Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Hostname: page-component-7479d7b7d-fwgfc Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-07-15T09:18:18.038Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

Conclusion: The Semi-Theatrical Prejudice

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  15 September 2017

Donovan Sherman
Affiliation:
Seton Hall University, New Jersey
Get access

Summary

I began with a desire to speak with the dead.

Stephen Greenblatt

Why seek ye the living among the dead?

Luke 24: 5

In this pastiche dialogue, Greenblatt's famous confessional opening to his Shakespearean Negotiations finds a bewildered answer from the angels that attend Jesus's empty tomb. The angels’ words reappear in the Quem Quaeritis liturgical trope, which, according to a popular genealogy, theatricalised the medieval church: a dramaturgical climax that hinges on a revelation of absence, which in turn confirms an awakened presence elsewhere. The mildly necromantic impulses of the present-day early modern scholar, then, mimic the motivating mystery of the theatre: Why do we try to find signs of life in a medium that, as Herbert Blau memorably has put it, consists of watching people ‘dying in front of your eyes?’ What do we desire when we see a reflection of our consciousness, embodied and oftentimes bloodied, but not altogether alive, in the traffic of the stage?

This book has found in Shakespeare's drama the suggestion that these questions mirror the means by which early modern England explored the precarious limits of death and life through the figure of the soul. But for Shakespeare, these limits, culturally parsed out carefully in rituals of death – reciting the mythology of metempsychosis, effacing the material monuments, marking the limits of sense-making and mastery in poetic elegies – are also the limits of the human within the human. Each ritual, furthermore, carries with it a self-collapsing knowingness. Metempsychosis is acknowledged as false, the monuments must be dissolved to be realised, and the elegy admits its own incapacity as the source of its potency. The ritual, like the mnemosunon of wasted ointment that Jesus valorises, consists of conscripting its own seeming failure as a form of affirmation. So too does the soul bury within the living the potential of life's undoing, a fragment of death that threatens to cancel out confirmations of full-bodied existence. Shylock, Coriolanus and Leontes each encompass the contact point that comprises the soul, and they do so in relentlessly mimetic worlds that insist, desperately at times, on clearer partitions of livelihood.

Type
Chapter
Information
Second Death
Theatricalities of the Soul in Shakespeare's Drama
, pp. 161 - 178
Publisher: Edinburgh University Press
Print publication year: 2016

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)

Save book to Kindle

To save this book to your Kindle, first ensure coreplatform@cambridge.org is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations. ‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Available formats
×

Save book to Dropbox

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Available formats
×

Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Available formats
×