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Work in Progress
Philology's Queer Children: Imitation, Authorship, and Shakespeare's "Natural" Language

There are whole undiscovered ecosystems in the Oxford English Dictionary. Recently I happened into one—bounced there from something I had been checking in Christopher Marlowe’s Edward II, which I’m editing. The word in question—if it can even be called that—was ist, an interjection, and, where seasoned readers of the OED might have expected an expansive etymological explanation taking us back to Anglo-Saxon or Latin via French or even some reconstructed Indo-European “root” (as we say), there was instead a three-word explanation: “Ist. Etymology: A natural utterance.”[1] Sometimes even the OED simply throws up its many hands.’‘

It turns out that there are sixteen such “natural utterances” among the OED’s etymologies. These words—since I imagine you’re curious, and eager to start using them in daily conversation—include a, ah, haha, how (as an interjection), hush (described as a “modification of the natural utterance sh!”), and hust (described as “A natural utterance or ‘vocal gesture’”[2]). Hust is related to hist, an interjection not listed among the naturals, but whose “Origin” the OED records as “An imitative or expressive formation”[3] and whose “Etymology” is also described as “Imitative.” Hist, as you may know, is an utterance used—or perhaps emitted?—by Juliet in one of the most famously natural balcony scenes of all time: “Hist, Romeo, hist! O, for a falconer’s voice / To lure this tassel-gentle back again.”[4] As you also may know, there is nothing more natural than falconry.

Other natural utterances in the OED include isse, O (the vocative), sh, tush, tut, whisht, and whist. My personally-favorite natural utterance is twish. As you may be unaware, twish is a very natural “exclamation of contempt or vexation,” which appears in Holinshed’s Chronicles and in Richard Stanyhurst’s Virgil volume.[5] Twish. Say it along with me, and you can almost feel how natural the word is. But, unlike tut, used extensively by Shakespeare, which the OED says “sometimes represents the palatal click,” the OED does not connect twish with the natural operations of the speaking body.

I am hesitant to draw too many conclusions on the basis of the OED’s evidence, but allow me three observations. First, beyond these sixteen utterances, the OED apparently regards the rest of the English language as unnatural—an idea that merits some serious contemplation. Second, the OED’s philology of the “natural” sometimes gets bound up with the “imitative” or the “expressive.” It holds, as ’twere, a mirror, or a lamp, up to nature. And third, most of the words on this list either speak to, or attempt to summon, something absent: they are vocatives, like O and ah, or, alternatively, they work, as the OED remarks of isse, as “An ejaculation enjoining silence.” There are some things against nature, contra naturem, as the formula goes, “not to be named among Christians,”[6] and a natural utterance will apparently do its best to enjoin silence. At this point, I imagine you’re saying, “Twish,” or maybe “Whoa,” which the OED connects with what it calls the “natural exclamation” ho. I will return to this.


What will be the future of the philology that gave us the OED—earlier known as the New English Dictionary . . . Founded Mainly on the Materials Collected by the Philological Society? At the most recent meeting of the Shakespeare Association of America, I organized a panel session entitled “Future Philologies” (the origin of this essay) because it seemed to me that there had begun to be, or continued to be, a “return to philology” in our field, though not always in the sense Paul De Man called for in his short 1982 essay of that title. I thought—and think—that we should be contemplating and generating other philologies, future philologies, in Shakespeare studies. Much of the recent writing on philology in literary studies—philology as literary studies—has concentrated on philology’s past and its origins; the subtitle of James Turner’s mammoth recent history calls philology “The Forgotten Origins of the Modern Humanities.”[7] While proposing the opposite in his forward-looking lecture “Philology and Freedom,” the scholar of Sanskrit Sheldon Pollock asks, “Does philology have a future at all?”[8]

But, without failing to note the vintage quality the term philology can now sometimes carry in our current century, it’s worth noting that such questions have been asked throughout European philology’s history; the philologist Ismaël Boulliau remarked in 1657 that “the age of criticism and philology has passed and one of philosophy and mathematics has taken its place,”[9] and Nietzsche, whose original training and work was as a philologist, noted in 1875, “It is thought that philology is finished.” But, he added, “I believe it hasn’t yet begun.”[10] If Nietzsche alludes to a certain brand of philological positivism as finished, what had not yet begun? Need “it” be singular?

In his essay, Pollock sees philology as an umbrella discipline that should form the future of humanities scholarship and departments, but, whatever the futures of philology in the broader disciplinary sense, practices of philology have begun to re-emerge in Shakespeare and early modern studies in new and re-valenced ways. There is Roland Greene’s Five Words: Critical Semantics in the Age of Shakespeare and Cervantes. Patricia Parker, whose attention to language and rhetoric has exerted an influence on many of us studying the language of early modern gender, race, and sexuality, has just published a new book of “critical keywords.”[11] In early modern race studies, David Nirenberg has done important work on the etymology of the term race and its relation to breeding and animality; we also have Ian Smith’s book on race and rhetoric, and Ania Loomba and Jonathan Burton’s discussion of racial tropes’ “discursive scrambling,” in the introduction to their Documentary Companion to early modern race.[12] In sexuality studies, the late Paula Blank wrote compellingly about the etymology and circulation of the term lesbian; Valerie Traub’s “Talking Sex” chapter of Thinking Sex with the Early Moderns comprehensively lays out all the early moderns’ terms for sex (as we currently know them), while also demonstrating all the opacities wrapped up in sex as a “knowledge relation.”[13] Stephen Spiess in forthcoming work elaborates the extraordinary lexicon of “whore” terms in Shakespeare and his contemporaries.[14] Transnationally, there is Susan Phillips’s work on sex and race in multi-lingual early modern translation dictionaries, Marjorie Rubright’s recent work on early modern lexicography and Babel, and Andrew Keener’s forthcoming work demonstrating the extraordinary traffic between foreign languages on the stage and language-learning manuals and dictionaries.[15] As with Jenny C. Mann’s analysis of early modern English vernacular rhetorical structures in Outlaw Rhetoric,[16] such scholarship demonstrates how the tools of traditional philology can be adapted or re-made for current critical concerns.

I also seek to stage a conversation about “future philologies” because—as I began to show in Queer Philologies—I believe that the insights of feminist, queer, critical-race, transnational, ecocritical, and other theories and methods can help us critically to re-read traditional philology’s methods, discourses, and protocols: its reliance on reproductive, organic, and/or racialized models of the transmission of words, languages, and literary texts.[17] How can non-normative conceptions of reproduction, nature, and national/ethnic homogeneity re-invigorate the stories philology tells about the relation of texts and the traffic in words? How can emergent philologies appropriate philology’s negatively valenced terms to enlarge our methods for the study of Shakespeare and early modern culture?

The remainder of this essay concerns this latter area—what I’ll call “Philology’s Queer Children.” Following in the footsteps of critical scholarship by Seth Lerer and Stephanie Jed on early modern rhetorics of “error” and editorial “castigation” (that is, making a text chaste or pure),[18] I want to take up the possibility of re-appropriating and revaluing philology’s extensive vocabularies of derogation. Such terms as aberrance, contamination, corruption, mixture, spuriousness (which is to say, etymologically: bastardy), deviance, variance, and, yes, unnaturalness, are often used in philological and related editorial work to describe the circulation, mediation, production, and transmission of language and texts said to be non-normative, or to lack definitive origin or proper lineal descent.[19] These terms are the accidental queer “children” generated by philology—the derided Outside of the discipline whose speech may help us better understand philology’s protocols and opacities, as well as the texts and interpretations that have come to us through its methods. I’ll provide two more detailed examples of philology’s queer children, in the hope that these two will generate still more, from readers who may extend this list in their own areas of study.

* * *

On the basis of its title, the algebraic formulae that structure many of its pages, and its epigraph from a prominent mathematician on the future of physics after Einstein, one expects W.W. Greg’s 1927 volume The Calculus of Variants: An Essay on Textual Criticism to be a thorough-going work of mathematics. It is all that, as well as a relentless work of logic. But it is also a book about evolution and, relatedly, about the family. “[A]ll manuscripts of a given work are derived (by transcription) from a single original,” Greg begins, and “The whole collection formed by the original together with all its descendants, in the particular relation in which they stand to one another, constitutes a family, which, like other families, has a genealogical tree” (1).[20] Greg is aware that his description of manuscript trees creates some static for his framing term, for he immediately adds in a note:

This distinguishes the genealogy of a manuscript (or any parthenogenic) family from that of a human family (or any in which sexual generation obtains). In the former [i.e., parthenogenic manuscripts] the genetic relation is always one-one or one-many[;] in the latter [i.e., sexual families] many-one or many-many. We have, however, in the case of conflation, a phenomenon in manuscript genealogy analogous to sexual generation, and giving rise to a many-one relation. (2n1, emphasis added)

“Conflation,” he nevertheless adds, “is outside the purview of the present essay.” I’m always interested when something lies outside the purview of the family. Naturally.

Persistent throughout the volume, Greg’s familial language is remarkable for a number of reasons: first, for the very queerness of the parthenogenic model of the manuscript family, a queerness he raises and then sets aside: a single “ancestor” who generates one or many descendants. (This is amply illustrated in the volume’s concluding diagram; see Fig. 1.) Greg doesn’t gender his manuscript-parents and children, but the very lack of gender may introduce an alternative mode of queerness into the model. Greg’s manuscripts reproduce themselves through a persistently familial, variant-producing, but non-heterosexual “budding” (not his term);[21] the sex here, if there is any, must surely be between the transcriber and the text. Transcriptional generation, the meeting of copy and copyist, is the primal scene of his family book, discreetly kept from view.



Figure 1, “Diagrams of Typical Families . . . ”

As I’ve already noted, Greg writes that “conflation” “lies beyond the scope of the calculus and cannot be properly discussed in these pages” (44). (“Twish,” he says.) “Anomalous groupings,” he adds, “can only be dealt with when the family relation has been established” (44n3, emphasis added). In a note appended at the end of the Calculus, however, Greg returns to the topic; he explains that, “By conflation, I understand the appearance in a manuscript of readings which are neither derived from the archetype (by continuous descent) nor are original variants of its own or any of its ancestors, but have been imported from some other line of descent” (56). “Some critics,” he writes, “term this ‘mixture’ or ‘contamination’” (56n1). Though Greg is characteristically asexualizing here in his rhetoric, I want to suggest that conflation – contamination, mixture, What You Will– is one of philology’s queer children.

I’m aware that Greg’s volume has little direct purchase on the editing of Shakespeare—barring some extraordinary new “family” of manuscripts that, say, drives up in its minivan, full of travel-weary children. But I dwell on Greg’s terms because, set in the midst of his otherwise clinical mathematical formulae, they show us starkly the normative framing power of terms derived from Lachmann’s highly influential genealogical method, and they do so in ways that do hold epistemic sway over twentieth- and twenty-first-century editing of Shakespeare and others. While designed for manuscripts, Greg notes that his method can also apply to printed texts (1n2), and of course New Bibliographic narratives of “foul papers” and promptbooks, now ably disintegrated by Paul Werstine’s rigorous empirical analysis, often bring drama editing into the realm of hypothetical genealogies and stemmatics.[22] (A “foul” paper—excremental, if elusive and highly desired—may of course be another of philology’s queer children. After all, it’s “From fairest creatures we desire increase.”[23])

Furthermore, as Joseph Grigely shows, New Bibliography’s emphasis on “deformity,” textual “defects,” and “corruption,” which I’ve elsewhere connected with Cold War lavender-scare rhetoric, is also usefully read in the context of earlier twentieth-century discourses of eugenics.[24] This language is sometimes audible in Greg’s Calculus, as when he speaks of a manuscript “of an admittedly inferior genetic group” of manuscripts (59, emphasis added). Grigely observes that “textual criticism is specifically a form of body criticism,”[25] and, reading Greg, we can notice the ways in which discourses of sexual and asexual reproduction, of dirt and contamination, of moral approbation, of non-normative sexuality, and of bodily integrity and disability all intersect to frame the philological methods upon which our edited texts stand.[26] Philology’s queer children have a complex genealogy – which itself exceeds genealogy per se.

* * *

My second example arose as I read in The Guardian in late 2016 that researchers behind The New Oxford Shakespeare edition “believe that computerised textual analysis is now so sophisticated that they can even distinguish between Shakespeare writing under Marlowe’s influence and Marlowe writing alone.”[27] Because, in editing Edward II, I’ve been thinking about Shakespeare’s relation to Marlowe, I went in search of the research behind the New Oxford’s claim, Gary Taylor and John V. Nance’s Shakespeare Survey article, “Imitation or Collaboration? Marlowe and the Early Shakespeare Canon.”[28] The essay, which is highly rigorous within its own protocols and paradigms, merits more detailed attention than I will give it here, but, in the context of analyzing philological methods, I want to draw attention to the distinction it seeks to make between what it calls “Identity,” which it asserts “is cellular and systemic,” and “Imitation,” which it presents as “selective and semiotic.” Imitation is further elaborated as “an aesthetic, empathic activity that produces an aesthetic, affective object.” Identity, by contrast, “is cellular, because the physical mechanisms that create biological identity are located in small, cellular or sub-cellular structures” (33, emphasis added). Taylor and Nance distance their work from what they describe as a merely genetic notion of forensic stylometry that would claim to “reveal[] ‘the [stylistic] DNA of an author’” (33). But their discussion immediately returns to the biological and physical in discussing “the neural network behind [Shakespeare’s] famously domed forehead” (33). A slippage becomes visible as identity moves in the essay from its status as “cellular” in the organic sense, to “cellular” in the sense of data: “Like an Excel document,” they contend, “identity is cellular and systemic”; an “identity-profile consists of a system of cells” in an Excel sheet that would ideally be “large enough to represent Shakespeare’s brain” (34).

There is more to be said about this account, its deployment of data, and its claims, but I bring it to your attention because it is foundational for some of the new attribution claims that are shaping Shakespeare studies and the Shakespeare editions we read, teach, stage, and study. Further, I hope those scholars not immersed in the details of attribution studies will engage with the way in which the essay works to generate a distinction familiar to – and long subject to critique in – gender study and queer thought. This is a distinction between, on the one hand, identity (which is to say, in this essay, “authorship”) as a first-order solidity, built on a foundation of organic, physical, biological nature (call it a “natural utterance”); and, on the other, imitative, second-order mimicry and mimesis, associated explicitly with aestheticism, affect, and emotion—“an aesthetic, empathic activity.” Recall Judith Butler on gender imitation and sexualities defined as second-order mimicry, or Annamarie Jagose on the sequential logics that have haunted the category of lesbianism as a back formation considered secondary and belated, or Lee Edelman on the ostensible ephemerality of queer pleasure vs. the ostensibly solid, certain, “Real” of reproductive futurity: Taylor and Nance’s “imitation” is visible as one of philology’s queer children.[29] Butler’s well-known resistance to the idea of gender as merely volitional imitation (or drag) is especially resonant; Taylor and Nance write that imitation, unlike identity, “is semiotic because it depends on pattern recognition: the [imitating] writer must first recognize a pattern in another person’s lexical or gestural language and then replicate that pattern to ensure that we also recognize” it (34, emphasis added). But, if I may dress up as Judith Butler doing attribution studies for a moment, all writing is drag, just not always volitional drag. In her analysis of early modern pedagogy in relation to dramatic writing, Lynn Enterline has persuasively shown that imitation and copying as foundational modes of textual production were physically beaten into early modern grammar-school students in psychologically complex ways, with psychologically complex writerly effects. There are strong historical reasons, in other words, to think through the non-volitional aspects of imitation early modern pedagogy inculcated in its writers.[30] Bodily. Systemically.

Why point toward philology’s queer children in ongoing attribution work? As with W.W. Greg above, a queer-philological approach can identify some of the intensely naturalizing rhetorics that inform attribution study’s influential scholarly protocols. The point is to recognize which queer children get shunted to the side—what modes of writing, what modes of textual transmission, are ignored or occluded through distinctions between natural, organic identity and volitional, aesthetically-tinged, “empathic” imitation. When one notices, even in the attribution data thus framed, that imitation and identity are not fully opposites but are on a continuum, when one notices how much “the usual random scatter” of data has to be placed to the side to produce the distinction,[31] one can begin to ask: what queerer forms of relationality may be operating in early modern writing? In another register, queer philology can also help us begin to think about what is at stake when early modern playwrights, in this data, are said to “come out on top” or to “dominate the results” in this or that attributional test—rhetoric used repeatedly across the text of the article (38, 41, 44, 45, 46).

* * *

Queerer forms of relationality. I’m interested in the distinction between Shakespeare writing under Marlowe’s influence and Marlowe writing alone in part because, in editing Edward II, I’ve been thinking about that play’s relationship to Shakespeare’s later Richard II, often said to be related to it. In that context, reading the attribution theory that is the foundation of the Oxford edition’s Marlowe claims is a reminder of forms of likeness, imitation (volitional or not), influence (Oedipally anxious or not), resemblance, conflation, and variation that do not tend to turn up in the work of contemporary attribution scholars. Taylor and Nance write that “only conspiracy theorists imagine that Marlowe wrote or co-wrote” Richard II, but such critical discourse imagines early modern play-writing only at a highly local, “cellular” level of the word, phrase, passage, or speech inscribed at a particular moment, rather than at a more structural or diachronic level. I join Paul Menzer’s excellent essay, “cf. Marlowe,” in desiring less property-laden conceptions of Shakespeare’s relation to Marlowe.[32] Is Marlowe’s Edward a “source”? “Parallel”? “Prototype”? “Template”? “Draft”? How about Richard II as “queer child of” Edward II—neither identity nor imitation? What protocols of identity and imitation will be broken, what queerer or clearer forms of relationality will be visible, if, thinking structurally, we title Richard II instead: 2 Edward II, or Edward the Second the Second ?[33]

Both Edward II and Richard II are of course deeply invested in the propriety of lineal descent and reproductive futurity, and I’ve suggested elsewhere the way in which Edward III, the descendant, incorporates, embodies, and/or (dare I say?) imitates, his father’s voice at the end of the play: “Traitor,” he says to Mortimer Junior, “in me my loving father speaks / And plainly saith . . .”[34] Edward III, this queer child or variant manuscript descendant with the imitative voice of a sodomite king, is the historical progenitor of Shakespeare’s history plays – which are derived, as Shakespeare parthenogenically emphasizes, from this “Edward’s seven sons . . . seven vials of his sacred blood, / Or seven fair branches springing from one root” (1.2.11-13; see Figs. 2-3).[35]



Figure 2, A genealogy of Shakespeare’s history plays, The Norton Shakespeare, 2nd edition, front endsheet pastedown.



Figure 3, Genealogies related to Shakespeares history plays, The Norton Shakespeare, 2nd edition, back endsheet pastedown.

This language suggests that, in Richard II, the voice of Edelman’s reproductive futurity is more traditional than that of a ghostly sodomite king. In Richard, it appears as well in the bishop of Carlisle’s prophesy warning against divergence from lineal succession: “[L]et me prophesy,” Carlisle says:

The blood of English shall manure the ground,
And future ages groan for this foul act.
Peace shall go sleep with Turks and infidels,
And in this seat of peace tumultuous wars
Shall kin with kin and kind with kind confound.
Disorder, horror, fear and mutiny
Shall here inhabit, and this land be called
The field of Golgotha and dead men’s skulls.
. . . .
Prevent it, resist it, let it not be so,
Lest child, child’s children, cry against you, ‘Woe!’.

From a queer-philological perspective there is much to observe here: the way in which a non-lineal future becomes associated with the rhetorics of sodomy, for example. “[T]his foul act” of Bolingbroke’s becomes excrementally mixed with blood and feces.[36] The confusions of incest and sodomy follow: “kin with kin and kind with kind confound.”[37] Heresy, often linked with sodomy, ensues: peace will bed down with Turks and “infidels,” themselves often associated by Europeans of the period with non-normative sexual practices.[38] Finally, in an extraordinary moment, the Children and grandChildren of Edelman’s reproductive Future are given a word of warning, an actual line in this play, to discipline the living: they’ll cry against you, “Woe!”[39] Listen to the Children; maintain the uncontaminated stemma; prevent sodomy. Harry Berger has famously highlighted the “future perfect” as a performative mode for King Richard,[40] but here it is the children who say not, “Woe is me,” but “Woe will have been you.” Woe, or Whoa?

Whoa—it is time to end this brief essay. Whoa, sometimes spelled woe and said to be descended from ho, a “natural exclamation.”[41] The natural utterance enjoins me to silence.



An earlier version of this essay was presented on the panel “Future Philologies” at the annual meeting of the Shakespeare Association of America in March 2018 in Los Angeles. I am grateful to Margreta de Grazia, Jay Grossman, and Bonnie Honig for comments and suggestions that have improved the essay.

[1] All quotations are from the OED Online as of March 2018.

[2] Emphasis added.

[3] Emphasis added.

[4] William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, ed. René Weis, Arden Shakespeare Third Series, 2012 (2.2.158-59).

[5] “A Treatise contayning a playne and perfect Description of Irelande . . . compyled by Richard Stanyhurst, and written to the Ryght Honorable, Syr Henry Sydney Knight” in Raphael Holinshed, The chronicles of England, Scotlande, and Irelande (London: for Iohn Hunne, 1577), f. 4v (sig. A4v); Richard Stanyhurst, trans., “OF A TEMPEST QVAYLING certeyn passengers borowed of thee same Syr Thomas Moore,” in Thee first foure bookes of Virgil his Aeneis translated intoo English . . . by Richard Stanyhurst, wyth oother poëtical diuises (Leiden: by Iohn Pates, 1582) 99.

[6] Quoting the Tudor legal statues, jurist Edmund Coke defines “Buggery, or Sodomy” as “a detestable, and abominable sin, amongst Christians not to be named, committed by carnall knowledge against the ordinance of the Creator, and order of nature”; The Third Part Of The Institutes Of the Laws of England (London: by M. Flesher, for W. Lee and D. Pakeman, 1644) 58.

[7] James Turner, Philology: The Forgotten Origins of the Modern Humanities (Princeton: Princeton UP, 2014).

[8] Sheldon Pollock, “Philology and Freedom,” Philological Encounters 1 (2016): 8, emphasis added.

[9] Qtd. in Anthony Grafton, The Defenders of the Text: The Traditions of Scholarship in an Age of Science, 1450-1800 (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1994) 3.

[10] In 1949, René Wellek and Austin Warren wrote that “[s]ince the word [philology] has so many and such divergent meanings, it is best to abandon it”; Theory of Literature (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1949) 29.

[11] Patricia Parker, Shakespearean Intersections: Language, Contexts, Critical Keywords (Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 2018).

[12] David Nirenberg, “Pre-Modern Race: Philology, Socio-Theology, History,” paper delivered at the Shakespeare Association of America, Toronto, March 28, 2013, and “Was There Race Before Modernity? The Example of ‘Jewish’ Blood in Late Medieval Spain,” in The Origins of Racism in the West, ed. Miriam Eliav-Feldon, Benjamin Isaac, and Joseph Ziegler (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2009) 232–64; Ian Smith, Race and Rhetoric in the Renaissance: Barbarian Errors (New York: Palgrave, 2009); Ania Loomba and Jonathan Burton, “Introduction,” Race in Early Modern England: A Documentary Companion (New York: Palgrave, 2007) 20.

[13] Paul Blank, “The Proverbial ‘Lesbian’: Queering Etymology in Contemporary Critical Practice,” Modern Philology 109.1 (2011): 108–24; Valerie Traub, “Talking Sex,” Chapt. 7 of Thinking Sex with the Early Moderns (Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 2016).

[14] Stephen Speiss, Shakespeare and the Making of English Whoredom (forthcoming, Oxford UP).

[15] Susan E. Phillips, “Schoolmasters, seduction, and slavery: Polyglot dictionaries in pre-modern England,” Medievalia et Humanistica, 34 (2008): 129-158; Marjorie Rubright, “Lexicography without Language,” paper delivered at the Renaissance Society of America, Berlin, March 26, 2015; Andrew Keener, “Staging Worlds of Words: Cosmopolitan Vernaculars in English Renaissance Drama,” Northwestern University diss., 2016.

[16] Jenny C. Mann, Outlaw Rhetoric: Figuring Vernacular Eloquence in Shakespeare’s England (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 2012).

[17] Jeffrey Masten, “On Q: An Introduction to Queer Philology,” Queer Philologies: Sex, Language, and Affect in Shakespeare’s Time (Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 2016).

[18] Seth Lerer, Error and the Academic Self: The Scholarly Imagination, Medieval to Modern (New York: Columbia University Press, 2002); Stephanie Jed, Chaste Thinking: The Rape of Lucretia and the Birth of Humanism (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1989).

[19] On contamination, see David Greetham, The Pleasures of Contamination: Evidence, Text, and Voice in Textual Studies (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2010)

[20] W.W. Greg, The Calculus of Variants: An Essay on Textual Criticism (Oxford: Clarendon P, 1927); all citations will appear parenthetically. Greg’s epigraph on Einstein is from A.N. Whitehead.

[21] As Greetham notes in his discussion of contamination in textual criticism, “[s]temmatics assumes a nonsexual, parthenogenetic biology of descent, for its two-dimensional space cannot adequately map a sexual system that combines features from different parents”; Pleasures of Contamination, 154.

[22] Paul Werstine, Early Modern Playhouse Manuscripts and the Editing of Shakespeare (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2013). Werstine’s book is a crucial resource for all scholars interested in W.W. Greg’s continuing impact on early modern textual studies and the editing of Shakespeare.

[23] SHAKE-SPEARES SONNETS (London: by G. Eld for T.T., 1609), sig. B1, emphasis added.

[24] Joseph Grigely, “Textual Eugenics,” Chapt. 1 of Textualterity: Art, Theory, and Textual Criticism (Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1995); Jeffrey Masten, “Spelling Shakespeare: Early Modern ‘Orthography’ and the Secret Lives of Shakespeare’s Compositors,” Chapt. 1 of Queer Philologies.

[25] Grigely, Textualterity 21, emphasis added.

[26] Greetham’s Pleasures of Contamination is also a useful critical text here.

[27] Dalya Alberge, “Christopher Marlowe credited as one of Shakespeare’s co-writers,” The Guardian (online edition), October 23, 2016 ( This editorial argument was widely reported in similar terms at the time. The New Oxford Shakespeare includes a number of volumes and online editions, the most relevant to this discussion are: Gary Taylor, John Jowett, Terri Bourus, and Gabriel Egan, gen. eds., The New Oxford Shakespeare: Modern Critical Edition (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2016), and Gary Taylor and Gabriel Egan, eds. The New Oxford Shakespeare: Authorship Companion (2017).

[28] Gary Taylor and John V. Nance, “Imitation or collaboration? Marlowe and the early Shakespeare canon,” Shakespeare Survey 2015: 32-47. Subsequent citations will appear parenthetically. For the New Oxford edition’s reliance on this work, see the introductory description of “internal evidence” in Gary Taylor and Rory Loughnane, “The Canon and Chronology of Shakespeare’s Works,” in Taylor and Egan, eds., New Oxford Shakespeare: Authorship Companion, 431, and the entry for 1 Henry VI; Gary Taylor, “Artiginality,” New Oxford Shakespeare: Authorship Companion, 13.

[29] Judith Butler, “Imitation and Gender Insubordination,” in Diana Fuss, ed., Inside/Out: Lesbian Theories, Gay Theories (New York: Routledge, 1991) 13–31; Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (New York: Routledge, 1990); Annamarie Jagose, Inconsequence: Lesbian Representation and the Logic of Sexual Sequence (Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 2002); Lee Edelman, No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive (Durham: Duke UP, 2004).

[30] See Lynn Enterline, Shakespeare’s Schoolroom: Rhetoric, Discipline, Emotion (Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 2012); Enterline, “Rhetoric, discipline, and the theatrically of everyday life in Elizabethan grammar schools,” in Peter Holland and Stephen Orgel, eds., From Performance to Print in Shakespeare’s England (New York : Palgrave Macmillan, 2006).

[31] On “random” or “insignificant” “scatter,” see Taylor and Nance, “Imitation or collaboration” 37, 38, 39, 42, 44, 45. On the dangers of “division as a function of analysis,” see D.F. McKenzie, “Stretching a Point: Or, The Case of the Spaced-out Comps,” Studies in Bibliography 37 (1984): 106–21.

[32] Paul D. Menzer, “cf. Marlowe,” in Jeremy Lopez, ed., Richard II: New Critical Essays (New York: Routledge, 2012). For a catalogue of the structural and other largely non-verbal resemblances between Edward II and Richard II, see Charles Forker, ed., King Richard II, Arden Shakespeare Third Series (London: Bloomsbury, 2002) 159-60.

[33] One implication is the inadequacy of the authorial “tetralogy” as a form to describe the writing of Shakespeare’s and Marlowe’s histories.

[34] Christopher Marlowe, Edward the Second, ed. Charles Forker, Revels Plays series (Manchester, UK: Manchester UP, 1994) 5.6.40-41. On the passage, see Masten, Queer Philologies, 172-73.

[35] Citations of Richard II refer to King Richard II, ed. Forker (cited above).

[36] Elsewhere in the speech: “heinous, black, obscene . . . dead” (4.1.132, 145).

[37] Coke influentially defined English “Buggery, or Sodomy” as “committed . . . by mankind with mankind, or with brute beast, or by womankind with bruite beast”; The Third Part Of The Institutes Of the Laws of England (London: by M. Flesher, for W. Lee and D. Pakeman, 1644) 58.

[38] See Loomba and Burton, “Introduction,” Race in Early Modern England, 18, and documented materials, passim; on the overlap and synonymity of heresy and sodomy in Northern European Protestant contexts, see Helmut Puff, Sodomy in Reformation Germany and Switzerland, 1400-1600 (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2003); and Jeffrey Masten: “Bound for Germany: Heresy, Sodomy, and a New Copy of Marlowe’s Edward II,” TLS, Dec. 21-28, 2012, 17-19. See also Jonathan Goldberg’s analysis of Marlowe allegations in “Sodomy and Society: The Case of Christopher Marlowe,” in Staging the Renaissance: Reinterpretations of Elizabethan and Jacobean Drama, ed. David Scott Kastan and Peter Stallybrass (New York: Routledge, 1991) 75–82.

[39] In No Future, Edelman capitalizes Child to designate the phantasmatic, representational nature of the category of the Child within the ideology of reproductive futurity.

[40] Harry Berger, Jr., Imaginary Audition: Shakespeare on Stage and Page (Berkeley: U of California P, 1991).

[41] See OED whoa, int. and n., and ho, int.1 and n.2, as well as ho, int.2 and n.3.

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Critical Semantics: New Transnational Keywords

This Colloquy arises from a 2018 MLA Convention session I organized on behalf of the Forum on Comparative Renaissance and Early Modern Studies. The original call for papers read simply: "Extend and critique Five Words: Critical Semantics in the Age of Shakespeare and Cervantes, Roland Greene's 2013 reorientation of early modern studies. What does Greene miss?


Craft a 'lightning talk' using one new keyword." As session organizer, I received a bumper crop of submissions, each passionately advocating for its own concept. Several papers extended Five Words in surprising ways, but only a handful took the further step of directly engaging Greene’s innovative "critical semantics" as a practice or method. Four of those composed the panel in New York City, and Roland Greene agreed to offer each of them a formal response. The resulting conversation brought diverse approaches to bear on a single focused intent: the deployment of philological skill to capture the flow and entanglement of ideas across European cultures. Although rooted in early modern studies, each contribution was quickened by twenty-first-century urgency, mobilizing critical semantics as an archaeology of what Arjun Appadurai would call transnational ideoscapes (1996: 36-37). The four papers and Greene’s response yielded powerful questions that overflowed our conference timeslot, and as audience members—including many whose excellent proposals I had been unable to include—expressed their admiration for the format as well as the speakers, it became clear that publication was warranted. We thank ARCADE for hosting this Colloquy as the next step in our conversation.

Our topic is timely, because we live in an age of keywords. They structure our research, our publications, and our teaching. From EEBO to Google n-grams, the keyword search has become a modern equivalent of dipping a pen into ink, where, as the nursery rhyme goes, "some find the thoughts they want to think." Humanists have learned from, or perhaps bowed to, scientific ways of mapping knowledge by digitally analyzing the strength and pattern of meaningful terms, which engineers call "keyword co-occurrence networks." When we submit abstracts for conferences or journals or course catalogues, keywords must be provided; indeed, for this Colloquy’s original panel the MLA program required five keywords—why must it be five?—that were not Roland Greene’s words or the titles of our presentations. But keywords today are not confined to bureaucratic subtexts. On the contrary, they increasingly structure the titles of scholarly lectures, articles, and monographs. Literary titles, which used to trade in riddling questions or ambiguous genitives, now unspool as paratactic lists: consider the examples of Franco Moretti’s Graphs, Maps, Trees (2005), Sianne Ngai’s Our Aesthetic Categories: Zany, Cute, Interesting (2005), and Caroline Levine’s Forms: Whole, Rhythm, Hierarchy, Network (2015). How starkly the listed terms differ from the neologisms of high theory! In fact, almost all the diction in these titles belongs to what Raymond Williams in 1976 called "a general vocabulary ranging from strong, difficult and persuasive words in everyday usage to words which, beginning in particular specialized contexts, have become quite common in descriptions of wider areas of thought and experience" (2014: xxvii). After all, the title of Keywords itself derives from a household object, no less important for being used every day.

For an object that is continually being declared obsolete, the physical key has proved astonishingly resilient. (Although smartphones can now unlock your house or car, Google has signaled the limits of virtuality by manufacturing a low-tech security key that physically authenticates users, supposedly reassuring them that their data is safe from hackers.) Yet the key’s stubborn materiality contrasts with the abstraction that some of Williams’s successors emphasize in their modern anthologies of keywords. A striking example is Keywords for Today, a 2018 volume produced by an Anglo-American scholarly collective and edited by Colin MacCabe and Holly Yanacek. This text variously updates, replaces or adds new entries to Williams’s collection of complex words. For our purposes, the additions and subtractions are telling: gone, for example, is the entry on materialism, while the very first entry explores a new keyword, which is abstract. In line with this remarkable substitution, some entries call attention to how twenty-first-century vocabulary shrinks from its material base, such as the evolution of market into the "hardened abstraction" of the market, with its tyrannical definite article (2018: 231). Other entries, however, seem blind to their own abstraction, as when image skims over the physical consequences of socially mediated aesthetics as distorted by technology. By contrast with Keywords for Today, Greene’s Five Words elaborates its critical semantics "by trying to make tangible what is often abstract and obscure" (2013: 8), offering literal analogues to its polysemous terms (the palimpsest for invention, the pendent for language, and so forth) in order to underscore the dynamic relay between the material and the discursive in early modern cultures.

Greene blazes two further pathways unfamiliar to modern literary taxonomists. The first is historical. By slowing the brisk diachronic sweep of keyword etymologies down to the Renaissance and Baroque, Greene tunes in to subtler rhythmic patterns, finding in the so-called "discovery of language in early modern Europe" not only new words but new relations between them: thus terms like tongue and language are described as "neither dependent on nor independent of one another," but instead "pendent" or reciprocally clarifying and energizing (53). Elsewhere, Greene catches terms in mid-transformation, charting how blood is redefined by the "literalism of the sixteenth century" and the "vitalism of the mid-seventeenth" (115). The other pathway is comparative. Williams long ago noted that "many of the most important keywords … either developed key meanings in languages other than English, or went through a complicated and interactive development in a number of major languages," but predicted that the necessary "comparative analysis" would require an "international collaborative enterprise" (2014: xxxi). The difficulty of such work is evident in the case of Keywords for Today, which explores only one term recognizably borrowed from beyond the Anglosphere—the Sanskrit karma, which is quite properly adduced to demonstrate "the danger of trying to limit English semantics to its traditional homelands" (2018: 207). Alert to such danger, in Five Words Greene has provided a single-authored study that boldly and succinctly takes up Williams’s internationalist challenge.

Or at least he has done so for the terms blood, invention, language, resistance, and world. "Many words," Greene writes, "are like these words," continuing: "I have envisioned extending this sort of project to every word on a given page by Rabelais, Sidney, or the Inca Garcilaso, distributing the terms to scholars with the injunction not only to explain their semantic changes over time but to set each discrete word in motion with the others" (2013: 14). Such is the gauntlet taken up by this ARCADE Colloquy. Each essay collected here is to double business bound: the authors have each chosen a single transcultural keyword from the early modern period, and they have set their keyword in motion with Five Words as well as cognate or "pendent" terms they find essential. The reader will observe that not all their words are nouns. Nor are their keywords all self-evidently "ordinary," and on occasion they explicitly put that descriptor under pressure. The contributors draw into the discussion features of early modern worlds that Five Words did not have the space to map, including visual culture (John Casey’s color), radical politics (Crystal Bartolovich’s common), the poetics of ecology (Vin Nardizzi’s grafting), and the philosophy of science (Debapriya Sarkar’s utopian). Far from some rote parataxis, however, these keywords allow the reader to adapt Greene’s tools for ever deeper exploration. On its publication, Five Words was lauded no less for its stylistic elegance than for its conceptual ambition. Bookended by that study and Greene’s generous response to the four initial essays, this Colloquy probes new interventions in literary studies and rewards the reader with unexpected results.


Appadurai, Arjun. 1996. Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Greene, Roland. 2013. Five Words: Critical Semantics in the Age of Shakespeare and Cervantes. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

MacCabe, Colin and Holly Yanacek, eds. 2018. Keywords for Today: A 21st Century Vocabulary. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Williams, Raymond. (1976) 2014.  Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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