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Reviews 187 and generalizes too much here. For one thing, not all these interpretations go so far as to claim that Lear asserts the dignity of man. Many would agree that man is decentered in this drama and that to see an affirmation in Cordelia’s death is an unwarranted mystification. Dollimore makes a good case for Lear being about power, property, and inheritance although I believe it is not so prominent a theme as he makes it out to be. He offers some shrewd observations on minor points. He finely observes, for instance, how absurd it is for Gloucester to say to Lear at the hovel, “What, hath your Grace no better company” (III.iv.142)—referring to Edgar and the Fool—and how these words betray Gloucester’s class consciousness. But his analysis of this scene as a whole and of Lear’s behavior in it is quite inadequate and lacks in dramatic empathy. It is true that the abstractions in Lear’s “prayer” to the “houseless poverty” point to his inexperience with want and misery; but the prayer comes just a little after Lear has urged the Fool to enter the hovel first, a gesture in contrast to Gloucester’s callous absurdity. For a moment, Lear acts, even if he does not think, concretely about poverty and transcends his class-conscious royalty. But, of course, for Dollimore to have admitted the possibility of Lear’s reaching for a transcendence of this kind would have interfered with his radical thesis and argued for Shakespeare’s at least tentative exploration of the human essence which Dollimore sees broken beyond recovery. And to have admitted it would have meant to admit the power of human feelings besides that of material forces. When Dollimore says that “Lear in the end clings more tenaciously than ever to the only values he knows” [that is, power and authority], one is too painfully reminded that the Lear we see on the stage clings in the end to Cordelia with the momentary illusion that she may be alive. Whether he dies with this illusion in mind or not, his feelings and ours are strong and excruciating. Dollimore does not deal well with feelings; vide his wholly inadequate treatment of Antony and Cleopatra. I have called this a provocative book. It is not likely to leave readers indifferent, just as it has not left this reader indifferent. In this lies its merit, and the heavy ideology and the overstatements may even contribute something to this particular merit. For being the most challenging recent book about tragedy, Dollimore’s wins the prize. ROLF SOELLNER Ohio State University Carol Rosen. Plays of Impasse. Contemporary Drama Set in Confining Institutions. Princeton, N. J.: Princeton University Press, 1983. Pp. 325. $24.00. A thematic analysis integrating both drama and theater considerations, Plays of Impasse excels by nearly any criterion ever devised for measuring excellence in critical studies: introducing new material, demonstrating a persuasive and novel thématique, and, as a result, disturbing received ideas. 188 Comparative Drama In the first instance, Rosen’s principal thesis, i.e., the substantive congruity among contemporary plays set in confining institutions like hos­ pitals, asylums, prisons, and barracks, allows her to focus on plays which have been recognized as serious but which, for the most part, have not achieved contemporary canon status. To wit: Pinter’s The Hothouse, Nichols’s The National Health, Kopit’s Wings, Weiss’s Marat/Sade, Diirrenmatt ’s The Physicists, Storey’s Home, Brown’s The Brig, Behan’s The Quare Fellow and The Hostage, Genet’s Deathwatch, Wesker’s Chips With Everything, and Rabe’s The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel and Streamers. This means that even though this is a book intended for academic readers (upper-division students through specialists), few readers will have had an opportunity to have read all of these plays, let alone to have seen all of them, and so her genial reading which incorpor­ ates discussions of productions is truly informative. In the second instance, Rosen uses throughout the institutional taxo­ nomy of Erving Goffman for “total” institutions and adopts his premise that all such institutions of controlled social environment, regardless of purpose...


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pp. 187-189
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