William & Mary

Blank: Shakespeare and the Mismeasure of Renaissance Man

We are happy to report that Paula Blank's latest book, Shakespeare and the Mismeasure of Renaissance Man, has just been published (8/06) by Cornell University Press.

From the Publisher

Shakespeare's poems and plays are rich in reference to “measure, number, and weight,” which were the key terms of an early modern empirical and quantitative imagination. Shakespeare's investigation of Renaissance measures of reality centers on the consequences of applying principles of measurement to the appraisal of human value. This is especially true of efforts to judge people as better or worse than, or equal to, one another. With special attention to the Sonnets, Measure for Measure, Merchant of Venice, Othello, King Lear, and Hamlet, Paula Blank argues that Shakespeare, in his experiments with measurement, demonstrates the incommensurability of the aims and operations of quantification with human experience.

From scales and spans to squares and levels to ratings and rules, Shakespeare's rhetoric of measurement reveals the extent to which language in the Renaissance was itself understood as a set of alternative measures for figuring human worth. In chapters that explore attempts to measure human feeling, weigh human equalities (and inequalities), regulate race relations, and deduce social and economic merit, Blank shows why Shakespeare's measures are so often exposed as “mismeasures”-equivocal, provisional, and as unreliable as the men and women they are designed to assess.


"Shakespeare and the Mismeasure of Renaissance Man succeeds in combining wide-ranging interdisciplinary comment with minute scrutiny of language and verse. It is a satisfying read and one that will yield a wealth of interesting observations to scholars of Shakespeare and of early modern culture."   -Héloïse Sénéchal, Times Literary Supplement, June 22 2007

"The framing idea for this book--the way that the concept of measurement quantifies social and political aspects of human experience--is brilliant. Paula Blank relates measurement to ideas of justice in ways that are likely to be groundbreaking for early modern studies in general and for Shakespeare studies in particular."   -Elizabeth D. Harvey, University of Toronto

"Shakespeare and the Mismeasure of Renaissance Man is a smart, subtly argued, and consistently interesting contribution to our understanding not just of Shakespeare but of Renaissance culture itself in England and elsewhere throughout Europe. Paula Blank asserts that the Renaissance concern with measurement and quantification, when applied to the human realm, created more problems than it solved."   -Wayne Rebhorn, University of Texas at Austin, author of Renaissance Debates on Rhetoric

"In this beautifully nuanced and trenchant account, Paula Blank demonstrates how troubled Shakespeare's works are by the inadequacy yet necessity of measurement to all forms of knowledge, feeling, and value—indeed to poetic language itself."   -Margreta de Grazia, University of Pennsylvania