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Reviews Terry Gunnell. The Origins ofDrama in Scandinavia. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1995. Pp. xxvi + 414. $89.00. The Origins ofDrama in Scandinavia is a thorough, well-organized, scrupulously documented, profusely illustrated, and attractively packaged attempt to prove a thesis that is essentially unprovable. The thesis is that some of the early Eddie poems were dramatically realized, not just recited. This is not a new idea. Gunnell naturally defers to Bertha Phillpotts's The Elder Edda and Ancient Scandinavian Drama (1920), a product of the Cambridge school of mythography, but he goes Phillpotts one better in producing a volume nearly twice the length. At the same time he brings more scholarly rigor to the evidence and qualifies Phillpotts's somewhat exaggerated claims for an ancient Scandinavian ritual drama beneath certain Eddie poems. Recent Scandinavianists such as Wilhelm Holmqvist and Einar Haugen have endorsed the ritual drama thesis in a very general way, but Gunnell's work represents the most extensive treatment or the subject. It is an impressive attempt to build the case, but nearly all the evidence is circumstantial in the extreme. The American reader cannot help but feel that, in the end, the "glove doesn't fit." Gunnell's title, moreover, is a bit misleading. "Origins of Drama" implies an ongoing dramatic tradition, but this is not a book for those interested in the development of medieval Scandinavian drama, religious or secular. This small but interesting body of actual dramatic work barely makes an appearance, and apparently forms no continuity with the postulated older Eddie "drama." Gunnell hardly deals with anything that could reasonably be called a "play" in even the ancient Greek or Sanskrit sense. He is interested, rather, in the murky area of possible ritual dramas reflected in the archaic literature. It might have been better, therefore, to have employed the more polysemous term 'performance ' rather than 'drama' for the complex prototheatrical elements that he finds in the Eddas. Evaluating and reconstructing the performative elements in ancient Eddie poetry is certainly a worthwhile enterprise, but it does not quite add up to determining the "origins of drama in Scandinavia." The book breaks into two distinctive parts, with Chapters I and II reviewing the archaeological and folkloric evidence for ancient performance traditions, and Chapters III and IV dealing with the Eddie poems directly, from the point of view of metrics and with regard to marginal notation of speakers. Chapter V attempts to bolster the multi-speaker model with reference to other Scandinavian performances and some broad comparative material. The archaeological-folkloric section is very thorough and informative . Indeed, these 180 pages could almost stand on their own as a separate volume. This reviewer found the first part to be very worth304 Reviews305 while in and for itself although the argument seemed stretched at times. It is hard, for example, to make more than plausible guesses at what the figures in prehistoric petroglyphs or on the decorative panels on armor and weapons actually represent. Are they mythic characters in action or, as Gunnell would rather believe, humans in costume for cultic performance ? Inevitably, some images are more persuasive than others— for instance, the prancing horn-helmeted warrior followed by another in wolf disguise on the oft reproduced helmet-plate from Torslunda. But we really have a chicken-and-egg question here. On his special equipment would a warrior prefer an image of his god or an image of someone impersonating his god? Would a medieval knight think an image of an actor playing St. George more efficacious than an image of St. George himself? Obviously, both cultic impersonations and portable images would share the same visual vocabulary, but for that very reason it is impossible to argue in a straight line from one to the other. Is the second Torslunda warrior wearing a wolf mask, or is he a half-wolf, half-man berserker! Impossible to say, since he can be both. We cannot, then, definitively reconstruct masking activity from such evidence . Given the fragmentary nature of the surviving record, unconscionable leaps in time and in logic seem inevitable, for instance in footnote 327 to page 159 where Gunnell finds a petroglyph with a "linked procession drawing a...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 304-309
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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