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Reviews607 A student of the Renaissance (or Early Modern period) will readily recognize characteristics of the New Historicist criticism in Orgel's study: the conflation of history and literature, the pursuit of historical minutiae, the meandering continuity, the anecdotal turn of mind. Some, I am sure, will see the study as a brilliant deployment of New Historicist strategies, while others may see it as New Historicism gone slightly berserk. Chapter 3 is entitled "The eye of the beholder." And that is where I shall leave the ultimate assessment of the book. JAMES E. ROBINSON University of Notre Dame John D. Lyons. The Tragedy ofOrigins: Pierre Corneille and Historical Perspective. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996. Pp. xv + 236. $37.50. Corneille's tragedies often deviate from the conventions of French classical theater. Many of his plays depict events that, though historically true, are improbable and unexpected. The reversals of Corneille's tragedies are also distinctive because they rarely depend on recognition. The characters know their relationships to one another, so the peripeteia does not occur when a character's true identity is revealed but when there is a change in circumstances. Thus, in Le Cid, Chimène is forced into a dilemma when loyalty to the king becomes more important than familial obligations and when Rodrigue earns a new status—and immunity —by defeating the Moors. This change in circumstances is often one which the characters could not foresee and which, even at the conclusion , they have trouble assimilating. In The Tragedy ofOrigins, John Lyons proposes rich, stimulating readings of several of Corneille's plays that fit this pattern. He examines the intersection of history and tragedy as ways of explaining unexpected change in social, political, and cultural circumstances. In addition to being an indispensable reference for scholars working on French classical theater, this study should interest anyone studying tragedy or historical drama. After an introduction in which he uses Le Cid to explain his topic, Lyons offers readings of Horace, Cinna, Polyeucte, Sertorius, and Attila . Each play, he argues, depicts a pivotal episode in Roman history. "Within these plays a present, a moment of Roman history, is confronted with its past. The thesis of The Tragedy of Origins is that this confrontation, which requires the recognition of an irreversible transformation , founds a new political and social order. The experience of this transformation is, for the protagonists, a wrenching dislocation. . . . Such a transformation is, in historical terms, an origin, and in dramatic terms, a tragedy" (xiv). Lyons's introduction and conclusion, offering insightful reflections on the nature of origins, emphasize the point that an origin can only be 608Comparative Drama identified retrospectively. People living through an event that will later be recognized as the origin of a new order are inevitably blind both to the new order and to the nature of the events they are experiencing. For the author this blindness constitutes a tragic structure, linked to the unexpected reversal of the peripeteia. In his discussion of Cinna, he defines the tragedy of origin as "a drama that illustrates the characters' struggle to act according to a framework of references to the past precisely at the moment when that past is rendered obsolete by a new structure that will itself in retrospect convert their present into a beginning. This origin is at first invisible to them because of their obsessive concern for the past, a past that is escaping them" (76). Lyons connects Corneille's treatment of origins to a relativist tendency in Renaissance historiography and invokes Donald R. Kelley's and George Huppert's accounts of "historicism," the view that values and laws are not immutable and universal but fluctuate with the historical circumstances of each epoch or culture. It is thus argued that Corneille is sympathetic to this "nominalist" tendency since he creates "dramatic enactments that return to the distant past of an origin and treat that origin as if it were present, converting the origin into a beginning" (13). By sympathetically depicting a "historically estranged protagonist," Corneille enables the audience to "share a sense of the magnitude of the shift that has occurred" (15). The past values to which the protagonist is faithful—and which the historic...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 607-610
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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