Tragicomedy by David L. Hirst, and: Modern Tragicomedy and the British Tradition by Richard Dutton, and: Interpreting Events: Tragicomedies of History on the Modern Stage by Paul Hernadi (review)
- Modern Drama
- University of Toronto Press
- Volume 30, Number 4, Winter 1987
- pp. 579-582
- Additional Information
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Book Reviews 579 which should have been committed to Bond's political theatre, has opted for a liberal aestheticism and failed to give Bond the support he needed at the beginning ofhis career, Altogether Hirst deals well with the English theatrical environment, with the history of the Royal Court as well as with the larger context, such as the comparison of Bond and Shaw in their social commitment as it appears in their elaborate comments and in the plays themselves which are aimed at a reorganisation of society. Bond may indeed be closer to Shaw than to Brecht; when Hirst compares Bond to Ibsen, finding "Bond's political viewpoint ... more radical than Ibsen's" (p. 81), he is thinking of the Ibsen created by Shaw whose radicalism is concerned with identifying problems and offering solutions rather than evoking a condition. Bond's single-minded commitment to "practical truth" and a "rational theatre" is at odds not only with most contemporary literature but also perhaps with his own persistent use of cultural myths, which corresponds to the postmodernist tradition of parody and play. Bond subscribes to a view of history which denies the ironic possibilities inherent in his eclecticism. It remains an open question whether this earnestness towards history is more substantial than the current emphasis on parodic playfulness. Although Hirst's book may not convince those who are sceptical, not about Bond's commitment but about his skill as a dramatist, finding that his work lacks irony and vitality, it does add significantly to our understanding of Bond's position and his purpose to change "the whole structure of [people's] ideology." GABRIELLE ROBINSON , INDIANA UNIVERSITY AT SOUTH BEND DAVID i.. HIRST. Tragicomedy. London: Methuen 1984. Pp. xiii, 141. $5.95 (PB). RICHARD DUTTON. Modern Tragicomedy and the British Tradition. Nonnan: University of Oklahoma Press 1986. Pp. x, 227. $9.95 (PB). PAUL HERNADI. Interpreting Events: Tragicomedies of History on the Modem Stage. Ithaca: Cornell Univer.;ity Press 1985· pp. 235. $22.50. As David Hirst notes in his slim but useful book on the subject, tragicomedy "has established itself in the twentieth century as the dominant dramatic fonn" (xi). Perhaps the reason is that we, as a species, have studied our situation from perspectives unknown to previous generations. We have examined ourselves under the microscope, and we have peered down on ourselves from thousands of miles away. The result is that we have, from time to time, become detached observers ofourcondition. We remain moved by longstanding conflicts of political, religious, moral, and social origin, and we are aware of our new ability to destroy ourselves instantaneously. Thus we are caught between regarding one another as beings who bear the traditional human capacity for dignity, yet are also foolish creatures stumbling and bumbling about the planet. How such a complex vision of humanity has been expressed in dramatic form is the subject of 580 Book Reviews these three books, which approach it from different angles and with varying degrees of success. Hirst's book is the most successful. As part of Methuen's "Critical Idiom" series, it upholds the high standards of these volumes: short, yet thorough, and clearly written. This work has several important virtues. One, it is intelligently organized. Hirst defines the genre by offering an historical view of the tragicomic form, pointing out classical antecedents and the emergence of critical theory in Renaissance literature. He then moves carefully through various periods, analyzing selected works, yet always maintaining a proper balance between theoretical considerations and textual analysis. He avoids the convenient alternative of focusing heavily on works of this century, especially the most recent material in which the tragicomic mode is so prevalent. Instead Hirst moves through dramatic fonns less often discussed, such as melodrama of the nineteenth century. He demonstrates how the emphasis on plot and the potential for tragedy in these plays are combined with satisfying resolutions to create an effect not unlike that achieved in the romances of Shakespeare. Each form offers an escape for the audience, a haven where fantastic characters and dangers exist, but where the audience is secure that a happy ending will emerge. This combination of fear and joy creates a...