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384 Comparative Drama Janette Dillon. Shakespeare and the Solitary Man. Totowa, New Jersey: Rowman and Littlefield, 1981. Pp. xvi + 183. $26.50. What did Shakespeare think about solitude (or “solitariness”)? How did his ideas on this subject develop through his career, and how did they relate to the current of thought in his time? These are the questions that Janette Dillon’s book sets out to answer. Taking the plays and sonnets as the answers (or as the material containing answers) to such questions involves certain assumptions about Shakespeare’s work and a kind of approach to it that I want to comment on briefly before finishing this review. But it is only fair to begin by describing and assessing what Dillon does rather than by questioning the premises on which she does it. Part One of the book deals with attitudes toward solitude from class­ ical times through the early seventeenth century. The crucial movement in England comes between early sixteenth-century affirmation of social virtues and seventeenth-century praise of solitude, with Shakespeare’s generation caught in the turbulence of the turning tide. My too brief summary should not imply that Dillon’s survey, compact though it is, falls easily into oversimplification. She is careful to note complexities and to make important distinctions. Avoiding an overeasy opposition, she may push too hard on Castiglione’s Courtier to make him look just as self-interested as Machiavelli’s Prince, but in general she is to be credited for clarifying the complicated patterns in this background material through the first three chapters. If a danger emerges here in Dillon’s survey that will carry over into her discussion of Shakespeare’s works, it is the tendency to expand her subject: Bacon . . . [believed] duality to be a principle of all nature, and . . . [classi­ fied] the dichotomy as being between individual, self-contained existence, “as every thing is a total or substantive in itself,” and existence in context, “as it is a part or member of a greater body.” Such a principle implied that the conflict between solitary and social motivations was the essential basis of all nature; it is easy, then, to see why the debate on solitude was a vehicle for so many more abstract and all-embracing arguments about the nature of the individual and his place in society, (pp. 35-36) Dillon sometimes bypasses the “vehicle” of solitude as though her actual topic were the individual and society, or private versus public concerns, or the self and the world. “Solitude” certainly points toward these larger concerns, but it implies a more particular (more “isolated”) subject with­ in them, I believe. As teachers of a Freshman Humanities course entitled “The Individual and Society” at my own university will attest, that topic pretty much covers the territory—any territory! This expansive tendency limits the value of Dillon’s discussion of eight plays and the sonnets in the second part of her book. Her basic argument is that Shakespeare’s developing attitude toward solitude— which comes to mean, in effect, self-concern— counters his age’s increas­ ingly favorable portrait of the solitary life. Though he moves from condemnation of solitary man to sympathy with him between Richard III and Hamlet, Hamlet’s singularity is seen not as an ideal but as a good man’s unhappy response to a degenerate society. In the later plays, social values are affirmed and their absence condemned. Lear, though it is “a play of solitaries” (p. 119), “celebrates the common bond which lies beyond individual distinctions” (p. 134). And the chapter on the “too Reviews 385 absolute” solitude of Macbeth, Coriolanus, and Timon, after an initial assertion about divided responses to these noble heroes, goes on to stress the negative image of their self-destructive isolation. Dillon’s commentary in these chapters shows her to be a perceptive and intelligent reader. Nice insights stand out here and there, as when she distinguishes Coriolanus’ destructive unity of public and private self from the destructive self-division of other heroes (p. 150). Observations on recurrent and varying uses of “the mirror, so strongly associated with the solitude and self-division of the inward self” (p. 112...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 384-386
Launched on MUSE
2018-07-11
Open Access
No
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