THIS essay collection explores Shakespeare’s Ovidian and erotic subject matter with an eye to ‘classical and continental aesthetic contexts’, examining ‘how Shakespeare screens and sifts erotic mythology to offer personal readings of the classical tales’ (1; 3). The studies included in this volume draw on ‘exchanges between different aesthetic media’, from visual depictions of erotic myth in fountains, paintings, and needlework to dramatic adaptations of classical material by Marlowe and Shakespeare (7). The volume thus builds on a substantial corpus of work on the reception of Ovid and erotic mythology in the Renaissance, including the seminal work by Jonathan Bate, and more recent studies and essay collections prepared by Liz Oakley-Brown, Goran V. Stanivukovic, and A. B. Taylor.1 The chapters included in this volume offer a rich variety of approaches and interpretive frameworks. With the close attention it pays to lexical nuance, Marguerite Tassi’s essay on Macbeth makes for persuasive and engaging reading. Building on Macduff’s description of Duncan’s corpse as ‘a new Gorgon’ (2.3.66), Tassi understands the play as a reworking of the Gorgon myth, whose gaze transfixes and enraptures characters and audience alike. Here the textual and historical evidence is tightly packed and there is rarely a sentence that does not pull its argumentative weight. The editor too appears to appreciate that this is a stand-out chapter, awarding it a subsection of its very own (‘Deadly Rapture’). Ilaria Andreoli’s piece on ‘Ovid’s Meta-metamorphosis’, which focuses on the woodcuts and illustrations which furnished early editions of the Metamorphoses, offers some thoughtful insights into the censorship and reproduction of such material. From the vignettes of the 1497 Giunta edition to the engravings by Pieter de Jode of 1606, Andreoli deftly guides the reader through these visual responses to Ovidian myth across the Renaissance. François Laroque’s chapter on ‘Erotic Fancy/Fantasy’ considers Shakespeare’s excitement and subsequent frustration of the erotic in his audience. Laroque produces some detailed close-readings of Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Antony and Cleopatra, fruitfully comparing the prologue from Henry V to the ‘rhetorical strategy’ at work in Shakespeare’s flirtation with sexual fantasy (62). The volume includes in addition a series of exquisite plates, from the plasterwork frieze of Diana, the Huntress at Hardwick Hall to Andrea Del Sarto’s Saint John the Baptist, allowing the reader to engage with some of the most important visual responses to Ovidian myth highlighted by this collection. There is some question as to the distribution and treatment of the subjects proposed in the volume’s title. The weight awarded to each of these—Shakespeare, Ovidian culture, and erotic mythology—is uneven. Shakespeare is notable for his absence in the first two chapters, and although he makes his first appearance in the third, it is at the expense of Ovid, whose presence is reduced to some brief nods to the narrative content of the Metamorphoses (63–6). Even allowing for the volume’s engagement with art in multiple forms and media, it is surprising that greater attention was not paid to Ovid as an author, or to the classical origins of these myths more generally. Certain chapters did, however, manage to synthesize these elements, including Sarah Annes Brown’s ‘Queering Pygmalion’, which places A Winter’s Tale alongside some detailed readings of the Metamorphoses and Euripides’ Alcestis, as well as Marguerite Tassi’s essay, which carefully traces the Gorgon myth through Hesiod, Homer, Vergil, and Ovid. There is also the matter of effective communication with the reader. At moments, the phrasing of Lafont’s introduction was a little difficult to follow, as for example her observation that ‘Artistic self-reflection and reflection on erotic fantasies are projected onto a common mythological screen, so that the artist is posited both as receptor-translator-adaptator [sic] of a tradition and as an individual lens through which a common mentality is projected’ (7). It is not immediately clear that this metaphor readily helps the reader to understand how myth was being adapted and reproduced in the Renaissance, or how this description relates to the chapters that follow. There was a similar opaqueness of expression in the editor’s chapter on the ‘Political Uses of Erotic Power’. Speaking of the Ovidian influence at Hardwick Hall, Lafont remarks that: ‘The general functioning of such an aesthetic system follows amplificatio and copia in a paratactic manner: in the design, elements are added up rather than combined in a hypotactic manner; as in any transvestitio, both design and reception of this programme call for interpretation’ (48). Of course critical lexis has its place—it allows us to be as specific as possible in our analysis of a given text—but of equal concern are clarity of expression and successful communication with the reader. The Latin tags in this chapter and the chapters that follow (‘discordia concors’; ‘fabula’; ‘nimium videsse nocet’; ‘via negativa’; ‘captatio benevolentiae’; ‘carpe diem’; ‘in bono or in malo …’) also had the unfortunate effect of drawing further attention to the relative paucity of Ovid’s own Latin across the volume as a whole (41; 46; 47; 62–3; 102). These points notwithstanding, this collection encompasses an impressive breadth of material and produces some novel insights into the reworking and reception of Ovidian eroticism and myth during the Renaissance. The collection will be of special interest to readers concerned with the transmission and transformation of erotic mythology, as well as Shakespeare’s multiple encounters with the same. Footnotes 1 Jonathan Bate, Shakespeare and Ovid (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993); Liz Oakley-Brown, Ovid and the Cultural Politics of Translation in Early Modern England (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2006); Goron V. Stanivukovic, ed., Ovid and the Renaissance Body (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2001); A. B. Taylor, Shakespeare’s Ovid: The Metamorphoses in the Plays and Poems (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000). © The Author(s) (2018). Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. For permissions, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)
Notes and Queries – Oxford University Press
Published: Apr 13, 2018
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