I should apologize first of all for starting this chapter thus in the first person and for returning to it so often in what follows, but this consideration of the special problems involved in writing about present-day Shakespeare productions in relation to the texts they use is in part a purely personal reflection on my own experiences to date of reviewing Shakespeare for this journal. All I’m going to do is give a very cursory and simplistic description of a body of recent criticism, which has been concerned above all with how performances exceed texts; then I’m going to describe some particular ways in which the openings of two recent productions did indeed supplement and overflow their respective texts; and then I’m going to consider how best one might harness the criticism to deal satisfactorily with both productions.
My title puts the word ‘Shakespearian’ in square brackets; I don’t much like titles with brackets in them as a rule, but these have in effect been inserted for me by a major current in contemporary performance criticism, one that has usefully problematized the status of the Shakespearian text in relation to the ever-proliferating range of modern performances given in its name. According to this school of criticism, perhaps most fully represented by the work of W. B. Worthen, most extant academic accounts of Shakespeare on the stage have tended to belittle and misunderstand the very nature of performance by representing Shakespearian productions primarily or even exclusively as interpretations of Shakespearian texts. Actors and directors have been written about as though they were just academic critics who have simply chosen a different medium through which to offer ‘readings’ of plays, plays which somehow remain unproblematically self-identical over time however multiply embodied in print and on the stage.
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