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April 7, 2011 at 10:46 pm
I’m intrigued by how little Elizabethan censorship seems to be have been considered by Boyd as part of Shakespeare’s creative process. His “pathological inability” to resolve such debates seems an unnecessary simplification/complication of the problem of state-run (or at least Master of the Revels-approved) media.
See in context
April 7, 2011 at 10:29 pm
I think this is an interesting and necessary point to make–that there is something to the “cycleness” of the cycle. That is, in Boyd’s mind, there is at least some connection to the almost liturgical role of pre-Tudor playgoing that he is seeking to extrapolate from, if not draw upon.
April 7, 2011 at 9:20 am
This essay was of enormous interest to me, as it answered a lot of questions that I had when I was, long ago, trying to write on the play’s history in the theater. When I asked about it in Japan I was told that it was a hard play for Japanese to understand because they had no racism. Even at the time I knew about the Ainu (the American Karen Sunde uses an Ainu as protagonist of the Kabuki Othello) and about the 3 generations that it takes for a Korean to become a Japanese citizen. The point about different equivalents of racism is therefore very interesting, though, like a lot of other things in the essay, it could probably be made more briefly.
I can see the problem of this kind of essay, which needs so much background explanation for an audience largely unfamiliar with the subject matter, and I don’t want to make it longer than it is. At the same time, there were things that I thought needed further explanation: e.g., that the “realistic” style of the production didn’t appeal to audiences (why? or was it the play itself that they didn’t like?) and that soliloquies were apparently considered realistic, which was certainly not the case in western theatre at this period.
So I agree with Sarah that it would be helpful to know more about the theatrical side — though this may be hard to retrieve from such a distance. The adaptation itself, however, presumably shows whether there was a noticeable difference between the linguistic registers of the Othello and Iago characters. Does Iago seem more accessible to the audience and therefore more attractive, because he sounds like them, whereas Othello seems to belong to another world? I think that this point could be relevant to the essay’s main concern, which is the sense of national identity.
I’d say that a lot of cutting could be done in the footnotes. Readers who don’t know Japanese can’t really be told to “see” a work that is available only in that language; they’ll simply have to take the author’s word for it. Perhaps, also, some of the material on the perception of Japan in the west (say, over the Port Arthur massacre) isn’t strictly necessary for the discussion of the production. In other cases, I think we really do need the information but it could perhaps be put more briefly. But this is a very interesting essay with a lot of good material.
April 7, 2011 at 8:53 am
Fascinating. Does this mean that the soldiers were under-rehearsed extras or that they actually thought Washiro was the villain of the piece? From what I have read, many cultures find it impossible that a man who kills his wife can be anything except a villain.
April 7, 2011 at 8:51 am
This is interesting. I always took the extended dance-like sequences of kabuki as an equivalent of soliloquy, since the performer is often alone on stage. No drama, I suppose, always requires a listener. It seems ironic that the Japanese theater was thinking of soliloquies as a sign of the superiority of English drama at the same time that the English-speaking theatre was having difficulty with precisely these non-naturalistic devices (see, e.g., William Archer’s The Old Drama and the New).
April 6, 2011 at 9:50 pm
I agree with jbulman’s comments on the merits of this essay – it definitely adds to our knowledge and understanding of the reception of The Merchant of Venice in the post-war Federal Republic especially in the fraught period of the 1950s.
Yes, there were earlier traditions of philo-semitic readings of Shylock that could be appealed to within the German stage tradition: Rudolf Schildkraut’s portrayal was a famous example in the early 1900s, for example. Then there were portrayals of Shylock that avoided anti-Jewish stereotyping and strove for psychological verisimilitude and intensity, like Fritz Kortner’s versions. Kortner famoulsy reprised the role for television in the 1960s, which falls after the period discussed in this paper. Ackermann rightly points to the ambivalence of the concept of “philo-semitism”. Philosemitism did not always avoid the pitfalls of essentialism or politically ineffectual sentimentality. The allusion to the stage history of Lessing’s Nathan the Wise is germane here: many actors played both Nathan, the positive Jewish exemplar, and the villain Shylock, drawing on the same repertoire of costume, make-up, “Jewish” mannerisms.
There are many illuminating points in this paper – I found the references to the reception of the essay on the play by the Jewish communitarian socialist Gustav Landauer particularly interesting, for example. The title of the article perhaps makes clearer sense to a German reader – “playing away” has various extraneous connotations in English, but the occasional verbal tic should not detract from what is a very worthwhile contribution to the history of both Shakespeare reception and the cultural history of the Adenauer period in West Germany, that was always much more complex than we might assume.
April 6, 2011 at 9:04 pm
Jason Thompson’s comment about ambition is one of the many things that distinguishes Mickey B. from other examples of “prison Shakespeare.” Among other things, it brings the character of Macbeth inside the orbit of convict life. Macbeth is a familiar commodity here, not the fatal exception he may be for other audiences, other actors. Like the convicts, there are many things Macbeth cannot “hope to have” in exchange for his commitment to ambition. By contrast, a recent RTA stage production of MACBETH at Sing Sing prison in Ossining, NY took so traditionalist and cautionary an approach to the play that one could hardly imagine the extent to which the prisoners had to identify with him.
April 6, 2011 at 8:52 pm
I am well aware that intra-prison conflict may make itself felt in the personal lives of friends and family extramurally, I was put off/distracted by the filming of the Lady Macduff murder, which seemed inconsistent with the replotting of the play. It betrayed a kind of emulative dependency on the Shakespeare-MACBETH template that the rest of the script successfully avoided.
April 6, 2011 at 8:47 pm
I like this attempt to connect to the historically specific. But a film like Steve McQueen’s HUNGER mounts a very different, and considerably more powerful connection to “the real” that makes what’s being staged at Maghaberry seem doubly fictive and arguably post “troubles” in orientation. The very act of staging/playing at MACBETH indicates the existence of a “safe space” set at a some remove from the “troubles”.
April 6, 2011 at 6:03 pm
Good point, Sarah, but I think that one of the key differences comes as a result of the fact that theatre making is a thoroughly collaborative process, whereas it’s relatively rare for scholars to collaborate with more than (at most) one or two other scholars on major projects. Theatre makers never make their cultural interventions in such relative isolation. Moreover, the modality of the rehearsal room is one much less insistent on what we might conceive of as the rigour or thought-through-ness of conventional academic inquiry. When one makes a fool of oneself in an academic context, one contemplates retiring and finding something else to do with one’s life (it’s devastating); when one makes a fool of oneself in a rehearsal room, everybody laughs and acknowledges ‘well, that didn’t work then, did it.’ It’s all about the cultural acceptance of risk taking and the understanding that (in the theatre at least) there’s no gain without putting oneself on the line in ways that, in other contexts, might prompt career-destroying derision or condemnation. I think that theatre practitioners should know that scholars can accommodate such ways of working and that they are able to participate in them, or at least observe them without being judgemental. Our hyper-critical, often cynical dismissal of our own work and that of others (often in the name of academic rigour) poses problems in this regard.