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292Comparative Drama barrage of paradoxes which confuse rather than clarify. Enoch Brater claims in a benediction that all is well with the absurd, whatever the latter statement is supposed to mean. What this collection ironically reaffirms is that for all the talk about the absurd, the endless divagations about plays and playwrights contemplating the metaphysical mysteries of unutterable terror or the anxieties of unspoken universal Angst, good old-fashioned realism, whatever it is or is not, is still with us—an unpleasant truism, of course, but one in all fairness which needs restatement. No matter the endlessly self-reflexive, stylistically experimental nature of much or some if not all of modern drama, the simplicity of realism, its profoundly mimetic honesty, its powerful reliance on words will not ever go away. JAMES COAKLEY Northwestern University Jonathan Hart. Theater and World: The Problematics of Shakespeare's History. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1992. Pp. xii ¦+¦ 404. $37.50. Jonathan Hart in Theater and World argues that Shakespeare's English histories are political works with ramifications far beyond what Gaunt envisions as the "sceptred isle" which is the "teeming womb of royal kings." The plays that comprise the second tetralogy are consciously constructed to engage the spectator or reader of whatever age in political debate grounded in the shifting historical perspectives through which contemporary and English Renaissance concerns interact. The playwright and the audience inevitably work together to "make history, so that intentionality and response engage or interact and cannot exist one without the other" (p. 210). The signal quality that Hart identifies as essential to this imaginative mutuality is irony, a rhetorical quality that does not merely undercut, undermine, and qualify but also underscores , amplifies, and multiplies. Such irony simultaneously "represents sympathy and detachment, and creates situations for an audience that is godlike in its knowledge but also, being human, wants to judge or take sides or recognize its own limitations in those of the characters" (p. 23). It is this profoundly ironic quality that creates the "problematics" of Richard II, 1 and 2 Henry IV, and Henry V. And this complexity is investigated through the language, the treatment of time, and the generic tensions in each of the four plays. The language used by characters in a fallen world is perforce flawed, and one king's claim of divine support qualifies the similar assertion of his opponent; one character's use of the word 'king' (for instance, Richard's) stands in stark distinction to divergent meanings employed by others (for instance, Bolingbroke, the gardener, Gaunt, York, Aumerle). The end result is a world in which communication is itself flawed and in which society cannot readily establish a lasting and united polity. The manner in which fallen language can be utilized to support political self-interests is a central thread in the plays—whether in 1 Henry IV in Hal's use of language as a cloak for dissembling, or in 2 Henry IV in Rumor's proclamation of falsehood or Reviews293 the deceit in Prince John of Lancaster's trickery of the Archbishop of York and Falstaff's duping of Shallow, or in Henry V in the specious rationalizations of Canterbury, Ely, and Henry leading to the invasion of France, the young king's violent language of threat at Harfleur or of debate with the common soldiers at Agincourt or of love with Katherine. The ambiguities and uncertainties of language constitute a site for competing critical discourse both within and among the spectators. The concept of time is a similar site for irony as the dramatic time of the stage collides with the more diffuse historical time; by telescoping the vast flow of history, the playwright foregrounds "the possibilities and limitations of time and mimesis" (p. 97). Each king views time and attempts to control it in a different way. Only too late, for instance, does Richard realize the consequences of his "waste of idle hours" as his own time "Runs posting on" into the proud time of Bolingbroke. Henry IV early in his play thinks he has found "a time for frighted peace to pant" but discovers only that the burdens of kingship make a shambles of time, so much so...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 292-294
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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