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The Journal of English Language and Literature , Vol.60, No.1, 107 ~ 130, 2014
“How strong imagination works!”: Dumb shows, Ghosts and the Early Modern Inquiry into Spectatorship
Young Jin Chung
The purpose of this paper is twofold: first, to bring into focus the insights that early modern studies of vision provide for the period`s shift in understanding perception and its relationship with embodiment; second, to extend these insights beyond disciplinary boundaries and locate John Webster`s stagecraft within this changing intellectual and cultural context. The early modern period marked unprecedented developments in visual technology. The inventions and improvements in handling perspective cast light on the problem of perception by making people aware of optical oddities and inconstancies. By tracing how art, philosophy, and literature created, responded to, and appropriated occasions of visual fallibility, I show the extent to which both fascination and suspicion of the eye, the time-honored medium of acquiring knowledge, contributed to paradigmatic changes in early modern epistemology. I examine the history of perspective in art as a revealing example of how theories, practices, and technologies of science and art dynamically interplayed and gave force to the rise of early modern discourses of sight, including skepticism, in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. Then, by taking a close look at two moments from The White Devil, that is, the dumb shows in 2.2 and Isabella`s ghost in 4.1, I argue that Webster with his complex stagecraft accommodates spectacles of vulnerable spectatorship fallen into the rupture between knowledge and visibility. Staging the failure in recovering the pure observation of reality and its simulation, Webster shares the sustained early modern awareness of the problematic relationship between perception and embodiment.
Key Words
The White Devil, knowledge and visibility, perception and embodiment, technology of vision, spectatorship,영미문학, 문화연구, 비교문학, 비평이론, English and American Literature, cultural studies, comparative literature, critical theory
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