Dr. Sarup Singh makes it clear right from the preface to his book that in the plays he has chosen to discuss, his primary concern will lie not with structure or language or detail of craft. He says: ‘My sub-ject is the ‘life’ that the play¬wrights treat of—certain basic human relationships as deter¬mined or influenced by the problems of larger social rela¬tions. I see the situations in these plays more or less as I would see similar situations in real life’. Literature, it is said, is at one remove from life, because in it we encounter life as filtered through the eyes of the author. Literary criticism has, as a rule, been at a further remove from life by concerning itself most often with methods of expression and literary craft. Critics are usually embarras¬sed to discuss exclusively the ideas of an author for fear either of appropriating to themselves the function of the philosopher or social historian or of concerning themselves too long with a subject not specifically aesthetic. Dr. Sarup Singh has none of these fears. In discussing in ideational and moral terms the life of the times, he has pre¬sented the preoccupations of Shakespeare and Restoration Comedy with an immediacy that brings home to us how very alive all the issues of those ages are even today.
He focusses on human relation¬ships, brought into sharp relief within the family, as pro¬viding the skein of continuity between Shakespeare and Res¬toration times. I believe that with serendipity and adroit¬ness, the author has chosen a subject that will find interest and continuity even into the Modern Age. We have not yet ceased to be interested in human relationships.
The first chapter goes into the historical reasons for and the social framework within which the families of Elizabethan and Restoration England took their form. The Elizabethan family was of patriarchal and authoritarian character, and had its sanctions in Christian¬ity itself. God had ordained the universe, according to the Elizabethans, in a hierarchical manner, embodied in micro¬cosm in the nuclear family and headed by the father. There existed, according to the author, a need in the sixteenth century of a reinforcement of the patriarchal principle for the forging’ of the nascent national state. He quotes Wilhelm Reich as saying that ‘in the figure of the father, the authoritarian state has its re¬presentative in every family so that the family becomes the most important instrument of power’. Sarup Singh notes, however, that ‘official doc¬trines…can never wholly deter¬mine human relationships’, and the Elizabethan family was not necessarily a repressive one. Women, whom the con-duet books relegated to an in¬ferior status, enjoyed, in fact, an independence and a rough equality with men. In the upper classes, they ran the estates, fought law suits, and managed the manor when re¬quired, and in the trading classes, upon the wife devolved ‘the thrifty utilization of the income for the comfort of the household.’ Woman had, therefore, a clear role in the productive life of the nation. Shakespeare explored drama¬tically in his plays the tensions between patriarchy on the one hand, and the search for prog¬ress and freedom by indivi¬duals, as fostered by the new social and economic forces of capitalism.
In the age after the Restor¬ation, the ‘transition from a ‘subsistence economy to the early stages of an economy of plenty’ fostered a change in man’s attitude, the greatest victim of which was the pat¬riarchal family. The influence of Hobbesian ideas on the court circles found expression in the ruthless self-seeking and competitiveness of some of the more memorable characters of the Comedy of Manners, Which were perhaps to ‘the ;detriment of man’s moral and human qualities’.
As the focus – of production shifted from out of the house¬hold to larger manufacturing units, woman lost her role in producing and amassing wealth, and gave herself up to the life of leisure and being decorative. Her education was deliberately neglected, and she came to be treated in the Comedy of Manners as an object of sexual gratification by men. The attention of Restoration comedy shifted its focus to the culture of the city, where the life style per¬mitted a variety of complicat¬ed pleasures, of which the country was largely innocent. The leaders of society led lives in the pursuit of wealth or physical pleasure, and most social institutions, including the family, found themselves weakened in fibre while hold¬ing on to an empty patriarchal form. Yet even in this age, the more serious amongst the young stretched out for the ‘the stabler moral values and satisfying human relation¬ships.’ It appears that pro-perty arrangements came to be more dispersed in the period after 1660 over the husband, wife, and children within a family. This further loosened the stranglehold of the patriar¬chal system.
Speaking of parents and children, their place within the ‘low-keyed, unemotional insti¬tution’ of the time, the family, Dr. Singh places his emphasis—not on the tyranny of the parents—but of their lack of communication with the chil¬dren. The age prescribed a rigour in the nurture of the child, and daughters suffered most from the treatment, but ever so often, as in Prospero, the prescriptions of the time are given the lie to in the individual filial habit of warmth. For the most part, however, children are perceiv¬ed as property.
In As you like it, we have Hermia’s father saying: ‘As she is mine I may dispose of her;/which shall be either to this gentleman/Or to her death’. Shakespeare’s younger protagonists ‘consistently reject arranged marriages’ but at no point reject the filial bond. Shakespeare is not con¬cerned with exposing the evils either of the arranged marriage or of the punishments for defying tradition. He prefers to let the warring points of view work themselves out in a compromise, presenting both sides with a genuine sympathy. In most cases, the parents and up accepting the child’s chosen course of action and family solidarity remains intact at the end of the day.
Restoration drama, on the other hand, espouses promi¬nently the causes of the young who are in revolt against all traditional modes of behavi¬our, and the old are treated with contempt. The cultural climate of the period is more relaxed, and the playwright’s sympathy is openly with the young, especially in the revolt against mercenary marriages as arranged by avaricious parents. The revolt here dis¬rupts the unity of the family, and the parents are rejected as tyrannical and in the wrong. According to Dr. Sarup Singh, Restoration comedy registers an advance is social terms over Shakespeare by undermining the empty mercenary and authoritarian values of con¬temporary culture. Without the revolt, the later compa¬nionate family would not have been possible. I am inclined to agree with the author. I would like to mention, however, that even in this chapter on chil¬dren, Dr. Singh does not evince an interest in particular children or their nurture.
Likewise, the old are treated by Shakespeare, if as exaspe¬rating at times, as human and loved. Something the young see themselves growing into certainly, people to live with. King Lear’s old age is invested with a ‘grandeur and a dig¬nity’. ‘Was this a face/To be oppos’d against the jarring winds?/To stand against the deep dread bolted thunder?’, Cordelia says of Lear.
Restoration comedy presents the old as an ‘embarrassing encumbrance’ highlighting ‘senile folly to the exclusion of other aspects of old age.’ The old are dismissed as intolerable with a ruthlessness absent in earlier comedy, and the author explains the dis¬regard by an obsession in the young aristocracy with sex, an obsession excluding all other goals. When considered at all, the old are portrayed as ‘hypocritical, lecherous, and greedy’—in relief against whom the young are seen as honest, generous, and ‘essen¬tially innocent’.
Shakespeare’s attitude to mar¬riage and women is interesting. He perceives man and woman as incomplete without each other, and the institution of marriage as the only institu¬tion, according to Dr. Singh, with in which they can achieve fulfilment. He presents love, not as terminating with mar¬riage, but as being perpetuated by it. The marriages in Shakespeare are not arranged (even if most in his time were), and the heroine explores thoroughly the personality of the man before marrying him.
In an Age when a double standard of morality obtained for man and for woman, the plays of Shakespeare enjoin a single standard of chastity and faithfulness for both the sexes. Perhaps because he does not depict the forced marriage, and because he believes love to last, the extra-marital relationship is not treated at all. Nor are the sexes present¬ed in a genuine antagonism based on the sex roles. Even in the Taming of the Shrew the con¬flict between man and wife is presented as an unnatural one, and resolves itself in love. Shakespeare’s women are vital and dynamic, and must have men who will match them in seriousness and worth.
Violating the role prescribed for them by their Age, Shakespeare makes his women take the initiative in wooing. Sometimes, disguise is used, as by a Viola or a Rosalind, but the Shakesperean woman will never be a coquette. She derives her directness from her chastity. George Eliot remarked: ‘it is remarkable that Shakespeare’s women almost always make love, in opposi¬tion to the conventional notion of what is fitting for a woman’. Shakespeare’s heroes are often too immature to make suitable husbands, and talk in terms of ‘sighs and tears’ and ‘love’s light wings’. It is the women who ‘use wit and realism in the service of passion, to mock male folly, to educate men, and to achieve a fruitful union with them. Their chief role appears to be to expose male fantasy, and initiate them into the realities of love, sex, and marriage’.
Yet, all these extraordinary qualities are directed towards one simple, traditional goals: to achieve a companionate marriage and to raise a family. They demand to share fully husband’s lives, but appear content to sink after marriage into comfortable oblivion, becoming the property of their husbands, and in a symbiotic union with them. Dr Singh sees these women as almost ceasing to exist as persons; it appears more likely to me that such women then exercise their power through the personality of their husbands. The society of Restoration comedy has become both more sexually permissive and more necessary than the Age just preceding it. It no longer provides the heroine the security and pro¬tection afforded by the more cohesive family system of feudal times. She has to make sure instead of finding the love of a husband she approves, a relationship which can conceiveably replace other, un¬satisfactory relationships. The odds against her are great. It is an Age when extra-marital relationships are seen to flourish. What is more, the chief motive for marriage within the upper classes is money as their own fortunes are fast dwindling, and so much money is about with the city merchant. In a society where marriages are, for the most part, entered into as commercial contracts, the nature of the man-wife rela¬tionship is bound to be un¬pleasant. Restoration comedy appears to recognize that where the husband fails to fulfill his end of the contract, the woman has every right to rebel. In a society where divorce has still not emerged as an option, the results of an unsuitable match have to be adultery, and men and women are treated equally in this respect.
The Restoration is also, interestingly, an Age where the rake emerges as a subject of popular interest in contem¬porary literature, and the heroines of Restoration comedy appear to be able to interest themselves only in men of such propensities. Per¬haps, it poses a challenge to their own charms, but women such as Harriet in The Man of Mode exercise every wile in the book to bring such men to their knees. It is a battle of the sexes in the raw, and the woman seeks to dominate the man as he did other women. The weapons used are rebuffs, scorn, and continual insult, in the education of the man she is, in fact, in love with. She transacts with the man on a footing of equality and the marriage which finally emerges is an affectionate one, whose harmony the husband has thereafter a considerable res¬ponsibility for maintaining. The question whether the hus¬band will continue to be faith¬ful after passion has subsided remains unanswered, but cer¬tainly, a marriage based on the only true foundation— friendships has been achieved.
The language that Dr. Singh has employed in the writing of this book is at once flowing, precise, urbane, and distin¬guishes itself by its readability. After very careful choosing he goes to his reading of six¬teenth century literature with the analytical abilities and intellectual equipage of a twentieth century scholar, and reveals for us truths from the experience of past centuries which have a direct interest for the modern man. His equipage includes a knowledge of sociology, including femi¬nist literature, British history, and, I suspect, psychology from the remarkable insight he brings to the study of the characters.
Whether he discusses an atti¬tude to the old or the kind of nurture, repressive or indul¬gent, most beneficial for the young or the nature of the arranged marriage, Dr. Singh’s own bias lies always with the most progressive and humane of positions. He is perhaps at his best when talking of the problems of women, and dis¬plays a sympathy, an imagina¬tion, a width of exposure, and a thoroughgoing humanity almost incredible to grasp in a member of the middle classes of a country which is not un¬like Restoration England in its present stage of develop¬ment.
Dr. Sarup Singh links quite admirably the political events and economic arrangements of sixteenth century society with the smaller institutions and literature that they threw up. Yet, despite inveighing clearly in favour of youth, the im¬portance of the human will, of the realization of women, and of the desirability of moving away from values entirely mercenary, Dr. Singh’s own emphasis on every issue is, not unlike Shakespeare’s, away from the inflammatory and towards a centre of sanity and resolution for all things.
Dr. Singh has brought into his discussion of Shakesperean and Restoration drama con¬cerns of a universal nature, and which are likely to trans¬cend the time that he treats of, and the discipline from which Dr Singh has himself started. The insights of the author on both the literary and socio¬logical—moral planes have an incisiveness and human interest which are immensely pleasing. Dr. Sarup Singh’s book will continue to be read long after many other critical works of his time.
Ruchira Mukerjee is a young academician specializing in poetry and world literature.