Zeno Ackermann, “’Playing Away’ and ‘Working Through’: The Merchant of Venice in West Germany, 1945 to 1961”
¶ 1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 When the Staatstheater Stuttgart put on The Merchant of Venice in 1956, the reviewer of a major German newspaper commented on the precariousness of staging the play in Germany after 1945: “With several million dead, it is difficult to play away without playing them away.” By taking such a degree of reticence and reflection for granted it is often assumed that Shakespeare’s problematic comedy was slow in returning to German stages after National Socialism, the Second World War and the Holocaust, and that, when it eventually did return, the play was necessarily performed and received in the spirit of a soul-searching remembrance. In consequence, the first fifteen years of Shylock’s postwar history in (West) Germany are frequently glossed over. This essay sets out to take a closer look at the surprisingly lively—and at times surprisingly unrestrained—reception of the play during the foundational period of the Federal Republic of Germany. The analysis proceeds from the hypothesis that the play may in fact have been used “to play something away,” since the appeal of staging Merchant was partly due to its comedic plot line of psychological shock-absorption and social restoration. However, it can also be shown that the figure of Shylock necessarily exceeded, or even exploded, such restorative ends, so that early postwar productions of Merchant performed a revealing dialectic of continuity and change, compensation and “working through,” forgetting and “remembering.” Eventually, it proved impossible to simply play the recent past away.
Anita Hagerman, “The Politics of Saying Nothing: Finding the Fight in 21st-Century Performance”
¶ 2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 Despite the proclaimed social relevance of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s “The Histories” (2007, dir. Michael Boyd), this cycle of Shakespeare’s English history plays was not a work of politically engaged theatre. But at the same time, Boyd himself argues for the potential of theatre to be oppositional. “The Histories” existed, therefore, at a paradoxical point, in which the difficulty in the first decade of the twenty-first century was to determine what to oppose and how: to find the fight. The significance of the cycle’s struggles with matters political is indicative of a larger concern in performance criticism: the problem of how to assess the politics of performance now that the old binaries of conservative/radical, universal/localized, and left/right are no longer sufficient to describe the intricacies of political meaning on the stage. The source of this problem is partly semantic and partly functional: it stems not only from how we define political theatre, which needs to evolve constantly, but also from how well we are able to recognize the fight when we see it. In many ways, Boyd’s traditionalist, form-centered Histories fit into a traditionalist approach to the plays and a national-heritage approach to Shakespeare. But we must consider that its very reserve may be what makes it a product of its time—our time—in which the arts are struggling with their role as the voice of opposition.
Daniel Keegan, “Performing Prophecy: More Life on the Stage”
¶ 3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 The stage has long played host to ghosts. This essay wagers on the analytic potentiality of another theatrical citizen: the prophet. Drawing on the work of literary critic Paul Kottman and political theorist Bonnie Honig, I argue that the optic of the prophet resolves the theater less as a space of haunting and obligation and more as a space of plurality and potentiality—of more life on the scene. Through a close reading of Shakespeare and Fletcher’s Henry VIII, I trace the development of an analysis of performance, which moves from Wolsey’s royalist theatricality to, by Elizabeth’s christening, a technology of democratic speculation.
Robert Tierney, “Othello in Tokyo: Performing Patriarchy, Race, and Empire in 1903 Japan”
¶ 4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 In 1903, the theatrical troupe of Kawakami Otojirō performed an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Othello on the Japanese stage. Kawakami asked the popular writer Emi Suiin to adapt the play to the circumstances of Meiji Japan. In Emi’s version, which is titled Osero, the dramatic action is transposed from Renaissance Venice and Cyprus to 20th century Japan and Taiwan. Washirō (Othello), a Japanese general, is sent by the Japanese government to crush a rebellion in Taiwan led by bandits in league with a foreign power and he is later appointed to serve as the governor-general of the colony. Washirō is rumored to be a member of Japan’s former outcaste community, and this status is a “translation” of Othello’s identity as an African and Moor.
¶ 5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 In this article I examine the script and the performance of this play in the context of early 20th century discourses of patriarchy, race, and empire. For example, I show that the “racialization” of Washirō (Othello) is a discursive construction that owes much to the domestication of new sciences of race to Japan, notably eugenics and anthropology. In addition, I argue that Osero performs modern Japan in its dual role as a semi-colonized nation under Western hegemony and expanding colonial power in East Asia. In the final section of this paper, I propose three general interpretations of the significance of the play: the play is at once an allegory of Japanese empire, a representation of displaced abjection, and a political melodrama.
Ramona Wray, “The Morals of Macbeth and Peace as Process: Adapting Shakespeare in Northern Ireland’s Maximum Security Prison”
¶ 6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 Filmed in Northern Ireland’s maximum security prison, Maghaberry, Mickey B, which was completed in 2006, involved forty-two personnel, with parts assumed in the main by prisoners, all of whom were well into lengthy sentences. Central to the production was the overseeing role of the Educational Shakespeare Company (E.S.C.), a charity with branches in Northern Ireland and the U.S. which works with socially excluded groups, including prisoners, those on probation, the homeless and youth at risk. As part of its mission, the E.S.C. operates not only in relation to a reformist agenda but also with the aim of achieving successful aesthetic effects. The notion that an adaptation devised by prisoners might have a purchase beyond the therapeutic has been generally neglected in Shakespeare studies. While considerable interest has recently been generated by the “prison Shakespeare” phenomenon, the genre is invariably approached by way of a drama therapy model. An unwillingness to challenge the precise meanings that Shakespeare has for prisoners results in context falling out of the equation and in issues of cultural specificity being overlooked. In contradistinction to some of the tendencies in prison Shakespeare criticism that the Bard can be regarded as a species of bible or companion, this essay argues that Mickey B points up a more variegated model, one premised on social and cultural context, on institutional connections, on participation and collusion, on performative aspiration and collaborative experiment.
Todd Borlik, “A Season in Inter-cultural Limbo: Ninagawa Yukio’s Doctor Faustus – Theatre Cocoon, Tokyo (Review)”
¶ 7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 This review explores the complex inter-cultural tensions of Ninagawa Yukio’s recent production of Doctor Faustus. By exposing the backstage and below-stage area (known as “hell”), the production unmasked the demons as human actors and the German/English characters as Japanese performers. The review reveals how Ninagawa turns Faustus’s inner conflict, torn between spiritual and earthly delights, into a metadrama of the predicament of inter-cultural theatre: suspended between the respective dramatic traditions of East and West. While surveying the criticism of Ninagawa’s japonisme, the review suggests how the director’s inter-cultural aesthetic can incite a greater critical reflexivity that might enable reviewers to recognize and perhaps rethink Anglo-centric standards of exegesis.
Michael Dobson, Review of The Bridge Project As You Like It
¶ 8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 This review serves as a springboard to discuss the specifics of The Bridge Project’s 2009 production of As You Like It, which played in New York at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and in London at the Old Vic. It also is a platform for considering questions about which productions are reviewed in academic presses and what the purpose and effects of such reviews are.