Shakespeare and Modern Theatre: The Performance of Modernity

Shakespeare and Modern Theatre: The Performance of Modernity

Shakespeare and Modern Theatre: The Performance of Modernity

Shakespeare and Modern Theatre: The Performance of Modernity

Synopsis

Shakespeare's works are now performed for an increasingly diversified cultural market. At the start of the twenty-first century, film, video and live performance have overtaken the printed book as the main ways in which people are introduced to Shakespeare. Therefore, is there any reason to ask people to read Shakespeare's plays anymore? The essays in this volume explore this question and the institutional practices that shape contemporary performances of Shakespeare's plays. The book gathers together a particularly strong line-up of contributors from across the literary-performative divide to examine the relationship between Shakespeare, the 'culture industries', modernism and live performance.

Excerpt

In our century, the field of literary studies has rarely been a settled, tranquil place. Indeed, for over two decades, the clash of opposed theories, prejudices and points of view has made it more of a battlefield. Echoing across its most beleaguered terrain, the student's weary complaint 'Why can't I just pick up Shakespeare's plays and read them?' seems to demand a sympathetic response.

Nevertheless, we know that modern spectacles will always impose their own particular characteristics on the vision of those who unthinkingly don them. This must mean, at the very least, that an apparently simple confrontation with, or pious contemplation of, the text of a 400-year-old play can scarcely supply the grounding for an adequate response to its complex demands. For this reason, a transfer of emphasis from 'text' towards 'context' has increasingly been the concern of critics and scholars since the Second World War: a tendency that has perhaps reached its climax in more recent movements such as New Historicism or Cultural Materialism.

A consideration of the conditions, social, political or economic within which the play came to exist, from which its derives, and to which it speaks will certainly make legitimate demands on the attention of any well-prepared student nowadays. Of course, the serious pursuit of those interests will also inevitably start to undermine ancient and inherited prejudices, such as the supposed distinction between 'foreground' and 'background' in literary studies. And even the slightest awareness of the pressures of gender or of race, or the most cursory glance at the role played by that strange creature 'Shakespeare' in our cultural politics, will reinforce a similar turn towards questions that sometimes appear scandalously 'non-literary'. It seems clear that very different and unsettling notions of the ways in which literature might be

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