An unsigned review of The Playgoers’ Handbook to the English Renaissance Drama, by Agnes Mure Mackenzie
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182 ] An unsigned review of The Playgoers’ Handbook to the English Renaissance Drama, by Agnes Mure Mackenzie London: Jonathan Cape, 1927. Pp. 191. The Times Literary Supplement, 1334 (25 Aug 1927) 577 Miss Mure Mackenzie’s purpose is apparently to make the Elizabethan drama, besides Shakespeare, understanded of the people.1 Her book is a summary account and criticism of the chief Elizabethan dramatists and their more important plays, with a chapter of hints on how they should be produced by amateurs (including useful remarks about costume and scenery ), an appendix of dates, an appendix of bibliography, and an appendix of the societies which have produced some of these plays. Miss Mure Mackenzie sets out to rescue the Elizabethan drama from the highbrow, and to show to the plain person that these plays are really very good stuff. But when she comes to express her opinion of the dramatists severally her enthusiasm cools. To Lyly, indeed, she is fair, though she does not encourage reproduction of his plays; about Kyd she is discouraging; she says that “verve and pace, and a certain hard brilliant glitter” are the “main qualities” of Jonson’s plays [82]; to Chapman she is hardly kinder: “The plays have passion in them, but it is mainly a passion of the intellect” [92]; Marston is “rather an odd sort of person” [93]; and as for Middleton, Rowley, Webster, and Tourneur she remarks “the absence of any real emotional quality” [115]. If Miss Mure Mackenzie is writing for plain people who are innocent of any knowledge of Elizabethan drama, she certainly says very little to encourage them to become acquainted with it.2 Original text of the review: Miss Mure Mackenzie’s purpose is apparently to make the Elizabethan Drama, besides Shakespeare, understanded of the people. Her book is a summary account and criticism of the chief Elizabethan dramatists and their more important plays, with a chapter of hints on how they should beproducedbyamateurs(includingsomeusefulremarksaboutcostumeand scenery),anappendixofdates,anappendixofbibliography,andanappendix [ 183 An unsigned review of The Playgoers’ Handbook of the Societies which have produced some of these plays. Miss Mure Mackenzie starts with a violent prejudice in favour of the Old Vic audience, and an equally violent, but less commendable, prejudice against the person who she calls the “highbrow.” She says that in recent years the Elizabethan Drama has been to many people “a highbrow cult,” but assures us by adding thatthehighbrowsarenow“movingon”totheRestorationandtheRussians. And throughout her preface she protests her attachment to the plain and popular cause, and her aversion for the “highbrows,” who apparently haunt “the university class room,” and “the Café Royal.” Her book, she avers, is written for people like herself, “plain men and women without claim to scholarship and with a considerable objection to highbrows and such vermin of the arts.” Now “vermin” is strong language, and moreover unfair. The Phoenix Society was founded and supported throughout its difficult career by disinterested and unselfish “highbrows”; its audience, such as it was, was largely a “highbrow” audience; but for the “highbrows” the plays of Jonson and Dryden would never have been produced. Jonson and Dryden and Congreve were great dramatists, but did they not write for, and was their drama not made possible by, the same sort of people whom Miss Mure Mackenzie derides and vilifies as “highbrows.” We may refer Miss Mure Mackenzie,withhertiresomechampionshipof“plainpeople,”toMr.Leonard Woolf ’s recent lucid pamphlet Hunting the Highbrow;3 and content ourselves with saying that Miss Mure Mackenzie’s violence and intemperance prejudices her own cause. Miss Mure Mackenzie sets out to rescue the Eliza­bethan Drama from the highbrow, and to show to the plain person that these plays are really very good stuff. Unfortunately, when she comes to express her opinion of the dramatists severally, her enthusiasm seems to cool. To Lyly indeed she is fair, though she does not encourage reproduction of his plays; about Kyd she is discouraging (incidentally she does not seems to be aware that Arden of Feversham is now attributed to Kyd by the best authorities). She takes for granted that Richard II and Richard III are both entirely by Shakespeare. She says that “verve and pace, and a certain hard brilliant glitter,” are the “main qualities” of Jonson’s plays. To Chapman she is hardly kinder: “the plays have passion in them, but it is mainly a passion of the intellect.” Marston is “rather an odd sort of person.” Eastward Hoe she says is Dekker’s, though the best...