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92 Comparative Drama Arthur Jones or John Galsworthy. Rowell should encourage the vener­ able theater at Bristol to stage a wider range of Victorian pieces, and then tell us how they went. CARL WOODRING Columbia University George L. Geckle. John Marston’s Drama: Themes, Images, Sources. Rutherford, Madison, Teaneck: Farleigh Dickinson University Press, and London and Toronto: Associated University Presses, 1980. Pp. 217. $18.50. I can see no compelling reason why this book should have been published. Mr. Geckle’s own rationale includes the negative argument that his book does not have a thesis, and that it therefore avoids the “critical pitfall” into which “the two most currently influential books on Marston” (Anthony Caputi’s and Philip Finkelpearl’s) allegedly stumble because of their constricting approaches. Since “each play is unique and . . . must be approached on its own terms,” each chapter of Geckle’s study is therefore presented “as a nearly independent essay”— or, if you will, as a journal article, in which form three of them had already appeared (pp. 9-11). Something could be said for the freedom of this approach, surely, if a receptive critic allowed it to open the way into complex questions prompted by the different plays themselves. Alexander Leggatt, for example, who also insists on respect for “the individuality of particular plays,” effectively illustrates the benefits of such an open inquiry in his Shakespeare’s Comedies of Love. But since Geckle’s method is to close down his reading of each play at the outset with a confining thematic thesis about it, the main advantage to be gained by the “independence” of one chapter from another seems lost in his hands. Through his use of this method, Geckle violates a cardinal precept of the very critic he would claim as an ally, Richard Levin. Like Levin, Geckle prefers a “straight” reading to the “ironic” or “burlesque” readings of Marston’s plays that are “becoming commonplace” (p. 27). But he totally ignores the equally strong case Levin has argued (in New Readings vs. Old Plays and elsewhere) against precisely the kind of reductive thematic readings presented in every chapter of this book. The opening paragraph of the chapter on The Dutch Courtesan will serve to illustrate Geckle’s basic procedure. Though “a great deal of good criticism has been written” about this play, “in no discussion has anyone seen an overall structural pattern that satisfactorily explains all of the principal characters and actions” (p. 148). The next sentence translates “structural pattern” into “underlying and unifying concept,” which can in turn be contained in the one magic word, “temperance.” The struggle is now over, and the play lies flat under Geckle’s trium­ phant sway. Nothing that he touches in The Dutch Courtesan offers any resistance to his thematic wand. Reviews 93 Since Geckle’s other guiding principle in each chapter is to “present a reading that differs significantly from the interpretations of previous critics” (p. 17), he also plays the game that Levin calls “my theme can lick your theme,” and plays it as a predictable winner. He sets up M. L. Wine in the customary manner to open his chapter on The Malcontent: “I would argue [with Wine], however, that the play’s ‘central dramatic symbol’ is not the ‘mask-disguise,’ . . . but the highly traditional Wheel of Fortune, a symbol around which both the structure of the play and its most serious themes literally revolve” (p. 108). It might be hard to find an Elizabethan or Jacobean play focusing on the ups and downs of contending rivals for power that would not bow to such a thesis about Fortune. Geckle certainly proves that it applies in this case. In the process, he reduces Altofronto/Malevole to a champion of Providence in a way that ignores the evident complexities and tensions in this roleplaying “malcontent’s” stance. Geckle identifies himself with a “mainstream” of Marston criticism that seems to have gone underground for the most part since the 1930s (his exemplars are T. S. Eliot, H. Harvey Wood, and Una Ellis-Fermor), and whose hallmark he finds in the tenet that Marston is “a moralist first and theatrical experimenter second” (pp. 28-29). In...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 92-94
Launched on MUSE
2018-07-11
Open Access
No
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