Shakespeare RElocated: Studies in Historical Psychology

Hugh Richmond

 Shakespeare Relocated: Studies in  Historical Psychology by Hugh Macrae Richmond, Peter Lang, New York. 2018.

A brief extract from a review by Goran Stanivukovic. Modern Language Review. 116.3.495-6 (2021):

Historical Psychology is the key concept in the subtitle of this engagingly written and learned book, and it has defined Hugh Macrae Richmond’s scholarship for a long time. Although he borrows the term from Zevedei Barbu’s Problems of Historical Psychology (New York: Grove Press,). Hugh Macrae Richmond first used it in The School of Love: the Evolution of the Stuart Love Lyric (Princeton: Princeton University Press 1964). Over time, he has employed it in most of his other monographs on Shakespeare, on comparative Renaissance literature, and on Shakespeare’s political drama and his comedy of sex.

This book collects his published essays and unpublished conference papers, in which the author formulates his wish ‘to consolidate these multiple presentations into a new more or less sequential pattern of argument’. Historical psychology, which he calls an ‘intellectual discipline’ ais a syncretic approach to literary study rather than a formalized discipline. He uses it to explain attitudes to religion, politics, and sexuality in Reformation England and to examine how the interaction of these cultural fields shapes the psychology of the literary subject. His concept also traces the progression of modern attitudes towards politics, morality, and sexuality. the intellectual armature that supports the readings produced by historical psychology is writing by cultural theorists from the first half of the twentieth century, such as the Swiss cultural theorist Denis de Rougemont, whose writing about ‘the genetically advantageous practice of exogamy [. . .] intrinsic to the European tradition of romantic love helped Richmond ‘relocate Shakespeare’s writing about love into the realm of the global. ‘

          Both the framing concept of historical psychology and the example of the cultural critic, which the author uses to extend the work of this concept in literary analysis, point to a crucial aspect of this book—its opposition to New Historicism. Richmond’s version of historicism ‘diverges markedly’ from the New Historicism promoted by Stephen Greenblatt, Richmond’s erstwhile colleague at Berkeley. The book’s aim is to ‘contribute perhaps more accurately and yet less narrowly’ than both the New Historicism and other ‘anachronistic-isms’ to an examination of the historical conditions and traditions that shaped literature and drama in the early modern period. It takes up feminism, studies of globalism in literature, gender and sexuality studies, and studies of ethnicity. It shows how comparative readings of cultural criticism and Renaissance texts from French, Italian, and Spanish literature provide a historically more accurate connection with English texts by pointing to ‘social and psychological circumstances’ that shaped Shakespeare’s texts. Connections are based on generic, thematic, and formal ideas in views of affiliations between literary texts. Queer early modern critics, for instance, can find much that is stimulating in the chapter on gay performances of Shakespeare, including comparative readings of Shakespeare, Giovanni Battista Girald Cinthio, and Lope de Vega; but they can also read how theory and the author’s own practice as a director of plays work together. The author also dismisses New Criticism’s neglect of a historicist method as a ‘Humanist Fallacy’ (p. vii).  The chapters vary in length: some are three pages long, another is a long reprint of an articles from the PMLA.

              The book is refreshing because it does not belong to a specific critical trend or orientation. It comes out at a time when early modern studies and the historicisms it favours have moved on, and one wonders whether these capacious, provocative, clear, and inspiring thought-experiments will find their readers. The book deserves them. Its strength often lies in details of analysis rather than in a bigger conceptual picture, and in the breadth of topics that it covers, such as Richard III and his sadistic rhetoric, John Donne and young Shakespeare, Andrew Marvell’s poem ‘The Gallery’, the psychology of Falstaff, the Mediterranean in Shakespeare, seduction in Milton, Ronsard, Lope de Vega, and Shakespeare. Relocating Shakespeare means also refocusing one’s own critical lens to relocate an ideological perspective of reading...


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