On 26 July 2015, the Supreme Court of the USA decided in Obergefell v. Hodges that the Fourteenth Amendment guarantees same-sex couples the right to marry. In his dissenting opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts argued that this expansion of marriage to include same-sex couples could license future expansions to include polygamy. Roberts’s opinion was, of course, not explicitly religious; his tacit unease over legally sanctioned polygamy and same-sex marriage, however, resonates with much of evangelical Christian America, for which anything but heterosexual monogamy is scripturally forbidden. But as Will Stockton astutely observes in Members of His Body, this is a brazen misreading of Christian scripture: ‘biblical marriage is plural marriage’ (p. 5, italics in original), he boldly declares. This insight fuels Stockton’s readings of biblical marriage in four Shakespeare plays, which stage the structural perversity of marriage in an era—like ours—redefining its meaning and institutional boundaries. Stockton builds his Shakespearean readings around Pauline epistles, especially Ephesians 5:22–33, a crucial biblical passage in Western redefinitions of marriage. English translations of verse 32, rendering marriage a ‘mystery’ or ‘secret’, were especially important to Protestant desacralizations of the institution and its reconfiguration as a means of producing Christian citizens. Stockton, however, emphasises verses 30–31: ‘For we are members of his bodie, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shal a man leave father and mother, and shal cleave to his wife, and they twaine shalbe one flesh’ (p. 1). Paul suggests that Christian marriage, by means of a unifying flesh, erodes distinctions between the members of the marrying couple and between the couple and the Christian community. This is a queer claim, Stockton contends, because it situates plurality within the contemporary evangelical conception of heterosexual monogamy, and not outside of it. As a means of critiquing American evangelicalism, Stockton’s feminist-queer marriage theology works quite well, exposing the manner in which its homophobia belies a deeper attachment to monogamy. As an intervention in Shakespeare studies, a field in which queer and religious inquiry are mostly separate threads, this marriage theology attempts scholarly synthesis. Stockton begins weaving these threads together in the book’s first section by analysing Christ’s sex in two of Shakespeare’s early comedies. In The Comedy of Errors, Shakespeare figures Antipholous of Ephesus and Emilia—male and female neighbours—not as threats to the institution of Christian marriage but as included members. Through Christ-like Emilia, the play stages the unsettling remainders of Protestantism’s masculine versions of Pauline universalism: Catholicism and femaleness. Stockton’s chapter on The Merchant of Venice mobilises the figure of the friend to a similar effect. Act 5, often considered narratively and comedically gratuitous, exemplifies Shakespeare’s queer radicalism, insofar as he makes Portia (a woman) and Balthasar (a eunuch) overlapping Christ figures, thus suggesting the plural, non-masculine implications of marital incorporation into the body of Christ. The arguments propelling these first two chapters, scaffolded around dense layers of Shakespeare criticism, will be generative for Shakespeareans but a bit intimidating to readers for whom the Bard is a secondary or tertiary interest. Nevertheless, Stockton’s discussion of Pauline universalism, which has garnered much contemporary philosophical attention from the likes of Badiou and Žižek, should be applauded for marshalling these imposing figures towards questions of gender, sexuality, and literature. The book takes a darker turn in its second section, investigating the violent consequences of unifying corrupt flesh vis-à-vis Christian marriage. Contemporary Othello scholars often overdetermine Desdemona’s marital fidelity, Stockton claims, thus misreading early modern conceptions of ideal Christian chastity, which demanded purity of thoughts in addition to acts. To preserve the dramaturgic possibility of Desdemona’s infidelity is to admit that she has a sexual nature with much more complex—and Christian—implications regarding her tragic end. The following chapter on The Winter’s Tale similarly suggests that sex, even within the confines of Christian marriage, possesses a polluting influence. Scholars tend to read the final scene of Hermione’s resurrection in a Protestant context: she rises from the dead because of the faith of her husband, Leontes. Stockton, however, argues that this scene stages ‘competing, mixed models of redemption that track back to the multiplicity of Pauls in and after the first century’ (p. 102). This chapter details Stockton's biblical methodology, which distinguishes the Paul that authors Ephesians, who espouses marriage as a means of Christian citizenship, from ‘Paul of Tarsus’, who views marriage as a relief for lust. Just as Christian marriage is queerly plural in Shakespeare, Paul himself is a queerly plural subtext in Shakespeare’s most Christological play. Members of His Body will surely excite scholars of Shakespearean gender and sexuality, for it deftly conveys the exigency of reading the bible and Christian history queerly so as to read Shakespeare queerly. For early modernists broadly interested in questions of religion, the results may be a bit mixed. Stockton’s epilogue does expand the book’s literary archive by looking at three early modern utopian texts, so as to demonstrate how their emphasis on marital monogamy, as in contemporary American evangelicalism, often betrays a deeper concern for Christian citizenship. These are rich texts, however, that could carry a longer chapter or even chapters of their own. One also cannot help but wonder what shape Members of His Body could have taken had Stockton looked beyond Shakespeare. Thomas Middleton, a Calvinist playwright of sorts deeply ensconced in the local politics of early 17th-century London, would be a fascinating case study. (To be fair, Stockton’s first chapter does offer a brief reading of The Family of Love , a play once attributed to Middleton [p. 31]). But as a book on Shakespeare, Members of His Body does an exquisite job opening up biblical and religious questions for scholars who may not even realise these are relevant, provocative avenues. Stockton’s feminist-queer theology thus boldly pushes early modern gender and sexuality studies into a new and promising frontier. © The Author 2018. Published by Oxford University Press 2018; 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)
Literature and Theology – Oxford University Press
Published: Mar 23, 2018
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