Review: Shakespeare’s ‘Much Ado About Nothing’, dir. Maria Aberg at Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester, 27 March-3 May 2014.

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The program accompanying Maria Aberg’s production of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing sets the intellectual mood for the performance. Its main body consists of three articles. The first article ‘Stranger in the House’ by Julie Summers describes life in Britain after the Second World War. Women (wives, girlfriends and mothers) are highlighted for their roles in helping soldiers settle back into civilian and family life. During the war, however, some young women enjoyed a hedonistic lifestyle created by a patriarchal free society, especially when the American GI’s landed on British soil. Therefore, post-war Britain became blighted by divorce and unwanted pregnancies. The second article ‘An Age of Uncertainty’ by Scott Ferguson marks the birth of Government state surveillance developed from spying in the Second World War. An epidemic of phone tapping, miniaturised bugging devices hidden in offices and homes and intercepted mail plagued a suspicious world divided by conflict. In ‘Reading Between [Blurred] Lines: Staging Shakespeare’s Women Today’, Benjamin Fowler examines a subtle undermining of patriarchal power in Much Ado About Nothing.  What is particularly interesting is Fowler’s discussion of Innogen who is Hero’s mother, and Leonata’s wife, as the epitome of the silent female. Her mysterious appearance as the stage direction Innogen his wife on only two occasions (the beginning of acts 1 & 2) in the Quarto and Folio led to her deletion in 1733 by Lewis Theobald. She has rarely been seen since.

It is no surprise, then, that Aberg begins Much Ado About Nothing in
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Queen Elizabeth I’s Bestiary in Edmund Spenser’s Prosopopoia, or Mother Hubberds Tale (1591)

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Queen Elizabeth I named her favourites after animals – the Earl of Leicester is her sweet Robin, Sir Christopher Hatton her mouton or sheep and Edward de Vere the Earl of Oxford her boar (Taylor 42). She recalls the beast fables of the Medieval tradition in which animals personify human traits. For instance, the French, German and Dutch medieval poetry focus on Renard the Fox who personifies ‘human skill, intelligence, and ruthless greed’ (Oram 329). Elizabeth’s fondness for pet names is also ripe for satire.

One possible satirical attack on Queen Elizabeth’s likeness for nicknames is found in Edmund Spenser’s poetry collection Complaints (1591), which contains a long poem called Prosopopoia, or Mother Hubberds Tale . The poem is believed to have been withdrawn from circulation in manuscript form as early as 1580. In the satire the Fox as a courtier is interpreted as representing Lord William Cecil Burghley, and the Ape is believed to refer to the Duke of Alençon’s envoy Jean Simier who in 1579 negotiated the prospect of marriage between the Duke and the Queen. William Oram notes that Elizabeth gave Simier ‘the pet name of “my monkey”’ (Oram 329). The Ape could even be a monstrous Simier/Alençon hybrid (329). Yet I propose in this short study that Spenser’s use of animals does not allude to specific people. Instead, he uses figurative language to challenge the concept of personification or prosopopoia as being a suitable vehicle for representing human traits that may refer to a particular person(s).

The framing narrative of Prosopopoia, or Mother Hubberds Tale immediately warns the reader Continue reading

Do Witches Exist? Reginald Scot Vs King James I

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Reginald Scot_daemonologie

In The Discovererie of Witchcraft (1584), Reginald Scot dispels the notion of a witch. He states she is simply ‘a toothles, old, impotent, and unweldie woman’ incapable of doing the Devil’s work (Scot 8). While, in his prose dialogue Daemonologie (1597), James I aims ‘to resolue the doubting harts of many; both that such assaultes of Sathan are most certainly practized, & that the instrumentes thereof, merits most severly to be punished’ (James I “Preface” xii). Of course, one of those ‘doubting harts’ is ‘called SCOT an Englishman, [who] is not ashamed in publike print to deny, that ther can be such a thing as Witch-craft’ (James I “Preface” xii). The irony that Scot is an Englishman would have no doubt amused the writer of The Discovererie of Witchcraft, but the capitalised ‘SCOT’ indicates how serious James I takes the existence of witches.

What is fascinating is that both writers use -Continue reading>

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