The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.0342 Tuesday, 13 February 2001
From: David Lindley <
Date: Monday, 12 Feb 2001 16:21:33 -0000
Subject: 12.0327 Re: Cressida
Comment: Re: SHK 12.0327 Re: Cressida
>Laura Gowing's Domestic Dangers, 1996, is extremely interesting and
>valuable, says David Lindley. "I recommend the book strongly to those
>who wish to explore the construction of sexuality in the period, rather
>than attempting to judge Cressida's 'whoredom' according to modern
>understandings of the term."
>I would like to remind David that a book written in 1996 -- however well
>researched and documented -- must be a twentieth century version of the
>early modern period. We do not have direct access to the past, and our
>point of view is always constructed from the present.
I think we have been round this track before - but, whilst of course I
would acknowledge the truth that we make the past in part out of the
investments we have in our present (to paraphrase Tom Healy), I do not,
as 'presentists' would have me, believe that therefore the careful
documentation of the past cannot challenge the constructions we do in
fact make. Particularly must this be the case when attempting to
reconstruct the semantic field within which a term of abuse like 'whore'
operates. Gowing cites many documentary records which, taken
collectively, imply a usage of the word, and a cultural function of it
as a term of abuse which is, at least to me, recognisably distinct from
the way it functions in other comments on this list on the question of
whether or not Cressida 'is' a whore.
I do think we remake the past as our own culture changes - but I also
think we remake the past because of new evidence, and wider reading in
the materials the past has left us to consider. In the case of Gowing's
book, it is precisely that she brings to bear a distinct area (of the
court-room) that enables her book to challenge the construction of the
past I had made before I read it.
If this is not possible, then I forswear my scholar's gown and will
betake myself to journalistic comment on every passing TV show.
Professor of Renaissance Literature
School of English
University of Leeds
Leeds LS2 9JT