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538Comparative Drama Elizabeth Truax. Metamorphosis in Shakespeare's Plays: A Pageant of Heroes, Gods. Maids and Monsters. Lewiston, N.Y: Edwin Mellen Press, 1992. Pp. xi + 298. $69.95. Elizabeth Truax's Metamorphosis in Shakespeare's Plays is basically a study of Ovidian allusion in nine of Shakespeare's plays. To say that, however, is to limit the book too much, for it also seeks to place such allusion in Shakespeare's work as a whole, to relate it to the theme of transformation in that work, and to connect it to the pictorial history of Ovid in the Renaissance. Professor Truax succeeds in accomplishing these aims but occasionally stretches her evidence beyond a reasonable point; furthermore, the organization relies too much on plot summary so that the reader is irritated by being told what is already known. The book stresses the early plays with only two chapters on plays after Hamlet. The Comedy of Errors "does not depict true metamorphosis , but illusions of change, invented through stagecraft, which generate confusion and spawn a multitude of errors" (p. 28). The images of Centaur, Tiger, Porpentine, and Phoenix suggest the change from "irresponsible human behavior" to a "sensible resolution to problems and a happy reunion" (p. 54). However. The Taming of the Shrew is not only about apparent changes but about real change in character. Actual mythological pictures are described in the Induction, and these suggest the importance of real transformation to the plot. In Love's Labor's Lost there are many mythological images which suggest the masks the characters wear but must relinquish in order "to respond to nature in a manner that is simple, honest and sometimes wonderfully absurd" (p. 79). The fairies in A Midsummer Night's Dream, like the gods in Ovid's Metamorphoses, provide changes in the loves of the humans, thus making this play unique among Shakespeare's comedies. A key transformation here is that of the tragic story of Pyramus and Thisbe to comedy. The Pyramus-Thisbe story is mirrored, this time tragically, in Romeo and Juliet. An illustration of problems in methodology appears in this chapter. Citing various Renaissance depictions of Perseus in relation to Romeo's leaping the wall in the balcony scene (p. 161) seems to be rather far-fetched. But there would be few disagreements to the general thesis that the melodramatic Ovidian tale has been transformed into one "of deep and powerful love" (p. 168). Following her discussion of four early comedies and one early tragedy. Professor Truax takes on only one of the middle comedies. The Merchant of Venice. In the early comedies, young lovers adopt mythological roles for which they are ill-suited. Bassanio and Portia, on the other hand, pick roles which suit them—Jason and Medea. However, the story of Medea is so horrible in its associations that it is perhaps just as well that the name is only brought up once in the play Reviews539 (V.i. 12-14). Again, it seems doubtful that "the aura of Medea is present throughout the play, affecting it on every level" (p. 184). The chapter on Hamlet interprets the protagonist as a character seeking to transform himself into a Hercules type hero. Though the number of classical allusions declines in the later plays, the ones that do appear "grow in power and intensity as they function as icons for dramatic action" (p. 204). Again, perhaps the basic identification is carried rather far—Horatio's "flights of angels" (V.ii.359-60) would surely call up Christian iconography in a Renaissance audience rather than "the promise of Scipio the Elder that when a hero dies his immortal soul will leave his body and fly to heaven" (p. 219). The mythological allusions in Othello are submerged—so much so that one wonders if Professor Truax is justified in associating Iago's bestial images for Othello with Jupiter's transformations (p. 232) or Desdemona's arrival in Cyprus with Venus (p. 239). Indeed, the latter description again is more Christian than Ovidian with its "divine Desdemona" (Il.i.73) and "grace of heaven" (II.i.85). To say that Cassio is transformed by Circe when Cassio himself refers to...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 538-539
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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