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Pascale Drouet, Shakespeare and the Denial of Territory: Banishment, Abuse of Power and Strategies of Resistance
by Clare Egan

Pascale Drouet. Shakespeare and the Denial of Territory: Banishment, Abuse of Power and Strategies of Resistance. Manchester: Manchester University Press. 2021. 248 pp. ISBN: 9781526144041. £80 hardback.

 

Pascale Drouet’s Shakespeare and the Denial of Territory is a nuanced and persuasive theorisation of William Shakespeare’s depiction of banishment specifically as an abuse of power. The book conducts a detailed comparative study of Richard II, King Lear, and Coriolanus that is chiefly concerned with the consequences of banishment as de-spatialisation and, in Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s sense, ‘deterritorialisation’, so as to emphasise the subjective loss of self that these plays explore. Drouet’s book ranges from understanding banishment as a response to fearless speech, to exploring reactions to exile as ripostes. Such ripostes or illegal returns from exile are understood either as resembling Deleuze and Guattari’s ‘war machine’, whereby those banished return unexpectedly with an armed force (90), or as manifesting through the exiles’ engagement with other ‘state apparatuses’, such as trial by combat or chivalric codes (108). Drouet also considers internal(ised) forms of exile, achieved through either disguise and dissembling or the cultivation of mental spaces of interiority. The book also investigates the extent to which ‘deterritorialsation’ in all of its forms can be endured before the point of exhaustion is reached. By the close of Part Four, the book reaches the persuasive conclusion that in the plays examined, albeit for a range of different reasons, ‘one either belongs to a country or is deeply attached to a person’ (206). The book thus interrogates Shakespeare’s depictions of this central conflict between political or national duty and deep-seated personal connections, and reveals a fundamental and intimate tension between spatial and psychological senses of subjectivity.

The book opens with a striking invocation of the geological sense of the word ‘transgression’ (meaning an ingress of the sea over land leaving sediments deposited behind) to introduce Deleuze and Guattari’s dynamics of ‘smooth’ spaces transgressing ‘striated’ spaces. Drouet applies this understanding of transgression to the banishment (and return) of the unruly elements of early modern society. For Richard II, King Lear, and Coriolanus, Drouet convincingly argues, understanding banishment as an abuse of power reveals Shakespeare questioning ‘both the legitimacy of power and the limits of human resistance’ (5). The book’s broader insights are born out of meticulous attention to literary and linguistic detail in close readings that highlight features such as nominal word-play (83) or metaphor and metonymy (50), for example. Vivid analysis of Richard II’s experience of ‘interminable’ time whilst imprisoned at Pomfret Castle deftly affirms Roland Barthes’ observation that tragedy is a ‘drama of degradation’ charting a ‘slow descent into misfortune’ (190-1). 

Shakespeare and the Denial of Territory is divided into four parts, with each part broken down into a further three subheadings. Part One compares the dynamic of deterritorialisation in all three plays, and is the part in which the plays’ moments of banishment are most powerfully characterised as abuses of power in the case of Richard II and King Lear or driven by objection to the ‘theatrocracy’ of power in Coriolanus. Here banishment is read as provoking retaliatory deterritorialisation, bringing about the scenario of ‘the banisher banished’ (63). Part Two focuses on Richard II and Coriolanus, persuasively outlining the ‘dynamic of riposte’ by analysing Bolingbroke and Coriolanus’s martial returns from exile via Deleuze and Guattari’s ‘war machine’, and outlining the alternatives to the ‘war machine’ taken by Mowbray and Cordelia. Part Three of the book looks exclusively at King Lear, seeing it as a play that contains various strategies through which to experience internal exile (both in terms of territory and subjectivity). This section first argues that Edgar’s and Kent’s attempts at dissembling in order to remain in their homeland should be seen as a deviation from or avoidance of banishment, and goes on to show how each strategy leads to a ‘spiral of degradation’ resulting from an othering from oneself. The section culminates in an excellent reading of Lear as the epitome of such othering, reading him as a character who experiences (in a haptic space) ‘home as a foreign elsewhere’ (158). Part Four continues the book’s journey into mental spaces, tracking the ‘dialectic of endurance and exhaustion’ in Richard II and King Lear. Whilst John of Gaunt and Volumnia use mental space as a form of resistance, Drouet argues, the departures of Richard II and Lear from reality are understood, via the work of Emmanuel Housset, as retreats into forms of ‘closed’ and ‘open interiority’ (181).

The book’s most distinctive contribution to scholarship lies in the connections it makes between the spatialities of banishment on one hand, and its readings of the emotional, mental, and subjective consequences of such a state for characters as individuals on the other. Such connections are facilitated by the wide range of predominantly French theorists and critics on which the book draws, from Roland Barthes, Michel Foucault, Gaston Bachelard, and Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, to contemporary psychoanalysts, such as Boris Cyrulnik, and philosophers like Emmanuel Housset. The book thus achieves one of its stated aims: to bring a range of intellectual approaches in French scholarship to bear on Shakespeare’s plays in order to open up a dialogue with Anglophone criticism. The book’s inclusion of the original French for critical quotations as part of each chapter’s endnotes is a particularly useful feature for multilingual readers in this respect. Moreover, Shakespeare and the Denial of Territory will be of particular interest for literary scholarship in the field of spatial humanities. The close of Part Three, for example, emphasises the uncertainty with which Shakespearean characters either resist or submit to Bachelard’s ‘psychology of gravity’ in their attempts at enacting a deviation from banishment that often turns out to be as hard to endure as exile itself (166). Such readings open up newly spatialised understandings of the psychology of Shakespearean tragedy.

As the overarching arguments of the book demonstrate, Deleuze and Guattari’s work underpins the majority of the book, with further complementary theoretical approaches also deployed throughout. For example, the book reads Cordelia, Kent, John of Gaunt, York and Coriolanus as ‘parrhesiastes’ as informed by Foucault’s contrast between parrhesia (unconcealed truth telling) and the rhetorician who breaks the connection between the person speaking and what they say. Understanding these characters as ‘parrhesiastes’ elucidates the personal risks they take when they engage in the kinds of fearless speech that lead inevitably to banishment (29). Another strength of Drouet’s book is to put Shakespeare’s plays into dialogue with contemporary emotional and psychological concerns. Engaging the work of Boris Cyrulnik, for example, Drouet sees Edgar and Cordelia as what Cyrulnik calls ‘“tutors of resilience”’, ‘even if they fail in the end’ (194-5). Both Cordelia’s and Edgar’s capacities for empathy are understood as the means by which these characters might help Gloucester and Lear to overcome their experiences of trauma; although here Drouet incisively distinguishes Edgar’s inability to intuit his father’s point of exhaustion owing to a lack of maturity from Cordelia’s recognition of her father’s frailty. Again, this instance of theoretical insight paired with careful reading allows the book to capture the effects of tragedy as they resonate outwards, leaving spectators or readers with a powerful sense of the limits of endurance and the ultimate exhaustion that accompanies the loss a beloved other (216).

Shakespeare and the Denial of Territory builds on scholarship by Jane Kingsley-Smith in Shakespeare’s Drama of Exile (2003), which opens with the observation that ‘fourteen out of Shakespeare’s 38 plays represent the banishment of one or more central characters’ (Drama of Exile, 1). Drouet focuses on what might seem a more restricted selection of three of these plays, which are also considered by Kingsley-Smith’s book. However, the tight focus facilitates the book’s detailed theorisation of banishment specifically when understood as abuse of power with specific consequences and multiple psychological impacts. Wider applications of the book’s arguments are also found in the connections made to Romeo and Juliet, King Henry VI Part 2, and Part Two’s convincing reading of Prospero’s use of ‘magical capture’ (117) in The Tempest. Indeed, the book links Suffolk in King Henry VI part 2 with a brief reading of Queen Isabel in Richard II, perhaps highlighting that there is more to be said about other (albeit more minor) characters and raising interesting questions concerning the gendered dimensions of banishment that figures such as Cordelia and Queen Isabel might facilitate. The book’s focus rests, however, squarely on central figures of power such as Richard II, Bolingbroke, Lear, Edgar and Coriolanus, supported by readings of the characters John of Gaunt, Mowbray and Kent.

The book’s innovative insight into the characters’ emotional cartographies via a host of critical theory is matched by its thorough grounding in contextual and historical criticism. For example, Drouet draws on David Ducros’s work on the evolution in Elizabeth cartography from Christopher Saxton’s 1579 maps to later mapping by John Norden and John Speed, which sees a move from the alignment of the monarch with national territory to a prioritisation and re-appropriation of the territory itself (3 and 62). Drouet draws a nuanced parallel between such shifts in early modern cartography and Shakespeare’s presentation of fearless speakers, such as Coriolanus, Cordelia, Mowbray, and Bolingbroke. That these characters are banished by those in power aligns fearless speech with freedom of movement, and the ‘perception of territory as an open map’ (61). Thus, Drouet argues that the potential power fearless speakers have to deterritorialise others, something the book terms the ‘talion effect’, logically leads to them being ‘relegated off the map’ by those in power (62). This is just one instance of the insights that Shakespeare and the Denial of Territory affords through connections between theory, language, and context, but it is one that evidences the achievement of another of the book’s goals: to foster what Barthes refers to as ‘plural criticism’ by initiating dialogue between ‘language criticism’ and new historicism or cultural materialism (5). Shakespeare and the Denial of Territory is a powerful and important argument for the benefits of doing so.

 

Clare Egan

Lancaster University

 

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Cite as:

Clare Egan, "Pascale Drouet, Shakespeare and the Denial of Territory: Banishment, Abuse of Power and Strategies of Resistance," Spenser Review (Fall 2022). Accessed July 15th, 2024.
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