Surpassing Glass: Shakespeare's Mirrors
Philippa Kelly
University of New South Wales

Kelly, Philippa. "Surpassing Glass: Shakespeare's Mirrors." Early Modern Literary Studies 8.1 (May, 2002): 2.1-32 <URL:

Where 'ere thou go'st, I still will folowe thee, An indiuidual mate (Timon of Athens, I.ii, 1600)

Some make their god of Atoms, and indiuidual moates: some of diuidual numbers; as Epicurus, and Pythagorus (Martin Fotherby, Atheomastix, 1619)

Whether things indifferent in the general or unto many… be indifferent in the indiuidual to this or that particular man. (Thomas Jackson, Commentaries Upon the Apostles Creed Vol. 2, 5.5. 1613)

  1. The word "individual" traces a huge arc in meaning in early modern England. From "indiuidual moates" and the unwillingness to be divided from one's mate, the word moves from the indivisible to the very features that divide one particular man from another. By the time we reach its common usage in the nineteenth century, "individual" has settled into an unequivocal mark of singleness and autonomy: "An individual is that which cannot be divided without ceasing to be what it is" (1860 Thomas Laws Th. 56.86). [1] In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the concept of mirroring, developed from a burgeoning industry in glass mirror-making, was importantly linked to the complex realm of individuality through an abundance of artistic tropes. While it may be tempting to see the mirror as a Burkhardtian emblem of pre-modern self-consciousness, [2] this does not adequately address its relation to the debate about who, or what, 'the self' was. Social self-production was certainly served by the mirror - and it is the question of what this self-production involved, and what it aimed for, that is contentious. My interest is in mirrors and their social meanings, and, more specifically, in the capacity of mirrors in language to help shape the concept and practice of self-representation.

    The Making of Mirrors

  2. Glass mirrors date back to the third century A.D. in Egypt, Gaul, Asia Minor and Germany. These mirrors were very small, however (one to three inches in diameter), and the quality of reflection was not good. For many centuries, then, metal mirrors of steel, silver and gold were preferred until a technique was found for producing long, flat and thin glass, and artisans devised a way of spreading hot metal onto glass without causing breakage. [3] The term "mirror" referred to metal mirrors as well as to "water mirrors," crystal mirrors and mirrors of glass, while "looking glass" (or, less commonly, "seeing glass") designated mirrors made of glass compound. [4] By the end of the twelfth century looking glasses were revived, adopted first in Germany and Italy, and gradually reaching England. [5] A mixture of antimony and lead was heated two or three times. Molten resin was poured into the mixture, which was blown by means of a pipe into a spherical bowl with a hole in it. The bowl was shaken so that the mixture would spread around the inner wall, and the leftover liquid was drained out of the opening. The bowl was then left to stand until the amalgam had cooled and hardened, when it was cut in half to make two convex mirrors. Such mirrors provided a novel way of distorting the face. [6]

  3. In sixteenth-century Venice the production of glass mirrors became an important industry, and techniques for making mirrors were significantly refined. The round bowls used as moulds for convex mirrors were by the middle of the century replaced by glass cylinders that could be levelled out to make flat mirrors. The reverse side of a mirror was covered with an amalgam of tin and mercury, in the production of which a sheet of tinfoil was set on top of a table. On top of the foil the glassmakers poured pure mercury, and on top of that they placed a sheet of paper. Before it hardened, the glass, cut and flattened from the cylindrical mould, was lowered onto the paper. The artificers subsequently removed the piece of paper so that the glass would touch the surface of the mercury. They weighted the glass down to allow the excess mercury to seep out, leaving a thin layer which would bind itself to the tin, forming a backing. A month later a piece of metal was attached to this backing, and the resulting glass mirror gave a very good reflection. [7]

  4. Because they pushed the technology of the day to its limits, large glass mirrors were very difficult to make, and thus neither cheap nor readily accessible. [8] In mid-seventeenth century Venice a silver-framed looking glass, 115 cm by 65 cm, cost 8000 pounds, while a Raphael painting cost 3000 pounds. [9] Sabine Melchior-Bonnet suggests that on the continent, at least, the acquisition of large mirrors was linked to a person's lifestyle and craving for aristocratic connections rather than to the availability of personal resources. [10] Mirrors were frequently used in courtesans' toiletry, and, as Cathy Santore [11] and Sara Pennell have indicated, were important both in crafting a toilette and as artifacts that helped to define the intimacy of a dressing room. [12] Small, mass-produced glass mirrors were also produced in sixteenth-century Venice, making their way to England by the middle of the century. While these were not hugely expensive, their use was mainly for urbanites and those working at court, and mirrors the size of a powder compact were worn decoratively at the waist (by women) and in the cap (by men). [13]

  5. In exploring the availability of mirrors outside of urban and court circles I have looked at some regional inventories, an example of which is afforded by the parish of Darlington, a market town from which my own father's family originated. [14] Only two of the testators - both of them wealthier members of town - bequeathed looking glasses. The looking glass left by Mary Throckmorton [15] must have been of a reasonable size, given that it was valued, along with sundry small items, at six shillings, while another left by Mary Lascelles was valued at only one shilling and sixpence. [16] A set of twelve small glasses left by Anthony Dennis was valued at less than two shillings. [17] Given that a bed was valued at between two and six shillings, [18] a mare and foal with saddle and bridle was valued at four shillings, [19] a set of linen sheets could fetch anything between five and thirteen shillings, [20] and five bushels of wheat and rye were valued at sixteen shillings, [21] these looking glasses and small glass mirrors, though not to be sniffed at price-wise, were not beyond the means of country people. [22] But notwithstanding the affordability of small mirrors, they do not appear to have been considered particularly necessary or desirable.

  6. Amongst the more elevated classes, however, the small "seeing glass" was professionally useful, as service in court circles depended so heavily on personal grooming. In his conduct book, The Book of the Courtier, Castiglione offers praise for the courtier who shows "a meticulous regard for… personal appearance." But he also adds a caution in view of the rising fascination with this newly industrialized means of reflection, criticizing those rather excessive individuals who carry "a mirror in the fold of [their] cap[s] and a comb in [their] sleeve[s], … walking through the streets always followed by a page with a brush and sponge." [23] Mirrors, then, might serve an unseemly degree of concern with one's social persona.

  7. Because the system of patronage and coterie culture at work in the upper classes effectively nurtured poets, dramatists and visual artists, the circulation of the small glass amongst such people would offer a plausible explanation for the burgeoning interest in the mirror as a literary motif of self-scrutiny. But what exactly is meant by "self-scrutiny"? What was the self that the mirror motif was so often used to represent? The subtle social issues that press this question can be approached by examining the multiple ways in which mirror motifs gestured toward worldly conduct, spiritual issues, the cosmos, and, indeed, toward the shape staring back at the beholder from an often shadowy, opaque glass. [24]

    The Mirror as Trope

  8. Revelling in his self-conceit, Shakespeare's poet of Sonnet 62 peers into the looking glass, stopping short at the image of "myself indeed,/Beaten and chapped with tanned antiquity." [25] His looking glass reveals the upsetting disparity between the face he imagines he has and the face he owns. But it isn't just a physical reflection that he sees - it is also the "sin" of his own "self-love" that "possesseth all mine eye,/And all my soul, and all my every part." He ruefully recalls the alacrity with which he at first approached the mirror, expecting there to individuate himself from other, less worthy lovers:

    Methinks no face so gracious is as mine,
    No shape so true, no truth of such account,
    And for my self mine own worth do define…

    In his glass he sees reflected not just his individual face, but also his own ordinariness, his own mortality, and a foolhardiness that links him "indivisibly" to a "tanned antiquity" of other lovers. His trip to the mirror is thus a salutary one. No longer spry and self-loving, in a quasi-neoplatonic gesture he soberly offers to replace his own image altogether with that of the lover he had hoped to woo. His words become another kind of convex mirror, in one refracted image collapsing his individual vanity into a history of vanitas, while also counterpoising "thee" with "my self" to reflect "thy" beauties all the more sharply in his own relief.

  9. Shakespeare's complex system of reflections in Sonnet 62 evokes a speaking self that does all sorts of things in front of the mirror. It preens, self-castigates, peeps modestly from behind self-deprecating images, and even threatens to absent itself altogether. But is this a rhetorical self, and, if so, how far is it rhetorical? Does the trope of reflection work to display an individuated self or to mediate it as a social function? The pioneering work published by Stephen Greenblatt in 1981 laid the ground for two subsequent decades of critics who have speculated on autobiographical self-representation in the early modern period. [26] This debate finds a fascinating intersection in recent arguments developed by Debora Shuger and Sabine Melchior-Bonnet concerning the relationship between mirroring and autobiographical self-representation.

  10. Debora Shuger argues that mirrors in early modern English artistic practice - writings, paintings, woodcuts and the like - describe not a reflexive self-consciousness that might be seen to herald the birth of modern subjectivity, [27] but, in fact, the reverse: she suggests that while representations of mirrors reflected many things, they almost never revealed, or even purported to display, an individuated self. [28] They were instruments of correction; platonically-angled, upward-tilted mirrors intended to reflect paradigms of virtue; remembrances of mortality; and cruel reminders that sins like that of vanity must be punished. (They functioned, indeed, as all of the symbols toward which Shakespeare gestures in sonnet 62.) On this basis Shuger argues convincingly that the early modern mirror was not a Burkhardtian exemplar of the birth of an individuated self, but the mark of a culture that did not yet have a place, or a vocabulary for, the kind of "I" with which we are now so familiar.

  11. Shuger's thesis can be seen again and again to reverberate in visual and verbal artifacts from the period. In Milton's Paradise Lost, for example, Eve comes upon a "smooth lake" and stoops down to see a "Shape within the wat'ry gleam/Bending to look on me." Starting in bewilderment, she finds that "it started back," [29] suggesting less the self-loving narcissist than a child enchanted by a new companion whose movements are so in tune with its own (but not, however, the kind of modern Lacanian child who follows a trajectory toward individuation). [30] In Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror Parmigiano offers a visual emblem of the mirrored self as a contortion of art and nature. The artist has painted himself in a convex mirror on a specially prepared convex panel. The conflation of the mirror and the mirror image implies that art is more than an image of nature, and that perhaps the painter's illusion challenges the truthfulness of what we see and touch around us. For Sidney, reflections can distort the truth as convincingly as they can reveal it: if a writer's feigning "made David as in a glass see his own filthiness," [31] yet at times poetry's feigning needs to be countered by the "unflattering glass of reason." [32] And Donne's "The Good Morrow" concerns itself with the act of reflection that reveals the face of another, the capacity of this face to reveal the heart, and the image of a sphere through which these two reflected selves display the unity of the cosmos:

    My face in thine eye, thine in mine appears,
    And true plain hearts do in the faces rest;
    Where can we find two better hemispheres,
    Without sharp North, without declining West? [33]

  12. Donne's hemispheres - the reflective gazes exchanged between two lovers - represent the 'reality' that emerges from their union, while also alluding to the convex physical shape of the eye. If the eye is itself a convex mirror, then the question is left gaping from Donne's poem: does the eye distort a 'real' physical world, or is this physical world itself merely the creation of the eye, subject to the twists and tricks of perception? And in terms of the themes refracted through the mirror's glassy depths, they involve not individuation so much as the broader social themes of self-love, responsibility and mortality. John Ford assures us that the truth of the glass can surpass both nature and counterfeit:

    If you would see a beauty more exact
    Than art can counterfeit or nature frame,
    Look in your glass, and there behold your own… [34]

    In Ford's view the glass can penetrate beyond the countenance to mirror one's intentions. In Tears of Fancy Thomas Watson postulates rather that the "heart" of an adoring beholder distils the subject's spirit in a reflection more accurate than any cold glass: "With steadfast eyes she gazed on my heart./Wherein she saw the picture of her beauty…" [35] And Ben Jonson sees the mirror as exposing "the time's deformity/Anatomised in every nerve, and sinew,/With constant courage, and contempt of fear." [36] This alludes to a conventional association between the glass and anatomy, the exposure of organs that reflected secret truths.

  13. Mirrors, in this sense, offered a method not of recognizing an individuated self, but of representing a social self. Mirrors were a means of self-correction, of self-abasement in the eyes of God, or a picture of folly. [37] Leonardo used the mirror as a figurative tool, instructing the painter to "keep his mind as clear as the surface of a mirror, which assumes colours as various as those of the different objects." [38] The mirror could be seen as a touchstone of clarity more real than 'reality' itself. [39] More abstract images of reflection are offered by Descartes and Sir Thomas Browne. For Descartes, while the corporeal is known through its reflection in the mind's eye, the 'thing' cannot be confused with its reflection: "physical things, the images of which are formed in my thought and which the senses themselves explore, are much more distinctly known than the unknown me who is outside the scope of the imagination..." [40] While the body is anatomically divisible, moreover, the soul (for Descartes, synonymous with the mind) is not:

    we can understand the body only as divisible whereas, in contrast, we can understand the mind only as indivisible. Nor can we conceive of half a mind, as we can of even the smallest body. Thus their natures are recognized as being not only distinct but even in some sense opposites. [41]

    Browne, in his 1642 tract Religio Medici, also uses the mirror motif to identify the relation of body to soul, contending that earthly knowledge is transmitted to the angels through mirroring:

    If they have that intuitive knowledge, whereby, as in reflection, they behold the thoughts of one another, I cannot peremptorily deny but they know a great part of ours. [42]

    Browne goes on to argue for the "inorganic" nature of the soul through a triple negative ("Nor, truly, can I peremptorily deny that the soul…[is] inorganical"), [43] suggesting as evidence the fact that the products of bestial acts are not merely beasts, but have also "an impression and tincture of reason in as high a measure." [44] "Sense," the property of animals and humans, is organic; but the "soul," belonging to humans alone, is not an organ. The body speaks to both the corporeal sameness and the ineffable difference between man and beast: " …for in the brain, which we term the seat of reason, there is not anything of moment more than I can discover in the crany of a beast…Thus we are men, and we know not how…" [45] And if "we know not how" we are men, then perhaps, as he contends above, we come closest to an understanding of our humanness through the reflection that is "intuitive."

    Artful Individuation: Mirrors and Movement

  14. In all of these diverse contexts, mirrors have a highly social and instructive function. Debora Shuger concludes that while people four centuries ago wouldn't have hesitated to use an available mirror to remove spinach from their teeth, the mirror as trope had a special function. Rather than a preemptive sign of our own contemporary, post-industrial individuality, it was indeed the opposite. It designated a self that lacked "reflexivity, self-consciousness, and individuation, and hence differ[ed] fundamentally from what we usually think of as the modern self." [46] Shuger's early modern subject is not uninterested in the relation of the reflected self to the cosmos: far from it, this subject uses the mirror as a highly emblematic means of exploring the boundaries and the complexities of this relation. But Shuger sees the mirror motif itself as profoundly mediaeval in the way in which it represents a self that "is not identical to oneself but like it - a significantly similar other prior to about 1660." It reflects "those whom one will or does resemble" rather than oneself. [47]

  15. In context with Shuger's compelling argument it is useful to consider Sabine Melchior-Bonnet's much broader book-length study, The Mirror: A History. [48] Like Shuger, Melchior-Bonnet argues for the mirror's symbolic representation of selfhood. The early modern mirror was "a tool of precision and control in the teaching and enforcement of civility," though

    not yet an instrument of individual rights even if it allowed the possibility of a solitary interaction with the self. The feeling of selfhood that the mirror awakened was a conflictual one of modesty or shame, consciousness of the body and of one's appearance under the watchful eye of another. [49]

    Melchior-Bonnet also stresses, however, the fracturing capacities of the mirror. Whereas its medieval function was in keeping with a universe that was "closed, circular, and susceptible to being deciphered," the early modern period no longer assumed "a structured universe by which one could rise from an inferior sphere to a superior one." The mirror, once used as a reflection of God's perfection in man's imperfect being, now "imposes distance and separation within a formerly closed system." [50] In terms of this topos the man who sees himself in God sees a reflection of God's power, so that resemblance is apprehended not in symbolic forms, but in sensory ones. In the discovery of the physical, sensory reflection of God in his own image, man enters "a new experience of subjectivity." Thus painters like Van Eyck use the mirror image to suggest their own presence in a painting - and the painter, by portraying "himself in the form of a miniscule silhouette in the divine eye-mirror, precisely at the vanishing-point of the painting," signifies the infinite. The invisible is made present within the visible. In this way "the mirror…lends itself to self-examination and interior dialogue. The eye-mirror of the humanist presents a new way of looking at the world, but it continues to situate itself at the core of a system of correspondences and analogies akin to the medieval mirror." [51]

  16. The arguments put forward by Shuger and Melchiori enable a fascinating convergence of the physical and the iconic, the emblematic and the instructive, in using the mirror to negotiate the meaning of early modern selfhood. My own concern is with the relationship between language and the volatile, destabilizing associations of mirroring in self-representation. [52] In entwining the physical with the emblematic, the mirror rooted the seeing self in the realm of pre-modern non-reflexivity while gesturing toward those spaces and hidden depths within the self for which there was as yet no vocabulary. Real as well as figurative, the mirror's physical reflected image spun the act of reflection into a series of often unstable epistemological uncertainties and anxieties. As an artistic function, the mirror commonly offered not a flat, stable reflection of, for instance, mortality, or vanitas, but something else: in a conflation of refracted images, it was marked by transition, moving from a physical function to a variety of often contradictory speculations. It is for this reason that so many of the mirrors represented visually and verbally are convex; representing more than one individuated image, they reflect an unstable range of speculations about the place of the "I" in a world marked by enormous changes in cartography, the shape of the earth, and the shape of the universe itself. [53] And in "reflecting" the radical instability of the "I," the mirror posits the specular as the means of social speculation.

  17. I suggest, then, that the observer, as represented in early modern literature and art, sees himself mirrored in a multiplicitous, and often self-contradictory, way. What one sees is both familiar and unsettling, emblematically reassuring as well as cosmologically unstable. The physical image in the mirror spins into a kaleidoscope of literary and visual associations, becoming a radically unstable trope of transition. And this is what we find in the multiple reverberations, the echoes, the twists and contortions, the physical and cosmological speculations, embedded in the language of mirrors and reflections.

  18. "My looking glasse doth not amaze me," claims Montaigne in 1575. Looking into his glass, he notes a degeneration in "my face and eyes" so severe that "I often move my friends to pitty, ere I feele the cause of it." "…[E]ven in my youth," he continues,

    it hath divers times befaln me, so to put-on a dusky looke, a wan colour, a troubled behaviour and of ill presage, without any great accident; so that the Physitions perceiving no inward cause to answer this outward alteration, ascribed the same to the secret minde or some concealed passion, which inwardly gnawed and consumed me. They were deceived: were my body directly by me, as is my minde, we should march a little more at our ease… I am of the opinion, that this her temperature hath often raised my body from his fallings: he is often suppressed, whereas she, if not lasciviously wanton, at least in quiet and reposed estate. I had a quartan ague which held me foure or five months, and had altogether disvisaged and altered my countenance, yet my mind held ever out, not onely peaceably but pleasantly….


  19. It is clearly a consideration of his physical image that moves Montaigne to speculations on his soul and its relation to his body. But he is not alone in this. Consider also the Earl of Essex's statement that

    He that thinkes he hath, or wisheth to have, an excellent face, noe sooner is tould of any spott or uncomelines in his countenaunce then he hyes to shew himself to a glasse, that the glasse may shew againe his true likenes unto him.

    On one level we might entertain a compellingly familiar image of the Earl, like any of us today in a restaurant bathroom, anxiously checking his face in the glass to compare corporeal reality with report. But the word "again" is arresting. It suggests that no matter what sores or spots may visit the complexion, the mirror will take the observer back to another visage. This could be an act of repetition that restores a familiar unblemished state; or it could be an act of idealization that "restores" an ideal, platonically-inflected, beauty. There is a strong sense, then, of the mirror as something unfixed, or as a means of transit. In revealing the physical spot on your face, the mirror offers also a likeness that is implicitly either retrospective or ideal, or both. Thus the Earl goes on to say that the mirror can accurately reveal both the blemish and a state of perfection; and that, likewise, a true friend can recall one to a spiritual countenance unblemished by present sin:

    The same curiositye moves me, that desire to have a fayre minde, to shew the true face and state of my minde to my true freind, that he like a true glasse (without injury or flattery) may tell me whether nature or accident have sett soe fowle a blemish in it as my accusers pretend. I am charged that either in affection or opinion, or both, I preferre warr before peace, and soe consequently that all my actions, counsells and endeavours doe tend to keepe the state of England in contynuall warrs, espetially att this tyme when some peace may be had and I only impugne it...'

  20. Ever the courtier alert to the slightest imperfections in his outward mien, the Earl is accustomed to checking his physical appearance in the glass. But in its literary manifestation, the mirror holds this physical image in the very moment of transforming it into a series of speculations. The truth-telling capacities of the (literal and figurative) glass are counterpoised with the false images reflected back on the Earl by those who assess his body as a part of a wider social organism. In this relatively simple passage, Essex thus nonetheless presents a kaleidoscope of mirrors, countering each persepective with a series of others: the physical mirror in which the subject looks at himself; the truthful gaze of the friend who faithfully mirrors back to him his physical imperfections; the friend's simultaneous capacity to serve as a mirror for his moral self-correction; the reflection of this moral countenance in the speaker's outward mien; and the sullying (and implicitly inaccurate) reflection thrown back at the speaker by the eyes of the world. In enabling the very function of self-scrutiny, these multiple reflections also imply the subjection of any image thus garnered to the vagaries of perception, both private and public.

  21. Essex's mirror motif makes a fascinating comparison with an anonymous description of his father, Walter Devereux, who had called for a mirror at his deathbed twenty-two years earlier. In this description the looking glass functions as a nexus for the first Earl's literal and metaphoric gaze:

    This daye in the morninge about six of the clocke he called for his looking glasse and, looking in it, he asked of us, why do yow thinck that I looke in the glas? It is not for pride, but I hadd almost forgottest my favor and I looke in the glas that I might carie the remembraunce of my countenance with me that I shall apeare with before my Lord Jhesus Christ. [57]

    The mirror indeed "reflects" not the elderly Earl's "favor," which he has "almost forgot" anyway, but a passage from the New Testament:

    Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. [58]

    And the Biblical echo itself evokes a mass of associations. It suggests an image of the first Earl prudently composing himself in his final hours to meet his Maker. The Biblical precedent implies that the Earl is so at one with God's Word that he does not know himself apart from this Word. Alternatively, it is possible that this representation of the Earl has been carefully composed by subsequent report. Either way, the mirror motif provides a complex and reverberative system of unstable reflections for the Earl. Compounding the literal word of God with a vigilant sense of worldly sprezzatura, he perfectly mirrors the Biblical figure who gives over his self to God and is content to see himself only through reflection; and in comporting himself under his final duress in a manner ideally suited to a man about to meet his maker, he maintains the grace of the ideal courtier.

  22. But aside from the multiple levels of mirroring offered by its Biblical connotations, the passage has a deeper relation to self-fashioning in an existential sense. In the very act of peering into a glass, the dying man suggests a self that he doesn't know. Its favour is "almost forgot." Perhaps he has indeed moved beyond this physical self to a state of tranquility; or perhaps his self-image is so fractured and uncertain that he cannot "know" it if it is not staring back at him. A further point of interest is provided by the way in which both father and son are described in terms of the mirror as a means of self-scrutiny that combines intimacy and display. In this shared trope they afford their own generational form of "mirroring." For both Earls, mirrors provoke speculation, challenging the reality of the very physical images they define. Reflection may stabilize an image - you look into the mirror and see the outlines of your self - but in this act it destabilizes, too. It suggests the multiplicity of perspectives from which your self can be known, and the diversity of functions that it serves. As we shall see in the next section, this theme continually resonates in Shakespeare's use of mirrors. Language is itself for Shakespeare a powerfully self-reflexive mirror.

    Mirrors in Shakespeare

  23. In Antony and Cleopatra, Meneneus calls Antony "a spacious mirror" that has been "set before" Caesar. But this mirror cannot be sustained. Caesar describes himself and Antony as horses "stalled" together, so that either the mirror or the image is inevitably destroyed:

    I must perforce
    Have shown to thee such a declining day
    Or look on thine; we could not stall together
    In the whole world. (Antony and Cleopatra V.1.38-41)

    For Caesar, mirroring thus involves a question of dimension. Not only does the mirrored image provided by Antony need to be sufficiently spacious to reflect to Caesar his own dimensions: but having seen these dimensions, Caesar realizes that because the world isn't big enough for the two of them, one of them must go. Yet the reflected self depends on its mirror. In destroying his means of self-recognition Caesar also loses his own image, suggesting that no matter how impressive its dimensions, the reflected subject still depends on, and is as fragile as, the mirror. Moreover, in looking to another to reflect oneself, as Caesar does with Antony, one finds the measurement not only of what one "is," but also of what one is not. This sense of lack is expressed more wistfully by the poet in Sonnet 29: "Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,/ Featur'd like him, like him with friends possess'd."

  24. Dimensions, too, are the concern of the "strange fellow" whose book about self-knowledge Ulysses is reading in Troilus and Cressida:

    A strange fellow here
    Writes me that man-how dearly ever parted,
    How much in having, or without or in-
    Cannot make boast to have that which he hath,
    Nor feels not what he owes, but by reflection…
    (Troilus and Cressida III.3.95-99)

    "Making boast," and "feeling" what one "owes," involve sizing oneself up socially. Mirrors - social reflections - make available to those who will recognize them the size of their deserts and proper attributes. In so doing, mirrors reflect the "heat" of interiority. Ulysses continues:

    As when his virtues shining upon others
    Heat them, and they retort that heat again
    To the first giver. (Troilus and Cressida III.3.100-102)

    In this image Ulysses conflates the mirror with the retort, an apparatus used in alchemy for heating and distilling liquids, to suggest that actions or qualities are as nothing in themselves. Virtue is not seen without being reflected, nor felt without a heat that responds. And in Julius Caesar Cassius likewise implies that the dimensions of a "hidden worthiness," unseen by Brutus in himself, can be properly apprehended through reflection. Cassius laments

    …that you have no such mirrors as will turn
    Your hidden worthiness into your eye
    That you might see your shadow. (Julius Caesar I.2.56-58)

    But this exhortation carries its own ambiguity. In the very act of looking into a mirror, you find not yourself, but, indeed, "your shadow," the shifting shape of what you seem to be in a moment of self-appraisal. This shadow will change with the shifting of the sun, the movement of the glass, and, by association, with the movement of the gaze.

  25. In all of these examples, Shakespeare's mirrors are not only a means of displacement, but a means of transition, in which the ephemeral nature of self-representation is signalled in the very moment of expression. Consider the images of parting and declining: "Have shown to thee such a declining day/Or look on thine" (Antony and Cleopatra); "how dearly ever parted…nor feels not what he owes/But by reflection…" (Julius Caesar). Movement is implicit in Troilus and Cressida's heating and retorting ("Heat them, and they retort that heat again/To the first giver…"), and in Cassius' "mirrors as will turn" (Julius Caesar). Mirrors suggest uncertainty about the substance of the self and how it is manifested. Incredulously observing Lady Anne's apparent estimation of him as a "marv'lous proper man," the misshapen Duke of Gloucester in Richard III vows to maintain this unlikely image through the services of a "looking glass" and "a score or two of tailors" (1.2.242-43). But far from maintaining this illusion, the glass reveals it for the ephemeral passing fancy that it is: "Shine out, fair sun, till I have bought a glass,/That I may see my shadow as I pass" (1.2.249-50). For Shakespeare, then, the mirror is a trope of displacement that evokes the shifting shape of identity in modes of social exchange.

  26. In Sonnet 24 Shakespeare takes the conventional conceit of homage paid and received in the act of reflection, exploring the ambiguity at the heart of this conceit: the face of the adored becomes the site of a self at once familiar and unfathomable, at once functional and obscure. The presence of both subject and object is challenged by the reciprocal reflections that mark acts of social exchange. In a tightly woven but discordant movement from quatrain to quatrain, the sonnet plays on the process of reading a series of changing reflections:

    Mine eye hath play'd the painter and hath stell'd
    Thy beauty's form in table of my heart;
    My body is the frame wherein 'tis held,
    And perspective it is the painter's art.
    For through the painter must you see his skill,
    To find where your true image pictured lies;
    Which in my bosom's shop is hanging still,
    That hath his windows glazed with thine eyes.
    Now see what good turns eyes for eyes have done:
    Mine eyes have drawn thy shape, and thine for me
    Are windows to my breast, where-through the sun
    Delights to peep, to gaze therein on thee;
    Yet eyes this cunning want to grace their art;
    They draw but what they see, know not the heart.

    In the first quatrain the poet describes himself as painting his subject's beauty. The poet is also the willing frame for this beauty, holding it in "perspective" in his body. The word "perspective" anticipates the second quatrain, in which he explains why his art can reflect the subject more truly than any other means: it is through his "skill" that he captures the subject's image, hanging it safely within his own "bosom." In the second quatrain this act of mirroring also captures the attention of his subject, for s/he must look into the poet in order to appreciate the skilful reflection of her/himself. The third quatrain plays on the reciprocity of mirroring. With the subject happily focussed on her/his own reflection, the poet is himself free to feast on his subject's eyes; and in so doing he sees his own reflected self, which has become the willing storehouse of his loved one's image. In the act of imaging this beauty, therefore, the poet most truly sees himself. In the final couplet, however, the poet pauses with a "yet," realizing that because he cannot see into his subject's heart, it is impossible to see himself truly through reflection. For Shakespeare, it seems, the act of mirroring might enable selves to be revealed more "truly" through the shrinking, enlarging, engorging or distortion of dimension; but paradoxically, in this very drive, the mirror admits the elusiveness of interiority. And in this paradox is both constant displacement and constant movement.

    Anatomy and Language: See What Breeds About Her Heart

  27. As we have seen above, Shakespeare evokes the mutability of the mirror through a self-conscious emphasis on the function of language. Language is a means of distilling and 'reflecting' reality - yet language is slippery, undependable. Shakespeare returns again and again to the subject of language, what it seeks and what it continually displaces: the truth about motive, the truth about treachery, the truth about truth itself. Consider Edgar's anatomically-framed response to the death of the servant Oswald in King Lear. Searching through the dead servant's pockets to discover a letter he has left for Edmund, Edgar excuses his own breach of courtesy by noting that the alternative is a savage breach of the law:

    Leave, gentle wax; and, manners, blame us not.
    To know our enemies' minds, we'ld rip their hearts;
    Their papers, is more lawful. Reads the letter
    (King Lear IV.6.259-261)

    In a stunning physical conceit (and with uncharacteristic irony), Edgar opens the letter, exposing its words as a lawful, though bad-mannered, alternative to ripping open his enemies' bodies to reflect the corruption at their hearts. [59]

  28. The ever-scrupulous Hamlet, however, notes that it is never such a simple thing to match the interior with the outer mask. In an image of exposure that associates verbal disclosure with the digging-out of a "rank" interior, Hamlet begs his mother:

    Mother, for love of grace,
    Lay not that flattering unction to your soul
    That not your trespass but my madness speaks.
    It will but skin and film the ulcerous place,
    Whiles rank corruption, mining all within,
    Infects unseen. Confess yourself to heaven;
    Repent what's past; avoid what is to come;
    And do not spread the compost on the weeds
    To make them ranker. (III.4.144-152)

    Hamlet sees performance as a possible means of reflecting inner corruption, holding "as t'were, the mirror up to nature" (III.2.22). But the very activity that engenders visual and verbal display is also something that makes the prince deeply sceptical. Note his mocking summation of Laertes:

    to divide him inventorially would dozy th' arithmetic of memory - his semblable is his mirror, and who else would trace him, his umbrage, nothing more. (V.2.113-120)

    Osric: Your lordship speaks most infallibly of him.

    Hamlet: The concernancy, sir? Why do we wrap the gentleman in our more rawer breath? (V.2.122-123)

    In claiming that words fall short of reflecting Laertes' greatness, Hamlet ironically alludes to the fact that words can never stabilize what they purport to represent - they can offer only a "semblable," confounding the man who would trace them for meaning. And in an aside, Horatio says of Osric's praise for Laertes: "His purse is empty already. All's golden words are spent" (V.2.130-131). In being "spent" already, words no longer aptly represent intention, nor the context in which they were delivered.

  29. And it is here that Hamlet marks the paradox of language, reflection and interiority. While the sceptical prince may mock verbal and physical display for their incapacity to "denote me truly" - to body him forth as accurately as would the dissection of his organs - short of physical dissection it is only through words and pictures that one can reflect, and thus "know," one's dimensions at all, or those of others. Hamlet is fascinated by the notion of an interiority that cannot be reflected by the transitory medium of verbal and physical signs. Yet he realizes also that these outward signs are all one has to represent the self; and, moreover, that the self is by its nature elusive and shifting. Hamlet is fraught with this uncertainty, as the protagonist yearns to believe in the intentions he sees reflected in the words and appearances of others: the hasty marriage of Claudius with his mother, the entry of the ghost, the conduct of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. But he finds that he cannot abandon his scepticism not only about the intentions themselves, but also about the shifting corporeal contexts in which they are framed.

  30. This theme is reiterated over and over in Shakespeare's works. In Macbeth, for example, the bloody sergeant tells of "brave Macbeth" who "carved out his passage till he faced the slave," refusing to "bid farewell…Till he unseamed him from the nave to the chops" (I.2.21-23), exposing his inner corruption. If "words" and "wounds" can "smack of honour both" (I.2.44), they can be shifted to "smack" of, or reflect, something altogether else. The same Macbeth once valorized for slaughter (gloriously bathed in "reeking wounds" [I.2.39]) is denounced at the play's end as "this dead butcher…" (V.9.35). Or consider Othello, where Othello's image of "close/dilations, working from the heart" (III.3.123) unwittingly suggests that the more Othello works to "dilate," or expand, "the truth" at the heart of what he sees, the more surely meaning itself dilates outward, defying the "ocular proof" he demands. [60] Othello, as Iago well knows, "thinks men honest that but seem to be so" (I.3.399-400). Othello can't afford the insecurity of seeing in Iago a "false disloyal knave": he has to believe his ensign's vow that "men should be what they seem" (III.3.127), that Iago's outside reflects the truth of what lies within. As meaning "dilates" outward, however, its dimensions become ever less recognizable to the confused protagonist:

    Lie with her! Lie on her!- We say lie on her, when they belie her.- Lie with her! That's fulsome.-Handkerchief-confessions-handkerchief!To confess, and be hang'd for his labour;-first, to be hang'd, and then to confess…It is not words that shake me thus. [61]

    Othello does not understand the unreliability of reflections, which, after all, are only as substantial as the words in which we choose to frame them. As he slams together words and phrases in a hapless attempt to reorient himself, he unwittingly embodies Montaigne's assertion that "the world is nothing but babbling" anyway, before we learn the "subtle and intricate" art of stringing it together through discourse. [62]

  31. This paradox, in Shakespeare's writings, fuels the circulation of the mirror motif. Display is all one has to represent the self. Yet "that within" evades one's gaze, perhaps because it surpasses show, or perhaps because it passes by show. [63] The question is left hanging, in other words, as to whether Hamlet's brain-teaser gestures toward anything more solidly "individuated" than the retrospective imposition of early modern individuality by anxious literary scholars. But what is clear is that the early modern English self is a complexly diverse product of social duties and offices, and that its shifting, "dilating" and unstable nature constantly evades the dimensions of display. The "self" - that which Hamlet seeks, the "self" that refuses expression in the very act of invitation - is embodied in the ephemeral shapes offered by the unfathomable glass. It is, after all, this unfathomability that finds its comedic expression in Bottom's dream that is present because experienced, and which yet "hath no bottom" (A Midsummer Night's Dream, IV.1.216).

  32. Perhaps nowhere is the ambiguity of the mirror more tellingly expressed than at the end of King Lear, when the old King tells his servant: "Lend me a looking glass" (5.III.262.) This request draws on the famously iconic image in Richard II, 4.I, in which the deposed king calls for a glass: "Give me that glass, and therein will I read./No deeper wrinkles yet? Hath sorrow struck/So many blows upon this face of mine,/And made no deeper wounds?" [64] Finding that the 'objective' reality of the mirror fails to manifest his broken self, Richard smashes the glass, using his own imagination to see reflected the fragility of his fate: "For there it is, crack'd in an hundred shivers./Mark…How soon my sorrow hath destroy'd my face." [65] Richard is all too aware of the discrepancy between what the glass gives us and who we think we are, and of the impossibility of matching the one with the other except through the whims of imagination. But such is not the case with a later ex-king, an elderly and ailing one who indeed mirrors his predecessor in a tragically ironic trope of transition. In King Lear's final scene, Lear's eager request for the looking glass is intimately invested with his aspiration and despair; yet the pace of his last speeches is such that perhaps there is never time for the mirror to be brought to him. [66] But regardless of whether or not he gets to put the glass to Cordelia's lips, Lear knows that while he looks for life, he must yet howl out its absence to the men of stones (King Lear V.3.262-63). For the audience, the surface of Lear's mirror - whether actual or imagined - thus suggests a terrible irony: no matter how he may look to it to reflect the objective 'truth' of Cordelia's breathing, in the end the glass displaces his gaze, transforming it into the subjective force of his own wishing. This wishing is only as substantial, and as mutable, as his words: and words themselves are like the vacant depths of a glass, bodying forth shapes that are gone in an instant.


1. Oxford English Dictionary (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1933), V, 223.

2. Debora Shuger discusses this temptation in her fascinating article, "The 'I' of the Beholder: Renaissance Mirrors and the Reflexive Mind", Renaissance Culture and the Everyday, ed. Patricia Fumerton and Simon Hunt (Philadelphia: Pennsylvania UP, 1999), 19-36.

3. Sabine Melchior-Bonnet, The Mirror: A History, trans. Katharine H. Jewett (New York: Routledge, 2001), 112-13. Melchior-Bonnet gives an extensive account of the history of mirror-making, as well as the iconographic functions of the mirror throughout the centuries.

4. See Herbert Grabes, The Mutable Glass: Mirror Imaging in Titles and Texts of the Middle Ages and the English Renaissance (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1982), 70-74.

5. Grabes, 71.

6. Convex mirrorrs were not new, of course. Classical metal mirrors were generally slightly convex.

7. For a detailed description of the making of mirrors in Venice, see S.N. Popova, Istoria Zerkal, [History of mirrors]., Voprosy Istorii [USSR] 1982 (5): 184-188. Please note: this article is not available in translation. Thank you also to Peter Alexander of the University of New South Wales for informally sharing with me his knowledge of the history of glassmaking.

8. See Popova above, 186-87; Herbert Grabes, The Mutable Glass, 70-93; and Melchior-Bonnet, 30.

9. Melchior-Bonnet, 30. Note that Popova, in her paper, puts the pricing very differently: the mirror at 68000 lira, the Raphael painting at 3000 lira (roughly one twenty-second of the price).

10. Melchior-Bonnet, 29.

11. Cathy Santore, "The Tools of Venus," Renaissance Studies 11.3 (1997), 179-193.

12. For example, Pennell says of the early modern bed-chamber that it was "at once a 'venue' for intimacy and for social gathering (at times of lying-in, death, and illness), and the objects amassed to decorate it spoke not only to their owners, but to those privy to such bedside social encounters" ("Consumption and Consumerism in Early Modern England," The Historical Journal 42.2 [1999], 555. See also Melchior-Bonnet, 28.

13. See Grabes, 71 and Melchior-Bonnet, 23.

14. Darlington Wills and Inventories 1600-1625, ed. J.A. Atkinson et. al. (Newcastle-Upon-Tyne: Athenaeum P, 1993).

15. Darlington wills and Inventories, 172.

16. Mary Lascelles, 1616, Darlington wills and Inventories, 152.

17. Dennis 1611, Darlington wills and Inventories, 112.

18. Compare Margery Lassells , 1616, Darlington wills and Inventories, 154, with Mary Throckmorton, 1620, Darlington wills and Inventories, 172.

19. Thomas Robinson, 1612, Darlington wills and Inventories, 121.

20. Compare Cuthbert Corneforth (41), 1616, Darlington wills and Inventories 148, with Mary Throckmorton (48), 172.

21. John Corker, Darlington wills and Inventories, 164.

22. It is interesting that English inventories right into the late seventeenth century list looking glasses as a commonly inventoried possession specific to the gentry and the lower echelons of the upper classes. For more on this subject, see, for example, Lorna Weatherill, "A possession of one's own: women and consumer behaviour in England, 1160-1740", Journal of British Studies 25.2 (1986): 131-156.

23. Baldassare Castiglione,The Book of the Courtier, trans. Thomas Hoby (Harmondsworth, 1967), 68.

24. Mirrors were often stained and opaque because they were silvered with lead, or because of the addition of manganese oxide which gave a dirty yellow color. Manganese oxide also produced air bubbles. (Melchior-Bonnet, 13-17).

25. All references to Shakespeare's works are from The Riverside Shakespeare, ed. G. Blakemore Evans (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1974).

26. Katherine Eisaman Maus, for example, begins her study Inwardness and Theatre in the English Renaissance with a brief discussion of recent views about early modern selfhood and what it might constitute (see in particular 1-34). Some critics, like Maus herself, argue that people of that period were very much preoccupied with individuality, that is, with the connection between public selves and private, interior motivations. Others contend that interiority constitutes a retrospective contemporary imposition on the historical subjects of the early modern period; that Shakespeare, in his recognition of interiority, was an anachronistic prophet who looked forward to our own later, evolutionary sophistication (see Francis Barker and Eisaman Maus, 2), and that artists of the time were commonly concerned not with individuation, but with reflections of social themes.

27. Shuger, 21.

28. Shuger, 22.

29. Paradise Lost, Book IV, 457-69. (New York: Signet, 1982).

30. Lacan writes of the young child who first sees himself reflected: "This jubilant assumption of his specular image by the child at the infans stage, still sunk in his motor incapacity and nursing dependence, would seem to exhibit in an exemplary situation the symbolic matrix in which the I is precipitated in a primordial form, before it is objectified in the dialectic of identification with the other, and before language restores to it, in the universal, its function as subject" (Jacques Lacan, 'The Mirror Stage as Formative of the Function of the I as Revealed in Psychoanalytic Theory" [1949], in Écrits - A Selection [London: Tavistock, 1977]).

31. Sir Philip Sidney, The Defence of Poesy, ed. Katherine Duncan-Jones (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1989), 228.

32. The Defence of Poesy, 212-250.

33. John Donne, ed. John Carey (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990), 89-90.

34. John Ford, 'Tis Pity She's a Whore, ed. Derek Roper (London: Methuen, 1975), I.2.205-207.

35. Thomas Watson, "Tears of Fancy, or Love Disdained," in Elizabethan Sonnets, ed. Sydney Lee (Westminster: Constable, 1904), I,Sonnet 45, 157.

36. Everyman Out of His Humour, in The Complete Plays of Ben Jonson, ed. G. A. Wilkes (Oxford: Clarendon P, 1981), I, After the Second Sounding, lines 120-122 (275-411).

37. Consider, for example, the anonymously authored tract "The Sicke Man's Comfort," which positions the mirror as a means of self-improvement in the eyes of God:

When we have laid all this [our sins] to the sicke man's charge, and in the Law as in a Mirrour wee have set before his eyes to behold his judgement and sentence of condemnation: when we perceive him wounded and pearced to the heart with sorowe, we must them laye to his wound some asswaging medicine, and do as Masons do when they hewe their stone; first they give grete blowes with their hammer, and make gret peaces fall off, and then they poolish it over with a plaine, that the strokes are no more seen: so must we do, after we have handled the sick patient roughly, and thrust him downe to hel by the rigorous threats of the lawes: we must comfort him, and fetche him againe by the sweete amiable promises of the Gospel, to the end that the sowplenes of this oyle may asswage the nipping sharpnes of the law

Anon, "The Sicke Man's Comfort" (1590), 61. Langstone, "Essex and the Art of Dying," Huntington Library Quarterly 13 (1950): 109-29, 115-116.

In this tract the mirror motif pleads an understanding of God's judgement and the law. In the end it is God who recognizes the truth of which man himself can see only the reflection. Moreover, it is only God who can unify the broken body in embracing the soul. Elizabeth, Countess of Bridgewater writes similarly in her eulogy for her infant daughter: 'though her soul is singing Alelujahs, yet is her sweet body here, seized on by worms, and turned to dust till the great day shall come when all appeare united both body and soule, before the judgement of God' (Elizabeth, Countess of Bridgewater, Diary, British Library 236 (121r).

38. Leonardo da Vinci, "On the artist's temperament and good working habits," in Alessandro Vezzosi, Leonardo da Vinci: the Mind of the Renaissance (New York: Discoveries, 1997), 136. Leonardo also says:

Without perspective nothing can be done well or properly in the manner of painting and drawing. The painter who relies only on practice and the eye, without any intellect, is no more than a mirror which copies slavishly everything in front of it… http://codesign.scu.edu/arth12/text_davinci.html

39. Note, however, that in his mirror writing Leonardo also used the concept of mirroring more literally as a means of disguise.

40. René Descartes, Second Meditation: "The Nature of the Human Mind; and that it is better known than the Body", in Meditations and Other Metaphysical Writings, trans Desmond M. Clarke (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1998), 27.

41. Descartes, "Summary of the Following Six Meditations," in Meditations and Other Metaphysical Writings, 14.

42. Thomas Browne, Religio Medici; Hydriotaphia and The Garden of Cyrus, ed. H. Sutherland (London: Everyman, 1902), Introduction, Section 34, 41.

43. Browne, Section 34, 41.

44. Browne, 41.

45. Browne, Sections 36 and 37, 42.

46. Shuger, 35.

47. Shuger, 37.

48. Sabine Melchior-Bonnet, The Mirror: A History, trans. Katharine H. Jewett (London: Routledge, 2001).

49. Melchior-Bonnet, 139-40.

50. Melchior-Bonnet, 119.

51. Melchior-Bonnet, 126-27.She suggests, furthermore, that the mirror "hardly reveals any kind of iconic reality, distorting the 'real' with which it identifies itself. It no longer hides a secret - the secret is henceforth in the mind that perceives and recognizes the resemblance" (131).

52. In Shakespeare's Perjured Eye Joel Fineman offers an interesting perspective on seeming and saying. He alludes to way in which, in Shakespeare's sonnets, verbal language can double, and, indeed, reveal the dissimulation within, visual language. In the dark lady sonnets "the way the lady looks is precisely like the 'belying' double way that language speaks." The lady's eyes turn the poet from his "simulating vision … into the poetics of a dissimulating speech" (23). This speech suggests a poetic discourse that is heterogeneous, thereby distinguishing itself from the conventional erotics in which the poet imposes on his subject his own figuration of desire (Shakespeare's Perjured Eye: the Invention of Poetic Subjectivity in the Sonnets [Berkeley: U of California P, 1986]; see in particular 19-23).

53. It is useful to look at John Gillies' Shakespeare and the Geography of Difference (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), which looks at early modern cartographic discourse as informed by an ancient classic geographical tradition as well as contemporary colonial enterprises.

54. Michel de Montaigne, "Of Experience," in Essays of Montaigne, Tudor Translations, ed. W.E. Henley, trans. John Florio (New York: Everyman 1967), III, 369-70.

55. Robert Devereux, Second Earl of Essex, Apologie, preface, from PRO, SP 12/269/71, fols. 101r-125v (scribal copy, with marginated heading: "An apologie of the earle of Essex against those who falsely & maliciously taxe him to be thonely hinderer of the peace & quyet of this kingdome, written to Mr Anthony Bacon" [1598].

56. Robert Devereux, 1598.

57. An account of the death of Walter Devereux, 1st Earl of Essex, in Dublin, Sept. 1576. BL, Harleian Ms 293, folios 115r-20r.

58. New Testament, James I, 23-24, in New International Version, ed. Kenneth Barker (Michigan: Zondervan, 1985), 1881.

59. In contexts of punishment for treason ripping open of a body was indeed lawful. Accounts like Holinshed's suggest that treason had its own special punishment much more severe than that for murder. Traitors were drawn to the gallows on hurdles (they were not permitted to walk.) They were hanged and then cut down alive, their entrails and genitals burnt before their faces, heads cut off, and their bodies quartered. By cutting up the body in this way the authorities supposedly exposed to the traitor his false heart (women were not subjected to quartering, although their breats could be amputated.) See Albert Hartshorne, Hanging in Chains (New York: Cassell, 1891), 46-48; George Ryley Scott, in The History of Torture throughout the Ages ([London: T. Werner Laurie, 1940), 92); and, for accounts of the executions of the regicides in 1660, Laura L. Knoppers, Historicizing Milton: Spectacle, Power and Poetry in Restoration England (Athens, Georgia and London: U of Georgia P, 1994).

60. For more on "dilations" in Othello, see Patricia Parker, "Dilation and Delation in Othello," in Shakespeare and the Question of Theory, ed. Geoffrey Hartman and Patricia Parker (New York: Methuen, 1985), 54-74.

61. Othello, IV.1.35-41.

62. Michel de Montaigne, Essays, II, 179. Note also Stephen Greenblatt's famous study of narrativity in Othello in Renaissance Self-Fashioning: From More to Shakespeare (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981).

63. Hamlet, I.2.85-86. The word "pass" had a wide range of applications in the sixteenth century, among them 'surpass,' 'to go beyond or outside of,' and 'to cross.to go through' (OED, 524).

64. Richard II, 4.I.276-79.

65. Richard II. 4.I.289-91.

66. By this I mean that while Lear asks for a glass, there is no evidence that there is time for it to be actually brought to him. If a glass is brought on-stage, he may hold it up in the hope that his daughter's breath will "mist" it. But the "feather" to which he refers can only be made to stir through the anxious breath of the father who leans over his daughter, willing her to offer signs of life. This stirring offers its own reflexive image of the will of the father displacing itself into the life he wills into his daughter's dead body.


Works Cited

Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editor at L.M.Hopkins@shu.ac.uk.

© 2002-, Lisa Hopkins (Editor, EMLS).