The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 20.0153  Thursday, 2 April 2009

From:       Hardy M. Cook <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:       Thursday, April 02, 2009
Subject:    SBReview_3: _Gothic Shakespeares_

SBReview_3: _Gothic Shakespeares_. Edited by John Drakakis and Dale 
Townshend. General editor, Terrence Hawkes. _Accents on Shakespeare 
Series_. New York: Routledge, 2008. ISBN 978-0-415-42067-9; 264 p. US$39.95.

Reviewed by Peter Paolucci, York University

This festschrift is dedicated to scholar-biographer-teacher Julia 
Briggs; it contains a collection of nine essays framed on one side by 
John Drakakis' _Introduction_ and on the other side by Jerrold E. 
Hoggle's _Afterword_. Four of the essays explore the use of Shakespeare 
as a signifier of English patriotism, identity, and the crisis of 
English nationalism: Stephen Craig's "Shakespeare Among the Goths," Dale 
Townshend's "Gothic and the Ghost of _Hamlet_," Sue Chaplin's "The Scene 
of a Crime: Fictions of Authority in Walpole's Gothic Shakespeare," and 
Angela Wright's "In Search of Arden: Ann Radcliffe's William 
Shakespeare." Three of the essays explore Shakespeare as a re-worked or 
re-constituted signifier of modern-day cultural anxieties and concerns: 
Peter Hutchings' "Theatres of Blood: Shakespeare and the Horror Film," 
Glennis Byron's "'As One Dead': _Romeo and Juliet_ in the 'Twilight' 
zone," and Fred Botting's and Scott Wilson's "Gothspeare and the Origins 
of Cultural Studies." The remaining two essays (Elisabeth Bronfen's 
"Shakespeare's Noctural World" and Michael Gamer's and Robert Miles' 
"Gothic Shakespeare on the Romantic Stage") are anomalous. The former 
traces the use of darkness and night (pseudo-signifiers of the Gothic) 
in _Romeo and Juliet_, _A Midsummer Night's Dream_, and _The Merchant of 
Venice_; the latter is an exploration of Shakespearean influences on 
post-modern culture, although this reviewer found the essay to be 
fraught with cryptic and unsubstantiated claims ("If Shakespeare were 
alive today he'd be the Cookie Monster on _Sesame Street_ introducing 
Masterpiece Theatre" (196)). Nevertheless, the editors are to be 
commended for the variety in theoretical approaches and subject matter, 
and for the scope of topics and contexts. As with any good melange of 
critical essays, there is something here to excite  --  and irritate  -- 
_Gothic Shakespeares_ explores intertextualities between Shakespeare and 
Gothic narratives in fiction, drama, film. "[T]he coexistence in one 
text of other texts" (Drakakis 9) can appear as "quotation, allusion 
[or] . . . appropriation" (12), and encompasses the "transforming [of] . 
. . originals" (9) or an intent to "_improve_ the original" [sic]. The 
rise of Shakespeare as a scholarly industry clearly has its home in the 
eighteenth century, so the connections seem obvious enough, but the 
objective is more elusive than first thought. The essays touch on the 
Gothic moment of eighteenth century and Walpole's _Castle of Otranto_ as 
pivotal moments, but two problems emerge from this critical necessity. 
First, attributing meaning to these intertextual moments is inherently 
problematic; while there is no shortage of Shakespearean epiphenomena in 
the eighteenth-century and beyond, the allusions often seem 
disappointingly incidental. For example, speaking about an intertextual 
moment in Tod Browning's 1931 _Dracula_, Peter Hutching observes that 
Renfield's use of "Words, words, words" "is sufficiently odd to be 
noticeable but insufficiently elaborated to be fully meaningful" (155). 
The same can also be said, regrettably, for many of the intertextual 
moments discussed elsewhere in this festschrift. One is reminded of 
Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth": "There's something 
happening here / What it is ain't exactly clear."
With regard to the second difficulty, intertextuality is complicated by 
the richly varied use of "Gothic." Walpole may have been clear in his 
own mind about the meaning when he used the label in the second edition 
of _The Castle of Otranto_, but subsequent uses reveal an oblivious 
resistance to distinctions of genre and refer fiction, drama, or even 
poetry. Gothic is associated with that specific moment in literary 
history between 1764 (Walpole's _Otranto_) and the 1820s, and yet 
literature before and after this period is also be said to be Gothic 
(viz. _Macbeth_ and _Wuthering Heights_). The term also refers to the 
distinct genres of supernaturalism and science fiction (Mary Shelley's 
_Frankenstein_). Gothic also refers to ghost stories, satanic 
over-reacher narratives in the tradition of _Dr. Faustus_ (viz. Matthew 
Lewis' _The Monk_), and has even been used to describe the anti-Gothic 
or rationalist tradition in Radcliffe and Austen. The term describes an 
ornate architectural style usually associated with church design, and 
Gothic ruins often become a dominant trope in the narrative. Gothic has 
also been used pejoratively in the sense of the "dark ages," and is 
associated with a kind of brutal primitivism (the _OED_ shows Dryden 
using the term in 1695 to mean "[b]arbarous, rude, uncouth, unpolished, 
in bad taste"). The term alludes to exotic settings of time or place and 
is associated with motifs of frightful nocturnal anxieties, melodrama, 
darkness and fear, Catholicism, mysticism, forbidden desires, vulnerable 
heroines, themes of power and victimization, and a myriad of phobias, 
including agoraphobia, erotophobia, nyctophobia. And if all that is not 
enough, the term is also associated with conventions of _romance_. No 
wonder the meaning of intertextualities can be elusive.

The overarching, eighteenth-century moment that fused the Gothic with a 
variety of re-significations of Shakespeare is handled variously by the 
essays. Botting and Wilson claim that "Shakespeare is a Gothic 
invention, a fiction" (188) and Townshend suggests the invention of 
Shakespeare served as a very specific response to the insecurity of a 
newborn literary form: "In relation to Gothic, Shakespeare is at once, 
the revered subject and object of protection . . . . Shakespeare 
provides the dominant mode through which Gothic fictions seek to 
establish their aesthetic credibility, as well as their legitimate 
position [in the] literary genealogy that runs from Chaucer . . . . and 
beyond" (73). In a Derrida-derived essay that is unnecessarily 
self-obfuscating, Sue Chapin thinks _Otranto_ expresses a "compulsive 
monumentalization and repetition of the past" (98) and came "to exist 
within this early modern juridico-literary economy as a site of power" 
that was also simultaneously "a site of transgression" (99). (In the 
end, Chapin's essay is as much about Derrida as Shakespeare and the 
Gothic). Using Radcliffe's Gothic adaptations of Shakespeare, Angela 
Wright's essay rejects the idea that all Gothic adaptations of 
Shakespeare are necessarily part of a "gesture of English nationalism 
during a time of French encroachment" (113). Wright's superb essay 
offers nuanced insight into the progressively sophisticated use of 
Shakespeare in Radcliffe's fiction. Dale Townshend's "Gothic and the 
Ghost of Hamlet" is a bookend piece for Wright's essay, and takes as its 
starting point, an anonymous poem published in 1750 and entitled 
"Shakespeare's Ghost" and traces the influence of Hamlet on several 
eighteenth century works, including Radcliffe's _The Romance of the 
Forest_ and Udolpho, Reeve's _The Old English Baron_, and, of course, 
the seminal _Castle of Otranto_.
Craig wants to distinguish between "Shakespearean Gothic" and "Gothic 
Shakespeare" (46), with the former referring to the eighteenth century's 
appropriation/use of Shakespearean themes and motif (what he calls 
"_present_ing" [sic] Shakespeare (56) or "assigning privilege to the 
present), and with the latter referring to Shakespeare's own 
anticipatory use (foreshadowing) themes and motifs that would 
subsequently become identified as Gothic. His essay is helpful in 
understanding essays in the collection, like Elisabeth Bonfen's 
"Shakespeare's Noctural World." Bronfen uses the word Gothic to mean 
ominous darkness; Drakakis calls her use of the term "sensibilities" (18).
The gem is collection is the intriguing Gamer-Miles essay which takes as 
its starting point Samuel Ireland's counterfeiting of a Shakespearean 
manuscript that duped many Shakespearean experts of the time. The essay 
explores the contours of the eighteenth-century biases about Shakespeare 
by showing which parts of the forgeries worked and why.
There is so much more that cannot be mentioned here, but the book will 
most certainly be of use to Shakespearean and eighteenth-century 
scholars and is well worth the read. _Gothic Shakespeares_ is a 
pioneering foray into a vast landscape of topics; hopefully further 
discussions will ensue.

S H A K S P E R: The Global Shakespeare Discussion List
Hardy M. Cook, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
The S H A K S P E R Web Site <http://www.shaksper.net>

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