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Reviews185 Russell Jackson's survey of Victorian Hamlets serves as prelude to Wilhelm Hortmann's analysis of Hamlet productions since Helmut Kohl and the Christian Democrats came to office in West Germany in 1983. Hortmann's essay is one of several that confirm Shakespeare's continuing status as a cultural institution not only in England and the United States but in other parts of the world as well. There are papers on Shakespeare in Germany (Klaus Bartenschlager), Czechoslovakia (Martin Proch ázka), India (S. Viswanathan), and Japan (Tetsuo Kishi), the last of particular interest to Shakespeareans preparing for the 1991 Congress in Tokyo. Royal Shakespeare Company director Adrian Noble concludes the volume with comments on his experience in directing As You Like It and on the challenges that face contemporary directors of Shakespeare's plays. His invitation to enter the Forest of Arden might have served as the prelude to this volume rather than its conclusion. For it lures us into the imaginary world of Shakespearean theater, a world celebrated by the Third Congress and by this volume, which will "live/ to bear his image and renew his glories." If I may be permitted one cavil—and that a personal one: it is a pity that the names and paper titles of all who participated in seminars were not included in the appendix, which lists lectures, papers, and seminars and their chairpersons. The Congress was fuller still than these proceedings suggest. JUNE SCHLUETER Lafayette College John R. Elliott, Jr. Playing God: Medieval Mysteries on the Modern Stage. Studies in Early English Drama, 2. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1989. Pp. ? + 186. $45.00. As one of the few medieval theater scholars fortunate enough to have read the English cycle plays for the first time not as classroom texts but as dramas ripe for performance, I applaud the pragmatic thrust of Professor Elliott's new study. When Gordon Honeycombe was preparing to stage a life of Christ made up of episodes from the major sequences with a cast drawn from University College, Oxford, in the chapel of Pusey House during February 1960, I was one of the quartet of writers responsible for modernizing the Middle English originals. (We all then assumed that the texts had to be modernized for presentday audiences.) This presentation, staged by rather than at University College, as Elliott suggests, was repeated in the elegant Georgian church of St. Mary's, Edinburgh, as part of that year's Festival "Fringe." In 1962 I staged virtually the same plays in Bangor Cathedral in North Wales; ten years later I created my own unmodernized version of the cycles for performance by a cast of 120. I mention these productions at the outset not so much to augment Professor Elliott's account—his survey is necessarily selective—as to testify personally to the extraordinary impact the cycle plays have made on so many and such various Uves since their revival in per- 186Comparative Drama formance during 1951. What Playing God sets out to do is to chronicle the struggles and frustrations experienced by those British pioneers who sought to present medieval religious dramas in the United Kingdom between the nineteenth century and the 1950's, and to describe the principal cycle presentations staged up to 1980, a cut-off date which sadly fails to permit discussion of the National Theatre's The Mysteries in its entirety, logical terminus though this might seem. The opening chapter, "Mysteries Suppressed," succinctly traces the development of opposition to performances of scriptural drama in Britain, its roots in Protestant dogma, and its branches in Tudor legislation whereby the "cultural legacy" of Puritanism became embedded in governmental attitudes which helped to curtail theatrical freedom well into the present century. In accounting for the disappearance of cycle performances in mid-sixteenth-century England, Elliott steers clear of the complexities of competing theories and contents himself with the simplest explanation available, namely that reformist ardor alone brought about the demise of live representations. Prejudice against the plays there undoubtedly was, and his is a study in prejudice; whether or not it provides the sole key to the mysteries' end is left unexplored. After the passing of the Stage Licensing Act...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 185-189
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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