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This study of the action of discovery as plot device, visual motif, and thematic trope on the early modern stage considers an important and popular performance convention in its cultural and religious contexts. Through close examination of a number of 'discoveries' taken from a wide range of early modern plays, Leslie Thomson traverses several related disciplines, including theatre history, literary analysis, art history, and the history of the religious practices that would have influenced Shakespeare and his contemporaries. Taking as its primary focus the performance of disguise-discoveries and discovery scenes, the analyses include considerations of how this particular device relates to genre, plot structure, language, imagery, themes, and the manipulation of playgoer expectations. With strong reference to the visual arts, and an appendix that addresses the problem of how and where discovery scenes were performed, Thomson offers an innovative perspective on the staging and meaning of early modern drama.
Judging from the selection of books that have arrived for review this year, the practice of Shakespeare and related criticism is ever more diverse, seemingly without a clear direction, even miscellaneous. This is of course not altogether a bad thing, since the opportunities for new and innovative approaches are necessarily plentiful at such a time. Certainly ‘variety’ is the byword of this year’s review: variety in topics, in quality, in critical approach, and in the media discussed.
The evidence of publishers’ lists and tables at conferences suggests that those planning to undertake studies of Shakespeare’s contemporaries might want to think twice before beginning a project without that magic name in its title. The same evidence also indicates that one publisher in particular is making a concerted effort to broaden the range of criticism on early modern subjects. Ashgate is noteworthy for both the quantity and quality of its offerings on a broad selection of such topics, a good example being Marlowe’s Soldiers: Rhetorics of Masculinity in the Age of the Armada, by Alan Shepard. It offers an ambitious treatment of all Marlowe’s plays; indeed, its scope is rather wider than the title and subtitle seem to advertise. Central to his argument is the idea that ‘under the stresses of war, counterfeiting the guise of a soldier in the streets could bring a death sentence, while in the theatre it could bring modest celebrity to a player and, in rare circumstances, wealth to shareholders.
For a group of books as miscellaneous as this review section attracts, no principle of organization really works, but the title’s terms ‘life’, ‘times’ and ‘stage’ are a place to start. A problem of disproportion nevertheless remains, since for obvious reasons there is little new to say about Shakespeare’s biography. This has not, however, deterred Katherine Duncan-Jones from writing Ungentle Shakespeare: Scenes from his Life. Under the imprint of Arden Shakespeare, but very much displaying the commercial auspices of Thomson Learning, the material object seems to be saying ‘this is an important book’ – large and heavy, with a very red cover, glossy pages, and numerous (often tangential) illustrations. As the title’s emphasis on ‘ungentle’ indicates, Duncan-Jones’s aim is to ‘bring Shakespeare down from the lofty isolation to which he has been customarily elevated, and to show him as a man among men, a writer among writers’, whose brilliance elicited envy rather than admiration (p. ⅹ). Further, she says her purpose is ‘to explore some of the areas of Shakespeare’s life’ neglected by Schoenbaum and others, and that she has chosen ‘generally, for preference, the road less travelled’ (p. ⅸ). In a territory as over-explored as Shakespearian biography, if a road has remained largely untravelled there is usually a good reason why so many others have avoided it.