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Reviews 177 of the genre nor entirely escapes problems of method. Yet the book’s failure to be complete is in fact part of its attraction. In the present state of our knowledge, thoughtful boldness has more to teach us than the bland and unexceptionable. We desperately need works that goad us to think seriously about Roman comedy, and the present book goes far toward answering that need. SANDER M. GOLDBERG University of Colorado, Boulder David Scott Kastan. Shakespeare and the Shapes of Time. Hanover, New Hampshire: University Press of New England, 1982. Pp. viii + 197. $25.00. While some years ago Ricardo Quinones wrote about the Renaissance Discovery of Time, David Scott Kastan’s book Shakespeare and the Shapes of Time suggests that we should rather speak of the Renaissance “explorations of time,” a “changing awareness” rather than “discovery.” In the Middle Ages time was understood as historia sacra, as the “the­ atre” of God’s beneficent action. In the Renaissance it “increasingly becomes a source of anxiety. The bells that tolled the canonincal hours and attested to the role of time within the economy of salvation give way to mechanical clocks that mark the moment by moment annihila­ tion of the present” (p. 5). Kastan, whose approach is grounded in a unique and appealing genre theory, argues that Shakespeare’s dramas represent “not merely literary conventions but ethical categories” (p. 171). His conclusion impressively suggests that with Shakespeare “the individual genre stands for a complete though hypothetical model of the world” (p. 173). And “genre becomes a way of imagining time as it shapes and is shaped by humankind” (p. 173). E. D. Hirsch, Jr., has demonstrated that genre is a crucial category in understanding the “meaning” of a work of literature or other art. Kastan is, furthermore, correct when he argues that Shake­ speare’s plays are not simply “reflections of reality” but rather “each is a provisional and exploratory version of reality . . . a rich, resonant metaphor of what might be true” (p. 33). The critic, who maintains that Shakespeare’s “encounter” with time “is dramatic and not discursive” (p. 6), attempts a purely literary analysis and thus successfully avoids the danger of imposing alien criteria of value which are not inherent in the subject matter of his plays. He briefly sketches the two models of historical time: the pro­ vidential-linear-directional-developmental model of the Patristic tradition, and the exemplary-cyclical-repetitive views of the humanistic heritage. He thereupon illustrates how Shakespeare had affinity with both tradi­ tions. His whole approach, however, remains embedded in his structural genre theory. Like Northrop Frye, he finds that “fictions that adequately represent reality in one age are usually inadequate in another” (p. 7). Kastan then sets out further to distinguish three shapes of time in the plays. The first shape is linear and open, corresponding to the history plays which emphasize “the contingency of human action and the arti­ ficiality of the dramatic field of vision” (p. 23). The second shape is 178 Comparative Drama that of the tragedies that are linear and terrifyingly closed. “The gaze of the tragedies is not,” he writes, “set on the ineluctable process of history but is contracted to focus upon the fate of the individual as he tests or is tested by the limits of his humanity” (p. 26). The third shape, corres­ ponding to the romances, is again linear and open-ended, “but in their luminous endings . . . signal the way to the perfect revelation of the meaning of time that will come at the Final Judgment” (p. 32). Kastan rejects the often upheld view that there is a cyclical progress of time in the romances, and rather finds that the circularity is renewal instead of recurrence, “it must be understood axiological rather than structural” (p. 32). My own opinion is that the structural distinctions between the his­ tories and the tragedies are not sufficiently flexible. The elements of the tragedies are already present in the history plays, and the tragedies are likewise touched by the themes established in the histories and their atmosphere. Shakespeare’s shift to tragedies seems to witness the process in which the time-scale of events...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 177-179
Launched on MUSE
2018-07-11
Open Access
No
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