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200 LETTERS IN CANADA 1998 cOlmection, with all it could tell us about the ways in which a discourse of religious prudence intersected with the Lipsian discourse McCrea discusses, is (unfortunately) tangential to this study. This book is important to literary scholars and historians alike, not only for the questions it frames concerning politics and language, but for its construction and analysis of an influential paradigm. All readers of Renaissance texts need to understand more fully the principled philosophical bases of prudent political language which this study examines. (JEANNE SHAMI) John Ripley. 'Coriolanus' on Stage in England and America, 1609-1994 Fairleigh Dickinson University Press. 432. us $57.50 John Ripley's study of Coriolanus is a solidly documented, well-organized, clearly written, and valuably original addition to Shakespearean scholarship . Its depth of research can be gauged from its copious notes and a JChronological Handlist of PerformancesJthat runs to an astonishing 345 items. Obviously, this is far too many to cover individual1y, so Ripley has focused his analysis on productions in London, New York, and the Shakespeare Festival Theatres of EnglandJCanada, and the USA, with other productions only included if they seem of particular importance. There are two problems inherent in all stage histories, particularly with such a focus. Mainstream productions which establish a play's performance traditions are not always the best interpretations of it; and what interests a theatre historian may not necessarily concern someone who looks at productions mainly for the light they shed back on the text. Ripley is well aware of these problems and strikes a reasonable balance between historical and interpretative imperatives, though I could spare some of the detail about eighteenth century adaptations by writers inferior to Shakespeare to make room for some of the brilliant modern productions not covered by Ripley's rubric. Even so, the study covers a very wide range of productions in great detaiL with a lavish number of illustrations that, in some cases, have never beenreproduced before (for example,John Philip Kemble's sets, ingeniously recovered from a child's model theatre). After an introduction summarizing the play's critical history and explaining his particular focus, Ripley divides his material into nine clearly defined chapters, then rounds offwith an afterword summarizing those features of Coriolanus that he believes should always be respected on stage. Each section (except that on Kean) analyses multiple productions, considering their textual choices and changes, their decor and stage movement, and the interpretations of their main characters, including the plebeian crowd. Ripley disclaims any overarching narrative for this analysis but it does, HUMANITIES 201 in fact, have two. One is to complain, quite justifiably, that the play's political complexity has usually been evaded; the other, which is more developed, is to play down both the politicaland psychological approaches that have dominated academic criticism of the play in favour of relating successive productions to the modes of visual art that were prevalent at the time of their performance. Thus, the Jacobean original is related to matU1erism; the piling up of horrors at the end of Tate's adaptation to baroque extravagance; Sheridan's conflation of Shakespeare and Thomson to rococo; and Kemble's attitudiniz.ing to the heroic neoclassicism of the French painter David. Kemble's concern for architectural scenery and crowd effects is seen in terms of nineteenth century antiquarianism, with Macready adding romantic emotionalism to this, and the approach reaching its zenith in Alma Taderna's magnificent sets for a weak production by Henry Irving, then dwindling gradually away with the productions of Frank Benson. The shift after the First World War to nonrepresentational platforms and curtains is related to the aesthetics of modernism, as also are experiments with stylized deCOf, modern dress, and settings in quite unrelated historical periods. Representations bracketed by Olivier's two great performances in 1938 and 1959 are traced to the glamourizing influences of Hollywood, and current privileging of drabness, cruelty, and visuals that dominate and even contradict the play's language are seen as reflections of postmodernism. This approach yields many insights, but has its pitfalls too. Sometimes it leads Ripley to deny that a production had political importance when manifestly one was intended: Kemble's...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 200-201
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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