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92Comparative Drama the different areas of study. The two substantial articles on the Latin drama, though pessimistic about much of what has gone before, suggest hope for the future. The extensive lists of new texts and records being published in all the vernaculars may perhaps encourage scholars to look at this field in a similarly European way: fifteenth-century Europe was not only linked by its Latin roots, but there also was trade and travel between the "illiterate" bourgeoise as well as the learned clerks. Music, art, and architecture transcended national frontiers, and many literary themes are equally wide-ranging. Why should not the drama which mingles all these artistic forms enjoy the same freedom? Then we might find the real key to the subject of this book. LYNETTE R. MUIR University of Leeds David McPherson. Shakespeare, Jonson, and the Myth of Venice. Newark : University of Delaware Press, 1990. Pp. 157. $29.50. Readers familiar with David McPherson's previous work will recognize many familar virtues here. His style is clear and precise, his tone is level and sober, and his arguments are based on painstaking research and common sense. The book is clearly organized and sharply focused; its compass is brief, its style brisk. In this case Dr. Johnson's famous words about Paradise Lost ("None ever wished it longer") do not apply. McPherson focuses on The Merchant of Venice, Othello, and Volpone. "No other extant English plays before 1642 contain any really notable uses of the city" (p. 13). Why, then, tackle topics so often studied? "The best reason," he says, "is that recent historians have made great strides in more precisely defining what values Venice symbolized. . . . Here I want to make the insights of the historians more readily available to students of literature, but I also use those insights to examine the plays themselves" (p. 13). He also makes "extensive use of certain sixteenthcentury sources in Italian, French, and Latin" that Shakespeare and Jonson may have known (pp. 13-14). Moreover, he argues that scholars have too often conflated the Elizabethan images of Venice and of Italy as a whole. But Venice, he insists, was very special, and he tries "to take this fact more fully into account than previous scholars" (p. 14) by emphasizing the "Myth of Venice." He contends that "England was the country in Northern Europe in which this Myth was most strongly felt" (p. 13). His book substantiates not only the existence of this "myth" (in both its positive and its negative aspects) but also its special resonance in Britain. An opening chapter investigates the available oral and written sources. Thus Jonson "was in contact with a chaplain of the Venetian ambassador in November 1605—just about the time that he was writing Volpone" (p. 19), and Shakespeare may have read in manuscript Lewis Lewkenor's treatise on Venice (published in 1599) soon enough to have used it as a minor source for The Merchant. As McPherson concedes, many arguments in this chapter are necessarily speculative, but his speculations are always sensible. He never leans too far away from a base of solid fact. Reviews93 McPherson's discussion of the Venetian "myth" covers four facets: Venice the Rich, the Wise, and the Just, and "Venezia-città-galante." Wealth was the most important attribute, but a "widespread perception . . . that this wealth and power was in decline" (p. 30) contributed to a darker view of the city. Similarly, many praised "Venice the Wise" for its peacefulness, unity, mixed constitution, and freedom from foreign control, but even here the myth was ambiguous: "The dark side of a reputation for political wisdom is a reputation for craft; and of a reputation for peacefulness, cowardice in war" (p. 35). Moreover, some felt that one price of Venetian unity "was suppression of individual freedom" and that a price of Venetian power was "a certain amount of suspicion in the air at all times" (pp. 35-36). Similar ambivalence may have affected the city's reputation for justice. Venice was frequently praised for the impartiality and severity of its legal system, yet some considered it tainted by corruption, and others regarded its severity as excessive. McPherson concludes, however, that despite...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 92-94
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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