In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

592Comparative Drama from article to article. It might at least have helped to provide a single cumulative bibliography for the entire volume to save individual authors from introducing the same secondary sources: sometimes acknowledging repetition goes far toward excusing it. Yet on the whole, the volume is well edited and the production itself displays the elegance and high quality we have come to expect of the University of Michigan Press. SANDER M. GOLDBERG University of California, Los Angeles J. L. Styan. The English Stage: A History of Drama and Performance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996. Pp. xvi + 414. $54.95 (casebound); $11.95 (paperbound). A new synoptic history of the theater needs to do one of two things if it is to command a wide readership and secure a place in an already overcrowded market place: it must either tell a new story, or tell an old one in a new way. Professor Styan rejects the first possibility emphatically —there is very little exploration of new or neglected evidence here, no flirting with modish notions of New Dramas in English or minority theaters. The story told is a familiar one, and the manner of its telling equally conventional. We are presented with a chronological narrative taking in the canonical authors and "mile posts" of dramatic history. There are introductions to the great men of the theater (and men they almost invariably are; the only women writers given substantial scrutiny are Aphra Behn, who gets a three-page "note," and a handful of contemporary playwrights—chiefly Pam Gems and Caryl Churchill— who get six pages between them), whose major works are helpfully summarized. The names are, by and large, predictable: there are chapters devoted to Marlowe, Shakespeare, Jonson, and Shaw, and smaller sections on lesser figures from Middleton and Webster to Wilde, Yeats, and Stoppard. The story is told in an engaging manner, not without humor (the excesses of Victorian melodrama offer an easy target for authorial irony, for example), and first-year students in particular will find the material laid out in a readily accessible way. Indeed, the book's apparent anxiety to present its material in a student-friendly way is itself the cause of problems. Styan punctuates his narrative with italicized key terms and numbered lists: "the four insistent principles belonging to the art of drama" (xiv), the six details suggestive of performance conditions to be found in the Macro text of The Castle of Perseverance (43-44), the five distinctive features of Elizabethan playhouse drama, the three effects of the framing device in The Knight of The Burning Pestle (204-05), the three recognizable "points of growth" in the Restoration stage (256): all of these and more are tabulated for the reader. Essay markers are likely to become familiar with these points in years to come, as students memorize them rather than Reviews593 any less quantifiable qualities the works in question may possess; it makes for an over-programmatic and at times reductive analytical style. Harold Pinter is, for example, allowed three "original . . . elements" (388-89) to his stagecraft (they tum out, somewhat predictably, to be Plot, Character, and Dialogue), while Brecht gets six (398-400), and T. S. Eliot has four "basic questions" which he is said to ask through his dramaturgy (377). This approach also gives the book an air of pedagogic , even didactic, certainty which is dangerously misleading, particularly when applied to the only sparsely documented area of medieval performance styles. The problem afflicts the sections on early drama more generally. Styan's account of the Corpus Christi plays of the Nativity, for example, suggests that more is known about performance practice than is actually the case (while Joseph and Mary enacted their arrival in Bethlehem, he claims, "on the other side of the space three shepherds, or three kings, would simultaneously [author's italics] by their pantomime indicate their distance from Bethlehem, and establish their intention towards the central event" [26], an unsubstantiated claim that can only be based upon inference). Students certainly need help in finding their way through the thickets of often oblique documentary evidence and scholarly speculation which are all that remain of the once flourishing traditions of medieval drama...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 592-594
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.