Olson 2013

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Olson, Rebecca. Arras Hanging: The Textile that Determined Early Modern Literature and Drama. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2013.

Introduction: Hiding in Plain Sight

"some of th e most foundational works of the English canon are more indebted to a preindustrial textile tradition than we hvae acknowledged" (1)

"Indeed, it would seem that weavers and writers had been inspiring one another in England, as they were in other European countries, for centures." (1)

"my focus is the way that texts could be, and were, read like tapestries." (2)

"Although long descriptions of wall hangings are common in medieval literature, with a few notable exceptions they seem to have fallen out of favor during the sixteenth century. Yet if sustained descriptions of tapestries are somwhat rare in Elizabethan literature and drama, tapestries are not." (3)

blank tapestries, undescribed tapestries == "helps us to think about what the materiality of an arras hanging -- indepdnent of its figures surface -- contributes to a literary or dramatic scene" (3)

"In the work of William Shakespeare and Edmund Spenser in particular the arras hanging often functions as a 'blank' or unfixed screen that invites readers and playgoers to project something highly idiosyncratci onto the text. They might, for example, imagine arras hangings they had seen in life, and in this way weave their own experiences into the fiction." (3)

tapestries as old technology -- books were new, tapestries were old, "moth-eaten" (5)

tapestries are "two-sided, three-dimensional, and vibrant works of art" (6)

"It would be hard to overstate the importance of tapestries in early modern England: theyw ere ubiquitous objects that could be found not only in courts and noble estates but also in schools, churches, and more humble homes across the nation." (6)

portability -- could be transported with the monarch, or used in state processions, when the streets of London were lined with arras

"The tapestries would have effectively blocked sunlight and draughts, which were presumed to be harmful, and they created a separation between th (male-dominated) world of the court and the queen's chamber, which was exclusively occupied by women." (7)

tapestries in queens's confinement chamber prior to Princess Margaret's birght in 1489 were devoid of imagery thought not convenient for pregnancy -- tapestries could move the emotions (7)

"Arras hanging were actually designed to be visually overwhelming and to present onlookers with an interpretive challenge: the fact that they were displayed to communicate political or didactic messages does not mean those messages were always obvious or straightforward. One of the issues that most interests me in this study is the extent to which viewing these vibrant, three-dimensional objects was a physically demanding experience." (9) -- different from miniaturesthat you looked closely at; instead stepped back, taking a number of perspectives

"Literary scholars therefor need to get byond the surface: when we treat tapestries in fiction as 'pictures,' we overlook, to our detriment, the fact that these textiles were large-scale, two-sided objects with which people physically interacted. This is important, because writers invoked the textile medium as a way to appeal to their audiences' desire for a hands-on and personal narrative experience." (13)

"This reciprocity between narrative and textile challenges what has assumed to be a competitive or paragonal relationship between written texts and visual art in post-Reformation England -- the so-called competition of the sister arts, in which artists would seek to demonstrate the dominance of their own mediums. The blank arras, even more than the ekphrastic arras, would seem to complicate this established theory. Rather than read the literary representation of an arras as the poet's attempt to prove the preeminence o verbal over visual representation, the representations of blank arras hangings in early modern fiction ultimately underscore the works' debt to, and dependence on, a nontextual mode of representation." (13)

Spenser, Chapman, Lyly -- "call attention to the pliability of language itself, and their own craftsmanship as weavers of words" (14)

"although the facade of the arras was used to uphold the patriarchal order of the court, English writers deliberately remind us that it also created a space for the satisfaction of personal desires. More often than not, the space was specifically associated with women's unsanctioned sexuality." (15)

'Pliant, and Wel-Colored Threads': The Metatextual Textile

"textile work was a daily part of women's lives, whether they were rich or poor" (19-20)

"To those who would like to argue that writing a poem and weaving are in no way actually alike, I would point out that in order to write one of his sonnect, Sidney would have decided on a vertical 'frame' for his poem (the fourteen-line rhyme scheme), and then filled in that frame with lines of iambic pentameter. This vertical/horizontal structure is actually quite similar to preparing a warp and then weaving in the weft. In fact, some of the most popular and simple weaves, in which the shuttle is brought under and over alternating warp threads, recall the unstressed/stressed metered form of iambic pentameter itself." (20)

not necessarily antagonistic relationship between visual and verbal media in invocation of tapestries in poems (21)

"tapestry metaphors call attention to the tactility of language itself" (21)

Chretien de Troyes, "The Knight with the Lion" -- image of women carrying out needlework

Thomas Deloney, Jack of Newberie, dedicated to cloth-works in England and includes "Song of Weavers" (23)

took lots of workers to make tapestries -- touched by many hands

tapestries are NOT embroidery -- "embroiderers add designs to fabric, but the designs on an arras are woven into its fabric's very structure" (25)

"the weaver's success depended entirely on his or her preparation of the loom, a process that usually took longer than the actual weaving itself. Early modern poets, I suggest, were invested in representing their own works as similarly constructed, for this would showcase not only their ability to design intricate and aesthetically pleasing narratives but also their skill at manipulating everyday language into art." (25)

Spenser -- "emphasis on the threads of the Ovidian arras hanging could remind readers of Ovid's description of Arachne's subversive but flawless creative act, and thus an alternate female tradition of weaving, one associated with tapestries whose subjects challenged, rather than propagandistically supported, the patriarchal order of their societies" (28)

Lyly, Euphues, image of backside of the cloth -- compared to backside of the book

Tudor Tapestry Conventions and Spenser's Courts of Pride

tapestries as "tools of Protestant propaganda" (39)

"Because tapestries on permanent display deteriorate very quickly, the finest pieces were brought out only for special occasions, and otherwise remained carefully stored in trunks: this meant that if you were viewing a well-maintained, vividly colored, high-quality Flemish arras hanging, you could be sure that you were present for a special event, or at the home of someone very special indeed." (43-4)

Thomas Campbell argues "arras" referred to high-quality tapestries featuring gold or silver threads, not necessarily made in Arras

"Like the tapestries that help form borders in seventeenth-century Dutch paintings, the Faerie Queene tapestries form a kind of boundary or transition between the reader's position and the artistic fiction." (46)

Gargantua and Pantagruel, "Land of Tapestry"

"Because arras hangings were so popular, different courts in Renaissance Europe could look very much the same: tapestries changed hands, as was the case with Wolsey's collection, but the finest sets were also copied, which meant various monarchs and aristocrats oculd boast owning the same series simultaneously. Monarchs appear to have had no compunctions about displaying arras hangings originally intended to celebrate a rival king or queen. How one read the figures on a high-quality tapestry was therefore highly dependent on the context of the particular locale in which it was found." (53)

no evidence that tapestries were associated with Catholicism, and as an industry tapestry weaving was "associated with Protestant immigrants in the Elizabethan period" (54)

I imagine that if a rewoven copy of the same tapestry was bought and displayed by English rulers, the foreign origin of the design would be less threatening or even immaterial; Henry VIII, for example, who was not in a position to commission a series as propagandistic as The Conquest of Tunis, strategically purchased tapestries from the continent originally designed for other monarchs that would nonetheless support his own political objectives. Onc assimilated or appropriated into the English court, the arras surface became a message from or about its new owner." (55)

arras hanging as "a more ambiguous icon than has been recognized" (57)

Between the Tappet and the Wall

"the physical ambiguity of the real-life arras hanging helps to explain its surprising symbolic ambiguity in early modern literature and drama. For writers, the actual two-sidedness of the arras hanging -- one side presented a splendid and majestic image, while the other side remained obscured or 'messy' -- provided a useful analogy for the hypocritical behavior of courtiers, who similarly presented a carefully constructed facade." (63)

"More than simply providing a metaphor for duplicitous court behavior, arras hangings were apparently believed to actually facilitate that behavior. Foir the most part, tapestries on display today are hung against the walls (and they are sometimes even framed), something that has contributed to our sense of tapestries as flat surfaces. In Elizabethan and Jacobean England, by contrast, they could function as wall-like space dividers or, perhaps more common, were hung about a foot away from an existing wall. This installation meant that arras hangings created close, obscured spaces within large and often heavily populated palace chambers that could be used for a number of activities. In early modern drama, this space is consistently linked to -- indeed, makes possible -- activities that would not have been officially sanctioned, such as spying, secret rendezvous, and hiding from authorities." (64)

arras / arse pun

"The 'behind the arras' sex joke suggests that an arras hanging inevitably presented opportunities for covert personal -- and physical -- satisfaction. The arras therefore was not only a propagandistic visual text but it also featured an inverse side that was conceived of as 'inside out' or carnivalesque." (65)

"I suggest that there is an invitation implicit in these indirect arras allusions: for an aiudience familiar with the arras hanging's backside, they would signal that something provocatieve has been left unsaid, and therefore entice individuals to fill in that gap for themselves." (65)

putting the lusty woman behind the arras "left her ultimately unexposed, and thus protected her from direct censure -- both from other characters and from audience members" (66) -- representing absence as presence

tapestries as "symbols of female resistance to patriarchal suppression, examples of the ingenuity of women to speak out desite men's violent attempts to silence them" -- c.f. Ovid (69); tapestry as representing "woman's craftiness" (70)

early modern sexual fantasy of the woman behind the arras

"Like the ladies addressed in late Elizabethan sonnets, the anonymous lady behind the arras is someone we do not hear from directly and who is instead only glimpsed through the speech of male characters. What ultimately distinguishes her from the ladies represented by sonneteers, however, is that her activities behind the arras preclude her from being put on a Petrarchan pedestal: she is represented as someone who succumbs to desire, a sourtly lady as fully human as the courtier who woos her." (73)

allow playwright to represent woman without having boy actor impersonate her