Rematerializing Shakespeare’s Intertheatricality: The Occidental/Oriental Halimpsest

  • Jonathan Gil Harris


At the beginning of 2 Henry 4, Rumour represents himself as a global communications system that spans ‘orient’ and ‘drooping west.’ These compass points demarcate a space conceived both temporally (from sunrise to sunset) and geographically (from Asia to Europe). They also circumscribe the space of the theatrical, providing the imaginative limits within which Rumour can ‘unfold/ The acts commenced on this ball of earth’ — if not the Globe (built in 1599), then at least the stage on which the Lord Chamberlain’s Men first performed 2 Henry 4. ‘Orient’ and ‘drooping west’ are not simply outer limits for the play’s spatio-temporal fields of representation. Indeed, throughout the Henriad, the theatrical ‘unfold[ing]’ of ‘acts’ also entails a persistent palimpsesting of ‘orient’ and ‘west,’ in both their temporal and geographical senses. Henry 5’s palimpsests of different eras, particularly the Chorus’s ‘loving likelihood’ that typographically cross-hatches the medieval Henry with both the classical Caesar and the Elizabethan Earl of Essex (HS, 5.0.28, 30), have attracted much commentary.1 By contrast, the Henriad’s palimpsests of geography have escaped critical attention. They are most legible in the plays’ ambivalent (dis)identifications of their English characters with a string of oriental despots from antiquity to more recent times: Cambyses of Persia, Tamburlaine of Scythia, Herod of Jewry, and Amurath of Turkey.


World History Transversal Space Bodily Technique Temporal Orient English Character 
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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2005

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  • Jonathan Gil Harris

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