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Reviews Richard Schoch. NotShakespeare: Bordolatry andBurlesque in the Nineteenth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2002), xiii+209. Whenever I teach an upper-level Shakespeare course, I have my students do a special assignment: divided into groups, they rewrite a Shakespearean scene in modern language and modern context and then perform it for the class. These productions tend to rely heavily on parodie juxtapositions between Shakespeare and mass culture; recent highlights have includedAntony and Cleopatra as film noir, The Winter's Tale through the lens of "TheJerry Springer Show," and The Tempest7& an episode of"Survivor." I've never been quite sure how to describe these productions, or articulate their evident pedagogical and critical value. Having read Richard Schoch's book, however, I now realise that my students have been writing burlesques. The burlesque, as Schoch informs us, occupies an important critical position in the cultural discourse of Shakespeare, endowing "familiar (indeed overly familiar) texts with new capabilities" (19) and positioning Shakespeare's plays "not as isolated literary artifacts, but as the foundation for entrenched — yet contested — cultural practices" (67). If these observations incidentally explain the value ofmy students' productions, they are particularly aimed at to the widespread popularity of theatrical burlesques in the nineteenth century. Sporting such evocative (and surprisingly post-modern) titles as Romeo andJuliet; or, the Shaming ofthe True, Antony andCleopatra; or, His-tory andHer-story in aModern Nik-metre, and Macbeth Somewhat Removedfrom the TextofShakespeare, the Victorian burlesques parodied Shakespeare and ridiculed Shakespearean theatre in exuberant fashion — an ongoing satirical rewriting that spoke to the period's "profoundly equivocal commitment to Bardolatry" (6) and which was routinely denounced by the self-appointed guardians of official Shakespearean culture. Arguing that the burlesques situated Shakespeare "within discourses on cultural patrimony, respectability, and political reform" (29), Schoch sets out to explore "the paradoxical ways in which plays that are manifestly 'not Shakespeare' .. . purported to be the most genuinely Shakespearean ofall" (4). 92volume 29 number 1 Reviews This remarkable analysis of a neglected theatrical tradition has at least three aspects. The first is archival; Schoch is scrupulous about what can and cannot be recuperated by such a study (focusing his attention less on reconstructing performance and more on discursive practices), but nevertheless the initial interest ofthis book for many scholars (Victorian, Shakespearean, or both) will be the primary material that grounds it: a wonderful plethora ofhandbills, performance notes, photographs, and engravings. This wealth ofShakespeariana is the foundation for Schoch's valuable historical analysis, which looks at what Shakespeare meant in the nineteenth century through the complex lens of theatrical performance and sociocultural values, complementing a growing number ofstudies in this field. The third, and perhaps most significant, aspect ofthe work is theoretical. What NotShakespeare succeeds in establishing is a deconstructive vocabulary that allows us to articulate the complex rhetorical, social, and cultural interactions the plays establish with Shakespeare: as text, industry, and social force. When these three aspects knit together, the book is a profound delight — take, for example, the discussion of Romeo and Juliet Travestie, in which Shakespeare, "in the guise ofan animated version ofthe statue in Westminster Abbey" (58), is brought on stage to debate the propriety ofburlesque with the Nurse, who claims that the bard wrote burlesques himselfand instructs him in the true meaning of Shakespeare. As Schoch explains, "This crucial scene . . . begins with Shakespeare as the forbiddingly monumental reification ofculture itselfyet ends with Shakespeare as a site ofopen contestation — the duly chastened statue compelled to abandon its accustomed pedestal" (59). Chapters 2 and 3 are very much the heart of the book, and the sections in which Schoch's approach and analysis works best. Chapter 2, "Shakespeare's surrogates," explores the plays' relationship to Shakespeare as text and myth. This relationship might best be described in triangular terms, as the burlesques' approach to Shakespeare must be understood through its mimetic rivalry with the "legitimate" theatre, which sought to appropriate the cultural power of Shakespeare for its own self-advancement. In ridiculing the Victorian Review93 Reviews pomposities ofthe Shakespearean stage — by aping the bombast of famous actors, exposing the pretensions ofimpresarios, and ironising the process oftheatrical canonisation — the burlesques did not simply seek to crown themselves as Shakespeare's legitimate offspring...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 92-96
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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