Academic journal article Shakespeare Bulletin

Shakespeare, Performance, and Autobiographical Interventions

Academic journal article Shakespeare Bulletin

Shakespeare, Performance, and Autobiographical Interventions

Article excerpt

Can we not suggest [...] that the autobiographical project may itself produce and determine the life and that whatever the writer does is in fact [...] determined by the resources of the medium?

--Paul de Man 69

Autobiography and Appropriation

The idea that Shakespeare belongs to the world has become a cliche. When examining the global and "worldly" Shakespeare, instead of focusing on cultural and national appropriations, we must now ask: does Shakespeare also belong to the individual readers, actors, directors, rewriters? Can Shakespeare be linked to the personal, the autobiographical mode of interpretation, and the local modes of reading? How might an actor's performative, autobiographical readings contribute to the epistemological formations of "Shakespeare" and adjust the storied biographies of the actor and Shakespeare's characters on- and offstage? How does the medium contribute to and limit autobiographical performances of Shakespeare?

With a case study of Wu Hsing-kuo's solo adaptation of King Lear, Lear is Here, (1) one of many recent Asian adaptations of Shakespeare that are informed by performative auto/biographies, this paper addresses these questions by rethinking the problematic status of "foreignness" and locality in the age of globalization. Rather than faulting cultural imperialism or foregrounding political statements, I argue that Wu's performance employs an artistic strategy that prioritizes the performer's subjectivity and thereby reconfigures a globally articulated locality (Asian "Shakespeare") in personal and autobiographical terms. Throughout this essay, autobiographical representation refers to the performers' biographies, not Shakespeare's. The significance of Wu's adaptation is twofold. It posits the possibility of apolitical Shakespearean appropriation in a postcolonial and globalized Asia, and also foregrounds the relationship between performative subjectivity (the private self) and literary universalism (the public biographies of characters). Despite increasing attention in recent years to multifaceted auto/biographical practices, and despite many artists' intuitive understanding of the necessary process of splitting the "autobiographical self into many selves," the auto/biographical aspect of stage performance has not been as thoroughly studied as auto/biographies in book form (Grace 65). While these issues of Shakespearean appropriations remain inadequately theorized and studied in a comparative context, the recent turn to locality in Shakespeare and performance studies provides a promising point of departure. One case study certainly cannot generate a typology, but it is a step towards a theory of autobiographical interventions in Shakespearean performance.

In the past years, the locality of Shakespearean performances has come to the forefront of critical attention. Martin Orkin, in his 2005 book, Local Shakespeares, asserts that the knowledge that "readers who are situated in locations outside the scholarly Shakespeare metropolis might bring to the text [is ... ] worth exploring so long as the global reach of the Shakespeare text continues" (3). By "local," Orkin means what is "epistemologically current" within each reader's culture (2). This point is illuminated by Ali Farka Toure's comments foregrounding the relativity of locality: "For some people, when you say 'Timbuktu' it is like the end of the world, but that is not true. I am from Timbuktu, and I can tell you we are right at the heart of the world" (qtd. in Loomba 143). Since global and local are correlative terms, global Shakespearean performances can also be understood in local and personal terms. In fact, global Shakespeares have always been local and personal ones, embodying what Theseus in A Midsummer Night's Dream calls a "local habitation." In her afterword to the 2005 collection, World-wide Shakespeare, Barbara Hodgdon invites her readers to "undertake a more precise measurement of the continuities and discontinuities" among past and present local readings of Shakespeare. …

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