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288Comparative Drama Jean E. Howard. 77?? Stage and Social Struggle in Early Modem England. London and New York: Routledge, 1994. Pp. viii + 184. $59.95 (casebound); $16.95 (paperbound). Several years ago Jean Howard took stock of new historical criticism ("The New Historicism in Renaissance Studies," English Literary Renaissance. 16 [1986]). In an excellent critique, sympathetic but probing , she called attention to certain issues and assumptions of methodology that new historicists tended to gloss over: "questions such as why a particular context should have privilege over another in discussing a text, whether a work of art merely reflects or in some fundamental sense reworks, remakes, or even produces the ideologies and social texts it supposedly represents, and whether the social contexts used to approach literary texts have themselves more than the status of fictions " (p. 31). As its title suggests. The Stage and Social Struggle in Early Modern England is very much a part of the new historicist project . Does Howard's own study participate in the methodological evasions that she observed in others? Happily, the answer is no. She is concerned here with lhe discourse of theatricality, as it is deployed in the playscripts of the early modern theater in England and in the recurrent attacks on that contested institution . Concurrently, in perhaps the most interesting aspect of her inquiry , she examines the material practices by which those plays were produced to discover how these could reinforce or subvert the ideological work of the scripts. For example, as a representation Much Ado may condemn theatrical deceptions practiced by women and social inferiors while confirming the theatrical power of the elite (especially when operating to tame rebels like Beatrice and Benedick into socially acceptable marriage), but the experience of seeing the play at the public theater undermined this ideological message in some important ways. When spectators watched lowborn actors dressed as noblemen or as women, having paid the entrance fee that afforded them not only equal access to the spectacle with the privileged classes but the same stance as observer and judge rather than obedient congregation, subordination of class and gender was challenged. Howard sifts and deconstructs the antitheatrical tracts of Northbrooke , Gosson, and Stubbes, uncovering their internal contradictions and significant omissions and speculating on the fears that produced these. Even Sidney's Apology for Poetry, often set up as the urbane antithesis of such Philistine views, shares their anxiety about who should control the powers of theatrical representation. What Sidney defends is a refined poesy of the elite, while he heaps scorn on popular art. Howard finds in Gosson and his ilk a fear of the theater as attracting , even institutionalizing versions of the '"out of place": actors who had deserted their proper places in the social order to ape their betters or imitate their inferiors, spectators given up to idleness instead of serving their lords (masterless men) or staying at home (women). Reviews289 Observing this dangerous social fluidity, they train their guns not just on stage players but on any who are involved in deceptive dressing and behavior that threatens hierarchies of class and gender. This focus on "transgressive shape-shifting" and its potential for social disruption is the key to much that follows in Howard's study, including the Much Ado analysis I have already cited. In subsequent chapters Howard details the playing out of the discourse of theatricality in this play and Dekker's The Whore of Babylon; explores a complementing /contrasting politics of production in the material conditions of the public theater: considers the specific instance of cross-dressing in both theatrical representation, where girl characters dressed as hoys, and theatrical practice, where boy actors dressed as girls; and finally addresses the shifting relation of theatrically to monarchy in Shakespeare 's histories. What is presented in the first tetralogy as a demonic outside force taking advantage of unstable rule and threatening it further , becomes in the second tetralogy something not only inside the power structure but intrinsic to effective rule. Many classic new historical studies work with a more or less arbitrary conjunction of texts, literary and other, to light up quite brilliantly one chosen area while leaving vast tracts around that area in distorting...


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