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294Comparative Drama ity—and the contradictory claim that Renaissance art invalidated its own truth-claims equally by maintaining or undercutting the conventions of realism. For example, Howe claims that naturalistic art "calls our attention ... by its very skill" to "its skill at seeming" (p. 55) but also that non-naturalistic art declares its constructed nature because realistic "conventions are so badly maintained as to be transparently artificial" (p. 38). AU art's main thrust, in other words, is to betray itself as illusion: "The art of resemblance always implies this artificial, represented nature" (p. 55). The first problem with this deconstructive statement as art theory is that it does not match our experience of art. The second is that it tells us nothing about the particular work examined . The statement functions, in fact, as an evasion of critical practice rather than as critical practice itself. Happily, though, since Shakespeare exploited his theatrical medium variously to explore, in image and language, the problem of human artifice, Howe's chapters about the plays are able to show us much more, assessing different characters ' struggles with interestingly distinct meaning systems and providing new and discrete insights into their struggles according to the deconstructive /Buddhist model. It is refreshing to read a critical study by a writer who not only declares a personal moral investment in his methodology but also designs his readings not just as lessons in Shakespearean characterization but as practical commentary on life experience (saying, for example, that Shakespeare discloses Nirvana, or "the samsaric [value-laden] world with all its uncertainties faced so fully that, freed from attachment to it, we can engage it with curiosity and joy" [p. 48|). Since Buddhism provides this practical advice and deconstructionism does not. however, the Derridean quotations are primarily encumbrances to an otherwise valuable series of readings, and deconstructionism as a whole seems summoned by Howe only to give his book a certain poststructuralist cachet. It is far more enjoyable to read Howe's clear and rational description of dizzying Nirvana consciousness as induced by Shakespeare than to struggle with Handsome Derrida's dizzying prose, which, whatever its mystical aim. induces nothing of the sort. GRACE TIFFANY University of New Orleans Robert Watson. The Rest Is Silence: Death as Annihilation in the English Renaissance. Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London: University of California Press, 1995. Pp. xiv +416. $52.00. Robert Watson's argument is that English Renaissance authors, facing death with a fear of annihilation, responded by transforming the banal and brutal nature of death into heroic images while at the same Reviews295 time questioning and even parodying that impulse to disguise a disagreeable reality. Torn by a conflicting view of death as reunion with God and as the permanent annihilation of the self. Renaissance literature incessantly lapses from its surface narrative of divine promise into one of repressed anxiety. This is not to argue that English writers were covert atheists, but to see that religious controversy bred skepticism about the whole enterprise of Christian assurance regarding the afterlife . A Freudian terminology is essential to Watson's method, as in his criticism generally. Renaissance literature, in his view, "helps to disguise the conflict between the psychological necessity known as narcissism and the physical necessity known as mortality" (p. I ). He acknowledges Ernest Becker's The Denial of Death (a book that has also meant a great deal to me) as a primary inspiration for this present study. For both Freud and Becker, fear of death is a great continuum in human society and culture, so much so that our attitudes remain essentially those of primitive man. for all our attempts to mythologize death. Civilization is in good part a record of this unceasing struggle. The Renaissance becomes a moment of special focus only in that it presents us with a shift from redemption of the group to that of the individual conscience, immeasurably heightening the burden of mortality. Worldly conduct could no longer be adduced as a reliable guide to eternal destiny: purgatory was banished by the Reformers; even ordinary funeral rites came under attack. Geographical and astronomical discoveries had the effect of challenging the concept of a stable, divinely ordered universe, leaving humankind...


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pp. 294-298
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