ANNULÉE. Rachel HOLMES (University College London), « Romancing the Law : Genre as a Legal Space in Shakespeare »
When we think about genre and Shakespeare, we might think from a historicist perspective about the division of the First Folio into tragedies, comedies, and histories. Or, we might think (even more) retrospectively about tragicomedies or problem plays, late plays or romances. All of these terms speak to the categorisation of plays, but what happens when we think about how genre is working in Shakespeare’s works ? Jacques Derrida insists that ‘as soon as genre announces itself, one must respect a norm, one must not cross a line of demarcation, one must not risk impurity, anomaly, or monstrosity’. Drawing on Derrida’s argument that generic classifications are prohibitive to interpretation, I contend that in Shakespeare’s case, they detrimentally elide the generic ‘impurity’ of his works. Derrida calls the rigidity of this inviolable system ‘the law of genre’ and therefore explicitly invites the metaphorical association with Laws (in a legal sense) and their transgression. This figurative connection between genre and law drives this paper ; in particular, I will develop the idea that genre functions as a legal space. By this I mean not only by working within its own laws, but also by negotiating legal questions. Taking A Midsummer Night’s Dream as my example—a play housed with the comedies in the Folio—I will show how Shakespeare’s play thrives on uncertainty and indeterminacy at both the level of plot and of genre. Focusing on the play’s marriage plot(s) and intertextual connection with the Ovidian tale of Pyramus and Thisbe, I will demonstrate how this indeterminacy is driven by the legal uncertainties of early modern marriage and explore the ways in which comedy’s generic demands are playfully frustrated by this play’s ‘participation in’, to borrow Derrida’s term, other generic modes.
Dr Rachel E. Holmes is currently a Teaching Fellow in Shakespeare and Renaissance Literature at University College London and works transnationally on early modern European law and literature. Before joining UCL, she was a Research Associate at the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences, and Humanities (CRASSH) and the Faculty of English at the University of Cambridge and a Junior Research Fellow at Wolfson College, Cambridge. She has published articles in Studies in Philology, Forum for Modern Language Studies, as well as chapters in a number of edited collections and is currently revising for publication a monograph on clandestine contracts in early modern European law and literature for which she was awarded a Laura Bassi Scholarship as a junior academic in Summer 2019.