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Reviews Bharat Gupt. Dramatic Concepts, Greek and Indian: A Study of the Poetics and the Nätyasästra. New Delhi: D. K Print World, 1994. Pp. xvii + 295. $28.00 (U.S. Distributor: South Asia Books). Although it is rare to find a comparative treatment of Greek and Sanskrit drama as thoughtful and passionate as this one, students of classical Indian theater will recognize a familiar topic in the title. It is natural to want to see how two great ancient cultures that produced both a body of dramatic theory and a limited number of extant plays can shed light on each other. When the comparative study comes from the Indian side, or from a cultural fellow-traveler (such as myself), there is often an additional motivation. When colonial administrators introduced the British literature curriculum into Indian schools and universities in the last century, the plays and dramatic theory of ancient Greece became central to the project of establishing the superiority of European civilization , not to mention the modes of justice, democracy, and tragic selfawareness that have supposedly descended from the Greeks to form the modem state and the free individuals who populate it. Goethe's rapturous praise of Kälidäsa's Säkuntala notwithstanding, British critics even into the years between the two World Wars (of course, the era of most vigorous agitation for independence) could not bring themselves to appreciate the beauties of Sanskrit drama without reminding readers that deeply rooted patterns of religion and political culture prevented those plays from reaching the profundity of Western tragedy. Indians (mostly Sanskrit-knowing brahmins) educated abroad or in Englishmedium Indian universities found themselves defending the value of their own classical heritage and its expression in the "national character" through different readings of the same texts characterized by British critics as void of true conflict and cosmic testing. Even after Independence, with the departure of the British and the new attention to vernacular and non-Sanskrit literatures, the "question of tragedy" has not disappeared. But more broadly there has remained a sense of mission among certain Indian artists and intellectuals, a yearning to explain and promote the brilliant and complex dramatic theories in Sanskrit and the frustratingly few specimens of the plays themselves. But whereas the plays of Aeschylus and Sophocles and the ideas of Aristotle are known even to many outside the field of literature, the dramas of Kälidäsa and Bhavabhüti and the dramatic theory of Bharatamuni and Abhinavagupta are still exotic to some Western students even of comparative drama. And so a work of comparison must also be a work of explanation. Bharat Gupt, a Professor of English, an expert in Indian music, and a man of the theater (as his name proclaims), is well qualified to undertake this comparison. Those familiar with the texts under consideration will see that the author is indeed effective in the presentation of his material. 459 460 Comparative Drama In the introduction to Dramatic Concepts Greek and Indian, Gupt asserts that examining genres cross-culturally "can only lead to dead ends" because literary genres are culturally and historically unique; instead, "a comparison of performance modes is likely to be more illuminative ." In a way, then, Gupt is asking us to disjoin the performative aspects of the these theaters from their historical embeddedness, and this may be problematic for many. Gupt's fundamental notion about these two ancient theaters is that they constitute sacred action, which he has chosen to call "hieropraxis." The ritual impulse that brought them into being ensured they would develop with text, music, dance, and visual effects intertwined; thus our long tradition of approaching the works of these theaters as texts, Gupt maintains (and most would agree), is at least impoverished and perhaps misguided. Gupt returns repeatedly to the notion of the unsplintered channel of combined theatrical elements in a total theater which points toward sacred meaning. One of the book's strengths is the detailed comparative description of the ritual roots of theater in the Indo-European cultures of ancient Greece and India, though this description is often subjected to the torsion of Gupt's views, some of which are anachronistic: "For the Indians the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 459-463
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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