Date of this Version
Mimi Yiu’s Architectural Involutions is an expansive, impressive, and largely interdisciplinary study. Many recent books have touched on related topics—probably most relevantly Henry Turner’s The English Renaissance Stage: Geometry, Poetics, and the Practical Spatial Arts 1580–1630—but this one reads from architecture and space forward rather than seeks answers about the theater foremost. The book’s main focus is to theorize the “inward journey” made possible by modes of understanding, building, and reading space in early modern Europe, although England is central to much of the work’s concerns. As Yiu explains in her introduction, the book “suggests a method for spatial mapping that crosses academic fields to produce a broader cultural history” (12). Her chapters and overall analysis, while frequently looking to her two key theatrical examples of Hamlet and Epicoene, are clearly interested in the big picture, so to speak, of the interior.
Yiu’s “involution” is to follow an “inward journey from façades to closets, from physical to psychic space” to show “how the meeting of theater and architecture helped to construct an early modern sense of interiority” (9). This key idea structures the book’s overall discussion, which treats several topics, each in dense but enjoyable detail. Yiu begins with Leon Battista Alberti’s treatises and experiments with the façade as an architectural feature. Although I am not an expert in art history, to my eye Yiu’s reading of architectural styles, treatises, and innovation is insightful and thoroughly researched. She transitions from her work on Alberti to propose a reading of post-Reformation English building in its own right as opposed to Italianate design. She continues by tracing an “inward journey” into the next chapter: from façade to house to interior design and then deeper inward to the space of the closet. Her detailed look at the “country pile” (59) and its closet spaces turns to Gertrude and opens up a reading of Hamlet in chapter 3, which delves fully into the problem of psychic space, performance space, and architectural space together.