Things Supernatural and Causeless: Shakespearean Romanceby Marco Mincoff, and: A Buddhist's Shakespeare: Affirming Self-Deconstructionsby James Howe (review)
- Comparative Drama
- Western Michigan University
- Volume 29, Number 2, Summer 1995
- pp. 290-294
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- Additional Information
290Comparative Drama wish to overlook the power of theatricality to support, glamorize, and recuperate the status quo. But throughout the book she keeps us aware of the potential of the public theater to destabilize established social hierarchies, especially in its material dimension. I've been concentrating in this review mainly on Howard's method and argument, but I need to stress in conclusion that, for all the interest and persuasiveness of these, the book's real richness is in the interpretive details. Reading the new historicists. I have often found that the means justifies the end, so to speak. That is. the conclusions they reach are often familiar in advance (texts reinscribing the ascendant ideology, texts subverting that ideology, texts doing both at once): but the journey to these conclusions, through conjunctions of various verbal and material texts, is skillfully mapped and the analysis of those conjunctions genuinely exciting and illuminating. Howard does not completely escape the problem of predictable ends, but being an admirably astute critic she offers means that are highly rewarding. Every playtext she examines, from Shakespeare's comedies and histories and Jonson's Epicoene to less familiar ones like The Wise Woman of Hogsdon (Heywood ) and The Whore of Babylon, reveals new and fascinating aspects under her lens. I am no longer regularly teaching, but I found myself automatically entering sections of The Stage and Social Struggle in my bibliographies for students. They can learn a great deal from Howard, as can their elders. SUSAN SNYDER Swarthmore College Marco Mincoff. Things Supernatural and Causeless: Shakespearean Romance, introd. Barbara A. Mowat. Newark: Universitv of Delaware Press. 1992. Pp. 131. $28.50. James Howe. A Buddhist's Shakespeare: Affirming Self-Deconstructions . Rutherford. Madison, Teaneck. N.J.: Fairleigh-Dickinson University Press, 1994. Pp. 273 + 10 illus. The late Bulgarian scholar Marco Mincoff's impressive critical study of Pericles. Cymbeline. The Winter's Talc, and The Tempest was written in the mid-70's. published in Sofia, Bulgaria, a few years after his death in 1987, and edited and published by the University of Delaware Press in 1992. Awareness of the gap between writing and publication times should temper our responses to the judgments rendered here: for example, Mincoff's pronouncement that "innovative" Shakespearean romantic plot structures were in fact largely derivative of his rivals ' work is slightly dated in the early 90's, but would have been fresh and startling fifteen years ago and probably controversial. Min- Reviews291 coff wrote in annoyance against the then newly popular idea, widely expressed both in academia and in the theater, that the romances were "the logical development of Shakespeare's art and outlook," wherein, "(a]fter exploring the disruptive power of evil," he turned "to the regenerative power of good" (p. 16). Against this view Mincoff argues plausibly that "[t]he potential of good had been suggested far more strongly in the great tragedies by such figures as Desdemona and Cordelia than could ever be possible in the never-never land of romance" (p. 16). and that the "'new vision"' of good in plays like Cymbeline and The Winter's Tale was in fact copied from dazzling Alexandrian romantic plot developments, repopularized in early seventeenth-century plays such as Beaumont and Fletcher's Philaster. What Shakespeare does originate in the romances. Mincoff concedes, is a heightened expression of the "inexplicable workings of blind chance and a guiding providence" calculated to "awake our sense of wonder" (p. 56): the "emphasis on things supernatural and causeless, which is really something new for him" (p. 84). Mincoff adds, quite rightly, that "[wjhether we consider that approach a great advantage will depend partly on our conceptions of providence" (p. 56). For Mincoff. the four romances are inferior to Shakespeare's earlier work because they rely on "unindividualized. emblematic figures." sacrificing portraiture to "variety of events" (p. 23) and poetry which, though characterized by beauty and philosophical depth, is placed randomly in the mouths of the most inappropriate characters (such as Marina and Caliban). The plays are less dramatic—at least in Renaissance terms—because in each "the story itself does so much of the work"' and "demands less complete participation with the characters than most genres...