Indiscernible Counterparts: The Invention of the Text in French Classical Drama.
Christopher Braider signals that this work is a 'domestic colloquy with a body of poems I love' (p. 13), and such unreconstructed enthusiasm runs through its entirety. An effortless familiarity informs his discussions of particular plays, and, in many respects, this offering represents aeuvre de synthese whose strength resides principally in its parts. Braider breathes new life into discussions of selected dramaturgy. Following on from Frangois Lasserre, he analyses the dedication to Pierre Corneille' Horace as a 'masterpiece of studied insolence' (p. 114). A quirky reading of the denouement of Tartuff eis offered, viewing it in terms of the doctrine of transubstantiation where the final affirmation to royal authority constitutes a secular consecration of the social order. In the same way that liturgical rubrics stipulate that the silent canon is recited by the priest alone in the supreme moments of the Mass, so Tartuffe's real name forever remains a mystery to the spectators and is never enunciated. Braider argues that the shielded identity of this fourbe renomme mirrors the' confidentiality in which the state cloaks its apparatus to assure its efficacy' (p268). The central thesis of the book concerns the relationship between performance and text, and Braider lays stress on individual dramas' ultimate meaning lying in an 'acute (if belated) experience of the printed page' (p. 16). Accordingly, Racine is viewed as perfecting 'the instrument Corneille and Molare put into his hand-the text itself conceived as the thing he wrote that we might read' (p. 376). Braider takes up the concept of indiscernible counterparts, as formulated by Arthur Danto (The Transfiguration of the Commonplace (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1981)), to describe objects that are indistinguishable from each other but at the same time distinct, and applies it to seventeenth-century theatre. In this way, individual responses to the written texts become indiscernible counterparts, liberating canonical works from standing as monolithic constituents of the grand siecle canon. In suggesting that dramatists were more inclined to think in terms of the written word than we might sometimes afford them credit for, Braider appeals for a shift in emphasis from interpretations based on purely performance-related issues. Readings of certain plays dealing with illusion and identity, notably Corneille' Rodogune, Rotrou' Les Sosies, and Moliere's Amphitryon, stress the disjunction between theatrical performance and the dramatic poem itself. For Braider, the achievement of these early modern playwrights lies in their invention, in the sense of having created and discovered, of the classical text.
In a work containing many useful, often original, considerations of several major plays of the period, the lack of an index is a surprising, not to mention annoying, omission. All the more so, since the scholarly apparatus is otherwise coherent and impressive: footnotes are plentiful, informative, and fully referenced (a pleasing combination that is fast becoming an endangered species). An in-depth discussion of Danto's theoretical framework would have been a welcome and important inclusion, given the title and focus of this monograph. The seven illustrations are interesting additions but seem peripheral, and only one figure is directly related to theatrical iconography, which remains a relatively unexplored topic. These minor misgivings aside, Indiscernible Counterparts constitutes an incisive overview of seventeenth-century drama. Always fluent and often eloquent, Braider's passion is both reasoned and contagious; it is difficult not to resist descriptions such as: 'There is something almost autistic about Racinian tragedy, a magnificent if at times monstrous solipsism comparable to nothing so much as the hermetic self-involvement of its leading characters' (P-326). The study will unquestionably represent a stimulus for its readership.
UNIVERSITY OF KANSAS PAUL SCOTT
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|Publication:||The Modern Language Review|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Apr 1, 2005|
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