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180 Comparative· Drama Matthew H. Wikander. The Play of Truth and State: Historical Drama from Shakespeare to Brecht. Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986. Pp. 287. $25.00. In his Historical Drama (1975) Herbert Lindenberger summarizes admirably the difficulties of delimiting the generic boundaries of history plays, difficulties epitomized by the contradiction inherent in the term "historical drama," with "the first word qualifying the fictiveness of the second, the second questioning the reality of the firSt" (p. x) ..Concerned with history plays·from Shakespeare to Brecht-especially.those of these two, Racine, Corneille,Schiller, and Buchner-Lindenberger identifies various theatrical conventions and historiographical strategies playwrights tend to deploy: History communicated as Tragedy or beroical drama; History emplotted in conspiracy, tyrant, and martyr plays; historical drama as related to historical thought, and so on. The result of such an undertaking was a provocative, truly useful book which addressed an important and surprisingly neglected topic. Undaunted by the fine precedent of. Lindenberger's book, Matllhew H. Wikander's The Play of Truth and State serves as a thoughtful complement to the earlier Historical Drama. A number of factors suggest this comparison, including Lindenberger's own recommendation of The Play of Truth and Stale on the dust jacket and continlilingwiih Wikander's several references to the former's work. Wikander's sub-title, "Historical Drama from Shakespeare to Brecht," reveals perhaps the strongest analogy between the two books: both writers' engagement with historical drama from Shakespeare's chronicle plays to Brecht's post-Hiroshima reworking of the Life of Galileo (1945)-and occasionally to more recent .plays. In Wikander's impressively panoramic study, Brecht is located on a horizon of historical dramatists alongside. of Shakespeare, Jonson, Dryden, Schiller, de Musser, Buchner, and Strindberg. Between the two students of historical drama, however, obvious and important differences of content and critical methodology exist. Wikander, for ~ example, is especially concerned with the ways in which historical drama, "Whether playwrights want it to or not, must challenge our preconceptions about the very act of understanding the past" (p. 8). Fascinated by the "humanist historian's ideal of 'truth' and '$tate'" (p. 2)-a topic John Ford·announces in the prologue to Perkin Warbeak (1634) which "eludes and worries all the playwrights" in his study-Wikander undertakes careful readings of major Shakespearean, Jacobean, eighteenth-century, nineteenth-century, and modem history plays. In addition to developing close readings of especially significant texts, something Lindenberger for the most part avoids, Wikander possesses a more pronounced interest in English historical drama after Shakespeare, particularly that on the Jacobean andeighteenth~century stages. Spending much less time than his predecessor on French neo-classicism, Wikander moves to the Continental stage only after a rich and concerted treatment of the abovementioned major writers and numerous others such as George Chapman, Philip Massinger, John Banks, and Nicholas Rowe. And, rather unlike the varying contexts within which Lindenberger examines historical Reviews 181 drama, for Wikander Shakespeare's presence and the thematic issues of truth and state· affect the evolution of the history play. The Play of Truth and State is organizedinto five chapters in a more or less chronological scheme (the fourth chapter on the providential historicism of Schiller and Strindberg posing the major exception to this organizing principle). Three chapters-one on Shakespeare, one on Jacobean historical drama, and another entitled "The Pathos of Power: The Restoration and After"-comprise the inaugural section of the volume on the English history play_ In the opening chapter, Wikander concentrates on the Welsh scene (lIE) of I Henry IV and on Henry VIII, in the process revealing what will become his characteristic way of developing close readings of representative works: namely, finding a paradigmatic scene to privilege as an interpretive "key." In this case, Shakespeare's often overlooked scene in Wales serves as a "key to understanding1 Henry IV and as an epitome of Shakespeare's historical drama" (p. 14). Here Wtkander acknowledges his indebtedness to, among others, Mark Rose's Shakespearean Design (1972) by elevating the central scenes of "panels" of three scenes or triptychs as indicative of much larger meaning; This emblematic manner of reading continues throughout the book. Like a picture in an...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 180-183
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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