Recent Studies in Tudor and Stuart Drama

By Bristol, Michael D. | Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, Spring 1998 | Go to article overview
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Recent Studies in Tudor and Stuart Drama


Bristol, Michael D., Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900


Of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh, or so saith the preacher. But my own experience in reading this past year has been that the making of books demands commitment, resourcefulness, and abundant creativity. The strongest impression I take from this year's review is the sense of an author behind each of these writings. Authorship as a concept has fallen into some considerable disrepute recently, and some of the books reviewed here are quite firm in their rejection of the idea. Of course, writers never work in isolation, and every author participates in a complex dialogue with other voices, living and dead. Still, the impact made on this reader by every one of these projects is simply that a person did this. There may be all kinds of theoretical problems in knowing how to answer the question "what is an author?" but in the end I feel it would be churlish and possibly unethical to deny recognition to the solitary labor required for the making of books. All these people are conscientious and sophisticated readers of early modern drama. Virtually all attempt to situate texts in their appropriate historical setting. Sometimes the primary interest is in the textual exegesis itself. Sometimes reading is deployed to make a larger argument about the early modern period. And sometimes the historical narrative is subordinated to a larger metacritical project mainly concerned with the institutions of scholarly research. Most of the books reviewed here in fact work on all these levels. I've organized the review to reflect where I think the most significant contributions are being made.

As in the past, this review devotes the greatest attention to critical studies written by a single author. I have also looked closely at a number of new editions of Shakespeare's plays, because the question of editorial practice has recently become a topic of intense theoretical discussion. With only one or two exceptions I have not been able to review anthologies or collections of essays. And I did not review Big-time Shakespeare for obvious reasons, though I was tempted to comment on the significance of the flashy postmodern cover Routledge designed for the paperback edition. My general impression of this year's work on Tudor and Stuart drama is that the institution of scholarship is in capable hands. And notwithstanding the turmoil of the recent "culture wars" there has been an orderly transfer of authority from the previous generation of scholars to the present incumbents. I have tried throughout to acknowledge the achievements of each author rather than to quarrel with their methods and assumptions, though of course one inevitably likes some things better than others. In general I preferred those books that presented a strong argument or a well-sustained story line, even when I disagreed with the authors' positions or thought they were basically wrong. The books I had most difficulty with were those where I found the style awkward, opaque, or simply uncongenial. Much study really is weariness of the flesh; the fun only comes from clear, engaging writing. I particularly liked Paul Yachnin's obvious zest and enthusiasm for his subject. And only Michael Neill could manage to make the topic of death entertaining. Oh, and in the fun department I saved the best for last.

REFERENCE WORKS AND RESEARCH MATERIALS

Cambridge University Press, in association with the Folger Shakespeare Library, has now released The World Shakespeare Bibliography: 1990-1993 in a CD-ROM version, edited by James L. Harner and Harrison T. Meserole. This is an electronic database version of the annual Bibliography that appears in Shakespeare Quarterly, but it is much more convenient to use than its printed forebears, mainly because one need not consult each volume separately. The actual entries match the older format exactly both in content and visual layout, and scholars accustomed to working with printed materials will experience little difficulty using the new version.

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