Academic journal article Renaissance Quarterly

Operating Theater

Academic journal article Renaissance Quarterly

Operating Theater

Article excerpt

H. R. Coursen. Shakespeare: The Two Traditions. Madison and Teaneck: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press; London: Associated University Presses, 1999. 23 pls. + 224 pp. $42.50. ISBN: 0-8386-3774-4.

John G. Demaray. Shakespeare and the Spectacles of Strangeness: The Tempest and the Transformation of Renaissance Theatrical Forms. (Medieval and Renaissance Studies.) Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 1998. xvi + 17 pls. + 174 pp. $48. ISBN: 0-8207-0284-6.

Janette Dillon. Language and Stage in Medieval and Renaissance England. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998. xv + 272 pp. $59.95 ISBN: 0-521-59334-4.

C. Walter Hodges. Enter the Whole Army: A Pictorial Study of Shakespearean Staging 1576-1616. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999. xi + 60 pls. + 180 pp. $59.95. ISBN: 0-521-32355-X.

Matthew Steggle. Wars of the Theatres: The Poetics of Personation in the Age of Jonson. (English Literary Studies Monograph Series, 75.) Victoria, BC: University of Victoria Press, 1998. 2 pls. + 148 pp. $16. ISBN: 0-921604-57-9.

Greg Walker. The Politics of Performance in Early Renaissance Drama. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998. xi + 245 pp. $59.95. ISBN: 0-521-56331-3.

Martin White. Renaissance Drama in Action: An Introduction to Aspects of Theatre Practice and Performance. London and New York: Routledge, 1998. xii + 7 pls. + 265 pp. $22.99. ISBN: 0-415-06739-1.

The new books on theater practice collected here provide a splendid example of the renewed and burgeoning interest in staging techniques, their history, and their future. This trend is amply demonstrated in the increased emphasis given to production history in the newer complete editions of Shakespeare. Indeed, interest in specifically Shakespearean production does provide a compelling insight into cultural appropriations of the Renaissance, but it is important to notice, as several of the works below indicate, that there are opportunities for equally pertinent new discoveries and re-evaluations which exist in the works of other medieval and Renaissance dramas and dramatists.

Professor Coursen's Shakespeare: The Two Traditions concentrates on reviewing nine theatrical productions and eight films, produced (with one exception) in the years 1994-1996. His introduction locates recent theatrical practice within the context of postmodern theoretical approaches, especially Terence Hawkes's and, not surprisingly, dismisses mere academic theorizing in favor of the pragmatic approaches necessitated by the exigencies of stage and film production. Arguing against a "transcendent original" which conveys one universal truth, Coursen does articulate a qualified postmodern approach, one distinctly limited by "coherence" or a controlling unity of symbol. His methodology is based upon his recognition of archetypes contained in each play: "Archetypes are not some immutable carving of 'truth,' but are dynamic and changing, reflecting different insights to different Zeitgeists" (27). Thus he assesses the success or failure of each director's ability to make the originating script "at once available to an early modern culture and to our own, waiting for the historical circumstances that will allow it to be re-illuminated in performance" (13). The value of his book lies in his consistent practice of placing each production or film in both its historical/political context and in the play's production and film history; in this latter goal, his extensive play-going experience allows him, for example, to recall authoritatively and exhaustively stage productions of Henry V from 1974 to 1995 simply as a basis for comparison. That they are almost exclusively productions done in Britain and the eastern North American coast is impressive for Shakespeare aficionados with a trans-Atlantic bent but the book cannot be seen as representative of international trends in late twentieth century Shakespearean productions. …

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