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Shakespeare and Amateur Performance
A Cultural History

$44.99 (C)

  • Author: Michael Dobson, Shakespeare Institute, University of Birmingham
  • Date Published: June 2013
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781107613201

$ 44.99 (C)

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About the Authors
  • From the Hamlet acted on a galleon off Africa to the countless outdoor productions of A Midsummer Night's Dream that now defy each English summer, Shakespeare and Amateur Performance explores the unsung achievements of those outside the theatrical profession who have been determined to do Shakespeare themselves. Based on extensive research in previously unexplored archives, this generously illustrated and lively work of theater history enriches our understanding of how and why Shakespeare's plays have mattered to generations of rude mechanicals and aristocratic dilettantes alike: from the days of the Theaters Royal to those of the Little Theater Movement, from the pioneering Winter's Tale performed in eighteenth-century Salisbury to the Merchant of Venice performed by Allied prisoners for their Nazi captors, and from the how-to book which transforms Mercutio into Yankee Doodle to the Napoleonic counterspy who used Richard III as a tool of surveillance.

    • Presents the first history of how Shakespeare's plays have been performed by non-professionals, revealing and analysing a wide, significant and previously unexplored dimension of Shakespeare's influence and afterlife
    • Wide historical scope, considering examples from Shakespeare's lifetime to the present; therefore will be of interest and relevance to theatre historians of all periods since the Renaissance
    • Based on significant primary research, this book reveals the unexpected tastes and priorities of generations of amateur performers and their audiences
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    Reviews & endorsements

    "Shakespeare has ever been an exciting and irresistible challenge for amateur theater companies both in Britain and across the world. This affectionate treatise takes us through generations of unpaid performers from the early days of Theaters Royal to the present day clubs and societies. It is brilliantly researched and written with clarity and verve. A scholarly work by a man who obviously loves the theater, it will make fascinating reading for both professional and amateur performers alike."
    Wendy Craig

    "A groundbreaking and utterly fascinating study that transports us from shipboard performances of Hamlet off the coast of Africa in 1607, to future American president U. S. Grant playing Desdemona in 1845, to a staging of The Merchant of Venice by British prisoners of war at Stalag 383. Nobody understands the history of Shakespeare in performance - or how deeply four centuries of amateur productions have shaped our culture - better than Michael Dobson."
    James Shapiro, Columbia University, author of 1599

    "… [a] generous and fascinating study … Dobson continually reminds us that Shakespeare, far from being a stable ontological entity, is almost unrecognisably different in different contexts."
    Andrew Dickson, Guardian

    "Never patronising, Dobson writes movingly and wittily, stressing the slipperiness of the category of "amateur" … He offers a fascinating alternative history of Shakespeare, arguing that "in the era of YouTube … the long history of amateur Shakespeare" is "an important theatrical instance of user-created content" … Dobson's is a loving book, not in the obsequious manner of professional Bardolators, but in a way Nick Bottom the weaver would understand: "A very good piece of work, I assure you, and a merry.""
    Willy Maley, Times Higher Education

    "Michael Dobson has opened the lid of a treasure chest of gems. I suspect that many of us have underrated both the omnipresence and the historical significance of "amateur performance". But now, thanks to Dobson, I'm freshly aware of many activities that I'd overlooked, failing to connect them either with each other or with wider historical phenomena."
    Katherine Duncan-Jones, Literary Review

    "… stakes out a new and rich area of study, ranging from performances in aristocratic families to those by expatriates and prisoners of war, and examining outdoor and site specific performances."
    Studies in English Literature

    "This is indeed a groundbreaking monograph, which effectively ushers in a new field of research on amateur stagings, making up for its marginalization in academic studies."
    Rosy Colombo, Memori Di Shakespeare

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    Product details

    • Date Published: June 2013
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781107613201
    • length: 280 pages
    • dimensions: 229 x 152 x 15 mm
    • weight: 0.38kg
    • contains: 28 b/w illus.
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    1. Shakespeare in private
    2. Shakespeare in public
    3. Shakespeare in exile
    4. Shakespeare in the open

  • Author

    Michael Dobson, Shakespeare Institute, University of Birmingham
    Michael Dobson is Director of the Shakespeare Institute, University of Birmingham. He comments regularly on Shakespeare for the BBC, The London Review of Books and for other publications, and he has written programme notes for the RSC, Shakespeare's Globe, the Old Vic, the Sheffield Crucible and Peter Stein. His books include The Making of the National Poet (1992), The Oxford Companion to Shakespeare (with Stanley Wells, 2001, winner of the Bainton Prize in 2002), England's Elizabeth: An Afterlife in Fame and Fantasy (with Nicola Watson, 2002) and Performing Shakespeare's Tragedies Today (2006). Between 1999 and 2007 he reviewed every major production of a Shakespeare play for Shakespeare Survey.

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