Katharine Eisman Maus. Inwardness and Theater in the English Renaissance. Chicago: Chicago UP, 1995. 222pp.
Review by,
Robert Appelbaum
University of California, Berkeley

Appelbaum, Robert. "Review of Inwardness and Theater in the English Renaissance." Early Modern Literary Studies 1.2 (1995): 10.1-8 <URL:

  1. The Renaissance has been associated with the development of a newly intensified, individualized experience of subjectivity since the early nineteenth century. No more decisive evidence for that development has been found than the appearance of the character of Shakespeare's Hamlet, brooding over the dilemmas posed by his sense of his own "conscience," and telling his fellow characters and audience that he has "that within which passes show." Nevertheless, a number of recent critics of English Renaissance literature have come to call the traditional model of the rise of Renaissance individualism into question. Some have argued that the very "interiority" of characters like Hamlet is an illusion, an invention of anachronistic, liberal humanistic criticism. Critics like Barker and Belsey have argued that the "bourgeois subject," transparent to himself as an internally driven source of autonomous behavior, doesn't come into his own at least until the Restoration. Hamlet wasn't Samuel Pepys--Barker's model for the new bourgeois subject--and had no way of being Samuel Pepys. Hamlet's interiority, Barker argues, is entirely "gestural"; beneath Hamlet's theatrical display of interiority and its mysteries there is ultimately "nothing" (Barker 31-7; Belsey 33-54).

  2. In Inwardness and Theater in the English Renaissance Professor Maus attempts to qualify this suggestion by examining many of the cases in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century English writing where something like an autonomous personal interiority is in fact alluded to or represented. Maus does not propose to argue that these indications of interiority reflect the existence of a form of inwardness as common then as it is today, as if a universal form of the human psyche were in question. She specifically distances herself from psychoanalytic criticism and its universalist models of internally driven selfhood. But Maus thinks that the dismissal of the Renaissance subject's interiority is premature. Far from being an invention of a later age, Maus suggests, subjective interiority is a preoccupation of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries--a preoccupation expressed in the context of a number of discursive venues, and engaged in a variety of historically specific challenges and conflicts.

  3. The evidence that Maus amasses in favor of her position is impressive: the isolated inwardness of stage Machiavels and other outcasts ("I am myself alone," Richard III avers); the inwardness of heretics and witches resisting the gaze of their inquisitors; the puzzling inwardness of sexual capacity and orientation, baffling physicians, moralists, and playwrights alike; the self-fashioned solitary inwardness of poetic inspiration, of spiritual "chastity," and of what Milton called "the mind." Maus's main interest is in the theater, and indeed in the most canonical of English Renaissance plays--Tamburlaine, Faustus, The Spanish Tragedy, Othello, Measure for Measure, Volpone, Epicoene, Comus. She is interested in how the plays themselves stage, problematize, and contextualize their characters' inwardness. But she finds that inwardness is an effect that individuals seem to experience and valorize during the period not just on stage, where the delegation of some sort of personalized motivation for individual behavior (whether internal or external) would seem to be a necessary gesture, but in any situation where public and private life come into conflict, and a public mode of discourse is employed to apprehend, penetrate, or transform what seems to be occurring within the private precincts of the self.

  4. In witchcraft, heresy, and treason trials, as in the exposure on stage of the villainy of a Machiavel, or (conversely) the innocence of a chaste wife, apparatuses of representation were deployed to expose that which by definition was always already concealed, an inner intention. He is no traitor to his country whose attitudes toward his government are so outwardly subversive that he is incapable of accomplishing a truly subversive act; only he who can successfully hide his treacherous intentions, and whose treachery is therefore doubtful, is capable of treason. She is not to be suspected of adultery whose adultery is public knowledge; she is subject to investigation whose behavior has left no definitive signs behind her, and whose innocence or guilt is beyond physical proof, whose truth is hidden in the recesses of memory and conscience. In the English Renaissance a great many situations arise where (public) apparatuses of representation are called upon to wrest one sort of secret or another from individuals, secrets which are in some respects definitive of who those persons are. But the apparatuses themselves frequently involve their practitioners in an aporia: to get the "truth" out of a heretic, one might well, through an extorted confession, end up with a falsehood, or else, by forcible persuasion, annihilate the very "conscience" one was trying to bring into the open; to get to the secret of Hamlet's "madness," one might well have to violate the very logic Hamlet stands by, the idea that he in fact has something within himself which is incapable of being shown, and incapable of being manipulated.

  5. One of the differences of Professor Maus's approach is her willingness to take the idea of the inexpressible seriously. Where Barker complains that there is nothing to find inside of the Renaissance subject, Maus argues that there may be nothing to find there because interiority is, by nature, something which can't be found. And Maus makes a compelling case for the idea that the problem of inexpressible interiority lies at the very heart of the period's social and religious controversies, and the vitality of its theater. The Reformation, the Counter-Reformation, urbanization, and the development of suitably new techniques of juridical, medical, and poetic representation worked together to produce both a widespread need for inwardness and the paradoxical requirement that this inwardness be endlessly reproduced and endlessly secreted. It had to be staged; but it had to be staged as that which could not be expressed.

  6. The book is not an easy read. Maus's argument suffers from indirectness; in spite of what seems to be a clearly laid out introduction, I myself didn't have a firm grasp of where she was going with her overall argument until page 167. Some of the material is unevenly handled. I found her opening arguments on Machiavels intriguing but somewhat forced, and her treatment of Marlowe's plays rather unfocused. Her wonderful essay on Othello--perhaps the most clearly stated chapter in the book--tells us a lot about Othello and the relation of Othello's jealousy to contemporary juridical practices, but doesn't advance her overall argument as directly as her other chapters; it reads like an excursus. Her treatment of Measure for Measure, on the other hand, which she gets to by way of a slowly developing account of impotence trials, Volpone, and Epicoene, raises her argument to surprisingly new levels. Eschewing the Duke-centered readings of critics like Jonathan Goldberg and Leonard Tennenhouse, where a kind of all-seeing absolutist perspective is assumed, Maus shows the play to involve a dialectic between absolutely shared and absolutely secreted perspectives, a dialectic which both constructs and deconstructs the ideals of justice, mercy, fidelity, and community with which the play is ostensibly concerned. But then the book moves on to an equally interesting and original, but perhaps only tangentially related discussion of the dialectical relationship in early modern texts between the inwardness of female-identified bodies and masculine-identified minds.

  7. If Inwardness and Theater fails in any way, it is in the discontinuous and somewhat hesitant development of its overall argument, and its avoidance of contextualization. In this book about individualism, religion, politics, and the theater, it is interesting to note, there is not a single reference to the work of cultural historians like Christopher Hill, Patrick Collinson, or Keith Wrightson. Nor is there any more than a passing reference to pre- and post-Belsey and Barker accounts of early modern subjectivity, or indeed to the idea of what the "early modern" or the moment of the English "Renaissance" might be. Maus doesn't once consider what the condition of something like interiority might have been before the Reformation, although she seems to imply that the interiority she is discussing emerges as a product of the Reformation, as a replacement of something else. Nor, having openly dispensed with high theory in favor of local historical analyses, does she give us an account of the idea of interiority that results from her readings, although in the end she does look forward to the construction of interiority in the "modern" world.

  8. In the final analysis, Maus hasn't really accomplished her goal of refuting the claims of Barker, Belsey, et. al., because she hasn't really engaged them on their own ground of broad theoretical and historical assertions. The "bourgeois subject" that Barker describes, inwardly repressing himself by inwardly expressing himself, doesn't appear in any of the material that Maus discusses either. In fact, what Maus says about the highly complex dialectics of inwardness and outwardness before the Restoration could very well be adopted as further evidence for the development of a different, "bourgeois" dialectic in the later period, and further evidence for its etiology. But Maus has at the very least successfully reopened the question of Renaissance inwardness; and she has reopened it without violating that turbulently nuanced sense of inviolable secrecy that, we can now see, was so uniquely central to the experience of self and society in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and so much a part of its culture of the theater.

Works Cited

[http://asgard.humn.arts.ualberta.ca/emls/EMLS footer.html]

(RGS, rev. 14 February 1998)