Remembering Rome, performing Rome…
At the end of Book 12 of Virgil’s Aeneid, Aeneas is described as “stetit acer in armis” or “ferocious in his armor,” a colossal and threatening force, a man prepared to meet Turnus in battle. In spite of his rage, aggression, and readiness to fulfill his charge to found Rome, Aeneas finds himself moved by Turnus’s plea for his life and hesitates to strike him down. It is only when Aeneas notices a particular object—the “luckless belt of Pallas” that hangs on Turnus’s shoulder—that he resolves to kill his antagonist. Virgil describes this crucial belt as a “memorial of brutal grief” (L. monumenta doloris), a “spoil” (L. spoliis) or trophy, and an “emblem” or “sign” (L. insigne) of Turnus’s past victory over Pallas. Aeneas recognizes the belt instantly; the “familiar studs” flash in the sun as Aeneas flashes in his full armor. His eyes “[drink] in this plunder,” and he demands of Turnus, “How can you who wear the spoils of my dear comrade now escape me?” The sight of this object transforms Aeneas into Pallas; it alters his subjectivity and compels him to avenge Pallas’s death not as himself but rather as the victim—as Pallas. Aeneas’s assertion that, “It is Pallas who strikes …” points to the transformative power of this material object. This line also underscores the belt’s power to construct and deconstruct subjects and to confuse the boundaries between them. This spoil transforms a present subject (Aeneas) into an absent subject (Pallas) associated with or embodied in the object or spoil in question and, in so doing, both renders him present and reminds Aeneas, and the reader, of Pallas’s absence. The spoil tells a story about “the boy / whom Turnus had defeated, wounded, stretched / upon the battlefield, from whom he took / this fatal sign to wear upon his back,” and this story—if not Pallas himself—is embodied in the object. Vladimir Nabokov notes that, “When we concentrate on a material object, whatever its situation, the very act of attention may lead to our involuntarily sinking into the history of that object.” Aeneas’s encounter with Pallas’s belt inspires this very process. The belt’s violent history inspires “rage,” “wrath,” and an act of violence in the present moment. Its history, or the narratives that subjects attach to it, is the source of its destructive power and its power as a memorial. The “act of attention” (emphasis mine) to which Nabokov alludes is active, but his image of “sinking into” the history of an object is disturbingly passive: the subject is overcome, or overwhelmed, by the act of concentration. His interest in the “situation” of an object resonates with Shakespeare’s Plutarchan Roman plays, which engage with what happens when an object’s “situation” changes—whether this situation is its physical location or its ownership or both. Like Pallas’s belt, objects in these plays are indeed situated in particular ways, and as these situations change, so too do the objects’ meanings.
This spoil is the source and justification of Aeneas’s violence, the only reason the text provides for this act of cruelty and destruction that the project of nation-building demands. It is thus a forward-looking object that assures the creation of a new and glorious nation. But it also looks backward; it is a memorial of Pallas and of Aeneas’s “brutal grief.” The spoil marks both death and the bereaved subject’s response to death. Like the military paraphernalia paraded in Sidney’s funeral, Pallas’s belt encourages memory and mourning in response to a past death in battle. Here, however, memory and mourning are transformed into violence. As an object that memorializes and justifies violence, the belt of Pallas looks backward and forward in a way that the epic itself does, but the past (and the absent subject of Pallas) can only be accessed through the fragmentary or the partial. Aeneas’s whole and present armored body legitimizes his status as founder of Rome and conqueror. The reader cannot see a whole Turnus as Aeneas himself cannot, for his fixation on the trophy is an exercise in reduction and focus: he reduces the masculine body of war to an accessory. The belt is “familiar” to Aeneas; he recognizes it instantly and, from this part, constructs a whole: an absent, “luckless” Pallas for which the “luckless” belt stands. In other words, Aeneas’s rage allows him to conceive of a whole (Pallas) where there is only a part (the belt) and he, in turn, must violate Turnus’s own wholeness, must indeed spoil him in turn. The spoil of Pallas allows for the spoiling of Turnus’s own body, for in narrating a past act of violence, the object necessitates present violence. Rome’s history begins with a belt.
Pallas’s belt represents one entry in a violent Roman history—and early modern English history—that is narrated by the objects of war, as I have argued. I will maintain that the treatment of the military subject in Shakespeare’s Roman plays complicates early modern cultural understandings of the material aspects of militant nostalgia. As in Marlowe’s Tamburlaine plays, armor figures prominently in Shakespeare’s plays as both a nostalgic symbolic system and a material object that is manipulated and worn by players engaged in the performance of the past. This performance engages problems regarding the limitations of memory that figure in Henry V, but in the case of the Plutarchan Roman plays, the past is even more distant, and the connection between England and ancient Rome is one of the many enabling fictions upon which the “imagined community” of early modern English nationhood was founded. As Lina Perkins Wilder notes, “Generally, early modern memory theory adheres to the Aristotelian idea that memory has two ‘motions’: the retentive function (memoria or mnesis) and the searching function, reminiscentia or anamnesis, which is usually translated as ‘remembrance’ in early modern England.” Here, I am interested in the latter and in the limits these plays stage regarding remembering the antique past. Garrett A. Sullivan reminds us that,
Understood as the ‘Renaissance,’ this period experienced a rebirth predicated on the rediscovery of ancient texts that had putatively been forgotten in the Middle Ages; the recollection of classical texts was crucial not only to the humanist project but to the intellectual self-definition of those scholars engaged in it. Printed and circulated widely in the Renaissance, such texts (in the terms of a classical commonplace that achieved currency in the period) triumphed over oblivion by re-entering both memory and history.
The antique past—and its militant subjects—was bound up in understandings of memory, in both the theater and beyond.
In Shakespeare’s histories and tragedies, armor often secures the identity of the militant subject who wears it, an effect that resonates with that of Pallas’s belt. In Act 1 of Hamlet, Horatio informs the audience that the Ghost of King Hamlet is dressed in “the very armour he had on / When he the ambitious Norway combated” (Ham. 1.1.59–60). King Hamlet’s armor is uncorrupted and unaffected by the passage of time. His armor is not similar to the armor he wore in the past; it is the “very” same armor. In Horatio’s recognition and memory of the king’s armor, he authenticates the Ghost and renders his immateriality material. King Hamlet’s armor belongs to a past that must be narrated by the characters, and these narratives secure and prove his identity. Shakespearean armor is frequently associated with the notion of “proof,” as in Richard II when Bullingbrook speaks to Gaunt:
Oh thou, the earthly author of my blood,
Whose youthful spirit in me regenerate
Doth with a twofold vigour lift me up
To reach at victory above my head,
Add proof unto mine armour with thy prayers,
And with thy blessings steel my lance’s point. (R2 1.3.69–74)
“Proof” refers to the condition of an object that has stood a test of its power or strength, which in turn proves, or establishes the truth or validity of, its invulnerability. Gaunt’s prayers and blessings “add proof” to Bullingbrook’s armor and regenerate his spirit and self. In Bullingbrook’s case, the subject possesses the capacity to perfect the object; in the Roman plays, the object displaces the subject.
This article examines representations of the armored Roman military subject’s body in Julius Caesar (c.1599), Antony and Cleopatra (c.1606– 07), and Coriolanus (c.1608) alongside illustrations of military trophies that circulated in early modern Europe in order to assert that Shakespeare’s Roman plays underscore the difficulty—indeed, the impossibility—of adequately presenting the Roman subject to his early modern audience. These plays are invested in a perceived Roman militant past, but they understand this past as distant, inaccessible, and in some ways inauthentic. In Chap. 1, I argued that the presentation, or display, of a constructed military self is crucial to understanding Marlowe’s treatment of war and the figure of the military leader. Here, I argue that Shakespeare inherits a partial and objectified Roman military figure linked to trophies and armor, and that this figure negotiates the early modern English playgoer’s relationship to his glorious, unattainable Roman past. I am interested in how the object of armor complicates the early modern English subject’s access to this Roman figure and to his past, a past that is understood and constructed in accordance with the Renaissance ideals of rebirth of classical culture, art, and learning. I will examine the treatment of the armored body and the trophy in these plays against early modern pictorial representations of trophies in order to demonstrate how Shakespeare engages with the problems inherent in England’s “fashioning” of its Roman past through “fashion”—that is, through the stage property and costume of armor. Ultimately, these three plays dramatize a nostalgic military figure that is built out of stage properties that fail to hold together.
The term “Roman plays” was first introduced by M.W. MacCallum in 1910 to designate those Shakespeare plays that are based on Plutarch (Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra, and Coriolanus). For MacCallum, early modern English plays about Rome were part of “the drama of Roman national history,” a classical genre called fabula praetexta or, as Clifford Ronan translates, “story of the fringe[-robed upper-class Romans].” More recent critics have modified MacCallum’s definition of what constitutes a “Roman play.” In 1961, Maurice Charney maintained that the use of Roman dress was one criterion for designating a play “Roman.” He argued that a play’s costumes were more important than other criteria such as “the Roman praise of suicide as an act of moral courage and nobility” and the common source material of Plutarch. For Charney, dress establishes what it means to be Roman or to perform Rome: “The most striking link between the Roman plays is the use of ‘Roman’ costume, which conveys the sense of the Roman past in strong visual terms.” He further maintained that such period costume “help[s] to create a Roman illusion …” In other words, these plays present the Roman military subject as a figure upon which questions regarding history and national identity locate themselves. My readings of Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra, and Coriolanus are predicated on an understanding that Shakespeare’s Roman plays—like much non-Shakespearean Roman theater of the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries—negotiate a relationship between the early modern English subject’s perceived Roman past and his or her contemporary moment. I suggest that the performance of this past is a deeply fraught project that consistently draws attention to the limitations of what can be claimed, or reclaimed, from the past. These plays dramatize the early modern inheritance of a failed or objectified Roman military subject linked to trophies and armor, as do the myriad images of spoiled and reconstituted male bodies that circulated in early modern Europe. Ruptures in the body of the Roman military subject reflect ruptures between past and present, complicating and problematizing the values of the English Renaissance vis-à-vis its glorious Roman past.
The Trophy: Destruction, Reconstitution, and Absence
These plays all engage the divided, fragmented military subject as a site for cultural anxieties about the transmission of moribund militant models. Before turning to the dramatic treatment of this figure, I will examine how the divided military subject was represented in the visual arts more broadly in the sixteenth century. Walter Benjamin has the following to say about military spoils:
All rulers are the heirs of those who conquered before them … Whoever has emerged victorious participates to this day in the triumphal procession in which the present rulers set over those who are lying prostrate. According to traditional practice, the spoils are carried along in the procession. They are called cultural treasures, and a historical materialist views them with cautious detachment. For without exception the cultural treasures he surveys have an origin which he cannot contemplate without horror.
His revulsion to these objects is acute; he is repelled by the violence the object represents. However, his use of the term “surveys” suggests a distance—temporal, physical, or emotional—on the part of the viewer. He draws attention to several crucial characteristics of the spoil: its capacity to alienate the viewer (one “views them with cautious detachment”), its removal from its point of “origin,” its status as a “cultural treasure,” and its capacity to embody—as Pallas’s belt did for Aeneas—the “horror” of its acquisition and subsequent display. The spoil is alienating precisely because it encourages one to revel in the violence it memorializes and glorifies. The “cautious detachment” that Benjamin calls for stands in stark opposition to the spoil’s intended use and the reactions it encourages. The viewer’s “detachment” assures that he will not be implicated in the violence for which the object stands and allows him to see the object as originless, as free from the “horrors” that would necessarily attach themselves to it if one “contemplated” further. Anthony Miller maintains that when armor and weaponry are claimed as spoils of war and displayed in triumphs, these objects are “pacified into harmless ornaments.” Certainly, these spoils are pacified insofar as they cannot, and do not, inflict physical harm beyond the battlefield, but the display of such objects arguably constitutes a type of violence in and of itself: a violence against the viewer. The military spoil gives rise to “horror” in the viewer; the horrors it narrates constitute a horror for the spectator that “surveys” it. To survey, in the sense of inspect or scrutinize, the spoil of war is also to survey something else: a nation’s history of conquest. Acquisition and display are therefore forms of violence. For Benjamin, the origin of the object cannot be effaced, despite one’s greatest efforts at emotional or ethical detachment. It cannot be absolutely pacified.
I will focus on a particular type of military spoil here: the trophy. The spoil becomes a “cultural treasure” in part because it is stolen—and its value is derived from its status as stolen. This act of theft is a sanctioned and accepted practice, but when spoiled objects are removed from the battlefield, they undergo transformations in appearance and significance. Pallas’s belt signifies differently for Pallas, Aeneas, and Turnus. Aeneas is driven to rage by Turnus’s possession of the belt. Turnus’s claiming of Pallas’s belt does not constitute a departure from accepted behavior, but the act of spoiling horrifies and enrages Aeneas nonetheless. The spoil of war that Benjamin describes is an ambivalent and paradoxical object: it is owned and stolen, exciting and numbing, a treasure and a horror. It is also an aesthetic object, and it engaged visual artists in the sixteenth century— and Shakespeare—as such.
Trophies were part of the everyday military iconography of early modern Europe. They were used in pageants and royal entrances, and they were a common subject of illustrations. The sixth plate of Andrea Andreani’s series of chiaroscuro woodcuts The Triumph of Caesar (1599) depicts the parading of spoils of war (Fig. 3.1).
These prints were imitations, or reproductions, of Andrea Mantegna’s series of ten painted canvases of Caesar’s triumph. This sixth plate depicts the parading of spoils of war: the very scene that opens Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. The triumphal images in Andreani’s woodcuts impress the viewer with their otherness; one “surveys” them—to use Benjamin’s term—at an emotional and historical distance. The woodcuts are tightly framed, which creates a sense of proximity on the part of the viewer, who, like the viewer-reader of Lant’s Roll, becomes a spectator to the procession. In the center of the image is a trophy composed of the arms and armor of defeated men. A helmet stands aloft a tall pike, and a breastplate and large shield form the body. A man dressed in civilian robes carries this object, which looms high above the heads of the subjects who participate in the triumph. Behind this central trophy are other trophies: one to the left and three to the right of the image. Each object possesses essentially the same form: a helmet and breastplate hung aloft a pike. In the lower, right-hand corner of the woodcut, another man carries a trophy; he is hunched down, fatigued. He appears to be either resting the pike on the ground or preparing to lift it; his crouched posture draws attention to the substantial weight of these objects. To wear armor is one thing; to carry it is entirely another. Here, the object overwhelms the subject that carries it. The trophies are an example of what Michel Serres calls “quasi-objects” and “quasi-subjects.” They cannot be comfortably accommodated by the term “subject” or “object”; they occupy a middle ground wherein their objecthood suggests the presence of a subject and simultaneously underscores its absence. The figures that occupied these suits of armor are likely dead; only shells remain. This object looks backward to the violence of the battlefield and forward to the promise of peace. But peace—or the absence of war—can only be represented by the absence of the subject.
The trophy underscores several important absences. First, it points to the absence of the enemy’s body, which is most fully registered in the elimination of the human face, in the empty helmet that stands aloft these structures. This is what Derrida refers to as the “specter” or “this non-object, this non-present present, this being-there of an absent or departed one.” He invokes the appearance of the armored ghost of King Hamlet as the prime example of the phenomenon he identifies as the “helmet effect”:
For the helmet effect, it suffices that a visor be possible and that one play with it. Even when it is raised, in fact, its possibility continues to signify that someone, beneath the armor, can safely see without being seen or without being identified. Even when it is raised, the visor remains, an available resource and structure, solid and stable as armor, the armor that covers the body from head to foot, the armor of which it is a part and to which it is attached. This is what distinguishes a visor from the mask with which, nevertheless, it shares this incomparable power, perhaps the supreme insignia of power: the power to see without being seen. The helmet effect is not suspended when the visor is raised.
The “helmet effect” is defined by the power to see “without being seen or without being identified.” Of course, Foucault locates power in this type of observation. He maintains that “The exercise of discipline presupposes a mechanism that coerces by means of observation; an apparatus in which the techniques that make is possible to see induce effects of power, and in which, conversely, the means of coercion make those on whom they are applied clearly visible.” For Foucault, the Panopticon, or “perfect disciplinary apparatus,” accomplishes what the Ghost’s armor accomplishes: it protects the observer from the gaze of the observed, and it controls the object of its gaze. In other words, the crucial element of the “helmet effect” is its effect. King Hamlet’s gaze from beneath his helmet objectifies the observed (Prince Hamlet) and asserts his own status as father, as disciplinary force. The power of the Ghost is an effect of his military dress: he can see his audience (both onstage and offstage), but his audience sees only his material body (the armor), not his spectral body. Access to the spectral body is denied. Likewise, Andreani’s triumphal trophies suggest the presence of a spectral body and remind one that the subject’s corporeal body is absent. For the early modern English subject, the trophy is a form of memento mori. It remembers, and reminds one of, death. It also forces the viewer into submission. The “helmet effect” that Derrida identifies implies a power relationship between the viewer and the viewed. By forcing Hamlet to fixate on his armored body, the Ghost forces him to look at something that he cannot truly see.
The trophy was a popular subject of early modern European ornamental prints. The ornamental print was a category of prints that could be used by other artists and craftsmen and that was essentially two-dimensional in character. Travelers collected such prints in their specula as the images promised access to a lost and antique world. These specula, or albums of reproduced images, drew together images of, among other things, classical Roman art and architecture and miscellaneous objects such as fans, vases and urns. Such images were souvenirs, for they memorialized not only a particular voyage but also an unattainable past. For the early modern subject, ancient Rome was unavailable and yet perpetually sought. The trophy thus also stands for an absent past. Ornamental prints often represented in a state of wholeness what the early modern subject could only see in a state of ruin. As anthologies, specula constituted new kinds of wholes; they engaged with, and attempted to replace, a lost past by collecting representations of its composite parts. In Mary Sidney’s closet drama The Tragedy of Antony (1592), the chorus of Roman soldiers asks if “wretched trophies” will narrate the past:
And shall thick in each land
Our wretched trophies stand,
To tell posterity
What mad impiety
Our stony stomachs led
Against the place us bred? (4.78–83)
The trophies that testify to present civil strife may eventually narrate this present as the past; they may “tell posterity” of the degradation and dejection of the state. In other words, the fragmented and ruined may allow future subjects to create a (whole) vision of the past, however violent this past may have been.
Ornamental prints of trophies performed a function quite similar to what Sidney’s chorus predicts, for they “tell” the early modern English subject about their own violent inheritance. A sixteenth-century depiction of a Roman trophy formerly credited to Enea Vico is an exemplary print of this sort (Fig. 3.2).
Here, the trophy is depicted in isolation. Unlike Andreani’s woodcuts, there are no subjects present, only arms and armor. Liberated from their role in the military triumph, these trophies are simply decorative objects. War is invoked and yet denied. The objects have no use value—they are simply to be appreciated as aesthetic objects. In Vico’s prints, arms and armor are arranged on pikes and presented as if laid flat or hung on a wall. Both prints depict a scattering of shields, bows and arrows, swords, axes, helmets, and instruments (such as horns), as well as sculptural figures (or busts) and animals (such as birds). Both also depict one complete breastplate, which again points to an absent subject. Roman breastplates were designed to reproduce the bare male chest; in illustrations such as these, the Roman breastplates look like actual bodies. This clothing both stands in for the human body and replaces, or displaces, it. Whereas the trophies in The Triumph of Caesar were anthropomorphic, here they are architectural. The masses of weapons and armor resemble pillars, columns, and wall hangings. These prints also impress the viewer with their seriality. Vico printed many images of trophies, and they are all essentially the same. The trophy is both unique and endlessly reproducible, much like the prints themselves. There are infinite numbers of possible combinations of the arms and armor, but this variation results in an overall similitude. As was the case with Lant’s Roll, the early modern English subject’s engagement with his perceived Roman past is imagined in terms of the reproductive and the serial.
The trophy also registers the absence of a past for which the objects stand. In other words, these prints point not only to the absence of the subject, but also to an absent Roman past that can be figured only through reconstituted semisubjects. In her work on the fragmented bodies in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Lynn Enterline notes:
That a poem fascinated with the fracturing of bodies should have been passed down through the Middle Ages and into the Renaissance … predominantly in fragments, a reordered collection of pieces torn away from their original arrangement, is one of the ironies of literary history that continues to echo and ramify.
This phenomenon of a “reordered collection of pieces torn away from their original arrangement” underpins military iconography of the trophy. The anonymous A Roman trophy, which was made by an unknown engraver and published by Anthony Lafrery in the third quarter of the sixteenth century, is a symmetrical, controlled, colossal, and statuesque figure (Fig. 3.3).
This image is thought to represent a trophy that commemorated the victories of Gaius Martius in 101 BC. The print represents a series of transformations: first, a trophy is made of arms and armor, then this object is translated into a stone sculpture, and then—after much time has passed—it becomes an early modern print. The trophies of Marius that Pope Sixtus V moved to Piazza del Campidoglio in Rome in 1590 were such statues. Whether this image depicts these trophies isn’t clear, but it certainly repre-sents a nostalgic vantage point on the classical past and an attempt to claim it, in textual form, for the present. The Roman trophy appears immense. Situated in the foreground of a distant landscape, the object appears immense. Winged figures at the base hold shields and are surrounded by scattered military objects, including swords, helmets, and a breastplate. The trophy is positioned on a platform. A draped cloth takes the place of the chest; shields stand in for arms, and a closed helmet replaces the head.
Trophies such as this one bear a compelling relationship to the colossus, another type of memorial and expression of militant nostalgia. In Act 5 of Antony and Cleopatra, Cleopatra remembers Antony as a colossus:
His legs bestrid the ocean; his reared arm
Crested the world; his voice was propertied
As all the tuned spheres, and that to friends;
But when he meant to quail and shake the orb,
He was as rattling thunder. (Ant. 5.2.81–5)
Here, she invokes the Colossus of Rhodes, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, which depicted Apollo. Antony is transformed into an immense, looming figure—a virtual force of nature whose power of speech can “quail and shake the orb.” Her own speech is an act of memorializing and an act of spoiling, for Cleopatra re-envisions, or reconstitutes, Antony as an object of wonder, an aesthetic object to be admired. Antony’s monument derives its power as a token of identity and as a reminder, or memorial, from its massiveness and its supposed permanence. The sheer conspicuousness of such a monument assures its enduring significance and simultaneously draws attention to the absence of the subject it renders monumental. But the monument’s materiality registers absence. Further, this monumental and colossal Antony must be imaginatively constructed out of its parts. The viewer can only see his “legs” or a “reared arm”—the colossus in its entirety cannot be apprehended. Cleopatra’s vision displaces the body of the actual Antony, whose botched suicide renders him not colossal but rather portable (for he has to be hoisted up to her). In Henry IV, Part I, Falstaff and Prince Hal draw on precisely the same image in their bawdy banter. Here, again, only the legs of the colossus can be seen. Falstaff says, “Hal, if thou set me down in the battle and bestride me, so; ‘tis a point of friendship,” to which Hal replies, “Nothing but a colossus can do thee that friendship” (1H4 5.1.121–4). In both plays, the colossus stands above the subjects that view it—it bestrides all that is below, stand-ing over its viewers as a conqueror stands over the conquered. By looming above these spectators, the colossus claims them as spoils of war. In Act 1 of Julius Caesar, Cassius says of Caesar:
Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world
Like a colossus, and we petty men
Walk under his huge legs and peep about
To find ourselves dishonourable graves. (JC 1.2.134–7)
Cassius’s characterization is more reserved than Cleopatra’s, for he only compares Caesar to a colossus. Nevertheless, this vision of “petty men / walk[ing] under his huge legs” describes precisely the activity that an early modern surveyor of a colossus would engage in. In Lafrery’s trophies of Marius, the angels that cluster around the base of the trophy provide a corollary to the men who encounter a colossus. The colossus is intended to inspire awe.
Nevertheless, as Jean-Pierre Vernant notes, the word “colossus” was not originally defined by size but by immobility. The colossus is “erected” and cannot be moved; it is fixed in space and fixed in time. Colossal statues were erected for subjects who disappeared, subjects for whom the performance of funerary rites was not possible. Vernant argues that such colossal figures were buried in empty tombs “as a substitute for the absent corpse” of the dead person; they were also erected over empty tombs. Thus the colossus “is not meant to reproduce the features of the dead man or to create the illusion of his physical presence … The colossus is not an image; it is a ‘double,’ as the dead man himself is a double of the living man.” A substitute necessarily draws attention to the absence of that for which it stands. For the early modern English subject, who might view illustrations of such colossus, these figures represented not only absent subjects but also an absent culture. Giorgio Agamben argues against Vernant’s reading of the colossus as a double or substitute:
The colossus is not … a simple substitute for the corpse. In the complex system regulating the relation between the living and the dead in the classical world, the colossus represents instead—analogously to the corpse, but in a more immediate and general way—that part of the person that is consecrated to death and that, insofar as it occupies the threshold between the two worlds, must be separated from the normal context of the living.
The colossus represents the liminal and the dangerous: “that part of the person that is consecrated to death.” Like the trophy, the colossus is a figure for that which is unavoidably other, that which is always beyond the subject that would seek to claim it. Agamben’s argument has implications for his inquiry into the sacred, the doctrine of the King’s Two Bodies, and the nature of political power. He maintains that homo sacer, not the colossus, is a double.
I will argue that, like the colossus, Shakespeare’s Roman military subject cannot be perceived in his entirety by his “surviving devotee” or audience. This militant Roman figure is simultaneously excessive and non-whole, for he can only be accessed in parts. The colossus optically distorts the viewer’s gaze and is itself optically distorted by this gaze. The illustrations of the trophies of Marius attempt to perform what the devotee’s eye cannot: to present the military spoil as whole and entire. Likewise, this idea of distortion is central to the Roman plays’ treatment of the figure of the armored figure. Stephen Greenblatt draws attention to how the anamorphic registers absence in his analysis of the famous death’s-head in Holbein’s 1533 portrait “The Ambassadors.” He argues that, in contrast to transi tombs, which presented the body “both in its dignity and in its disgrace,” Holbein’s portrait mystifies the viewer:
In “The Ambassadors,” such clear, steady sight is impossible; death is affirmed not in its power to destroy the flesh, or as is familiar from late medieval literature, in its power to horrify and cause unbearable pain, but in its uncanny inaccessibility and absence. What is unseen or perceived only as a blur is far more disquieting than what may be faced boldly and directly, particularly when the limitations of vision are grasped as structural, the consequence more of the nature of perception than of the timidity of the perceiver.
Limited vision draws attention to “inaccessibility and absence.” For Greenblatt, Holbein’s anamorphic skull registers the inaccessibility of death; death is beyond one’s sight and thus beyond one’s ability to apprehend. Likewise, the ornamental prints of trophies both present and withhold these objects from the viewer. They register the inaccessibility of the early modern English subject’s perceived Roman past. Such prints depict military spoils and are themselves spoils as they attempt to reclaim for the early modern traveler lost objects from the past and, by extension, the very past for which these objects stand. Reproductive prints promise to “reproduce” the past, but the nature of the print—its depiction of spoils of war—underscores the problems of the violence and distance, temporal and representational, in the early modern subject’s excavation of his antique past. The prints are representations of, or substitutes for, a lost actual trophy, and the actual trophy is itself a figure for the inaccessible Roman past, a deformed and reformed material embodiment of militant nostalgia. The trophy embodies the impossibility of accessing the absent past and simultaneously the overbearing and continuing pressure of this absent past on the present.
The early modern poetic work most closely associated with this phenomenon of reflective, nostalgic tourism is du Bellay’s 1558 sonnet sequence Antiquitez de Rome, translated by Edmund Spenser as Ruines of Rome (1591). In Spenser’s rendering of du Bellay’s third sonnet, he asserts that, “Rome now of Rome is th’onely funeral.” The sonnet is itself a translation of an epigram by Janus Vitalis, a Sicilian priest, theologian and poet under Leo X; Spenser’s version is thus twice removed from the original, from a poem that is itself about standing at a remove from that which one surveys. Spenser’s use of the term “funeral” bolsters the poem’s mournful acknowledgment of Rome as lost, Rome as dead. Du Bellay’s line reads, “Rome de Rome est le seul monument,” or literally “Rome of Rome is the only monument” (in other words, the paradox that “Rome is the only monument of Rome”). Spenser’s decision to translate “monument” as “funeral” (if it was indeed a “decision”—it is unclear how good his French was) points to the connection between the funereal and the monumental. In this sonnet, the monument is engaged in mourning a loss. The sonnet’s opening lines draw attention to the problem of locating Rome among its ruins:
Thou stranger, which for Rome in Rome here seekest,
And nought of Rome in Rome perceiv’st at all,
These same old walls, olde arches, which thou seest
Old Palaces, is that which Rome men call.
In French, the “stranger” of the first line is a “nouveau venu,” or one who has newly come to these “olde arches.” This poem is about searching for something that cannot be located. The viewer hopes to find Rome by seeing ruins of walls, arches, and palaces and by naming—or by “calling” the city by its name, but the result is “nought” or “rien.” The new is forbidden access to the old. Leonard Barkan notes that this linguistic attempt to create immediacy and presence (rhetorically, enargeia), or to “enunciate,” is fraught with challenges:
As the poem engages in a vast cultural act of enargeia, it will make absent things present and will overcome its own belatedness in relation to the unobtainable material remains of antiquity; it will present these things both as ruined and as (to use a Renaissance term) repristinated—that is, like new. For du Bellay, it is not only that antique works are unprocurable and that translation is itself a kind of plundering or profanation of classical relics. Rome is the very name of what cannot be enunciated … Rome is unfindable.
Barkan points to the problem of locating Rome as a city, culture, and system of values among its “material remains.” Antiquity is apprehended through fragments, and one’s resulting image is thus necessarily fragmentary.
The “material remains” that I focus on here are the remains of military clothing. Clothing can render one “antique,” and the “antique” is linked to the fragmentary. In Act 2 of Antony and Cleopatra, Caesar says of the masque that, “The wild disguise hath almost/Anticked us all” (Ant. 2.7.118–19). According to Caesar, to be disguised is to be “anticked”—in the sense of associated with the comic or the clownlike—and also to be “antiqued,” or to be taken out of your present temporal moment and transplanted to the past. The word “antic” was not developed in English from “antique” but was often spelled the same. The association of the two terms came from the ascription of grotesque work to the ancients; “antic” was originally applied to fantastic representations of human, animal, and floral forms, incongruously running into one another, found in exhuming ancient remains in Rome. The word “antick” (or “antik”) is also associated with the clothing of a jester, namely the motley, a patchwork construction, a composite of other, destroyed and reconstituted garments. Peter Stallybrass finds this connection between the antique and the antic in early modern theater records:
One striking feature of Alleyn’s list of costumes of the Admiral’s Men in 1598 is a list of “Antik sutes.” It is not entirely clear whether “antik” here means antique or belonging to the jester … Perhaps “antik” means both, since the list includes both cloth of gold and of silver and “will somers cote.” Will Sommer was Henry VIII’s fool, so that, if the suit truly belonged to him, it was both “antique” and “antic”.
In the early modern English theater, clothing was often “antik” in the sense of cobbled together from fragments. Of course, the theater mediates between the linguistic and the visual: like the clown’s antic language, his antic clothing need not, and cannot, cohere. In a jester’s patchwork motley, the borders between pieces of clothing register the destruction of formerly whole garments—the violent rips and tears that are necessary to create a new sort of whole. As early as 1360, the “Dittamondo” of Fazio degle Ubertii, which recounts the author’s visionary travels to Rome, characterizes his tour guide as an old woman dressed in tattered garments:
A venerable matron in torn garments—Rome herself is meant—tells them of the glorious past, and gives them a minute description of the old triumphs; she then leads the strangers through the city, and points out to them the seven hills and many of the chief ruins.
This “matron in torn garments” tells her visitors of “old triumphs” and, in leading them through the city, stages a touristic triumph of her own. Fazio degle Ubertii’s matron moves as a triumphator through the space of the city. It has been noted that Shakespeare’s Roman plays engage with Rome “in architectural terms … The city is … a set of psychologically significant, visually symbolic, loci often placed in contrast with one another—the Forum, the battlefield, the Senate house, the street, the domicile. Each is a manifestation of Romanitas …” In other words, like a military triumph, these plays attempt to imbue these architectural spaces with the value of Romanitas. Each space allows for the display of certain Roman values or characteristics; each space is in turn defined by these values. The trophy, too, embodies aspects of Romanitas, of what it means to be a militant Roman and what it means to be a subject in sixteenth-century England. It asserts itself—and the subjects it deforms and reforms—as both powerfully present and troublingly absent. As an overdetermined object, it means everything and nothing. It is a material reality and a void, an architecture of the subject in collapse.
Too Many Triumphs: Spoiling the Roman Subject in ‘Julius Caesar’
Julius Caesar dramatizes three military triumphs, and each triumph has its own set of trophies and anxieties about the narratives that attend these trophies. The play opens with the promise of a military triumph over Pompey’s sons, but this triumph is a contested and debased event. The triumph is to take place on a holiday as Flavius, one of several “Commoners,” yells at his fellow men:
Hence! home, you idle creatures, get you home!
Is this a holiday? What, know you not
(Being mechanical) you ought not to walk
Upon a labouring day, without the sign
Of your profession? (JC 1.1.1–5)
Flavius responds to what he deems to be an unacceptable scene of “mechanical,” or laboring, men who are not working, but rather eagerly awaiting a display of armor and trophies. The “rude mechanicals” in A Midsummer Night’s Dream shirk their manual and practical duties in order to perform labor of an amateur artistic sort—the production of the play Pyramus and Thisbe—and the common men on stage at the beginning of Julius Caesar are also positioned as outside of their accepted roles as workers: they are spectators to an anticipated performance. Flavius, a tribune of the people, criticizes the commoners: “See where their basest mettle be not moved” (JC 1.1.62). The “mettle” of these laboring “mechanical” men is lead, the basest metal, not steel or iron: they are improper or imperfect military figures insofar as their “mettle” is of a low and common sort. one’s temperament and usually denotes a particularly spirited and courageous nature. Mettle is rarely the property of the elite or refined.” Here, more here. The term “mechanical” refers to the practice of a craft, not to the labor of a military subject.
John Archer argues that the “artisanal language” of Titus Andronicus points to a struggle between the work of a warrior and the work of a craftsman. We see a similar tension in the opening moments of this play. Flavius objects to the idleness of the craftsmen on a “labouring day.” The labor performed in this scene is not that of the cobbler or carpenter but that of the soldier; the military triumph is a debased form of labor with its own set of products: military trophies. The triumphal “holiday” has been “culled” out of a working day; the Cobbler explains that, “… we make holiday to see Caesar and to rejoice in his triumph” (JC 1.1.31–2). Holiday must be “made” in the sense of created and participated in. According to Mikhail Bakhtin, the freedoms and reversals sanctioned by carnival result in a leveling of socioeconomic and political difference and the creation of a heightened sense of community among participants. But, crucially, a holiday must be state-sanctioned; it is precisely the unsanctioned nature of the holiday in Julius Caesar that Flavius objects to in Act 1. The triumph over Pompey’s sons is an ambivalent spectacle. On the one hand, it requires spectators; on the other, the tribunes are at pains to discourage such spectatorship and celebration. Murellus drives the others offstage in a rant in which he condemns the commoners for their desire to see the enemy paraded in triumph:
Wherefore rejoice? What conquest brings he home?
What tributaries follow him to Rome
To grace in captive bonds his chariot wheels?
You blocks, you stones, you worse than senseless things! (JC 1.1.33–36)
Murellus’s questions draw attention to the questionable nature of the triumph: its capacity, that is, to quite literally raise questions. His first question—“Wherefore rejoice?”—returns us to Benjamin’s assertion that the triumph embodies not the joy of victory but the “horror” of conquest. He inquires into the spoils of the triumph—“What conquest brings he home? / What tributaries follow him to Rome …”—but this is an anti-inquiry. Like Benjamin, Murellus rejects the spoils of the triumph as contemptible. He absents himself from the crowd of spectators, and he rejects this type of spectatorship because it is familiar:
O you hard hearts, you cruel men of Rome,
Knew you not Pompey? Many a time and oft
Have you climbed up to walls and battlements,
To towers and windows, yea, to chimney-tops,
Your infants in your arms, and there have sat
The livelong day, with patient expectation,
To see great Pompey pass the streets of Rome
And when you saw his chariot but appear,
Have you not made an universal shout. (JC 1.1.38–45)
This triumph is both a reversal of former triumphs—now, Pompey’s sons will be paraded when Pompey was formerly the triumphator—and simultaneously a debased holiday. Like the military trophy itself, the triumph is a reconstituted form, an event that recalls all former triumphs and represents them in a new form that is both familiar and strange. Murellus remembers the reverberation of the “universal shout” of the crowd; he says that, the “Tiber trembled underneath her banks / To hear the replication of your sound/Made in her concave shores” (JC 1.1.46–8). The “replication” that he refers to here is an echo, the return of a sound. But an echo is also a repetition, copy or reproduction of sound: the sound that it offers, or returns, is both the same and different form the original sound. This echo is an apt metaphor for the triumph, which is itself a “replication” of former triumphs. Murellus’s speech mediates a relationship between the present and the past. The present triumph displaces former triumphs, but it accomplishes this through an act of replication that necessarily invokes them, as well. The triumph in Julius Caesar assures the continuity that Schwartz identifies with the copy, but it also engages with the problem of uniqueness. As a replica, the triumph constitutes one entry in a series of military pageants that serve as indications of national growth and cultural dominance, but it cannot be perceived outside of these other incarnations. The triumph is quite literally a dead metaphor, as are the arms and armor, or “conquest” (JC 1.1.33), that Caesar parades. That is, these objects register the death and the demise of cultures, their destruction, and subsequent reconstitution as Roman.
Like the triumph itself, the spectators are distorted replications of their former selves. Murellus’s account of Pompey’s past triumphs underscores the spectators’ connectedness to the geography of the city, a space that remains unchanged. But the spectators’ active involvement in past triumphs—climbing up walls, shouting, and so on—is here nowhere to be found. This triumph’s spectators are passive. These “mechanical” men have rejected their active labors for passive spectatorship. They are involved neither in the wars that have produced this triumph nor in the performance of victory. Rather, they are simply objects, or “senseless things,” as Murellus says. They are not, therefore, even acceptable spectators as they lack the requisite functions of “sense,” as both reason and sensory function, that spectatorship demands. The cobbler leads a group of men through the streets in an alternate, pointless triumph that celebrates nothing but rather serves to “wear out their shoes,” (JC 1.1.30) or spoil them, thus bolstering his business. The cobbler’s triumph generates income, not the abstract value of Romanitas. It is only in witnessing the rise of a new triumphator that Murellus registers the triumph as a genre.
The spoils, or “conquest,” (JC 1.1.33) in this triumph are profoundly contested objects that stand for a violent past that is already being memorialized. Benjamin’s sense of the “horror” they represent is here subsumed in pageantry and theatricality. Unlike the “historical materialist” of which Benjamin speaks, the spectator in Julius Caesar is not asked to contemplate the objects but rather to systematically deny their status as contested objects which, in celebrating both loss and victory, engage in a discourse of paradox. Flavius invokes another set of “trophies” in his exchange with Murellus:
Flavius. … Get you down that way towards the Capitol.
This way will I. Disrobe the images,
If you do find them decked with ceremonies.
Murellus. May we do so?
You know it is the feast of Lupercal.
Flavius. It is no matter. Let no images
Be hung with Caesar’s trophies. (JC 1.1.64–70)
Statues of Caesar have been decorated—or “decked with ceremonies,” which included, according to Plutarch’s account, such objects as trophies, scarves, and the laurel crown. Flavius commands Murellus to “disrobe” the images, and the removal of these ceremonial, celebratory objects from the statues is imagined as the removal, or stripping away, of the clothing that “decks” them. Murellus’s anxiety—“May we do so?”—is compounded by the fact that it is the feast of Lupercal. Shakespeare combines the holiday, which was in February, with the Caesar’s triumph, which was in October of the former year. Lupercus was a deity associated with Pan and the founding of Rome. Caesar’s triumph is thus linked to narratives of nation-founding and becomes a symbol of the birth of imperial Rome, or of its rebirth as such. Again, the triumph is a replication, a repetition of the past. But the tribunes plan to dismantle the signs of the triumph, thus disrespecting Caesar and questioning his status as triumphator. The “ceremonies” that adorn the statues are material embodiments of the rites of military celebration, and Murellus is determined to destroy them. These trophies embody the “guiltiness” (JC 1.1.63) and “ingratitude” (JC 1.1.56) of the spectators who admire them; they also embody the guiltiness of the military exploits that produced them. The trophy is established as deeply problematic: it is both celebratory and murderous, constructed and inevitably dismantled. As an embodiment of destruction, it may likewise be destroyed. The Cobbler professes himself “a surgeon to old shoes; when they are in danger, I recover them” (JC 1.1.24–5). This action of “recovering,” or mending, stands in direct opposition to the scene’s engagement with the act of dismantling. The Cobbler fixes that which is broken. The triumphator, on the other hand, nostalgically rejoices in destruction and, in so doing, assures his own eventual destruction.
The military triumph represented a transition from war to peace and the return of the general, and his army, to the realm of the civic. However, this struggle between the spectators and the tribunes underscores the impossibility of sublimating the violence of the battlefield in holiday and ceremony. The trophies that adorn the statues of Caesar give rise to civic disturbance. They do not stand for peace but rather represent an encroachment of war into the space of the city. The tribunes clash with the spectators and with one another. Flavius’s command—“Let no images / Be hung with Caesar’s trophies” (JC 1.1.69–70)—denies the triumph’s spectators, and the play’s audience, access to Caesar’s trophies. Of course, this scene stages only spectatorship, not the triumph itself. Like many scenes of military violence in Shakespearean drama, the triumph occurs offstage; only the reaction to the triumph is performed. At the beginning of Act 3 of Henry V, the Chorus asks the audience to “Work, work your thoughts, and therein see a siege” (H5 3.0.25). To envision the siege of Harfleur constitutes a type of “work” on the part of the theatrical audience. In Julius Caesar, the commoners shirk their daily labors in order to be spectators to a form of entertainment, and the play’s audience is asked to do precisely the same thing. The play and the triumph are related discourses.
Although the playhouse audience is denied access to the spoils of Caesar, Julius Caesar offers another spoil: Caesar himself. In Act 3, Caesar’s murderers parade him in the marketplace just as he parades his “conquest” offstage in the play’s opening scene. This is the second triumph of the play, and one is reminded of Murellus’s warning against the triumph. The murder of Caesar is imagined as both the destruction of his triumphs and its attending spoils. Brutus says:
Stoop, Romans, stoop,
And let us bathe our hands in Caesar’s blood
Up to the elbows and besmear our swords
Then walk we forth even to the market-place,
And waving our red weapons o’er our heads
Let’s all cry, ‘Peace, Freedom and Liberty.’ (JC 3.1.105–10)
The cry of “Peace, Freedom and Liberty” mirrors the “universal shout” of the crowd in the opening scene and recalls Benjamin’s warning that “horror”—here, the blood-soaked body of Caesar and of his murderers— may be translated into its almost-opposite: peace. Caesar is spoiled on the corporeal arms of his killers and on their military “arms,” or swords. He is transformed into, or reduced to, a bloodied sword and paraded in the marketplace. Antony also underscores the reduction of Caesar to a trophy several moments later—the reduction to, as he puts it, “the ruins of the noblest man” (JC 3.1.256). He, too, wants to display the body of Caesar publicly:
Here is a mourning Rome, a dangerous Rome,
No Rome of safety for Octavius yet.
Hie hence, and tell him so. Yet stay awhile –
Thou shalt not back till I have borne this corpse
Into the marketplace. (JC 3.1.287–92)
As Caesar triumphed over Pompey’s sons in the play’s opening scene, now Caesar is himself triumphed over. Rome is characterized as “mourning,” but it is certainly mourned by its early modern theatrical audience in this moment, as well. In Act 2, Brutus attempts to divorce Caesar’s “spirit” from his potentially bloody body:
We all stand up against the spirit of Caesar,
And in the spirit of men there is no blood.
O that we then could come by Caesar’s spirit
And not dismember Caesar! (JC 2.1.168–9)
His reference to “dismember[ing]” Caesar recalls the “disrob[ing]” of the images Flavius calls for in the opening scene. Caesar must be torn apart so that the nation can be reconstituted, or rebuilt, in another form. As Caesar’s triumph displaced Pompey’s former triumph, so this new Rome will displace the old. In Act 1, as Cassius contemplates killing Caesar, he recalls having saved his life:
Caesar cried, “Help me, Cassius, or I sink!”
I, as Aeneas, our great ancestor,
Did from the flames of Troy upon his shoulder
The old Anchises bear, so from the waves of Tiber
Did I the tired Caesar. (JC 1.2.111–5)
In this nostalgic narrative, Cassius establishes himself as a second Aeneas, a replication of “our great ancestor” and a model of filial piety. But this father-son relationship is warped and destroyed by the murder, and Caesar becomes not Anchises but Turnus, both spoiler and spoiled. The murder of Caesar produces a new text that replaces the Aeneid, a text written with the blood of Caesar. Antony says, “And here thy hunters stand / Signed in thy spoil and crimsoned in thy lethe” (JC 3.1.205–07). His killers are “signed” in his spoil, which is to say marked by his name or signature, a distinctive or distinguishing piece of text provided by one’s hand, which is also the location of physical violence. The hand kills and signs, and the second of these activities allows for the killers to authenticate themselves as one would authenticate a document. The murder of Caesar generates a uniquely textual spoil; he is reduced to a bloody signature. Antony explicitly characterizes the murder of Caesar in terms of spoilage and reduction: “O mighty Caesar! Dost thou lie so low? / Are all thy conquests, glories, triumphs, spoils, / Shrunk to this little measure?” (JC 3.1.148–50). The murder of Caesar is imagined as both his reduction to a trophy and, simultaneously, as the destruction of his trophies, the very objects that opened the play. Caesar’s body replaces the spoils of the opening scene as the play’s chief spoil. He is no longer an awe-inspiring, looming colossus; he is now a “low” and shrunken thing, an object that mediates between the present and the past for Antony and for the play’s audience. Antony’s characterization of the murder as a form of condensation—“Are all thy conquests, glories, triumphs, spoils / Shrunk to this little measure?”—also points to the play’s engagement with the theater as a means of condensing and collapsing. Antony’s question implies that the play itself has reduced Caesar’s glory to a “little measure.” Alexander Leggatt refers to this phenomenon as the “economy of the theatre, which brings great men to the stage as life-sized figures exposed in ordinary daylight …” He invokes H.A. Mason’s observation that performance is a form of telescoping; we see such figures, Mason argues, “as it were, down the wrong end of the telescope.” Brutus’s call to “bathe” in Caesar’s blood encourages Cassius to envision the scene as a future theatrical performance:
Cassius. Stoop, then, and wash. How many ages hence
Shall this our lofty scene be acted over
In states unborn and accents yet unknown?
Brutus. How many times shall Caesar bleed in sport
That now on Pompey’s basis lies along,
No worthier than the dust? (JC 3.1.111–6)
This invocation of future performances of the murder is weighed down with rhetorical questions and doubt. Both men attempt to imagine their actions replayed on the stage as “sport,” but they are unable to do so. The repetition of the phrase “How many?” suggests that they do not know the answers to the questions they pose, nor can they envision “states unborn and accents yet unknown.” Although Cassius insists that the scene is “lofty,” he nonetheless implies that the historical, lived moment is inadequate. Even at such a height, these players—in the sense of participants and actors—are compelled to imagine future theatrical recreations of it. Like the triumph in the play’s opening scene, such performances are replications: they are inauthentic, a form of “sport,” the sublimation of actual violence in militantly nostalgic theatricality. The murder of Caesar will be performed many times in the future, and such performances will produce multiple Caesars, each a shadow of the “real” Caesar to which Cassius and Brutus refer, who is himself a theatrical fiction. Caesar is rendered perpetual in performance, but he is also always just beyond one’s reach, an object that properly belongs to the past and can be presented only in replicated form in the early modern English present. His blood on Pompey’s “basis,” or the platform of a statue, is a composite image: his blood, the symbol of Caesar’s status as real, drenches and disfigures the artistic representation of a man who came before him. The future theatrical representations of Caesar must necessarily be disfigured, as well.
This problem of access receives its most explicit treatment in the final scene of the play when Antony provides Brutus with a unified and stable subjectivity not allowed to Caesar: “His life was gentle, and the elements / So mixed in him that nature might stand up / And say to all the world, ‘This was a man!’” (JC 5.5.74–6). The disparate “elements” that comprise Brutus are thoroughly “mixed”; his parts make up a whole. Brutus’s unified temperament signifies a unified self. Caesar, on the other hand, is a fragmented figure, spoiled by the conspirators. As in so many Shakespearean tragedies, the final speech turns to burial rites and to a hope for peace. Octavius’s speech leaves the play’s on- and offstage audience with yet another set of spoils:
According to his virtue let us use him,
With all the respect and rites of burial.
Within my tent his bones tonight shall lie,
Most like a soldier, ordered honourably.
So call the field to rest, and let’s away,
To part the glories of this happy day. (JC 5.5.77–82)
Octavius calls for a rest from fighting and an evaluation of the day’s, and the play’s, spoils. The soldier is asked to claim his share of military “glories”—both the abstract value of glory, or honor, and the objects, or spoils, produced by the battle. The play’s early modern audience also is called on to “part,” in the sense of divide and share, these “glories” or the spoils produced by the play. The process of sharing necessitates division and the breaking up of a whole, and the “glories” of which Octavius speaks belong to all. The theatrical audience is implicated in a symbolic militarism whereby its national narratives can be constructed and claimed only through fragments. Octavius controls the process by which this occurs. He anticipates a future moment when the act of spoiling will operate as a mode of memorializing, and he draws attention to the theater as a space in which a form of cultural spoiling occurs. Like the triumph in the opening scene of the play, the early modern English stage displays spoils to its audience as weighty symbols. This self-replication is the final replication that the play performs. The Roman past is reconstituted in altered, fragmented form via display. It is offered up to the audience as “glories” or spoils, but these spoils defy the audience’s attempt at appropriation, for they can only be desired, never claimed.
The Clothes Make the Man: Dressing the Roman Subject in ‘Antony and Cleopatra’
In Act 4, Scene 4 of Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, as Caesar’s soldiers arrive in Alexandria and war looms on the horizon, Cleopatra arms Antony for battle. This scene, which is not in Plutarch, dramatizes an acute anxiety regarding the potential disarming and divisibility of the male body in battle—the transformation or reduction of the Roman military subject into a spoil of war. In this crucial scene, the strange and suggestive figure of the female “armourer” is placed in relationship to the male military subject—in this case, Caesar—who may ultimately “spoil” or disassemble the very cohesive object she creates. The play’s characters invoke the visual arts—particularly painting—as a means of characterization. Cleopatra describes Antony as “painted one way like a Gorgon, / The other way’s a Mars,” (Ant. 2.5.118–19), and Enobarbus’s description of Cleopatra characterizes her as “O’erpicturing that Venus where we see / The fancy outwork nature” (Ant. 2.2.210–11). In both cases, the lovers are mythologized by virtue of their similarity to Venus and Mars. But as in Julius Caesar, the play presents the masculine, militarized Roman subject as distorted. The anamorphic Antony is both Gorgon and Mars, less a subject than the result of a trick of perspective. His distorted physicality is most fully realized in the arming scene.
Antony is identified with Mars, the Roman god of War, from the first lines of the play. Philo complains:
Nay, but this dotage of our general’s
O’erflows the measure. Those his goodly eyes,
That o’er the files and musters of the war
have glowed like plated Mars, now bend, now turn
The office and devotion of their view Upon a tawny front. His captain’s heart,
Which in the scuffles of great fights hath burst
The buckles of his breast, reneges all temper
And is become the bellows and the fan
To cool a gipsy’s lust. (Ant. 1.1.1–10).
Mars’s armored body, the quintessential masculine body of war, was once contained, or constricted, in Antony’s flashing, “plated” eyes. His warlike “captain’s” heart—which he will refer to again in the arming scene—was also, before Cleopatra, similarly contained by his armor: specifically, by “the buckles of his breast,” but Antony is now an incontinent figure. The “Egyptian fetters” that hold him are not an acceptable replacement for the buckles that formerly held together his military dress and himself. These opening lines assert that the male figure of war should be a contained figure and that this containment is the result, to some extent, of the limitations placed on him by his armor. Antony has been “transformed” or recast, to use another term of the armories, as a “strumpet’s fool,” and he must therefore be “transformed” back into his former self: a Roman and a warrior.
But Antony’s own self-construction is not so uniform or unified as Philo would believe. In this arming scene, his status as composite is dramatized on the level of clothing and stage properties, a dramatic embodiment of Barkan’s position that the Renaissance human body was an essentially unified system that was “subdivided into a number of parts.” Crucially, Cleopatra has great difficulty constructing Antony out of the pieces of armor presented to her, and her attempt to recast him as Roman by means of his Roman dress is only partially successful. In arming Antony, Cleopatra enters into a tradition of maternal female armorers of the epic tradition. Coppélia Kahn notes that,
The same epic tradition that opposed women to war also represents mothers as arming their sons. In the Iliad, Thetis helps arm Achilles, as Venus arms Aeneas in the Aeneid; both mothers symbolically authorize their sons’ masculine vocations as warmakers, but do not bear arms themselves, remaining on the feminine side of the gender divide.
Cleopatra is likewise an arming and authorizing figure. At first, she encourages Antony to stay in bed—“Sleep a little” (Ant. 4.4.2)—but he calls twice to Eros for his armor. Presumably, when Eros comes onstage with the armor, he is carrying a heavy, amorphous and unwieldy armful of stage properties. The size and magnitude of the armor is certainly far in excess of Cupid himself: he struggles to carry this divided body of Mars. In this scene, Eros is charged with the responsibility of performing the opposite of Cupid’s action. Rather than take his armor away, he must bring it forth and construct out of it what Antony refers to as “a man of steel” (Ant. 4.4.34). Cleopatra insists on involving herself in this process; she attempts to take the place of Eros when she says, “Nay, I’ll help too,” (Ant. 4.4.5) but the task proves more difficult than she expects. Holding up a piece of the armor, she asks, “What’s this for?” (Ant. 4.4.6). Cleopatra faces a crucial problem: she is unsure which piece of armor corresponds to which section of Antony’s body. Her ignorance and awkwardness underscore the essentially masculine military realm that Eros and Antony occupy. Her lack of knowledge of the accouterments of war excludes her from their world, as do Antony’s insistent and impatient words: “Let be! Let be! … False, false! This, this!” (Ant. 4.4.7–8). In Henry V, the armorers are busy “accomplishing the knights” before the battle of Agincourt; in creating the shell that covers man’s body in battle, they create the man himself. The scattered pieces that litter the stage must be gathered up and arranged in such a whole, but this is not easily done. Eventually, Cleopatra begins to “accomplish” Antony; she asks, “Is this not buckled well?” and he responds, “Rarely, rarely” (Ant. 4.4.11–12). No longer simply the “armourer of [Antony’s] heart,” (Ant. 4.4.7) she is acknowledged to be an acceptable armorer of his body, as well. This scene is a reversal of Venus and Cupid’s disarming of Mars. For Cleopatra, dressing her lover is a sensual and playful act, but for Antony, his armor is an object of desire for the male spoiler who may undress him in battle.
Even as Antony is constructed for battle, he acknowledges the threat of disassembly that he faces. When Cleopatra asks, “Is this not buckled well?” (Ant. 4.4.11), he responds with an acknowledgment, if a denial, of the potential violence or violation that may be practiced upon him in battle. He says, “He that unbuckles this, till we do please / To doff’t for our repose, shall hear a storm” (Ant. 4.4.11–13). Antony’s arming and his acknowledgment of his potential disarming are intimately linked, for armor may be transformed into a military trophy, the object to which Antony fears being reduced. This scene of arming posits that the elite military subject may be no more than “a man of steel” once he “puts his iron on”– what Hamlet refers to as “a piece of work,” (Ham. 2.2.286) the product of labor, a reproducible figure rather than an unparalleled one. The “work” in question here is the work, or products, of war; Antony says, “That thou couldst see my wars today and knew’st / The royal occupa-tion, thou shouldst see/A workman in’t” (Ant. 4.4.16–8). He is not only workman, but also the product of those labors. When he bids farewell to Cleopatra, he rejects “mechanic compliment”: “What’er becomes of me, / This is a soldier’s kiss. Rebukable,/And worthy shameful check it were, to stand/On more mechanic compliment” (Ant. 4.4.29–32). As he dons his last piece of armor, he is rendered mechanical, the product of a craft.
But his clothing displaces his body, rendering him a hollow shell. In Julius Caesar, Brutus imagines false friends as hollow or lacking in substance:
Thou hast described
A hot friend, cooling.
Ever note, Lucilius,
When love begins to sicken and decay
It useth an enforced ceremony.
There are not tricks in plain and simple faith:
But hollow men, like horses hot at hand,
Make gallant show and promise of their mettle. (JC 4.2.18–24)
The “hollow men” of which he speaks are the product of artisanal labor: his description of a “hot friend, cooling” suggests that the human subject is forged in fire. As in Henry V’s reference to his troops’ “mettle of your pasture” (3.1.27) in the speech at Harfleur, here one’s “mettle”— or temperament or character—is the result of the forging process. When Antony “put[s] [his] iron on,” he becomes this iron; his “mettle” and “metal” are inseparable. Anne Barton notes that the titular character of Jonson’s Sejanus, another early modern English play about Rome, is “as hollow as his own statue in the theatre of Pompey, unreal …” This scene of arming Antony suggests the hollowness of the Roman military subject by foregrounding the hollowness of his armor.
This hollowness assures Antony’s divisibility and vulnerability. The more his body is fortified, the more likely it is to be attacked. Antony’s suit of armor necessarily attracts the enemy. It is an object of desire, an object that can be broken apart and claimed as one’s own. The unity of the natural body is threatened by the very form of its protection. In an analogue to Caesar’s murder in Julius Caesar, the threat of exposure of Antony’s body is realized when he is hoisted up to Cleopatra later in Act 4. She dwells on his “heaviness”:
Here’s sport indeed! How heavy weighs my lord!
Our strength is all gone into heaviness;
That makes the weight. Had I great Juno’s power,
The strong-winged Mercury should fetch thee up
And set thee by Jove’s side. (Ant. 4.15.33–7)
Cleopatra refers to both the literal weight of Antony’s body and to the figurative weight, or sadness, of the scene. She claims Antony as a spoil of war or trophy, not—as other characters see him—as a monument or colossus. The guards refer to the scene as a “heavy sight” (Ant. 4.15.42). The arming scene is also a “heavy sight” insofar as it dramatizes the effort necessary to produce the militarized Roman subject and invokes the effort of taking him apart. Cleopatra’s attempt to construct Antony draws attention to his potential division or fragmentation, although the fragmentation of the female body is more common in Shakespeare’s plays. For example, Othello imagines that he might access Desdemona’s hidden, essential infidelity by physically tearing her apart: “I will chop her into messes! Cuckold me!” (Oth. 4.1.197). By chopping her into “messes”—that is to say, into servings or portions of meat—he can not only punish her for her crime, thus fulfilling his role as the executor of justice, but he can also, of course, execute her. This imagined violence would portion Desdemona out, which in turn would allow Othello to see each of her composite parts and, ostensibly, to locate and view those that are associated with her supposed betrayal and pollution. But of course the word “mess” also carries connotations of the disorderly and the untidy, which suggests that the figure to which Desdemona would be reduced in such a scenario would be too grotesque and disarrayed to interpret. In other words, she would not be so ordered as a military trophy; reducing her to “messes” would result in a mess. In Cleopatra’s arming of Antony, and in his acknowledgment of his potential disarming in battle by Caesar, the play gestures at the very outcome that Othello desires: access to the interior by way of destruction of the exterior. If one can tear apart or dismantle one’s clothing, one can dismantle one’s self and gain access to an ineffable military subjectivity.
Antony’s arming negotiates a series of divisions, both material and, in the end, temporal. As Eros fumbles with Antony’s armor, Antony con-gratulates Cleopatra on her performance: “Thou fumblest, Eros, and my queen’s a squire / More tight at this than thou” (Ant. 4.4.14–15). He invokes the intervening medieval chivalric tradition that separates— indeed, divides—the play’s early modern present from its Roman past. As a mode of militant nostalgia, romance provides the rules for the proper arming of a military subject, and Cleopatra is envisioned as a male “squire” and subsumed into, or allowed to participate in, an anachronistic world of masculine chivalric codes. But her status as armorer is contested and unstable. I would like to contextualize the play’s treatment of the conventions of romance by turning briefly to another play in which the manipulation of armor suggests the debasing of these conventions. In Act 2 of Shakespeare’s Pericles, Prince of Tyre, which is likely a collaborative play (possibly written with George Wilkins), a fisherman draws a suit of armor from the sea just in time for Pericles to participate in a tournament at King Simonides’s court. Like Antony’s armor, Pericles’s armor invokes that of Achilles, Aeneas, and St. Paul, but it is also described as “rusty” (Per. 2.1.118), which suggests that it is a less illustrious object than its glorious literary forerun ers. But it is certainly an outmoded object, one associated with the values and narratives of romance. In both Pericles and Antony and Cleopatra, how armor is described by those who handle it affects its reception by its theatrical audience. We learn that Pericles lost the armor in a shipwreck—he says that, “the rough seas, that spares not any man, / Took it in rage” (Per. 2.1.130–1)—and that the return of this object is a type of reparation:
An armour, friends! I pray you, let me see it. Thanks, Fortune, yet, that after all thy crosses
Thou giv’st me somewhat to repair myself. (Per. 2.1.119–21)
Pericles informs the audience that the suit of armor “was mine own, part of mine heritage, / Which my dead father did bequeath to me,” (Per. 2.1.122–3) and he recalls his father’s own story of the significance of the armor. His father said:
‘Keep it, my Pericles; it hath been a shield
‘Twixt me and death’;—and pointed to his brace – ‘For that it sav’d me, keep it; in like necessity,
The which the gods protect thee from, may defend thee’! (Per. 2.1.125–8)
Pericles’s father insists that the armor’s purpose in the past as a protective “shield” should also be its purpose in the future. As it was used by the father, so shall it be used by the son. Pericles remembers his father “point[ing] to his brace” for emphasis. Even in memory, the armor is a material reality as well as an idealized object imbued with significance by the subjects who handle it.
Pericles immediately claims the armor as his own: “… it was mine own, part of mine heritage” (Per. 2.1.122). His repetition of the word “mine” underscores the armor’s status as unique by virtue of its ownership. The armor’s appearance also renders it distinct—he says “I know it by this mark” (Per. 2.1.137)—and it is assigned a unique history that connects Pericles to his absent father across time. Although the object is materially corrupted by rust, Pericles insists on its enduring, abstract “worth” (Per. 2.1.135). He looks backward to assign meaning to his suit of armor.
Antony looks forward to the battle that awaits him and insists, “We shall thrive now” (Ant. 4.4.8). But in both cases, the armor participates in, and stands for, struggles: in Pericles, the fishermen express no great interest in the armor’s significance or history but recognize its worth as an object that might generate income. In Antony and Cleopatra, the armor is passed back and forth between Antony, Cleopatra, and Eros in a playful game that foreshadows a far less playful war in which objects will also shift between hands.
Cleopatra is a suitable armorer, as well as a figure for Antony’s male spoiler. Antony is more correct than he realizes when he says to her earlier in the play, “You did know / How much you were my conqueror” (Ant. 3.1.164–65). Cleopatra fears that she, too, will be spoiled by Caesar and, ultimately, by the theater. Her prediction is a neat, if exaggerated, summary of precisely what the play performs:
Will catch at us like strumpets, and scald rhymers
Ballad us out o’tune. The quick comedians
Extemporally will stage us and present
Our Alexandrian revels; Antony
Shall be brought drunken forth; and I shall see
Some squeaking Cleopatra boy my greatness
I’th’posture of a whore. (Ant. 5.2.213–9)
Both Cleopatra and Antony will be spoiled by men. For Cleopatra, this will occur on stage, which I will return to in the coda. For Antony, his spoiling will occur on the battlefield. Antony will be undressed in a homoerotic encounter, a violent culmination of the homosocial desire Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick defines as “the affective social force, the glue, even when its manifestation is hostility or hatred or something less emotively charged, that shapes an important relationship” such as the one between Caesar and Antony. In other words, one’s victorious opponent performs precisely the opposite activity of his armorer. Kahn notes that,
The embracing irony of the play is that Antony never returns to the heroic Roman image of fixed and stable identity from which—according to the testimony of nearly every character in the play—he has only temporarily departed.
It is in the arming scene that he comes closest to reclaiming this identity, but his failure is the play’s failure—which is to say, the play’s acknowledgment that the center cannot hold, that the Roman subject cannot be constructed or claimed in his entirety. In the arming and future disarming that it dramatized in Antony and Cleopatra, antiquity is quite literally objectified for the early modern theatergoer; the past is a series of objects, not subjects.
Earlier in the play, Cleopatra invokes a past moment of dressing and undressing that foreshadows the scene of arming. She says to Charmian:
That time? O times!
I laughed him out of patience, and that night
I laughed him into patience, and next morn,
Ere the ninth hour, I drunk him to his bed,
Then put my tires and mantles on him, whilst I wore his sword Philippan. (Ant. 2.5.18–23)
There are few instances of male characters cross-dressing as female characters in Shakespearean drama, and this scene’s traffic in characters of high social status separates it from the rough and tumble quality of Falstaff’s ill-advised disguise as the old woman of Brentford in The Merry Wives of Windsor (c.1597). Like the Mistresses Page and Ford, Cleopatra’s actions in this scene are those of an early modern English housewife, not an Egyptian queen. Natasha Korda reminds us that the early modern English housewife was responsible for accounting for, managing, and regulating the material possessions of her house, which included herself. Korda attends to Cleopatra’s manipulation of her “tires and mantles” as a powerful dramatization of what she refers to as “the ways in which Shakespeare configures female subjectivity effects in relationship to objects of property (including, though not limited to, stage-properties).” Cleopatra manages her clothing; she controls who wears it and under what circumstances. She will likewise attend to Antony’s military dress in the arming scene. As Wendy Wall outlines, the early modern English housewife possessed a specialized knowledge or skill set, which included dressing her husband and children. Cleopatra performs precisely this function here: she embraces an active role as a figure who dresses other people.
Antony dresses up twice in this play—first as Cleopatra and then as a Roman military leader—and both scenes dramatize an anxiety regarding the relationship between one’s clothing and one’s self. Marjorie Garber refers to the cross-dressed Antony as “a glamorous drag queen,” and indeed his cross-dressing in 2.5 underscores his liminal status. Clothing the transvestite disrupts categories and threatens binaries: it occupies a space between the male and the female. The Roman military subject likewise occupies a liminal space between the early modern present and the perceived Roman past. This figure belongs to neither the present nor the past; it is a shadow, insubstantial save the objects that construct it.
Crucially, this scene dramatizes imitation by way of Antony’s performance of Cleopatra, and it is itself an imitation, or performance, of legends of Hercules and Omphale. In placing her “tires and mantles” on Antony, she dresses him, as she does in the scene of arming him for battle, as something that he is not. Antony is no more a woman than he is an armored Roman leader, and indeed the polarity of these scenes—the dramatization of both his supposedly masculine and supposedly feminine tendencies— results in a performative canceling out of both possibilities, leaving Antony as a figure who cannot be properly costumed or constructed. One’s armor is dangerously inessential, or unconnected, to the self.
From Casque to Cushion: Constructing the Roman Subject in ‘Coriolanus’
I have described Cleopatra as a marginal figure with regard to the play’s Roman military world. In Coriolanus, as in Julius Caesar, the margin of the military sphere is likewise a crucial space in which the question of the cohesiveness of the Roman military subject is engaged. It is in Coriolanus, the latest of the three plays, that the fervent hope for a constructed Roman military figure is engaged most explicitly on the level of language. I read this play as a further elaboration of the impossibility of constructing the armored male body in the Roman plays. In Antony and Cleopatra, Cleopatra attempts to build Antony out of the parts that comprise his armor; in Coriolanus, Volumnia’s attempt to construct her son as a milita-rized subject is a linguistic one, and it is only partially successful.
Coriolanus opens with a scene of public violence that is unusual for plays of the period. As armed citizens march toward the capitol, Menenius Agrippa explains to his on- and offstage audience the political situation in Rome:
There was a time, when all the body’s members
Rebell’d against the belly; thus accus’d it:
That only like a gulf it did remain
I’th’midst o’th’body, idle and unactive,
Still cupboarding the viand, never bearing
Like labour with the rest, where th’other instruments
Did see, and hear, devise, instruct, walk, feel,
And, mutually participate, did minister
Unto the appetite and affection common
Of the whole body. (Cor. 1.1.95–104)
Menenius’s parable does indeed have the ring of a “tale.” His first line— “There was a time…”—engages his audience in a nostalgic narrative of Rome’s, and the play’s, past and, of course, future. This vision of civil war dramatized on the human body posits an idle and consuming belly that is attacked by the active, functioning “instruments” of the body and reduced to a “gulf”—a sort of remainder or leftover of the attack. These instruments’ actions are imagined in terms of seven distinct verbs—see, hear, devise, instruct, walk, feel, and minister—each of which tracks a particular stage, or role, in the violent attack. The list of these verbs, each associated with a particular faculty of a part of the human body, underscores the divided nature of this corporal and political body. This is an inversion of the functional model of the body’s disparate parts working together harmoniously that is posited in Corinthians: “And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you. Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary” (I Cor. 12.21–22). These body parts are “mutually participate,” and yet the “whole body” of the last line fails to materialize. The mutuality here is that of coordination and perhaps simultaneity, not union. One envisions the “gulf” of the belly: a void, an absence and, most importantly and paradoxically, a leftover or remainder. This belly is all-consuming and non-laboring, non-participant, set apart. It is not an “instrument” but rather an inactive, motionless mass attacked by what Menenius will call “the mutinous parts” (Cor. 1.1.110). The First Citizen to whom he speaks adopts this language of the divided and mutinous body:
Your belly’s answer—what?
The kingly crown’d head, the vigilant eye,
The counselor heart, the arm our soldier
Our steed the leg, the tongue our trumpeter,
With other muniments and petty helps
In this our fabric. (Cor. 1.1.113–8)
The term “fabric” refers to the contrivance, construction or formation of a body or edifice. “Fabric” is derived from the Latin “fabrica” and “faber,” which refers to a worker in metal, stone, or wood and is related to the verb “to forge.” Like the militarized body of Antony as it is constructed by Cleopatra, fabric is the product of skilled and specialized workmanship. This understanding of “fabric” as associated with hard materials such as metal pre-dates the more common seventeenth-century understanding of fabric as any form of woven textile. “Fabric,” therefore, was hard before it was soft. The “muniments” or fortifications the First Citizen refers to here are designed to protect a solid, impenetrable surface. The word “fabric” has important resonances for both the human body and for the city. One speaks of the “fabric” of a city as one does the “fabric” of clothing, and ideally, neither should be torn apart.
Jean MacIntyre notes that the “costumes of Coriolanus and Aufidius combine the realistic and the symbolic, showing not only changes in activity (peace or war) and changes in the status of Coriolanus, but also changes in their relationship.” She suggests that the characters’ costumes in Act 1 were “somewhat military” in order to “facilitate the rapid addition of armor for the ensuing war scenes” in Act 2. If this is true, Coriolanus is transformed between these two acts from a composite—or a figure whose clothing negotiates a relationship between the realms of the civic and the military—to an entirely militarized figure. Shortly thereafter, he will be asked to shed this military self and to integrate himself fully into civic life, a demand that he will perceive as tantamount to stripping him of his clothing. The “gown of humility” referred to in the stage direction at 2.3.41 and by the Third Citizen (Cor. 2.3.42)—or what Coriolanus refers to as a “wolvish toge” (Cor. 2.3.114)—stands in stark contrast to his armor and is utterly repulsive to him. He resents wearing this costume and participating in the “custom” of which it is a part:
I do beseech you,
Let me o’erleap that custom; for I cannot
Put on the gown, stand naked, and entreat them
For my wounds’ sake to give their suffrage.
Please you That I may pass this doing. (Cor. 2.2.135–39)
The “gown of humility” becomes an emblem of Coriolanus’s resistance to this civic role, a resistance that he imagines in terms of acting: “It is a part / That I shall blush in acting …” (Cor. 2.2.144–45). Like his military dress, his wounds legitimate him as a warrior. Coriolanus’s desire to remain in military dress, and thus in the military realm, underscores his rigidity, both literal and figurative, as well as his status as a figure bound by militant nostalgia. He can’t envision a future apart from his violent past; he refuses to make the transition from war to peace that triumph required. This civic battle over his clothing draws attention to the broader role of clothing in the play as problematically deceptive and performative. Immediately after his public appearance, Coriolanus asks, “May I change these garments?” (Cor. 2.3.144); at the root of this request is his desire to “[know] myself again” (Cor. 2.3.146). Coriolanus’s clothing does not reflect his interiority, which links him to the figure of Antony. In both cases, the audience is left with the troubling suspicion that a costume change indicates that a character’s outer self may not be aligned with his inner self. Costume is established as a signifier that may improperly signify. In other words, it is a mode of disguise. Like Antony, who fears his armor will be spoiled by his enemy, Coriolanus fears that he, too, will be stripped. In donning the robe of state, he fears that he will “stand naked” in front of the people he so disdains. Antony may be spoiled in the military realm, but Coriolanus is spoiled in the civic realm before he is spoiled by Rome’s enemies. Clifford Ronan notes that in early modern English plays about ancient Rome, “Rome and her citizens represented power, puissance, rhome, though Rome and Romans could also figure forth loss and emptiness.” Both Coriolanus and Antony figure this emptiness as nakedness: without one’s clothing, one is nothing.
This scene occurs after Cominius’s lengthy and detailed report of Coriolanus’s actions in battle, which offers a glimpse of the militarized Coriolanus—an armored figure that is most fully realized, most created and creating, in the destruction of battle. Cominius imagines Coriolanus’s military prowess as the “perpetual” spoiling of enemy bodies:
And to the battle came he, where he did
Run reeking over the lives of men, as if
‘Twere a perpetual spoil; and till we call’d
Both field and city ours, he never stood
To ease his breast with panting. (Cor. 2.2.118–22)
Unlike Antony, Coriolanus is not a figure of ease and repose. The term “perpetual” refers to that which is lasting or destined to last forever and that which is continuous in time without interruption or remission. Coriolanus the man is engaged in a project that the play itself cannot accomplish: namely, to present a Rome that is unbroken with the present moment—a Rome free of discontinuities, continuous, and reaccessible. Coriolanus’s “spoil” is perpetual: he is engaged in a never-ceasing act of military spoiling, of transforming the subjects engaged in war into objects of display in times of peace.
How Coriolanus engages with spoils of war reveals his character, but this relationship is unstable and ever-shifting. In Act 2, his rejection of the war’s spoils determines his worthiness as a consul. Cominius says that,
Our spoils he kick’d at,
And look’d upon things precious as they were
The common muck of the world. He covets less
Than misery itself would give, rewards
His deeds with doing them, and is content
To spend the time to end it. (Cor. 2.2.124–9)
The spoils are reduced to the “common muck of the world,” and “deeds”—not loot—are their own “reward.” Later in the play, however, Brutus accuses Coriolanus of coveting spoils. This is a reversal of Cominius’s earlier statement and indicates an important shift in how Coriolanus is perceived as a civic and military leader:
In this point charge him home, that he affects
Tyrannical power. If he evade us there,
Enforce him with his envy to the people,
And that the spoil got on the Antiates
Was ne’er distributed. (Cor. 3.3.1–5)
Although the play does not back up this accusation, Coriolanus’s “tyrannical power” is imagined as the guarding of spoils. That he has not distributed these objects to all is a violation of accepted military codes.
The construction of Coriolanus as a military subject is successful, but crucially he is unable to be transferred from the military to the civic realm, a failure that is characterized by Aufidius in terms of military dress:
First, he was
A noble servant to them, but he could not
Carry his honours even. Whether ‘twas pride,
Which out of daily fortune ever taints
The happy man; whether defect of judgment,
To fail in the disposing of those chances
Which he was lord of; or whether nature,
Not to be other than one thing, not moving
From th’casque to th’cushion, but commanding peace
Even with the same austerity and garb
As he controll’d the war. (Cor. 4.7.37–47)
Here, the “garb” with which Coriolanus controlled the war is both the grace and elegance of his manners, appearance and behavior and also his fashion of dress, particularly his official or distinctive military dress. In other words, military clothing can control and command and must therefore be shed as one enters civic life, but it is precisely this costume change that Coriolanus cannot perform. This problem of transitioning from “the casque to the cushion” is central to the play. Coriolanus cannot be removed from his Roman military context and perform, or be performed, in the realm of the civic. He cannot enter into this space. In the prologue to Henry V, the chorus asks:
Can this cockpit hold
The vasty fields of France? Or may we cram
Within this wooden O the very casques
That did affright the air at Agincourt? (H5 1.0.11–4)
As in Coriolanus, the “casques,” or helmets, of which the chorus speaks are a figure for the war’s excessiveness, its status as uncontained. The theater seeks to contain—to “cram” the objects of war, and by extension war itself— into a circumscribed space. The chorus draws attention to the limitations of representation and to the spatial limitations of the theater. Coriolanus must likewise be “crammed” into the seat of government in the senate house, but this undertaking fails. As in Henry V, this failure is imagined in theatrical terms. The movement from “th’casque to th’cushion” is one from top to bottom: that is, from the head to the seat. This juxtaposition of helmet and cushion serves to underscore the repose associated with times of peace, but the “cushion” may also have resonated with the playhouse audience, who could purchase cushions along with their admission. Such a resonance would underscore the connection between the theater and the city.
Although here Aufidius means to be critical of Coriolanus, he reproduces the language of Volumnia’s critique of peace at the beginning of the play, a critique that appeared in Julius Caesar. According to Volumnia, the armored shell of the corporeal body (not the body itself) is rendered lethargic in times of peace. She asserts that the military man may “voluptuously surfeit out of action” (Cor. 1.3.25). It is war that asserts that the self will not overflow and be dispersed beyond its boundaries. Like the military clothing that attends it, war assures that one remains contained but, more importantly, it also “becomes him” (Cor. 1.3.339). As she says, his “bloody brow” (Cor. 1.33.38) “more becomes a man / Than gilt his trophy” (Cor. 1.3.39–40). Robert S. Miola refers to this as “an extravagant simile,” and indeed it has an extravagant effect, for the comparison objectifies Coriolanus as his own spoil of war. The blood that coats his forehead renders him a trophy; in other words, it so “becomes” or suits him that he indeed “becomes” the wounds that mark his body and render him a trophy. This principle of “becoming” allies the material and the abstract: an accessory, property or garment may “become” a subject in the sense of befit or accord with him (as in the Tamburlaine plays), as may an attribute, quality, or action. Volumnia constructs her son’s militarized body and spoils, or claims, him as proof of her own capacity as armorer. Coriolanus himself spoils his mother’s language. In the next scene, he adopts her idiom when he asserts, “Now put your shields before your hearts, and fight / With hearts more proof that shields” (Cor. 1.4.23–4). Volumnia invokes a specifically military mode of “proof” when she recalls, “… I sprang not more in joy at first hearing he was a man-child, than now in first seeing he had proved himself a man” (Cor. 1.3.14–18).
The “casque” that constructs and entraps Coriolanus is one of the play’s few references to suits of armor. Menenius is the only other figure to invoke a suit of armor explicitly in the play: “For the whole state, I would put mine armour on, / Which I can hardly bear” (Cor. 3.2.33–34). Coriolanus wears “this war’s garland” (Cor. 1.9.59), a gown of humility (Cor. 2.3.41), and “mean apparel, disguised and muffled” when he arrives in Antium (Cor. 4.4.1), but he is not clothed in armor. Coriolanus’s clothing is thus an improper signifier—that is, it fails to adequately represent the identity of the subject that wears it. This dynamic is dramatized most explicitly when Coriolanus is disguised in Act 4. When he appears at Aufidius’s door, the Third Servingman describes him as a “strange guest” (Cor. 4.5.36), presumably alluding estrangement between his claim of gentlemanly status and his ragged appearance, which leads the servingman to address him as “poor gentleman” (Cor. 4.5.31). After Coriolanus and Aufidius have made their pact to destroy Rome, the servingmen reflect on the nature of disguise and “false report” which echoes Cominius’s earlier reference to the earlier “good report” (Cor. 1.9.54) of Coriolanus through the streets of Rome:
First Servingman: Here’s a strange alteration!
Second Servingman: By my hand, I had thought to have strucken him with a cudgel; and yet my mind gave me his clothes made a false report of him. (Cor. 4.5.149–53)
Of course, all costume makes “false report” of the self, but the Second Servingman’s acknowledgment of the capacity of clothing to provide a “false report” is checked by his insistence that he was not fooled by the disguise. The servingmen’s insistence on their ability to read Coriolanus’s physiognomy—“I knew by his face …” and “He had, sir, a kind of face …” (Cor. 4.5.157–58)—suggests that Coriolanus’s status as a militarized figure is registered or inscribed on his body rather than on his clothing, but the success of his disguise belies these claims. The First Servingman refers to his proper recognition of Coriolanus as an “alteration,” which connotes a change in the self and in the material—that is, clothing that can be altered as by a tailor.
The servingmen note that the production of non-military clothing flourishes in times of peace. The Second Servingman says, “This peace is nothing but to rust iron, increase tailors, and breed ballad-makers” (Cor. 4.5.226–7). In other words, peace destroys armor (“iron”) and produces an excess of non-military, “tailored” clothing. His companion, the First Servingman, concurs:
Let me have war, say I. It exceeds peace as far as day does night: it’s sprightly walking, audible, and full of vent. Peace is a very apoplexy, lethargy; mulled, deaf, sleepy, insensible; a getter of more bastard children than war’s a destroyer of men. (Cor. 4.5.228–32)
Although the term “vent” is generally glossed as “scent,” and the metaphor as one of hunting, I think it is more likely that war is here characterized as capable of “venting”—that is, as able to both utter words and to release air as from a confined space, thus aligning this image with the description in Antony and Cleopatra of Antony’s transformation into “the bellows and the fan/To cool a gypsy’s lust” (Ant. 1.1.9–10). War is “full of vent”—it is a closed space with a profoundly full interior; Coriolanus invokes a similar image of the fullness and excess of war when he refers to Cominius as “too full / Of the war’s surfeits” (Cor. 4.1.45–46). War “exceeds peace” as peace is empty, sluggish, and “insensible,” a dead thing, but war is also excess itself, one extreme of the binary the Servingman establishes. Menenius Agrippa asserts that Coriolanus’s character or self is made manifest physically in his observation that, “What his breast forges, that his tongue must vent” (Cor. 3.1.256), and later in the play Cominius remembers Coriolanus when he was a “nothing”: “He was a kind of nothing, titleless, / Till he had forg’d himself a name o’th’fire / Of burning Rome” (Cor. 5.1.13–15). Here, again, the construction of Coriolanus is imagined in terms of forging and venting, metaphors of metallurgy. His physicality is not the same as his corporeality; his body is envisioned as the product of labor and work.
Coriolanus embodies an “intemperance” associated with war in the play. Brutus says of him that
he hath been us’d
Ever to conquer, and to have his worth
Of contradiction. Being once chaf’d, he cannot
Be rein’d again to temperance. (Cor. 3.3.25–8)
In Antony and Cleopatra, we learn that Antony “reneges all temper / And is become the bellows and the fan / To cool a gipsy’s lust” (Ant. 1.1.9–10). His abandonment of restraint—the accusation that he “reneges all temper”—is a metaphor of the armories, for “temper” refers to the particular degree of hardness and elasticity or resiliency imparted to steel by tempering. In other words, his heart has lost the hardness and resiliency of good steel that it formerly possessed in war. Antony himself invokes this discourse of temperance when he says to Cleopatra, “For I am sure, / Though you can guess what temperance should be, / You know not what it is” ( Ant. 3.13.125–26), an observation supported by Proculeius in Act 5 when she attempts to curb Cleopatra’s self-destructive tendencies with the ineffectual appeal, “O temperance, lady!” (Ant. 5.2.48). The noun form of “temper” is derived from the Old French “tempre,” or proportion, which was modified in the fifteenth century to “trempe,” which referred both to the temper of steel and to the physical constitution of man. This is, of course, where we derive the modern usage of the word “temper”—namely, that one might “be out of temper” or “lose one’s temper.” “Temperance” is related to one’s “temperament.” In medieval physiology, “temperament” referred to the combination of the four cardinal humours of the body (blood, phlegm, choler, and black choler or melancholy), by the relative proportion of which the physical and mental constitution of the subject were held to be determined. But “temperament” also connotes a process of moderation and regulation, resulting in a middle path between extremes. A proper and balanced “temperament” is the result of “temperance,” or the restraining of passions and desires and the abstinence from activities or situations that might overwhelm or intoxicate the self. In other words, the immaterial (character) or the material (steel) might possess a particular “temper.”
In Measure for Measure, Escalus asserts that Angelo lacks “tempered judgement” (MM 5.1.471), and in The Tempest (1611), Ariel informs Alonso, Sebastian, and Antonio that the elements
Of whom your swords are tempered may as well
Wound the loud winds … as diminish
One dowl that’s in my plume. (Temp. 3.3.61–65)
This quality of “temper” allows one to make distinctions between the character of subjects and the value or worth of objects as in Henry VI, Part 1 when Warwick muses, “Between two blades, which bears the better temper” (1H6 2.4.13). This term provides a basis for the judgment of subjects and objects and thus plays a crucial role in warfare and militarism. This principle of temperance is an ancient Roman—and early modern English—value in these plays that bears a relationship to virtus, an abstraction that allows for the concrete evaluation and regulation of the subject.
Coriolanus is an intemperate subject—that is, in his inability to be “rein’d again to temperance,” he is unsuitable to the extra-military or civic realm, the realm of the “cushion.” When Coriolanus faces the tribunes of the people and Plebeians in Act 3, Menenius must remind him to hold his temper—“Nay, temperately! your promise!” (Cor. 3.3.68)—which fails to calm Coriolanus. In Act 5, Aufidius refers somewhat ironically to Coriolanus’s constancy in his betrayal of Rome when he observes that Coriolanus “[keeps] a constant temper” (Cor. 5.2.92). But this constancy does not last. In her successful appeal to her son to spare Rome, Volumnia presents two possible triumphs with different sets of spoils, Coriolanus himself or his Roman kin:
for either thou
Must as a foreign recreant be led
With manacles through our streets, or else
Triumphantly tread on thy country’s ruin,
And bear the palm for having bravely shed
Thy wife and children’s blood. (Cor. 5.3.113–8)
Coriolanus’s murder echoes and forecasts Caesar’s murder by a mob. He intends to spoil Rome in an act of revenge, but spares it and is in turn spoiled himself by Rome’s enemies. He does not “triumphantly tread” on his country but is himself tread upon. Aufidius underscores Coriolanus’s transformation into a trophy of spoil by standing on him, an act that draws attention to Aufidius’s status as subject and Coriolanus’s reduction to object. The stage direction indicates that, “The Conspriators draw, and kill Martius, who falls; Aufidius stands on him” (Cor. 5.6.131). A “Third Lord” echoes Volumnia’s language when he appeals to Aufidius to, “Tread not upon him” (Cor. 5.6.133), but the ethos of triumph requires that before Coriolanus’s body can be “take[en] up” (Cor. 5.6.147), it must be physically debased or violated. This is a powerful theatrical enacting of Benjamin’s “procession in which the present rulers set over those who are lying prostrate,” and this moment literalizes the play’s metaphoric engagement with spoiling.
- Virgil, The Aeneid, trans. Alen Mandelbaum (New York: Bantam, 1961), 330–1.
- Vladimir Nabokov, Transparent Things (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1972), 1.
- See Anderson.
- Lina Perkins Wilder, Shakespeare’s Memory Theatre: Recollection, Properties, and Character (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2010), 13. Wilder also reminds us that, “[Robert] Fludd’s memory theatre, a mnemonic locus designed for use by students of the arts of memory, so closely echoes the dimensions and physical arrangement of the London theatres that, with the additional evidence of its name, Frances Yates was led to speculate that it was modeled on the Globe” (15).
- Garrett A. Sullivan, Memory and Forgetting in English Renaissance Drama: Shakespeare, Marlowe, Webster. (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2005), 3.
- Jones and Stallybrass maintain that the armored King Hamlet “activates a specific memory system: the transmission of property, including armor, as the material ‘remember me’s’ which mark the heir as the living embodi-ment of his father, Hamlet as Hamlet. If the father dies, his material iden-tity survives in the helm and crest, the target or shield, the coat of arms which heralds carried in front of the coffin at his funeral” (250). As Harris notes of Stallybrass and Jones’ analysis of clothing on the early modern stage, “Textiles, multiply inscribed by corporeality and memory, are resis-tant to the synchronizations and temporal purifications of thick descrip-tion and cultural biography. In Stallybrass’s garments, we can glimpse another temporality that exceeds and complicates the reifications of the self-identical moment and the diachronic sequence” (10).
- M.W. MacCallum, Shakespeare’s Roman Plays and Their Background  (London: Macmillan, 1967), 11.
- Ronan, 7.
- See Robert S. Miola’s Shakespeare’s Rome (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983). Maurice Charney (1961) and Derek Traversi (1963) generally follow MacCallum.
- Maurice Charney, Shakespeare’s Roman Plays: The Function of Imagery in the Drama (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1961), 207–8.
- Charney, 208.
- Regarding the value of virtus so central to these plays, Lisa Starkes-Estes reminds us that it “surfaced in sixteenth-century England as a nostalgic response to the changing role of the nobleman from warrior/soldier to courtier.” See Starkes-Estes, “Virtus, Vulnerability, and the Emblazoned Male Body in Shakespeare’s Coriolanus,” Violent Masculinities: Male Aggression in Early Modern Texts and Culture, ed. Jennifer Feather and Catherine E. Thomas (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), 85–108, 95.
- Walter Benjamin, “Theses on the Philosophy of History,” Illuminations, trans. Harry Zohn (New York: Schocken Books, 1968), 256.
- Anthony Miller, Roman Triumphs, 37.
- Rebecca Zorach and Elizabeth Rodini, Paper Museums: The Reproductive Print in Europe, 1500–1800 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005), 11.
- Michael Serres, Statues (Paris, Francois Bourin, 1987), 111.
- Derrida, Specters of Marx, trans. Peggy Kamuf (New York and London: Routledge, 1993), 5.
- Derrida, Specters, 7–8.
- Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: Vintage, 1977), 170–1
- Foucault, Discipline, 173.
- Sue Welsh Reed and Richard Wallace, Italian Etchers of the Renaissance and Baroque (Boston, MA: Museum of Fine Arts, 1989), 83. Reed and Wallace note that, “Prints were collected primarily either for subject matter (that is, maps, views, portraits) or out of admiration for the designer (such as Raphael, Michelangelo, or Titian), rather than the collector’s interest in the printmaker” (Introduction, xvi).
- In her study of the sixteenth-century ornament prints in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, Elizabeth Miller notes that, “… the subject ‘ornament’ had a secure place in print-publishing and collecting in the sixteenth century.” She also notes that among the justifications for collecting given by sixteenth-century writers were moral edification, organization, and stimulus for the memory, and the condensation of universal knowledge (Sixteenth-Century Italian Ornament Prints in the Victoria and Albert Museum [London: V&A Publications, 1999], 8).
- Mary Sidney, The Tragedy of Antony, in Renaissance Drama: An Anthology of Plays and Entertainments, ed. Arhur B. Kinney (Oxford: Blackwell, 2000).
- As Springer points out, this aesthetic has implications for understandings of protection and defense: “Classical armour complicates the paradoxes associated with armour by imitating its own absence. By simulating an unarmed nude, the thorax implicitly denies the protection it affords, creating a freestanding monument to the autonomy of the individual” (30).
- Lynn Enterline, The Rhetoric of the Body from Ovid to Shakespeare (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2006), 18.
- Vernant further notes that, “… the term ‘colossus’ which is not neuter in gender and whose origins are pre-Greek, is connected to the root kol-which is associated with certain place names in Asia Minor (Kolossai, Kolophon, Koloura), and which retains the idea of something erected, something that has been set up. This is what appears to distinguish the colossus from other archaic idols—the bretas and the xoanon, for instance—whose appearance is, from many points of view, similar, with their rigid posture and their arms and legs welded to the body. But the bretas and xoanon seem to have been almost always moveable … The fun-damental characteristic of the colossus, on the other hand, is that it is fixed to one spot, immobile.” See Vernant, Myth and Thought Among the Greeks (London: Routledge, 1965), 305.
- Vernant, 306.
- Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, trans. Daniel Heller-Roazen (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1998), 98.
- Insofar as he incarnates in his own person the elements that are usually distinguished from death, homo sacer is, so to speak, a living statue, the double or the colossus of himself. In the body of the surviving devotee and, even more unconditionally, in the body of homo sacer, the ancient world finds itself confronted for the first time with a life that, excepting itself in a double exclusion from the real context of both the profane and the religious forms of life, is defined solely by virtue of having entered into an intimate symbiosis with death without, nevertheless, belonging to the world of the deceased” (Agamben, 99–100).
- Greenblatt, Renaissance Self-Fashioning, 19.
- Ibid. Engel also attends to the question of multiple perspectives in the early modern theater. See Chap. 2, “‘But yet each circumstance I taste not fully’: Spectacles of Ruin,” in Death and Drama, 65–85.
- Joachim du Bellay, Antiquitez de Rome, ed. Malcolm C. Smith (Binghamton, NY: Medieval & Renaissance Texts and Studies, 1994), 25.
- The French reads as follows: Nouveau venu, qui cherches Rome en Rome Et rien de Rome ed Rome n’appercois: Ces vieux palais, ces vieux arcz que tu vois, Et ces vieux murs, c’est ce que Rome on nomme.
- Leonard Barkan, Unearthing the Past: Archaeology and Aesthetics in the Making of Renaissance Culture (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999), Introduction, xxvii-xxviii. For a survey of humanist understandings of antiquities, see Roberto Weiss, The Renaissance Discovery of Classical Antiquity (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1969), Chapters 8 and 9 and on antiquarianism, see Burke, The Renaissance Sense of the Past, Chap. 2. On an “archaeological consciousness” in the Renaissance, see Philip Schwyzer, Archaeologies of English Renaissance Literature (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007).
- John Archer notes the interrelatedness of foolery and antiquity in his analysis of these lines: “These bacchanals are Egyptian indeed, and Octavius fears their effect upon his appearance, his speech. And his brain or core sense of identity. For it is not only the physical signs of drunkenness, but also the way they mark the foreign god’s power over his subjects, that provoke Octavius’ panic. He has almost been ‘antick’d,’ both made into a figure of foolery and submerged in an antiquity whose kinship he refuses to acknowledge” (Old Worlds: Egypt, Southwest Asia, India, and Russia in Early Modern English Writing [Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2001], 54).
- Stallybrass, “Worn worlds: clothes and identity on the Renaissance stage,” Subject and Object in Renaissance Culture, ed. Margreta de Grazia, Maureen Quilligan, and Peter Stallybrass (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 315.
- Quoted in Burckhardt, 108.
- John W. Velz, “The Ancient World in Shakespeare: Authenticity or Anachronism? A Retrospect,” Shakespeare Survey 31 (1978): 11.
- See Sawday on the mechanical body, 22–32.
- Floyd-Wilson, p. 130.
- John Archer, Citizen Shakespeare: Freemen and Aliens in the Language of the Plays (London and New York: Palgrave, 2005), 128.
- Archer further maintains that, “Dressed as a cook, Titus finally asserts the privilege of the craftsman; his feast would also recall for the audience the ceremonial dinners regularly mounted by the livery in crafts of every stripe. Nevertheless, there is a diminution in his final role, especially when it is compared with his turn as the victorious general of the first act … As in the English history plays, the proud violence of aristocratic warfare has been reduced to the demotic brutality of the kitchen or the butcher’s shop.” See Archer, Citizen Shakespeare, 129.
- See Mikhail Bakhtin, Rabelais and His World, trans. Helene Iswolsky (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1984).
- Miller’s reference to the “the triumphal topos of outdoing” (83) is relevant here.
- Alexander Leggatt, Shakespeare’s Political Drama: The History Plays and the Roman Plays (London and New York: Routledge, 1988), 173.
- H.A. Mason, Shakespeare’s Tragedies of Love (London: Chatto and Windus, 1970), 242.
- Leonard Barkan, Nature’s Work of Art: Human Body as Image of the World (New Haven: Yale UP, 1975), 4.
- Coppelia Kahn, Roman Shakespeare: Warriors, Wounds, and Women (London and New York: Routledge, 1997), 145.
- Anne Barton, Ben Jonson, Dramatist (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), 97.
- W.G. Sebald makes an observation about the architecture of warfare that might be applied to the bodies that engage in warfare, as well: “In the practice of warfare … the star-shaped fortresses which were being built and improved everywhere during the eighteenth century did not answer their purpose, for intent as everyone was on that pattern, it had been for-gotten that the largest fortifications will naturally attract the largest enemy forces, and that the more you entrench yourself the more you must remain on the defensive … The frequent result … of resorting to measures of fortification, marked in general by a tendency towards paranoid elabora-tion, was that you drew attention to your weakest point, practically inviting the enemy to attack it …” See Sebald, Austerlitz (New York: Random House, 2001), 19.
- Rusty armor is very rarely staged in Shakespeare’s plays. The only other instance occurs in a stage direction at the beginning of 3.5 of the Folio version of King Richard III (c.1591), which indicates that Richard and Buckingham enter “in rotten Armour, marvellous ill-favored” (R3 3.5.1). “Rotten” indicates physically decayed (a literal definition) as well as morally or politically corrupt (a figurative definition). There are several non-Shakespearean instances of staging rusty armour in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In Robert Wilson’s The Cobler’s Prophecy (c.1590), we find the following stage direction: “Enter Souldier, Raph, Mars his lame Porter in rustie armour, and a broken bill, the Herrald with a pensill and colours.” The kingdom is sick owing to the primacy of Contempt, and Mars has been reduced to the state of a Porter. The characters discuss the significance of the rusty armour in some detail. Raph asks, “Art thou one of God Mars his traine?/Alas good father thou art lame,/To be a souldier farre vnlustie,/Thy beard is gray thy armour rustie,/Thy bill I thinke be broken too.” Mars the Porter responds, “Friend make not thou so much adoo,/My lamenes comes by warre,/My armours rustines comes by peace,/A maimed souldier made Mars his Porter,/Lo this am I: now questioning cease” (734–46). His association of peace with rusty armor echoes many Shakespearean references and underscores the objects’ status as fallen off from previous (military) standards (The Cobler’s Prophecy, ed. A.C. Wood [Oxford: Malone Society, 1914]). In Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher’s The Faithful Friends (c.1604–26), the foolish Sir Pergamus appears “in an old Armor a Capons tayle in his Beauer, a long sword; and D‹i›ndimus a Dwarfe carying his Launce and Sheilde” (1047–50). Sir Pergamus announces that he is dressed “in Armes compleate,” but he does not mention the rusty state of his garments. Rather, he attends to his “long toole” and “prick shaft” (Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher, The Faithful Friends, ed. G.R. Proudfoot [Oxford: Malone Society, 1975]). I also explore Pericles’ rusty suit or armor in “‘Certain condolements, certain vails’: Staging Rusty Armor in Shakespeare’s Pericles,” Early Theatre, vol. 11.2, December 2008.
- The armor is a nostalgic material manifestation of the moribund. In her study of archaic style in sixteenth and seventeenth century, Lucy Munro argues of the theatre that, “… dramatists used archaism to … make theat-rical time run backward, or to confuse the boundaries between past and present, between one theatrical generation and another. Yet to recreate the theatrical past too fully would be to risk entering a recursive loop, in which both dramatist and audience might lose their temporal bearings … Archaism serves different functions: directing spectators’ reactions; com-plicating historical narrative; eliciting affect” (176). See Munro, Archaic Style in English Literature, 1590–1674 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013). Like theatrical tropes, outdated props and costumes could also “make theatrical time run backward.”
- The armor’s rust is also a powerful material reality on stage. Rust is a general term for a series of iron oxides formed by the reaction of iron with oxygen in the presence of water or air moisture. If moisture penetrates microscopic cracks in iron, and oxygen comes into long-term contact with the metal, the result is corrosion. Rust cannot easily be stopped, and it will eventually destroy the object that it attacks. The object will disintegrate; it will, quite literally, disappear. Rust is a common, everyday form of material corruption. It implies exposure. But it also marks objects as unused, dis-engaged, and old. Pericles’ armour is already a semi-destroyed object, an object marked by the passage of time, when it is presented to its early modern audience. The rust marks the armor as disappearing, or passing away, right before one’s eyes.
- For a reading of the role of class and economics in the scene, see Jones and Stallybrass, who argue that Pericles is “literally ‘made up’ through the labors of the poor” (259).
- Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire (New York: Columbia University Press, 1985), 18
- Kahn, 116. In her foundational study Man’s Estate: Masculine Identity in Shakespeare, Kahn explores how Shakespeare’s “male characters are engaged in a continuous struggle, first to form a masculine identity, then to be secure and productive in it.” See Kahn, Man’s Estate: Masculine Identity in Shakespeare (Berkeley and Los Angeles: The University of California Press, 1981), 1. See also Berry on Shakespeare’s “tragic protagonists whose masculinity is figuratively unsettled by their encounter with tragedy, not as stable signifiers of any singularity of either gender or meaning, but rather as sites of maximum undecidability or uncanniness” (5).
- Natasha Korda, Shakespeare’s Domestic Economies: Gender and Property in Early Modern England (Philadelphia: the University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002), 11.
- Wendy Wall, Staging Domesticity: Household Work and English Identity in Early Modern Drama (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 123.
- Marjorie Garber, Vested Interests: Cross-Dressing and Cultural Anxiety (New York: Routledge, 1992), 125. Garber argues that, “Transvestism is a space of possibility structuring and confounding culture, the disruptive element that intervenes, not just a category of male and female, but the crisis of category itself. The transvestite is the figure of and for that crisis, the uncanny supplement that marks the place of desire” (16). Ann Hollander rejects Garber’s emphasis on anxiety and maintains that one must look to the history of fashion in order to understand cross-dressing as a cultural phenomenon: “… I think that the model of a spectrum or a palimpsest is more fitting for ‘cross-dressing,’ as I believe it also is for actual sexuality. Male and female clothing has certainly been discussed, described, prescribed, and proscribed in fairly rigid and anxious terms, in laws, rules, sermons, and memoranda, in the Old Testament and in the New, in letters, satires, and various fictions … But in wear, it has been more complex, and has behaved much more imaginatively, than any writ-ings reveal.” See Hollander, Feeding the Eye (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1999), 166.
- As Stephen Orgel notes, “[Cleopatra] replicates the behavior of Queen Omphale with Antony’s ancestor Hercules, commanded by the gods to serve her as her slave in whatever capacity she wished. Omphale set him to doing women’s household work; in some versions of the story this was intended simply as a humiliation, but in others it was a device to keep him by her side, and Hercules fell deeply in love with her. Ancient representations of the couple show Hercules in Omphale’s garments and holding her distaff, while she wears his lion skin and bears his club.” See Stephen Orgel, Impersonations: The performance of gender in Shakespeare’s England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 78.
- Ultimately, the relationship between the design of armor and textiles was a reciprocal one. S.V. Grancsay notes that the design of early modern armor drew on trends in textiles. He points out that the breast and back plates of fifteenth-century Italian armor were often decorated with “curved flutings and ridges that simulate the folds and pleatings of the civil dress,” and that sixteenth-century German armor “imitated in etched decoration the designs woven into fabrics” (“The Mutual Influence of Costume and Armor: A Study of Specimens at the Metropolitan Museum of Art,” Metropolitan Museum Studies 3 : 195 and 198).
- Jean MacIntyre, Costumes and Scripts in the Elizabethan Theatres (Alberta: University of Alberta Press, 1992), 301.
- As in Shakespeare’s English history plays, wounds often legitimate the soldier. Page DuBois argues that the wound feminizes Coriolanus in “A Disturbance of Syntax at the Gates of Rome,” Stanford Literature Review 2 (1985): 185–208. Madelon Sprengnether argues that the wound represents the humiliation of being rendered female in “Annihilating Intimacy in Coriolanus,” in Women in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance: Literary and Historical Perspectives, ed. M.B. Rose, M.B. (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1986).
- Ronan, 152.
- John W. Velz notes that Coriolanus is a second Turnus, a figure that belongs on the battlefield, not in the realm of the civic. See Velz, “Cracking Strong Curbs Asunder: Roman Destiny and the Roman Hero in Coriolanus” ELR 13 (1983): 58–69. T.J. B. Spencer has commented on the fact that the city in Coriolanus is drawn in minute detail. See Spencer, “Shakespeare and the Elizabethan Romans,” Shakespeare Survey 10 (1957): 34. And Gail Kern Paster argues that although the architecture of the city allows the viewer to assess the characters’ interior states, Rome remains separate from Coriolanus himself. See Paster, “To Starve with Feeding: the City in Coriolanus,”Shakespeare Survey 11 (1978): 123–44.
- For more on how blood in the play relates to different models of the male body in early modern England, see Starkes-Estes, 89–91.
- Miola, 171.
Originally published by Arcade: Literature, the Humanities, and the World, 09.16.2016, under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States license.