Searching Shakespeare

Searching Shakespeare: Studies in Culture and Authority

DEREK COHEN
Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 232
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3138/9781442679689
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  • Book Info
    Searching Shakespeare
    Book Description:

    Original in topic and approach,Searching Shakespearepresents a political-historical exploration of Shakespeare's drama, examining the plays in the context of current ideological concerns - history, memory, marginality, and nationalism. Derek Cohen predicates his argument on the supposition that the individual, as much as the encompassing state, is subject to the shaping forces and machinery of the ideological surround.

    Shakespeare's plays, Cohen argues, consistently portray the clash between the passionate search for individuality and the quest for social harmony as irresolvable. The playwright's uncanny ability to carry the reader to the edge of imaginary experience - far from the literal world that is made visible by the text - offers an entry into the subtextual and ironic underside of the dramas. It is in this dark and strange world of slavery, mutilation, sexual jealousy, and suborned murder that the implicit political biases of the plays are most evident and it is here, too, that a modern political analysis reveals why Shakespeare portrayed the quest for individuation and self-expression as necessarily ending in tragedy.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7968-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. xi-xvi)

    The essays in this book fall into three parts, each aimed at exploring an undercurrent in the plays studied. Literary criticism is always about undercurrents and implications. In this sense, it is always about irony and the matter that lies beneath and often contradicts what is merely ostensible. Attempting to lay bare this concealed but teeming life in the plays, the critic finds himself drawn into strange, dark, and exciting places by the agency of words. Shakespeare′s uncanny and singular imagination carries his reader to the edges of imaginary experience, far away from the literal world that is made visible...

  5. PART I

    • CHAPTER ONE Tragedy and the Nation: Othello
      (pp. 3-18)

      A nation is, among other things, a collectivity of people made aware by its history of the possibility of its own extinction as an entity. The history to which such a possibility alludes is the national metanarrative that is constructed over time by the historians who have served to define the nation through their narratives. The fact that the nation can be destroyed is a crucial element of nationhood. That destruction, imagined or real, need not be violent. A nation can cease to exist as a nation when other, more powerful nations so decide. (The history of Yugoslavia supplies, perhaps,...

    • CHAPTER TWO History and the Nation: The Second Tetralogy
      (pp. 19-40)

      The past, in the figure of the murdered King Richard, haunts the protagonists of theHenry IVplays and prominently figures in King Henry V′s prayer on the eve of Agincourt. The relation between the Richard they remember or merely imagine and the Richard ofRichard IIis fraught with emotional, moral, and ideological consequences. Richard′s post-mortem power turns out to be greater than that he possessed alive and figures significantly in the various constructions of the English nation of these histories. His murder is the transforming fact and detail of Henry IV′s monarchy, and it looms over and transfigures...

    • CHAPTER THREE Slave Voices: Caliban and Ariel
      (pp. 41-60)

      The construction of Caliban as a colonized native has become a truism of contemporary criticism ofThe Tempest. Meredith Skura and Alden and Virginia Vaughan have traced the history of Caliban and the way in which he has been read as monster, as villain, and, most recently, as victim. Caliban has become a cultural icon, an enabling force and a touchstone of the culture from which he derives and of those cultures that have appropriated him. Skura argues that new historicism is just one example of that large body of works that attempt to account for the exploitation of the...

    • CHAPTER FOUR The Scapegoat Mechanism: Shylock and Caliban
      (pp. 61-82)

      OfThe Merchant of VeniceandOthello, Michael Bristol remarks: ′The difficult pleasure of reading the great stories contained in these plays comes from the way they express the collective bad conscience of our civilization.′¹ An honest and accurate reading ofMerchantmust acknowledge in Portia′s triumph over Shylock the affirmation of a community value that takes satisfaction in the humiliation and exclusion of the Jew. Similarly,Othelloaffirms a community value that takes comfort from the exclusion and destruction of the black alien. Despite the prevalence of liberal readings of the play, Bristol asserts that an honest reading or...

  6. PART II

    • CHAPTER FIVE The Self-Representations of Othello
      (pp. 85-102)

      The various human dramas contained inOthellodepend in large measure upon the exercise of memory. Personal memory is not separable from the artificial memory whose construction and architecture have been so impressively analysed and historicized by Frances Yates inThe Art of Memory. Individual memory includes everything not forgotten, from, at the one extreme, highly formulaic and deliberately constructed cultural information to, at the other, the spontaneously, sometimes imperfectly recalled detail of the past, including that invented past that has become personalized and absorbed into the amalgam of private history. While the nineteenth-century – essentially Burkhardtian - notion of...

    • CHAPTER SIX King Lear and Memory
      (pp. 103-122)

      It is a curious fact thatKing Lear, which depends as no other play upon a decisive event preceding the beginning of the first scene, presents its past in a vague, usually shadowy light, through the use of allusions and references only ephemerally and fragmentarily realized. Yet the past is a powerful presence in the play, suggesting to Fredson Bowers, for example, that the real climax of the play is the decision to divide the kingdom, which Lear makes sometime before the start of the first scene.¹ In keeping with this recurring sense of previous experience, a kind of primitivism...

    • CHAPTER SEVEN The Past of Macbeth
      (pp. 123-138)

      Lady Macbeth′s children, present either in her mind as a figment, or in her memory as a piece of her history, allude to something singular and usually unnoticed about the play. The characters ofMacbethare presented as possessing almost no personal history. There is only sparse and scattered mention of the events and the time that precede the beginning of the drama. For a play that centres vividly and painfully on the effects of remorse - a feeling that by definition is possible only through the exercise of memory - this is an astonishing fact. Indeed, Lady Macbeth′s words...

  7. PART III

    • CHAPTER EIGHT Messengers of Death: The Figure of the Hit Man
      (pp. 141-158)

      A paradoxical kind of functionary, the messenger is both defined by the presence of borders and a means of defining them; his presence proves their existence. In pursuing his function, he separates and merges the opposing or alternative areas between which he operates. The messenger is a kind of cultural artefact who has become an index to the complexity of the culture in which he exists. He is a delegate who performs his task by negotiating different and often opposing spheres - that occupied by his employer and that described by the area his employer attempts to enter through his...

    • CHAPTER NINE ʹNoseless, handless, hackʹd and chippʹdʹ: Broken Human Bodies
      (pp. 159-178)

      The cohesion of the group is a necessary precursor of political action. Group action implies and depends upon bonds of common interest uniting the body of people who make it up. Such interest, while normally understood to be constituted by self-interest – such as a desire for change or, equally, a desire for things to remain the same - can also be wrought from negative desire, such as a shared dislike or abhorrence for those things that the group perceives as a threat to its unity as a group. Sometimes such perceptions may be justified by rational group fear -...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 179-186)
  9. Works Cited
    (pp. 187-192)
  10. Index
    (pp. 193-195)