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Israel, June 2001

Ellen Spolsky
Categorizations and Correspondences:
The Crisis of Exemplarity from Cymbeline to Charles I

The dynamic of categorization, with its necessary fuzziness, and the need for cultural and moral models of exemplary purity, produces not only disappointment, but rage. What is happening in an age when statues of the Virgin Mary are burned, but Queen Elizabeth is celebrated as the virgin mother of the nation? This worry about the availability of reliable exemplars appears, in many of Shakespeare’s plays, as the collapse of family structures. In this paper I will suggest how a cognitive understanding of categorization can bring an apparently heterogeneous set of social concerns in Shakespeare’s world into alignment. More speculatively, I will suggest how a neo-darwinian understanding of family structure might shed light on why it is the family that, ironically, exemplifies the crisis of exemplarity, the climax of which was the regicide. When and for whom, I will ask, is fuzziness of categorization (as when the Virgin and the Queen are creatively confused) a creative success, and when and for whom is it disastrous, as when the theaters are closed for the same kind of slippage?







Maintained by Francis F. Steen, Communication Studies, University of California Los Angeles