Adding to the growing body of work interested in the burgeoning field of early modern disability studies, this significant collection of essays, focused exclusively upon the works of William Shakespeare, contributes to this topic in deeply insightful and productive ways. Sujata Iyengar (University of Georgia) has assembled sixteen essays in this Routledge collection that join recent work on the topic published by The Ohio State University Press (Recovering Disability in Early Modern England, 2013) and Disability Studies Quarterly (Disabled Shakespeares, 29.4 Fall 2009). Chronologically wedged as early modern disability scholarship is between that of the medieval period (and notable work by Irena Metzler, Joshua Eyler, Edward Wheatley, Tory Vandeventer Pearman, and others), and that of the Enlightenment (by Lennard Davis, Helen Deutsch and Felicity Nussbaum, and David Mitchell and Sharon Snyder, among others), it is pleasing to come across work like Iyengar's that illuminates the historical relevance of premodern engagements with disability difference, as well as their applicability to our own cultural moment. Indeed, the conversation Iyengar has constructed in this volume has much to contribute to current disability scholarship, even as it forges new ways of approaching a range of Shakespeare's works.
In her Introduction, Iyengar provides a perspicuous overview of her three areas of focus, illuminating the productive overlap between the "disability, health, and happiness" of her title, even as she examines the ongoing scholarly debates within disability studies, health studies, and happiness studies. I found particularly enlightening Iyengar's lucid exploration of the ongoing scholarly debate between the various social and cultural models she identifies within disability studies, which she tackles largely via the work of Tom Shakespeare in conversation with Lennard Davis, Bill Hughes, David Mitchell and Sharon Snyder, Allison Hobgood and David Houston Wood, and activist Harriet McBryde Johnson of "Not Dead Yet." Iyengar's elaboration of this conversation into one involving health studies and happiness studies provided me with a much fuller understanding of the stakes of these fields and the myriad ways in which they can speak to disability scholars. It is true that I encountered the secondary division of this volume into three altogether different categories with some trepidation: "Part I: Nation"; "Part II: Sex"; and "Part III: Emotion." But the essays themselves and the matters they address more than make up for this structural quirk. Iyengar is to be much applauded for garnering and editing these incisive essays.
Part I consists of five chapters that examine disability, health, and happiness via a shared focus on what Iyengar identifies as that of "rank and nation" (13). The most insightful voice in the field right now, Allison Hobgood, in "Teeth Before Eyes: Impairment and Invisibility in Shakespeare's Richard III," offers a powerful opening to the collection. Her command of the reciprocal stakes of precisely what disability studies and Shakespearean studies can offer each other propels her essay, which engages the most central of historical disability figures. Hobgood examines Richard in two ways: first, in his early modern depictions through what she argues to be a proto-medical model of early modern disability, of disability as both "portent" (looking back to medieval views on disability), and as "pathology" (anticipating Enlightenment strategies of engaging human variation); and second, via a transhistorical reading of Peter Dinklage's embodiment of Richard in his now-legendary performances in this role at New York's The Public Theater in 2004. The second essay, by Geoffrey A. Johns, "A 'Grievous Burden': Richard III and The Legacy of Monstrous Birth," also engages Richard, though in a more frankly historicized manner. Johns reads early modern English "monstrous birth" broadside pamphlets alongside Tudor depictions of Richard, providing insightful analysis of the discourses involved in figuring "monstrosity" in the early modern period, which he examines in light of what he demonstrates, as does Hobgood, to be Richard's ultimate "physical ambiguity" (42).
In "Obsession/Rationality/Agency: Autistic Shakespeare," Sonya Freeman Loftis and Lisa Ulevich provocatively explore Shakespearean drama through the lens of contemporary diagnostic theories related to Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). The authors concede it "doubtful" that any Shakespearean characters would meet modern diagnostic criteria for ASD, yet they insist that such a concession "does not mean that none of Shakespeare's characters possess autistic traits" (58-59). Accordingly, they turn to Hamlet and Coriolanus, in readings that shift from frankly presentist to productively historicized. Their engagement with the "obsessive nature and repetitive behaviors" (58) of these characters— in Hamlet's reading for cues toward the inwardness of other characters, and in Coriolanus's profound anti-sociality— leads the authors to observe that such marks of character difference veer notably away from the neurotypical. In doing so, the authors examine "the way social systems of language, identity, and acceptable behavior interface with individual difference" (74).
The next essay, Amrita Dhar's "Seeing Feelingly: Sight and Service in King Lear," asks "what love looks like in service" (90). In a remarkably sensitive reading of two important characters, Servant and Gloucester, Dhar examines what it means to "see feelingly" (76): first, in Servant's self-sacrificial attempt to preserve Gloucester's remaining eye before it, too, is ripped from his head— "Out, vile jelly," bellows the torturer, Cornwall—; and second, in what Dhar identifies as Gloucester's resultant "blind subjectivity" (76). Dhar is at her best in tracing the historicized dynamics of service across the play, even as she explores the ways in which, by the play's close, "The material and embodied world is changed— because inhabited— by bodies that not only mark difference, but act as receptacles for experiences belonging to the extreme reaches of the human" (90).
In "Strange Virtue: Staging Acts of Cure," Katherine Schaap Williams employs a reading of Macbeth in which she examines the curative "royal touch" of the monarch, called the struma or scrofula, as a point of contact between the ruler and the body politic. Williams's intervention shrewdly draws focus to the "problem of delay" (99) in the ceremony pertaining to the royal touch, which she suggests serves as "both act and sign of anticipated yet ephemeral cure" (105). Finally, Matt Kozusko's "Shakespeare and Civic Health" brings Part I to a close. Kozusko interrogates the claims of Shakespeare's ostensibly salubrious influence upon Anglo-American citizens, denoting the powerful ways in which such claims obfuscate real and healthful political change. His reading of Agnes Wilcox's Shakespeare program at the Missouri Eastern Correctional Facility, as presented on This American Life, episode 218, for example, is brash but incisive, and goes to the heart of the dubious claims to which Shakespeare can be employed to reaffirm state power apparatuses.
Part II of the volume contains four chapters that, in Iyengar's formulation, explore "to what extent sex and gender function as disabilities, impairments, or predicaments in early modern England" (15). It begins with Hillary M. Nunn's essay, "'The King's Part': James I, The Lake-Ros Affair, and The Play of Purgation," which considers a historical event in which a healer, the Duchess of Exeter, was accused of murdering Lady Ros via a poisoned enema. The resulting court case, in which King James intervened, actually re-staged the alleged crime. Citing Hamlet's "drama of diagnosis" (129), The Mousetrap, Nunn's chapter details the dangers in attempting to "accommodate" the body during this period, which Iyengar suggests "interrogates the interplay among rank, sex, obscenity, and healthfulness in the period" (15). The second essay in the section, "'Gambol Faculties' and 'Halting Bravery': Falstaff, Will Kemp, and Impaired Masculinity," by Catherine E. Doubler, juxtaposes the athletic prowess of a member of Shakespeare's troupe, comedian Will Kemp (who likely first played Sir John Falstaff), with the famous dissipation of Shakespeare's legendary fat knight. Doubler recounts Falstaff's various impairments from 2 Henry IV and Merry Wives of Windsor, then details Kemp's self-representative efforts to downplay them on his famous, 130 mile Morris-dance from London to Norwich, recounted in his travelogue: Nine Daies Wonder (1600).
In Chapter Ten, "Flower Imagery and Botanical Illustration: Health and Sexual Generation in Romeo and Juliet," Darlena Ciraulo works a timeworn Renaissance cliché regarding botany and female sexuality into new ground in a careful reading of the most familiar play in Renaissance drama. Ciraulo's intervention wrenches the botanical analogy into a new signification as male, so that, as Katherine A. Craik offers in the volume's Afterword, Romeo's youth "reveals not only his physical preparedness for sexual generation but also the seeds of his own destruction" (262). Concluding this section, Sujata Iyengar's "Shakespeare's Embodied Ontology of Gender, Air, and Health" engages Shakespeare's association of air with supernatural powers and as a "shifting, contingent, enabling, disabling vector for sexuality" (177). Working from A Midsummer Night's Dream to Macbeth; from Antony and Cleopatra to Cymbeline, Iyengar offers a powerful exploration of the relationship between Shakespearean air and its gendered deployments, which "emphasizes its changing status as a predicament: simultaneously attribute, impairment, and disability" (177).
Part III consists of five essays, centered on emotion, beginning with Nathanial B. Smith's "Speaking Medicine: A Paracelsian Parody of the Humors in The Taming of the Shrew." Smith examines Petruccio's ostensible "taming" of Katherine in the tension between a humoral allopathic medical model [curing illness by introducing a contrary sweetness] and a Paracelsian homeopathic model [curing illness by fighting like with like]. Smith argues that Petruccio's cruelty in the play ultimately applies "the use of allopathic rhetoric for the purposes of a rough and unforgiving homeopathy: to drive out one poison … with more of the same" (203), and Smith concludes with a thoughtful reading of Katherine's submission speech as simultaneously a parody of humoral behaviorism (allopathy) and one whose results are ambiguous given the varying audiences she addresses.
The next three chapters grapple overtly with issues pertaining to emotional health. In "Catching the Plague: Love, Happiness, Health, and Disease in Shakespeare," Ian Frederick Moulton analyzes premodern theories of love as disease, tracing this link across Shakespeare's All's Well That Ends Well, As You Like It, Hamlet, and Romeo and Juliet. In doing so, he offers a scholarly example of historicism at its finest. Similarly, in "Breastfeeding, Grief, and the Fluid Economy of Healthy Children in Shakespeare's Plays," Ariane M. Balizet offers examination of historical attitudes to breastfeeding, urging "the idea that wet-nurses and nursing mothers are in part defined by grief [that] powerfully infuses tropes of nursing and child well-being in Shakespeare's plays" (228), such as Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, Coriolanus, and The Winter's Tale. Finally, Alanna Skuse, in "The Worm and the Flesh: Cankered Bodies in Shakespeare's Sonnets" offers a meticulous reading of Shakespeare's sonnet 95 that unpacks the term "canker" (both as worm and as cancer) as a word that bridges human and horticultural illness.
In the volume's striking coda, "Afterword: Ten Times Happier," Katharine A. Craik scrutinizes the UK's 2011 "National Wellbeing Programme," an effort to gauge the country's assumed progress toward an ideal "quality of life." Propelled by what she cheekily calls the "embarrassing rhetoric" of this "Happiness Index" (266), Craik touches on each essay contributed to this volume, reading them against the contrasting views on happiness to be found in Henry Cuffe's The Differences of the Ages of Mans Life (1607) and in Shakespeare's sonnets (1609). Where for Cuffe, simply enough, "joy was not regarded as a proper goal of earthly existence" (261), Craik identifies in the sonnets, however, a joy she observes in the Shakespearean ideal of a childhood that in its very possibility confounds death, or as Craik puts it: in "the energy of children not yet born" (266).
Timely, insightful, and absorbing, Disability, Health, and Happiness in the Shakespearean Body offers a significant and sustained contribution to disability scholarship, even as it leads us to consider the object of our endeavors both in our work and in our world.