Elizabethan Theater: Essays in Honor of S. Schoenbaum.
As Steven Urkowitz affirms at the opening of his essay in Elizabethan Theater, "Sam Schoenbaum taught our community the delights of watching how stories about Shakespeare grew and changed over time. Close study of the tales, the tellers, and their changing contexts unraveled histories and offered insight into the concerns and projects of their authors" (222). This volume of essays by a distinguished group of Renaissance scholars is a Festschrift for Schoenbaum, whose "principal" and vast contributions to Shakespeare studies are recorded by Nancy Klein Maguire (309-10), and whose areas of excellence organize seventeen essays in four categories: "The Biographical Record" (Stanley Wells, Mary Edmond, Brian Gibbons), "The Idea of Authorship" (Richard Dutton, Barbara A. Mowat, Ian Donaldson, Alexander Leggatt, Annabel Patterson), "The Playwright in the Play" (Meredith Skura, Philip J. Finkelpearl, Susan Snyder, Jonas Barish, Steven Urkowitz), and "Playwrights and Contexts" (George K. Hunter. Arthur E Kinney, R.A. Foakes, Michael Neill).
Wells covers "some of the more conspicuous contributions to Shakespearean biography" (15) published since the second revised edition of Schoenbaum's monumental work, Shakespeare's Lives (1991; orig. 1970), until summer 1994. Edmond provides tangential biographical material in an essay whose title reflects the contents: "Yeomen, Citizens, Gentlemen, and Players: The Burbages and Their Connections." Gibbons's wideranging essay on Ben Jonson's works and their relation to identity is complemented by two other essays largely on Jonson by Donaldson and Leggatt. Donaldson provides a well-researched literary history of how Shakespeare's modern reputation was established by being contrasted to Jonson through the classical practice of "syncrisis" (113). Over the course of two centuries even Shakespeare's personality, about which "very little in fact is known" (121), was manufactured in positive terms through negative anecdotes and attributes foisted upon Jonson. Leggatt's "survey of the self-presentation of the playwright" (139) details not only how playwrights' names on title pages "become increasingly common" after the 1590s (131), but also the rise of "a community of writers who know each other's work and are prepared to support each other" through commendatory verses (132). In this movement Jonson is the "great presence" and Shakespeare the "great absence" (139), whose sole reference to another writer's work is to Christopher Marlowe (141).
Patterson's essay on historiography and Shakespeare's Henry VIII focuses on the play's other title, All Is True. She proposes that "in returning to" the "English chronicle tradition" in his last play, "Shakespeare saw himself as merely one of a series of collaborators in a never-ending process of history writing" (160). Dutton learnedly reconsiders the question of Shakespeare's involvement in the publication of his own plays, and Mowat argues strongly that "the category of Author was alive and robust in Renaissance England" (95). Rethinking "text" and "author" vis-a-vis "postmodern nihilism" (specifically Barthes and Foucault), Skura deploys "an old-fashioned argument to justify maintaining an old-fashioned Shakespeare alongside the new ways of seeing his social context" (182), and concludes by showing how Shakespeare's preoccupation with hunting (a mark of social class) suggests that "actor and audience are the hunter and hunted" (181).
Finkelpearl asserts "the essential independence of the greatest dramatists" (197) by economically discussing the relation between "topical matters" and The Two Noble Kinsmen (184), a Shakespeare/John Fletcher collaboration. Snyder analyzes militaristic "misleadings" by focusing on "two battles that don't happen" in Othello and Hamlet (200); if the essay could be longer, one might wish to see some consideration of Shakespeare's highly militaristic milieu and of plays such as Troilus and Cressida which distinctly do not present "war as having certain advantages over peace" (203). Barish's brief essay on memory in Shakespeare, focusing on Coriolanus's forgetfulness of his plebeian benefactor at Corioles, might benefit from consideration of Shakespeare's class-oriented line near the beginning of his career in King John: "For new-made honor doth forget men's names" (1.1.187). In an essay with strong pedagogical value, Urkowitz analyzes different quarto and Folio passages of Romeo and Juliet and The Merry Wives of Windsor, concluding that in the case of the former's two versions "one rings exuberantly, one tolls ominously" (229).
Hunter, drawing on some materials from his recent and crucial volume in The Oxford History of English Literature (The Age of Shakespeare), discusses the "theatrical politics" of Shakespearean comedy from 1590-1610, observing that the symbiotic relationship between Shakespeare's company and the physical theater meant that the "King's Men made the Blackfriars the most successful theater in London and the Blackfriars made the Kings Men the wealthiest and longest lived of the London companies" (250). Kinney, following the Annales school, nicely contextualizes the "cultural moment" of Macbeth by providing a wealth of fascinating documents. Foakes covers the production history of King Lear, showing how the representation of the king has evolved from that of a regal figure to a senior citizen, and arguing that both the stage and criticism should restore the royal aspect, especially since it reflects contemporary Jacobean politics. Finally, Neill discusses "tropes of translation" (i.e., crossing boundaries) throughout Renaissance discourse, affirming that for Shakespeare translation is "always an ambiguous process . . . either active or passive, empathic or aggressive, an instrument of conquest, a vehicle of trade, or a passport to wonder" (306).
Overall, this is a strong group of essays. The only significant defect of the volume is that despite being entitled "Elizabethan Theater" - when really it has a distinctly Jacobean flavor - very little attention is paid to that master spirit of the Elizabethan age, Marlowe. Shakespeare, I believe, was haunted by the probable political murder of his exact and, in 1593, more famous contemporary, and this is why Marlowe is the sole writer to whom Shakespeare specifically refers. It is appropriate that the secretive Shakespeare should pay homage only to a man who was probably once a secret agent for the Elizabethan regime. Since the volume is devoted to Schoenbaum's "focus on the idea of the centrality of the individual - author, actor, entrepreneur - in Renaissance theater" (9), one might wish for a little less Jonson and a lot more Marlowe, whose "life" and drama enshrine the virtu of the individual "aspiring mind." But in any event, this volume will definitely appeal to traditional scholars as well as those who, albeit preoccupied with the latest critical fads. nonetheless appreciate solid research and lucid prose.
CURTIS C. BREIGHT University of Pittsburgh
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|Author:||Breight, Curtis C.|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Sep 22, 1998|
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