Shakespeare's Schoolroom

Shakespeare's habits of imitation revisit the practices of humanist pedagogy only to reveal significant contradictions at the heart of sixteenth-century masculinity.

Shakespeare's Schoolroom
Rhetoric, Discipline, Emotion

Lynn Enterline

2011 | 208 pages | Cloth $45.00
Literature | Cultural Studies
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Table of Contents

Introduction: "Thou art translated!"

Chapter 1. Rhetoric and the Passions in Shakespeare's Schoolroom
Chapter 2. Imitate and Punish: The Theatricality of Everyday Life in Elizabethan Schoolrooms
Chapter 3. The Art of Loving Mastery: Venus, Adonis, and the Erotics of Early Modern Pedagogy
Chapter 4. Translation, Ekphrasis, and the Cruelties of Character in Taming of the Shrew
Chapter 5. "What's Hecuba to Him": Transferring Woe in Hamlet, Lucrece, and The Winter's Tale


Excerpt [uncorrected, not for citation]

Introduction: "Thou art translated"

This book places moments of considerable emotional power in Shakespeare's poetry—narrative and dramatic portraits of what his contemporaries called "the passions"—alongside the discursive and material practices of sixteenth-century English pedagogy. The analysis moves between grammar school archives and literary canon, using linguistic, rhetorical, and literary detail to put pressure on institutional goals and effects. And it brings evidence about the theatricality of everyday life in humanist grammar schools to bear on Shakespeare's representations of character and emotion—particularly expressions of "love" and "woe." Throughout the book, I rely on the axiom that rhetoric has two branches that continually interact: tropological (requiring formal, literary analysis) and transactional (requiring social and historical analysis). Humanist training in rhetorical copia was designed to intervene in social reproduction, to sort out which differences between bodies (male and female) and groups (aristocrats, the middling sort, and those below) were necessary to defining and producing proper English "gentlemen." But the method I adopt in this book brings out a rather different story from the one schoolmasters invented to promote their new pedagogical platform and argue for its beneficial effects on the commonwealth. When Shakespeare creates the convincing effects of character and emotion for which he is so often singled out as a precursor of "modern" subjectivity, that is, he signals his debt to the Latin institution that granted him the cultural capital of an early modern gentleman precisely when undercutting the socially normative categories schoolmasters invoked as their educational goal.

Each chapter traces the classical texts, rhetorical techniques, and school disciplinary practices that enabled Shakespeare to invent characters and emotions so often taken to resemble modern ones, demonstrating in the process that seriatim genealogy cannot possibly account for the startling literary and social effects of sixteenth-century pedagogy. Rather, a more complex temporal perspective is required to explain the evident modern appeal of Shakespeare's characters—dependent as they were on ancient examples absorbed in an educational institution that, while laying the foundation for what we now call "the humanities," trained and disciplined its students in ways quite alien to our own practices and expectations. This analysis leans forward and backward in two ways. First and most generally, by highlighting the ancient rhetorical models and texts that made Shakespearean emotions possible, I put the retrospective force of "re-naissance" (a rebirth from the classical past) into productive tension with the prolepsis implicit in the now widely accepted label "early modern studies." Second, I pay attention to many of the early Latin lessons that helped shape Shakespeare's portraits of personal character and emotion. But I also read those portraits back into grammar school archives, assessing that institution's disciplinary and discursive practices by way of Shakespeare's frequent engagement with early Latin training. Here I take my cue from Freud, whose evolving ideas about "psychical reality" led him to suggest that a memory, as an event arising within the subject, might produce a "more powerful release" of affective energy "than that produced by the corresponding experience itself." Implicit throughout this book is the idea that Shakespeare's affectively charged returns to early school training in Latin grammar and rhetoric are so emotionally powerful precisely because these personifications reenact, or reengage, earlier institutional events, scenes, and forms of discipline that were not fully understood or integrated when they first occurred.

One scene from A Midsummer Night's Dream, a play intimately engaged with classical antecedents, will help capture how much school discipline reveals about character and the passions in Shakespeare's texts and vice versa. "Bless thee, Bottom, Bless thee! Thou art translated" (3.1.117): Peter Quince's frightened outburst still makes audiences laugh—even though "translation" no longer calls up the intense, embodied memories and emotions it must once have done for writers and audiences trained up in Latin grammar and rhetoric at the hands of humanist schoolmasters. Rather than merely act a part in a play based on a Roman poem, as many schoolboys had been required to do before him, Bottom also undergoes a physical, classically derived metamorphosis that his peers understand in terms of translation, a common sixteenth-century lesson in Latin vocabulary and grammar. On a daily basis, schoolboys were set to translate passages from English to Latin and back again; and a master backed up his demand for such linguistic agility by the sting, or the threat, of his birch. Such early lessons in bilingual translation were the basis for more advanced training in the tropes and, eventually, physical gestures of an orator—the embodied aspect of rhetoric called actio thought necessary to the performance of eloquence. As numerous schoolmasters had it, "Eloquence and wisdom are one." Read in light of the discursive and disciplinary school practices that once made Bottom's metamorphosis viscerally funny to contemporaries, "translation" in a play that shuttles between the classical world of Athens and the vernacular world of English fairies is not merely a matter of moving from one language to another, or from one cultural context to another. Translation involves social, emotional, and bodily change too: It offers the Mechanicals the possibility of any interaction whatsoever with Athens's aristocrats; signifies terror when the literary history they have imitated comes alive; and allows Bottom, in his classically altered dream state, to see, act, touch, taste, and take imaginative as well as sensory pleasure in Midsummer's woods of desire.

Much like the sixteenth-century schoolboys trained up in the techniques of verbal, vocal, and bodily performance necessary for eloquence, Bottom tries to memorize a dramatic rendition of a Latin precursor (in this case, Ovid's story of Pyramus and Thisbe) only to embark on an emotional experience made flesh. Translated from his early conviction that he is not the same thing as the Ovidian part he is playing ("I Pyramus am not Pyramus," [3.1.20]), Bottom soon loses any such certainty: "Methought I was—there is no man can tell what. Methought I was, and methought I had . . . " (4.1.207-208). His metamorphosis changes organs of perception, makes him an "ass," and thereby mediates the vernacular world of English fairies through the eyes and ears of a new head derived from precedent classical texts. When Bottom wakes up and reaches for synesthesia to capture his translation's ecstasy, not only do sensations cross, but so do word and body: "The eye of man hath not heard, the ear of man hath not seen, man's hand is not able to taste, his tongue to conceive, nor his heart to report, what my dream was" (4.1.211-14). Acts and threats of flogging at school vividly joined early lessons in Latin grammar to a boy's physical experiences of learning that language; more advanced lessons continued to connect ancient words, tropes, and stories intimately to his body, and did so in ways that required him to synchronize all its parts to gain social approval and advancement. As we'll see in Chapter 2, grammar school training in actio, as well as rehearsing for school theatricals, drilled boys in the techniques of Latin eloquence through exercises in physical as much as verbal imitation. Schoolmasters required young orators to learn how to use and refine the chief tools of their trade: eyes, ears, hands, tongues. As pictured in a midcentury treatise on "manual rhetoric," actio was closely associated with synesthesia like Bottom's: An orator's outstretched palm displays a fountain of water (eloquence) pouring from an open mouth The collected individual hands depicted at the bottom of the engraving reinforce that larger image, illustrating particular aspects of oratorical success with individual body parts centered in the palm—a tongue, an ear, an eye. If well synchronized, a school boy came to know through practice, these organs might combine to achieve rhetoric's chief aspiration: the ability to move minds and hearts.

Expanding our standard view of early training in Latin as a rather silent, solitary drilling in reading and writing, I argue throughout this book that humanism's foundational platform of imitatio—the demand that boys imitate the schoolmaster's facial movements, vocal modulation, and bodily gestures as much as his Latin words and texts—was designed to train young orators in physical as well as verbal techniques that would touch the "hearts" of those who heard and saw them. And as we will see, humanist masters were well aware, and integrated in various ways into their educational program, the ancient premise that true eloquence also relies on the power of emotions. As one sixteenth-century schoolboy wrote in his notebook's section on actio, "Cicero saith yt is almost impossible for an Orator to stirre up a passion in his Auditors except he be first affected with the same passion hymselfe." Success in becoming a Latin-speaking gentleman involved not merely the good memory and bodily deportment necessary to theatricals, which Bottom immediately evokes when he wakes up from his dream: "When my cue comes, call me, and I will answer. My next is, 'Most fair Pyramus!'" (4.1.201-2). Social success also required a boy to imitate movements of eye, ear, hand, tongue, and heart in persuasive performances of the passions; a transfer of emotion was the desired end, and bodily and verbal facility the practical means, that schoolmasters offered a boy for obtaining a position of esteem in the school's carefully structured hierarchy. The organs that coalesce in Bottom's list of body parts are those that schoolboys were disciplined to bring together effectively enough to give life to memorized Latin scripts, imbue old words with emotion, and achieve the transfer of feeling necessary to persuasion. Whether such transfers of feeling worked in precisely the way schoolmasters believed they would is a question I raise throughout this book.

Which is the Latin "ass" through which Bottom experiences the world of fairies? Did his night with Titania rival the sexual exploits of Apuleius's Lucius? The unusual situation certainly solicits such a comparison. Does he hear through the ears of Ovid's Midas? Shakespeare intimates as much in a joke on Bottom, who boasts to Titania, "I have a reasonable good ear in music" (4.1.28). That Bottom has no idea that in the Metamorphoses Midas got his ass's ears as punishment for judging Pan's music superior to Apollo's only increases the incongruous conjunction between Shakespeare's weaver and the Latin texts he doesn't know. Or is Bottom speaking in the voice of an asinus, the derogatory name given in some grammar schools for those who lapsed into English too many times in one day? Whether mediated through any one of these Latin asses or all of them, the joke at first seems to be on Bottom. Yet it quickly becomes more than funny. Bottom's metamorphosis may frighten his friends; and it may have caused former grammar schoolboys in the theater to laugh at the surprising intersection between a weaver and the Latin texts he wouldn't have been able to read. But it also allows Bottom alone of the Mechanicals a transforming, erotic "vision" comparable to those shared that night in the woods by the play's aristocratic lovers (4.1.205). As I demonstrate in the chapters that follow, Shakespeare was not alone among contemporaries in the distinctly sexual hue he gives to the language, texts, and rhetorical techniques he learned to imitate during puberty. But this book also shows that the many kinds of "love" intimately connected with Latin pedagogy in Shakespeare's texts are no more predictable, nor socially useful, than the one experienced that night in Athens's woods between an ass and a fairy queen.

If the synesthesia of "Bottom's Dream" speaks to the complex way the school's verbal and physical training transmitted the texts of the Latin past to the bodies and minds of its students, it is important to remember that Tudor schoolmasters explicitly designed these lessons to "train" their boys "up" the social ladder. Read in light of the school's announced goals, Bottom's translation also speaks to the school's carefully planned intervention in social reproduction. His vision takes flight from both the texts and the techniques of humanist pedagogy, but at the same time it speaks to the new dissonances that the humanist curriculum and program introduced into sixteenth-century society. As is well known, schoolmasters distinguished between popular and elite culture by dismissing English vernacular tales ("old wives' fairy rubbish") in favor of ancient Latin stories. Out of such a hierarchical distinction—one that privileged a "father" over a "mother" tongue—schoolmasters claimed that their new pedagogical method of constant imitation would benefit the English commonwealth and grant Latin initiates a certain amount of upward mobility. Bottom's translation, however, recalls the school's valued social distinctions while moving all too easily between the ancient past of Ovid's Metamorphoses and the vernacular, English world of "fairy rubbish." His classical translation, that is, quickly ushers Bottom into the very world of English fairies that schoolmasters asked young boys to abandon for the world of Latin and of men. Like the many passionate characters I take up in this book, Bottom would have been an unlikely candidate for grammar school training: Both the status of the character himself and the stories that make up this "rare vision" force the social and discursive categories of contemporary education to collide. Shakespeare's Schoolroom looks at the classically inflected, embodied passions of many other characters like Bottom—characters who would have been excluded from grammar school training but whose words, bodies, and passions nonetheless have a great deal to tell us about the institution that made them possible.

Each chapter takes up scenes in which Shakespeare draws on schoolroom texts and practices to personify emotions at some considerable distance from the socially normative position—never mind bodily and vocal deportment—for which English schoolboys were actually being "trained up." In the case of A Midsummer Night's Dream, Shakespeare marshals not only translation, but also the tropes and transactions of school training in oratory, to portray the Mechanicals: In so doing, Wall's author doubly proves himself capable of the verbal "wit" that could get a schoolboy out of trouble. First, "Wall" is "the wittiest partition" that Demetrius "ever . . . heard discourse" (5.1.166) precisely because he personifies the idea of "partition," a rhetorical term for a section of an oration. Second, and consonant with school training in prosopopoeia, he picks up and expands the apostrophe to the wall in Ovid's Metamorphosis ("'invide' dicebant 'paries,'" "they said, 'envious wall'" 4.73) into a dramatic personification ("That I am that same Wall; the truth is so" 5.1.162). As I show throughout this book, habits of personification—from advanced lessons in the techniques of prosopopoeia to other exercises in grammar and translation—permeated school training in rhetorical skill at every level of instruction. But in contrast to humanist claims that their program in imitation conferred gentlemanly identity and mastery on its initiates, this method of reading the texts of former schoolboys back into the educational institution that made them possible indicates that the cumulative effect of grammar school instruction in socially sanctioned language, expression, and bodily movement was to establish in students a significant detour between event and feeling, orator and the passions he imitated for the sake of persuading and pleasing others. Indeed, school training engrained what I have come to call "habits of alterity" at the heart of schoolboy "identity." Even early lessons in translation, conducted in the silence of written exercise, gave boys a protodramatic part to play in dialogues with peers, parents, or masters: Latin vulgaria offered boys a Latin ego in sentences for translation that put that "ego" in quotation marks from the beginning. And more advanced training in the art of declamation, as well as the habit for school theatricals thought useful for training young orators, required students to mimic—indeed, to embody—a host of passions that were not their own. From first to last, the humanist disciplinary regime pulled against the drive to verbal, corporeal, and affective self-mastery schoolmasters advocated. Their debt to the theatrical nature of the very rhetorical tradition they taught means that rather than strengthen the stability of masculine identity, the grammar school's daily demand for verbal and bodily mimicry performed in public under the threat of punishment would produce rhetorically capable "gentlemen" only by keeping such identity at a distance. To put this problem in Bottom's memorable summary of his translation, "it shall be called 'Bottom's Dream,' because it hath no bottom in it." My aim throughout Shakespeare's Schoolroom is to take the Latin linguistic turn, as well as the social goals, of sixteenth-century pedagogy literally and seriously. By contrast to the current tendency to accept humanist claims about their success in cultivating obedience and respect for authority and hierarchy, I show that when Shakespeare's representations of character and emotion most profit from school training, they also warn us, as does "Bottom's Dream," to be cautious about taking schoolmasters entirely at their word.