Thomas of Woodstock

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 22.0274  Friday, 7 October 2011

[1] From:         Michael Egan <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

     Date:         October 6, 2011 1:31:46 PM EDT

     Subject:      Woodstock


[2] From:         Donald Bloom <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

     Date:         October 6, 2011 2:47:40 PM EDT

     Subject:      Re: Woodstock


[3] From:         Joseph Egert <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

     Date:         October 6, 2011 4:21:34 PM EDT

     Subject:      Re: Woodstock




From:         Michael Egan <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         October 6, 2011 1:31:46 PM EDT

Subject:      Woodstock


Re: The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 22.0263  Wednesday, 5 October 2011


It's ironic that just today Israeli scientist Dan Shechtman was vindicated "after years when colleagues mocked him, insulted him and exiled him from his research group. The shy, 70-year-old Shechtman said he never doubted his findings and considered himself merely the latest in a long line of scientists who advanced their fields by challenging the conventional wisdom and were shunned by the establishment because of it."


Same here, though, of course, at a much more modest level. Nonetheless, like d'Artagnan, I am pleased to accommodate all you gentlemen, one by one or collectively. The fact is, 1 Richard II was composed by Shakespeare and will eventually be incorporated into The Collected Works. While few current readers apparently have much interest in this debate I feel I must write for history, as it were, because one day this correspondence may well be reviewed by another generation of scholars.


The trouble is that at times the debate is necessarily carried on at the most detailed of levels, and most scholars don't have time for what they mistakenly consider academic squabbling. We all I think understand what's at stake here--a new Shakespeare play! And a good one too.


To Mari Bonomi: 


I don't quite get your point. Mine is this: Mac Jackson tries to turn 1 Richard II into a manuscript written by Sam Rowley in his own handwriting ca. 1608. This contradicts existing scholarship, including my own, based on a close physical and computerized examination of the MS. The text is heavily edited with a variety of hands and picking one’s way through the undergrowth is a slow and difficult process. However, the undisputed scholar of the text, A.C. Partridge, concludes unequivocally that it is scribal copy made ca.1605 of a play written ca. 1592. Jackson excepted, this is the conclusion of all scholars, including myself.


To make his claim work, Jackson has to show that 1 Richard II and Rowley's only known play When You See Me You Know Me share important stylistic features. Since they don’t, Jackson is forced to claim that certain lines in 1 Richard II with 11-14 syllables are "really" iambic pentameters, i.e., comprise ten syllables, and that certain non-rhyming words really rhyme, etc. This is accomplished by introducing the concepts of "slurring," which allows syllables to be elided, and nasal rhyming, which allows Jackson to claim that words that obviously don't rhyme, e.g., Queen and Room, really do if you're sufficiently adenoidal. I simply pointed out how absurd and unnecessary these claims are, especially in view of what the MS actually does without having to violently rewrite it. If we take it as it is, as a whole, language, form, style, attitudes, poetry, characterization, multiple links to Shakespeare and more, there are indeed only two choices: It's by Shakespeare or by someone who understood Shakespeare's methods so well he could create a copy that's indistinguishable from the real thing.


To Gabriel Egan:


You write: "It isn’t a lie: Michael Egan goes on to argue that the use of this phrase ["Dead as a doornail"] in Thomas of Woodstock and Shakespeare’s 2H4 is one of “the parallels between 1R2 and the rest of Shakespeare”. Where’s the lie?"


The lie, Sir, as you well know, is not in my recognition that the phrase "dead as a doornail" occurs in 1 R 2 and elsewhere in Shakespeare, which is just a fact, but the way you ignore that format of the whole exchange: " dead?"/'As [a doornail/nail in door]". That is the basis of my claim--why don't you just have the courage and/or decency to admit it? You misrepresented me by leaving out "What . . . is dead?"/'As [a doornail/nail in door]" i.e., the strongest part of my case and focused on a false claim instead.


So Dr Egan I am calling you on it. 


You say: “I suggest to Michael Egan that he pursue journal publication as a way to try to win adherents to his cause. According to the (admittedly incomplete) Modern Language Association International Bibliography (MLA-IB) Michael Egan has published no articles on the subject of Thomas of Woodstock, and indeed no articles at all (according to MLA-IB, you understand) since 1984.”


Arrogance, Sir, compounded by ignorance. My articles rebutting Jackson may be found in The Oxfordian, 2007, 2009, 2010. Jackson’s articles are printed alongside. The journal Research Opportunities in Medieval and Renaissance Drama, which published without notification one of his attacks on me, declined to allow me to reply.


Despite my former letter about the peer-reviewing process at Edwin Mellen Press you continue to repeat the same nonsense, as I predicted. BTW, how did you come to possess a digital copy of my book (that you made yourself)? I'm not against your distributing it, but before you do I'd like to check that it is fact my own unedited copy and that publishing it does not pose any interesting copyright questions for EMP.


Please let me know ASAP how you come by it.


You are right in one thing: I don't really know who has or has not examined the MS. I know for sure that Mac Jackson hasn't, since he admits it and relies on Frijlinck and Rossiter. If you have let’s hear you on some of the key textual difficulties. For example, what you think of the crux posed by ‘Or let our predecessors yet to come,’ at III.i.91?   


To John Kennedy:


No, Sir, apparrel elided sounds like apple because of the initial vowel AP followed by [slur] and ending with L.  I guess you could App-rill, but that's not a slur, just an elision. Chambers introduced the slur concept to express the -shun sound in ambition, as opposed to ambit-i-o-n. I think the real question is why would an acknowledged hack like Samuel Rowley put so much effort into creating an iambic pentameter for purely technical reasons but at the cost of his audience not quite getting an important piece of information?.


“Ex-lint Tresin noble Lord Chief Justice’ is obviously not an iambic pentameter but two lines of punchy dialogue as Tresilian’s cronies slap him on the back.  In  the play Tressilian is never reduced to two syllables. As a director/playwright I want my audience hear that "Excellent Tresillian!" Then they crowd around him laughing. "Noble Lord Chief Justice!" with a slight irony on the Noble. The Jackson thesis is bloodless and in the service of mere scholarism


I don’t know what Galilionize means but it doesn’t sound nice and I’m sorry if I did it/do it. Also I don’t recall stamping and shouting but I apologize for that too.


To Bob Grumman:


You seem to be saying that I belittle the opinions of people who argue with me without having actually read my book.


What would you have me do?


And relatedly


To Gerald Downs


who writes disarmingly that no one has to read my book, after all. I thank him for taking the time to read it now. I didn’t know I was being verbally abusive, sorry. Maybe I was Galilionizing.


As for the MS and my conclusions about it, all I can say is that I have scrupulously and carefully examined a difficult and fragile document by hand as it were and also on my computer screen. The conclusions I come to are broadly similar to those of every other scholar except Mac Jackson. This is a prompter’s copy of a play written ca. 1592. It’s full of stage-managers’ notes but other additions and subtractions are evidently of an earlier era. We can see for example that certain speeches are unattributed, suggesting that this MS was at first written out in full and then, with the dramatist’s help, the speeches assigned. When they weren’t assigned they were deleted.


Mistakes have been made, some quite serious, then corrected. These suggest a scribe and not an author’s copy. Sometimes a space has been left for an illegible word, added later. Occasionally, a character’s name is given incorrectly, then fixed up. It all adds up to an edited copy.


Rossiter identifies one of the MS’s 9 hands as the author’s, largely because only the author could intervene so radically, e.g. by deleting the “pelting farm” speech. If this play is by Shakespeare, we have some rare examples of his handwriting. The text does show some 17th -century features but these are explained by the scribe introducing modern abbreviations. Partridge calls the process “stratification”: a few 17th-century features overlaying a late-16th Century bedrock. This single fact alone completely eliminates Mac Jackson’s thesis.


I hope this answers Down’s skepticism that the author was on hand at some point to work on the manuscript. I don’t know why he thinks this doesn’t make sense.


As for the hendiadys debate, all I can say is that the examples I cite are well within the range and style we find throughout Shakespeare. I give the OED definition and show that my examples fall with it.


Finally, any time Mr Downs (or indeed Gabriel Egan) wants to apologise that’s OK with me, and I accept.


Thank you,

Michael Egan



From:         Donald Bloom <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         October 6, 2011 2:47:40 PM EDT

Subject:      Re: Woodstock


Concerning "Woodstock": I think a moratorium might be in order. At least one of the participants has persuaded me, through his intemperance, not to be interested in his side at all. Perhaps a few months off could get the discussion back on an even keel -- sans insults, wild wagers and all that sound and fury.



From:         Joseph Egert <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         October 6, 2011 4:21:34 PM EDT

Subject:      Re: Woodstock


A generous proposal from Gabriel Egan?:  


>Tell you what, Michael [Egan], if you really want your book to be 

>read and it’s not about the money: take the Open Access route. 

>I have a digital copy of your book (that I made myself) and if you 

>want to distribute the thing free of charge I’d be happy to make it 



Are any of Gabriel Egan's books available online free of charge? Perhaps he can take the Open Access route and arrange such with his publishers.



Joe Egert

Ironic Henry V

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 22.0273  Friday, 7 October 2011

From:         Mark Alcamo <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         October 7, 2011 10:50:00 AM EDT

Subject:      Ironic Henry V


Please allow me to start off by apologizing if my posts have seemed nonsensical, disjointed and/or inappropriate thus far.  My hope had been to generate some interest and/or wonder about the subject - in my case, Henry V.  That said, I also apologize in advance for the length of this post, but my hope again is to try to clear up where I’m coming from and where I am suggesting it is important scholarship take a well-considered look to.


Simply put:  I hope to generate some interest in looking at an ironic reading of Henry V.  Readers may be familiar with this ‘interpretation’ essentially begun by Gerald Gould in a 1919 essay, A New Reading of Henry V.  This view was later endorsed by a number of Commentators such as Harold Goddard, Roy Battenhouse, and Ralph Berry, but in the last 30 years the well has been relatively dry; (I've only found two essays defending the view since Rabkin's well-known Rabbits and Ducks essay in 1981).


I believe I've made substantive headway in this reading, and I want to share it in this forum with the expressed hope that many of you have influence over the direction of Shakespeare studies: how Shakespeare is read, thought about and taught, and that you might see the merit in what I am presenting.  So here is a thumbnail summary of what I’m advocating:


If you could summarize a consensus view of Henry V today it would probably be that the play largely, even epically, celebrates King Henry and his victory at Agincourt.  But- Shakespeare being a realist and understanding the complexities of the real world tempers this with undercutting ironies.  Today’s view actually contrasts with the first 300 years of 'Shakespeare’ where it was usually presented as an unabashed Celebration of glorious war and British superiority over the archrival French, (ala Olivier propaganda-wise kicking Hitler in the butt via his Henry V movie.)


The ironic commentators mentioned above have typically made their case via arguments about character and plot observations.  Ergo, (being Shakespeare the playwright), you might think of the debate as


1- ‘Staged’ - The play theatrically easily stages as a panegyric celebration of the King and his Agincourt victory; with some realistic ironic underbrush to fill out the scenery.


2- ‘Paged (ironic view)’ - More thought applied to theatrical considerations of plot and character reveal many ironic undercurrents in the play.  Several commentators experience the ironies to such an extent that they decide the Author must have intended an ironic view of the action on stage.  IOW - the outward appearance is one thing, Stage Celebration, while the playwright underneath has a more subversive ironic intent.  (We might note that we know Shakespeare as being very interested in, (and adept at showing), the theme of appearance verses reality.)


I am now suggesting I’ve made further penetration into the play via a close reading of the play more as literature than strictly for theatrical presentation, watching for,


3- ‘Word-conscious’ Poetic Ironies - What I found in studying the play provides extensive support for the ironic reading, but I found much of this ‘evidence’ as ‘poetic and literal’, beyond (over and above) what is being staged ‘in-the-moment’ of the ephemeral footlights; you might think of it as meta-dramatic or meta-theatrical ironic reflections on the stagecraft.  I’m advocating a ‘close reading’ that pays particular attention to words and subsequent actions . . .  and then drawing your own conclusions.  You might think of this as Shakespeare the Poet writing verses Shakespeare the playwright.  IOW- I confess, as all ironic views must, I am appropriating ‘Shakespeare’s voice’ in asserting an ironic intent for the work.


I've done a very close reading of the play ‘prepared’ to tune in to ironies and a significant amount of the language 'divulges' a playwright who is using irony, (the ‘dry mock’ per Puttenham), to intentionally undercut (and mock) the Early Modern notions of glorious war and the nobility of 'God's anointed', etc.  I'm afraid I believe this will become a significant finding needing serious scholarly consideration in studies of Shakespeare.  For starters, could Shakespeare actually be more 'chill' than 'shill' toward the monarchy?   My simple hope is to put it before the academic community for vetting  and consideration - and as I mentioned in my first post, I am building a website that I hope teachers and others interested will use as a resource when considering the play.


Let me start off by stating I am already aware of the resistance to the idea of ‘knowing‘ what Shakespeare thinks of something.  For this play - a touchstone in the debate - you will easily find much more commentary refuting the ironic view than supporting it.  Objections tend toward two views, 1. it’s ‘un-Elizabethan’ to be critical of dynastic war or the highly esteemed historical King Henry V, and 2. an ironic view is reductionist and diminishes the Art - by definition it doesn’t appreciate the complexity of what’s presented.


To the first objection, I suggest it’s always dangerous to assign blanket sentiments to an entire population, and it is particularly peculiar to pigeon hole one of the great geniuses of the last millennium in this manner.


The second objection seems more reasonable, but I also found via my own ‘Reader Response’ experience with the play, ‘allowing‘ the precedence and ascendency of the ironies, that the play is actually enriched by the ironic choice.  It’s my belief many others who try this will find the same.  But addressing this concern further, I’d like to provide a quote from Wayne Booth's A Rhetoric of Irony (1975) that I believe makes the necessary point,


'I spend a good deal of my professional life deploring ‘polar’ thinking, reductive dichotomies, either-or disjunctions.  And here I find myself saying that only in strict polar decisions can one kind of reading be properly performed.  On the one hand, some of the greatest intellectual and artistic achievements seem to come when we learn how to say both-and, not either-or, when we see that people and works of art are too complex for simple true-false tests.  Yet here I am saying that some of our most important literary experiences are designed precisely to demand flat and absolute choices, saying that in fact the sudden plain irreducible ‘no’ of the first step in ironic reconstruction is one of our most precious literary moments.'  (p. 128, my bold italics)


It's probably no coincidence that he used the very same 'optical illusion' of rabbit and duck as Rabkin does a few years later, except where Rabkin asserts either/or, Booth says you have to take that step (up) and recognize the Author's drawing a duck.  And when you ask, 'Why a duck?', I think Shakespeare is saying 'Gee, (it's ironic) we dress war up as noble and glorious and right . . . but as a mirror of a (supposedly) Christian King, maybe we should recognize it leaves something to be desired.  IOW - how well do the Christian King’s ‘new man’ clothes honestly look ‘when he walks’?  It’s a very simple ‘Word verses deed’ question.  To quote Gerald Gould from his 1919 essay,


Henry V is a satire on monarchical government, on imperialism, on the baser kinds of ‘patriotism’, and on war.


IOW, I DO believe Shakespeare is 'mocking true things' (Christian hopes for peace on earth, etc.) 'by what their mockeries be' (Kings parading themselves as pious ministers of God's justice, etc.).  I know what a stretch this is asking (today), but in Henry V, I believe Shakespeare is intentionally weaving a near-imperceptible fabric of irony throughout the play - Vulcan's revenge for Mars getting Venus' affections . . .  I hope my ironic glosses will get people curious about this approach.


If I might, I’d also like to address a few of the responses to my posts thus far, only to hopefully clarify what I am saying:


‘a Table of greene fields’ :  My main thought was I’d introduce my topic with what I thought was an interesting finding but I think my intent has been largely missed.  For starters, any conscientious editor will say they only emend what seems ‘unintelligible’.  I found it interesting to find an actual extant table that is easily, poetically, described as a table of greene fields in the context of this speech recounting the death of Falstaff (a knight) by a distraught Mistress Quickly.  I especially ‘liked’ it because the image reinforces the evident memento mori aspect of the speech summarized by crying out loud, God, God, God, three or four times . . .  besides the poignant and affectionate sentiments.  We’re left wondering about the disposition of the large man’s considered soul, recognizing Falstaff has probably fallen short of meeting those chivalric ideals conveniently iconically represented when ‘looking up’ at the Winchester Round Table.  So please allow me to acknowledge an indubitable Truth: many, many Commentators prefer Theobald’s emendation to the First Folio wording, and evidently even more so given the existence of the Winchester Round Table.  This is obviously fine by me, and I readily acknowledge performing artists are free to interpret Shakespeare however they care, if the actress playing Mistress Quickly can’t work up getting choked up about Falstaff’s death than I’d suggest Theobald’s emendation is definitely the way to go.  Please let me confess I think myriad-minded Shakespeare is quite effective at painting wonderful word pictures which he plumbs from his wellspring depths or which flowed spontaneously from his white hot creative imagination which give us many images to think over.  I actually enjoy all the often cited imagery he uses in this one speech, oblique allusions conflated and woven together leaving us a very touching speech - Arthur as a malaprop for Abraham is great, but that doesn’t mean we need to discount the Arthur-Table and God-God-God . . .  connection.  Commentators have read allusions to the 23rd Psalm, physical signs of death, (nose growing thin and greenish complexion), and Socrates dying from ingesting hemlock - all these sound fine and theatrically appropriate.  Poetically, I’m not insisting on a connection between Socrates’ genius and the memorial Shakespeare, but it’s interesting to consider a parallel between the death of Shakespeare’s creation, Falstaff, and that Socrates was known for his non-conformance views about the State, (and a certain penchant for being dumb-ironic).  I refer to the OED online all the time, but when it’s referred to as an objection to a poetic analogy of a table top to a field, I think we’re possibly discounting what Shakespeare may very well have written on a technicality.  If we were to stoop so low as to question each and every poetic image Shakespeare creates against an OED validation, I’m afraid the outcome would be incredibly disappointing.


‘The King is butt a man, ass I am . . .’ : Here again, I’m honestly surprised that once the wordplay is pointed out, that it could be termed extremely improbable and discounted as obscure and forced because stoup doesn’t rhyme with poop until 1889.  The fault may be mine because I am a big believer in Dr Johnson’s observation that you always give too much to some and not enough to others, but that the mind enjoys the discovery more when it finds things out on its own.  I’ve presumed I’m dealing with a very intelligent audience here, so I have intentionally avoided pedantic glossing.  Butt in review: this portion of the speech is an extended poetic word-association wordplay image: King-butt-ass-violent smell: ‘in his Nakednesse he appeares butt a man.‘  (Shakespeare is actually conscious of the words he uses - couldn't he imagine the King 'just' a man? - it dates from 1551.)  Falcon imagery is fine with me, but mounted higher may easily refer to a King’s affection for his throne, and emanations from the rear, whether gaseous or solid, both tend to take like wing - this is classic bawdy Shakespeare attired in Chaucer-wear.  We might say ‘the King puts his pants on the same way as us’, Shakespeare says he drops his trousers just like us.  And my point from earlier is, this is 'extra-meta-dramatic-theatrical'.  Shakespeare intends the King is unconscious of the wordplay he is making him annunciate trippingly off the tongue.  You can readily watch both Olivier and Branagh give this speech, both excellent performances for the theater.  I do NOT suggest the King should be fanning his rear or the soldiers should be sniffing about the air for the source of their consternation.  The King is having a serious talk with his common soldiers the evening before the big battle and he makes references to falconry to allay their concerns.  Edward Bulwer-Lytton might write, ‘the fear in the air was palpable’, but Shakespeare under the darkness of night, cuts loose with what I view is a very funny M-o-c-k of the King - 100% appropriate from the pen of an ironic poet-playwright reflecting on ‘who’ was responsible for their current moist-unfortunate situation.  Maybe my sense of humour is too stilted, but I think it’s pretty funny to consider the superimposed wit here:  It’s the King (disguised) speaking wittily of his self-effacing humble self, unconscious of the actual wit Shakespeare has emanating from his mouth.  I suppose Freudian commentators may say the King was aware of his fear, but was unconscious of the slips he made, inadvertently expressing it.  Now, I expressly stated you could not make a stoup and poop connection OED-wise, (although ‘poop’ and farting dates from 1689), but I honestly believe if we could time-travel a team of Clinical Psychologists back to Shakespeare’s day and ask them to research Elizabethans  ‘demonstrating’ stoup, a significant proportion would show a movement similar as to when preparing to defecate.  As far as stoup rhyming with poop, I ask you possibly indulge Shakespeare was the cause of wit in others.  


Shakespeare and War; edited by Ros King and Paul J.C.M. Franssen (2008) opens with an essay by the editors which gives an anecdote about a Sergeant Hutton who’d read the play and believed Shakespeare had been in the Army because of the play’s truth for him,


‘Ye knaw them three - Bates, an’ them, talking afore the battle?  Ye doan’t git that frae lissening’ in pubs, son.  Naw, ’e’s bin theer ... An’ them others - the Frenchmen, the nawblmen, tryin to kid on that they couldn’t care less, w’en they’re shittin’ blue lights?  Girraway! ... ‘There’s nut many dies weel that dies in a battle.’


Sergeant Hutton, being a WWII veteran, may no longer be with us to discuss pre-battle nerves, but we might find some consolation about the idea of involuntarily losing control of one’s bodily functions out of fear by referring to our trusty OED:   


a1450    Castle Perseverance (1969) l. 1968   fiei schul schytyn for fere.  [shit for fear]


...  But the bottom line in the King is but a man (wordplay) speech is, I believe, Shakespeare is doing what he's not suppose to do - peeking out from behind his Iron Mask.


Thank you,

Mark Alcamo

Inquiry about Indian Films of/on Shakespeare

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 22.0272  Friday, 7 October 2011

From:         John Drakakis <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         October 6, 2011 11:25:24 AM EDT

Subject:      RE: Query


For Ken Adelman,


Try the DVDs of Maqbool (Macbeth) and Omkara (Othello). These are recent Indian versions.



John Drakakis



The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 22.0271  Friday, 7 October 2011

From:         Hardy M. Cook <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:          Friday, October 7, 2011

Subject:      Hiatus


Dear Subscribers,


This is a reminder that I shall be away from computers for a week, October 7 to 14. 


Please keep sending any postings, but be aware that I will not be able to read them before the 14th.


Best wishes, Hardy M. Cook

Editor of SHAKSPER <>  

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (SHAKSPER) 


SBReview_18: Unhistorical Shakespeare: Queer Theory in Shakespearean Literature and Film

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 22.0270 Thursday, 6 October 2011

From:         Hardy M. Cook <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         Thursday, October 6, 2011

Subject:      SBReview_18: Unhistorical Shakespeare: Queer Theory in Shakespearean Literature and Film


            Madhavi Menon.  Unhistorical Shakespeare: Queer Theory in Shakespearean Literature and Film.  New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2008.  ISBN-13: 978-0-230-60670-8; xi  + 195 pp.  US$85.00.  


Reviewed by Ryan Singh Paul, Allegheny College


Madhavi Menon (Associate Professor of Literature, American University) is the author of Wanton Words: Rhetoric and Sexuality in English Renaissance Drama (UToronto Press, 2004), and the editor of Shakesqueer: A Queer Companion to the Complete Works of Shakespeare (Duke UP, 2010).  Her second monograph, Unhistorical Shakespeare is an ambitious, theoretically sophisticated work about the study of desire.  Like recent works from “presentist” scholars such as Hugh Grady, Terence Hawkes, and Evelyn Gajowski, Menon seeks to challenge the historicist methods that dominate early modern studies.  Her ultimate goal is to queer the idea of history itself by promoting a fluid, open model of temporality, which she calls “homohistory.”  As such, the book is more significant as a work of methodological inquiry than a study of Shakespeare; her individual readings of Shakespearean texts are often insightful, but her approach to the study of history is what scholars will find both useful and problematic.  


Menon’s introductory “Argument” is, in its scope, the most comprehensive part of the book and thus will be of the greatest scholarly interest.  It is also likely to be the most controversial because of the claims Menon makes about the faults of “heterohistory,” her term for the primary mode of historical scholarship on sexuality.  She argues that most studies of early modern sexuality assume a paradigm of difference between past and present and offers as a spokesperson for this model David Scott Kastan’s Shakespeare after Theory (Routledge, 1999).  Menon highlights Kastan’s stance that the study of the past must begin with the assumption of difference between then and now and that scholars should avoid the “narcissistic” search for elements of the present in Shakespeare.  In other words, Kastan believes that to see Shakespeare as our contemporary is to project ourselves onto the past, committing the dreaded sin of anachronism.  


But according to Menon, this hetero-temporal paradigm fixes lines of difference in accord with chronology: heterohistorians assume the present to be transparent, solidified, and complete, while in contrast the past is viewed as the scene of fluid desire, transient identities, and deviant pleasures.  Here Menon seems to be weighing in on the debate in queer and LGBT studies between models of alterity and continuity, arguing that historicist methodologies by default assume that modern sexual “identities” are absolutely different from early modern “desires.”  The problem, she claims, is that by assuming a distinction between fixed sexual identities in the present and polymorphous sexual desires and acts in the past, heterohistorians (gay and straight alike) reproduce a heteronormative (and thus homophobic) narrative of development and marginalize the complexities of desire in the present by shunting them to the past.  Menon faults heterohistory for ignoring the complex desires that undermine modern distinctions between heterosexual and homosexual and for only seeing sexuality as a fluid continuum when looking at the past.  


In response to the distortions introduced by heterohistoricism, Menon promotes the concept of “homohistory.”  The homohistorian does not reject the idea of history; rather, she withholds judgments about similarity and difference, opening herself to modes of investigation that defy traditional chronologies and put unexpected texts into dialogue in ways that a strictly temporal analysis would not allow.  And rather than taking an identarian stance wherein modern sexual subjects possess recognizable and fixed desires, the homohistorian acknowledges the incoherence of desire in the present just as the heterohistorian locates it in the past.  Menon says that homohistory is not a method; one may think of it instead as a counter-method, a perspective that deconstructs the founding assumptions of the way we “do” history.  As an intervention in the debate between alterity and continuity, Menon seeks to offer a third way that refuses to make a priori assumptions about the relationship between past and present, thus confronting desire in all its fluidity at all times.  


Perhaps because I am sympathetic both to the demands of historicism as well as to the need for a critical evaluation of our methodological assumptions, I wondered, at times, if Menon were arguing against a straw-man: do the current historicist methodologies truly require such a false dichotomy between past and present?  Surely part of the goal of historical study is not to fix difference between past and present but, through the discovery of seeming distinctions, to uncover the contradictions and complexities in the present moment to which we have become blinded?  While Menon’s analysis of historicism’s potential mistakes is thoughtful and provocative, her presentation of it is perhaps unnecessarily polemical.  The assumptions she lays at the feet of heterohistorians are not, it seems to me, unavoidable problems of all historical study but pitfalls that scholars can avoid by careful examination of their assumptions.  In other words, I agree that a rigid insistence that the past is completely alien from the modern world is problematic, but the mere acknowledgement that one should accept, even expect, difference in historical study is not the same thing.  


This points to what I think is the main fault of Menon’s work.  She criticizes heterohistory because its “paradigm of difference only reinforces the belief that difference is what marks a ‘proper’ sexuality” (14).  Yet she is intent throughout the text to assert the difference of her project from what has come before, an irony that results in terminological confusion and at times forecloses on potentially insightful collaboration.  Menon seems not to intend to simply replace a focus on difference with one on similitude, but to promote a study of history that is flexible and fluid in constructing a relationship between past and present.  Her terminology, however, is restrictive, “homohistory” being a prime example: by her own definition, it is not just the study of sameness in the way that she asserts heterohistory is the study of difference, but by adopting oppositional language she risks obscuring the subtleties of her theoretical insights and making her argument appear to be simply the reverse of heterohistoricism.  And again, heterohistoricism is not, I think, identical to historicism itself; to elide the difference between the two is to unfairly undermine an important mode of scholarship and accuse its practitioners of unthinking bias.  


Some of the individual studies in her book are more successful than others at avoiding such problems.  In each of five chapters, Menon marshals an eclectic collection of texts – theoretical, popular, and Shakespearean – to identify the contradictions, unstated anachronisms, and heteronormative biases of heterohistory’s foundational components: teleology, facts, citation, origins, and authenticity.  I found chapter 4, on origins and originality, to be the most convincing.  In it, Menon reads Titus Andronicus as a text that argues against the primacy of sources.  The play wears its classical lineage on its sleeve, yet, as she points out, the references that appear to provide the framework within which both characters and audience can make sense of the play prove inadequate, even irrelevant.  In a play on Harold Bloom’s “anxiety of influence,” Menon argues that Shakespeare’s “suspicion of causal certainty” (111) queers the directionality of inspiration.  For example, Ovid’s story of Philomela “marks the textual and physical parameters within which we must read Lavinia,” yet it “never tells us anything about desire itself. . . . Shakespeare’s repetition of Ovid turns out to be in excess of its origin” (96, 101-102).  As an argument about historicist methods, Menon makes the case that a text’s sources do not always provide a useful interpretive framework: a text may not only rebel against its apparent “origins” but sever itself completely from them.  She provokes us to think about how heterohistorical analysis may desire for a too neat temporal progression that reduces textual intercourse to a one-way street.  


Other chapters offer useful insights as well, each appropriating Shakespeare as a theorist intent on challenging heterohistory.  Chapter 2, on facts in Cymbeline, is particularly incisive in uncovering the epistemological privilege granted to the fact: a unit of meaning taken for granted as “true,” the fact creates the very framework that gives it meaning.  The final chapter on authenticity and the popular film Shakespeare in Love also points out the heterohistorical biases present in some scholarly responses to the film.  According to Menon, Shakespeareans criticized the film for its lack of “authenticity” in presenting Shakespeare as unproblematically heterosexual, but, she argues, the film problematizes “hetero sex by linking it to the flexibility of homo texts” (128).  That is, the heterosexual romance at the heart of the narrative is marked by misrecognition and is ultimately unreproductive, and it is fundamentally implicated in historical anachronism, the muddling of historical and textual facts, and other chronological and historical “lies.” She says that although the Shakespeare of the film is heterosexual, he is not heteronormative.  


On the other hand, I thought her third chapter, on citation, was the most problematic because of its partisan logic.  The chapter has many strong points, including an insightful analysis of the distinction between citation and quotation and a brilliant reading of the ambiguity of names and naming in Much Ado About Nothing.  But the connections between these two parts are obscured as her critique of citation slides without comment into one on the concept of naming altogether.  Citation may be a form of naming, but names do not always equate to citations.  In addition, her reading of citation/quotation is one-sided; she argues that “citation always needs [quote] marks to mark the quotation as a hygienic unit whose constitutive anachronism and inappropriate desires are glossed over by its citational apparatus” (79).  Yet quote marks also can foreground anachronism by making visible something taken out of its time.  As much as they may enable the setting off of an original authority from which teleological progression has derived, citations and quotations also can enable the sorts of transhistorical “constellations” and conversations that she says are an essential part of homohistory.  In other words, Menon claims that the quote mark embodies a certain meaning in itself, rather than challenging the way the apparatus is used to either contain or free desire.  By constructing an ontological distinction between the heterohistorical citation and the homohistorical insistence on “not naming our sources” (93), Menon obfuscates what seems to be the main goal of the chapter: finding a way out of the debate over “proper” sexual terminology by confronting desire’s resistance to being named.  


Additionally, the endgame of her analysis is at times unclear.  For example, the Bollywood films she examines in chapter 3 as examples of homohistorical anti-citation are not the most interesting objects of study, at least in my opinion, and I question what lasting import her argument here will have for Shakespeare studies.  A more significant example of the obscurity of Menon’s theories comes in the first chapter, where she reads Venus and Adonis as a text against teleology.  According to her summary, heterohistoricist scholars read the narrative’s avoidance of sexual consummation as either a) a sign of Shakespeare’s still developing skills (thus a stop on the teleological path towards becoming “the Bard”), or b) a sign of the difference between the fluid perversity of early modern desire and the fixed productivity of modern sexuality.  Menon’s reading recuperates the poem as a challenge to the teleological assumption of sex as the only “successful” end to erotic desire: the poem is neither an example of young Will’s untutored pen nor a remnant of an alien past but a sophisticated, transhistorical theory of sexuality.  Her reading is sophisticated and provocative, but her criticism of other scholarship on the poem because it “fails to fail” is mystifying (49).  She suggests that homohistory provides an “alternative to teleology . . . the study of failure” (50), yet one does not escape a teleological framework by studying failure.  The concept of failure necessarily implies that of success, and if we conceive of, even valorize, an “end” as a failure, there must be one that is a “success.”  Instead of deconstructing teleology and moving beyond concepts like success and failure, Menon adopts an anti-teleological stance that remains within the heterohistorical model.  


Despite these problems, for the most part Menon brings together diverse sources quite effectively, and she uncovers provocative theoretical implications in Shakespeare’s works.  Menon’s novel approach to history merits attention not only from those interested in the study of desire and sexuality but also from all scholars interested in “the past.”  This is not because she overthrows historicism as a method or because it offers us a new model of early modern sexuality; if such were her intentions, I think she does neither.  Rather, readers who can get past Menon’s sometimes polemical tone will find a call to methodological self-examination that, despite overreaching in its claims, can be a useful reminder of the need for thoughtful evaluation of scholarly assumptions.  While many will disagree, perhaps vehemently, with Menon’s assertions, I think that articulating such disagreements is a productive exercise.  

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