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Reviews 189 novelty in large measure because her content is hearsay to many readers. Now she moves to a play which her readers know all too well and proves that the new context reveals a new, yet, of course, still familiar classic, proving the eloquent premise of her opening chapter: “For inside the Structure of impasse, there is only now: man is the sum of his present actions alone. And in this frame beyond historicity, there is some freedom to remember, to imagine, to play” (p. 24). In the second-level playwrights of genius whom she has read, Rosen shows the audience’s determination to find a katharsis in its members’ possible (prison, asylum) or nearly certain (hospital) fate. MARILYN GADDIS ROSE State University of New York at Binghamton James R. Siemon. Shakespearean Iconoclasm. Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London: University of California Press, 1985. Pp. xii + 307. $28.50. Since 1935, when Caroline F. E. Spurgeon’s Shakespeare’s Imagery and What It Tells Us was published, there has been an increasing aware­ ness of the visual dimension inherent in the language of Shakespeare. In recent years, there has also been a corresponding interest in the visual aspects of the stage spectacle—i.e., what the audiences saw with their own eyes taking place on the Elizabethan and Jacobean stage. With regard to such visual aspects, Glynne Wickham’s careful attention in his Early English Stages, Vol. II, Pt. 1 (1963), to the nature of the Renaissance stage in England established some basic principles that, it would seem, require to be taken into account by anyone who wishes to extend our knowledge of Shakespeare’s attitude toward (or his use of) visible images as part of the spectacle of his plays. Shakespeare’s theater is not, Wick­ ham argues, “a theatre of realistic illusion,” but rather instead it is characterized by a stage which is essentially “emblematic” because it aims “at achieving dramatic illusion by figurative representation” (p. 155). On this kind of stage with its lack of perspective scenery, therefore, such matters as theatrical effects, gestures, and iconographic tableaux play a significant role in communicating meaning in dramatic productions. At least, this is the catholic view corroborated by critics such as Russell Fraser, Dieter Mehl, John Doebler, R. M. Frye, Huston Diehl, and many others who have written about the Renaissance stage during die past two decades. But such a view is precisely what seems to be rejected in James R. Siemon’s radical protestant work, Shakespearean Iconoclasm, which attempts to examine the dramatist’s handling of characterization and language in order to reveal a deep-seated antagonism to the image. One would expect such a study to begin with a careful and systematic analysis of previous criticism which in fact does examine the iconography of Shakespeare both in his dramatic language and in his presentation of theatrical spectacle. Instead we are given only a few general “remarks about current criticism of the plays” which culminate, it seems, in the misleading accusation that critics who have probed the visual aspects of Shakespeare have been principally interested in “unity” and with abstract principles as opposed to concrete reality. In other words, he is setting up 190 Comparative Drama a straw man whom he can knock down without himself genuinely analyzing the phenomenological basis of either imagery or stage spec­ tacle— and indeed the latter is something that is most frequently ignored in this overly literary study, based as it is on an outmoded understanding of stage character and on an apparent prejudice against the sense of sight, which is unfavorably compared to hearing/language/rationality (see especially the shrill attack, incorporating a quote from Hans Jonas, on pp. 26Iff, as part of his discussion of King Lear). It is true, as William G. Madsen has carefully demonstrated in his From Shadowy Types to Truth (1968), that the medieval emphasis on the superiority of sight is supplanted during the Protestant Reformation when, “as might be expected, the emphasis falls very heavily on the superiority of hearing” (p. 159). The implications of this shift are, how­ ever, severely distorted in Siemon’s study. Furthermore, in his insistence on distrust of the eye...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 189-192
Launched on MUSE
2018-07-11
Open Access
No
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