Robin Simon

The Eyes Have It

Postures: Body Language in Art

By

Thames & Hudson 319pp £24.95 order from our bookshop

I was preparing a series of lectures about the relationship between acting and painting and was feeling pretty pleased with myself. I had realised that, when writing Henry V’s exhortation to his army before Harfleur, Shakespeare drew upon traditional ideas about the depiction of the ‘passions’. Henry tells his men: ‘Disguise fair nature with hard-favour’d rage;/Then lend the eye a terrible aspect;/Let it pry through the portage of the head/Like the brass cannon … /Now set the teeth and stretch the nostril wide.’ These precise instructions would enable the soldiers to simulate rage in the manner described in treatises setting out the physical manifestation of emotions, reaching back at least to Quintilian in the first century AD. Shakespeare could have read all about this in Richard Haydocke’s translation of Lomazzo’s Trattato, which appeared in 1598, the year before Henry V was first performed. Lomazzo says that rage is an emotion between anger and fury. It makes you shake, ‘set your teeth’, ‘clench the hands’ and ‘look horribly out from above’. Neat, I thought (and Quintilian’s description was an even closer match). And then I read Samuel Foote’s Treatise on the Passions, written in 1747. He chose to begin his discussion with rage, and then asked:

Why do I tire the Public with my trifling Observations on this Passion, when the immortal Shakespear, has so finely described the Effects of Rage, in Harry the Vth that Monarch before an Engagement … and advises them to imitate the Action of the Tyger, stiffen the Sinews, summon up the blood, to lend the Eye a terrible Aspect.

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • He weeps by the side of the ocean, He weeps on the top of the hill; He purchases pancakes and lotion, And chocolate… ,
    • 'Half-way through The Conquest of Water I felt as if I had been subjected to the literary equivalent of excessive c… ,
    • 'Volume five, then, but still no end in sight. Sandbrook is clearly enjoying himself so much he can’t bear the seri… ,
    • 'By the end of the book something so weighty, stylish and impressive has been built up that one feels far nearer to… ,
    • 'Her ensuing psychotic episode is described so convincingly ... that the reader will wonder if Dobrakovová did not… ,
    • 'The perspectives complement and contest one another, amounting to a glorious, atmospheric set of ventriloquisms.'… ,
    • RT : I reviewed The Testaments for . I will not be taking any questions at this time. ,