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Reviews295 is left with a sense not only of Brecht's legacy but also of the range, motivation, and aims of West German theater at large. GAIL FINNEY University of California, Davis Melveena McKendrick. Theatre in Spain, 1490-1700. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989. Pp. xii + 330. $54.50. Classical Spanish theater arose from the coincidence of an unprecedented demand for plays and the unexplainable appearance of a constellation of extraordinary poetic talents that supplied perhaps 10,000 three-act scripts and 1 ,000 Corpus Christi plays, not to mention the farces that accompanied secular performances, within a span of about a century. The general level of writing was so high that McKendrick describes the literary result of all these factors as that "rare thing, truly popular great art." The basic formula of the genre comedia, the mainstay of this theater, is simple enough: about 3,000 verses in varying meters, divided into three acts, on any subject from which ingenuity could derive an action-filled plot usually involving lovers and their comic servants, a rival, a severe father or brother, and a representative of social norms such as the king. (Important roles for older women were scarce, probably because the mostly male audiences wanted to see pretty young actresses.) The preferred themes are love and honor. This elastic scheme, far from limiting those who accepted it, enabled such energetic geniuses as Lope de Vega and Pedro Calderón to create theatrical literature with a new sort of dramatic unity based on theme and image, in subtle verbal music that was the delight of their appreciative audiences. Yet foreign critics still find Spanish theater of this period inaccessible for at least two reasons: first, because the swarm of playwrights and the sheer quantity of texts prejudice them against the possiblity that so many "formulaic" plays could ever achieve any sort of individuality or avoid tedious mechanical repetitiousness; and second, because the comedia does not copy the generic models of other European dramatic literatures. Furthermore, since we have been "brainwashed"—as McKendrick says— and unthinkingly accept tragedy as superior to comedy, the entire corpus of Spanish comedia seems somehow inferior; for it avoids Greek-style tragedy except in rare exceptions. Indeed, it is not really comedy either, since what looks like a happy ending may have "a sting in its tail which compromises the satisfactory nature of the ending." But why, asks the author, should "great plays which engage with serious issues in the life of man ... be intrinsically less great than great tragedies, just because they do not conform to certain formal requirements or to a specific vision of the human condition?" McKendrick echoes Walter Kerr when she warns that it is better to discard neo-Aristotelian notions of genre than to exclude these .splendid if non-conforming works: it is better to "lose a definition rather than a tragedy." And, one might add, it is even better to lose other preconceptions than to deprive oneself of the marvels —and quirks—of classical Spanish drama. McKendrick, already known to American Hispanists for her 1974 book on women and society in the comedia and for a biography of 296Comparative Drama Cervantes, offers a new study that focuses on "the growth and success of the theatre as a national institution" during the Golden Age of Spain. "The problem where Spain is concerned is that it does not quite fit . . . [the] scheme of things as historians of the early European drama now see it"—particularly where its early development is concerned. And she guides her readers through the welter of incomplete data, studies, and contradictory interpretations (while managing to hold our interest with a judicious amount of anecdotal material), warning that she is not trying to establish an "evolutionary pattern" to connect pre-classical works with the plays of the great period because such an artificial scheme would not only prevent us from seeing what is valuable in the early dramas themselves but would also misrepresent the current state of our knowledge of the comediaos origins. McKendrick's outline of dramatic activity in the first eighty years of the sixteenth century is excellent, particularly when compared with the musty accounts of the same...


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