Reading Group: Cahill

Join us as we turn our attention to literary discussions and meanings of skin on the early modern stage

The next meeting of the Renaissance Skin Reading Group will explore human and animal skin in early modern drama. Joining us will be Professor Patricia Cahill (Emory) as she presents her current work-in-progress 'Leonine Encounters on the Early Modern Stage'.

What do animal skins have to do with early modern English theatrical experience?

In this paper, Cahill addresses this question by turning to a cutaneous narrative unfolding over several scenes in two exemplary historical dramas: Shakespeare’s King John (c.1595-6) and its principal source, George Peele’s The Troublesome Reign of John, King of England (c.1589-90). Both plays stage a curiously unhistorical narrative in which Richard I's illegitimate son seeks to confiscate a lion’s skin worn by the man who has purportedly slain his father. By reading this pelt as an affectively-charged material object rather than merely a literary symbol, she argues that animal corporeality served as a vital performative medium for the transmission of embodied affect: one that raised unsettling questions about the possibility of preserving and reanimating an English heroic past.

Alongside Cahill's work, we will also read two further texts to open up the discussion on the concept of skin on the early modern stage:

  • Anston Bosman, 'Shakespeare in Leather' in The Forms of Renaissance Thought: New Essays in Literature and Culture, ed. by Leonard Barkan, Bradin Cormack, and Sean Keilen (New York, 2009) - this essay offers a comprehensive survey of Shakespeare's skin interests, along with substantial discussion of skin metaphors.
  • ‘Poor, Bare, Forked’ in Laurie Shannon, The Accommodated Animal (Chicago, 2013), chapter 3 - this addresses King Lear and the natural history tradition, querying human nakedness versus the fact that animals are born with adequate coverings.

This is an informal and friendly discussion, lasting about 90 minutes, and then followed by refreshments.

The event is open to participants from any discipline and at any stage of study. To attend, please register by emailing the team (see Contact page). The readings will be circulated in advance after Monday 11 June, once registered. We encourage anyone to bring materials, images, anecdotes, and ideas for discussion. There is no deadline to register but attendance will be guaranteed on a first-come first-served basis.

Further Reading:

  • Patricia Cahill, 'The Feel of the Slaughterhouse: Affective Temporalities and Marlowe’s Massacre at Paris' in Affect Theory and Early Modern Texts: Politics, Ecologies, and Form, ed. by Amanda Bailey and Mario DiGangi (New York, 2017), pp.155-74
  • Patricia Cahill, 'The Play of Skin and The Changeling', Postmedieval: A Journal of Medieval Cultural Studies, 3.4 (2013), pp.391-406
  • Katherine Duncan-Jones, 'Did the Boy Shakespeare Kill Calves?', The Review of English Studies, vol. 55, no. 219 (2004), pp.183-95. [This offers biographical information on Shakespeare as the son of a glover and discusses several plays. It briefly discusses King John, with a focus on English calves and butchery]
  • Erica Fudge, 'Renaissance Animal Things', New Formations: A Journal of Culture, Theory, Politics, 76, pp.86-100. [This essay discusses leather and civet in King Lear]
  • Ian Smith, 'The Textile Black Body: Race and ‘shadowed livery’ in The Merchant of Venice' in The Oxford Handbook of Shakespeare and Embodiment: Gender, Sexuality, and Race, ed. by Valerie Traub (Oxford, 2016), pp.170-85
  • Ian Smith, 'Seeing Blackness, Reading Race in Othello' in The Oxford Handbook of Shakespearean Tragedy, ed. by Michael Neill and David Schalkwyk (Oxford, 2016), pp.405-20

Image: Engraving of Henry II, Richard the Lion Heart, and John from the series The Kings and Queens of England by Hendrik Goltzius, 1584. ©Trustees of the British Museum.