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112 LEITERS IN CANADA 1980 simply following a common but mistaken idea about the supposed origin of the word gypsy. And somethingis askew in the numbers of the notes on pp 107 and 108. (DAVID BLEWETT) Richard Bevis. The Laughing Tradition:Stage Comedy in Garrick's Day University of Georgia Press. x, 282. $18.00 One of the happier results of the appearance of The London Stage, 1660-1800 has been the correctionover the past generation ofa number of fundamental errors offact about the history of the drama. The results have been most impressive for the earlier period, but the Garrick era has also received noteworthy attention. As his title indicates, Professor Bevis's concern is the state of traditional comedy during the third quarter of the eighteenth century. It has been a critical commonplace ofour century that traditional or 'laughing' comedy was replaced in this period by 'sentimental ' comedy, a commonplace that only recently has received serious challenge. One of the most important discoveries to emerge from the examination of the material made available in The London Stage, and to a lesser extent by systematic study of the plays in the Larpent Collection (manuscripts submitted for licensingfrom 1737to 1824, now housed in the Huntington Library), was that most of the stage comedy of the eighteenth century was not sentimental, regardless of definition. Instead, as Bevis points out, the line of English comedy survives unbroken until the likes of Inchbald, Cowley, Holcroft, Cumberland, Reynolds, Burgoyne, and Colman the Younger - the post-1780 generation of playwrights - devote themselves to 'farce, spectacle, "benevolist" comedy, and melodrama to a degree that almost excluded traditional comedy' (p 11). Bevis's study is divided into four parts. First, he provides an account of the almost arbitrary nature of success and failure in the Georgian theatre, and of the important differences between printed and acted texts of the period. Failure to take these factors into account results in distorted views of mid-eighteenth-century comedy. Having provided this contextual corrective, he then turns to 'the rivals of laughing comedy: sentimental comedyand the'illegitimi,' principally farce. Though sentiment struggled with laughter for dominance in traditional comedy, both ultimately were 'annexed into the melodrama, the musical farce, and the extravaganza: For Bevis this is the beginning of the modern entertainment world, one brought about by the dynamiCS of the free marketplace; it was 'the most significant development on the eighteenth-century stage' (p 65). Next, he considers the forms of laughing comedy: the full-length play (essentially the comedy of the Restoration transformed in the image ofits middle-class audience) and the afterpiece (increasingly the form in which traditional comedy was realized). Finally, Bevis surveys the major comic writers of the period, all of whom devoted most of their energy to laughing comedy: Macklin, Garrick, Foote, Colman, Murphy, Goldsmith, and Sheridan. Bevis is not the first critic to take exception to the received notion that sentiment dominated the stage between Fielding and Sheridan, but his challenge is more wide-sweeping and detailed than any other to date. (In his appendix, a discussion ofthe history of criticism ofeighteenth-century comedy, he nicely places this notion as the product of a late nineteenthand early twentieth-century revaluation ofGeorgian comedy.) Byexamining the performance records for the period, the acting texts in the Larpent Collection, the works of the major writers, and, especially, the afterpiece tradition, he should lay to rest once and for all the myth of a sentimentdominated comedy in the mid-eighteenth century. Bevis's most original contribution is his survey and extensive analysis of the afterpiece. He considers the afterpiece the mainstay of traditional comedy in the period, arguing that neglect or contempt (following Goldsmith's prominent example) of it has been a central factor in our distorted view of stage history. An ongoing problem in The Laughing Tradition arises from the need to define some of the most difficult and perhaps hopelessly muddled of critical terms, such as 'sentimental,' 'laughing comedy,' and 'farce.' Bevis recognizes the problem, and the inadequacy ofGeorgian critical theory to offersolutions, buta successful alternative none the less evades his grasp. His contention that sentimental drama was largely a closet drama of reading texts...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 112-114
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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