Shakespeare Quarterly 54.1 (2003) 109-111
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Restoration Shakespeare: Viewing the Voice. By Barbara A. Murray. Madison and Teaneck: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press; London: Associated University Presses, 2001. Pp. 306. $47.50 cloth.
In 1660, when Charles II awarded a monopoly on theatrical production to the courtiers Sir Thomas Killigrew and Sir William Davenant, there was a significant shortage of available plays and playwrights. The newly-formed King's Company (Killigrew) and Duke's Company (Davenant) had no option but to rely on the pre-Civil War repertory, most particularly the printed folio works of Shakespeare, Jonson, and Beaumont and Fletcher. Of these three sources, Shakespeare was the least valued because his plays were most at odds with prevailing literary and theatrical tastes. It is a sign of Shakespeare's perceived demerits that Charles's favorite, Killigrew, was awarded rights to the more desirable plays of Jonson and Fletcher, supplemented by a small portion of Shakespeare's texts. Davenant, by contrast, had to make do with his own plays and the [End Page 109] remainder of Shakespeare's corpus. With only a handful of exceptions, Shakespeare's plays were vigorously rewritten for performance on the Restoration stage.
How were the plays adapted? And why? Barbara A. Murray, in the first study in nearly three-quarters of a century, examines seventeen Shakespeare adaptations printed and published between 1660 and 1682—that is, from the awarding of the letters patent to the eventual union of the two rival companies. The plays range from Davenant's The Law Against Lovers (1662) to Thomas Durfey's The Injured Princess (1682). While this detailed work stands as a successor to Hazelton Spencer's Shakespeare Improved (1927), it also invites comparison (not always favorable) with parts of Michael Dobson's The Making of the National Poet (1992), Jean Marsden's The Re-Imagined Text (1995), and Laura Rosenthal's Playwrights and Plagiarists in Early Modern England (1996). In its unimaginative format Restoration Shakespeare most closely resembles Shakespeare Improved, since both works are play-by-play chronological surveys (although Spencer considers plays written up to 1710). Murray's study consists of an introduction on seventeenth-century poetic theory, two lengthy sections ("Laws and Lovers" and "Miseries and Civil War") on the various adaptations, and a brief conclusion on the relationship between adaptation and "feelings about Shakespeare" (204). Given the large number of texts under scrutiny, Murray's treatment of each is necessarily brief: from three pages on Thomas Duffet's The Mock-Tempest (1674) up to fifteen pages on John Crowne's Henry the Sixth, The First Part (1681). (For the sake of precision it bears noting that The Mock-Tempest is a burlesque and not an adaptation.) The work concludes with a list of the adaptations consulted and sixty pages of notes that function more as an annotated bibliography than as a discursive elaboration of the book's argument. It is regrettable that a work which focuses so much on staging technique contains only one internal illustration, a portrait of John Dryden.
Murray holds unwaveringly to a thesis clearly stated in the introduction: the governing principle for Shakespeare adaptations was not a strict adherence to neoclassical rules of decorum and clarity but rather a desire to "make his language operate more like speaking pictures" (32). Adaptations are thus attempts not to improve the original texts, Murray argues, but to endow them with a metaphorical liveliness and an openness to spectacle so that all elements of the theatrical experience worked together to heighten the spectator's emotions and to underscore the play's meaning, whether ethical or political. This imperative to "view" the poetic "voice," as it were, became all the more urgent in a theater that delighted in visual, kinetic, and aural spectacle. Through diligent close readings that emphasize staging possibilities, textual changes, and metaphorical structure, Murray demonstrates that all Restoration adaptations of Shakespeare align the mind's eye of the auditor with the visual eye of the spectator.
This argument is both too little and too much. In such rigidly formalist scholarship, there is restricted scope for historicist...