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Reviews195 shelf of good books of dramatic theory, and Garner enjoys a remarkably clear vision as a dramatic critic, but with this discussion of the tricks and techniques of stage narrative we are entering another room in the castle, even another part of the forest. It may well be necessary to take with us a whole bunch of new critical terms, but something in me is reluctant to tangle with thick nouns like "narrativity," "anteriority," and "temporality " and stumble over epithets like "performative" and "narrational." These and other words smack of the excesses of semiological criticism and seem to reduce an art form to the science it will, thank heaven, never be. J. L. STYAN Northwestern University Arthur McGee. The Elizabethan Hamlet. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987. Pp. 211. $18.00. Linda Kay Hoff. Hamlet's Choice. "Hamlet"—A Reformation Allegory. Lewiston: Edwin Mellen Press, 1988. Pp. xiii + 381 + illustrations. $59.95. Two new books on Hamlet. After Roland Mushat Frye's monumental though flawed The Renaissance Hamlet (1984) the reader's predisposition is at best ambiguous and skeptical, especially when it becomes clear that Arthur McGee tries to achieve what proved to be unsolvable for Professor Fry—that is, to reconstruct the exact and authentic original cultural context of this perplexing play. The greatest problem with The Renaissance Hamlet was that it appeared at a time when post-structuralism in the offensive definitively seemed to demonstrate the falseness of historicism and the vanity of scholarly efforts to say about literary works anything that would claim objectivity. In such a critical context Roland Frye's book appeared too conservative, although it was not on its every page historicist, and his method of investigation—recovering issues and responses in 1600—at its best, in fact, achieved something quite near to a modern Rezeptionsästhetik. Frye accumulated a great deal of scholarship and threw light on many obscure aspects of the Hamlet question. In spite of its weaknesses, therefore, this book towers so much above the recent Hamlet scholarship that it ought to serve as a point of reference to other, newer interpretations. McGee's The Elizabethan Hamlet has a narrower scope and presents a more limited amount of scholarship. On the other hand, this author even more pronouncedly follows traditional historicism than Frye. Claiming that "we are liable to read into the Ghost and Hamlet himself ambiguities which for the Elizabethans simply did not exist" (p. 11), he suggests that it is those "Elizabethans" who might be the ultimate interpreters to dissolve these ambiguities and restore the original meaning of the play. Being vexed by two questions—what would enable him to reconstruct that really original and authentic meaning, and why the Elizabethans would enjoy a play in which they could find no aesthetical ambiguities—the reader might already turn away from this monograph; however, persistence reveals that, in spite of the mistaken theoretical 196Comparative Drama foundations, McGee's reading of Hamlet is highly original and boldly provocative. It is certainly not an authentic reconstruction of the Elizabethan play—there is probably no such thing—but it is an inspiring twentieth-century reading, worthy of consideration or rejection. The most impressive aspect of the book is the author's thorough knowledge of Elizabethan plays. Whatever aspect of Hamlet he is examining, he is able to refer to an amazingly wide range of contemporary plays which undoubtedly constitute a very important layer of reference. His familiarity with contemporary philosophical, theological, and political sources is, however, somewhat limited. Often he finds it sufficient to base his argument on twentieth-century Protestant commentaries which are, he claims, summaries of sixteenth-century religious views. A third layer of contextual reference, the world of classical tradition and iconographie expression, is almost entirely missing. McGee's book is thus most incomplete in that aspect where Frye's monograph is the richest—one more reason that there should be references to Frye's scholarship. Since The Elizabethan Hamlet was published four years later than The Renaissance Hamlet, there should be at least some explanation of this negligence. McGee thus tries to reconstruct a plausible Elizabethan interpretation of Hamlet on the basis of specific contemporary plays and on...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 195-198
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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