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REVIEWS John D. Cox. Shakespeare and the Dramaturgy of Power. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989. Pp. xviii + 282. $29.50. Annabel Patterson. Shakespeare and the Popular Voice. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1989. Pp. via + 195. $39.95. Both of these books challenge current new-historicist assumptions which permit little space for dissent from a dominant political ideology and virtually no such space for theater artists dependent on government patronage and protection. According to arguments based on such assumptions , what may appear to be dissident is allowed (if not fabricated) by established authority to justify surveillance and oppression. Shakespeare and other dramatists are said to mimic this strategy in their works, generating subversive tendencies whose function is to be contained. Starting from different premises, both Cox and Patterson find strains of political and social criticism in Shakespeare's plays that are too strong to serve as excuses for such facile containment. Neither critic is willing to settle for a playwright who served time as one of "the King's Men" or whose plays mirror social tensions he could not analyze. Patterson's opening chapter situates English Renaissance theater well outside of any ideological state apparatus. Cox's Shakespeare is fundamentally Augustinian. He views politics as humanly imperfect, perhaps even inherently depraved, and readily subscribes to Augustine's assertion that without justice "kingdoms [are] but gangs of criminals on a large scale" (quoted on p. 12). Using Raymond Williams' model of residual, dominant, and emergent ideas, Cox argues that Shakespeare's critique of power is based on "Christian political realism"—i.e., contempt for worldy pomp and glory and the means used to acquire and to sustain them. Cox maintains that Shakespeare 's specific source of Augustinian attitudes was medieval religious drama, and in evidence cites its use of biblical history as a vehicle for social criticism, its satiric presentation of figures obsessed with "libido dominandi," its disinterest in alternative political programs, and its celebration of Christ-like humility. As Cox observes, Tudor England offered numerous tragets for an Augustinian critique: social stratification, economic dislocation, the centralization of power, and the creation of an intellectual elite based on the new Latin learning associated with the Humanists. From this perspective, despite much praise of education, eloquence, and antiquity, familiarity with the language and major texts of Roman culture was the ticket of admission to corridors of power, while neoclassic stylistic principles provided artistic support for the glorification of rank and privilege. Shakespeare, in Cox's view, never swallowed the Humanists' party line but used popular and archaic artistic forms to undermine what he adapted from classical, humanist, and courtly sources. 387 388Comparative Drama Cox finds Shakespeare's critique of power varying with genre. In the first tetralogy of chronicle plays, despite occasional but significant borrowings from mystery cycles, Shakespeare analyzes lethal rivalries among competing elites and exposes weakness and corruption within a desacralized monarchy; in the second tetralogy he examines the strategies employed by the Houses of Lancaster and Tudor to cloak royal power in mystery. Cox's discussion of Shakespearean comedy isolates those plays with "benign tricksters," secularized versions of the Trickster Christ of medieval biblical pageants recently described by Kathleen Ashley. Shakespearean tragedy, Cox finds, has few direct links with medieval drama but reasserts the Christian precept that true nobility consists not in rank and privilege but in humility, vulnerability, and self-discovery. This thoughtful book abounds with insights on such topics as "residual Christian realism," humanism, courtly self-fashioning, and individual plays (especially King Lear.) It makes a strong case for Shakespeare's skeptical view of power elites but a less compelling one, I think, for his reliance on medieval drama. Augustinian critiques of politics could be derived from the homiletic tradition, from popular culture, and from unblinkered perceptions of current social and political reality. Latin culture itself furnished a basis for political criticism to Humanists like Jonson who used Roman history as a code for anti-court satire. Despite Cox's denials, there is still a case for Shakespeare basing his empiric analysis of English history on Machiavelli or other "philosophical rationalists " and "emergent materialists." Cox's benign tricksters strike me as distinctly unChrist-like: Vincentio and Prospero represent political...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 387-390
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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