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REVIEWS Brian Vickers. Appropriating Shakespeare. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1993. Pp. 508. $45.00. One of the most irritating pieces of current pop critical jargon is the word "appropriation," typically misused to describe both artistic imitations and critical "re-visions" (that's another one) of literary masterworks ("appropriate," after all, means "to take exclusive possession of," according to Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary). Since the last time any of us looked at Hamlet all the lines were still there, "attempts to appropriate Shakespeare" would be a better description of the post-structuralist interpretive strategies wittily attacked by Vickers in this thorough, carefully researched book. Vickers does, in fact, use such a phrase to expose this and other obfuscations involved in the post-structuralist Shakespeareans' self-legitimating verbal practices, first quoting Frank Lentricchia's definition of 'appropriation' as "the interested, self-aggrandizing social possession of systems of discourse," but then following Lentricchia's words with his own more accurate sentence: "Each of the groups involved in this struggle for attention is attempting to appropriate Shakespeare for its own ideology or critical theory" (p. x; italics mine). This introductory statement initiates Vickers' successful accomplishment: the timely debunking of a few popular but unsound critical approaches to Shakespeare and the rehabilitation of some perfectly good words. Compared to the typically tortured syntax of, say, a new historicist "interrogation" of a text's coercive ideological project, Vickers' accusations are refreshingly clear. He indicts several "groups competing to achieve a leading profile" in "the contemporary critical scene" (p. x)—deconstructionists, new historicists , psychocritics, feminists, Christians, and Marxists. According to Vickers, many of these "self-styled practitioners" are "derivative critics who are not at all representative of the richly varied work currently being produced" (p. xv). Yet they have become highly visible by pushing and shoving for attention, commercial promotion, indeed self-promotion , by forming or supporting a new group, praising other members of it, denigrating rival groups. The new word to describe such calculated promotional activities is hype, and by means of a joint commercialising and politicising of literary studies some of these groups have established their own publishing channels in the form of journals or book series, (p. x) More serious than their attempted stranglehold on academic discourse, however, is the violence these critics do to Shakespeare through their pseudo-scholarly and often absurd readings of his plays (known to post-structuralists as "texts")—readings which are methodologically 252 Reviews253 incapable of providing either understanding of Shakespeare or cultural value for any of us, constrained as they are by apriorism, or the need repetitively to support the critic's preconceived ideology at the expense of the plays' various aesthetic projects. ('Aesthetic' is another word which Vickers restores to dignity by pointing to its humanistic as well as its artistic signification.) The worst that can be said about this book is that Vickers' enthusiastic defense of reasoned scholarship occasionally leads him unfairly to demonize whole critical schools which are themselves divided over some of these same issues; to adapt George Orwell's line, some new historicists and feminists are more equal (well, more sensible) than others. In general, however, Vickers' targets deserve the treatment he gives them, which takes the form of devastating anatomizations of well-known essays whose authors explicitly define themselves as members of one or more of the above theoretical groups. Vickers' critiques of these essays and of the theoretical masters—e.g., Derrida, Foucault, Freud, Lacan—whom their worshipful writers serve (and sometimes distort) are so thorough, so eloquent, so well-bolstered by apt references to ancient and modern scholarship and linguistic theory, and so funny that I strongly recommend his book for all Shakespeareans tempted by the exigencies of the job market to identify themselves with a trendy methodology or two. It will certainly be balm for those who would rather not. Vickers begins with the hardest part: a demonstration of how some French linguistic and psychoanalytical theorists of the 1960's, most notably Lévi-Strauss, Foucault, Lacan, Barthes, Derrida, and De Man, exerted a devastating influence on language theory by distorting the words of their avowed master, the turn-of-the-century linguist Saussure, whose...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 252-257
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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