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REVIEWS J. L. Styan. Restoration Comedy In Performance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986. Pp. xiv + 271. $39.50 (cloth); $12.95 (paper) . Over the last twenty-five years, Professor Styan has written prolifically on a wide range of theatrical subjects (my own initiation into analytic criticism of drama came when I chanced upon The Elements of Drama in the Birkenhead Public Library), and he consequently brings to his study of Restoration comedy an exceptionally broad and detailed knowledge of theater. He has also done commendably wide reading in Restoration drama itself, though it has to be said that the reading was apparently someti.mes as hasty as it was wide, and that some of his accounts are flawed by very faulty recollection. The strengths of the book lie-ail one would expect-in its visualization of the theatrical potentialities of the printed play-text, its elucidation of the action and movement that can be generated by a brief remark such as Margery Pinchwife's enquiry about the woods and fields to walk in within London (p. 6). There is, for example. an excellent study of the !=Omplexity and pacing of the opening scene of The Man of Mode, discussing among other things the visual potential of Loveit's letter, the possible effect of Dorimant's state of semi-dress on his conduct and demeanor, and the ambiguity of his relationship with his inferiors (pp. 54-59). Perhaps the most useful parts of the book are the generously illustrated discussions of twentieth-century productions. Professor Styan stresses theĀ· dependence of Restoration comic form, and its structure of speech and dialogue, on its non-realistic stage setting, writes helpfully about the ways in which factors such as dress and fans can affect the pattern and dynamics of stage movement, and repeatedly deplores the failure of modem directors to grasp the dependence of the comic form upon the original circumstances of its staging: "The seductive dang~ of the picture-framestage had taken possession, falsely recalling the colourful toy theatres of the Victorian playroom" (p. 42). The breadth of experience that Professor Styan brings to the book is, however, accompanied bya number of errors that 'one would not expect from a more narrowly based specialist. Two passages illustrate with particular compactness the kinds of problem that the reader repeatedlyencounters . Citing Young Wouldbe's dressing scene at the beginning of The Twin Rivals, and his colloquy with "Richman," Professor Styan continues: "Wouldbe looks forlorn and his clothes unimpressive: the audience soon learns that he lost his money gambling the night before. But this opening is balanced in act m by another levee for his wealthy brother Lord Benjamin Wouldbe, one which is presented in splendid style" (pp. 50-51). Later, discussing the unprecedented prurience of the Restoration stage, Styan writes: "Simulated pregnancy was not unknown on the Elizabethan and Jacobean stage, but it now took on more realistic 174 Reviews 175 proportions: Dryden's The Wild Gallant bas Constance enter 'as with ohild' in IV.I, and in IVA of The Comical Revenge Wheadle goes so far as to stroke the Widow's belly. Salacious possibilities [sic] were limitless . The Assignation must have created a sensation in act IV when Laura and Hippolita set forth on their amorous expedition disguised as nuns" (p. 93). Readers familiar with The Twin Rivals will recognize two problems in the first extract: "Richman" should, of course, be "Ri?hmore ," and-more importantly-the Young Wouldbe of the opemng scene is the same person as the Lord Benjamin Wouldbe of the third act. In the second passage, three plays are misrepresented in the space of three sentences: Constance's feigned pregnancy is not particularly original , since it closely resembles that of Maria in The Noble Gentleman and Annabel in The Sparagus Garden, and in any case The Wild Gallant is an adaptation of a lost play (perhaps by Brome) in which Dryden's original contribution is for the most part hard to establish; Wheadle does not stroke the Widow's belly but Grace's; and Hippolita is a real nun, not a feigned one. Similar errors' are unfortunately easy to accumulate: The Mulberry-Garden is not an adaptation of Shirley...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 174-176
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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