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464ComparativeDrama Mathew R. Martin. Between Theater and Philosophy: Skepticism in the Major City Comedies of Ben Jonson and Thomas Middleton. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2001. Pp. 191. $35.00. Mathew Martin's book contextualizes recent critical concerns such as city comedy's representation ofsubjectivity and the effects ofmarket forces byplacing them within the context of Renaissance interest in phUosophical skepticism . This approach seems eminently appropriate for examining early modern city comedy since the philosophy of skepticism is closely aUied to the moral comedy of Jonson and Middleton. As the philosopher Sextus Empirkus explains , skepticism is"an abUity, or mental attitude, which opposes appearances to judgments in any way whatsoever" (14). Given city comedy's emphasis on the gap between appearance andreality, Martin's application ofskepticism promises to bring useful insights to bear on the plays, particularly because of its valorization ofprovisional and improvisational perceptions. As Martin himself says, skepticism "emphasizes the situatedness ofthe knower, the mediatedness ofargument" (14). These issues have long been one ofthe central foci of criticism on city comedies, and Martin's approach serves as something ofan influence study, for he shows that the plays that he examines are permeated with the skeptic wiUingness to contain contradictory ideological positions. Martin's larger goal, however, is to examine Jonson's and Middleton's uses of skepticism not in order to consider how these playwrights were affected by the revival of interest in Pyrrhonism but "to explore the connections between theater and skepticism at a more fundamental level" (15-16). His introduction points out intriguing connections—phUosophical skepticism depends on theatrical conventions, and, conversely, skepticism is inherent in theater. Throughout this study, the author treats his playwrights as philosophers who solve problems through the medium oftheater—that is, through the staging ofsuch conventional elements as disguise, manipulation, lies, and storytelling. However, by placing his interest in "the making and interrogation of self and society ... in the contextofasocial reaUtyundergoingsubtle and not-so-subde reconfiguration by an expanding capitalist economy" (18), Martin often loses touch with his overarching examination of the relation between skepticism and theater. Too much ofBetween Theater and Philosophy reiterates familiar materialist critical insights about these plays, and the more abstract issues are generally addressed in extended introductions and conclusions. Moreover, Martin sometimes seems to assess the action of the plays according to Shakespearean standards of psychologicaldepth —an approach that echoes a model Martin explicitiydisavows— that is, Stanley CaveU's Disowning Knowledge in Six Plays ofShakespeare—and Reviews465 that ignores the standard perception of these dramas as farces derived from Roman models. For some time now, most critics (and nearly all of those who share Martin's materialist slant) have assumed that Jonson and Middleton intentionally created flat characters without multiple layers of subtextual motivation . This view might be debatable, but Martin's insistence on epistemological rather than generic explanations ofmotivation bypasses the debate too entirely . When Martin comments, for example, that Jonson's Daw and La Foole in Epicoene "are provided with no way of detecting their epistemological error" (63), he seems erroneously to suggest that Jonson intended to place realistic characters in a sort of early modern Absurdist world. The chapters, each ofwhich focuses on a single play, alternate the works of Jonson and Middleton. AU the plays are weU known nowadays in early modern literary studies: Volpone, Michaelmas Term, Epicoene, A Trick to Catch the Old One, TheAlchemist, A ChasteMaid in Cheapside, and BartholomewFair.A more intuitive structure might have served Martin's needs better, for it could aUow for less reiteration of recent critical commentary and permitted a more nuanced discussion of the large issues that are his intended focus. Chapter 1 offers a thoughtful discussion of the relation between skepticism and Platonism in Volpone. Martin suggests that the Venetian setting of Volpone offers a "symbolic ambivalence" that Jonson "exploits to imitate the Republic's double vision" (23). Martin describes Jonson's farce as the poet's attempt to examine the dystopic effects of a capitalist society whose injustice results from the lack of a basic foundation in the realm of truth and being. Thus the play"shows the realization ofUtopia to be itselfa dystopian moment within the larger economy ofexpenditure and death...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 464-467
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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