The World Must Be Peopled: Shakespeare's Comedies of Forgiveness

The World Must Be Peopled: Shakespeare's Comedies of Forgiveness

The World Must Be Peopled: Shakespeare's Comedies of Forgiveness

The World Must Be Peopled: Shakespeare's Comedies of Forgiveness

Synopsis

Michael D. Friedman is Professor of English at the University of Scranton.

Excerpt

The need for theatrically conscious reading is widely acknowledged, but what exactly is this and by what means can it be achieved? Live performance before a live audience during a consecutive period of time is not easily re-created in the mind of a reader or critic, and yet this is the very element in which Shakespeare's plays were intended to exist and to reveal their distinctive natures. In other circumstances, their words are bound to be misunderstood and their dialogue, structure, spectacle, characters, argument or theme distorted. None of these features should be considered except as part of a complicated, uncertain, idiosyncratic, and ever-changing theatre performance.

(Brown 1996, vii)

THE PASSAGE ABOVE ASKS ONE OF THE CENTRAL QUESTIONS WITH which this book will engage: what exactly is performance criticism (or “theatrically conscious reading”) and how might one practice it? John Russell Brown posits that, since Shakespeare conceived of his dramas as “Live performance[s] before a live audience, ” performance criticism is scholarship that attempts to re-create the experience of such an event in the reader's mind. Brown admits, however, that this goal is not easily accomplished. For one thing, the mediums of theatrical performance and performance criticism are so different that a printed analysis of a performance can present, at best, a pale shadow of the theatrical spectacle. In addition, as Laurie Osborne points out, a written account “can invoke the absent performance only by subjecting it to a narrative structure necessarily distanced from its material occurrence” (1996b, 124). In other words, while many of the myriad elements of a stage production, like lights, costumes, set design, and stage business, are experienced by spectators simultaneously, performance criticism necessarily . . .

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