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This review is taken from PN Review 93, Volume 20 Number 1, September - October 1993.

Appropriating Shakespeare: Contemporary Critical Quarrels (Yale University Press, 1993) £35.00

Brian Vickers has produced an anatomy of modern critical folly. Addressing the treatment meted out to Shakespeare in the wake of contemporary literary theory he considers the fallacies inherent in deconstruction, Freudian Lacanianism ('psychocriticism'), New Historicism, feminism, Christian allegorizing and Althusserian Marxising. Not one of these approaches survives Vickers' scrutiny. Psychoanalysis and the critical practice it gives rise to receive particularly sharp (and devastating) treatment. 'The liberty of interpretation that Freudian critics appropriate to themselves can only result in a deformation of Shakespeare. Relationships between characters, political conflict, social discord, the clash between ambition and legitimacy - all these are swept by the board to make way for the stereotypes of psychoanalytic theory' (P.295). Fantasy is the 'essential stuff' of Freudian literary criticism, and as a result the codified patterns of Freudian'fantasy'plots are imposed (inevitably) on the artistic coherence of the plays themselves. Ruth Nevo, one such psychocritic', to whose work Vickers gives sustained attention, takes as her purpose the discovery of the 'informing or generating fantasy, or ensemble of fantasies, in each play: At the beginning of Act 2 of Pericles, the hero addresses the storm that has just cast him ashore:
Yet cease your ire, you angry stars of heaven!
Wind, rain, and thunder…
Alas, the sea hath cast me on the rocks…

Nevo sees the speech as an allegory of family conflict. In Vickers' summary, 'The "wrathfully punitive sky elements" are paternal, the ocean maternal, and Pericles is "a ...

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