The Old Suitor: A New Allusion to William Shakespeare?

Discoveries 30.1 (2013)

By Michael Mooten
Independent Scholar

Another arrow out of Cupid’s quiver,
The which was carried by the winde at will

—Richard Barnfield, The Affectionate Shepherd

Richard Barnfield claimed that his controversial The Affectionate Shepherd was nothing more than a nonliteral reworking of Virgil’s second eclogue. However, many scholars believe that Barnfield’s real intention was to make a homosexual proposition to a young man (very likely an aristocratic patron of poets)1and that his statement that he was merely imitating Virgil was disingenuous (McCarthy, p. 114).

I agree with this latter conclusion and further assert that Barnfield’s work is even more nimble than it appears. I propose that 1) In 1594, Barnfield was competing against William Shakespeare for the patronage and affections of the aristocrat Henry Wriothesley. 2) The Affectionate Shepherd has propositional intent but also functions as libel targeting Shakespeare; the work contains hitherto unrecognized Shakespearean allusions. 3) In order to send his personal message, Barnfield reworked a classical Ovidian myth, inserting contemporary figures masquerading as characters, including one I name “the Old Suitor.” 4) This Old Suitor, a defamatory caricature of Shakespeare, allowed Barnfield to surreptitiously reveal his opinion ofthe famous poet and to send Wriothesley an admonitionconcerning Shakespeare’s amorous intentions. Continue reading

Feminist Struggle in Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew

Discoveries 30.1 (2013)

By Brian Brooks
Oklahoma State University

Audiences have historically found something both abhorrent and endearing in Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew (1593­–94).[1] Seeing Katherina tamed by Petruchio, according to modern sensibilities, is offensive. Conversely, seeing Katherina and Petruchio fall in love is uplifting. While many see this play as anti-feminist—Phyllis Rackin calls the play “crudely misogynist” (53) and Linda Woodbridge says she “find[s] it hard to regard [Shrew] as much of an improvement over the . . . shrew-taming tradition” (206)—other readers have considered it feminist, not in the twentieth-century sense, but as a general contribution to the advancement of women (see below).  Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew lays out both sides of the Renaissance debate over women—as do other contemporary texts. Shrew makes an unclear statement about how women should be treated, just as do other Renaissance texts, reflecting anxiety about women’s status in the English Renaissance. Continue reading

Review: Masculinity and Marian Efficacy in Shakespeare’s England, by Ruben Espinosa

Discoveries 29.1 (2012). 2 July 2012

Masculinity and Marian Efficacy in Shakespeare’s England. By Ruben Espinosa. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2011. Pp. xii + 194. $84.83 cloth.

Reviewed by Sean Benson
University of Dubuque

Ruben Espinosa asserts that Shakespeare “infuse[s] his theater” with a “Marian efficacy that is profoundly substantial” (171), a claim that he substantiates in part. He argues that Shakespeare examines “phallocentric” masculinity, finds it wanting, and offers an alternative to it in Mary’s feminine strength and intercessory power—what he calls “efficacy.” The book, as he acknowledges, is a revision of his dissertation. On the good side, Espinosa marshals copious evidence for almost every substantive point he makes. Yet there is too much; the sources should have been winnowed down substantially. What passes for scholarly heft in a dissertation often makes for slow reading, and it would be difficult for undergraduates to sustain their attention through much of the book. Espinosa is also too dependent on a number of critics, particularly Janet Adelman and Katherine Eggert, both of whose views, because of the frequency with which he cites them, tend to subsume his own. And that’s too bad, as Espinosa does have an argument here.

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Othello’s Jealousy: From Textual Crux to Critical Conundrum

Discoveries 29.1 (2012). 23 June 2012

By Michael L. Hays


Discussions of Othello almost invariably recognize him as “other” in terms of gender, race, class, profession, and national origins, among others.[2]  In all of these ways, he is indeed “other.”  But, too often, when we view him as “other” in these terms, we see him as an “other” more in ways which interest us than in ways which interested, or were instinct with, his original beholders.  The result, I think, is the persistent problem of satisfactorily explaining Othello’s jealousy.

Another “other” is contemporary literature and literary traditions, those especially influential components of culture.  One such tradition embraces chivalric romances, the largest corpus of fiction writing throughout Shakespeare’s lifetime and a potent contemporary influence.  We deprecate such romances, but Elizabethans did not.  The bibliographical record is the proof.  The obvious instances in the Short-Title Catalogue are the many issues of Bevis of Hampton and Guy of Warwick.[3]  The former, Shakespeare quoted in King Lear; the latter his company performed in an acting version.

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Review: Weyward Macbeth: Intersections of Race and Performance, edited by Scott L. Newstok and Ayanna Thompson

Scott L. Newstok and Ayanna Thompson, eds. Weyward Macbeth:  Intersections of Race and Performance.  New York:  Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.  xvii + 288.

Reviewed by Kate Pogue
Independent Scholar/Freelance Director, Houston TX

In this year of the sesquicentennial of the American Civil War, the connections between American nineteenth-century history, the Civil War, and Macbeth should inspire English departments across academia to offer classes using this book as a primary text. Its essays, co-edited by Scott Newstok and Ayanna Thompson,  are revelatory concerning this important era; however, they are not limited to history. A number of the contributors address such modern issues as color-blind casting (Amy Scott-Douglass, “Shades of Shakespeare…”) and the relationship of Macbeth to playwrights such as Adrienne Kennedy, Ntozake Shange, August Wilson, and Suzan-Lori Parks (Philip C. Kolin, “Black Up Again”).

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A Note on Yeats, Harold Bloom, and Hamlet’s ‘Heart’s Core’ (3.2.68)

Discoveries 22.1 (2005). 14 May 2005

By James S. Baumlin

In a letter of 30 November 1922, William Butler Yeats recalls “walking through Fleet Street very homesick”:

I heard a little tinkle of water and saw a fountain in a shop-window which balanced a little ball upon its jet, and began to remember lake water. From the sudden remembrance came my poem Innisfree my first lyric with anything in its rhythm of my own music. (qtd in Jeffares 30)

While Yeatsian in its music, evidently the poem’s famous ending — “I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore; / While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements gray, / I hear it in the deep heart’s core” (10-12) — recalls more than “lake water lapping.” A reflection of Yeats’s literary memory, the phrase “heart’s core” offers, as A. Norman Jeffares suggests, “perhaps an echo of Shelley’s Adonais” (31), specifically its stanza 22: Continue reading

Shakespeare’s Feminized Friar

Discoveries 22.1 (2005). 14 May 2005

By Constantina Michalos

Other than actual clergymen who, by necessity, populate his history plays, William Shakespeare makes little use of this character type. Friar Laurence is, perhaps, his most famous fictional cleric. The Prioress appears as a maternal deus ex machina to resolve the confusions of A Comedy of Errors and reconstitute her family. Disguised as a friar and, thus, paradoxically relatively invisible yet powerful, the duke of Vienna retreats to the margins of society to observe his overzealous deputy in Measure for Measure and returns to effect an uneasy resolution at play’s end. Only in Much Ado About Nothing, however, does Shakespeare deliberately infuse his friar with spirituality, manifested in his empathy for Hero’s plight. Moreover, the friar’s understanding emerges from a feminized perspective of her circumstances; that is, he correctly interprets Hero’s non-verbal behavior and responds with Christian charity instead of speaking her moral condemnation.

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Review: Shakespeare and Politics, edited by Catherine M. S. Alexander

Discoveries 23.1 (2006).  21 June 2006

Reviewed by John Ford

The last quarter of the twentieth century witnessed a revolutionary turn in Shakespearean studies as text-centered criticism increasingly came to be included in-and sometimes eclipsed by-context-centered criticism. Nowhere was that shift more keenly felt than in the study of Shakespeare’s relationship with history, especially with politics. With the speed of a coup d’etat, more traditional studies of Shakespeare’s treatment of political ideology gave way to postmodern studies of political uses of Shakespeare, or even political inventions of Shakespeare, or, to be precise, “Shakespeare,” the quotation marks denoting not the author of plays but a cultural phenomenon “authored” by political and historical forces. In the last few years there has been something of a confluence of text and context, as the work of critics such as Russ McDonald and R. S. White has shown. Edited by Catherine Alexander, Shakespeare and Politics in gathering sixteen essays from Shakespeare Survey from 1975 to 2001 has effectively mapped out that revolution of our times.

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Shakespeare’s Allusion to The Spanish Tragedy in The Merchant of Venice (2.2)

Discoveries 23.2 (2006). 18 December 2006

By Frank Ardolino

As critics have pointed out, the “curiously layered scene” in which Launcelot Gobbo decides to serve a Christian rather than a Jewish master mirrors the major religious and biblical themes of the play (Anderson, 120).[1] Moreover, as I will demonstrate, Shakespeare’s use of lines from The Spanish Tragedy in the byplay between Launcelot and his father indicates that he is also making a critical statement about Kyd’s use of the father-son relationship in the revenge play. Elizabethan authors did not write interpretative criticism in the way we have become accustomed to, but they sometimes provide it in a practical manner by imitating the methods of their contemporaries.[2] Through his use of Kyd’s methodology in this small scene, Shakespeare appears as both playwright and critic and demonstrates how the two functions serve each other.

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Review: Much Ado About Nothing, edited by Claire McEachern

Discoveries 23.2 (2006).  18 December 2006

Reviewed by W. Reginald Rampone

Claire McEachern’s new Arden edition of Much Ado About Nothing is a dazzling work of textual elucidation and emendation. Her introduction is capacious, running some 144 pages. McEachern’s clear and straightforward history of the play’s plot will be helpful to undergraduates. The narrative of the slandered woman was apparently quite popular in the early modern period, and McEachern compresses a tremendous amount of information concerning the character’s various permutations. Of all the influences on Much Ado About Nothing, McEachern asserts that Ariosto and Bandello are the most significant, “the former for the particular means of deception, and the latter for its obvious links of setting and names” (11).

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