Marcus 1988

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Marcus, Leah. Puzzling Shakespeare: Local Reading and its Discontents. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988.


"Even though every interpreter of Shakespeare depends on the work of previous 'localizers' for such basic things as determining the order of the plays' composition and establishing the texts in which we read them, we have tended to set such work apart from the mainstream, as though by assigning the localizers to a fenced-in preserve we can minimize their impact on something we are willing to perceive only as universal and without limits." (1)

Shakespeare frontispiece

"At a time when English writers were asserting unprecedented autonomy and mastery over their own work through allegorical frontispieces, admonitory prefaces, overt and covert declarations of intent, Jonson's poem abolishes Shakespeare as an entity apart from his writings. What the authoer may have intended becomes void as a category because there is no space at all between the man and his work. Andrewes and other authors may gesture toward their books, but Shakespeare is the book." (19)
"The First Folio opens with an implicit promise to communicate an authorial identity, which it instead repeatedly displaces: Shakespeare is somehow there, but nowhere definitively there." (20)
"Shakespeare, as presented through the rhetorical anomalies of the First Folio, is an author who is simultaneously not an author in the proprietary sense that contemporaries were beginning to claim for themselves. As the volume sloughs off devices that would 'localize' the author's identity, so it resists the creation of a localized audience. The comely frontispiece of the late Renaissance was like a veil covering a book's contents and preserving it from vulgar eyes: only those learned enough to 'read' the book's visual schematization on the title page had earned the right to enter the text itself. Elaborate engraved frontispieces thus served contemporary authors as a way of preselcting their audience, or at least of favoring some segment of it." (21)
"There was a tension, often quite explicit in these volumes, between the intellectual elitism claimed for authorship and the broader appeal required if authorship were to prosper in the marketplace. Shakespeare's First Folio addresses the claim of elitism by appearing not to do so. The title page, unlike the usual engraved frontispiece, offers no obvious barriers against perusal by the unlearned." (21)
"Unlike other memorial volumes, the First Folio defers identifying details about the author until he has been established as transcendent." (23)

pages containing list of actors and some dedicatory poems are "floaters, with no fixed place in the volume" (24) -- but always seem to not fit in; "Once again, the FF resists localization. The elements that seem most immediate in terms fo their evocation of the author as a man who existed at a definite time and as part of a specific cultural milieu are out of place, as though alien to the transcendent image of Shakespeare that Jonson's poem constructs." (24)

"The Bard generated by the FF is a figure for Art itself as Renaissance humanists like Ben Jonson wished to imagine it, existing in lofty separateness from the vicissitudes of life, yet capable, from its eminence, of shedding influence, 'cheere,' and admonition." (24)
"The usual folio volume encouraged readers to perceive continuities between 'local' particularities about the author and the ghiher and more generalized realm of fame and permanence to which the author laid claim through the work: the author was both 'local' and transcendent. The FF disrupts the perception of such continuities. It makes high claims for 'The AUThor' while simulataneously dispersing authorial identity, so that 'Mr. William Shakespeare' becomes almost an abstraction, a generic category, while remaining an unstable composite. Given the rhetorical turbulence of the volume's introductory materials, constructing Shakespeare requires almost a leap of faith, like Jonson's, and depends upon the suppression of a host of particularities that recede into indeterminacy when an attempt is made to pin them down. If we insist upon clinging to such ephemera, the volume seems to tell us, we will lose the 'essence' of Shakespeare and fragment the unstable, generalized figure that the First Folio constructs. Then there will be no Shakespeare after all. That is a very powerful inducement against localization -- at least if authorial identity is something we wish to value." (24-5)

FF valorizes the general; this reverses what Ren audiences brought to the theatre (26) -- "Plays were caught up in a whirl of intense if nebulous topical speculation in which meaning was multiple, radically unfixed, but also capable of settling into termporary fixity as a result of interpretation. (28)

"In the FF, the plays are covered by a humanist overlay that protects them against the marauding inroads of irresponsible interpretation. As in other 'authored' works of the late Renaissance, there is an implicit contract between writer and readers, or in this case between the volume's compilers and readers, governing the terms in which the contents may be read." (30)
"The FF gives readers two choices: either we must accept the transcendent Shakespeare, or there will be no Shakespeare at all, only an untidy pile of fragments that cannot be assembled." (32)
"The Renaissance unease with topicality tended to focus on changing definitions of the place of art: authors were caught between the need for currency, the need to attract an immediate public, and a newly emerging desire for permanence and monumentality. A more massive unease is associated with 19th and 20th century formalist methodologies -- with New Criticism, for example, which tended to view all attempts at 'local' reading as incompatible with the essential nature of literature as a thing apart. The dismantling of the humanist enterprise in its Renaissance and its 20th century forms has cleared the way for a renewal of interest in local reading." (32-3)
"Local reading tends to be associated with antiquarianism and the valorization of origins, with an older mode of historicism that decipered texts in order to discover and fix the meaning of Shakespeare" (33)

topical reading associated with anti-Stratfordians

"'Localization' is an idea we need to apply to ourselves as readers as well as to what we read." (36)
"'local' reading can be -- and should be -- a suspension of our ruling methodologies, insofar as that is possible, in favor of a more open and provisional stance toward what we read and the modes by which we interpret; it should be a process of continual negotiation betwene our own place, to the extent that we are able to identify it, and the local places of the texts we read." (36)
"'Local' reading operates in the psace between different systems for generating meaning -- between the evanescent interpretation which fascinated Renaissance audiences as they looked for juicy, provocative links between plays and contemporary events, and the broader kinds of interpretation facilitated by our own more general explanatory models." (37)
"The localization of Shakespeare is based on the assumption that asimilar cross-fertilization between the mapping 'cross-sectional' analysis favored by anthropologists and the longitudinal, sequential analysis characteristically practed by historians will create a range of new vantage points from which to consider how the plays create meanings." (37)
"The meanings generated by a given text may well be multiple or self-canceling, or both. Instead of striving for a single holistic interpretation of a text, we may find ourselves marking out a range of possibilities or identifying nexuses of contradiction." (37-8)
"It circumvents the overfamiliarity of the traditional Renaissance Shakespeare by showing us the cultural otherness of what we thought we understood." (40)
"Often, when we appear to banish the Author's Intent from the field of critical discussion we are not so much disallowing it as displacing it -- relocating its sovereign authority in ourselves as reader-critics. If Shakespeare avoided the appearance of intentionality, it was at least som eof the time by design. We must try to distinguish between a lack of intentionality and the avoidance of intentionality, which may be a radically different thing." (42)
"What if, rather than flowing effortlessly and magically from Shakespeare's mind onto the unalterable fixity of paper, the plays were from the beginning provisional, amenable to alterations by the playwright or others, coming to exist over time in a number of versions, all related, but none of them an original in the pristine sense promised by Heminge and Condell? Nothing we know about conditions of production in the Renaissance playhouse allows us to hope for single authoritative versions of the plays." (44)
"Shakespeare may not have thought of his plays as existing in some fixed form. He may, in fact, have been more interested as a dramatist in fending off the rising tide of authorship than in conforming to its emerging demands. There is no Shakespearean 'Originall'; what we have instead is a series of 'local' texts vvarying in ways that correlate with shifts in external circumstances and in the conditions of performance." (45)
"Despite our continuing dependence on the work of Shakespearean ediors (and that dependence must not be forgotten), we need to go back to the early texts in order to keep ourselves from premature closure, from passively accepting readings which may have been generated by the ordering activities of editors. To be stripped of the comfortable securities offered by modern editions is unnerving, but not a sufficient reason for giving up interpretation. All we have to give up is the fond belief that our interpretation has to be infallible and 'for All Time,' like the universal Bard himself, in order to have any value." (46)


unruly women; S's history plays from HVI to HV "progressively marginalize the dominant woman" (94)


James -- once asked a pracher at court to make sense or step down; "liked ot portray his own language and policy, in implicit contrast to the labyrinthine tactics of Elixabeth, as always making sense." (111) -- 1604 speak before Parliament advocates "plain sense"

"Unlike Elizabeth, who usually made a point of mystifying political intent, James demanded that his policy utteranes be 'read' according to the constraints of an authored document." (111)

frontispiece to his Workes -- "could even be taken as preferring authorship over kingship as a way of achieving monumentality and immortality" (112)

"James's kingship was an absolutism of the text." (113)

Elizabeth's coronation -- "she was part of a collective celebration that was larger than she"; "James's coronation pageant, by contrast, used elaborate architechtonics, 'arcane images' and 'symbols' specific to the king and his hopes for a British empire, to build up more complex assertions about the nature and goals of the new monarch." (115)

Ben Jonson's description of idea behind James's pageant:

"The nature and propertie of these Devices being, to present alwaies some one entire bodie, or figure, consisting of distinct members, and each of those expressing it selfe, in the[ir] owne actiue spheare, yet all, with that generall harmonie so connexed, and so disposed, as no one little part can be missing to the illustration of the whole: where also is to be noted, that the Symboles used, are not, neither ought to be, simply Hieroglyphickes, Emblemes, or Impreses, but a mixed character, partaking somewhat of all, and peculiarly apted to these more magnificent Inventions: wherein, the garments and ensignes deliver the nature of the person, and the word the present office." (quoted on 115)

James became disillusioned with his subjects' ability to read plainness, reterated into arcane symbols later (116)



Measure for Measure

London as a patchwork of competing interests; James tried to seize them under his unitary control

uncertainty of what constituted a valid/legal marriage; common law, political authority, ecclesiastical/church authority



"Topical reading allows us to enter into alien areas of signification, which quickly spread beyond the fleeting contemporary reference to create a new field for interpretation." (216)
"To a marked degree, the playtexts themselves resist self-identity, shake out, each of them, into a kaleidoscope of related but discrete entities. Insofar as we want to define 'Shakespeare' what we find is a similar bewildering, spectacular array -- an evasion of the linear even in the act of generating it, a set of diverse engines for producing multiplicity even amid the gathering of likenesses. To describe 'Shakespeare' thus is, of course, to give ourselves the Shakespeare we want." (218)
"The Shakespeare we want is not a man, a set of describable data, but an 'ongoing cultural activity' or set of reltaed, often competing, activities which need to remain open in order to retain their vitality. When local reading begins to move toward closure and codification rather than the generation of new meanings and functions, it will be time to abandon it and move on to something else." (219)