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Regicide and Restoration: English Tragicomedy, 1660-1671.

Nancy Klein Maguire examines the political nature and function of theater after crisis. Maguire argues that tragicomedy was a highly effective mode for combining the tragedy of the regicide with the comic ending of restoration. Closely affiliated with the monarchy, Restoration playwrights supported the Stuart dynastic claim by juxtaposing the powerfully emotional myth of the martyred king with the pragmatic and mundane return of his son. Maguire argues that, with the single vision of tragedy no longer feasible, the hybrid of tragicomedy - reparative, expiatory, looking backward while moving forward - mirrored the double vision and ambiguity of the 1660s.

Maguire's is a timely literary historical study that takes its place among a number of valuable recent books - Richard Greaves on the radical underground of the 1660s, Nigel Keeble on the literary culture of nonconformity, Thomas Corns and Lois Potter on the politics of literature during the Interregnum, and Steven Zwicker on politics and literary culture, 1649-1689. Maguire extends such contextualization to the neglected subgenres of royalist tragicomedy from 1660-1671.

The execution of Charles I was utterly catastrophic for the (future) playwrights who formed a political network with the royal family as social and financial center. Many, however, eventually compromised with the Cromwellian regime and thus had guilt of their own to expiate. Maguire traces the developing and increasingly more complex means by which royalist playwrights from Sir William Davenant to Roger Boyle, Earl of Orrery and John Dryden stretched old generic boundaries in response to cultural crisis and change.

Maguire focuses on the two subgenres of tragicomedy which developed in the 1660s, the divided tragicomedy and the rhymed heroic play. Her study demonstrates that by using the masque structure with its dual perception of reality, the playwrights could portray the split perception that characterized the culture after crisis. The divided tragicomedy of the 1660s imaged "divided kings," treating the magic of kingship (figures of Charles I) in the heroic upper plot, with a lower plot for the more mundane, pragmatic concerns of the court of Charles II. The rhymed heroic play permitted simultaneous idealization and mocking of the ideal.

Maguire finds the most complete psychological and generic integrations in the rhymed heroic plays of Orrery and Dryden. Orrery's autobiographical plays, The Generall, The Black Prince, and Tryphon, compulsively rehearse themes of usurpation, tyranny, rebellion, and regicide. Dryden's The Indian Emperour, Tyrannick Love, and The Conquest of Granada more fully integrate the ideal and the real in a demystified and de facto presentation of monarchy that helped to mold a new culture.

Despite the overall persuasiveness of her central thesis regarding tragicomedy, Maguire sometimes overstates the cultural "split" between Charles I and Charles II. Broadsides, sermons, political tracts, and occasional verse mythologized Charles II in both biblical and classical terms; he cannot be too strictly characterized as "mundane." Further, a split between earlier drama that "criticized the regime in power" and new playwrights producing "pro-Stuart propaganda" (7) seems too unqualified. Maguire in fact goes on to show ways in which the idealization is undercut and compromised from within. Finally, it would have been worthwhile for Maguire to address the ongoing revisionist controversy among historians over the nature and effects of the English "revolution"; these issues relate to her apt demonstration of the ongoing cultural force of Charles I and Cromwell.

Yet these few demurrals are only that; this is an intelligent and ground-breaking book that makes a substantial contribution to Restoration studies. Also noteworthy are the striking illustrations and a splendid index. A densely-argued and compelling account of literary and cultural change, Regicide and Restoration revitalizes the drama of the 1660s. It is a valuable resource for literary scholars, drama critics, and historians alike.

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Author:Knoppers, Laura Lunger
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 1995
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