Panel 27: Speaking ‘but in the figures and comparisons of it’? Figurative speech made literal in Shakespeare’s drama / page and stage

Shakespeare’s drama has long been studied in the light of contemporary Puritan opposition to the stage. However, the thriving debates in post-Reformation England on the legitimacy of theatrical representation were part of broader interrogations regarding the status of the image and of signs. Such disputes, apparent in the wealth of controversial religious literature produced at the time, often led to different forms of confusion – perhaps even a collapse – between the figurative and the literal. According to radical Calvinist and symbolist conceptions of the image (derived from understandings of the Eucharist), there should be at once a certain degree of natural appropriateness between the figurative sign and its referent as well as an essential separateness between the two: the figure must, in the end, remain in a strictly symbolical relationship to the spiritual meaning it stands for. Yet the very fear, amongst radical Protestants, that the image might “usurp” its model – a fear made only stronger with the living, bodily image on stage and its heightened potential for illusion – alerts us to a much more ambiguous status of the figure in “Puritan” thought. So does the use, in radical controversial literature, of numerous “authorized” metaphors (such as, for instance, that of the “stumbling block”), used to such a point of bluntness that the distance between figurative and literal is often erased. Though theatres were built outside the boundaries of London under the pressure of Puritans and would later be destroyed by them, Shakespeare’s plays do not stand as one simple or straightforward response to such disavowal of the stage, nor does the playwright necessarily reprove those of his characters who may be reminiscent of radical Protestants’ attitude towards figuration. His theatre and poetics may in fact have been shaped in unexpected ways by this intellectual context in which the regime of the figurative was so highly ambiguous. In making the textual metaphor often literal, and then uncannily embodying it on stage, Shakespeare’s theatre reflects aesthetically upon the Puritan understanding (and misunderstanding) of signs in ways that are yet to be explored.

This panel welcomes “iconoclastic” approaches and papers on:

 Shakespeare’s particular treatment of images and metaphors in his text and on the stage, with specific emphasis on the passage from the textual to the literal regime.

 Shakespeare’s use of or relation to contemporary Puritan literature (both controversial and literary)

 Shakespeare’s use of ‘iconic’ materials such as The Bible and The Book of Common Prayer and their translatio on the stage (Daniel Swift and Steven Marx)

 Shakespeare’s “iconoclasm” and its various modalities and relation with specific literary devices (ekphrasis, prosopopoeia..)

 The relation between figure/body and the letter in Shakespeare’s drama

Please send your abstracts (title + about 250 words) with your name, email and affiliation before July, 1st, 2013

to Anne-Marie Miller-Blaise (Paris-Sorbonne) : [->]
Denis Lagae-Devoldère (Paris-Sorbonne) : [->]