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326Comparative Drama in his choice of illustration, which often has the effect of making his argument not more convincing but more dubious. For example, Sutton argues that Polish jokes render the negative feelings associated with immigrants in general available for catharsis. But one may object that ethnic jokes actually work in the opposite direction; rather than effecting a catharsis of hostility in the individual, they help stoke it up within a defined group. In his focus on the psychology of the individual, Sutton loses sight of the role that power and groups have in determining what is "funny." Indeed, Sutton's many illustrations drawn from genres of humor whose purpose is to provoke a single cathartic laugh—e.g., ethnic jokes, political cartoons, and comic strips—may have little relevance to comedy. The communal experience of humor in the theater is very different from the experience of humor enjoyed privately or in intimate groups. Finally, I was disappointed in the author's facile dismissal of opposing views. Sutton counters the view that comedy benefits society by affirming social norms with the argument that it would be ridiculous to claim that Aristophanes' purpose in attacking Cleon was to strengthen Cleon's grip on Athens (115). This hasty refutation surprisingly confuses the hateful demagogue Cleon with the norms of Athenian society— norms that Aristophanes may in fact have been trying to promote in Knights through his attacks on Cleon. Contemporary criticism on comedy tends to stress the genre's normative social functions; readers hoping to hear a persuasive contrary view will be disappointed in The Catharsis of Comedy. WILLIAM M. OWENS Ohio University John Kerrigan. Revenge Tragedy: Aeschylus to Armageddon. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996. Pp. xv + 404 + 8 illus. $70.00. Kerrigan's exhaustive study of revenge in (predominantly) Western art and culture transcends even the widely-spaced limits predicted by its title. This four-part, fourteen-chapter volume begins by closely analyzing Greek representations of revenge and their influence on later art. But its last five chapters refocus the book's lens on revenge as a human impulse rather than as a literary and dramatic genre, with secondary attention to revenge's artistic manifestations. In these last chapters, Kerrigan identifies popular revolutionary vengefulness (explored by the English Romantic poets), the Cold War vengefulness that threatened nuclear destruction ("Armageddon"), and feminist vengefulness (evident in modem adaptations of the Medea myth). He ends in the aether of contemporary philosophy, with an analysis of Martha Nussbaum, Bernard Williams, and Jean-François Lyotard, thinkers who (like Aristotle) mix Reviews327 case studies from literature and life in their ethical arguments. Indeed, the very breadth of this book suggests its own interpretive claims not just for literature but for the domains of anthropology, history, and ethics. It comes close to being a philosophical work in its own right. That is not, however, to say that the book's philosophical part is its strongest part, for I found the reverse to be true. Most fascinating are Kerrigan's earliest chapters, wherein he provides original and sometimes startling links between the oldest revenge tragedy and more recent works of fiction, painting, opera, and film. Aeschylus's Oresteia, a work deeply concerned with ritual bloodletting and purification, is compared with the Dracula legend's nineteenth- and twentieth-century manifestations . Euripides' Medea is explored with reference to Delacroix's painting and art theory, Maria Callas's unusual operatic performance of the role, and Pasolini's mythic anti-modernism in his 1970 film Medea. And Kerrigan brilliantly demonstrates not only that Sophocles' Oedipus Rex is the original detective story but also that Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories, with their hunter-detective tracking his prey, repeat "vengeance" themes, images, and plot structures found in Sophoclean drama. Kerrigan has much to say about medieval, Renaissance, and even eighteenth-century revenge too. A middle chapter takes a new-historicist turn, demonstrating that the revival of the Orestes figure in French medieval romance owed much to quasi-chivalric "[r]espect for interchangeability " (151), the principle that champions might fight on another's behalf, or that relatives of an offender might justifiably be punished on the offender's behalf. A chapter on Hamlet argues...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 326-328
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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