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Reviews 213 imagine an other than “conventional” reading of the play. Cranmer’s obsequiously conventional eulogy of royalty ought not to baffle a critic who has taken as his book’s thesis Shakespeare’s ability to transcend Tudor moral convention. A bondage to surface impression handicaps in another way, I dare say, his understanding of Falstaff. By uncritically adopting the usual view of Falstaff as reprobate, he overlooks an imaginative possibility that the reprobation may be masquerade, the jest of a professional Fool whose comic art is to satirize the ways of King Henry and other “courtly” gen­ tlemen. In describing both Henry and Hal, Ornstein does see below the surface of their deceptive showmanship, characterizing both of them as calculating politicians who stage-manage for crass gain every public appearance. But the opportunity to perceive, further, that Falstaff may be burlesquing all such policies, intending thereby to stir his superiors to a moral self-knowledge, is missed and hence Falstaff is read as being simply a reckless pursuer of main-chance pragmatism who preys on old acquaintances, suffers delusions of grandeur, and finally, a “despera­ tion” when rejected. Occasionally, Ornstein is on the verge of transcend­ ing this view, as for instance when he says that one must “agree” with Falstaff’s point that it is madness to risk life for “bubble reputation”; but then this clue is thrown away by reinterpreting Falstaff to mean that it would be absurd for a man to sacrifice his life for any cause. One result of such inconsistent reading, predictably, is that the play’s Part II is then adjudged a “lackluster sequel” which “may well strike an audience as a series of episodes and vignettes rather than a unified dramatic action.” That it may seem so, impressionistically, I grant. But might not some knowledge of the medieval tradition of wise-fool suggest a way to a more adequate esthetic judgment of the drama and its total action? Historical scholarship need not be irrelevant to literary perception, but rather ought to nourish it contextually. ROY BATTENHOUSE Indiana University Eugene Webb. The Plays of Samuel Beckett. Seattle: University of Wash­ ington Press, 1972. Pp. 160. $7.95. A tidy teleology. This is what Western man has sought since Thales, and Webb, who summarizes the history of Western philosophy from Thales to Descartes in his first chapter, believes that Beckett’s literary corpus is strewn with the corpses of coherent dead systems. In his earlier volume Samuel Beckett: A Study of His Novels, Webb demonstrated that Beckett embodies the formlessness of human experience in artistic form. In this companion essay, Webb avoids form altogether. He treats his material as texts for psychological and ethical exegesis, not as dramatic forms, and as he chats genially with us about their psycho­ logical and ethical implications, their effectiveness as artistic forms and theatrical experiences is completely hidden. (If it weren’t for the title, 214 Comparative Drama we might think he was discussing hitherto undiscovered novelettes of Henry James. And if Webb is aware of the humor that makes Beckett scripts a challenge for directors and actors, he gives no indication of it.) Webb patently shares the Western compulsion for tidy teleologies, and he reads Beckett with us to find affirmations of human endurance and common decency. He is well aware that he is talking about his Beckett and is careful to note where a Beckett text ends and his own extrapolations begin. Webb’s favorite words are “evidently,” “perhaps,” “probably,” “seems,” and “appears.” It is important to Webb to settle the precise referential ground of all acts and images; to establish plausible motivations and backgrounds for all characters; to reconstruct plots with common-sense cause-and-effect; to clarify any ambiguity and to unify any ambivalence. The result, while not like any Beckett I ever saw or heard, makes ap­ pealing reading, for Webb is earnest and sincere. Let me give a sampling. All That Fall is treated as one long wail of anguish, leading to this statement: “The deepest problem of this world is a general failure both of Maddy and of the community of which she is a member to live on a level...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 213-215
Launched on MUSE
2018-07-11
Open Access
No
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