1987: 48) Previously the patriarchal Lear had been ashamed of tears he regarded as ‘womanish’; now such social shame seems infinitely superficial. We are reminded of Othello’s visions of an infernal afterlife at the end of his play; if we also recall Horatio’s picture of Hamlet’s spiritual passage to heaven

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under an angelic escort, we will begin to make out the sublime framework of Shakespearean tragedy that is too often unrecognised. This is Greenblatt’s ‘resonance, the conviction, rooted in the drama’s medieval inheritance, that cosmic meanings were bound up with local and particular circumstances’ (Greenblatt 1990: 89). The spiritual horizon of these plays enlarges them enormously, presenting a more staggering aesthetic experience than we are now used to and intimating precious significance. Lear’s fiery wheel is in part the spiritual wheel of shame, which descends into death but culminates in new life, painfully turning the errant soul back to the absolute, to God or goodness, as well as to the world outside the self. The old Lear is dead. This frail new Lear has only a confused and imperfect apprehension, and a very tentative sense of identity: I know not what to say. I will not swear these are my hands. Let’s see: I feel this pin prick. Would I were assured Of my condition. (4.6.46–50) The detachment from himself is part of Lear’s feebleness, his lingering deadness, but it also indicates his moral transformation. His stubborn kingly pride has now truly left him, and he can nakedly and contritely acknowledge his own child. In the intensity of his self-reproach, he says that if Cordelia has poison for him, he will drink it. When Kent tells him he is in his own kingdom, he says ‘Do not abuse me’ (4.6.71); for in the more objective perspective he has acquired, he is not a king, just ‘a very foolish, fond old man’ (5.1.53). It is a wholly, heartrendingly changed Lear who says, ‘You must bear with me. Pray you now, forget / And forgive. I am old and foolish’ (4.6.76–7). But Lear relapses – again! Of all Shakespeare’s plays this is the one that emphasises the near impossibility of truth and goodness for human beings. When he and Cordelia are despatched to prison by Edmond after losing the battle of Dover and Cordelia asks sternly, ‘Shall we not see these daughters and these sisters?’, Lear responds:

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No, no, no, no. Come, let’s away to prison. We two alone will sing like birds i’th’ cage. When thou dost ask me blessing, I’ll kneel down And ask of thee forgiveness; so we’ll live, And pray, and sing, and tell old tales, and laugh At gilded butterflies, and hear poor rogues Talk of court news, and we’ll talk with them too – Who loses and who wins, who’s in, who’s out, And take upon’s the mystery of things As if we were God’s spies; and we’ll wear out In a walled prison packs and sects of great ones That ebb and flow by th’ moon. (5.3.7–19) As Barbara Everett opines, this has a divine innocence (Everett 1969: 194). It is a kind of monastic fantasy: Lear’s zeal for going down on his knees before Cordelia, for praying and singing, and for ‘the mystery of things’, as well as his sublime amusement at the affairs of the world seem to confirm a great change in him. But we noticed a Shakespearean distaste for monasticism in Measure for Measure; in Lear’s refusal to see Goneril and Regan, Cavell discerns residual unwillingness to accept his shame: ‘He cannot finally face the thing he has done; and this means what it always does, that he cannot bear being seen’ (Cavell 1976: 297). There is also a recrudescence of self-centredness and vanity here in the fantasy of an exclusive relationship. As Janet Adelman notes, this takes us right back to the beginning. Lear is only too glad to be imprisoned because it is an opportunity to have his daughter to himself (Adelman 1992: 122). The flattering illusion that she is for him only is a renewed denial of reality. But at the end Lear should not be seen wholly cynically. The play has tended to polarise interpretation. For instance, Bradley renamed it The Redemption of King Lear (Bradley 1971: 235) while H.A. Mason reckoned that it ends on the bedrock of the hitherto undiscovered worst (Mason 1970: 226). Similarly, Bradley proposed that Lear dies from deluded joy that Cordelia lives (Bradley 1971: 241), but Mason dismissed this as an ‘intrusive quirk of fancy’ (Mason 1970: 226). The Folio

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allows for the possibility that Lear dies believing that Cordelia is alive. Earlier he had used a feather and a looking-glass to see if she was breathing, and his dying words, which tell us to look on her lips, may suggest a belief that she is. On the other hand, Lear’s last words can be taken as a tragic cry of pain, drawing attention to the fact that, although the feather stirred, Cordelia’s lips are now still. I must say that for myself, as for Mason, Bradley’s sense of Lear dying in ignorance of Cordelia’s death is appalling, though that does not, of course, make it necessarily wrong. But I have a suggestion which recognises both views. It also offers a more positive alternative to Stephen Greenblatt’s plausible suggestion in ‘Shakespeare and the Exorcists’ that King Lear dramatises the religious hope of resurrection in which it tragically cannot believe (Greenblatt 1988). Lear for the first time fully recognises Cordelia’s life in the moment of her death. He therefore dies in horrible pain but also, as Mason says, ‘in the real’ (Mason 1970: 226) – and exalted, having at last achieved true knowledge and love. Similarly, Gloucester’s heart ‘burst[s] smilingly’ when Edgar is revealed to him (5.3.191). We have seen that even after he repents his illtreatment of her, Lear is unable to acknowledge Cordelia as separate: he cannot distinguish her from his need of her, and he is still (like the sonneteer with his beloved youth) trying to fulfil himself in her love. But when he cradles Cordelia’s dead body in his arms, when he can ask her for nothing more, he suddenly sees her for herself. That Cordelia has had to die first makes a moment of triumph also a moment of great grief and shame. But Lear has got beyond ego, devastating shame has revealed another to him and, though he slid back, he has recovered this ethical vision at the end. It would sound, out of context, a small thing, but this great play has shown that it is not; it is the hardest and most worthy thing of all. As Blake has it, ‘The most sublime act is to set another before you’ (Blake 1975: 7), and Lear is at the last dignified and transfigured, a loving person seeing and suffering intensely for another. Carrying his child, he at last becomes a father, instead of an aged dependent. True perception of the other, as this tragedy reveals, is the revolutionary move, the foundation of all ethical and political projects. Only this could begin to make Lear’s egalitarian fantasies real. He has made the change, which we

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are in a position to carry beyond the page and the theatre. His unique distinction among tragic heroes is that he dies pointing away from himself, at somebody else.7

8 Antony and Cleopatra and Coriolanus

Hamlet and Othello are set in more or less contemporary Christendom. King Lear takes place in ancient ‘Britain’ but, with its monarchy, its familiar cities, its dukedoms and earldoms, it would still have been to its early modern audiences a recognisable territory. Lear’s temporal removal to the beginnings of history emphasises and facilitates its committed philosophical engagement with primary and profound issues. Despite its preChristian setting, the play (as we saw in the last chapter) dramatises a stark logic familiar from Christianity of the destruction of the corrupt self. Though, as we have also seen in the course of this book, Greece and Rome coloured the Renaissance concept of shame and their tragic drama was a shaping influence on Shakespeare, Antony and Cleopatra and Coriolanus are set less in a distant ancestral past than in a world truly remote and temporally, geographically and culturally foreign. Shakespeare offers an, as it were, anthropological exploration of classical shame. In the end, these plays negatively affirm the comprehension of shame that was worked out in the preceding, non-Roman tragedies, finding classical shame inadequate.

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In the context of this study, Antony and Cleopatra and Coriolanus are, as we shall see, perhaps most remarkable as theatrical investigations of a culture which has no place for shame. Antony tends to shamelessness, whereas Coriolanus has an excessive sense of shame, but they are both unlike Hamlet, Othello and Lear in that they are entirely unable to take shame upon themselves and afterwards profit from it. With increasing strain and desperation, Antony withholds due shame, while Coriolanus avoids or repulses all circumstances that he considers even potentially shame-producing, making himself ultimately unfit for ordinary human existence. Hamlet, Othello and Lear are all at least partly redeemed by shame, but no such salvation is possible in these Roman tragedies. Recapitulating and sharpening a motif of the earlier Shakespeare, both plays give excellent expression to the notion of shame as deformation and deformity. In Antony and Cleopatra and Coriolanus, Shakespeare dramatises a culture which especially stresses and brings into focus public aspects of shame. Roman selfhood entails a firm, clear image, by which one is recognisable to oneself and to the world. Enobarbus warns Antony not to give himself up ‘merely to chance and hazard / From firm security’ (3.7.47–8); Antony says to his new Roman wife, Octavia, ‘I have not kept my square, but that to come / Shall all be done by th’rule’ (2.3.6–7); and Enobarbus says to himself, ‘Mine honesty and I begin to square’ (3.13.42). Caesar’s great exhortation and lament of 1.4.56–72, ‘O Antony! / Leave thy lascivious wassails’, shows that the former Antony, the hero now lost and dispersed in dotage, once possessed in abundance the necessary quality of imperturbability, of remaining like himself. Coriolanus is more steadfastly faithful than Antony to such resolved identity: ‘I am constant’ (1.1.238), he says; ‘I had rather be their servant in my way / Than sway with them in theirs’ (2.1.200–201); ‘False to my nature? Rather say I play / The man I am’ (3.2.15–16); ‘While I remain above ground you shall / Hear from me still, and never of me aught / But what is like me formerly’ (4.1.51–3). His own ambition as well as his dearest wish for his son is to ‘prove / To shame unvulnerable’ (5.3.72–3). But ultimately he, like his tragic forebear, will fail and be forced to admit, ‘I melt’ (5.3.28).

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After Antony’s disastrous defeat at Actium, Iras says, ‘he is unqualitied with very shame’ (3.11.44): so alienated from himself as to lack all agency, paralysed with the emotion, but also deformed to the point of vanishing. It is a fine phrase, lucidly rendering shame as unbeing. But the greatest and most extended expression of shame as deformation and death, not just in Antony and Cleopatra but in Shakespeare as a whole, follows the decisive debacle of the second sea battle. Antony addresses his squire Eros, whose name eloquently alludes to the force which has so dominated and undone him: Antony: Eros, thou yet behold’st me? Eros: Ay, noble lord. Antony: Sometime we see a cloud that’s dragonish, A vapour sometime like a bear or lion, A towered citadel, a pendent rock, A forked 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. Eros: Ay, my lord. Antony: That which is now a horse, even with a thought The rack dislimns and makes it indistinct As water is in water. Eros: It does, my lord. Antony: My good knave Eros, now thy captain is Even such a body. Here I am Antony, Yet cannot hold this visible shape, my knave. (4.14.1–14) This affecting utterance represents Shakespeare’s most aestheticised poetry of shame. Reversing the simile so that the richly elaborated concrete analogue comes first more absolutely reveals Antony’s disintegrating identity in the vivid image of dissolving cloud formations. Of course, Antony is not in fact physically disintegrating, but he is truly going to pieces in an incorporeal but no less dreadful sense. Much of the imagery of Antony and Cleopatra comes to a head in this wistful comparison: Coppélia Kahn suggests that

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Antony never returns to the heroic Roman image of fixed and stable identity from which – according to the testimony of nearly every character in the play – he has only temporarily departed. (Kahn 1997: 116) while Maurice Charney writes that ‘The pattern … is one of melting, dissolving, discandying, disponging, dislimning, and losing of form’ (Charney 1983: 166). Though he has tried to recover his Roman image throughout, Antony can do so no longer. The element of dreamy, exquisite luxury in his language can be put down to the fact that the effort and selfdeception involved have been such that this explosion of his identity is partly a relief. Coriolanus tends to envision shame less in terms of deformation than of actual deformity. Imagining himself begging the plebeians he despises to vote him into the consulate, the protagonist details a revolting metamorphosis where he is invaded by ‘Some harlot’s spirit’, recollecting Hamlet’s shameful identification of himself with a wordy ‘drab’ (2.2.582); his ‘throat of war’ shrinks ‘into a pipe / small as an eunuch’s’; ‘the smiles of knaves’ occupy his cheeks; ‘schoolboy tears’ fill his eyes; and ‘a beggar’s tongue’ thrusts through his mouth and ‘make[s] motion through [his] lips’ (3.2.111–18). There is an element of class-based shame here, but both these Roman plays crucially identify shame as falling short or deviating from model masculinity. The scandalous image of Antony as a woman plays an important part in Antony and Cleopatra: Enobarbus deliberately mistakes his general for his lover, while Cleopatra herself remembers him, from a kinky night in Alexandria, dressed in her ‘Egyptian tyres and mantles’ (2.5.22–3). Images of castration are more or less explicit: at one point, Antony says to Cleopatra’s eunuch Mardian that ‘Thy vile lady has robbed me of my sword’ (4.14.22–3). In Coriolanus, the appalling image of the protagonist as a great baby is central and the action, which climaxes with Coriolanus giving in to his mother, tends to confirm it. In the most terrifically shameful scene in the play, Aufidius represents Coriolanus as a cry-baby who ‘at his nurse’s tears …

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whin’d and roar’d away [the] victory’, ‘Breaking his oath and resolution like a twist of rotten silk’ (5.6.91–100). The dramatic pattern of slowly realising inevitable shame here recalls the unmasking of Othello as a black barbarian. Disguise is another form of deformation, and I have argued already that in Shakespeare it partly betokens shame. When the banished Coriolanus enters Antium in Act 4 Scene 3 ‘in mean apparel, disguised and muffled’, we are reminded of Edgar. Edgar defaced and demeaned himself in King Lear because his father’s love had failed; Coriolanus has been cast out by his country and separated from his dominant mother, and his aspect of nameless poverty gives the lie to the brazen confidence and defiance he showed when he shouted at the city gates, ‘I banish you!’ (3.3.123). Cut off from his Roman life, he has lost all the status and identity he once derived from it. On giving up his name to Tullus, he bitterly confesses, ‘Only that name / remains’ (4.5.74). When he informs his old enemy’s servants that he dwells ‘Under the canopy’, ‘I’th’city of kites and crows’ (4.5.40, 43), there are several suggestions, but none so strong as that of a corpse on the battlefield. It is pitifully degrading that he forces his way into Aufidius’s house like a beggar or a drunk, beating away the servants who attempt to turf him out. Coriolanus lets Aufidius ask him his name four times after he has unmuffled himself in the hope that his rival will recognise him and thus give him back his sense of self. When finally he declares, ‘My name is Caius Martius, who hath done / To thee particularly, and to all the Volsces, / Great hurt and mischief ’ (4.5.66–8), A.P. Rossiter asks, ‘what is it but the equivalent of a dying speech, a summary of expiring greatness?’ (Rossiter 1989: 252).1 Offering to serve Aufidius against Rome, Coriolanus tells him, ‘I will fight, / Against my canker’d country with the spleen / Of all the under fiends’ (4.5.91–3); but he also offers an alternative, ‘I also am / Longer to live most weary, and present / My throat to thee and to my ancient malice’ (4.5.93–7). He has reached the point of shame and suffering where bloody vengeance or his own death are his sole alternatives; only they will restore him to himself. Aufidius’s fervent response – ‘O Martius, Martius! / each word thou hast spoke hath weeded from my heart / A root of ancient envy’; ‘Let me twine / Mine arms about that body … ’ (4.5.102–8) – temporarily rescues him from shame,

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being proof that he is both himself and of value independently of Rome. He breathes in gratitude, ‘You bless me gods!’ (4.5.136). But he has been preserved only for the ultimate exposure of the tragic climax. Public exposure and nakedness is an important theme in these plays where identity is so far socially constructed, as compared with Hamlet, Othello and King Lear where there is more sense of ethical or spiritual identity. One great scene of exposure in Coriolanus is when the proud hero is compelled to stand ‘i’th’market place’ in ‘The napless vesture of humility’ and solicit votes (2.1.231, 2). Coriolanus does not, as he should, show his wounds to the people; class shame probably mixed with the shame of bodily exposure prevents him. Wounds gained in active service are a badge of honour in the world of this play – at one point, Volumnia and Menenius gloatingly enumerate the large number their protégé has incurred – but to expose them to the citizens as expected would be to behave ‘As if [he] had receiv’d them for the hire / Of their breath only’ (2.2.149–50). We have seen that he insists on his heroic wholeness and revelation of his wounds would also expose his fleshly vulnerability, mutability, and mortality; Burton Hatlen suggests he is afraid of ‘the revelation that he too is human … sharing a common destiny with the ordinary people he so disdains’ (Hatlen 1997: 401). Exposing his wounds might also insinuate he is womanish, as Gail Kern Paster has argued (Paster 1993: 97). Both Venus and Adonis and Twelfth Night make the connection between a wound or ‘cut’ and the female genitals, and, as this play bears out, the imperfectly weaned Coriolanus has reason to be anxious about his manhood. Perhaps it is not too fanciful to note, in addition, that the Coriolanus who does not reveal his wounds contrasts with Christ, who does reveal them to doubting Thomas. There is something symptomatic in this protagonist’s antipathy to nakedness and his excessive sensitivity to the gaze of others. Unlike Antony, who shares with Cleopatra a taste for splendid self-dramatisation, he hates being looked at or talked about. As we shall see shortly, he even hates to be praised. The spectacle of Coriolanus resentfully craving the approval of the people may make us think of the actor playing him, who is obliged to the good opinion of the audience, and perhaps even of the equally dependent playwright. We have

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discerned a note of professional embarrassment in The Sonnets. Is it possible that Shakespeare, like Coriolanus, felt degraded by the obligation to please ‘Hob and Dick’ (2.3.115)? But it is Antony and Cleopatra that really exploits and plays upon the inherent resources of the stage for the representation of public shame. This play constantly filters our view of its protagonists through the eyes of other characters, so that the subject is as much their fluctuating reputations as themselves in any more independent sense. It begins with Philo’s judgement that Antony has sold himself into sexual slavery, and to the worst kind of woman, a witch, an oriental whore. ‘Look’, ‘Take but good note’, ‘behold and see’, Philo urges, ‘You shall see in him / The triple pillar of the world transformed / Into a strumpet’s fool’ (1.1.10–13). And Antony is ushered on stage to parade his shame not just before Philo and Demetrius, but also the off-stage audience. He is attending on Cleopatra, in the company of her ladies and a band of fanning eunuchs: a spectacle of subordination, of effeminacy and emasculation by association, which amounts to graphic confirmation of Philo’s view. Minor characters typically take the stage in this tragedy to mediate audience perceptions of the major figures and throughout the play their negative views of Antony and Cleopatra are pitted against their own wildly positive selfassessments. Caesar gives us Antony reeling the streets at noon with knaves that smell of sweat (1.4.20–1). Scarus offers Antony following Cleopatra’s fleeing ship at Actium ‘like a doting mallard’ (3.10.22–4). He continues, ‘I never saw an action of such shame. / Experience, manhood, honour ne’er before / Did violate so itself ’ (3.10.22–4). Antony admits he has ‘offended reputation’ (3.11.48), and both he and Cleopatra see their final disaster in terms of public disgrace. In his effort to persuade his squire to kill him, Antony says: Eros, Wouldst thou be window’d in great Rome, and see Thy master thus with pleach’d arms, bending down His corrigible neck, his face subdued To penetrative shame, whilst the wheel’d seat Of fortunate Caesar, drawn before him, branded His baseness that ensued? (4.14.72–8)

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This fantasy of public humiliation and debasement below his rival is seen from an upper window through somebody else’s eyes. Eros, of course, answers, ‘I would not see it’ (4.14.78). ‘Penetrative’, as Linda Charnes notes, is a precise epithet which does justice to the irresistible pain and sharpness of shame (Charnes 1993: 140). With its suggestion of invasion by a foreign body, it also conveys a consciousness of corruption and impurity; in the context of his damaged masculinity, it may be that Antony feels sodomized by shame. In an almost exactly parallel attempt to persuade her women to join her in a shame-evading suicide pact, Cleopatra envisions herself and them hoisted before a throng of Romans, suffocating in the humidity of their foetid breath. As with Coriolanus, there is powerful class shame here, of an aristocrat degraded below the common people; but Shakespeare also comes brilliantly close to imagining the historical Cleopatra reflecting on her present theatrical exposure in his own play. Once she has proceeded to picture herself furnishing the subject for disgustingly vulgar popular entertainments – ballads and the like – this ironic suggestion becomes more explicit: the quick comedians Extemporally will stage us and present Our Alexandrian revels; Antony Shall be brought drunken forth, and I shall see Some squeaking Cleopatra boy my greatness I’the posture of a whore. (5.2.215–20) These words must be imagined in the mouth of the Jacobean boy actor who played Cleopatra in Shakespeare’s company, thus fulfilling her worst forebodings even as he speaks them. Antony and Cleopatra has been described by Curtis Brown Watson as ‘almost a study in shame’ (Watson 1960: 429) and by Nancy A. Cluck as ‘Shakespeare’s most perceptive and unrelenting exploration of shame’ (Cluck 1985: 143), but such metatheatrical moments as this indicate that the play is also a shameful spectacle which anxiously recognises its own place in the tradition perpetuating the shame and infamy of its major figures. It is admittedly not the crude low comedy which Cleopatra fears – though it is more obviously a ‘comedy of

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abjection’ than Othello is; as we shall see below, in so far as it refuses to incorporate shame into its ending, it falls short of the conventional dignity of tragedy. Cleopatra’s words prompt us to reflect on the bitter pillory of the tragic stage. Nathaniel Hawthorne writes in pertinently theatrical terms of the analogous exposure of Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter: The scene was not without a mixture of awe, such as must always invest the spectacle of grief and shame in a fellow creature, before society should have grown corrupt enough to smile, instead of shuddering at it. (Hawthorne 1990: 56) I have suggested that the plays with which we are concerned here are related representations of a culture which cannot cope with shame. After Actium, Antony toys with the emotion, but then he thrusts it off. He enters gingerly treading across the boards, saying the land he unwisely forsook to battle at sea is now ashamed to bear him. ‘I am so lated in the world’, he goes on, ‘that I / Have lost my way for ever’ (3.11.3–4): the day has moved on, leaving him in the darkness of death. He has become, he feels, a precedent for cowards ‘To run and show their shoulders’ (3.11.19). He blushes to think of Cleopatra and, in a fine expression of the self-fragmentation and turmoil of shame, he says that his ‘very hairs do mutiny, for the white / Reprove the brown for rashness, and they them / For fear and doting’ (3.11.13–15). After the madness before and during the battle, his self-reproaches are a partial restoration to himself. But he is not altogether sincere. Derek Traversi accurately discerns that he is merely ‘conjuring his shame by giving it expression, where another man, more honest but less resilient in his reactions, would have withdrawn more simply into himself ’ (Traversi 1963: 140). Antony addresses much of this to friends: it is shame performed. Mixed with indulgent melancholy, self-pity and overblown magnanimity, it is a plea for sympathy and exoneration. Antony is much more ‘cheering himself up’ than Othello was. Shame also increasingly gives way to blame, as he tries to shuffle his guilt off onto Cleopatra. Even more shockingly, he is instantly revived by her tears and a kiss. Eager to drown consideration, he calls for food and wine.

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This pattern of deferring shame becomes sadly familiar, and increasingly we see Antony taking solace in the oblivion of drink. A spirit of pathetic comedy prevails. Even after the second sea battle, when he can no longer avoid ‘Th’inevitable prosecution of / Disgrace and horror’ (4.14.65–7), Antony twists and turns, blaming Cleopatra, refusing to look in ‘the very heart of loss’ (4.12.30). He is vouchsafed one fleeting perception, worthy of King Lear, of his resultant shameless spiritual state: when we in our viciousness grow hard – Oh, misery on’t – the wise gods seel our eyes, In our own filth drop our clear judgements, make us Adore our errors, laugh at’s while we strut To our confusion. (3.13.115–20) Such laughter from the gods is also heard in Coriolanus and will remind us of the angels who forbear to laugh at human absurdity in Measure for Measure. In her famous elegy for him, Cleopatra manages to recoup Antony’s dignity, making him magnificently incorporate with the process and prodigal creativity of the cosmos. And yet, this leaves out the facts of his failure, which we have seen amply revealed on stage; he even botches his suicide. It is difficult not to agree at least partly with H.A. Mason that his beloved Egyptian queen’s paean to him is a gorgeous ‘flight of the imagination’, ‘a shadowy alternative of imputed being’, a final evasion of shame (Mason 1970: 232, 276). If Antony incurs then wriggles out of and sloughs off shame, Coriolanus is all but paralysed by his effort to be ‘to shame unvulnerable’. I have noted already that he is even shamed by praise. In the ceremony which succeeds the battle of Corioles, he cannot accept the approbation of his general, though it is both an effusion of personal love and a more formal and important matter of fulfilling the proper relations between hero and city; he mutters gracelessly, ‘Pray now, no more. My mother, / Who has a charter to extol her blood, / When she does praise me, grieves me’ (1.9.13–15). ‘I have some wounds upon me’, he goes on, ‘and they smart to hear themselves remember’d’ (1.9.28–9): the shame of wounds again. He is physically discomforted; he does not want the

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proffered reward: ‘I thank you, general; / But cannot make my heart consent to take / A bribe to pay my sword’ (1.9.36–8). And when the drums and trumpets strike up, he barks, ‘May these same instruments, which you profane, / Never sound more!’ (1.9.41–2). Cominius insists on some pomp, giving Martius his own steed and the surname ‘Coriolanus’ to commemorate what he did before Corioles; Coriolanus responds, ‘I will go wash; / And when my face is fair, you shall perceive / Whether I blush or no’ (1.9.66–8). To be sure, part of what we are seeing here is a plain soldier flummoxed by courtesy. But he is also driven by a zealous devotion to ideals of duty and valour, and this makes it hard for him to accept any reward; as Cominius says later, ‘He covets less / Than misery itself would give, rewards his deeds with doing them’ (2.2.126–8). He also stands on his independence: accepting praise would admit that he exists in the unstable realm of reputation where, in Aufidius’s phrase, ‘our virtues / Lie in th’interpretation of the time’ (4.7.49–50) – a resignation of secure being. He is subsequently honoured in the Capitol, but again his hatred of praise makes a mess of a grave occasion. Whereas for normally sociable men praise is a gain in being, for him it is a little death (Hatlen 1997: 410). And his feeling that the collaborative, political work of the Consul will pollute what he regards as ‘mine own truth’ (3.2.121) is another indication of his recoil from common life. Shuli Barzilai suggestively proposes that Coriolanus’s behaviour reveals a death-wish ‘silently pressing for dissolution of the self ’ (Barzilai 1991: 131). He is hideously dominated by his desire ‘to prove to shame unvulnerable’; he has a horror of being hauled in front of the eyes of others or even before his own eyes. He is comfortable only in the heat of the blitzkrieg – of autonomous, pure and unselfconscious action. This denotes his desire for single, absolute being, but Kahn discerns also an infantile preference for pre-linguistic expression (Kahn 1997: 152). Given the contradiction between his own self-reliant strictness and his susceptibility to his mother, it is only a matter of time before Coriolanus is forced to take shame, and this creates much of the dramatic tension in this play. When Volumnia persuades him from his purpose to burn Rome, according to one of Shakespeare’s most eloquent stage directions, he ‘Holds her by the hand silent’: eventually he moans, ‘O mother, mother! /

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What have you done?’ (5.3.182–3). He sees the heavens open and the gods look down at ‘this unnatural scene’ (5.3.184), which is that of his own family begging him for mercy, but even more the aberration, given the values that have shaped his life, of his giving way like a child. He goes on: O my mother, mother! O! You have won a happy victory to Rome; But for your son, believe it, O, believe it, Most dangerously you have with him prevail’d, If not most mortal to him. (5.3.185–9) He is facing death here not so much because his mother’s victory makes him traitor both to Rome and to the Volscians, and thus endangers his physical safety, as because it jeopardises his conception of himself to the point of extinction, just as we have seen that Lear’s idea of himself is thrown into deadly jeopardy. Part of the painfulness of Aufidius branding him ‘thou boy of tears’ (5.6.100) is that by his own lights he must in some measure accept the charge, as he does when he invites his death: ‘Cut me to pieces, Volsces, men and lads, / Stain all your edges on me’ (5.6.111–12). Throughout he has insisted on his purity and it is powerfully evocative of his passionate shame that now, in his state of fragmentation, he wishes to be physically dismembered. This passive shame is mixed with vestigial self-assertion – ‘Boy! False hound! / … like an eagle in a dove-cote, I / Flutter’d your Volscians in Corioles / Alone I did it. Boy!’ (5.6.112–16) – but at the deepest level, as we see from his invitation to the swordsmen, he has given up himself. Hatlen deems, ‘his struggle towards an identity collapses under its internal contradictions’ (Hatlen 1997: 404). Janet Adelman, in a deservedly well-known reading, sees him as inevitably overcome by his engulfing mother, but Hatlen suggests that he has been generally unable to accept that as a social being he is necessarily implicated in otherness (Adelman 1992; Hatlen 1997). We might also say that, in spite of his ontological aspiration, he is overwhelmed, in Lacanian fashion, by his real disintegration; Coriolanus could be read as dramatising the failure of the mirror-stage. There is no prospect of this hero absorbing and learning from shame: he is simply floored by it,

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effectively dead before they kill him and Aufidius stands on his corpse in one of the most bitterly humiliating and repulsive endings of all Shakespeare’s plays. Spiritual shame It becomes shockingly apparent when Coriolanus treats as mere sentimental weakness his decision not to sack his own city and destroy his family that there is no concept of ethical shame in the Roman world of these plays. Volumnia prevents her son from burning Rome by urging her domestic embassy to ‘shame him with our knees’ (5.3.169); they go down, and his little boy ‘holds up hands for fellowship’ (5.3.175). She concludes, ‘Come, let us go: / This fellow had a Volscian to his mother; / His wife is in Corioles, and his child / Like him by chance’ (5.3.177–80), impressing forcibly on Coriolanus the loss of natural identity his proposed attack entails. The resultant shame he feels, which restrains him from his wicked course, might, in another play, have been the beginning of a spiritual awakening, but not here. Coriolanus feels merely that he has failed. He cannot conceptualise his recoil from evil, and it does not cause him to reassess his values. That he is unable to embrace the humility and moral responsibility which his crisis has brought so close – and which, for instance, Lear does embrace – is inexpressibly sad, and indicates a gaping hole in the Roman world of the play. Just as earlier in his career he had used characters such as Jacques to embody a form of sensibility wholly outside his framework, Shakespeare employs Enobarbus’s poignant death in Antony and Cleopatra to gesture towards the ethical shame which is otherwise exluded as much as in Coriolanus. Shortly after he has deserted Antony, Enobarbus realises: ‘I have done ill / Of which I do accuse myself so sorely / That I will joy no more’ (4.6.18–20). Such serious guilt is adulterated at this stage with disappointed self-interest at the poor treatment with which Enobarbus discovers Caesar rewards defectors to his faction (4.6.12–18). Pure shame prevails when he finds Antony has sent his treasure after him with ‘bounty overplus’: I alone am the villain of the earth, And feel I am so most. O Antony,

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Thou mine of bounty, how wouldst thou have paid My better service, when my turpitude Thou dost so crown with gold! This blows my heart. If swift thought break it not, a swifter mean Shall outstrike thought, but thought will do’t, I feel. I fight against thee? No, I will seek Some ditch wherein to die; the foul’st best fits My latter part of life. (4.6.31–40) The poetic intensity of this signals an important dramatic moment. At first, emotion distorts syntax and the rhythm is heavy. Then there is the arching cadence of grief and praise for Antony; the thought of his generosity gives way to quiet shame, distinguished by light stresses and much sibilance, for the contrasting meanness Enobarbus has himself shown. The unusual verb – ‘This blows my heart’: like a strike? like a flower? like an explosion? – makes this shame visceral and concrete. The special poignance of the speech is achieved partly by emphasising the heart: Enobarbus expects shame to break his heart; if it does not, he will stab it – the melancholy hush of the expression admirably sets off the thought of violence. The last lines are more brisk and deliberate; passion has produced intention. The repentant Enobarbus cannot possibly fight against his captain: hence the strong stress on ‘No’. He will find a dirty ditch to die in, as he feels he has defiled himself. In the context of the play as a whole, an entirely new mode of ethical sensibility is opened up here. These, surprisingly enough, are the final words of a former blokeish hearty: O Antony, Nobler than my revolt is infamous, Forgive me in thine own particular, But let the world rank me in register A master-leaver and a fugitive. Antony! O Antony! (4.9.15–26) And so he dies – of pure, unaided shame: it is perhaps the starkest instance of the gravity of shame in Shakespeare. The

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way in which Enobarbus gives up his life and invites public disgrace, coveting only the grace of a beloved master, anticipates a wholly different culture of shame than that generally prevailing in this narrow world of power and reputation. Barbara C. Vincent feels that Enobarbus crosses quietly into the Christian cosmos (Vincent 1994: 237). He is certainly transfigured by his deadly passion of shame and he instantly passes out of a world which cannot accommodate him. It may be also that we can discern spiritual and Christian shame exemplified and foreshadowed by the meek wives of Antony and Coriolanus: Octavia and Virgilia. They live by that sense of shame which Enobarbus discovers at his crisis and which combines personal humility, a sense of their own unimportance, with a repugnance for evil, which derives from their consciousness of the value of others. Like Desdemona, though Antony abuses her beyond the mark of thought (3.6.89), Octavia is not ashamed and does not blame him. Unencumbered by pride, she is free from the tyranny of egoism. This is partly the Roman pietas of the family, but the aura of the metaphysical with which Shakespeare endows her suggests a larger function. Octavia is much less matronly, more mild and virginal than in Plutarch. Cleopatra talks of her ‘modest eyes’ (4.15.28), which she shares with Desdemona; and what the unredeemed Enobarbus calls, with some distaste, her ‘holy, cold and still conversation’ is a religious chastity of spirit. When ‘most weak, most weak’ (3.4.29) she goes like ‘A market maid to Rome’ (3.6.52) praying God to help her to work peace between her fractious brother and husband, she anticipates Christian ideals of embracing shame in order better to serve others. In a clamorous, violent play, Virgilia, who immediately reminds us of Octavia, is the ‘gracious silence’ (2.1.174), so modest and selfeffacing as to be scarcely noticeable. The adjective ‘gracious’ associates her as explicitly as her predecessor with the divine. Virgilia’s tenderness is signalled by her horror of blood in a bloodthirsty world, and acknowledged when Valeria wishes her to put down her needlework: ‘Come, I would your cambric were as sensible as your finger, that you might leave pricking it for pity’ (1.3.84–6). She is to be wholly distinguished from other Roman women, from Valeria who admires masculine cruelty, from the formidable Volumnia. Her husband fails in his quest to be ‘to shame unvulnerable’, but Virgilia’s more

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humble and ethical sense of shame is compatible with living in the world. Of course, Virgilia and Octavia are insistently sidelined and excluded from their respective plays, and they have not the courage and moral power which distinguishes Cordelia and Desdemona. These Roman tragedies focus rather on the terrible pathos of Coriolanus’s effort to live beyond shame and the humanistic grandeur of Antony and Cleopatra’s shameless self-assertion. For all that I have said above, there is something irreducibly impressive about that peerless pair snatching even a delusive victory from the teeth of failure, and Cleopatra’s valedictory image of Antony with his arm cresting the globe retains a recalcitrant power. In King Lear, Edmond, though his concept of nature is mean and narrow, realised that nature is shameless. Antony partakes of the perfection of nature; it makes the socially-determined Roman values embodied in Octavius look abstract and inadequate. But in Shakespeare’s non-Roman tragic drama the concept of human possibility is more religious. Cordelia, who has preserved her purity by instinctive observance of spiritual shame, Othello and Lear, in so far as they are renewed and cleansed by such shame, partake in the perfection of supernature, as Enobarbus, Octavia and Virgilia quietly do here. Shamelessness is excellently natural: shame approaches the divine.

9 Conclusion

The first chapters of this book uncovered classical and Christian traditions of shame in early Western literature. The remainder have elucidated that hitherto critically obscure theme in Shakespeare. A brief account of the fortunes of literary shame in the centuries after the Renaissance will be offered at the end of this concluding chapter. From a personal point of view, the chief problem in writing has been an embarras de richesse. I have had to be ruthlessly selective within Shakespeare’s canon: shame plays a part in almost all his works. Much could be written, for instance, on the comedy of shame and shaming, on Gadshill, Malvolio, Lucio and so on, not to mention the cruel comedy of Shylock’s humiliation. I have focused on Hamlet, Othello, King Lear and, to a lesser extent, Antony and Cleopatra and Coriolanus partly because they are outstandingly rich and significant examples; partly because tragedy, with its focus on the great man fallen, is the most especially shameful genre, and one which proffers epistemological and ethical uses of shame. Macbeth, as I have said, was left out as more concerned with shamelessness. With less justification, I have neglected the late plays, which have a strong shame theme. I wished to bring into critical focus the shame and



degradation of the Shakespearean hero; I could not have achieved this by ending with the consolations of romance. Shakespeare’s tragic heroes, who stand and fall at the centre of the Western tradition, have been revealed and examined here as crucially shamed figures. Another embarrassment in writing this book has been the impossible-to-convey richness of shame itself. I have increasingly come to feel that there is mystery in this business of a person looking down in anguish on his or her own self. If I am being surveyed, then who is doing the surveying? And if I am doing the surveying, who is being surveyed? How far can I accomplish the divorce from myself which shame seems to demand? What does it mean to be ashamed of what I am fundamentally? And so on. A consideration of shame hurries us towards the central and most puzzling questions of human nature and ontology. By working against the illusion and the tyranny of the self, pointing the way to a Levinasian ‘otherwise than being’, it may also offer a key to ethics and the problem of happiness. I have tried to delineate Shakespeare’s distinctive vision of shame. Shakespearean shame is the pain of not being one’s ideal self, a sensation of spiritual death. The brilliant symbolism of Richard II’s smashed looking-glass, and of Antony comparing himself to a dissolving cloud, presents shame as respectively the shattering and the deliquescence of identity. In Othello’s suicidal experience of himself as a ‘malignant and a turban’d Turk’ (5.2.353), ‘a circumcised dog’ (5.2.355), and in Coriolanus’s dying outrage at Aufidius’s calling him ‘thou boy of tears’ (5.6.100), shame is not only the death of the self, but also the terrible experience of being wholly disfigured and deformed, of recognising oneself as somebody else, and someone horribly inferior. Few writers have done so much to capture this sheer horror and pain of shame, and yet this dreadful passion is not, in Shakespeare, an ultimately negative experience. The vain Richard, seduced by the myth of his own kingship, must learn that he is a weak man and in the last analysis nothing, as must the agonised Lear. Othello has to see that he has turned into a monster. Hamlet has to accept that he, like everybody, is corrupt and must die. Coriolanus must recognise he is not invulnerable or autonomous. In each case, shame is an approach



to truth, a self-realisation. It is the shattering of the false self, the end of illusion and of the often irresistible tendency to think well of ourselves, which is an inflection of brute survival instinct, particularly evident in Antony. Shakespearean shame is the beginning of a spiritual journey. A protagonist may get no further than this beginning; Coriolanus, in particular, is vouchsafed knowledge that his false self is incoherent and unreal and then promptly killed off. Others disdain the way of truth. By a tremendous effort of reassertion, Antony and Cleopatra salvage for Antony a new identity from the wreckage of his old, traditionally heroic self. But this wonderful Antony is an illusion which does not incorporate the facts of his failure. Shakespeare’s Romans cannot absorb or be reconciled to shame: for them, disgrace is death. But Shakespeare’s non-Roman tragic heroes do accept shame, and subsequently travel towards reformation and self-renewal. Having acknowledged the shame of his mistreatment of Cordelia, Lear wakes up arrayed in fresh garments and finds himself looking into the angelic eyes of his loving daughter. Shakespeare demonstrates the value of that spiritual sense of shame which is largely absent from his own Roman tragedies. What the moral or religious person feels to be shameful is what is wicked or impious, rather than what is simply dishonourable and degrading. This sense of shame is also tragically lacking in the protagonists in Macbeth, although it reasserts itself in dreams. There is a gender dimension here, as Shakespeare connects ethical and religious shame with feminine modesty. His exemplars of perfect ‘Christian shame’ are women: Hero, Desdemona, Cordelia. Men like Lear and Othello have to learn such shame the hard way, by experience: at first they are more susceptible to the worldly shame of hurt pride, which readily tends to morally shameful revenge. Hamlet combines feminine susceptibility with a masculine selfregard and for most of his play feels an excess of shame. Even though the culture of the shame-filled Roman tragedies is not Christian, Shakespeare includes Octavia and Virgilia, Roman ideals of femininity who also tacitly indicate the shamefast Christian modesty otherwise excluded. But although Shakespeare’s women tend to abide by a deeper moral and spiritual sense of shame, and it is Cordelia who stands out for bravery in deliberately risking and embracing shame, it is



nonetheless the electric shame which the morally errant heroes experience that carries us to the heart of our mortal condition, and this total shame obliterates the distinction between secular and sacred. In his earlier work, Shakespeare experimented with the attraction of the shameless, but in Antony and Cleopatra he restricts that attraction to the non-Christian world: in his non-Roman tragedy, though the vitality of shamelessness is still evident, especially in Edmond, he crushes it as repellent and obscene. And if shamelessness is damned, shame is associated with the sacred. In King Lear, not only is Lear prepared for death by his spiritual experience of shame, there is also a strong suggestion in Cordelia and Kent, in Edgar and Cornwall’s servant and the Fool, of the radical religious position that shame and disgrace are the special privilege of the blessed. This laudatory view of shame at first seems obscure and remote from us. Among Shakespeare’s contemporaries, it is Marlowe, the champion of shamelessness, who looks forward to the myths and fantasies of modern culture. Perhaps shame is fundamentally a spiritual feeling, doomed to appear to the merely secular imagination as a terror and a pain, an inconvenience, a disease or disability: that is, on the whole, how it seems to Marlowe and the protagonists of the Roman plays, and why Coriolanus wishes that his little son will grow up to be ‘to shame unvulnerable’ (5.3.73). It is also how it strikes most contemporary psychotherapists. If the self and self-satisfaction are the ultimate realities and there is no higher good, then it follows that loss and repudiation of the self is in itself evil. Shame is, in this perspective, worse than guilt, which weighs down the self but does not threaten to destroy it. Hence psychotherapy often targets shame in particular: there are practitioners, especially in America, who advertise themselves as specialising in ‘shame issues’. But for Shakespeare the outright shame undergone by his heroes is a way of fulfilling their most exalted destiny. To look down with sincere shame is to look down from above, and thus Hamlet has a sense of the sorrows of God over the fallen world which includes his own sinful self. The anxious hero of Othello is both a scapegoat and a sinner, but he also becomes a spiritual hero in his climactic experience of terrible shame and rejection of himself. Lear’s ego is painfully but redeemingly destroyed in a final explosion



of shame. France falls in love with Cordelia, she becomes more beautiful to him, when she is disinherited and cast off. She loses her worldly position, her reputation, a large part of her identity, but he sees that this earthly loss is her spiritual gain. How can it be, and what can this mean in our own more secular epoch? The foregoing pages have shown that, as a revelation of the poverty and transparency of the self, shame points the way beyond selfishness to relationship with the world outside the self. As, in their different ways, both poststructuralist and cultural materialist thinkers have argued, it is in such relationship that human being is truly constituted. When Othello and Lear finally take shame upon themselves, they recognise Desdemona and Cordelia as if for the first time; when Hamlet does so, he has an obscure experience of the absolute. Since they disdain and refuse shame, Antony and Coriolanus remain imprisoned in themselves. Shame liberates the anxious subject from the illusion of its subjectivity into the world of being-with-others. Without necessarily invoking Christian eschatology and metaphysics, shame is thus already spiritually salvific. That is fundamentally why Shakespeare reverentially nominates it ‘sovereign shame’ in the quarto text of King Lear (17.43), where it performs the great ethical work of preparing the way for Lear’s reconciliation with his daughter. Shakespeare’s unique appreciation of shame must ultimately account for its power and importunacy in his plays, but we should not forget the inherently dramatic essence of the phenomenon, its power as spectacle. We may recall here, for instance, the baroque scene of hiding and exposure in Love’s Labour’s Lost or the deposition scene of Richard II; and we have just seen how Antony and Cleopatra exploits the inherent analogy between stage and pillory in order to dramatise public shame. There is also the range and interest of shame’s manifestations to consider. Shame is connected with the established Shakespearean motif of concealment and disguise; it rages through the world of Othello like a contagion; and it causes poor Enobarbus to die. Most importantly, the spiritual drama of shame, which culminates by releasing the insecure, selfinterested subject into the world, is ideal for tragedy, which, as Nietzsche emphasised, dramatises the salutary death of the individual. Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies of shame supersede classical tragedies such as Ajax, whose hero is simply



broken by shame, by richly marrying the pain and humiliation of shame with the dignity of enlightenment and transfiguration. Finally, it may not be out of place to consider a neglected biographical suggestion. Shakespeare’s immediate predecessors – the so-called ‘University Wits’: Nashe, Greene and Marlowe – created a cult of personality; Jonson, who saw his collected works through the press and whose editorial matter is confidently personal, had a strong sense of himself both as man and author. But Shakespeare is a famously elusive figure. His intangible personality has been mythologised as an attribute of Olympian genius. In the words of James Joyce’s Stephen Dedalus, the artist is ‘like the God of the creation … . Invisible, refined out of existence, indifferent, paring his fingernails’ ( Joyce 1993: 187). Jorge Luis Borges conceives of Shakespeare as an existential void, ‘a bit of coldness’: God tells him after his death, Neither am I anyone; I have dreamt the world as you dreamt your work, my Shakespeare, and among the forms in my dream are you, who like myself are many and no one. (Borges 1970: 284) But we are not compelled to accept Shakespeare’s divinity. A simpler explanation – though, to be sure, many others are possible – would be that his instinct for shame was partly personal. It seems unlikely that the sheer preponderance of Shakespearean shame described in this book represents a merely intellectual interest. In Chapter 3, I noted the abashed references to acting and to writing in The Sonnets; the general sense of debasement and prostration in those poems written in the first person encourages the surmise that Shakespeare the man was particularly sensitive to shame. I also mentioned in Chapter 3 that Shakespeare’s son-in-law, Thomas Quiney, was convicted by the ecclesiastical courts for fathering an illegitimate child before his marriage to Shakespeare’s second daughter, Judith. It is now time to rehearse one effect of this on the playwright in more detail. Quiney was sentenced to perform penance in a white sheet, but he gave five shillings to the poor by way of commutation. Shakespeare was ill: as it turned out, these were the last days of his life. The day before Quiney’s trial, he changed his will, making special provision for



Judith. The signatures he appended to the document are noticeably shaky. The historian E.R.C. Brinkworth concludes in his monograph, Shakespeare and the Bawdy Court of Stratford: It seems highly likely that the deep shame of the Quiney scandal and finally the shock of Quiney’s being called to appear before the court had far more to do with Shakespeare’s death than the traditional cause put forward for it – a fever brought on by a drinking bout, the story of which was first jotted down in the diary of a Stratford vicar two generations later. (Brinkworth 1972: 84) In the context of the present study, Brinkworth’s speculation is profoundly suggestive. We have seen that Hero is thought to have died of shame in Much Ado About Nothing and that Enobarbus actually perishes thus; the same could also be said of Lady Macbeth. Hero suffers from deadly susceptibility to sexual slander; her father is similarly afflicted by the shame of his daughter’s supposed transgression, as is Desdemona’s by her secret marriage to a Moor. Curiously enough, Shakespeare may have more than once anticipated some of the circumstances and the psychological dimension of his own last illness and death. Shame in Western literature after Shakespeare never recovers its Shakespearean intensity. This comparative lack of power we may ascribe partly to crude generic considerations. As we have had occasion to see many times in this book, shame is an extreme thing, in a very real sense more ultimate than death: whereas death puts a period to a good life, shame undermines and corrupts it until it is no longer good. It therefore most readily lends itself to the intensely concentrated expression which drama provides. Dickens succeeds so well in representing shame as his novels are eminently dramatic, but even they cannot shame their protagonists before other characters on stage and in physical proximity to an audience. Isolating and performing an action before a gathering of people whose own lives are comprised of many such actions lends the drama an exemplary power, and this is perfected by the fact that drama’s spatial and temporal constraints entail that it can



afford only the essence of an action. Moreover, the relatively secure and clear cosmic context automatically clothes Shakespearean tragedy in a penumbra of metaphysical significance, so that what is already implied by Shakespeare has to be laboriously spelt out by later writers like Hawthorne. Given the erosion of religious faith, shame in Western literature in the centuries after Shakespeare is seen less and less in orthodoxly Christian terms. Bunyan represents the high watermark of Christian shame in the novel. In The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678–9), Faithful encounters Shame personified as an inveterate talker; and since the death of Christ shows it is a godly thing to take the shame of the world indifferently upon one’s own guiltless head, Christian’s way to the Celestial City lies unavoidably through the Valley of Humiliation. In the aftermath of the Civil War, writers other than Bunyan became cynical, and shamelessness prevails in, for example, Restoration comedy and the libertine poems of John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester. The Augustan literature of the eighteenth century represents a reaction; Swift’s An Argument against Abolishing Christianity (1711) and A Modest Proposal (1729), and Pope’s The Dunciad (1728) and Moral Essays (1731–5), are expressly designed to shame their readership into reformation, but they could not turn the tide of their world. Gulliver’s Travels (1726) drives a representative Englishman into a terrible passion of shame for his shameless species. In the succeeding history of the novel, shame is often a feminine subject, as in, for instance, Burney and Austen. Such writers reinforce the convention upheld by Shakespeare that females have a moral genius for shame. And yet, violent shame counterpoints more delicate ethical tremors, perhaps indicating the cost for women of existing under a shaming and repressive patriarchy: in Evelina (1778), for instance, the heroine’s modesty, and the decorum of the novel itself, is ruptured by images of extreme humiliation; such excessive shame is also prevalent in Aphra Behn’s earlier Oronooko (1688), with its extraordinary theme of physical dismemberment. Clarissa (1747–8) tells us how its eponymous heroine is duped, drugged and raped. Richardson finds eloquent formal expression for her resultant sense of shameful dissolution in the fragmentation of her narrative and the epistolary form itself.



As with the Renaissance, the unsustainably high ambitions of the succeeding period of Romanticism have shortfall and shame as their necessary corollary. Coleridge, for one, tells of the ‘soul-stifling shame’ he suffers when exposed to the awful machinations of his own unconscious, that ‘unfathomable hell within’, in ‘The Pains of Sleep’. ‘Dejection’ looks out on life from some region of unbeing and death. In ‘Christabel’, which is simultaneously obscurely and obscenely shameful, when Geraldine presses her breast against the sleeping heroine she speaks of ‘this mark of my shame’; and there is a Miltonic moment when both beauties assume the aspect of the serpent. Blake’s illustrations to The Book of Urizen (1794) give astonishing visual expression to the spiritual shame of physical creation, and ‘Nebuchadnezzar’ and ‘The Just Upright Man Laughed to Scorn’ are other iconic religious representations of degradation and shame. And yet, the Romantic epoch was undoubtedly the most shamelessly self-loving before our own. Though ashamed of his tendency to corpulence and his clubfoot, Byron was not ashamed of his myriad transgressions. No more was Shelley. Orc, Urizen, Prometheus, Hyperion, Manfred: the Romantic hero is typically shame-defying, his archetype and forerunner Milton’s Satan. Thus far decline, but Victorian literature is richer in shame than any since the Renaissance. I have mentioned Dickens already. He above all writers recognised the paradoxical truth that great expectations render the subject more vulnerable to feelings of failure and unworthiness; those of his own epoch of improvement and empire were no exception. Behind the solid façade of the Victorian novel, we occasionally catch a glimpse of an abyss of unbeing and existential panic, as in Strether’s fear that he has never really lived at all in James’s The Ambassadors (1903). Shame in Dickens has a dreamy intensity deriving from the novelist’s own childhood experience of working in a blacking factory while his originally middle-class family languished in the Marshalsea, a debtors’ prison in Southwark. It is conspicuously the shame of degraded class, and a sense of exposure is an important element, but fundamental Shakespearean issues of being and unbeing are always expressed or intimated. Thus Pip seems to have been lifted out of the slough of shame only to discover that the source of his riches is the convict he met in the primal scene of his infancy;



this novelistic peripeteia and anagnorisis he experiences as a total ontological undoing. Dickens is alive also to the ethical potential of shame and, like Shakespeare’s heroes before him, Pip, in the aftermath of his humiliation, discovers that the way to escape shame is to resign the hopeless struggle to triumph and conquer and devote himself to others. The little Pip he finds at the forge after a long absence indicates that he has been partly born again. In Middlemarch (1872), in a sequence partly derived from Measure for Measure, Eliot represents shame as accusing truth, when the upright and puritanical Bulstrode’s degraded past comes back to haunt him. Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890) explores the traditional religious association of physical mutability and mortality with spiritual corruption, giving vivid life to the notion of shame as deformity or disfigurement. After Romantic liberation, the Victorians felt shame renew its force, and their representations recovered something of the mystery and metaphysical radiance we find in Shakespeare. And yet, Wilde’s prose is so purple and precious it is difficult to decide how much is simply a matter of camp or gothic effect. The enigma of shame is more authentically conveyed in the American novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter (1851), as we have seen already. But the most original artist of shame of the nineteenth century was the Russian novelist Dostoyevsky. His corpus at once represents a great recrudescence of spiritual shame and a new tendency to pervert shame into pleasure. He was fascinated by the extreme antitheses into which shame may tip: for him, shame is a spiritual fulcrum, poised between transcendence and oblivion, salvation and damnation. In his expense of spirit and of words, Dostoyevsky’s underground man reminds us of Hamlet, and his derivation from the Prince of Denmark becomes explicit when he reflects on the shameful dilemmas of revenge. The Russian writer probably also derived from Hamlet his recognition in Notes from Underground (1864) that religious vision, consciousness of ‘the good and the beautiful’ (Dostoyevsky 1961: 94), produces a sense of contrasting personal defilement, a convulsion of corrupt flesh; and that such shame may become an all-consuming spiritual occupation, ultimately substituting for personality and life itself.



What is entirely Dostoyevskian, and not Shakespearean, is his unsettling depiction of such absolute and necessary shame turning, as it were by a process of chemical corruption, into an irresistible but obscene pleasure, which has something to do with gratified intellectual pride in ‘the blinding realization of my degradation’ but also remains partly obscure (ibid.: 94). The source of this strange delight would seem to be its proximity to salvation. In The Brothers Karamazov (1880), the young boy Kolya says he loves the good Alyosha for his shame, and the following quotation from the Gospel of John has a central importance: Verily, verily, I say unto you, except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. (Dostoyevsky 1955: 321) Here, once more, mortification of the self is the condition of spiritual flourishing. Thus Dostoyevsky recognises this power of shame for enlightenment and for good, and yet he cannot constrain his creeping consciousness that it mixes with modern ‘care for the self ’, to use Foucault’s later phrase, in a cocktail of corrupt pleasure. In The Idiot (1868), Ippolit observes, Let me tell you, there is a limit to ignominy in the consciousness of one’s own nothingness and impotence beyond which a man cannot go, and beyond which he begins to feel immense satisfaction in his very degradation. (Dostoyevsky 1948: 405) In The Devils (1872), Stavrogin marries Maria Lebatkyin because she is a cripple and a mental defective, and confesses ‘the feeling of rapture caused by the agonizing consciousness of my baseness’ (Dostoyevsky 1971: 684). This delight in humiliation recalls the narcissistic element in Dorian’s observations of the disfigurement of his own soul: ‘He wondered, and hoped that some day he would see the change taking place before his very eyes, shuddering as he hoped it’ (Wilde 1985: 116). We may think too of Baudelaire ‘in love with pleasure to the point of atrocity’ (Baudelaire



1990: 155), enjoying with his beloved the sight of decomposing carrion in ‘Une Charogne’, with its evocation of the mutability and mortality in which their sexual relationship participates. Dostoyevsky heralds a distinctly modern tendency. Anthony Powell explores the sexuality of humiliation in a comic vein in A Dance to the Music of Time (1951–75) and Alasdair Gray’s Something Leather (1995) is an unrestrained celebration of sadomasochistic sex. The Russian novelist suggests that this eroticisation of shame is obstruction and abuse of a sacred experience. That today, at the turn of the millennium, as even the most cursory internet search will demonstrate, shame is so much more readily associated with sex than salvation is, in this view, a measure of spiritual crisis. But taking sexual pleasure in shame is just the most extreme symptom of a more widespread modern tendency towards shamelessness. In the literature of the first part of the last century, shame is typically squandered or spurned; and if America has been the cultural leader of the modern West, it is instructive to note that this is most especially true of US literature. At the end of James’s The Ambassadors it is assumed that, in spite of Strether’s warning of ‘the infamy of not sticking to her’, ‘of the base creature he’d be’, Chad will forsake his lover and patroness Mme de Vionnet (James 1980: 392). Tom Buchanan, at the close of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (1926), refuses to be ashamed of his self-saving complicity in the tragic affair of Gatsby’s murder. Ernest Hemingway’s partly emasculated hero, Jake Barnes, in Fiesta or The Sun Also Rises (1927) is able, except occasionally, when the lights are out, to maintain his stiff upper-lip and hardboiled exterior. In Fitzgerald’s last finished novel, Tender is the Night (1934), the harrowing fall of the once towering Dick Diver, whose name is viscerally indicative of his slump into detumescent impotence, does not find expression and relief in shame; Diver simply fades into provincial obscurity. Robert Lowell focuses all this miserable obstructed shame in ‘Waking in the Blue’, presenting himself among other ‘thoroughbred mental cases’ in a superior East Coast sanatorium: ‘We are all old-timers, / each of us holds a locked razor’ (Lowell 1974). This historical drift towards shamelessness through the modern period is more particularly noticeable in contemporary drama. The prevailing state of spiritual arrest in Beckett’s



plays disables redeeming shame, in spite of, say, Lucky’s enslavement and degradation in Waiting for Godot (1955) or Ham’s parents’ imprisonment in dustbins in Endgame (1958): if these characters could only feel shame, it would free them into a world of significance and value. From the perspective of this study, Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (1967) is of special interest. In Shakespeare’s original, Hamlet’s shame recovered the ethical dimension of an otherwise shameless world, and his acceptance of shame in the Graveyard Scene resulted in his own obscure transcendence; but in Stoppard’s version there is no shame and no transendence, only confusion and death. Nor do we find any expression of shame in Harold Pinter’s rather more recent study of adultery, Betrayal (1978). As with poetry and prose, it is American drama that is most particularly explicit and effective in evoking frustrated shame. In Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh (1946), Parfitt asks, ‘Why should I be ashamed?’ (O’Neill 1995: 111); although Hickey is convinced that the answer to the anguish of experience is ‘facing yourself in the mirror with the old false whiskers off ’ (ibid.: 103), he is unable to recognise that by killing his loving wife, who embodied the moral standard which constantly belittled him, he has defaced himself further. In Tennessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire (1947), Blanche Dubois hides her shame in luxurious fantasies of glamour and grandeur. But it is perhaps Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman (1949) which reads our post-Christian, late-capitalist condition most accurately. By indulging ‘the only dream you can have – to come out number-one man’ (Miller 1989: 222), the significantly named Willy Loman dooms himself to a life of pathetic selfdeception and shame. In a society where precedence and power are sovereign, shame is anathema and yet inevitable for all but the ‘number-one man’ himself, and even he must feel always vulnerable to being toppled by any of a multitude of rivalrous competitors. The more politicised literature of recent decades consciously aims to abolish shame, with writers righteously exposing and then dismissing that shame which has been imposed on racial and sexual minorities. As we have seen, there is a parallel movement in criticism, led by feminist, gay and lesbian, and postcolonial critics, and informed by Foucault’s revelatory



analysis of the shaming techniques of power. Toni Morrison protests against the shaming and subordination of a race in Beloved (1983). Her narrative is fractured since time and their own identities have been shivered for the now freed slaves who are her protagonists. There is a terrible sequence of shaming episodes; for instance, Sethe, the heroine and young mother, is held down by white slavers who take her milk from her. In the same way that writers such as Morrison have evoked, understood and repudiated the shame that racial minorities have been forced to bear, feminist authors have prominently thrust off the shame and modesty that patriarchy has bequeathed to women. According to the Catch-22 of misogynistic culture, women are defined by a double standard: they must be physically attractive, which makes them ashamed of any original disproportion, as well as of the deforming effects of ageing, but they must also be sexually modest, which makes them ashamed of precisely those allurements they are required to have, as well as of their own desires. The work of feminist authors such as Sylvia Plath, who was writing in the 1960s, is therefore full of self-disgusted misery, as in, for instance, ‘The Ravaged Face’. Beyond the pains of bodily self-alienation and self-disgust, women writers suggest that female being-inpatriarchy is so regimented and constrained as to be scarcely being at all, to the effect that women are more liable to a conviction of their own nothingness, and consequent depression or breakdown. In ‘The Arrival of the Bee Box’, Plath’s symbolism of bees is wryly indicative of this concern with being; if there is a queen at all, she is ‘Poor and bare and unqueenly and even shameful’ (Plath 1981). Plath writes in The Bell Jar (1963): ‘I felt myself melting into the shadows like the negative of a person I’d never seen before in my life’ (Plath 1982: 10). Her ambitions for resurrection (‘Lady Lazarus’) reveal a more accustomed ontological state of unbeing and death. Margaret Atwood’s debut novel, The Edible Woman (1969), eloquently seconds Plath’s view that under the current dispensation women exist, if at all, only in an ambivalent and flickering and, as it were, undead condition. But women writers have not always treated shame as purely politically regressive. Jeanette Winterson’s experience of bearing up against and embracing shame as an evangelical Christian in the hostile secular world of Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (1985)



is precisely what makes possible her subsequent lesbian defiance. Gay literature in general challenges the supposed shame of homosexuality, with, for instance, Edmund White’s A Boy’s Own Story (1982) powerfully evoking the pain and shame of a young male homosexual, and Alan Hollinghurst’s The SwimmingPool Library (1988) representing a shameless repudiation of shame. All these later twentieth-century texts lament the shameful situation of stigmatised minorities, while enlightened criticism exposes and bewails their shame as it is revealed in the literature of the past. We have seen that Othello shares in such misfortune and shame, but that Shakespeare also makes him a spiritual hero: the only one in the pervasively shameful world of his play fully to take shame upon himself and thus to experience himself truly. The treatment of shame in late twentieth-century literature and scholarship is powerfully evocative but typically one-sided, wholly missing the Shakespearean or Dostoyevskian ecstasy of shame as enlightenment or salvation. Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit and A Boy’s Own Story are exceptional in the gestures they make towards these spiritual possibilities, with White’s narrator in particular resolving ‘to make of my shame a jewel, to call my poverty wealth’ (White 1982: 157); but they remain gestures. These two novels, and the other recent works examined here, are predominantly concerned with shame unfairly imposed from outside. They are intended not so much as studies of shame as protests against historical and continuing injustices involving shaming. In spite of the general eclipse of and active animus against shame in modern culture, three recent novels hint at beginning rehabilitation. The last page of William Golding’s Rites of Passage (1980) makes this Shakespearean demand: ‘In the not too ample volume of man’s knowledge of Man, let this sentence be inserted. Men can die of shame’ (Golding 1980: 278). The foregoing has told how the Reverend William Colley does. Colley loves goodness but lacks the self-understanding, and perhaps the courage, to recognise that it is homosexual desire rather than Christian fellowship which drives him to the sailors below deck; in his chronic drunkenness, he ends by fellating the most manly specimen. We see him after, ‘dinted into his bunk, drawn into it as if made of lead’ (ibid.: 127); ‘in the lowest hell of self degradation’, ‘in deepening pain, deep-



ening consciousness, widening memory, his whole being turning more and more from the world till he could desire nothing but death’ (ibid.: 203). Colley’s end is no second Calvary, but, given his vocation, the way in which the other passengers precipitate and collude with his humiliating death carries a resonance of the shame of a world which crucified his God. It seems to confirm the shameless accent of contemporary culture that Golding evidently found it necessary to go back to the eighteenth century to explore his theme. Where Golding goes for a temporal displacement, Salman Rushdie situates his exploration of shame in his native East. Shame (1983) is a very different novel from the bleaker Rites of Passage, and ultimately admires the manifold motive force of the emotion. For all its postcolonial specificity, it delineates a cosmic struggle to supplant the more traditional myth of strife between good and evil: Between shame and shamelessness lies the axis upon which we turn; meterological conditions at both these poles are of the most extreme, ferocious type. Shamelessness, shame: the roots of violence. (Rushdie 1983: 115–16) Yet Rushdie’s delight in the creative exuberance of shame overwhelms his ethical and political responses, recalling the various fascinated incarnations of shame by Renaissance writers. His heroine Sufiya Zinobia, ‘a tragic being whose chief defining characteristic was her excessive sensitivity to the baccilli of humiliation’ (ibid.: 141), gradually becomes shame itself, a homicidal nemesis. Shame once again appears in literature as an agency, a physical force. If Rites of Passage and Shame freshly attest to shame’s power and vitality, J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace, winner of the 1999 Booker Prize, tentatively recovers something of its salvific potential. Set in the post-Christian, postcolonial environment of the new South Africa, Disgrace narrates the degradation of a cynical university lecturer, David Lurie. With its narrative of Lurie’s successive humiliations and its focus on his relations with his daughter, not to mention Lurie’s anagrammatic name, it recalls Shakespeare’s King Lear. Lurie has no particular vocation for teaching and, though he frequents a prostitute, regards



sex as unseemly for one of his advancing years. He seduces a beautiful student, Melanie Isaacs, and is exposed and shamed. He retreats from Cape Town, where he lives and teaches, to his daughter Lucy’s farm in the remote countryside, finding employment at a clinic for killing unwanted dogs run by one of Lucy’s friends, Bev Shaw. He is then mugged and defaced with acid by aboriginal Africans while Lucy is raped. This second disgrace prompts him to present himself to the father of Melanie Isaacs. In the succeeding interview between them, he partially accommodates himself to the father’s Christian viewpoint: I will have to translate what you call God and God’s wishes into my own terms. In my own terms, I am being punished for what happened between myself and your daughter. I am sunk into a state of disgrace from which it will not be easy to lift myself. It is not a punishment I have refused. I do not murmur against it. On the contrary, I am living it out from day to day, trying to accept disgrace as my state of being. Is it enough for God, do you think, that I live in disgrace without term? (Coetzee 1999: 172) But Disgrace ultimately tries to find its own secular solution. Of her own humiliation, Lurie’s raped daughter says she must learn to ‘start at ground level. With nothing. Not with nothing but. With nothing. No cards, no weapons, no property, no rights, no dignity’. ‘Like a dog’, her father comments; Lucy agrees: ‘Yes, like a dog.’ (ibid.: 205). Lurie resumes his work with Bev Shaw’s dogs, developing a special fondness for one ‘with a withered left hindquarter which it drags behind it’ (ibid.: 215). The book ends with him bearing it ‘like a lamb’ to its execution (ibid.: 220). This secular pietà makes us think of Lear with the dead Cordelia in his arms. What a magnificent risk to substitute a dog for Cordelia! It is the great achievement of Disgrace that the novel allays our outrage that, to paraphrase Shakespeare’s play, a dog, a rat, a horse, may live while Cordelia must die. For in the contemporary world of this novel, there is no higher form of life, only the life we share with the animals (ibid.: 74).



Coetzee’s novel may be read as a parable of the new South Africa, suggesting that the only way to regeneration lies through shame, but this parabolic method keeps the horror and shame of apartheid at a distance. To the extent that Lurie’s first-person narrative keeps up its tension and cold composure, it also belies the suggestion of self-shattering and reformation, intimating instead the persistence of a hard, recalcitrant and untransformed selfhood. Disgrace is shame imposed externally. Othello cracks up, Lear’s heart is changed, but Lurie’s view of himself has been depressed, not radically changed from within; he has been forced by the sheer weight of (mysteriously morally apposite) adverse circumstance to operate at the debased level of lowest common denominator. His moral regeneration thus stubbornly retains the aspect of a simple personal failure. This may remind us of the flavour of classical representations of shame. In the aftermath of religion, it perhaps cannot but seem that reformation is impossible: there is, in the phrase of Dostoyevsky’s underground man, ‘nothing to change into’ (Dostoyevsky 1961: 94). Thus although the power of shame is increasingly registered in literature, its salvific potential intuited, thought and writing can only go further at the risk of the self, which is more and more supposed to be all that is. And yet, recent history conspires to make it increasingly hard to turn aside from shameful truths. In the deforming and tragic face of AIDS it is difficult for at least gay male writers to deny shame and the bitter fragility of the self. The rapid degeneration and corruption that the disease entails coincides cruelly with traditional imagery of shame as decomposition, befoulment, loss of being. In Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, Prior, the dying AIDS victim, ‘shits himself ’ on stage, and gay shame is suggestively combined with religious shame in the words of Joe, a homosexual Mormon: The failure to measure up hits people very hard. From such a strong desire to be good they feel very far from goodness when they fall. (Kushner 1992: 38)



The queer theorist and critic Leo Bersani controversially values gay sex and AIDS as ‘protection against our continued renewed efforts to disguise and exercise the tyranny of the self ’, contending that if the rectum is the grave in which the masculine ideal (an ideal shared – differently – by men and women) of proud subjectivity is buried, then it should be celebrated for its very potential for death. (Bersani 1988: 222) Dangerous penetration from behind is an unfamiliar guise for salvation, but Bersani’s words recall the notion developed in King Lear that spiritual triumph lies concealed in shame and humiliation. It also is reminiscent of my argument that the shame of the stigmatised Othello exalts him above all others. For some writers, the imagery of AIDS horribly recalls the death camps. ‘One moment they were pristine youth, the next a skull peered through the dark and cavities replaced the eyes’, as Oscar Moore puts it in A Matter of Life and Sex (Moore 1992: 137). This brings us to the most shameful event of the twentieth century. The Holocaust hovers at the edge of cultural awareness, threatening to confound civilised culture altogether. The temptation is therefore not to speak of it, nor of more recent episodes of ‘ethnic cleansing’ in Bosnia or Rwanda, a tendency which finds its sinister culmination in the extreme phenomenon of ‘Holocaust denial’. But, as Primo Levi’s books emphasise, we have a duty to bear witness. The Holocaust combines the shame of the Jewish victims with the shame of the German perpetrators. This latter writers often see as damaging, if not ruining altogether, the moral integrity of humanity as such. Levi, like Bruno Bettelheim (quoted in Taylor 1985: 125), writes of the Jewish experience of being degraded below the threshold of human being. But in The Truce (1963) he recognises the emotion that paralysed his Russian liberators on sight of the Lager as a more essential shame. This ‘shame which the just man experiences when confronted by a crime committed by another’ he sees as the burden of the age (Levi 1996: 188; also quoted in Levi 2000: 54). In his essay ‘Shame’ (1987), he nominates it ‘the shame of the world’ (Levi 2000: 65). Levi is himself ashamed not



because of the humiliation of the death camps, as we might think, but for his own moral lapses, such as when he failed fully to share some water. This generated shame he calls ‘concrete, heavy, perennial’ (ibid.: 61). Having been exposed to himself and the moral world in extremis, Levi has become a kind of confessor with the authority to ask: Are you ashamed because you are alive in place of another? And in particular, of a man more generous, more sensitive, wiser, more useful, more worthy of living than you? You cannot exclude this … . It is no more than a supposition, indeed the shadow of a suspicion; that everyone is his brother’s Cain, that everyone of us (but this time I say ‘us’ in a much vaster, indeed universal sense) has usurped his neighbour’s place and lived in his stead. It is a supposition, but it gnaws at us; it has nestled deeply like a woodworm; it is not seen from the outside but it gnaws and rasps. (ibid.: 62) Levi discovers his survivor’s guilt is a key to our moral condition. Because of the agonistic Darwinian process of existence, being is itself a crime: fitness for survival indicates a moral unfitness and indecency. Levinas’s rather abstract claim that we are always infinitely in debt to the other becomes, in Levi’s text, a felt sense that before the other we always are infinitely guilty. Of course it would be unthinkable to see the Holocaust in positive terms, but it is equally impossible not to note that Levi’s experience of that inferno seems to have issued in an infinite sensitivity to and responsibility for others, even sometimes his German persecutors – though we should not gloss over the fact of his suicide. It is Levi’s hope that through shame, with its lessons of humility and responsibility, we might avoid the kind of violent self-assertion which had its apocalyptical collective expression in Nazism and the pogrom. The late Iris Murdoch, who herself thought and wrote about the Holocaust in several novels, particularly The Message to the Planet (1989), affirms that shame can be a force for good. This recognition extends enlighteningly through her representations of life lived in more normal and everyday circumstances



than those of the last World War. I said in the introduction that Murdoch admits, as Levinas does not, the sheer difficulty for human beings of the transition from selfishness to relationship. The argument of this book as a whole has been that reading Shakespeare reveals shame as a bridge to the other. Murdoch was a writer passionately devoted to Shakespeare, and her novels can often be read as revisionary appropriations of him; thus Bruno’s Dream (1969) is her A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Black Prince (1973) is her Hamlet, A Fairly Honourable Defeat (1970) is her Othello, and The Sea, The Sea (1978) is her version of The Tempest. Although her philosophical essays do not, Murdoch’s novels develop what we can now identify as a recognisably Shakespearean comprehension of shame as the way to fulfilment and to goodness. Like Shakespeare’s in King Lear, Murdoch’s good characters are typically subject to shame. Bellamy in The Green Knight (1993) is haunted by a dream in which he is ‘a little tiny frightened animal called “Spingle-Spangle” ’ (Murdoch 1993: 154). In The Nice and the Good (1968), Theo, who has fled from his Buddhist monastery after a scandalous incident involving a young novice, feels sunk in the wreck of himself. In The Good Apprentice (1985), Edward Baltram, who considers himself responsible for his best friend’s death, laments, ‘I haven’t any real being left, it’s all scratched and scraped away, people shudder away from me, I stink of misery and evil’ (Murdoch 1985: 68). As we well know by now, shame is fertile in images, since it throws into question the subject’s self-conception, to the effect that it is unable to relate to and act in the world, and Edward also expresses himself as follows: I used to have coloured wings and fly. Now I am black and I lie on the ground and quiver. Soon the earth will begin to cover me and I shall become cold and be buried and rot. (ibid.: 71) This particular formulation of shame as opposite to being represents a remarkable insight: shame is ‘the chrysalis story run backwards’ (op. cit.). Yet, as in Shakepeare, in Murdoch this death which shame entails heralds an infinitely extended life. In a centrally significant passage which seems to paraphrase precisely what we



have found in Shakespeare’s tragedies, Edward’s psychologist tells him he is embarked on a spiritual journey ‘which many would consciously purchase at a great price’ (op. cit.): his selfillusion is in the process of being broken. Edward has the opportunity to find through shame what Effingham finds in The Unicorn (1963): Since he was mortal he was nothing and since he was nothing all that was not himself was filled to the brim with being and it was from this that the light streamed. This then was love … this was the love which was the same as death. He looked and knew with a clarity which was one with the increasing light, that with the death of the self the world becomes quite automatically the object of a perfect love. (Murdoch 1966: 167) Shame is a chrysalis, after all. It is a form of death and a preparation for that death which will come inevitably. It terminates the attempt to believe in and sustain the impossible illusion of the old substantial self which otherwise dominates our life and conditions our perception. This disillusioning reveals all that really is. Contact with this reality is a new birth and in relation to the real a new and more credible self may unfold and flourish. Freedom from the self is liberation into love. As we have seen, this idea of shame as transcendence has had more or less life and credit since Christianity but achieved its fullest and most powerful literary expression in the works of Shakespeare. Shakespeare gave it a form credible with or without the supernatural commitments that have since faded in Western culture. To a world more secular than Shakespeare’s, and – arguably – more shameless, Murdoch’s novels offer the Shakespearean idea of shame as a secular transcendence afresh. Levinas once said that ‘It sometimes seems to me that the whole of philosophy is only a meditation of Shakespeare’ (Levinas 1989: 41). This book has suggested that the long-dead playwright certainly has an urgent contribution to make to the current debates in philosophical ethics over which Levinas, until his recent death, presided. More importantly, it sees Shakespeare as having something precious to bring to ethical and political life beyond literature and philosophy. We must



take up the shame of our violent epoch. In spite of a desperate, delusive tendency to sustain the imprisoning idol of selfhood, we must let it explode from its own internal tensions and contradictions, and adventure beyond the self. The spiritual and political health of our species depends on it.


1 Introduction 1 Over the years there has been a trickle of work on shame in Shakespeare: Hapgood 1965, Cluck 1985, Hatlen 1997. In the 1990s, there has been a surge of feminist/Foucauldian interest in the subject, represented by Boose 1991, Paster 1993 and Knoppers 1993. There has not, before now, been a full-length general study. I am most sympathetic and indebted to Zak 1984, which is animated by the same kind of phenomenological and ethical interests as I will be pursuing here. 2 Oliver James asks why, since we are more prosperous than in the 1950s, we are more unhappy (James 1998). 3 Independent on Sunday, 7 November 1999. 4 Bate 1997 provides a good example. Leading political critics, such as Jonathan Dollimore (1998a, 1998b) and Kiernan Ryan (1995), are increasingly advocating close-reading and attention to the formal and aesthetic properties of texts. John J. Joughin’s essay in Grady 2000 provides a foretaste of his forthcoming monograph on Shakespeare and aesthetics. 5 For an excellent introduction to Levinas’s thought see Levinas 1985 and Davis 1996. 6 Levinas says, ‘Politics must be able in fact always to be checked and criticized starting from the ethical’ (Levinas 1985: 80). On the importance of ethics for political criticism, see also John J. Joughin’s introduction to his edited volume Philosophical Shakespeares (2000) in the Accents on Shakespeare series. 7 See Mead 1937, Benedict 1947 and Dodds 1951. 8 See Lloyd-Jones 1987; Gundersheimer 1994; the introduction to Peristiany and Pitt-Rivers 1992; and, for a fuller discussion, Cairns 1993: 27–47. 9 An example of the specifically critical problems this has caused is Albert S. Gérard’s study of shame and guilt in successive revisions of Euripides’s Hippolytus, The Phaedra Syndrome (1993). This is seriously constrained by the author’s adherence to Benedict.



10 Bruno Bettelheim, in an essay about life in a concentration camp, writes, To survive as a man, not as a walking corpse, as a debased and degraded but still human being, one had first and foremost to remain informed and aware of what made up one’s personal point of no return beyond which one would never, under any circumstances, give in to the oppressor, even if it meant risking and losing one’s life. It meant being aware that if one survived at the cost of overreaching this point one would be holding on to a life that had lost all meaning. (Quoted in Taylor 1985: 125) 11 Schneider also quotes Heller, to a rather different end (Schneider 1992: 53). 12 This, of course, is a suggestive periphrasis for orgasm, a different form of self-loss in the jouissance of intense pleasure.

2 Shame before Shakespeare 1 See Venus and Adonis lines 259–324 and Antony and Cleopatra 1.5.49–52. 2 Achilles says to Agamemnon, Our friends who fell to Hector in his hour of triumph are lying mangled on the plain – and you and Odysseus choose this moment to announce a meal! My way is different. I should make the men fight now, fasting and hungry, and give them a square meal at sunset, when we have wiped out our shame. (Homer 1988: 359) 3 This is Jasper Heywood’s 1561 translation in fourteener couplets: What Tanais, or what Nilus els, or with his persyan waue What Tigris violent of streame, or what fierce Rhenus flood, Or Tagus troublesome that flowes with Jbers treasures good May my right hand now wash from gylt? although Maeotis collde The waues of all the Northen seae on me shed out now wollde, And al the water thereof shoolde now passe by my two handes, Yet will the mischiefe deepe remayne. (Seneca 1913: 2,532–44) On the correspondence with Macbeth, see Miola 1992: 113. 4 He says to Collatine, ‘Thy wretched wife mistook the matter so, / To slay herself that should have slain her foe’ (lines 1,826–7). That it is Lucretia


5 6

7 8


who kills herself and not Tarquin, her rapist, is also a chilling example of the difference between masculine and feminine shame. See, for example, Shuger 1990 and Marx 2000. All biblical references are to the Authorised Version, chosen for familiarity and because the royal commissioners were instructed to follow the ‘Bishop’s Bible’, one of the versions, another being the Geneva Bible, used by Shakespeare. Luke 14.11 is very similar. Augustine glosses Genesis thus: the first human beings had not been created blind, as the ignorant multitude think, since Adam saw the animals upon which he bestowed names, and of Eve we read: ‘The woman saw that the tree was good for food and that it was a delight for the eyes to behold’. Accordingly, their eyes were not closed, but they were not open, that is, attentive so as to recognise what a boon the cloak of grace afforded them, in that their bodily members did not know how to oppose their will. When this grace was lost and punishment in kind for their disobedience was inflicted, there came to be in the action of the body a certain shameless novelty, and thereafter nudity was indecent. It drew their attention and made them embarrassed. (Augustine 1966: 357)

In Milton, consumption of the forbidden fruit leads immediately to lustful fornication which leads to shame (Paradise Lost, 9.1,034ff.). 9 For a reading of the shame theme in Gawain, see Burrow 1984: 126–7.

3 Shame in the Renaissance 1 See Gundersheimer 1994, Cummings 1999 and Paster 1993; also Neill 1997, Sawday 1995 and Dollimore 1998a. 2 See Mack 1972: 49–51. 3 The poem reads: Qvotidian fevers of reproach, and shame, Have chill’d our Honor, and renowned Name; We are become the by-word, and the scorne Of Heaven and Earth; of heaven and earth forlorne; Our captiv’d souls are compast round about, Within, with troops of feares; of foes, without; Without, within, distrest; and, in conclusion, We are the haplesse children of confusion; Oh, how mine eyes, the rivers of mine eyes O’erflow these barren lips, that can devise No dialect, that can expresse or borrow Sufficient Metaphors, to shew my sorrow! (Quarles 1632: 468)

250 4 5 6 7

Notes See Haworth 1980: 125–6. My source for this is Gundersheimer 1994: 42, n. 22. See Gundersheimer 1994: 43. Agostino Superbi remembers him as a person of very beautiful intellect and a most handsome face, a physician, an excellent philosopher, accomplished in his knowledge of literature, a not unpromising poet and a very promising youth. (Quoted in Gundersheimer 1994: 44)

8 Quotations from Pocaterra here and subsequently are by kind permission from the unpublished translation of Werner Gundersheimer. 9 For an interesting, partly psychoanalytic exposition of Jonson’s various insecurities, see Riggs 1989. 10 Lowell writes in ‘Between the Porch and Altar’: Your market-basket rolls With all its baking apples in the lake. You watch the whorish slither of a snake That chokes a duckling. When we try to kiss, Our eyes are slits and cringing, and we hiss. Scales glitter on our bodies as we fall. (Lowell 1974) 11 ‘Alas, ’tis true, I have gone here and there, / And made myself a motley to the view’. I quote Orwell from ‘Lear, Tolstoy and the Fool’ (Kermode 1969: 159). 12 The italicised line parodies York’s vilification of Margaret in 3 Henry VI. 13 When, in his final conflict with Elizabeth, the Queen boxed his ears, according to Harrington, Essex became a person ‘devoid of good reason as of right mind’ (Watson 1960: 157). 14 According to Norbert Elias, the influential theorist cited by Paster, ‘the civilising process’ – the ‘advance of the threshold of shame’ – is a control mechanism instituted by the emergent centralised and controlling state (Elias 1978). 15 Bate 1997: 218–19. 16 See Boose 1991: 179–213. The historian Martin Ingram’s work has shown that shaming rituals were often gendered in this way. 17 See Wharton 1988. 18 Like Spenser, Milton understood the poetry of blushing, although it is a less persistent and baroque effect in his work. Milton’s angel Raphael smiles a smile ‘that glow’d / Celestial rosy red’ (Paradise Lost, 8.618–9) and Adam – famously – leads Eve to their nuptial bower ‘blushing like the Morn’ (8.511): both indicators of a beauteous modesty. 19 See Schneider 1992: xiii.

4 Shame in Shakespeare 1 See, for instance, Kaplan 1997.



2 See Pater 1898: 193. 3 See Ure’s introduction to his Arden Richard II (Shakespeare 1974). 4 M. William Shak-speare: his True Chronicle Historie of the life and death of King Lear and his three daughters (Shakespeare 1608: line 2,039), from the library of Trinity College, Cambridge. The Oxford text (Shakespeare 1995b) has ‘self-covered thing, for shame / … ’ (16.61) but the line-ending preserves the same sense. 5 For instance, Belsey 1985; Jardine 1983, 1996; Rackin 1987; Howard 1988; Shapiro 1994; Orgel 1996. 6 Although Julia and Rosalind originally disguise themselves to forestall sexual attack on the road, Rosalind is travelling under the escort of Touchstone, and there is no reason for Julia to remain disguised when she reaches civilised Milan or for Rosalind to do so when she arrives in Arden where her father is. 7 Shakespeare 1986: 357. 8 See Tennyson 1969: 696. 9 The exemplar of shamelessness in Salman Rushdie’s Shame, one Omar Khayam Shakil, is also very fat. ‘What a shameless type he must be’, Rani Harrapa says of him to her husband, ‘to carry all that tummy about and all’ (Rushdie 1983: 80). 10 F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Dick Diver, in Tender is the Night, is in this respect his counterpart in the literature of this century. 11 Maurice Morgan acknowledges Falstaff ’s shamelessness when his behaviour at Gadshill is exposed: the detection is immediate; and after some accompanying mirth and laughter, the shame of that detection ends; it has no duration, as in other cases; and, for the rest of the play, the character stands just where it did before, without any punishment or degradation. (Morgan 1970: 46) 12 The relevant passage reads: notwithstanding all this loss of blood, As from a conduit with three issuing spouts, Yet do thy cheeks look red as Titan’s face, Blushing to be encountered with a cloud. (2.3.29–32) 13 When Aaron confesses his villainy to his captors, one of them asks him, ‘What, canst thou say all this and never blush?’ (5.1.120); he answers, ‘Ay, like a black dog, as the saying is’ (5.1.121), glorying in his shamelessness.

5 Hamlet 1 Incest then included the union of a woman with her husband’s brother. The biblical basis for this is Leviticus 18.16 and 20.21. It was the grounds of Henry VIII’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon, of course. 2 Hamlet says in reply to an enquiry from the king that he is ‘Not where he eats, but where a is eaten’ (4.3.19).



3 ‘too too sullied’; ‘melt, thaw and resolve’; ‘weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable’; ‘within a month … A little month … she … married’, ‘Within a month … She married’. 4 He broaches the subject after eight lines, ‘That it should come to this!’, but then defers naming ‘this’ for a further fourteen lines: ‘Must I remember?’, ‘Let me not think on’t’. 5 See also Watson 1960: 412. 6 See also Cassio’s assertion in Othello that reputation is ‘the immortal part of himself ’ (2.3.255–6). 7 ‘I have that within which passes show … ’ (1.2.85ff.). 8 T.S. Eliot famously notes that Hamlet’s disgust ‘envelops and exceeds’ its cause in his mother’s fall (Eliot 1968: 25), but this does not make the play unsatisfactory or implausible, as Eliot has it: for Hamlet, Gertrude’s fall is a revelation of the corruption of all human nature. 9 Empson defines the problem with traditional revenge tragedy: You had a hero bellowing out ‘Revenge’ all through the play, and everybody knew he wouldn’t get his revenge till the end. This structure is at the mercy of anyone who cares to shout ‘Hurry up’. (Empson 1953: 19) 10 On this as a pervasive theme of Shakespearean tragedy, see McAlindon 1996: 2. 11 That, presumably, is what Bradley is getting at in his extraordinary passage comparing her with ‘a sheep in the sun’ (Bradley 1971: 135). 12 Bradley comments: The truth is that, though Hamlet hates his uncle and acknowledges the duty of vengeance, his whole heart is never in this feeling or this task; but his whole heart is in his horror at his mother’s fall and in his longing to raise her. (Bradley 1971: 109) See also Adelman 1992: 31. 13 Louis L. Martz surveys this literature in Martz 1962.

6 Othello 1 Kenneth Muir says, ‘popularly Othello is a tragedy of jealousy’ and ‘any view that runs counter to the average spectator must necessarily be suspect’ (Muir 1951: 66), but this popular view stems not so much from experience as from tradition. 2 Jonathan Bate notices this imagery and its Ovidian provenance in Shakespeare and Ovid (Bate 1993: 181–4). 3 For Iago all human hearts are alloyed with dirt: ‘where’s that place whereinto foul things / Sometimes intrude not?’ (3.3.140–1). Desdemona says something ‘Hath puddled [Othello’s] clear spirit’ (3.4.144); Emilia calls



him ‘ignorant as dirt’ (5.2.162); and Othello himself says, ‘Her name, that was as fresh / As Dian’s visage, is now begrimed and black / As mine own face’ (3.3.389–91). He also talks of ‘the slime / That sticks on filthy deeds’ (5.2.146–7) and strikingly laments that marriage to Desdemona – once the fountain of his being – has turned into a cistern ‘for foul toads / To knot and gender in’ (4.2.62–3). 4 Brabantio comes out on his balcony naked or half-naked; Othello asks Montano, ‘what’s the matter, / that you unlace your reputation thus?’ (2.3.185–6); Iago asks Othello when he demands proof of Desdemona’s whoredom, ‘Would you, the supervisor, grossly gape on? / Behold her topp’d?’ (3.3.398–9); and Emilia says, with reference to the ‘scurvy fellow’ who has lied to Othello about his wife, not yet knowing he is her husband, O heaven, that such companions thou’ldst unfold, And put in every honest hand a whip, To lash the rascals naked through the world, Even from the east to th’ west! (4.2.142–6) 5 A.C. Bradley attests to a gap between Iago’s passionate motives and what he judges to be the coldness with which he expresses them (Bradley 1971: 183). Bernard Spivack follows Bradley’s judgement (Spivack 1958). 6 Though he still finds him unconvincing here, Bradley gets it right when he writes of Iago’s ‘thwarted sense of superiority’ (Bradley 1971: 187). William Empson quotes Bradley approvingly (Empson 1951: 232). 7 Nevill Coghill also takes Iago at his word here (Coghill 1964: 146). 8 Coghill too sees it as fantasy bred from shame, but contends that Iago invents this fantasy so he can hate Othello more (Coghill 1964: 146). I suggest it is more uncontrolled. 9 See Girard 1991: 292. 10 See Girard 1991: 292. 11 Girard 1977, 1991. 12 See also Parker 1994: 95.

7 King Lear 1 See also Nowottny 1982: 14. 2 All references are to the revolutionary Oxford two-text King Lear, in the compact edition of The Complete Works, edited by Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor (Shakespeare 1995b and c). King Lear first appeared in print in a quarto of 1608. A substantially different text appeared in the 1623 Folio. Until now, editors, assuming that each of these early texts imperfectly represented a single play, have conflated them. But research conducted mainly during the 1970s and 1980s confirms an earlier view that the 1608 quarto represents the play as Shakespeare originally wrote it, and the 1623 Folio as he substantially revised it. (Shakespeare 1995b: 909)


3 4 5 6 7


Unless otherwise indicated, I refer to the Folio text The Tragedy of King Lear (Shakespeare 1995c), which the Oxford editors claim is Shakespeare’s revised version. Where it is different, I do sometimes avail myself of the quarto text The History of King Lear (Shakespeare 1995b), specifying it as such. Holloway 1965: 92–4. See Zak 1984: 55. Bloom 1995: 67; see also Bloom 1989: 77–9. Perhaps the aesthetic– psychoanalytic Bloom who formulated ‘the anxiety of influence’ admires Edmond as an agonist and would-be parricide. 1 Corinthians 4.10. Peat 1982: 45.

8 Anthony and Cleopatra and Coriolanus 1 See also Calderwood 1995: 87.


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Ackroyd, Peter: Milton in America 53 Adelman, Janet 111, 129, 175, 205, 219 Adorno, Theodor 2 All’s Well that Ends Well 17, 83–4, 91, 98–9 Ambrose, Saint 64 Antony and Cleopatra 2, 25, 28, 53, 76, 78–9, 98, 147, 148, 160, 208–23, 224, 225, 226, 227, 228, 230 Aquinas, Saint Thomas 36–7, 64 Ariès, Philippe 59 Aristotle 25; and Renaissance thinking about shame 47, 48 Armstrong, Philip 111,132 Artaud, Antonin 21, 23, 175; The Theatre and Its Double 110 As You Like It 57, 90, 101, 220 Ashley, Robert: Of Honour 46 Atwood, Margaret: The Edible Woman 237 Augustine, Saint 36, 101 Austen, Jane 231 Bacon, Francis 28 Barzilai, Shuli 218 Bate, Jonathan 56 Baudelaire, Charles 234–5; ‘Les Aveugles’ 234–5 Beckett, Samuel: Waiting for Godot 236; Endgame 236 Behn, Aphra: Oronooko 231 Belsey, Catherine 90

Benedict, Ruth 15, 16, 25, 31 Berry, Philippa 111, 139 Bersani, Leo 242 Bettelheim, Bruno 242 Blake, William 39, 206; The Book of Urizen 232; ‘The Just Upright Man Laughed to Scorn’ 232; ‘Nebuchadnezzar’ 232 Bloom, Harold 134, 136, 156, 186 Bodkin, Maud 146 Boose, Lynda E. 60, 74, 84 Borges, Jorge Luis: Labyrinths 229 Bradley, A.C. 97, 111, 145, 181–2, 189, 205, 206 Bradshaw, Graham 111 Brinkworth, E.R.C. 60, 230 Bristol, Michael D. 81, 136–7 Brockbank, J.P. 96 Browne, Sir Thomas 43–4, 118, 177 Buckley, George 115 Bunyan, John: The Pilgrim’s Progress 22, 231 Burney, Fanny 231; Evelina 231 Burton, Jonathan 137, 159, 167 Byron, Lord 232 Cairns, Douglas L. 15 Calviac, Claude Hours de 58–9 Castiglione, Balthasar: The Book of the Courtier 46 Cavell, Stanley 175, 184, 186, 189, 202, 205 Cavendish, Margaret: ‘The House



of Shame Wherein Dishonour Lives’ 43; A True Relation 84 Charnes, Linda 215 Charney, Maurice 211 Chaucer, Geoffrey: ‘The Clerk’s Tale’ 34; ‘The Miller’s Tale’ 59; ‘The Parson’s Tale’ 38; The Romaunt of the Rose 44, 183; Troilus and Criseyde 42 Chrysostom, Saint John 72 Cicero 25 Cluck, Nancy A. 215 Coetzee, J.M. 3, 22, 239–241 Coleridge, Samuel Taylor 21, 137, 140, 184–5, 186, 187; ‘Christabel’ 232; ‘Dejection’ 232; ‘The Pains of Sleep’ 232 Coriolanus 75, 78, 208–23, 224, 225, 226, 227 Critchley, Simon 6 cultural materialism 175, 228 Cummings, Brian 41, 46 Cymbeline 60, 90 Dalì, Salvador 2, 9–10; ‘The Great Paranoiac’ 10; ‘The Lugubrious Game’ 10; ‘William Tell’ 10 D’Amico, Jack 167 Danby, J.F. 186 Davies, Stevie 54 Davis, Colin 6 death: anticipated by experience of shame 190, 196, 245; as shameful event or spectacle 18–19, 26, 43–4, 69, 91, 104, 107–8, 114, 133, 140, 177, 206, 239 Dee, Dr John 60 Democritus 25 Derrida, Jacques 6, 111, 117 Descartes, René 57 Dillon, Andrew 175, 188, 189 Dickens, Charles 230, 232–3; Great Expectations 232–3 Dodds, E.R. 15, 25 Dodsworth, Martin 111, 121, 123, 126 Dolet, Etienne 115

Dollimore, Jonathan 33, 41, 67, 68, 110 Donne, John 72, 72–3, 83, 176, 183; Devotions and ‘Death’s Duel’ 54; Divine Poems 31, 64; ‘Satire 3’ 56; Sermons 68, 150 Dostoyevsky, Fyodor 233–5; The Brothers Karamazov 234; The Devils 234; Notes from Underground 233, 241 Drummond, William 64 Edwards, Thomas R. 2 Eliot, George: Middlemarch 233 Eliot, T.S. 167 Elizabeth I, Queen of England 46, 57 Emad, Parvis 18, 35 Emblemata 45 Emmison, F.G. 60, 61 Empson, William 197 Erasmus, Desiderius: De civilitate morum puerilium 58; In Praise of Folly 198 Essex, Earl of 57–8, 60, 75 Euripides: Heracles 22, 26, 27–8; Hippolytus 30 Everett, Barbara 205 Everyman 72, 138, 179 feminism 74–5, 84, 111, 170–1, 175, 198, 236–7; see also shame and feminism Ficino, Marsilio 54 Fisher, Philip 111, 121 Fitzgerald, F. Scott: The Great Gatsby 235; Tender is the Night 235 Foucault, Michel 5, 11, 74, 106, 234, 236 Francis, Saint 34, 42 Francis I, King of France 57 Freud, Sigmund 5 Frye, Northrop 188 Gangi, Mario di 50 Geertz, Clifford 6 Gibson, Ian 2, 9 Girard, René 80, 111, 120, 158

Index Goldberg, Jonathan 200 Golding, William 21, 238–9 Gray, Alasdair: Something Leather 235 Greenblatt, Stephen 56, 60, 61, 62, 63, 66, 98, 110, 140–1, 175, 189, 204, 206 Greene, Robert 56, 72, 229 Gundersheimer, Werner L. 15, 41, 45, 46, 47 Hamlet 4, 20, 33, 54, 63, 93, 109–35, 138, 164, 173, 176, 177, 190, 193, 195, 202, 203, 203–4, 208, 209, 213, 224, 225, 226, 227, 233, 236 Hatlen, Burton 213, 218, 219 Hawkes, Terence 140 Hawthorne, Nathaniel: The Scarlet Letter 20, 21, 22, 149, 168, 216, 233 Heidegger, Martin 6 Heilman, Robert B. 179–80 Heller, Erich 18 Heller, Joseph 18–19 Hemingway, Ernest: Fiesta or The Sun Also Rises 235 1 Henry IV 80, 224 2 Henry IV 45, 97–8 2 Henry VI 60, 75–7 3 Henry VI 83, 84, 85, 95–6 Henry VIII, King of England 57 Henryson, Robert: The Testament of Cresseid 42 Hesiod: Works and Days 44, 183 Holland, Philemon 45–6 Hollinghurst, Alan: The SwimmingPool Library 238 Homer 22, 48; The Iliad 22, 26 Huarte, Juan 18, 33, 105 Hyman, Stanley E. 140 James, Henry 22; The Ambassadors 232, 235 James, Oliver 3 Jardine, Lisa 90 Jerry Springer Show, The 4 Johnson, Samuel 104, 179, 188 Jonas, Hans 6


Jonson, Ben 22, 50–1, 56, 59, 60, 61, 66, 76, 229; The Alchemist 50; Bartholomew Fair 50; Epicoene 50; ‘Epistle to my Lady Covell’ 55; Every Man in his Humour 50; Every Man out of his Humour 50–1; ‘On My Picture Left in Scotland’ 54–5; Volpone 50 Joyce, James 10, 11; A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man 229; ‘The Dead’ 10–11 Julius Caesar 200 Kahn, Coppélia 175, 193, 198, 203, 210–11, 218 Kelly, Edward 60 Kermode, Frank 178, 202 Kerrigan, John 92 Kerrigan, William 116 Kierkegaard, Søren 33 King Lear 4, 16, 19, 21, 31, 63, 85, 88, 89, 95, 173–207, 208, 209, 212, 213, 217, 223, 224, 225, 226, 227, 228, 239–40, 241, 242, 244 Kirsch, Arthur 149 Knight, G. Wilson 111, 119, 125, 126 Knoppers, Laura Lunger 12, 74, 84, 106 Krier, Theresa M. 89 Kristeva, Julia 5, 6, 18, 71 Kushner, Tony: Angels in America 241 Lacan, Jaques 6, 21, 79, 104, 111 Lascelles, Mary 188 Leavis, F.R. 158–9, 168 Levi, Primo 242–3; ‘Shame’ 242–3; The Truce 242 Levinas, Emmanuel 6, 243, 244, 245 Livy 29 Lloyd-Jones, Hugh 15 Loomba, Ania 137 Love’s Labour’s Lost 2, 57, 80, 89–90, 202, 228 Lowell, Robert 53; ‘Waking in the Blue’ 235 Luiz, Antonio: ‘De pudore’ 47



Lynd, Helen Merell 2, 10, 14, 19 Lyotard, Jean François 111 Macbeth 28, 83, 84, 85, 103, 109, 224, 226, 230 MacDonald, Joyce Green 170–1 Machiavelli, Niccolo 61–2, 186 Mack, Maynard 179, 186, 188, 199–200 Malory, Sir Thomas: Le Morte Darthur 39–40, 42 Manlove, C.N. 128, 156, 177 Marlowe, Chistopher 56, 61, 62–3, 65–6, 76, 95, 96, 99, 227, 229; Doctor Faustus 63; Edward II 22, 50, 66; The Jew of Malta 62; 1 Tamburlaine 49, 66, 182, 186; 2 Tamburlaine 50, 66 Marston, John 72; Antonio’s Revenge 43; The Malcontent 43, 63 Martz, Louis L. 64 Marxism 2, 5 Mason, H.A. 147, 157, 163, 168, 188, 205, 206, 217 Maus, Katherine Eisaman 69, 70 McAlindon, T. 123, 163 Mead, Margaret 15, 31 Measure for Measure 36, 40, 78, 81–2, 103–8, 110, 122, 195, 205, 217, 224, 233 Meyer, Edward 61 Middleton, Thomas: A Chaste Maid in Cheapside 43, 72; The Revenger’s Tragedy 43, 63–4 A Midsummer Night’s Dream 84 Miller, Arthur: Death of a Salesman 236 Milton, John 49, 51–3; Paradise Lost 32–3, 51–3, 68, 232; ‘Samson Agonistes’ 22, 51 Miola, Robert S. 30 mirror-stage, the 6, 79, 219; see also Lacan, Jaques Montaigne, Michel de 54 Montrose, Louis A. 89 Moore, Oscar: A Matter of Life and Sex 242

morality plays 72, 138, 179, 186, 204 Morrison, Toni: Beloved 237 Much Ado About Nothing 85–8, 89, 100, 101, 140, 145, 147, 153, 169, 182, 226, 230 Murdoch, Iris 7, 243–6; The Black Prince 244; Bruno’s Dream 244; A Fairly Honourable Defeat 244; The Good Apprentice 244–5; The Green Knight 244; The Message to the Planet 243; The Nice and the Good 244; The Sea, The Sea 244; The Unicorn 245 Nashe, Thomas 15, 229 Neale, J.E. 57 Neill, Michael 41, 67, 68, 139, 167, 177 new historicism 6, 175 Nice Wanton 44 Nicholl, Charles 60 Nietzsche, Friedrich 3, 11; Beyond Good and Evil 11; The Birth of Tragedy 111, 228; Thus Spake Zarathustra 11, 20 Nuttall, A.D. 141, 165 O’Neill, Eugene: The Iceman Cometh 236 Orgel, Stephen 90 Orwell, George 59 Othello 4, 28, 31, 42, 78, 83, 86, 136–72, 173, 176, 179, 181, 182, 183, 184, 190, 193, 195, 200, 203, 208, 213, 224, 225, 226, 227, 228, 230, 238, 241, 242 Ovid 29 Parker, Patricia 111, 125, 139, 170 Parr, Susanna 72 Paster, Gail Kern 12, 41, 58, 74–5, 84, 213 Patterson, Annabel 195 Pelling, Margaret 59 Peristiany, J.G. 15, 37–8 Perrot, Lord 46, 57

Index phenomenology: Husserlian 6; see also Jonas, Hans Piers Plowman 53 Pitt-Rivers, Julian 15, 37–8 Plato 25; Phaedrus 25 Plautus 98 Plath, Sylvia: ‘The Arrival of the Bee Box’ 237; The Bell Jar 237; ‘Lady Lazarus’ 237; ‘The Ravaged Face’ 237 Plutarch: Moralia 46 Pocaterra, Annibale: Due dialogi della vergogna 47–8, 71 Pope, Alexander: The Dunciad 231; Moral Essays 231 postcolonialism 41, 46, 137, 159, 167, 236, 239–41 poststructuralism 5, 6, 111, 200, 228 Powell, Anthony: A Dance to the Music of Time 235 Preston, Thomas: Cambises 45 Primaudaye, Pierre de la: ‘Of shame, shamefastnesse and dishonour’ 47, 61 Prudentius: Psychomachia 44 psychoanalysis 5 Quarles, Francis 43 Quiney, Thomas 60, 229–30 Racine, Jean 26 Rackin, Phyllis 90 Ralegh, Sir Walter 46; The History of the World 45, 61, 68–9, 75 Rape of Lucrece, The 29, 77–8, 100 Revel, Jaques 59 Richard II 2, 10, 56, 71, 79–83, 89, 91, 102, 124, 130, 150, 175, 184, 193, 195, 197–8, 225, 228 Richard III 63, 96–7, 101–3, 145, 185, 190 Richardson, Samuel: Clarissa 22, 231; Pamela 22 Ricks, Christopher 2 Rochester, Earl of 231 Rossiter, A.P. 108, 111, 119, 212 Rushdie, Salman 3, 9, 10, 22, 64, 171, 239


Ryan, Kiernan 195 Sanquire, Lord 70 Sartre, Jean-Paul 2, 10, 14, 33 Sawday, Jonathan 18, 33, 41, 57, 67 Scheler, Max 2, 18, 20, 35, 105 Schlegel, August Wilhelm 85–6 Schneider, Carl 2, 11, 18, 20 Scruton, Roger 3 Seneca: Hercules Furens 28, 164; Phaedra 22, 26, 27, 30 Shakespeare, Judith 229–30 Shakespeare, William: classical influences upon 30–1; death of 229–30; and Jonson 76; and Marlowe 62–3, 76, 95, 96, 99; possible experience of shame 229–30; and religion 31, 106; see also shame: in Shakespeare Shalvi, Alice 121 shame: acceptance of (taking or facing shame) 31–2, 34–5, 36–7, 42, 64, 83, 84, 95, 104, 108, 112, 129, 133–5, 166–7, 171–2, 176, 179, 181, 190, 195, 201, 202, 204, 226, 237–8, 240; ambiguity of 1, 88, 199, 233, 234; amoral or worldly 12, 25, 26–8, 44, 86, 119–29, 141–65, 208–20, 225; for another or others 12, 23, 27, 108, 115, 242 (see also shame: vicarious moral); of another or others 8, 12, 32, 34, 87, 114–15, 116, 171, 181, 184, 242; anthropological views of 5, 15–16, 24–5, 208–23; avoidance of 16, 95, 129–32, 175, 179, 180–2, 184, 185, 192, 193, 194, 195, 201, 202–3, 204–5, 209, 216–23, 226, 235–8, 241, 242; beauty of 44, 176, 181, 183; and being 14, 18, 30, 33, 56–7, 98, 126, 178, 179, 194, 196, 202, 232–3, 237, 243 (as opposite of being 80, 83, 103, 192) (see also shame: in Christianity; shame: as death or self-loss; shame: existential); being ashamed as



distinct from being shamed 12, 16, 174, 179, 201; in the Bible 4 (Old Testament 22, 33, 35, 37, 38, 39, 90, 118, 120) (New Testament 22, 33–5, 37, 69, 70, 72, 82, 96, 120, 154, 184, 198, 234); of the body 18–19, 38, 43–4, 49, 50, 53, 55, 77, 106, 116, 117, 213 (of ageing 91–2, 93, 159, 177–8, 204, 237); breeding shame 138, 143–4, 152, 153, 158–9, 193 (see also shame: homosocial virus of shame); and blushing 9, 22, 39–40, 48, 64–5, 80, 84, 96–7, 99–100, 106, 107, 119, 131, 139, 181, 184, 218; and capitalism 2; in Christianity 13, 21, 29, 30–40, 44, 69–73, 101, 114, 117, 119–29, 164, 166–7, 176, 198, 208, 231, 233, 239, 240, 245 (see also shame: in the Bible; shame: ‘Christian shame’; shame: moral or spiritual); ‘Christian shame’ (Othello) 31, 154, 165–6, 226; as a chrysalis 34, 196, 244, 245 (see also shame: as metamorphosis); and ‘the civilising process’ 47, 58–9, 89, 246; and class 55–6, 75, 76, 77, 114, 142, 144, 211, 213–14, 215, 232; classical 22, 25–30, 40, 172, 208–23, 226, 241; conflicting types of 13, 25, 40, 61–70, 85, 88, 109–35, 137–8, 145, 152–3, 162, 163, 164, 169–70, 195; creative exuberance of 239; cuckoldry as source of 26, 42, 85–6, 139, 142–3, 154, 159, 163–4; as cure 203, 205, 206 (see also shame: ‘sovereign shame’); and Dark Lady 93; and death caused by shame 20, 48, 86–8, 94, 95, 146–7, 221–2, 238, 239 (as worse than death 230); as death or selfloss 1, 9, 11, 16, 17, 18, 20–1, 34–5, 76–7, 78, 81, 82, 86, 93–4, 95, 101, 103–4, 106, 126, 160, 162, 166, 174, 178, 179, 188,

190, 192, 193, 195, 200, 201, 204, 210–11, 212, 219, 220, 225, 231, 244, 245 (see also death: as shameful event or spectacle; shame: in Christianity); as defilement 13, 26, 45, 79–80, 86, 87, 88, 92, 93, 103–4, 116, 131, 139, 161–2, 170, 174, 188, 190, 193, 221, 241; definition of 1, 8, 11–13, 16–21, 24–5; as deformity or disfigurement 9, 13, 28, 45, 51, 52–3, 78, 82, 84, 88, 91, 93–4, 96, 98, 103, 113, 131, 174, 188, 192–3, 199, 203, 209–12, 225, 233–7, 240, 241; as degradation 13, 14, 26, 34, 49–51, 75–7, 80–1, 86, 94, 188, 190, 197, 229, 241, 244 (as deliberate self-abasement 26, 34–6, 81, 95, 104, 113, 174, 176, 181, 184, 185, 187, 188, 239–40); as disease 1, 103–4, 131, 137, 138, 157, 193; and disguise 90, 94, 116, 187–90, 212 (see also shame: as exposure; shame: feminine; shame: and sexual bashfulness); as disintegration 11, 17, 20, 78, 79, 80, 82, 174, 241; displacement of 84–5, 93, 132, 171–2; difficulty of distinguishing from other emotions 14, 172; as divorce of self from self 21, 33, 35, 36, 40, 56, 76, 78, 79, 81–2, 96, 101, 101–3, 124, 160, 166, 192, 198, 202, 204, 216, 219, 225, 231; and emasculation 193, 197, 198, 203 (see also shame: cuckoldry as source of); and embarrassment 13; as (dreadful) encounter in a mirror 10–11, 50–1, 81–2, 91, 102, 129, 130–1, 132, 181, 191, 193, 195–6, 197, 202, 203 (Cordelia as presenting ideal image of shame to Lear 180); and ethics 5, 6, 7, 8, 13, 21, 35, 74, 183, 198, 201, 206, 225 (see also shame: feminine, as more ethical than masculine shame);

Index etymology of 10, 90 (see also shame: as exposure; shame: as wounding); excessive 119, 122, 127, 132, 143–4, 152–3, 159–62, 233; existential 19, 104, 108, 190, 196, 225, 228, 232, 232–3, 243 (see also shame: and being; shame: mortal or arising from original sin); as exposure (and nakedness or concealment) 9, 10, 11–12, 15, 16, 27, 28, 32–3, 38, 39, 46, 49, 50, 51–2, 57, 59, 70–1, 75–7, 81, 86–7, 89, 90, 113, 116, 117–18, 119, 124, 139, 140, 144, 175, 178, 178–9, 180, 182, 188, 189, 190, 195, 205, 213–16, 243 (see also shame: judgement as source of); as falling short 8, 10, 13, 14, 17, 20, 24, 28–9, 37, 41, 53–4, 78, 80, 92–5, 105, 108, 109, 232; feminine 12–13, 37–8, 40, 46, 64–5, 74, 84–8, 89–90, 107, 111, 122 (as more ethical than masculine shame 13, 44, 65, 84, 85, 86, 87, 168–70, 198, 222–3, 231, 237) (see also shame: and Dark Lady; shame: and gender; shame: and modesty); and gender 12, 37, 74, 76, 83–8, 88–90, 94, 122, 125, 140, 181, 193, 198, 226 (and instability of gender 90) (see also shame: feminine; shame: masculine); and goodness 176, 183, 190, 198, 204, 243, 244, 245 (see also shame: in Christianity; shame: and ethics; shame: feminine, as more ethical than masculine shame); and guilt 13–14, 15–16, 29, 38, 62, 107–8, 151, 221; as (way to) happiness and fulfillment 225, 245; and the Holocaust 242–3 (and ‘Holocaust denial’ 242); and homosexuality 237–9, 241–2; homosocial virus of shame 86, 140 (see also shame: breeding shame; shame: masculine); and honour 34, 36–7, 86, 119–29 (see also shame:


amoral or worldly; shame: masculine); and the humours 46; inexorability of 30, 103–5, 137–8, 156, 189, 201, 206, 212, 241, 243; and jealousy and envy 93–4, 136–72; judgement as source of 11, 21, 27, 38–40, 69–70, 71–2, 108, 129, 139, 161 (self-judgement in Richard III 101–3); and loss of faith 11, 20; and love or lack of love 88–95, 103, 178 (and love as dependent on accepting shame 95, 172, 178, 179, 180, 206, 245) (see also shame: and disguise; shame: feminine; shame: and modesty; shame: and sexual bashfulness); manifold motive force of 239; masculine 12, 37, 80, 82, 83, 84–8, 98, 125, 126, 141–68, 181, 183, 193, 197, 198, 203, 211, 213, 214, 215 (see also shame: amoral or worldly; shame: avoidance of; shame: and gender; shame: as pathological concern with self); as metamorphosis 1, 137–9, 146, 151–2, 164, 167, 188, 204, 211–12, 225, 244 (see also shame: as a chrysalis); in the Middle Ages 28–9, 38–40, 42, 44, 53, 61, 103, 150 (see also Everyman; morality plays); and modern culture 2, 3–4, 16–17, 227, 228, 235 ff., 239, 241, 242, 245–6; modern view of 1, 16, 227, 238 (and as compatible with postmodern thought 5–8, 18, 33, 228); and modesty 9, 11, 21, 44, 65, 84–5, 86, 89, 100, 168–70, 222–3 (Isabella’s excessive modesty 106; as means of patriarchal oppression of women 84, 107); moral or spiritual 12, 14, 21, 35, 36–7, 38, 40, 42, 44, 47, 51–3, 61, 69–73, 82, 84, 99–108, 110–11, 112, 114–19, 119–29, 149–51, 165, 166, 168–72, 184, 190, 198–9, 201–2, 203, 204, 220–3, 225–8, 231,



233–4, 238, 239, 240, 241–2, 243 (see also shame: vicarious moral); mortal or arising from original sin 18–19, 34, 66–9, 91, 103, 104, 104–5, 114, 116, 170–2, 176, 177, 178, 194–5, 196, 197, 202, 203, 227, 233, 243 (mortality as Falstaff ’s excuse for shamelessness 97); pain of 1, 9, 24, 27, 39–40, 96, 114, 124, 125, 149–52, 161–2, 190–6, 201, 206, 215, 225, 230, 238–9, 241; as painful good 183; as paralysis 27, 28, 39, 40, 109–35, 242; as pathological concern with self 87, 92–5, 147, 182, 193, 205, 241, 242, 245, 246 (see also shame: masculine); personifications of 44–5, 85, 140, 145, 146, 148–9, 168, 180, 181, 189–90, 197, 198, 231, 239 (see also shamefastnesse); perversion of into pleasure 234–5 (see also shame: and sadomasochism); physical or visceral experience of 9–10, 17–19, 26–9, 29, 31, 32–3, 38, 48, 65–6, 72, 77 (see also shame: and blushing); power of 241; and pride 1, 37, 102, 176, 194, 201 (pride as source of 37, 94, 105–6, 182, 185, 190, 196, 201); private 12, 13, 16, 48, 119–20, 124, 151–2, 160–2; and psychotherapy 1, 106, 221; public (disgrace) 11–12, 13, 15–16, 25, 36, 46–7, 57–61, 75–7, 81, 86, 92–5, 107–8, 115, 119–20, 134, 144, 145, 149–51, 182, 190–3, 199, 213–16, 238, 241; and punishment 60–1, 75–7, 84, 174, 188, 190, 199, 229–30, 240; and race 8, 100, 136–40, 146, 153, 154, 157–8, 159, 166–7, 170–2, 237, 239, 241; as rebirth or transfiguration 34–5, 72–3, 74, 88, 101, 108, 181, 203, 204, 205, 206, 222, 226–7, 231, 234, 242, 244 (impossibility of in classical

tragedy 29; in Antony and Cleopatra and Coriolanus 209, 216–23; in Disgrace 240–1); and (self) reformation 17, 21, 25, 35–6, 38, 72–3, 83, 87–8, 100–1, 129–32, 176, 193, 200, 201, 226, 245 (see also shame: in Christianity); as (way to) relationship with the world or other 1, 8, 21, 110, 112, 172, 173, 176, 196, 201, 202, 204, 206–7, 225, 226, 228, 233, 243, 245, 246 (difficulty of achieving 244); in the Renaissance 37, 39, 40, 41ff., 81, 91, 150–1, 188, 239; and repentance 12, 17, 87–8, 129–32; as restraining force 9, 11, 12–13, 17, 20, 243 (and as means of self-protection 17, 20, 84); as revelation of truth 1, 7, 8, 17, 20, 21, 23, 28, 34, 35, 36, 71–2, 82, 94, 108, 110, 170, 172, 176, 178, 188, 190, 195, 196, 200, 225–6, 226–7, 245; richness of 225, 233, 244 (see also shame: in Shakespeare); and sadomasochism 9, 22–3, 235; sculpted or written on forehead 15, 38, 47, 71, 96 (and unblushing brows 38, 47); and (violent) self-assertion 12, 26, 87, 127, 137–8, 144, 145, 162, 182, 193, 239; sense of 11, 17, 44, 65, 179–80, 201, 243 (see also shame: and modesty); and sexual bashfulness 89–91 (see also shame: and disguise; shame: feminine); sexual transgression or lust as source of 12, 26, 33, 38, 54, 84, 85–6, 86, 93–8, 100, 106, 139, 143, 170, 184, 238–9, 240 (see also shame: of the body); after Shakespeare 230–46; in Shakespeare 1, 2, 4, 6, 7, 21, 74 ff., 86, 173, 224–9 (as beginning of spiritual journey 226; as dreadful metamorphosis 224; ethical and spiritual emphasis of 74, 99–108, 226, 244–5; as finely

Index detailed 151; as gendered 83–8; as more important than guilt 151; as most valuably exemplified by tragic heroes 227; as opposite to being 80, 83, 225; pain of 225; psychological interest of 74, 76, 86; as revelation 225–6; richness of 228–9; ritual and theatrical aspects of 74, 175, 228; as sacred 223, 227; as spiritual drama ideal for tragedy 228; spiritual renewal of 82, 100–3, 103–8; ubiquity of 224; as valuably exemplified by women 226; as way to relationship 228); ‘sovereign shame’ (King Lear) 16, 21, 176, 201–2, 228; and stagefright 93; and suicide 9, 17, 27, 35, 86, 103, 126, 137, 138, 166–7, 200–1, 243; theatricality of 16, 21, 22, 23, 40, 49–51, 57–8, 65–6, 74–6, 82, 86, 89, 107–8, 109–11, 127, 132, 136–7, 138, 146, 147–8, 150, 166, 174–5, 187, 190, 191–2, 195, 196, 199, 202, 215–16, 230–1; and tragedy 30, 83, 88, 108, 109–11, 192, 197, 200, 202, 204, 206, 241; and the tragic hero 21, 22–3, 32, 81, 83, 88, 109–11, 112–13, 127, 136–7, 163, 166, 224–5, 227, 239; tyranny and accumulation of 91–5, 103–8, 109–35, 136–72, 174; unconscious 86, 157–9; vicarious moral 12, 23, 27, 79; vulnerability to 89, 92–5 (see also ‘shame-proof ’); as wounding 10, 28, 92, 182 (see also shame: etymology of) ‘shame cultures’ 15–16, 24–5, 29, 31, 165 (as opposed to ‘guilt cultures’ 15–16) shamefastnesse 45, 65, 85, 87, 89, 169, 179, 181 ‘shame-proof ’ (Love’s Labour’s Lost) 97; ‘to shame unvulnerable’ (Coriolanus) 209, 217, 227 shamelessness 17, 37, 38, 47, 61–4,


65, 95–9, 102–3, 128, 131, 145, 178, 182, 183, 184, 185, 199, 223, 227, 239; as evasion of shame 96, 145, 185–7, 190, 193, 196 (see also ‘shameproof ’); as emptiness of self (Parolles) 98; of nature 185, 223; personifications of 200, 202; as uninhibited being (Falstaff) 98 Shapiro, Michael 90 Shattuck, Roger 3, 65 Sinfield, Alan 159 Sir Gawain and the Green Knight 22, 39, 53 Smith, Bruce R. 76 Soloviev, Vladimir 21 The Sonnets 43, 54, 55–6, 68, 81, 91–5, 96, 123, 170, 178, 214, 229 Sophocles 22; Ajax 22, 23, 26–7, 28, 157, 228; Oedipus Rex 22; Oedipus Tyrannus 26, 27, 36 Spencer, Gabriel 60 Spenser, Edmund 56, 85; The Faerie Queene 28, 45, 49, 54, 64–5, 65–6, 67, 68, 72, 85, 89, 95, 181 Stallybrass, Peter 155 Stoppard, Tom: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead 236 structuralism 5 Swift, Jonathan: An Argument against Abolishing Christianity 231; Gulliver’s Travels 22, 231; A Modest Proposal 231 Tate, Nahum 188 Taylor, Gabriele 2, 13, 17, 102, 181, 242 Taylor, Neil 130 Tennyson, Lord Alfred 92 The Tempest 70, 90, 170 Thomson, Ann 130 Titus Andronicus 100 Traversi, Derek 216 Troilus and Cressida 26, 78 Twelfth Night 9, 90, 188, 213, 224 Two Gentlemen of Verona, The 90, 94, 100–1, 188–9



Ure, Peter 80 Venus and Adonis 25, 80, 83, 213 Vincent, Barbara C. 222 Virgil, 45 Vives, Juan Luis: De anima et vita 46–7, 114–15, 115–16, 142 Watson, Curtis Brown 58, 70, 114, 115, 120, 215 Webster, John: The Duchess of Malfi 62; The White Devil 43 Wheeler, R.P. 108

White, Edmund: A Boy’s Own Story 238 Wilde, Oscar: The Picture of Dorian Gray 233, 234 Williams, Bernard 2, 14, 17, 31 Williams, Tennessee: A Streetcar Named Desire 236 Wilson-Knight, G. 108, 185, 200 Winter’s Tale, The 58, 89, 116 Winterson, Jeanette: Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit 237 Zak, William 175, 178, 180, 195