by Phoebe-Lou Adams
by John C. Meagher.
Continuum, 240 pages, $34.50.
The author's "intent is to provide a general survey of the principles of
Shakespeare's dramaturgy" and thereby enable readers of the plays to understand
how they were constructed and why discrepancies and lacunae occur in the texts.
He describes the wide-open Elizabethan stage, the practice of doubling roles,
the unbroken action, and the absence of any concern for the classically derived
unities -- a point that has worried earnest scholars ever since Ben Jonson. Much
of this information is useful, some of it is needlessly belabored (the author
is a professor of English and theology, and professors often forget that a
reading audience does not need time to take notes), and all of it adds up to
one very sound point. Shakespeare was an actor, a playwright, and a part owner
of a theatrical company. In all three capacities he abhorred a dead house and a
silent box office. He meant to keep his audience alert, excited, surprised,
worried, or distressed, but always to send them home pleased with a fine
show -- and to that end he would do anything that made the show work. The play
really was the thing. It is a refreshingly clearheaded way of approaching
Shakespeare. It compels a reader to admit that whatever Freudian, Jungian,
Marxist, or feminist meanings he finds in a play are his own
Each highlighted book title can be ordered from Amazon.com.
Browse an anthology of Brief Reviews by
A Mad, Mad, Mad,
by Stanley Kramer with
Thomas M. Coffey.
Harcourt Brace, 262 pages,
Mr. Kramer's Hollywood is not mad in the least. His memoir chronicles a
life of hard work and the production of a number of motion pictures on topics
that at the time were considered too dangerous for film treatment. He can
rightly claim to have been a pioneer in making entertaining films on serious
and provocative subjects. Readers hoping for scandalous or hilarious anecdotes
will be disappointed. Mr. Kramer will quote a good line, but he ignores gossip.
He conforms to the unwritten rule of theatrical memoirs: never speak ill of a
colleague who is still alive or whose friends are. Harry Cohn, under whom Mr.
Kramer worked at Columbia, is dead and presumably friendless. He is described
as "vulgar, domineering, semi-literate, ruthless, boorish, and some might say
malevolent" -- which suggests that Mr. Kramer has more of a temper than ever
appears in his suave recollections.
The Napoleon of Crime
by Ben Macintyre.
Farrar Straus & Giroux,
Mr. Macintyre promises a "love affair between a crook and a canvas" and
delivers an even stranger tale. The real-life original of Sir Arthur Conan
Doyle's Professor Moriarty was Adam Worth, an American, the son of poor
German-Jewish immigrants. He began as a Civil War bounty jumper, progressed to
picking pockets in New York, and eventually became the master of a criminal
network that ranged from Europe to Latin America to Turkey. His early
associates in New York seem to have escaped from Damon Runyon -- Boiled Oysters
Malloy, Wreck Donovan, Eddie the Plague, Gyp the Blood, and Gallus Mag, a
female saloon-keeper who "periodically bit the ears off obstreperous customers."
His European crew was less picturesque. Worth aspired to pass for an English
gentleman, and controlled his troops. He also had two professional principles:
never waste the time and brains required for a successful robbery on a trivial
job and never carry a weapon. Privately he was willing to go to great expense
to get his people out of trouble. It was probably Worth's unexpectedly decent
character, combined with his unprecedented skill in redistributing other
people's wealth, that won him the respect and even liking of the Pinkerton
brothers, detectives who emerge in this engaging narrative as men almost as
unlikely as Worth himself.
Tales of H. P. Lovecraft
selected and with an introduction
by Joyce Carol Oates.
Given the popularity of horror fiction, it is strange that the work of
Lovecraft is not widely known, although it has a devoted cult following. Ms.
Oates, who appreciates Lovecraft's ingenuity in evoking strange evils from
ordinary surfaces, does not attempt to explain his status. She merely reports
it, analyzes with sharp intelligence the elements underlying his fiction, and
offers a very well chosen selection of tales.
by Nathalie Sarraute,
translated by Barbara Wright.
According to sound old tradition, one does not speak of rope in the
house of the hanged. Ms. Sarraute assumes that this principle is so ingrained
in society that people operate on it lightning fast and without deliberate
thought. The subject of her idiosyncratic novel is the quick, unconsidered
process that occurs behind the normally mannered façade. The novel has
no plot, no physical action, and no human characters except by implication. The
characters are words -- poor little defenseless words panicked into flight,
humiliated into paralysis, or evicted for trespassing before they reach
audibility. The work is not entirely devoid of incident, however. There is the
gathering at which the arrival of a noble name alters the attitudes of all
those present. It is truly astonishing to find oneself chuckling over obliquely
impersonal satire and pitying unspoken words in a fictional world inhabited by
ones and theys. Ms. Sarraute plays by her own rules; the reader who adapts to
them will enjoy a witty, provocative view from under the rug.
Copyright © 1997 by The Atlantic Monthly
Company. All rights reserved.
The Atlantic Monthly; September 1997; Brief Reviews; Volume 280, No. 3;