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Joint Book Review: Kathryn M. Moncrief and Kathryn R. McPherson (eds.), Performing Pedagogy in Early Modern England: Gender, Instruction, and Performance(Ashgate, 2011); and Lynn Enterline, Shakespeare’s Schoolroom: Rhetoric, Discipline, Emotion (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012)

Kathryn M. Moncrief and Kathryn R. McPherson (eds.), Performing Pedagogy in Early Modern England: Gender, Instruction, and Performance (Farnham: Ashgate, 2011). ISBN 978-0-7546-6941-8, xv + 248 pp. Hbk. £55.00.

Lynn Enterline, Shakespeare’s Schoolroom: Rhetoric, Discipline, Emotion (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012). ISBN 978-0-8122-4378-9, 202 pp. Hbk. £29.50.

Reviewed by Rachel McGregor

Moncrief & McPherson Jkt_Moncrief & McPherson Jkt

[1]  The two books under review here are the latest in a series of recent studies by literary critics seeking to reassess the role played by early modern English education in contemporary social and cultural reproduction. Since the influential work of scholars such as Anthony Grafton and Lisa Jardine in the 90s, early modern pedagogy has typically been seen as a forceful mechanism of social regulation, which imposed class and gender difference through coercion and physical violence. The essay collection, Performing Pedagogy in Early Modern England: Gender, Instruction and Performance, and Lynn Enterline’s monograph, Shakespeare’s Schoolroom: Rhetoric, Discipline, Emotion, revise this view in important ways, shedding new light on the methods and aims of early modern education, both formal and informal, and its impact on the individuals who experienced it. The two studies differ in focus, with Enterline offering an in-depth examination of the classical training received at early modern grammar schools, and the edited collection taking a much broader view of teaching and learning in the period. Nevertheless, they make complementary contributions to the field. Both studies scrutinize early modern pedagogy through the lens of performance theory. By doing so, they offer valuable new insights into the formation of early modern identity, showing how it was scripted and rehearsed as part of the educational process, often in unexpected and contradictory ways.

[2] RM2 Performing Pedagogy, edited by Kathryn M. Moncrief and Kathryn R. McPherson, is a collection of fifteen essays exploring the diverse means by which early modern Englishmen and women were shaped into ‘members of their social realm, citizens of a nation, and representatives of their gender’. The chapters are arranged according to their focus on a particular gender or educational setting and divided into four parts: ‘Humanism and its Discontents’; ‘Manifestations of Manhood’; ‘Decoding Domesticity’; and ‘Pedagogy Performed’. The essayists deal with education in a wide variety of forms, texts, and contexts, from manuscripts documenting the methods and effects of tuition, to dramatic representations of instruction designed to edify their audiences. What unites them, however, is the understanding that early modern pedagogy was ‘explicitly performative’ and ‘integral to the construction of gender roles’.

[3]  The range of literary and non-literary, canonical and non-canonical texts under discussion in Performing Pedagogy is one of the strengths of the volume. Highlights at either end of the spectrum include Caroline Bicks’s original and thought-provoking discussion of Hamlet, which challenges the prevailing conception of Ophelia as a girl ‘defined solely by her relationship to men’ and re-envisages her as a tutor instructing both her Danish and English audiences in their ‘(nearly) forgotten histories’, and Jerome de Groot’s fascinating analysis of the manuscript French exercises of the ten-year-old Barbara Slingsby, which furnish ‘a picture of a girl learning how to self-project in another language’. Like de Groot’s essay, some of the most illuminating pieces in the collection deal with what has been called the paradox of early modern female education. Chris Laoutaris’s contribution, ‘The Radical Pedagogies of Lady Elizabeth Russell’, for example, offers a lively discussion of one noblewoman’s struggle to assert her learned authority and intervene in contemporary educational provision to further the Puritan cause. Indeed, as well as highlighting how early modern pedagogy worked to produce gendered subjects, several of the essays in the collection suggest how individuals like Russell might use their learning to resist the gender roles imposed on them by their teachers. As the editors point out, the early modern English stage was a ‘key pedagogical site’ where educators’ lessons and methods were also contested and subverted. Several essays, such as Moncrief’s chapter on Love’s Labour’s Lost and Jean Lambert’s discussion of the anonymous Wit of a Woman, deal with the dramatic spectacle of the female schoolmaster instructing male pupils as an inversion of conventional social and pedagogical relations.

[4]  In their examination of early modern education, the essays in Performing Pedagogy look beyond the methods and institutions of formal schooling. This breadth of focus is consistent with the aims of the collection and avoids reproducing the gender bias present in many older studies of the topic, which equate pedagogy with grammar schooling and thus the education of boys. As the editors note, ‘Education cannot be narrowly defined in this, or in any, era’, and the collection usefully draws attention to places and forms of instruction outside the grammar school. The downside of this is that the collection does little to add to our understanding of institutional pedagogy in the period. Largely, the contributors subscribe to standard views of early modern grammar school education in their discussions of alternative pedagogies, such as the familiar notion of grammar school instruction as a ‘pedagogy of pain’. There are also factual errors and inconsistencies in the discussion of formal schooling; for example, the editors write that early modern pedagogues would have ‘recoiled in horror’ upon hearing their thesis that ‘the instructional models at work in the early modern period might be allied to the experience of hearing or acting in a play’. As some of the essays in the collection attest, however, this is plainly inaccurate, not least because schoolmasters regularly demanded their pupils to put on plays as part of their education. The emphasis on performance in the volume does yield some genuinely new findings on teaching and learning in the period. Yet, at times the term is applied rather too broadly to be productive, with some essayists taking performance to mean nothing more than instruction being carried out. Finally, while the contributors give detailed consideration to the inculcation of gender roles, very little attention is paid to the ways that class distinction impacted the educational process and thus the construction of masculinity and femininity.

[5]  For readers interested specifically in the more formal kind of education in the period, Enterline’s Shakespeare’s Schoolroom has more to offer. Like many of the essayists in Performing Pedagogy, Enterline examines the interaction between education and literary production in the period. However, her approach is somewhat different. Rather than seeing Shakespeare’s writings as comments on contemporary education or efforts to instruct, Enterline endeavours to read the complex characters and powerful emotions in Shakespeare’s texts ‘back into grammar school archives’. Enterline traces the origins of various Shakespearean characters, episodes, and speeches to the Latin texts and exercises he would have been familiar with from school. Yet, what is innovative about her approach is that she not only considers what the grammar school archives can tell us about Shakespeare, but also what Shakespeare’s characters and portraits of emotion reveal about the social and psychological impact of early Latin training. For too long, Enterline argues, we have taken early modern educators’ claims about the social and moral efficacy of Latin learning at face value. By testing them against the ‘testimony of former grammar school students’, such as Shakespeare, we begin to see that the effects of grammar schooling were far from straightforward. Schoolmasters confidently asserted the power of Latin training to produce young ‘gentlemen’, but by viewing grammar schooling through the window provided by the literary output of one former pupil, Enterline shows that pedagogical practice often undercut such socially normative categories.

[6]  According to Enterline, what did the most to destabilise the social distinctions that schoolmasters sought to enforce was the emphasis grammar school education placed on performance. As Enterline points out, imitatio, the governing principle of humanist pedagogy, is essentially performative. Whether emulating the rhetorical style of classical authors in their writings, placing themselves in the position of historical or mythological characters as part of their training in prosopopeia, or perfecting the subtle movements of the ‘eye, ear, hand, tongue and heart’ requisite for effective oratory, early modern schoolboys were constantly required to perform their learning and their identities. However, the routine performance of other selves and voices instilled in learners what Enterline calls ‘habits of alterity’, which worked against their interpellation within dominant social hierarchies. Moreover, Enterline argues, the personas that pupils were asked to inhabit were not always conducive to enforcing conventional gender roles. Over the course of their rhetorical education, schoolboys were ordered to mimic the passions of exemplary females as often as males’. Read in relation to Shakespeare’s education, Hamlet’s famous question ‘What’s Hecuba to Him . . . ?’ seems to interrogate the efficacy of a pedagogical programme involving the verbal and emotional impersonation of women for ‘seamless production of rhetorically capable “gentlemen” with a univocally “male” ego’.

[7]  Enterline’s notion that the performative dimensions of grammar school education might frustrate the socially normative agendas of schoolmasters distinguishes her from the majority of the essayists in Performing Pedagogy, who generally locate the troubling of gender norms outside the school. Her awareness of the contradictions and ambiguities inherent in humanist pedagogy makes for an elucidating study, and to expose them she draws upon a range of theoretical perspectives, from Bourdieu to Lacan. Some readers, this reviewer included, will undoubtedly have reservations about attempting to discover the psychological impact of an author’s education from the evidence provided by his texts. Nevertheless, Enterline’s attention to the ways that Latin training potentially shaped learners’ social, gender and sexual identities does yield fresh insight into often discussed aspects of early modern schooling, such as flogging, and well-known Shakespearean scenes of instruction, such as those in The Taming of the Shrew. Even more importantly, it reveals some less familiar engagements by Shakespeare with the materials and practices of contemporary education. Under Enterline’s reading, for example, Bottom’s “translation” from a mechanical into an ass-headed gentleman in A Midsummer Night’s Dream becomes a parodic version of the ‘social, emotional, and bodily’ transformation that grammar school pupils were required to undergo to ensure their social success.

[8]  Overall, both of the books reviewed here successfully draw attention to the performativity of early modern education and its complicated role in social and cultural reproduction, Performing Pedagogy by exploring where and how education occurred outside the grammar school, and Shakespeare’s Schoolroom by offering an important re-evaluation of the social and psychological effects of early Latin training.

University of Exeter, April 2013