This essay offers a new reading of a secular poem by George Herbert, a black woman's erotic complaint to a white beloved, entitled "Æthiopissa ambit Cestum Diuersi Coloris Virum," and a hitherto unknown response lyric, "Cesti ad Æthiopissam responsio" attributed to Herbert in a non-autograph commonplace book. Placing the poems within related rhetorical and ethnological contexts through a close analysis of their dialogue, I show that their interlocking structures exemplify humanist argumentation in utramque partem. The poetics of fashioning an argument "in each part," a feature of early modern manuscript culture of poetic response more broadly, indicates an interaction between the performance of rhetorical adroitness and the development of a manipulable ethnology that presages the emergence of racialism.
Dunbar, Edward St. Aubyn’s novelistic adaptation of King Lear, re-presents the role of metaphor in Lear’s madness as an experience of disorientation. Abused by his two older daughters, Dunbar finds visual and conceptual distinctions dissolving into ubiquitous similarity. This essay takes St. Aubyn’s visual metaphor for metaphor itself as an incitement to view the role of this figure as an agential force upon the linguistic topography and structure of the tragedy. The breakdown of Lear’s world, I argue, begins with the love test as a staged metaphor that seeks, unsuccessfully, to associate land with his definition of love. Thereafter, metaphor operates with an element of agency and dramatic irony: Lear’s comparison of unfaithful daughters to sexually monstrous women, and his self-parody, are metaphors whose resonances transcend his epistemology and intent. While traditional semiotics do not account for language’s agency, I offer a reading which extends Alfred Gell’s theory of art as index to texts as a model for this agency. Via Gell, I explore the process whereby Shakespeare’s language unshackles itself from semantic meanings in moments of sonic repetition and, concomitant with this freedom, creates new associations between concepts within Lear’s language and across the action of the play.