Shakespeare on the verge : rhetoric, tragedy, and the paradox of place

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Eskew, Douglas Wayne, 1976-

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"Shakespeare on the Verge: Rhetoric, Tragedy, and the Paradox of Place" describes the ideological geographies of Renaissance England and reads the ways "place" was rhetorically constructed in two of Shakespeare's late tragedies. By ideological geographies I mean the way in which Renaissance men and women understood spatially the constitution of their world--their spatialized "habits of thought." These habits were then undergoing a change from seeing the world as a vertical hierarchy of interrelated and dependent places to seeing it as a horizontal array of discrete places related to one another in a linear manner. Working from the theories of Agamben, Burke, Foucault, and Ong, I argue that Shakespeare constructs a paradox of place in which hierarchically elevated places subsume inferior ones and thereby double them. The paradigmatic example of this phenomenon is the king's mobile court, known at the time as the "Verge," which subsumed the places, the actual palaces and castles, of the king's subjects as it progressed across the kingdom. This phenomenon is paradoxical because, although the king's superior place subsumed those below it, it was always dependent on those inferior places, both logically (there can be no king without his subjects) and materially (as the king traveled, his household relied on the provisions supplied by subjects along the way). This paradox leads Shakespeare to double certain dramatic characters and their environments. It also leads him to set up oppositions between places constructed through violent means and places constructed through the "violence" of rhetoric. In my chapter on King Lear (1605), I argue that Edmund should be read as Lear's double, a doubling made manifest especially in the characters' stage movements as they effectively change places with one another. In Coriolanus (1608), I argue that its hero rejects his double, the Plebeian class of Rome, but that he eventually attempts to reconcile with them in large measure by changing his use of rhetoric. In my reading of these plays, as in my description of Renaissance ideological geographies, I aim to revise the way people look at place on the Shakespearean stage and at the complex interplay in them between physical violence and rhetorical action.