"'Mens sana in corpore sano': the Rhetoric of the Body in Shakespeare's Roman and Late Plays"

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Abstract

In many of his stage settings Shakespeare appears to be obsessed by the idea, image, or concept of the body in its multiple literal and figurative aspects and by the dramaturgical potentiality of the language of corporeality. The rhetoric of the body does in fact lend itself to an impressive series of striking theatrical forms since it is innate to the physicality of performance and to the natural ‘spectacle’ of the dramatic actio. What indubitably makes the corporeal semantics of Shakespeare’s language even more fertile is the social, political, and ideological value acquired by this kind of rhetoric in the culture of the early Renaissance. In the history plays in particular the political exploitation of the language of the body becomes identified with the very idea of the state and linked to concepts of continuity and social order, as also to values of ethnicity and national identity. For although a macrotextual reading of the two tetralogies confirms the epic nature of Shakespeare’s approach to English history, the blood of the nation shed in the Wars of the Roses is in many cases considered in the sense of a rightful curse, the origin of which was the sacrilegious dethronement of Richard II. But if, for Bolingbroke, “The body of our kingdom” (3.1.37) is infected by rebellion, young Hal can predict to the Lord Chief Justice that “the great body of our state may go / In equal rank with the best-governed nation (2 Henry IV, 5.2.135-36) and, ultimately, a kingdom purified by pardon will be restored: “I Richard’s body have interred new / And on it have bestowed more contrite tears / Than from it issued forcèd drops of blood” (Henry V, 4.1.292-94). It is however in the Roman plays (as in the satire by Juvenal selected as the eponymous compendium of this essay) and in the later works associated with Latinity and Italian humanistic culture, such as the romances, that the idea of corporeality additionally acquires a specific moral usage, realistically embracing the virtues of romanitas or making them emerge from a dialectic between opposing values. Performing a kind of translatio imperii between principles of civilization and dynastic continuity from ancient Rome to Renaissance London, the playwright exorcizes domestic anxieties of political disgregation and presents a patriotic ideal of national sovereignty. The aim of this essay is to exemplify this theme by examining in detail some passages in Coriolanus and Cymbeline.
Lingua originaleEnglish
Titolo della pubblicazione ospiteQuestioning Bodies in Shakespeare's Rome
Pagine197-218
Numero di pagine22
Stato di pubblicazionePublished - 2010

Serie di pubblicazioni

NomeInterfacing Science, Literature, and the Humanities, ACUME 2

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