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REVIEWS Robert D. Hume. T h e R akish Stage: Studies in E nglish D ram a, 1660-1800. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1983. Pp. xvi + 382. $25.00. T he R akish Stage is a collection of ten essays (seven of which were published separately between 1972 and 1981), in which Robert Hume challenges a number of stereotypes or cliches about the drama between 1660 and 1800. His targets include the beliefs that Restoration comedy supported libertinism and was hostile to marriage, that sentimental comedy dominated the eighteenth-century stage, and that the “laughing comedy” of Goldsmith and Sheridan was a revival of something long absent from the theater. His principal handles are the data provided by T h e L on don Stage, study of the audience, and a critical approach out­ lined in the first chapter. Hume’s critical approach emphasizes overall meaning or “values” in the plays and their effects on an audience that changed from decade to decade and was diverse in its attitudes at all times. A general sense of historical context and of theater history is crucial in his criticism, but attention to specific objects of satire is usually secondary. He eschews interpretation based upon close reading of the text and on thematic analysis. Most plays, Hume says, do not preach: Etherege’s M an o f M o d e “is full of ideas, libertine attitudes, and glancing commentary on issues of the time. But it makes no overall statement, and it has no message” (p. 43). In his earlier D evelo p m en t o f E nglish D ra m a in the L a te Seven­ teenth C en tu ry (Oxford University Press, 1976, p. 96) Hume suggested that “Etherege’s ‘central concern’ was to display his own wit. . . . Surely we can enjoy [the play] without the excuse of ‘philosophical’ justification.” This light touch contrasts with the author’s heavy-handed approach to Gay’s B eggar’s O pera in Chapter VIII of T h e R akish Stage (a chapter not previously published). Acknowledging Gay’s hits against Walpole, Italian opera, sentimentality, and the structure of society, Hume finds these subordinate to “a more radical and subversive enterprise than any ordinary kind of satire” (p. 246). He continues, “T h e B eggar’s O pera actually cuts deeper and more dangerously than the more ‘committed’ satires of Swift, Pope, and Fielding. For where those authors savagely attack the bad, Gay undermines our easy and uncritical faith in the good. . . . To be made to realize that ‘the world is all alike’ is both risible and sobering. The implications are serious enough, but they are also a dead end, for . . . there are no remedies” (p. 268). Although Hume says that he prefers criticism which sees Gay not as “hard” or “soft” satirist but as “mixed” (p. 260), his own grim interpretation makes Gay hard indeed. In Chapter II—a previously published essay by Hume and Arthur H. Scouten—the authors discuss diversity and change in theater audiences 274 Reviews 275 from 1660 to 1800. Using data on performances from The L on don Stage, they also stress the continuing popularity of Restoration comedy in the eighteenth-century theater until around 1760 and find that the main change in taste came at that time rather than in 1700. In Chapter X of T h e R akish Stage Hume’s data confirm Arthur Sherbo’s evidence that sentimental drama did not dominate the London theater even in 17601773 and that “manners” (i.e., “laughing”) comedy continued to be more prominent. Hume suggests that Goldsmith’s “Essay on the Theatre” (January, 1773) is a puff for She S toops to C on qu er (first played two months later) and the result of the playwright’s fear that there might be a growing tendency toward the sentimental in his audience. Although Goldsmith and Sheridan reacted against sentimental comedy, they were in the main stream opposing a lesser current. Since the original version of this essay was published in 1972, other scholars have expressed similar views. Chapters III and IV defend lesser plays—Otway’s bitter comedies and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 274-275
Launched on MUSE
2018-07-11
Open Access
No
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