Three new RSC Shakespeares that I've contributed stage histories to are now (or are to shortly be) available in good bookshops near you:
April 12, 2011
Writing about web page http://www.shakespeareassociation.org/
I’ve spent most of the last week on the other side of the Atlantic, at the thirty-ninth annual meeting of the Shakespeare Association of America at the Hyatt Regency hotel in Bellevue, Washington. This was my first SAA and, in fact, my first international trip for a conference, and I’m now deeply regretting not having been previously. While I was prepared for the size, scale and prestige of the event, I was pleasantly surprised by the generosity and friendliness of the overwhelming majority of people I interacted with, and by how (relatively) relaxed a community this was.
I began the conference with a rehearsed reading of A Yorkshire Tragedy organised by Jeremy Lopez and the team at Shakespeare Bulletin, an amusing round-the-table affair which, perhaps inevitably, found the play funny rather than tragic (I ended up playing the Wife during the big fight scene…). Although I was still horrifically jetlagged, it was a fun start to the event and a great chance to meet people before the official opening.
Thursday offered a gentle opening to the conference proper. I attended a paper session on “Actors as Shakespeare Critics” featuring Gail Marshall delivering a version of a paper she trialled earlier in the year at the London Shakespeare seminar on the notes of Victorian Shakespeare actresses such as Sarah Siddons; Denis Salter on Henry Irving’s revolutionary “evil” Macbeth; and Richard Schoch on a satire of Collier’s forgeries called “The Grimaldi Shakespeare” which anticipated some of the more substantial critiques leading to the denouncing of the Perkins Folio.
This was followed by Charlotte Scott’s seminar on “The Book on Stage”, which was importantly relevant to the seminar in which I was participating (on which, more later). It hardly does justice to a two hour seminar featuring a range of fascinating papers to try and trace the conversation, particularly when I of course hadn’t seen any of the papers, but suffice to say this was a wide-ranging discussion which covered the pedagogical implications of books; the problems of textuality in a contemporary culture whose verbal and material words are ever more widely-dispersed; and the use of the book as a theatrical space.
In the evening, we adjourned to another hotel a block away for a lively opening reception, before a group of us returned for the Taiwan BangZi Opera Company performing Bond (discussed over on The Bardathon) which, although I didn’t enjoy it much myself, provided a great deal of discussion over the next couple of days.
Friday began with the annual Graduate Breakfast, a lovely opportunity to meet other doctoral candidates and the trustees of the Association (and, on a personal level, I was very pleased to get the chance to have a proper conversation with Suzanne Gossett, whose work I hugely admire). The plenary session followed, boasting an outstanding paper by Laurie Maguire on the multiple uses, meanings and implications of “Etc.” in early modern texts. This was one of those rare talks that awake your mind to the importance of something you’ve seen a million times but never thought critically about: how a phrase signifying implied continuation carries euphemistic, rhetorical, commonplace and censorious meanings. Bradin Cormack followed with discussion of thy/their slippages in emendations of the sonnets, and then Stephen Orgel presented a characteristically entertaining paper entitled “Textual Narratives” which addressed the theoretical problems of editorial clarification of textual problems, our need to resolve a dramatic text.
A panel on “Memorialising Shakespeare” followed that covered some fascinating ground. Ramie Targoff discussed the implications of tombs as related to Romeo and Juliet, exploring the cultural purpose of epitaphs and communal burials and, most interestingly, the problematic role of Paris in the group burial. Karen Brown addressed the pedagogic use of memorisation of Shakespeare and its role in his canonisation; while Alan Stewart offered a history of memorial reconstruction predating Greg’s conceptualisation, suggesting a more sophisticated approach that combines misrememberings/mishearings of the ear with the work of poets and misreadings. The annual luncheon followed, with an hilarious address from president Russ McDonald.
I spent the afternoon in part two of Leslie Thomson’s split seminar on “Lacunae in Theatre History” with an august group (Ros Knutson, John Jowett and David Kathmann all feature prominently in my thesis, and the chance to hear even these three in conversation let alone the other exciting members, was too good to pass up). The debate was extremely lively, discussing in great depth the methodology of theatre history. I’m hugely interested in the question of how we construct narratives: several panellists gave reiterated warnings about the danger of making assumptions when we know so little; while at the same time others argued that the role of the literary historian is to attempt to make responsible sense of what information we do have. Thomas More got discussed at some length too, raising some questions I’ll need to revisit in revising my current chapter.
A reception celebrating the fortieth anniversary of English Literary Renaissance followed, with tributes and, more importantly, free champagne. Following that, I escaped for my only substantial conference break to Seattle itself, with dinner in a gorgeous seafood restaurant overlooking the bay with mountain views, and an impromptu seminar on wine selections.
Saturday was overshadowed by preparation for my own seminar in the last session of the day, but that didn’t prevent me from attending some great papers. I was part of a breakfast focus group for the Arden Shakespeare in the morning (some very exciting developments happening with their online content), then went to the appropriately-themed “Editing Shakespeare” seminar. I was too late for most of A.R. Braunmuller’s paper on his experience of editing Measure for Measure, but thoroughly enjoyed Alan Galey’s research on digital editing, which located the new possibilities of the computer within older discourses of lithographic reprinting and the like. I had hugely looked forward to “Alfred W. Pollard Redux” delivered by one of my academic heroes, Paul Werstine, and was horrified when at first he appeared to be about to do a much better version of my fourth chapter, beginning with comments on the RSC Shakespeare and the conflict between the Folio-ideology and the requirements of a Complete Works. Happily, he moved instead to a discussion of emendations and a revival of Pollard’s views on the quartos being closer than the Folio to performance texts.
I skipped the next session in order to re-read my own paper, but after lunch came the close contender to the plenary session for Most Inspiring Set of Papers. “Beyond Playbooks” featured three extraordinary scholars: Richard Preiss, James J. Marino and Tiffany Stern. Preiss presented his work on the role of audiences, discussing the unreported (in textual form, at least) contribution of early modern audiences to the plays they attended and the importance of taking into account the experientiality of which playbooks can only give us a distant suggestion. Marino addressed the significant problem of the dominance of textual scholarship by editorial practice, calling for a reclarification of our textual study and a new focus on questions that do not pertain to editorial ends, such as the part-based revision of Romeo and Juliet, of which he gave a compelling account. Lastly, Stern discussed early modern fairs and their significance for Shakespeare’s plays. I hadn’t realised that Bartholomew Fair (and the associated Southwark Fair) ran for over 700 years from 1133 for a month of the year, and that its Southwark location was so close to the theatres. Stern discussed anecdotes of entertainments and their close corollaries in references made by Shakespeare’s characters; while also tracing the survival of Shakespearean characters in fair entertainments. This importantly changes our understanding of how a play circulated in culture, with characters in particular surviving independently of the plays they originated in and a performative understanding of popular entertainment crossing authorial and chronological boundaries.
My own panel, on “Shakespeare For Sale”, featured a range of “book geeks” (not my phrase!) from the well-established to the junior (ie me): Douglas Bruster, Peter Berek, Fran Connor, Alan Farmer, Sarah Neville, Tara Lyons, Emma Depledge, Vimala Pasaputhi, Christina Furtado and Ryan Zurowski, with Adam Hooks convening and chairing. The conversation was hugely stimulating. Methodological problems similar to those brought up in the theatre history seminar were raised, about how we draw narratives from the available evidence and what we can reasonably hope to know; and the ways we interpret that evidence were particularly up for grabs – what does the fact of reprinting actually tell us? How much can we glean about the way readers chose and collated books? I’m less knowledgable about these issues, but learned a great deal from both papers and discussion. The other major strand had more direct implications, as we discussed how authors are constituted and circulated through print. Questions of anthologising, serialising, reading out of order and the role of prologues, title pages and other paratexts are some of my favourite and, while I don’t have the space to go into detail here, will be directly formative on my work as I hit the final redrafts.
Dinner followed, and the conference closed with the infamous Malone Society dance. Which won’t be spoken of further here.
On a professional level, the conference was hugely stimulating and a great motivation at a time when I sorely need it; and the opportunity to talk to such a range of academics was enthusiastically embraced. On a personal level, I managed to catch up with several old friends and make a great many new ones; and the flight home with a 747 full of Shakespeareans was a lovely way to end, even if I regretted the lack of sleep the next day. I’m already looking forward to Boston in 2012.
March 29, 2011
- Not rated
It's been a variable couple of years for the Arden Shakespeare. On the plus side, it has brought us stirling editions of The Taming of the Shrew and Double Falsehood (which, regardless of the ongoing debates over attribution, is a fine critical edition). On the downside, we've been given a dull Winter's Tale and an unstructured Merchant of Venice, as well as an updated version of the Sonnets that added almost nothing to the original version. Now, only a year after Double Falsehood, Arden have once more taken a risk (albeit a lesser one), becoming the first Shakespeare series to publish an independent critical edition of Sir Thomas More.
Happily, John Jowett's volume is a masterpiece of scholarship, setting a new benchmark for Arden in editorial standards, accessibility, lively discussion and the integration of textual and staging matters.
A lengthy introduction is particularly strong on the historical and literary sources for the play's conception of More, and the political contexts within which the writers were operating. Significantly, though, Jowett always pulls the sources back to the question of the play as a theatrical creation, concentrating on how themes and ideas present in the sources were selected and re-shaped for dramatic purpose. This is hugely important for the question of Thomas More, a play too often treated in fragmented terms. Jowett's insistence is on the play as a surprisingly cohesive and structurally sophisticated drama.
Context on the identified writers is included (and Jowett sticks to his guns on the identification of Hand B as Thomas Heywood, the clarification of support for which is an important contribution that this edition makes), but the play is not reduced to its relation to particular authorial canons. Instead, it sits at the juncture between a number of genres (including some useful discussion of Cromwell which helpfully sets up my own writing on that play for my thesis rather than gazumping it, thankfully!), debates and company movements.
The section on performance history offers a model of how to use performance to raise important critical questions, rather than using stage history to selectively illustrate moments of interest. Jowett discusses, for example, the relative effects of the RSC 2005-6 production's excision of the Erasmus/Falconer episodes on the play's overall structure, and the questions of doubling as a thematically embedded strategy rather than mere conservation of resources.
The usual issues of an introducion are extended into a series of appendices. While I am usually averse to the growing Arden trend to relegate textual discussion to a separate appendix, for More this is surely the desirable strategy, allowing the play to be discussed as a dramatic artwork in the introduction and as a bibliographic assemblage in its appropriate place. Jowett's "Textual Analysis" (344-94) will surely become the standard reference guide for all future students of the play, summing up issues of chronology, revision and design that are insanely complex in a detailed, rigorous but always clear narrative.
A further long appendix (415-460) discusses authorship and dates. Among his major contributions are a confident redating of the Original Text to c.1600-01, much later than usually suggested. Jowett sums up the authorship question confidently with particular attention to Hand D. He inclines towards the positivist here, giving perhaps too much weight to flawed projects such as Craig/Kinney's volume (ignoring the errors and limitations of Watt's study of Hand D) and not enough to recent critics of the orthodox position such as Jeffrey Masten and Paul Werstine. This is not so much a complaint as a desire to have seen Jowett's fair-minded and judicious approach applied to the detail, particularly of Werstine's argument about the underlying motives of the 1923 Pollard collection. A two page section at the very end raises the questions I deal with in my thesis about "Shakespeare, Sir Thomas More and the Ideology of Authorship" which would have been the ideal place to at least draw more attention to the consequences and implications of the play's addition to the canon, but perhaps this is best reserved for elsewhere.
The text itself is clear and readable, offering the play as a work to be studied and enjoyed. A simple series of annotations, superscriptions and underlinings draws attention to the points in the manuscript where alterations have been made, and for the specialist Jowett provides scrupulous annotations. The physical divisions between the original text and the various editions are marked with lines through the text, above and below which are noted the authors of the text. While I disliked this approach in the Oxford Shakespeare, where it seemed unnecessarily interventionist, here it provides an ideal critical cue to the important shifts between stages of textual survival, and the identification of authors is unobtrusive enough so as not to dictate reading.
I'll be thinking much more about this edition over the next few weeks, but I'm pleased to see that this wonderful play has finally been given the text it deserves. With all respect to Gabrieli and Melchiori's diligent Revels edition, the scope of that series doesn't allow for the kind of depth preserved here. Jowett has outdone himself, and the text reclaims Arden's aspirations to leading standards of textual scholarship.
March 27, 2011
Writing about web page http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/title~db=all~content=g926136875
Volume Six of Shakespeare has just been published in hard-form. This volume includes 6.3, the special issue on "Reviewing Shakespearean Theatre: The State of the Art", to which I contributed an essay. It's not an outstanding piece, just a position paper on the use of tense in reviewing, but I'm happy with it, and I'm in prestigious company among scholars whose work I love: Michael Billington, Eleanor Collins, Peter Holland, Elinor Parsons, Stephen Purcell, Stanley Wells and a host of others. The essays are uniformly great, and there are several format-pushing experiments, including a "collective review" of a production and a selection of different approaches to the processes of gathering audience response.
It's also great, after years of relentless blogging, to finally have an academic context for "The Bardathon". Without wishing to be self-aggrandising, I was genuinely touched to have the blog mentioned by a couple of the other papers, and to be a part of the extremely important debate over the role of multiple viewpoints and new media in the future of Shakespearean reviewing. I'm not quite sure what the next steps are in this discussion, but I'm very much hoping to return to the question of performance criticism once I've put the Apocrypha to bed.
Many thanks to Pete Smith, Paul Prescott and Paul Edmondson for a wonderful conference, and for organising a very fun launch dinner last night for the authors!
February 24, 2011
Writing about Gnomeo and Juliet (Rocket Productions) @ Showcase Cinema, Coventry from The Bardathon
A further thought after tonight's viewing of Gnomeo and Juliet. After fleeing the slings and arrows of the Reds, and being caught up by a hostile dog, our protagonist Gnomeo finds himself at the statue of Shakespeare in Stratford-upon-Avon, who becomes animated as he explains to Gnomeo how his own version of the same story ended.
Bill Shakespeare, voiced with thespy gravitas by Patrick Stewart, is a self-absorbed and self-publicising author. In describing the beauty of his tragic ending, his tendency is immediately towards the elevating effect that the tragic conclusion of Romeo has on his own authorial identity and recognition. Following the death, it's "Curtain! Lights! Applause! Author! Author!" Fame and glory await the successful tragedian, a glory in which the statue nostalgically exults.
A Shakespeare Statue appeared onstage in various plays in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, described by Michael Dobson as part of the monumentalising of The Bard in British culture (it's late now, but if I find time to dig out the specific references, I'll insert them here). Usually, however, appearances of Shakespeare onstage were partially (or implicitly) self-deprecating, serving to authorise the "improvement" of the works by new dramatists. Paradoxically, the monument served as a figure for the new and transient.
Here, it functions similarly, if with less self-awareness. The statue is bound in his own past, his own fixity. In many ways, this is the statue as reimagined by Lukas Erne and those advocating the "return of the author", a Shakespeare who sees his own works as fixed and takes pleasure in his own authorial versions. He is directly opposed to the question of adaptation posed by Gnomeo, who refuses to accept Shakespeare's tragic ending, and the two enter into conflict over the problem. Shakespeare's tragedy is rooted in an artistic ideal; while Gnomeo appeals to the heart and to human (gnomic?) happiness. It is Shakespeare who comes off badly, particularly in his smug "Told him so" as a distant explosion roars over the Capulet/Montague houses towards the film's climax. Yet the statue's subsequent disappearance as the film's happy ending takes over speaks to the supplantation of authorial auctority over the performance text.
Shakespeare is inevitably introduced into his own plays in order to alert audiences to the process of adaptation. Implicitly or explicitly, his role is to offer an embodiment of the notion of textual fidelity, against which the performative reading - which is always and necessarily an adaptation, to a greater or lesser extent - is licenced, by flattering comparison or competitive contrast. His appearance within the performance text is itself an adaptation, forcing Shakespeare into a liminal state in which his fixity is itself an adaptive element; paradoxically, his centrality and monumentalisation can only exist within a wider discourse of (re)appropriation and (re)performance. What Gnomeo and Juliet, as an inherently parodic adaptation, is able to do is poke direct fun at Shakespeare, turning him into a fusty establishment figure within his own text, enacting a deliberate confrontation with and rejection of Bardic permanency. As such, the right of adaptors to remake Shakespeare to suit a modern purpose is explicitly articulated as a radical and subversive move that asserts the re-maker's ownership of "Shakespeare".
Good for them.
February 22, 2011
2011's been a complicated year so far. I moved house at the start of January, and since then have been taking some time off the thesis proper in order to focus on some admin bits and small pieces. However, I've not been idle! Here are a few of the highlights:
* A performance history of The Two Gentlemen of Verona contributed for the forthcoming RSC single edition.
* A review of the MokitaGrit production of Double Falsehood for Gary Taylor and David Carnegie's forthcoming collection The Quest for Shakespeare's Cardenio (OUP, 2012).
* A publishing proposal for a monograph based on my thesis. This is only a first draft for now, but a very useful exercise in contextualising my PhD work within what I would like to achieve with it in the long term.
* My paper for the SAA meeting in Seattle. Entitled "Apocrypha and Canonical Expansion in the Marketplace; Or, My Shakespeare's Bigger Than Yours", it's due to be circulated on Friday.
* Two job applications for teaching positions. I've had one rejection, and hoping to hear from the other shortly.
* A major AHRC grant application for a project stemming from the apocrypha edition. This is going to be submitted to the AHRC at the start of March, and I'm really hopeful that we get the funding - I'll post more about it if we do, but it'll be a hugely exciting series of events!
* I peer-reviewed my first journal article. Still waiting to hear back on one I've got under review though.
* Designed a module for an open-learning course in Shakespeare.
* Some research assistance for Carol Rutter for a forthcoming paper on early modern ambassadors.
* And several theatre reviews!
Now though, it's back to the thesis. I spent yesterday trying to work out how to begin the redraft of my introduction, and today the plan is to blitz it. It's nice to be back into the meat of what I do!
February 05, 2011
I'm hugely pleased and privileged to have been asked to contribute a chapter to an edited collection coming out with Ashgate in 2012. Entitled The Elizabethan Top Ten: Defining Print Popularity in Early Modern England, and edited by Andy Kesson and Emma Smith, this is a hugely exciting project that will interrogate the idea of "popularity" in the early modern book trade. How do we measure and define what was popular? Is it a question of number of publications; of number of references; or of perceived literary quality? It's an important question - the battle between the popular and the prestige is eternally present, and much of our thinking about early modern texts is pre-conditioned by our perception of the kinds of audiences that books could have reached.
My contribution will be one of ten short essays, each dealing with a specific genre or phenomenon. I'm taking responsibility for "Drama" with an essay on Mucedorus, the anonymous play whose known number of reprints dwarves any other from the period. Most of the criticism on the play is bound up with attempting to explain how a play of variable quality (but high popular excitement) came to be published so frequently. I'm interested in looking at this body of criticism, and the play itself, and determining how we pigeonhole ideas of the popular in relation to drama, which was a necessarily popular form. Why has a play that, apparently, could have been one of the most successful plays of its time (if, indeed, we believe that this can be measured by numbers), fallen into obscurity and neglect? How does popularity and fitness to a time and genre shift? And how do we redefine the popular under the cultural weight of the prestige - in this case, to separate the play from its only early attributed author, Shakespeare?
Very much looking forward to writing this article. The colloquium is in September, which follows my PhD submission date frustratingly closely, but that just gives me more of a reason to get cracking!
February 03, 2011
Writing about web page http://emlot.cch.kcl.ac.uk/
On Tuesday, I attended the launch of the new Early Modern London Theatres website. Connected to the Records of Early English Drama project, which is producing a frankly terrifying amount of data about the material conditions of early modern theatre, this database is a major new resource for theatre historians.
The strengths of the site are in the detail. It not only provides a bibliography of all early evidence pertaining to the theatres, companies and personnel of the London stage, but also provides a (reasonably comprehensive) guide to where that early evidence has been reprinted and discussed. It thus becomes not only a bibliography, but a study of historical interpretation. The Learning Zone section of the website gives a demonstration of the potential in relation to the Cockpit Riots.
I have a couple of initial reservations, based on my experience testing the first draft of the site, but these are to be resolved. The timelines of data are very busy at the moment, and require some patience to interpret. I'm also slightly uncomfortable with the 'faceted search' option, which has the potential both to open up entirely new areas for exploration but also to lead people down dead ends as they follow through the pre-determined categories. These are only user-based quibbles though; and with a database of this scope and variety, one might argue that there is no search mechanism that could fully open up the available data.
What I hope the website does allow in time is for users to upload their own lesson plans using the database. The Learning Zone is an ideal example; but I'm not sure how many theatre courses might cover the Cockpit riots. It'll be fascinating to see how academics use this opportunity to expand their own teaching.
January 17, 2011
Sidelights on Shakespeare
Professor Jonathan Bate
(Dept. of English and Comparative Literary Studies, University of Warwick)
Shakespeare's Olympic Moment: On Preparing an Exhibition for the Round Reading Room of the British Museum.
WEDNESDAY 26TH JANUARY, 1.30PM. SOCIAL STUDIES S0.11, UNIVERSITY OF WARWICK
January 14, 2011
Shakespeare Bulletin – Special Theatre Reviews Section - Spring 2012
We are soliciting reviews of the BEST and the WORST productions of Shakespeare and other early modern drama in the first decade of the twenty-first century.
The theatre reviews section in the Spring 2012 issue of Shakespeare Bulletin will follow a somewhat unusual format. We would like to run approximately forty very short production-reviews that, in the aggregate, give some sense of the range of productions, and vivid responses to them, positive and negative, over the last ten years.
Reviews may not be longer than 500 words. The idea behind this length requirement is to encourage formal and stylistic innovation as well as a high degree of focus. Detailed descriptions of production design, casting, plot development, etc., are not required—not least because many of the productions noted will likely have been reviewed previously in the pages of SB. We encourage reviewers to find exciting ways of conveying the one or two things that made a given production linger in the memory.
Each review should be prefaced by a short headnote giving the play title, the name of the company that produced it, the venue in which it was produced, and the year of its production.
Reviewers may submit multiple reviews. All submissions are, of course, subject to editorial review before being accepted.
Please send reviews by email to the theatre review editor, Jeremy Lopez:
Reviews may be submitted any time before September 30, 2011.