Article Title

Soft Touch: On the Renaissance Staging and Meaning of the "Noli me tangere" Icon


Cynthia Lewis


Centers on Viola’s speech in 5.1.249–56 of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, in which she asks Sebastian not to “embrace” her until she has reclaimed her woman’s clothes. Asserts that the passage is a version of the “noli me tangere” icon, based on John 20: 11–17, prevalent in medieval European liturgical drama, in which Christ enjoins Mary Magdalen: “Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father.” With reference to numerous popular images of the icon from the early modern period, argues that the staging is no more a rebuff toward Sebastian than are Christ’s words to Mary Magdalen. Rather, Viola’s “do not embrace me” represents a delay until her true identity is fulfilled. The parallel between Viola / Cesario and the newly risen Christ is furthered by the suggestion in many popular images from the period that Christ is disguised as the gardener that Mary Magdalen initially believes him to be. The presence of the icon is also explored at the conclusion of The Winter’s Tale, where Leontes is not permitted to touch Hermione until her identity is fully restored.

Comparative Drama is carried by JSTOR and Project MUSE.