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Anthony B. Dawson. Indirections: Shakespeare and the Art of Illusion University of Toronto Press, XV, 194. $15.00 Polonius is not a particularly auspicious mentor for a book of criticism: how typical of the old buffer that he should compare the truth he is after to a carp, that muddy, uninspiring scavenger. Anthony Dawson's declared subject, however, is leviathan, and the size of his catch is directly related to his methods. The title of the book in fact points in two directions , the first more modest and the second quite clearly a Big Theme. Anne Righter's Shakespeare and the Idea ofthe Play (1962) showed the way to a marvellous book on this subject, still to be written, which will bring together in an incisive and central manner all the material clumsily and insensitively dealt with in the high-school-machine approach under the cliche 'illusion and reality': our sense of Shakespeare's metaphors of pretence and playing. In this larger respect Dawson seems far too apologetic, as if he has not quite realized the breadth of what he is dealing with; while he fails to point out that Shakespeare lived in an age when theatrical metaphors were a commonplace, and that his audience would be quite ready for puns and variations on the central themes, he makes insufficient contact with contemporary sensibility in this same respect. If we no longer compare out mothers' wombs to tiring houses, our theatre lives in the shadow of Brecht and Pirandello, and we see Shakespeare alongside Beckett, Stoppard, and Weiss. Outside the fairly narrow world of theatrical culture one need only ponder ihe widespread popular use of that revealing word 'scene.' The book exhibits a strange mixture of critical techniques, all of them, I suppose, indirections, though many seem fairly well-travelled highways . Dawson should, I think, have done more work on separating the uplifting trails from the swampy: the reader is left to wander rather too much. Some original and interesting inSights are buried beneath eyeglazing layers of critical cant, occasional flights of Polonian afflatus, and oddly fatuous explanations. 'The most obvious example of Bertram's unconcern for direct connection between word and meaning: we are told, 'is his constant lying.' Well, yes. One waits for the rider that his lying is cured with lying, as in Sonnet 1}8, but in vain. The chapter on Hamlet, to Dawson 'a pivotal play' (to whom not?), goes by without any reference to the '0 what a rogue' soliloquy, a curious omission in a book on this theme. The general thesis, that disguise, beneficent in the comedies, becomes in the tragedies and problem plays 'dangerous and threatening ,' hardly seems to withstand rudimentary scrutiny. Not to recognize the danger and threat simply because the play ends with marriage is to let form dictate to tone. The Comedy of Errors is a brilliant farce, but it is full of tension and danger, while A Midsummer Night's Dream is one of the black holes in Shakespeare's universe. Dawson's major fault, however, is 410 L.l:f l T.t:KI) iN CANADA 1979 one he shares with many critics: he is not as exciting as his subject . (JOHN H . ASTINGTON) Douglas Duncan. Ben Jonsonand the Ludanic Tradition Cambridge University Press. viii, 252. $24.95 'Clever but harmless and undeniably light-weight, the Lucian we know today accords oddly with the Lucian who was fought over in the sixteenth century' (p 77). Fought over, as Professor Duncan shows (exercising his own learned wit throughout), with learned wits as his champions and dunces as his adversaries. Lucian's family intended him to be a stone-carver as Ben Jonson's intended him to be a bricklayer, but the seductions and high promises of literary culture won out in each case, Jonson becoming (after false starts as a soldier and an actor) a playwright, poet, and critic, Lucian a professional educator and lecturer. 'Not for him the image of the teacher agonistes, sweating it out with his students in the classroom day by day. He is the travelling performer wafted to the airport on waves of applause' (p 16). He is a great dramatizerofhis ideas and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 415-416
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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