Boas = Holzknecht?
|As promised, and only a day late, I've finished reading Boas's University Drama in the Tudor Age, and so I hereby declare our second semi-occasional book club open. If you too (and I think I'd better include my fellow bloggers in that you) have managed to complete this seriously old-skool book, join in the fun.|
The book is about 350 pages long, but with type that seems to have been set for the elderly or the adolescent, it's not really that long. And given that Boas was an important forefather for the Holzknecht School of Play Summarizing--we could put about 275 of his 350 pages in our sidebar under Holzknecht Predivivus--it's pretty quick going. All of which is designed to inspire those of you who haven't read it yet to do so.
Ok, it's not a particularly thrilling book. But hey, it's 93 years old. Back in 1914, they were driving around in barouches and phaetons, wearing top hats and tails to supper, and making snarky remarks about those nouveau riche who lived above 14th St. At least, so I'm told. Let's just say that what passed for "literary criticism" in 1914 was a bit different (read, "more boring") than today.
In fact, Boas is explicit about his desire to do literary criticism rather than merely giving lists of plays and "synopses of their plots" as those boring synopsizers Professors Churchill and Keller did in volume 34 of the Jahrbuch of the German Shakespeare Society: "Only those who have been over the same ground can fully appreciate the excellence of the work of these scholars, but literary criticism was outside the scope of their arduous pioneer labours" (iv). But this is not your father's literary criticism (it's your great-grandfather's). For Boas, criticism generally means evaluation, and so we get a lot of what seem to a modern reader like unjustified obiter dicta, like this evaluation of a scene in Club Law: "the farcical closing episode of the scene could well have been spared" (328). Or Boas's assessment of the claims of defenders of the stage like Heywood and Sidney that drama could inculcate moral values: "the fallacious theory that the Drama and other forms of imaginative art are to be gauged not by their power of purifying the emotions, of effecting the Aristotelian [catharsis], but by the quantum of moral teaching that they directly convey" (238).
So, while Boas says that what's going to distinguish him from Professors Churchill and Keller of the GSS is that he will do "literary criticism" while they only give synopses of the plots of plays, it can be awfully tough for a modern reader to tell the difference between the two approaches. Most of Boas's book, after all, consists of synopses of the plots of university plays--and, to add a little spice, synopses of the plots of the sources of university plays.
Speaking of obiter dicta: it happens that I pretty much agree with Boas over Heywood and Sidney, but the delight of this book--and in all seriousness, I did enjoy reading it--is that he's able to simply come right out and call it a "fallacious" theory. As though the meaning and purpose of Art had, as we all know, been proven beyond all doubt in 1885 through experiments run by Herr Doktor Krietzler and subsequently published in the Jahrbuch of the German Shakespeare Society.
Another thing (I imagine) you won't find in your own books and unpublished manuscripts, dear readers: geographical/humoral theories of the temperaments, not analyzed or historicized but actually put to explanatory use! One nice bit of info I learned from Boas is that Nicholas Grimald (Christus Redivivus, Archipropheta, Troilus) is the first Oxford dramatist that we can identify by name. I also learned that he was "of Italian descent, and thus had in his blood something of the warm temperament of the south and its natural dramatic instinct" (26). Later, I was shocked to learn that "there appears to have been some Italian blood in [Thomas] Legge's veins. If so, tragedy at Cambridge, as at Oxford in the case of Grimald's plays, owed something to the inherited southern aptitude for dramatization" (133). But really I should not have been so shocked at this
Enough snark. As I said, I did enjoy this book, and I think it's a pretty useful compendium of information. It doesn't match the great projects of the early 20th century that are in a similar mode of information-gathering: the works of Greg, McKerrow, Rollins, etc. But it's got a lot of material packed into those 350 large-type pages (plus five informative appendices). Most useful, I think, are the Holzknechtian bits; as I suspected, the book is good for guiding further reading into the plays themselves (and that's the goal of our Holzknecht Redivivus project too). One drawback is that, like most early 20th century scholars, Boas makes the (justified?) assumption that his audience, far more educated than we, can read Greek and Latin with very little trouble, and so huge swaths of the book are quotations in classical languages without translation. This is a double-edged sword: on the one hand, it makes the book actually only about 200 pages long, if you skip blithely over the Latin and Greek; on the other hand, if I really wanted to understand what was going on in those plays via his synopses, I'd have to spend hours and hours working through those passages with my Latin dictionary (forget the Greek entirely). Still, you get a pretty good sense even of those plays, and a great sense of what's going on in the English ones. Other things I found interesting:
I'm certainly open to other suggestions from my co-bloggers and our readers, though. And I'd love to hear what you all thought of Boas. So let the conversation begin (he said optimistically)!