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date: 01 April 2020

Abstract and Keywords

In Act II, Scene V, of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, Bassanio, a Venetian lord, prepares to host a masque, but the trade winds change unexpectedly and Bassanio’s ship sets sail that very evening, cancelling the masked ball. Although this masqued scene is never realized, written, or staged, its mention is enough reason to interrogate its possibility. Through a Derridean decentering of presence, bringing together the extensive literature on Elizabethan masques, early modern understandings of touch and dance, and a deep interrogation of religious tensions, as played out throughout The Merchant of Venice, the masque’s textual absence is at once made an important, albeit impossible, presence. These intersecting texts create a web of social ideologies that describe the early modern moment from which this play emerges. What is unwritten proves powerfully choreographic, the absence itself working to organize bodies in space, separated by religious and gendered difference.

Keywords: Shakespeare, John Bulwer, choreography, Jacques Derrida, masque, The Merchant of Venice, John Playford, religion

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