English Drama, 1586-1642: The Age of Shakespeare.G. K. Hunter, (The Oxford History of English Literature English literature, literature written in English since c.1450 by the inhabitants of the British Isles; it was during the 15th cent. that the English language acquired much of its modern form. , VI.) Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997. xiii + 623 pp. $65. ISBN ISBN
International Standard Book Number
ISBN International Standard Book Number
ISBN n abbr (= International Standard Book Number) → ISBN m : 0-19-812213-6.
These two weighty volumes are both histories of early English Early English
a style of architecture used in England in the 12th and 13th centuries, characterized by narrow pointed arches and ornamental intersecting stonework in windows drama, but radically different from each other. Hunter's study is the last volume to be published in the 15-volume Oxford History of English Literature, and it is strongly oriented to the plays themselves grouped in traditional and non-traditional genres and subgenres. The edited volume of Cox and Kastan consists of 26 chapters (by 28 authors) under the rubrics of physical space, social space, and the conditions of performance and publication. The Hunter volume is old-fashioned in its concern for the texts of plays and dramatic presentations, whereas Cox and Kastan boast of the fact that "no essays about individual authors will be found here. To some, no doubt, this will seem a major drawback of the volume; to others - to most, we hope - it will be the volume's principal strength" (2). There is a deliberate plan "to dislodge authors and scripts from the center of dramatic history" (5).
Hunter's study was a long time in the making, and it represents the mature reflections of a distinguished scholar and critic. It has none of the formulaic qualities of a traditional literary history. It is, in fact, a complex and difficult book to read. Hunter chooses to approach his large subject not through authors but through the plays themselves arranged in large generic categories. There are separate chapters on early and late tragedy, comedy, and history plays, a final chapter on tragicomedy tragicomedy
Literary genre consisting of dramas that combine elements of tragedy and comedy. Plautus coined the Latin word tragicocomoedia to denote a play in which gods and mortals, masters and slaves reverse the roles traditionally assigned to them. , with an appendix on entries, masques, and jigs. In addition, there are chapters on the boy actors and the new dramaturgy dram·a·tur·gy
The art of the theater, especially the writing of plays.
drama·tur , preconditions of Elizabethan drama, and the emergence of the university wits (under "Early Tragedy").
In the introduction Hunter defends a generic approach: "Genre provides the framework that seems most useful in connecting like with like, supposing that, even if no consistent definitions can be found, the presence of Comedy, History, and Tragedy as Elizabethan stage Elizabethan stage may refer to:
2. plays, and plays, like The Merry Wives of Windsor, of topographical nostalgia.
Hunter's account of Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy (1585-1589) is typical of his approach. He devotes eleven pages (69-79) to the play under the rubric RUBRIC, civil law. The title or inscription of any law or statute, because the copyists formerly drew and painted the title of laws and statutes rubro colore, in red letters. Ayl. Pand. B. 1, t. 8; Diet. do Juris. h.t. of victim tragedy. His discussion is unhurried, and he quotes long passages which are then subject to elaborate stylistic analysis. There is no sense that the author is trying to cover ground, as in conventional literary histories. Hunter's comments are forceful and original, for example, on Kyd's style (as in the "O eyes! no eyes" speech): "Kyd's poetry aims rather to articulate an entangling web of relations, and its force depends on the preserved tension between urgency of individual feeling and the necessity, imposed by the social structure of the represented world, to postpone, double back, 'go by' (as Hieronimo famously described it) in rhetoric as in action" (72). Hunter is especially acute on Hieronimo's madness, which sets the pattern for a great line of Elizabethan tragic madmen. Kyd understood that "passionate derangement de·range·ment
1. Disturbance of the regular order or arrangement of parts in a system.
2. Mental disorder; insanity.
de·range gave the poet access to a rhetorical landscape of bizarre juxtapositions and metamorphoses of more than Ovidian force, all the more powerful for being set inside a world striving for rational meanings" (75). I find it remarkable that Hunter's literary history should read like a series of critical essays on complicated topics.
The most impressive chapter in Hunter's book is on the boy actors and the new dramaturgy. Again, Hunter deploys skillful skill·ful
1. Possessing or exercising skill; expert. See Synonyms at proficient.
2. Characterized by, exhibiting, or requiring skill. arguments about the special style of the boy actors as it affects the kinds of plays they presented. Although strongly opposed ideologically, Marston and Jonson are linked as avant-garde dramatists for the boys' companies. Their plays are highly self-conscious and present the "lurid image of an absurd world which is simultaneously ridiculous and tragic" (284). It is paradoxical that they express a powerful poetry of passion and despair at the same time as they seem to parody human pretension Pretension
See also Hypocrisy.
Prey (See QUARRY.)
Pride (See BOASTFULNESS, EGOTISM, VANITY.)
vain, officious parish clerk. [Br. Lit. to emotional power. There is a teasing appendix to this chapter on Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida Troilus and Cressida (troi`ləs, krĕs`ĭdə), a medieval romance distantly related to characters in Greek legend. Troilus, a Trojan prince (son of Priam and Hecuba), fell in love with Cressida (Chryseis), daughter of Calchas. , a play probably written for performance at the Inns of Court. It is like the plays for the children's theater in its "uneasy mixture of rhetorical parody and ethical seriousness" (357), but it differs from these plays in the "intensity of its commitment to both idealism and disgust" (357).
Hunter heroically integrates Shakespeare into his discussion on the understanding that he is not a solitary genius, but part of a theatrical "world that constituted his life as a writer - the world of the public dramatists, actors, audiences, playhouses, impresarios, who provided him with the basic definition of his metier"(1). Not all of Shakespeare's plays William Shakespeare's plays have the reputation of being among the greatest in the English language and in Western literature. His plays are traditionally divided into the genres of tragedy, history, and comedy. are taken up by Hunter, since he is oriented toward genre, but there are flashes of original insight everywhere. Thus, the wooing of Lady Anne in Richard III Richard III, 1452–85, king of England (1483–85), younger brother of Edward IV. Created duke of Gloucester at Edward's coronation (1461), he served his brother faithfully during Edward's lifetime—fighting at Barnet and Tewkesbury and later invading draws its memorability from Shakespeare's "impudently im·pu·dent
1. Characterized by offensive boldness; insolent or impertinent. See Synonyms at shameless.
2. Obsolete Immodest. comic capacity to transform history into personal experience (but without sacrificing political reality, in the romantic manner)" (193). Sometimes the plays seem to get entangled en·tan·gle
tr.v. en·tan·gled, en·tan·gling, en·tan·gles
1. To twist together or entwine into a confusing mass; snarl.
2. To complicate; confuse.
3. To involve in or as if in a tangle. in Hunter's generic purposes; for example, the comments on Ali's Well as a prodigal play don't seem adequate to what the play is doing (385-87).
A New History of Early English Drama is an entirely different book from Hunter's, so that the two volumes complement each other. A New History is something of a festschrift fest·schrift
n. pl. fest·schrif·ten or fest·schrifts
A volume of learned articles or essays by colleagues and admirers, serving as a tribute or memorial especially to a scholar. for David Bevington David Bevington is Professor Emeritus in the Humanities and in English Language & Literature, Comparative Literature, and the College at the University of Chicago, where he has taught since 1967. - all of its editorial board are former graduate students of Bevington. The introduction expresses noble, postmodern sentiments about the aims of the volume: "Drama is always radically collaborative, both on stage and in print, and this volume seeks to restore the collaborative sense of early English dramatic activity by focusing on the conditions and constraints of playmaking, the networks of dependency, both discursive and institutional, that motivated and sustained it" (2). The comprehensive plan of the volume is impressive, but, unfortunately, not all of the essays live up to the high aims of its editors.
For my personal interests, I was much taken with the exciting, long essay by Peter W. M. Blayney, "The Publication of Playbooks" (chap. 21). Here Blayney patiently explodes myths fostered by such eminent bibliographers as Greg and Pollard about the relation between the publication of playbooks and the Elizabethan book trade: that acting companies usually considered publication to be against their best interests, that publishers sought to acquire plays by dishonest means, that if a stationer sta·tion·er
1. One that sells stationery.
a. A publisher.
b. A bookseller. failed to register a play he was probably trying to conceal its origins, that if he registered it but failed to publish it, he was probably acting to forestall piracy (384). In fact, plays are not a very significant aspect of the book trade at all. Blayney's knowledge of his subject is so extensive that he manages to present a case that is both authoritative and original. Similarly, Paul Werstine's chapter "Plays in Manuscript"(chap. 25) seriously discredits some of the basic assumptions of Greg and Pollard's work.
There is a wealth of material in A New History on popular and domestic culture. Diana E. Henderson's essay, "The Theater and Domestic Culture" (chap. 10), ranges widely in feminist issues, with frequent allusions to plays. For example, in Jacobean city comedy, "concern about wives taking pleasure together unites with new economic emphases and the period's obsession with cuckoldry Cuckoldry
See also Adultery, Faithlessness.
symbol of cuckoldry. [Medieval and Ren. Folklore: Walsh Classical, 5]
metaphorical decoration for deceived husband. " (176). There are also insightful observations about shrews, including Kate in The Taming of the Shrew shrew, common name for the small, insectivorous mammals of the family Soricidae, related to the moles. Shrews include the smallest mammals; the smallest shrews are under 2 in. (5.1 cm) long, excluding the tail, and the largest are about 6 in. (15 cm) long. , as "projections of male anxiety about controlling wives" (178). Suzanne Westfall's contribution, "'A Commonty a Christmas gainbold or a tumbling trick': Household Theater" (chap. 3), has a good deal to say about dramatic entertainments that were not presented in theaters but in private spaces, usually in great houses. These performances tended to be "far more expensive and multimedial than those of the public stage" (54), since patrons had great resources at their command and were eager to indulge in excess for the sake of conspicuous consumption conspicuous consumption
The acquisition and display of expensive items to attract attention to one's wealth or to suggest that one is wealthy.
Noun 1. . Michael Bristol has a rewarding chapter (chap. 13) on "Theater and Popular Culture."
Ann Jennalie Cook writes very sensibly about "Audiences: Investigation, Interpretation, Invention" (chap. 17), not only in the public and private theaters, but also in aristocratic household performances. The essay touches on important points in a sociology of audiences, because persons went to the theater for a variety of reasons, none more important than the desire to be seen. Patrons paid large sums for stools on the stage so that they could "enjoy the gaze of the entire house" (310). Peter Thomson contributes a quirky essay entitled, "Rogues and Rhetoricians: Acting Styles in Early English Drama" (chap. 18), which relates acting to the actor as well as to the audience. For example, the cross-dressed boy playing a female role is "insistently provocative, an actor implicitly interrogating his character and sometimes breaking out into open contradiction of it" (333). Thomson insists that doubling of roles could not successfully take place unless each role were clearly identified. This essay does a good deal to establish the material conditions of acting in early English drama. W. R. Streitberger's "Personnel and Professionalization pro·fes·sion·al·ize
tr.v. pro·fes·sion·al·ized, pro·fes·sion·al·iz·ing, pro·fes·sion·al·iz·es
To make professional.
pro·fes " (chap. 19) also deals with practical matters related to actors. For example, an employment opportunity was created in the London theaters by longer plays with more characters, which needed more players to perform them. For the period from 1590 to 1642, we know the names of more than a thousand people working in various capacities in the theater, but there were probably many more.
This is just a sampling of representative chapters from A New History of Early English Drama, which displays the kinds of concerns that are absent from George Hunter's more strictly literary volume. The charm of Cox and Kastan's book is that it is full of unpredictable, original points of view, presented by confirmed experts in their own special fields. The two volumes taken together present a formidable body of knowledge and critical opinions about early English drama.
MAURICE CHARNEY Rutgers University Rutgers University, main campus at New Brunswick, N.J.; land-grant and state supported; coeducational except for Douglass College; chartered 1766 as Queen's College, opened 1771. Campuses and Facilities
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