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Playwrights and Plagiarists in Early Modern England: Gender, Authorship, Literary Property.

Laura J. Rosenthal. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1996. x + 257 pp. $39.95. ISBN: 0-8014-32522-9.

Each author considers the gendering of a form of early modern British "business": Comensoli examines domestic and dramatic "economies"; Rosenthal studies the business of playwriting, including the traffic of authorship in theaters and satires, and on Grub Street. The eponymous "early modern" extends from Comensoli's "Medieval and Tudor Contexts" to her brief sketch of English Sentimental Comedy and Diderot in an epilogue, and in Rosenthal the term spans the Commonwealth, Restoration, and eighteenth-century playwrights, Margaret Cavendish, Aphra Behn, Colley Cibber, various "female wits," and Susanna Centlivre. Both studies "denaturalize" economic aspects of the plays and playwrights they examine to expose ideologies at work.

"Household Business "synthesizes some important recent feminist and materialist work in the subfield of "domestic drama," while reading plays in the Patient Griselda and the village witch traditions, along with domestic tragedies and some comedies. With the intent to "interrogate generic and ideological codes," and thereby show "the instability of the early modern household [and] . . . . ambivalence attending theories of order" (16) in the plays, Comensoli frequently invokes ideological and institutional forms of "class, gender, and status," poverty and misogyny (11,122), and speaks of destabilizing and conflicting cultural elements (5). But, while this shows her commitment to the politics of these critical issues, her argument nonetheless neither sustains an analysis of the precise configurations of, say, misogyny and domesticity, nor presents clear, original insights into the "patterns of resistance" she finds in the plays. Occasionally, she lapses into relying on the now challenged taxonomy of domestic (or "homiletic") drama purported in 1943 by H.H. Adams (120). Still, many of her arguments help to open up the plays - for example, "[d]omestic tragedy neither uniformly nor unequivocally upholds the cults of civility or domesticity" (68); "the witch [is] the inversion of the ideal Protestant wife" (113); a set of early seventeenth-century comedies refigures the Tudor Prodigal Son figure into the profligate husband (132).

The early "Contexts" chapter - on morality and mystery cycles, pageants, and interludes-comprises the most original contribution of the book, since no previous study (that I know of) spells out in such detail native roots of the domestic genre. A genealogy of the Griselda story (Ch. 2) from Petrarch and Boccaccio through Chaucer and the uniquely Elizabethan dramatic embodiments allows Comensoli to historicize such ideas as "companionate marriage" (a term more vexed than she acknowledges here), the increased importance of "domesticity and family life" for those of the "middling sort" (52, 53), the generic developments in the drama of "homiletic structures" and "realistic impulses" (62), and "the crisis of order" (65). Chapter 3 on "Domestic Tragedy and Private Life" analyzes Heywood's A Woman Killed with Kindness, the anonymous sensational plays Arden of Faversham, A Yorkshire Tragedy, and A Warning for Fair Women, and Yarrington's Two Lamentable Tragedies, and Ch. 4, "Staging the Witch/Wife Dyad," traces this pattern in the tragicomedies The Witch of Edmonton (Rowley) and The Late Lancaster Witches (Heywood and Brome), with references to other plays "that treat the effects of witchcraft on the domus" (113). The final chapter, "Developments in Comedy," shows how comic plots (in How a Man May Choose a Good Wife from a Bad, The Fair Maid of Bristow, The London Prodigal, and the Honest Whore plays) revise the Griselda model to encompass a still-patient, but less passive wife equal in social status to her husband, a married man who needs (and gets) reforming, and sometimes a male rival. This chapter includes interesting sections on hospitality and "the House of Correction" (136-46), though it concludes too hastily. Comensoli recognizes the social and theatrical impacts of "the cult of domesticity" in this period; subsequent scholars may pursue this line of inquiry yet further.

With acute attention to the nuances of gender and class, Playwrights and Plagiarists traces contemporary estimations of later commercial theater practitioners and asks "why some (re)writers seem more vulnerable to the charge of plagiarism, and why some appear more vulnerable to being plagiarized from" (12). Though the answer may not surprise us - that "the cultural location of the text and the subject position of its author" inform early modern distinctions between legitimate and transgressive forms of textual "borrowing"(14) Rosenthal's well-researched narrative takes the reader through some fascinating material along the way.

A short introduction and a longer theoretical chapter define key terms such as property, plagiarism, poetic genealogies, intertextuality, political patriarchalism, and "positions" or statures vis-a-vis the worlds of publishing and performing in the period. These topics require (and her readers consequently receive) an account of "social subjectivity" which theorizes and historicizes authority and originality, popular and elite culture, amateur and professional status (4 ff.). The author's representation of economic history and theory from Hobbes and Locke to their modern commentators strengthens the more strictly literary arguments: Rosenthal compresses the original arguments and accurately summarizes the weaknesses in certain texts (e.g. Macpherson's The Political Theory of Possessive Individualism [1962; reprint 1990]; or Derrida on Rousseau and feminist critiques of both French theorists), while still gleaning useful notions from all (24-25, 20-21).

The Cavendish chapter shows the Duchess of Newcastle "insist[ing] upon her own originality, supported by a combination of class privilege and gendered modesty, as a strategy for owning literary property" (59). Rosenthal's readings of Cavendish's plays, Youth's Glory and Death's Banquet, Bell in Campo, The Presence and The Convent of Pleasure, and the utopian romance The Blazing Worm rely on surprisingly little previous literary criticism (limited though it may be), while describing originality in terms of "an alternative economy of authorship for elite women" (104). Next, with detailed comparative analyses, Rosenthal shows how Behn both perpetrated and suffered from "plagiarism" in her use of Thomas Killigrew's Thomaso; or The Wanderer for The Rover and in Thomas Southerne's use of her novel Oroonoko for his play. "Ladies and Fop Authors. . . "builds from Kristina Straub and Laura Brown's work on the gender destabilizing nature of the fop (201) and J.G.A Pocock on the market (202) to pursue the implications (for the gender identification and authorship claims) of Colley Cibber's "career at the confluence of Grub Street and the feminine" (203). This chapter places the women dramatists of the 1690s - Delaviviere Manley, Catherine Trotter and Mary Pix - along with Cibber in their professional milieu of mutual pillaging and pillorying to show that the male wits such as Pope and Gay found female authorship a violation "of a cultural economy of the ownership and . . . [of] a patriarchal sexual economy" (184). Meanwhile, she shows similar uneasiness with Cibber's successful "capitaliz[ation] of his status as 'hack'" (195). In the final chapter, Rosenthal examines the convergence of "gender, patronage, and literary property" (215) in the author Susanna Centlivre by discussing both her contemporary male critics as well as her own dedications and apologies for writing. While the men accuse her of being a "hack for [Whig] party politics" (216), she positions herself similarly. Rosenthal renders into a lively story a confusing web of thefts, debts, revisions, and appropriations among the playwrights in question and their characters, particularly successfully in her extended discussion of the gendered trope of gambling that closes the chapter (229 ff.).

Though I would have welcomed more from Rosenthal on Continental and English humanist notions of invention and imitation and even perhaps translation, the story she does tell is clear. Moreover, after Barthes's and Foucualt's claims about "the death of the author" have attained the status of truism, Rosenthal comes to the question fresh: "What is an Author?"

ANN C. CHRISTENSEN University of Houston
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Christensen, Ann C.
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 1999
Previous Article:"Household Business": Domestic Plays of Early Modern England.
Next Article:English Women's Poetry, 1649-1714: Politics, Community, and Linguistic Authority.

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