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406 LETTERS IN CANADA '977 attention to method, and informed by a consistent awareness of critical principle. (GUY HAMEL) John Reibetanz. The Lear World: A Study of 'King Lear' in Its Dramatic Context University of Toronto Press. xi. 142. $12.50 'Professor Reibetanz argues that many of the qualities that set Lear apart from Shakespeare's other tragedies are those it shares with Jacobean drama rather than with earlier Elizabethan drama.' Thus the blurb, which Reibetanz elaborates: 'I want to observe the results of Shakespear 's working in a context, rather than to track down particular sources ... I have given the dates of non-Shakespearean plays after references to them; by thus calling attention to the fact that a number of these plays were written after King Lear, I hope to make it clear that the object of attention is not documentary sources but a context of living, evolving traditions, where Shakespeare gave at least as much as he took, anticipated as often as he recalled' (p 7). Context, the stated object of the inquiry, is thus drained of real intellectual content, since Reibetanz expliCitly renounces (p 125, n 21) the attempt to trace direct influence, whether of Shakespeare on his fellows or vice versa. What follows is a series of very loose pilrallels which treat chronology on an each-way basis. The method, though intellectually suspect, can in the right hands produce fascinating results. Reibetanz has neither the sensitivity nor the rigour for the task, and his treatment is radically defective. SOJ!le instances. 'The creation of an isolated, extreme world' is 'a primarily Jacobean trait' (p 92). In fact, it is invariably present in Shakespeare . From 1Henry VI on, his plays present an integral world: there are no exceptions. After citing various court plays of Chapman and Marston, Reibetanz states: 'The world of King Lear is similarly integral and exclusive ' (p 13). The comparison is meaningless, since Shakespeare had been locating his plays in courts for fifteen years previously. Again, the unexplained psychology of much in the mature Shakespeare is compared with the erratic behaviour of Marston's people (p 41). But the shifts and starts of Shakespeare's characters seem always to be related to an inner core of being, while the manic oscillations of Marston stem from an entirely different concept of theatre. One cannot explain Shakespeare via Marston. The book's strategy is to muster up a variety of vague parallels. To cite a few that ·Reibetanz deems plaUSible, Cordelia is linked with Patient Griselda (p 31); Gloucester with the Rake's Progress (p 79); and Lear's domestic crime is likened to A Yorkshire Tragedy and A Woman Killed With Kindness (pp 78-9). Since King Lear's opening is 'a gross implausibility' (by no means a received axiom of current criticism) it is compared with some later openings of Beaumont and Fletcher. The method is flaccid and HUMANITIES 407 unconvincing, and advances no satisfying view of Shakespeare's relations with his contemporaries. But King Lear remains, in its own tenns, a sufficient test of a critic's acuity. Reibetanz enters on its challenge with a mixture of confidence and naivete. 'In King Lear it is Shakespeare's desire to realize abstract concepts dramatically' (p 27). Highly arguable, this, both in its main thrust and its implications. And is King Lear more given to abstractions than King John, Henry w, The Winter's Tale? Again, 'Cordelia, in particular , exists here as a dramatized emblem ... Her motives and her ends will not brook questioning; the critic must not imitate Lear and ask Cordelia to justify herself' (pp 30-1). Why not? What is the authority for Reibetanz's identifying an elite of characters who, challenged, reply 'My good man, we emblems do not abide your questions'? Cordelia as emblem points to a further weakness here. Evidently, this concept contradicts the sense of the part that an actress must accept, that is of a living, sentient being. But the implications of King Lear in performance are largely ignored. Peter Brook and Grigori Kozintsev receive a token reference apiece. Astonishingly, Marvin Rosenberg and Carol Carlisle are absent from the discussion and notes. One would have thought their...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 406-408
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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