Face to Face in Shakespearean Drama

What happens when a character on stage turns to face another? This is commonly understood as an indication of an interaction to come, a sign that points to what we expect subsequently to appear in dialogue or action. Yet a dramatized face-to-face encounter is not only a medium for scripted conversation but also a form of philosophical, theatrical, and social content in and of itself. With or without words, face-to-face encounters can initiate love affairs, demand acknowledgment, deliver or refuse a gift, request forgiveness, offer obsequy, spawn rivalry, witness crime, or trigger shame. In each of these instances, facing another person is an embodied, spatially situated, and transactional event involving gesture and posture, orientation and disposition. The art and style of facing empowers the give and take of conversation, the affront of argument, and the miracle of the kiss, and, as an act in the form of a present participle, is thus essential to the action of drama. In the age of the smart phone, understanding the special dynamism and essential elements of face-to-face exchange, including its mutations, migrations and disavowals, is a matter of new interest and urgency, in the contexts of both university instruction and social life.

This volume began as a seminar of fifteen international scholars that I led at the annual meeting of the Shakespeare Association of America in New Orleans in 2016. Since then, and with the help my my co-edited, Julia Reinhard Lupton, it has evolved into a truly interdisciplinary study of the dynamics of somatic human encounter in Shakespeare’s theater, then and now. And as suggested in the subtitle, this work involves bringing together philosophical and performance studies approaches to drama—two roads that seldom converge. While recent scholarly attention has turned to what the face says and doesn’t say when it is beheld by another, the aim of the essays in this volume is to complete this loop and explore the ethics and performativity of the face as its affective aspect is reciprocated among characters as well as audience members. We pursue not the face per se as icon and image, but the dynamism of the face-to-face, an improvisational composition always ripe with movement and consequence. The face taken by itself can trigger narcissistic, idolatrous, and imaginary forms of identification, as emblematized today by emoji, Facebook, and the celebrity portrait.

These essays draw on a variety of historical contexts, such as early modern law, sixteenth-century guidebooks for conduct and manners, the Christological “man of sorrows” motif in visual art, and the convention of the intra-theatrical clown. We consider how such contexts speak to the face-to-face in scenes such as Lear cradling Cordelia’s lifeless head; Polonius and Claudius collaborating to decipher Hamlet’s face, “seeing, unseen”; and Mariana disclosing herself to Angelo— “This is that face, thou cruel Angelo, / Which once thou swor’st was worth the looking on.” And together we search these and other extra-verbal moments of face-to-face encounter for their hidden ethical, spiritual, and erotic gifts – gifts of turn-taking, listening, encouragement, and the affirmation of identity. By transitioning from the objective face to its intermediary verbs—to face, outface, interface, efface, deface, sur-face—these essays seek to reveal how Shakespeare’s plays locate would-be individual acts and comportments, for instance, of love, entrustment, betrayal, belief, sincerity, and judgment, in performative mutuality, in between faces and the bodies that bear them.


Face to Face in Shakespearean Drama: Ethics, Philosophy, Performance

Table of Contents

Introduction: Matthew J. Smith and Julia Reinhard Lupton

Section One: Choreographies of Conflict

  1. Bruce R. Smith, USC, Outface and Interface
  2. Emily Shortslef, University of Kentucky, Face to Face, Hand to Hand: Relations of Exchange in Hamlet
  3. Catherine Lisak, University of Bordeaux, Face-to-face in Richard II: Choreographing the Imminent and the Immanent

Section Two: Composing Intimacy

  1. Lawrence Manley, Yale University, “Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool”: Folie à Deux in Shakespeare’s Love Duets
  2. Devin Byker, College of Charleston, Bed Tricks and Fantasies of Facelessness
  3. Julia Reinhard Lupton, The University of California, Irvine, Blind Benedictions on Shakespeare’s Stage

Section Three: Moving Pictures

  1. Hanna Scolnicov, Tel-Aviv University, Edgar’s Different Faces: Courtier, Beggar and Man of Sorrows
  2. Akihiko Shimizu, University of St. Andrews, Performative Character: ‘Face’ as Self in Ben Jonson
  3. W. B. Worthen, Barnard College and Columbia University, Hamlet’s Face

Section Four: Facing Judgment

  1. Kevin Curran, University of Lausanne, The Face of Judgment in Measure for Measure
  2. Jennifer Waldron, University of Pittsburgh, Then Face to Face: Timing Trust in Macbeth
  3. Matthew J. Smith, Azusa Pacific University, Shakespeare’s Bad Poetics: The Festive Imagination in Cymbeline

Afterword: William N. West, Northwestern University


IMAGE: Charles Le Brun, “Expressions”