Shakespeare's Foreign Worlds

Shakespeare's Foreign Worlds: National and Transnational Identities in the Elizabethan Age

Carole Levin
John Watkins
Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 232
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Shakespeare's Foreign Worlds
    Book Description:

    In Shakespeare's Foreign Worlds, Carole Levin and John Watkins focus on the relationship between the London-based professional theater preeminently associated with William Shakespeare and an unprecedented European experience of geographic, social, and intellectual mobility. Shakespeare's plays bear the marks of exile and exploration, rural depopulation, urban expansion, and shifting mercantile and diplomatic configurations. He fills his plays with characters testing the limits of personal identity: foreigners, usurpers, outcasts, outlaws, scolds, shrews, witches, mercenaries, and cross-dressers.

    Through parallel discussions of Henry VI, The Taming of the Shrew, and The Merchant of Venice, Levin and Watkins argue that Shakespeare's centrality to English national consciousness is inseparable from his creation of the foreign as a category asserting dangerous affinities between England's internal minorities and its competitors within an increasingly fraught European mercantile system.

    As a women's historian, Levin is particularly interested in Shakespeare's responses to marginalized sectors of English society. As a scholar of English, Italian Studies, and Medieval Studies, Watkins situates Shakespeare in the context of broadly European historical movements. Together Levin and Watkins narrate the emergence of the foreign as portable category that might be applied both to "strangers" from other countries and to native-born English men and women, such as religious dissidents, who resisted conformity to an increasingly narrow sense of English identity. Shakespeare's Foreign Worlds will appeal to historians, literary scholars, theater specialists, and anyone interested in Shakespeare and the Elizabethan Age.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-5895-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-20)

    Portia opens the most famous trial in English literature with a notoriously puzzling question:

    I am informed throughly of the cause. Which is the merchant here? And which the Jew?¹

    Whether we think of this as a moment unfolding in a sixteenth-century Venetian court or on a sixteenth-century London stage, the difference between Antonio and Shylock in The Merchant of Venice was presumably apparent. Theater historians tell us that the first Shylock probably wore a shaggy red wig and a hooked nose like the one sported by Judas in the mystery plays.² In early modern Venice, the signory insisted that...

  5. Part I: Gender, Punishment, and Peace-Making in 1 Henry VI

    • [Part I Introduction]
      (pp. 21-24)

      From at least as far back as the Norman Conquest of 1066, the story of England’s foreign relations was primarily about France. Recent scholarship suggests that as early as the sixth century, the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms were essentially client states of Merovingian Frankia. From 1066 until King John’s retreat from France in 1202, the kings of England ruled large areas of French territory in their capacity as dukes of Normandy and spent more time in France than in England itself. Edward II’s 1308 marriage to Philip IV’s daughter Isabella gave their son, Edward III, a claim to the French throne that...

    • Chapter 1 “Murder not then the fruit within my womb”: Shakespeare’s Joan, Foxe’s Guernsey Martyr, and Women Pleading Pregnancy in English History and Culture
      (pp. 25-50)

      In Shakespeare’s play 1 Henry VI Joan La Pucelle is the driving force of the French victories for much of the action. Her English enemies find her frightening and horrifying. While fighting Joan, Lord Talbot says to her, “Thou art a witch” (1.6.6) and later refers her to as “Pucelle, that witch, that damned sorceress” (3.2.37). He also questions her morality, describing her as “puzzel” (1.5.85), which in the Elizabethan period meant slut. When Joan, having been captured, is brought before the Earl of Warwick and the Duke of York to be condemned at the end of the play, she...

    • Chapter 2 Shakespeare’s 1 Henry VI and the Tragedy of Renaissance Diplomacy
      (pp. 51-78)

      Historicist critics have awarded Shakespeare’s Henry VI plays a privileged place in the drama of English nation-building. Leah Marcus, Annabel Patterson, and Richard Helgerson hail the features that galled earlier critics—the plays’ alleged inconsistencies, stylistic discrepancies, crude depictions of character, and jingoism—as symptoms of the contradictions on which the absolutist state rested.¹ In representing a feudal crisis, Shakespeare seems to have voiced populist positions, such as Jack Cade’s, that anticipate the mid-seventeenth-century abrogation of monarchy, or perhaps its constitutional containment in the Glorious Revolution. Critics debate whether Shakespeare’s earliest history plays endorse, qualify, repudiate, contain, or exclude the...

  6. Part II: Aliens in Our Midst:: Jews, Italians, and Wary Englishmen in The Merchant of Venice

    • [Part II Introduction]
      (pp. 79-84)

      The Black Death of 1347–51 killed a third of Europe. Nothing on that scale affected European demographics in the sixteenth century. But the changes that took place had a dramatic impact on the way people began to think of themselves as belonging to a nation with a coherent and distinct culture. By the time Shakespeare moved to London from Stratford sometime in the late 1580s or early 1590s, he joined an urban community in which numerous residents had come from somewhere else. This was an unsettling experience for everyone. Often speaking languages or even forms of English that were...

    • Chapter 3 Converting the Daughter: Gender, Power, and Jewish Identity in the English Renaissance
      (pp. 85-110)

      Jessica, the daughter of Shylock in William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, disobeys her father by eloping with Lorenzo and converting to Christianity. Scholars have traditionally either blamed her as a disobedient daughter or lauded her as a loyal Christian wife.¹ But what is most striking about Jessica is her isolation as a Jewish woman. We do have the representation of a Jewish woman in both The Merchant of Venice and Christopher Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta.² In both plays the daughters convert, but to the other non-Jewish characters, both women are still considered to be Jews rather than Christians,...

    • Chapter 4 Shakespeare and the Decline of the Venetian Republic
      (pp. 111-140)

      Sometime in the final months of Elizabeth I’s reign, a depressed Venetian took a long walk along the Thames. Giovanni Carlo Scaramelli had come to England as an envoy of the Senate to negotiate a case of piracy involving a Venetian ship and, more generally, to get Elizabeth to do something about the increasing number of English pirates in the Mediterranean. According to his commission, Scaramelli was to inform the queen that “great damage is being done and large booty made by the English who infest these seas. The English ill treat and plunder all alike. . . . [These]...

  7. Part III: Dangerous Reading inThe Taming of the Shrew

    • [Part III Introduction]
      (pp. 141-144)

      The ships that returned to England from increasingly distant ports of call carried not only foreign passengers and foreign merchandise but also foreign ideas about religion, property, law, and the management of public and domestic space. Above all, they carried books. Whether written in Latin or the modern continental languages, these books introduced new ways of thinking that might be domesticated as fundamentally English, repudiated as alien and subversive, or occupy a controversial position somewhere in between. While only members of the elite could read these books in their original languages, many of them soon circulated in English translations and...

    • Chapter 5 Many Different Kates: Taming Shrews and Queens
      (pp. 145-176)

      Henry VIII’s sixth and last wife, Katherine Parr, was a woman of intelligence and courage who was also a committed evangelical Christian. Katherine’s father, Sir Thomas, died when she was only five, and her mother Maud, during her widowhood, made sure that her children, both male and female, were well educated. As Susan E. James notes, Maud provided Katherine with an example of skill and independence that would have a life long effect on her daughter. Katherine became proficient in French, Italian, and Latin.¹ When Katherine caught Henry’s eye after his disastrous fifth marriage to Katherine Howard, she was twice...

    • Chapter 6 Shakespeare and the Women Writers of the Veneto
      (pp. 177-206)

      The secular education of women posed an even greater threat to the English household than Protestant Bible reading. Although Protestantism came to England from the continent, successive Tudor regimes soon made it seem more English than the Catholicism that it had replaced. In contrast, Renaissance humanism always retained its foreign aura. The humanist scholar trespassed frontiers that increasingly defined European identities. The risks were even higher when women aspired to humanist learning, since it exposed them not only to other cultures but to other standards of female behavior as well.

      This chapter explores Bianca’s humanist tutelage and Katherine’s anti-humanist taming...

  8. Afterword
    (pp. 207-210)

    As far as we know the playwright William Shakespeare never left his country. Yet many of his plays are set in foreign realms, and in many others a number of his characters are foreigners. As we have seen in this study, diplomatic international relations, life in other countries, and foreigners of a variety of description were of great interest to Shakespeare. But Shakespeare did not have to travel to experience the lives of foreigners or life in foreign realms. We know that Shakespeare read voraciously but also that there were many foreigners in early modern London, even more when we...

  9. Index
    (pp. 211-218)