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Ben Jonson's 'Dotages'

A Reconsideration of the Late Plays

Larry S. Champion

Although there has been a general revival of interest in Ben Jonson's dramatic work in the past twenty years, little critical effort has been directed to his late plays -- dismissed by John Dryden as the "dotages" of an aging mind. Through a close reading of The Devil Is an Ass, The Staple of News, The New Inn, and The Magnetic Lady in light of Jonson's own theories of comedy, author Larry S. Champion demonstrates that they reveal the same precise construction and dramatic control found in his acclaimed masterpieces. Furthermore, these works reflect Jonson's continued emphasis upon realism and satiric attack, though they may not be equal in quality or dramatic effectiveness.

The brief and undistinguished stage runs of the late plays are not an accurate gauge of their dramatic merit. Rather than indicating an enfeebled mind, these late plays reveal Jonson to be a continuing innovator -- adapting the forms of the pastoral, the romance, and the morality play to the purposes of comic satire. Previous critics have charged that Jonson was merely desirous of regaining public favor at the expense of his artistic integrity. The present study suggests, however, that Jonson in these plays was in reality burlesqueing the popular fad of exaggerated romantic comedy, which he considered a degradation of the dramatic art.

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Beowulf and the Celtic Tradition

Puhvel traces and evaluates the possible influences of Celtic tradition on the Anglo-Saxon epic poem Beowulf. He discusses theories of the origins of the poem, draws parallels between elements in Beowulf and in Celtic literary tradition, and suggests that the central plot of the poem, the conflict between Grendel and his mother, is “fundamentally indebted to Celtic folktale elements.” The study is well documented and rich in references to Celtic literature, legend, and folklore.

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Bernard Shaw as Artist-Fabian

Charles A. Carpenter

Charles Carpenter provides a new perspective on one of the most puzzling questions faced by Shaw scholars: how to reconcile the artist's individualist leanings with his socialist Fabian ideals. He does so by viewing Shaw as a maverick whose approach was impossible to duplicate and grew out of his unique artistic temperament, his outlook, and his vocation.

Shaw's activities in promoting the Fabians' goals of advancing social democracy were highly distinctive. He effectively used calculated irritation as an attention-getting tactic; he relied on devices that he had formulated as a creative rhetorician, rather than on the academic principles that were second nature to most of his fellow Fabians; and he devised and championed the use of indirect means to "persuade the world to take our ideas into account in reforming itself."

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Bernard Shaw

Slaves of Duty and Tricks of the Governing Class

Bernard F. Dukore

"An original contribution to Shaw scholarship," says Michel Pharand, editor of SHAW: The Annual of Bernard Shaw Studies, who aptly summarizes Bernard Dukore’s book: This “systematic survey of how Shaw dramatizes slavery to and revolt against duty, and tricks of the governing class, has not previously been attempted. Proceeding chronologically and providing full historical context when needed (instructive also are the many parallels to contemporary history), Dukore pays scrupulous attention to detail and accuracy, and his language is fluid and jargon-free." The first part of the book’s subtitle derives from Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance, which describes its protagonist, and from Ibsen’s A Doll House, whose protagonist renounces slavery to duty and conventional morality. The subtitle’s second part is from Major Barbara, in which a powerful capitalist, a member of the governing class, refers to tricks designed to make people act in ways that profit it. The powerful instill slavery to duty and ensure that organizations aiming to alleviate the suffering of the poor act in ways that benefit the controlling class’s interests. With astonishing variety, Shaw dramatizes slavery to and revolt against duty and the tricks of the governing class in thirty-seven of his more than fifty plays from 1892 to 1948. Whereas some characters are bound by duty, others free themselves from the many different forms of trickery. Perhaps surprising is the twenty-first century pertinence of these themes, including the hypocrisy of capitalists who use phrases charged with the words “duty” and “morality” to justify their greed as well as their devious uses of education, religion, and the press.

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Betjeman

Writing the Public Life

Kevin J. Gardner

A household name in Great Britain, John Betjeman was a public literary figure who openly declared his Christian faith and championed the social and aesthetic joys of Anglicanism as unique to English identity. Through poetry in  newspapers and on radio and television broadcasts, Betjeman celebrated the cultural significance of the Church of England well beyond its religious role. Although a steadfast proponent for Christianity and the Church, Gardner explains, Betjeman nevertheless struggled mightily to believe the faith, and he was forthcoming with his own spiritual failures. In this master study of his writings, Gardner deems Betjeman to be the poet of the Church of England—and demonstrates his works to be a vital part of Anglicanism’s living traditions.

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Beyond a Common Joy

An Introduction to Shakespearean Comedy

Paul A. Olson

“Soul of the age!” Ben Jonson eulogized Shakespeare, and in the next breath, “He was not of an age but for all time.” That he was both “of the age” and “for all time” is, this book suggests, the key to Shakespeare’s comic genius. In this engaging introduction to the First Folio comedies, Paul A. Olson gives a persuasive and thoroughly engrossing account of the playwright’s comic transcendence, showing how Shakespeare, by taking on the great themes of his time, elevated comedy from a mere mid-level literary form to its own form of greatness—on par with epic and tragedy.

Like the best tragic or epic writers, Shakespeare in his comedies goes beyond private and domestic matters in order to draw on the whole of the commonwealth. He examines how a ruler’s or a court’s community at the household and local levels shapes the politics of empire—existing or nascent empires such as England, the Holy Roman Empire, Spain, Venice, and the Ottoman Empire or part empires such as Rome and Athens—where all their suffering and silliness play into how they govern. In Olson’s work we also see how Shakespeare’s appropriation of his age’s ideas about classical myth and biblical scriptures bring to his comic action a sort of sacral profundity in keeping with notions of poetry as “inspired” and comic endings as more than merely happy but as, in fact, uncommonly joyful.

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Beyond Tragedy

Structure and Experience in Shakespeare's Romances

Robert W. Uphaus

In this compact, yet comprehensive exploration of Shakespeare's romances, Robert W. Uphaus suggests that the romances bring us to a realm of human and dramatic experience that is "beyond tragedy." The inexorable movement of tragedy toward death and a final close is absorbed in romance by a further movement in which death can lead to renewed life, characters can experience a second time of joy and peace, and the audience's conventional expectations about reality and literature are challenged and enlarged.

In the late tragedies of King Lear and Antony and Cleopatra, Uphaus finds the tragic structure augmented by elements that will later contribute to the form of the romances. Turning then to the romances themselves, he sees these plays as forming a profession in which Pericles is a brilliant outline of the conventions of romance and Cymbeline is romance taken to its dramatic limits, in fact to the point of parody. Through his fresh and provocative readings of the plays we experience anew the delight of Shakespearean romance and glimpse the world of renewal at its heart.

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A Biocultural Approach to Literary Theory and Interpretation

Nancy Easterlin

Combining cognitive and evolutionary research with traditional humanist methods, Nancy Easterlin here demonstrates how a biocultural perspective in theory and criticism opens up new possibilities for literary interpretation. Easterlin maintains that the goal of literary interpretation is still of central intellectual and social value. Taking an open yet judicious approach, she argues, however, that literary interpretation stands to gain dramatically from a fair-minded and creative application of cognitive and evolutionary research. This work does just that, expounding a biocultural method that charts a middle course between overly reductive approaches to literature and traditionalists who see the sciences as a threat to the humanities. Easterlin applies her biocultural method to four major subfields within literary studies: new historicism, ecocriticism, cognitive approaches, and evolutionary approaches. After a thorough review of each subfield, she reconsiders it in light of relevant research in cognitive and evolutionary psychology and provides a textual analysis of literary works from the romantic era to the present, including William Wordsworth’s “Simon Lee” and the Lucy poems, Mary Robinson’s “Old Barnard,” Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Dejection: An Ode,” D. H. Lawrence’s The Fox, Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea, and Raymond Carver’s “I Could See the Smallest Things.” A Biocultural Approach to Literary Theory and Interpretation offers a fresh and reasoned approach to literary studies that at once preserves the central importance that interpretation plays in the humanities and embraces the exciting developments of the cognitive sciences.

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Blake's Agitation

Criticism and the Emotions

Steven Goldsmith

Blake’s Agitation is a thorough and engaging reflection on the dynamic, forward-moving, and active nature of critical thought. Steven Goldsmith investigates the modern notion that there’s a fiery feeling in critical thought, a form of emotion that gives authentic criticism the potential to go beyond interpreting the world. By arousing this critical excitement in readers and practitioners, theoretical writing has the power to alter the course of history, even when the only evidence of its impact is the emotion it arouses. Goldsmith identifies William Blake as a paradigmatic example of a socially critical writer who is moved by enthusiasm and whose work, in turn, inspires enthusiasm in his readers. He traces the particular feeling of engaged, dynamic urgency that characterizes criticism as a mode of action in Blake’s own work, in Blake scholarship, and in recent theoretical writings that identify the heightened affect of critical thought with the potential for genuine historical change. Within each of these horizons, the critical thinker’s enthusiasm serves to substantiate his or her agency in the world, supplying immediate, embodied evidence that criticism is not one thought-form among many but an action of consequence, accessing or even enabling the conditions of new possibility necessary for historical transformation to occur. The resulting picture of the emotional agency of criticism opens up a new angle on Blake’s literary and visual legacy and offers a vivid interrogation of the practical potential of theoretical discourse.

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Bleak Houses

Marital Violence in Victorian Fiction

Lisa Surridge

“Professor Surridge exhibits a clear and persuasive historical sense as well as sensitivity to the novels and stories. I believe this study will have lasting value because of its careful historical research and corresponding interpretation of the texts,” says Naomi Wood, Kansas State University The Offenses Against the Person Act of 1828 was a piece of legislation that opened magistrates' courts to abused working-class wives. Newspapers in turn reported on these proceedings and in this way the Victorian scrutiny of domestic conduct began. But how did popular fiction treat the phenomenon of “private” family violence? Bleak Houses: Marital Violence in Victorian Fiction traces novelists' engagement with the wife-assault debates in the public press between 1828 and the turn of the century. Lisa Surridge examines the early works of Charles Dickens, Dombey and Son and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, in the context of the intense debates on wife assault and manliness in the late 1840s and early 1850s. George Eliot's Janet's Repentance is read in light of the parliamentary debates on the 1857 Divorce Act. Marital cruelty trials provide the structure for both John Sutherland's The Woman in White and Anthony Trollope's He Knew He Was Right. Locating the New Woman fiction of Mona Caird and the reassuring detective investigations of Sherlock Holmes in the context of late-Victorian feminism and the great marriage debate in the Daily Telegraph, Surridge illustrates how fin-de-siècle fiction brought male sexual violence and the viability of marriage itself under public scrutiny. Bleak Houses thus demonstrates how Victorian fiction was actively engaged with the wife-assault debates of the nineteenth century, debates which both constructed and invaded the privacy of the middle-class home. ABOUT THE AUTHOR---Lisa Surridge is associate professor of English at the University of Victoria, Canada. She is co-editor of Mary Elizabeth Braddon's Aurora Floyd and has published on Victorian fiction in many journals including Victorian Literature and Culture, Women's Writing, Dickens Studies Annual, Victorian Newsletter, and Victorians Institute Journal.   

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