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Reviews523 This Shapiro is most reluctant to do. He does indeed cite, in an extended footnote, John Dexter's all-male As You Like It at the National Theatre in 1967 (a rather dull and featureless production, which forwarded no thesis). He has not caught up with the much-reviewed male As You Like It which Cheek By Jowl put on in recent years. Marlowe is not considered at all, but there have been several all-male productions of Doctor Faustus in which Helen of Troy (and lesser female figures) offered some provocative cross-dressing opportunities. Moreover, the list of plays with heroines in male disguise which he prints in Appendix B contains several plays given modern productions of some standing. I can recall, for example, RSC productions of The Roaring Girl, The Witch ofEdmonton, and The New Inn. A couple of years ago I took in an Honest Whore in Soho. Can the reviews of these productions really add nothing to the labors of the theoretician? What this book needs is a sustained trawl through the pages of Theatre Record. It would both check and amplify the speculations of theory . The stage is nothing if not an empirical study. RALPH BERRY Stratford-upon-Avon Pat Gill. Interpreting Ladies: Women, Wit, and Morality in the Restoration Comedy of Manners. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1995. Pp. ix + 209. $35.00. Pat Gill's study of manners comedy locates in gender the resolution of a controversy that has raged since the plays' first performances. Although playwrights claimed for these comedies a satiric function, audiences had trouble deriving moral conclusions from the plays' licentious actions and bawdy dialogue. Gill notes Wycherley's and Congreve 's tendentious prefaces contesting audience failure to grasp their plays' constructive aims. Both Wycherley and Congreve turned this criticism back upon their audiences, particularly "the Ladies," and claimed that only hypocrites failed to discern the satiric intention of plays such as The Country Wife and The Double Dealer. The playwrights' apologias succeeded in polarizing responses to the plays: critical readers and viewers were constrained either to perceive the consistent satiric purpose of each play or to risk aligning themselves with the self-righteous Jeremy Collier. Collier, with his incomprehension of irony and failure to appreciate historic context, has proved no model for the twentiethcentury scholar who would dispute Wycherley's and Congreve's claims for their plays. Gill, with ample wit and a keen awareness of the plays' gendered context, succeeds in exposing the fundamental contradictions behind comedy of manners' claims to satiric coherence. Her feminist, deconstructionist, and Lacanian interpretations build a powerful argu- 524Comparative Drama ment. Gill observes that both Wycherley and Congreve addressed "the Ladies" who were apparently among the leading critics of their plays' misogynistic representations of women. The playwrights retaliated by accusing their female critics of hypocrisy: they were either blushing in response to innuendos which no lady should understand, or complaining in order to distance themselves from scandalous language and behavior they understood too well. In other words, Gill explains, Wycherley and Congreve were placing the burden for correct comprehension of their plays on an ideal female who had no comprehension of irony. As the plays in question were satires, a genre that depends on irony, Wycherley and Congreve posited an ideal audience who could not possibly grasp their plays' meaning—a pose that was either very cynical or "an unfortunate blunder" (p. 19)—or, as Gill proposes, a reflection of Restoration confusion over gender roles. In fact, Gill argues, this confusion is at the heart of comedy of manners' crippling ambiguity. In play after play, the heroine is meant to exemplify the possibility ofvirtue in a corrupt world. Yet the heroine is also defined as such by her lack of resemblance to any other female character. Unlike the hero, who is permitted some human frailties, the heroine, holding herself aloof from the follies of other characters, must react to rather than participate in the plot. Her virtue results from negation . While the playwrights thus insist that women are the custodians of virtue and are responsible for virtue in men (the heroine recognizes the hero's potential and reclaims him), they simultaneously demonstrate...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 523-526
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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