The Tempest. Edited by Christine Dymkowski. Shakespeare in Production. Cam­bridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000. xxxii + 373pp. ISBN 0521-44407-1 (HB); 0521-78375-5 (PB). Price £ 15.95 (PB); £ 45.00 (HB).

 

Annotated editions of Shakespeare’s works usually focus on explaining the original mea­nings of his texts: notes, introductions, and appendices document variant readings, ex­plain obsolete words and expressions, and give sources and contemporary analogues. At best, a brief stage history of the play is included in the introduction. By contrast, this edition of The Tempest concentrates wholly on the play’s stage history, from the first known per­formance in 1610-11 up to early 1999. As there is incomparably more do­cu­men­ta­tion on recent stagings than on older ones, the emphasis is on twentieth-century pro­duc­tions. The bulk of this book is taken up by David Lindley’s New Cambridge Shake­speare text, annotated with longish footnotes describing ways in which the line or pas­sage in question has been interpreted in a number of different productions. We can look up, for instance, how directors have dealt with Antonio’s silence when he is forgiven by his brother Prospero (5.1.130-34), and find that “actors have run the gamut from humble gratitude to sneering villainy.” The Antonio in Bill Alexander’s 1994 Birmingham pro­duc­tion, for instance, “grin­ned when Prospero forgave him, but quickly wiped the smile off his face when his brother also demanded his dukedom back” (312). Glancing through the an­no­ta­tions, we may be struck by ingenious solutions, such as the way Bill Alexander dealt with Caliban’s mys­te­ri­ous reference to “young scamels from the rock” (2.2.148): “when Caliban offered to get ‘scamels’, Stephano looked at Trinculo and mouthed the word with a puzzled shrug; Caliban then gave him a shellfish, which clarified the matter” (230). Or we may suddenly become aware of the implications of production choices that a cursory reading of the text had never revealed, such as the “amount of wood Caliban carries [which] can in­dicate the scale of his oppression” (210), particularly in comparison to the work Ferdi­nand is made to do.

            Yet such isolated details, gathered from some 125 different productions, do not add up to a coherent whole, any more than a museum catalogue cut into a thousand pieces will give a good impression of its collection. Fortunately, Dymkowski begins her survey with a solid 90-page introduction, in which she sketches the play’s stage history, concentrating on the original text, restoration adaptations, the three main characters, Prospero, Ariel and Caliban, and set design. At one point even this subdivision proves to be unworkable, and Dymkowski is forced to further integrate her discussion of the representations of Pros­pero’s power, Ariel’s gender, and Caliban’s humanity, as developments in these seemingly diverse fields actually hang together: to put it simply, even if it is not always easy to say which is the cause, which the effect, at the same time that Prospero comes to be seen as more of an oppressor, Caliban becomes more human, and Ariel’s gender changes from fe­mi­nine to masculine. Apart from gender, Dymkowski also stresses race (in particular Cali­ban’s) as a potent cultural signifier in The Tempest’s stage history. The introduction con­tains 12 illustrations; Dymkowski’s descriptions occasionally whet the appetite for more.

            All in all, this is a highly useful book. Only the introduction is designed to be read through in its entirety: the casual reader is more likely only to browse through the rich trea­sure trove of information stored in Dymkowski’s annotations. For specific purposes, how­ever, even the smallest production details may be essential: directors faced with di­lem­mas may now draw on their predecessors’ collective experience, and students of theatre history have a new tool to look for underlying trends.

            There is one limitation to the material covered by the book: practically all pro­duc­tions described were in English, and by far the majority of those were British. It may seem like asking for the impossible to demand that a single volume should do justice to the world-wide reception of an author like Shakespeare, seeing that Dymkowski’s anglo-centric survey already covers some 125 productions; yet when the blurb on the jacket announces that the book includes “recent ... French, Italian and Japanese productions,” and when the series editors’ preface states that “[when] Shakespeare’s language is both lost and renewed [...] Shakespeare can be made to seem more urgently ‘relevant’ than in England or America,” this raises expectations that the book does not really fulfil, with a single Japanese pro­duc­tion that played in London, 2 Italian and 2 French productions, and none from, say, Germany or Poland. Doubtlessly, on the grounds of linguistic diversity alone, it will take another book put together by a team of international scholars to complement this study. Meanwhile, Dymkowski’s book can serve as a good example, also for the many other volumes in the series that are still forthcoming.

Paul Franssen, Utrecht University

 

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