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Resonance and Wonder Greenblatt

Resonance and Wonder Greenblatt

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Resonance and WonderAuthor(s): Stephen GreenblattSource:
Bulletin of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences,
Vol. 43, No. 4 (Jan., 1990),pp. 11-34Published by:
Stable URL:
Accessed: 24/06/2011 07:02
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ResonanceandWonder
StephenGreenblattInasmallglasscaseinthelibraryofChristChurch, Oxford,there is around,redpriest'shat;anote card identifiesitashavingbe-longedtoCardinalWolsey.It isaltogetherappropriatethat this hat should havewoundup atChristChurch,for thecollegeowed itsexistencetoWolsey,whohad decidedattheheightof hispowerto foundinhis own honoramagnificentnew Oxfordcollege.Butthehatwasnot a directbequest.Historicalforces,aswesometimessay-inthis casetakingtheominous form ofHenryVIII-intervened,andChristChurch,likeHamptonCourtPal-ace,was cutofffromitsoriginalbenefactor.Instead,the noteinformsus,the hatwasacquiredforChrist Church intheeighteenthcentury-purchased,wearetold,froma com-panyofplayers.Ifthis miniaturehistoryof anartifactis toovaguetobeofmuchconse-quence(Idonot knowthe name of thecompanyofplayers,orthecircumstancesinwhichthey acquiredtheircuriousstageprop-erty,orwhetheritwas everused,forexam-ple, byan actorplayingWolseyinShake-speare'sHenryVIII,or whenitwasplacedunderglass),itnonethelessevokes a visionofculturalproductionthat Ifindcompelling.TheperegrinationsofWolsey'shatsuggestthatculturalartifacts do notstaystill,thattheyexistintime,and thattheyare boundupwithpersonalandinstitutionalconflicts,nego-tiations,andappropriations.The termculturehas,inthe case of thehat,aconvenient materialreferent-a bitofredclothstitchedtogether-butthat referentisonlyatinyelement inacomplexsymbolicconstructionthatoriginallymarkedthetrans-formation ofWolseyfroma butcher's sontoaprinceof the Church.TheLifeandDeathofCardinalWolsey,writtenbyWolsey'sgentlemanusher,GeorgeCavendish,isaremarkablycir-cumstantialcontemporaryaccountofthatcon-struction,an accountthatenablesustoglimpse11
 
the hator,as Cavendishtermsit,thepillion,initsplace-onthe cardinal'shead.And after Mass hewould returninhisprivychamberagainand,beingadvertized of thefurniture of his[outer]chamberwithnoble-men andgentlemen..,would issueoutintothemapparelledallin redin the habitof aCardinal;whichwas eitherof fine scarletorelseofcrimsonsatin,taffeta,damask,orcaffa[arich silkcloth],thebestthathecouldgetformoney;anduponhis headaroundpillionwith aneckofblackvelvet,setto thesame in theinnerside....Therewas alsoborne beforehimfirstthe Great SealofEngland,and then hisCardinal's hatbyanobleman or someworthygentlemanrightsolemnly,bareheaded.And as soonas he wasenteredinto hischamberofpresencewherewasattendinghiscomingto awaituponhimtoWestminsterHall,as well noblemenandotherworthygentlemenas noblemen andgentlemenof his ownfamily;thuspassingtorthwith twogreatcrossesofsilver bornebeforehim,with also twogreatpillarsofsilver,andhissergeantat armswith agreatmaceofsilvergilt.Then hisgentlemenush-ers criedandsaid,"Onmylords andmasters,makewayformylord'sgrace!"Theextraordinarytheatricalityof thismanifestationofclericalpowerdid notescapethe noticeofthe Protestantreformers,whocalled the Catholic Church "thePope's play-house."When the ReformationinEnglanddismantled the histrionicapparatusof Cathol-icism,theProtestants soldsomeof itsgor-geouspropertiestotheprofessional players-notonlya mark ofthrift but also apolemicalgesture,signifyingthat the sanctifiedvest-ments wereinrealitymeretrumperywhoseproper placewas adisreputableworldofillusion-mongering.Inexchangefor thispo-lemicalservice,thetheatricaljoint-stockcom-paniesreceivedmorethan anattractive,cut-ratewardrobe;theyacquiredthetarnishedbutstill-potentcharismathatclungto the oldvestments,charisma thatinparadoxicalfash-ion theplayersatonceemptiedout andheightened. BythetimeWolsey'shatreachedthelibraryat ChristChurch,itscharismamusthave beenlargelyexhausted,but thecollegecould conferuponit theprestigeofanhistoricalcuriosity,atrophyof thedistantfounder. Andinitsglasscase,itstill radiatesatinyquantumofculturalenergy.12

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