Shakespeare Adaptations from the Restoration: Five Plays
Edited by Barbara A. Murray

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The five Restoration adaptations of Shakespeare in this collection, “presented here,” according to the editor, “for the first time in over three hundred years” are Edward Ravenscroft’s Titus Andronicus, or The Rape of Lavinia (c. 1678); John Crowne’s The Misery of Civil War (1680) and Henry the Sixth, The First Part, with the Murder of Humphrey Duke of Glocester (1681); Nahum Tate’s The History of King Richard the Second, [or] The Sicilian Usurper (1680); and Thomas Durfey’s The Injured Princess, or The Fatal Wager (1682) from Cymbeline. According to Murray, “Of the seventeen Shakespeare adaptations made between 1662 and 1682 these are the only ones (with the exception of the curtailed Hamlet) which have never been reprinted.” These claims from the preface (xi) are not strictly true. Both the Tate and Ravenscroft adaptations were printed in 1969 for Cornmarket Press in London. But, oddly, the Dramatic Works of John Crowne (Edinburgh, 1874, reissued by Benjamin Blom in New York in 1967) does not include his adaptations of the Henry VI plays and Durfey’s play is available only in a few research collections.

Murray could have accurately claimed that this is the first scholarly edition of the plays. The plays themselves are presented in a “clean page” format with notes and textual commentary reserved for the end of the volume. Students (and some scholars) might wish that the explanatory notes be on the page with the passages they explain, but this is the current practice. The introduction begins with a general overview of Restoration theater practices, and a brief discussion of Shakespeare in the Restoration theatrical milieu, a subject upon which Murray has previously published a book, Restoration Shakespeare (2001). Subsequently the individual plays are introduced with a short summary of biographical information about the author, what is known about the theatrical auspices, and a close reading of the play not only in terms of significant motifs but also within the contentious debates surrounding the Popish Plot and the Exclusion Crisis. For, as Murray points out, “despite their very different genres and settings, all five of the Shakespearean sources of these adaptations are more or less concerned with political power struggles, with challenges to a ruler, be they from within the family or from beyond the sea, and with the motive for betrayal—and sometimes the loyalty—that drives the characters surrounding him” (lxxix). Production histories of the plays and a critical overview are provided in the notes.

The greatest strength of Murray’s introduction is that she takes the playwrights seriously, treating them as intelligent professional playwrights, rather than as simpletons perverting flawless Shakespearean masterpieces. In this she is quite right; even though these plays do not represent the best work of any of these authors, they do show a serious engagement in both their source material and the contemporary scene. When English Renaissance scholars discuss Restoration adaptations, it is usually to dismiss them as vulgar hack work. These adaptations show Shakespeare’s work as part of a living theatrical tradition, not as venerated monuments to a different era.

Murray is clearly more familiar with Shakespearian adaptations in the period than she is with Restoration drama as a whole. In a discussion of the difficulties involved in dating Durfey’s The Injured Princess, she remarks that heroic drama had been “under attack since the The Rehearsal of 1671, and defunct since Aurengzebe of 1675” (lxix). Just among the playwrights included in this edition, Crowne produces the two-part heroic drama The Destruction of Jerusalem in 1677. Elsewhere she lumps together Etherege’s The Man of Mode, Wycherley’s The Country Wife and Farquhar’s The Beaux’ Strategem as examples of Restoration Comedy’s contempt for the countryside. I would certainly agree with the first two as evidence for her claim, but while “Farquhar’s countryside is inhabited by burglars” (lxxvi), it also contains the beneficent, albeit not very bright, Lady Bountiful. Moreover, the latter play is performed three decades after the first two and is characteristic of a shift in attitudes toward rural simplicity.

The volume as a whole is very well edited and the notes are helpful. Among Murray’s accomplishments in the volume is the printing of passages in prose that are mistakenly set in the original copy texts as verse. One might quibble with Murray’s frequent practice of providing notes about setting when she has only internal evidence from the text equally available to the reader. For example a note for Crowne’s Henry the Sixth Act II, Scene I, reads “Setting: a scene is not specified; the king and queen are seated in state, however, so a grand room of some sort is indicated” (516). Probably—but readers can probably figure this out for themselves, and it is not clear what this note adds to our understanding of the play. Moreover, her critical summaries frequently ignore significant work on these authors, if not on these particular plays, and on drama in the late 1670s and early 1680s.

On the whole, however, this is a welcome anthology because it makes readily available five interesting plays by significant playwrights. It should be of interest both to those interested in the history of English drama and to those interested in the literature and history of the 1670s and early 1680s.

Christopher J. Wheatley, The Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C., Restoration and Eighteenth-Century Theatre Research

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