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Reviews 251 New Trends in 20th Century Drama, then, indicates that there have not really been many new trends since the previous revision. Consistency of approach is a virtue, but it seems somewhat otiose to issue new calls for a theatrical renaissance at regular intervals. The next edition of New Trends might well include a revision of critical standpoint that would illuminate the causes of the state of drama and its future. THOMAS E. PORTER University of Detroit Michael Manheim. The Weak King Dilemma in the Shakespearean Histo­ ry Play. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1973. Pp. xii + 198. $ 8. 00. Every age finds in Shakespeare’s plays (and usually in Shakespeare’s mind) a mirror of its own attitudes and concerns. This generalization applies especially to the history plays, which have been fitted to ideas of political organization and political behavior from the rewritings of the Restoration adapters (who were indifferent to the playwright’s intention) to the interpretations of modern directors and critics (whose readings are often firmly based on historical research). In the aftermath of World War II, E. M. W. Tillyard’s emphasis on the restoration of Order after a long period of destruction and the death of an evil and cruel ruler was especially satisfying. More recently Tillyard’s view has been modified: as we have become less certain of ourselves, we have become not only less certain that we know what Shakespeare and his audience thought, but also doubtful that they possessed much more certainty than we. In The Weak King Dilemma in the Shakespearean History Play Professor Michael Manheim interprets the plays as tracing the strong dis­ like of playwright and audience for Machiavellianism in politics and their very reluctant acceptance of it. He is explicit about the relationship of Shakespeare’s history plays to modern political developments, and he hopes the acceptance of Machiavelli’s principles in Shakespeare’s age is now being reversed: “In the last quarter of our century we may well enter a period in which our whole view of leadership will change, in which we will insist, as men once insisted, that before all else a leader must be what he seems—despite the inevitable cluster of human foibles, fears, and indecisions such an image will include” (pp. 1-2). The brief concluding chapter (“ ‘To Govern Better’ ”) calls for a public attitude that would produce “leaders honest with themselves and others . . . [and so perhaps] more capable of finding solutions to the massive social and environmental problems we face” (p. 185). As we shall see, this thesis raises difficulties when it is applied to Shakespeare. Manheim examines first a group of plays in which the king is “wanton” (Woodstock, Marlowe’s Edward II, and Shakespeare’s Richard II) ; then a cluster of plays in which the king is “meek” (the three parts of Henry VI); next a pair of “transitional” plays (The Troublesome Reign 252 Comparative Drama of King John and Shakespeare’s King John)', and finally the two parts of Henry IV and Henry V. Woodstock is seen as posing the central problem: “Can a system which tolerates major crimes on the part of God’s supposed deputy be God’s system?” (p. 36). Thomas of Woodstock grapples with the problem in the person of King Richard, and the audience shares in his dilemma by having its sympathies for and against the king “rudely thrust about” (p. 32). Edward II and Richard II also express the conflict of the unsatisfactory monarch and the divinity of the crown. The central technique of the plays is similar in that audience disgust for the monarch is turned to sympathy (with guilt for the earlier disgust) by the king’s suffering and death. Young Mortimer, the Machiavel of the earlier play, becomes the enigmatic Bolingbroke of the second, whose silence, Manheim thinks, reflects Shakespeare’s (and the audience’s) uncertainty in the face of efficient Machiavellianism. The Henry VI plays, “written in anger at political realities as Shakespeare and his audience knew them” (p. 115), portray a king who knows him­ self to be human and weak but who “would be as good a king as is humanly possible if men would let...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 251-253
Launched on MUSE
2018-07-11
Open Access
No
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