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  • Theatrum mundi: Studies in Honour of Ronald W. Tobin
Theatrum mundi: Studies in Honour of Ronald W. Tobin. Edited by Claire L. Carlin and Kathleen Wine . Charlottesville, Rookwood Press, 2003. 280 pp.

Twenty-seven short essays address that commonplace of early modern culture, namely that all the world is a stage; three introductory essays summarize the essays in the volume, the career of Ronald W. Tobin, and provide a selected list of his publications. Seven essays are devoted to Molière's theatre (in particular, Dom Juan, Le Tartuffe, Les Plaisirs de l'île enchantée, Monsieur de Pourceaugnac), six to Racine (in particular, Iphigénie and Phèdre), and four to Corneille (in particular, L'Illusion comique, Médée, Polyeucte and Cinna). These and other essays consider questions of dramaturgy, dramatic themes, and theatre and society (love, passion and desire; women in the theatre of Molière and Corneille; horror and monsters; satire, flattery and the burlesque; witches, impotence, wealth and class; rhetoric, oratory and theatrical form; theatrical illusion). Three essays adopt modern perspectives: Racine and the moderns, Tartuffe on screen, and productions of Molière by the Comédie-française in the year 2000. Five essays, more loosely connected to the general theme, study Poussin's Confirmation (regrettably without accompanying illustration), dramatized eclogues in Occitan, Les Entretiens d'Ariste et d'Eugène, Villedieu's Henriette-Sylvie de Molière as actress, and the comedy L'Avocat Patelin (1706), a reworking of the medieval farce. The first and last essays in the volume are more directly concerned with the commonplace of the theatrum mundi.

Many of the essays rework well-worn themes or re-read well-known plays, but for the most part cleverly, providing fresh perspectives. Other essays ask questions or address themes that invite new research. Jean Emelina argues cogently for the addition of 'horror' to the emotions of pity and fear, which tragedy was to provoke, demonstrating the connection between horror and the sublime, and the way the staging of horror evolved from mimesis to diegesis in the course of the century. John Lyons evokes a triptych of Medeas — Seneca, Euripides, Corneille — revealing how the latter creates a fearsome and tragic Médée in a play peopled with characters more appropriate to tragi-comedy, and thereby brings tragedy to the French stage. John Campbell interrogates the critical consensus that makes Racine's Iphigénie a 'tragédie heureuse' because of the ending, and restores to the play its tragic themes, patterns, plot and evocation of the tragic in the human condition. William Cloonan defies the [End Page 392] accepted view that although the use of the 'play within the play' is widespread in Elizabethan theatre, it is absent from Corneille, Molière and Racine. His subtle and convincing analysis of Racine's less obvious use of the technique, although undoubtedly controversial, adds to the chilling cruelty of Agamemnon, Titus and Néron, as they adopt the roles of lead actor and director in the dramas they concoct within the plays. Finally, Larry Riggs explores issues of gender, hegemonic discourse, self-fashioning and surveillance in the theatre of power of absolute monarchy and the theatrical entertainment provided by that power. He revisits the well-worn parallelism between the suppression of the body (and its desire and disorder) in the Cartesian epistemology of objectivism, and the violent repression of painful feelings and memories of wounded bodies, which makes heroic masculinity possible in Corneille's theatre. His argument is seductive but unconvincing. It relegates Corneille's women to a femaleness that is defined by the 'disorders' of emotion, the body, and contestation of the discursive and political dominance of masculine power. In fact, some of the women in Corneille's theatre provide a reasoned middle path between the violence of 'masculine reason' and order, and the disorder of 'feminine emotion', demonstrating that they shared the same human rationality with the men of the plays, but not necessarily the same value system. Undergraduates may find this book useful because the short essays will allow them to sip the work of leading specialists of seventeenth-century theatre and culture. Academics may find it stimulating and be prompted to revisit well-known plays, themes and texts from early modern France.

Ruth Whelan
National University of Ireland, Maynooth

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