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382Comparative Drama Katherine E. Kelly. Tom Stoppard and the Craft of Comedy: Medium and Genre at Play. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1991. Pp. 179. $27.95. "It is understandable," said Tom Stoppard, "that in seeking its own raison d'être, the vast oracular Lego set of Lit Crit with its chairs and lectureships, its colloquia and symposia, its presses, reprints, offprints, monographs, reviews, footnotes and fireside chats, should try to come up with something better than it beats working for a living" ("Playwrights and Professors," TL5, 1972). Katherine Kelly's study of Stoppard's comic craft succeeds in expertly penetrating this familiar Stoppard smokescreen by demonstrating that the playwright's put-down of "Lit Crit" is more than a little disingenuous. Although statistics are not readily available, it is probably safe to assume that Stoppard's audiences are filled not with groundlings but with many of the beneficiaries of lectures, colloquia, symposia, and critical articles—in other words, individuals who are likely to appreciate cross-references, parodies, and subversions of other texts. Stoppard does somewhat temper his judgment of academe with the more forgiving comment that "probably the best argument for the critic" is that sometimes he or she may stimulate the reader to run to the bookshelf "to taste the real thing at the fount. . . ." The point, as Kelly's book argues, is that Stoppard runs to the same fount in writing his plays. In his own words, theater "ought to start from writing, come what may" (TLS, 25 February 1968); for Stoppard, drama is the affirmation of language in general and the worth of the written word in particular. In Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, for example, Rosencrantz, finally catching on to the double role of the Player as a "comic pornographer " and to that of the tragedians as a "rabble of prostitutes," asks, "You're not—ah—exclusively players, then?" The Player's response is more than a restatement of "all the world's a stage," although it is that as well; it suggests an inclusive, repetitive, and re-presentational play on already written texts and already performed scripts (supremely apt in a play drawn from Hamlet) —writing about writing about writing: "We're inclusively players, sir." Kelly is particularly interested in this element of "inclusiveness" in Stoppard's work—the interactive mirroring of text and text. Thus her readings of the plays (including the early radio and television productions ) emphasize Stoppard's valorization of craftsmanship, specifically as this is dramatized through the "self-announcing procedure of parody" (p. 1). While Kelly acknowledges her indebtedness to the vocabulary of defamiliarization and parody found in the work of the Russian Formalists, she at the same time questions the ultimate value of applying their theories to the kind of drama written by Stoppard. Instead, she rather confusingly suggests the word "formalism" (with lower case /) , by which she means the artist's consuming interest in "the integrity of the artistic process" (p. 3). Kelly claims that for Stoppard form is "the hypothesis of art's fictional coherence that marks it off from the extra-artistic world" (p. 3), a definition that smacks disturbingly of art for art's sake and adds fuel to the fire of both early and late critiques of Stoppard's social and Reviews383 political "disengagement." At the same time, however, she makes the interesting and far more challenging claim that precise attention to form and social responsibility are not mutually exclusive concerns. She makes her way between the Scylla of aestheticism and the Charybdis of dramaas -political-agenda by arguing that Stoppard's work is a reflection of his doubts "concerning the right of the artist to exist both inside and outside society at once; to be both an actual concerned citizen of his world and a detached observer of it" (p. 4). Once again, parody is the strategy that allows Stoppard to have his art and his social responsibility too. As Kelly points out, Stoppard's constant textual recycling mocks and undermines the monolithic authority granted canonical texts while concomitantly reinforcing what she calls the "cultural legacy." Although such terminology may be unpopular in these days of canon-revision, not to mention the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 382-384
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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