Get history straigh

I don't know if Robert Armengol or Shenandoah Shakespeare's Jim Warren is at fault, but the genealogy of Oliver Goldsmith's She Stoops to Conquer described in the May 19 Hook ["What a hoot: Audiences grin at Goldsmith's gem"] is full of holes.

By casting Goldsmith as the savior of the comic spirit of Shakespeare, Armengol skips a period in the history of English theater in which the question of what makes good comedy was actively contested. This was not a period of "long, slow demise."

Masques were not performed in the commercial theater in which Shakespeare's and Goldsmith's plays were staged. They were elaborate entertainments, performed at court, that combined music, dance, speech, lavish sets, and costumes. Masques seem "forgettable" today because it's difficult to imagine these multimedia spectacles from limited textual evidence.

There were a number of interesting dramatists writing plays for the commercial theater in the nearly two centuries between Shakespeare and Goldsmith, including Ben Jonson, who was for centuries considered better than Shakespeare for his erudition and wit. He was hardly a B-grade talent. Jonson did write masques, but he also wrote commercial plays like The Alchemist, produced by Shenandoah Shakespeare several years ago.

After the theaters reopened after 1660, there was not a natural "slide" to sentimental comedy. Armengol forgets the comedy of the Restoration period, which was notoriously bawdy and makes your average teen gross-out movie seem tame. Sentimental comedy arose in part as a backlash against the lewdness of Restoration comedy.

She Stoops to Conquer did indeed offer audiences a return to laughter after the sometimes drab and always weepy sentimental comedies of the earlier eighteenth century, but that's about the only part the reviewer got right.

In a short review, I don't expect an in-depth discussion of the development of comedy. But I do expect the Hook to get the basics or else leave out the explanation altogether.

Marianne Montgomery