THE STAPLE OF NEWS

Update on the Shakespeare Industry

Ton Hoenselaars and Paul Franssen

This new column allows us to draw attention to the recent release on CD of The Shakespeare Suite by David Stoll. The Shakespeare Suite is an 11-part composition for strings and solo instruments. Each of the eleven parts of the composition means to evoke a Shakespearean character, and each of these characters is associated with a different solo instrument. The characters and the musical instruments that give them voice include: Falstaff (bassoon), Othello (clarinet), Viola (flute and viola), Puck (piano), Miranda (string quartet), Richard III (piano and cello), Beatrice and Benedick (clarinet and violin), Hamlet (cello), Cleopatra (oboe), Henry V (horn), and The Merchant of Venice’s Portia (violin). The music is light, delightful, and intelligent, and the performance throughout professional. Readers and critics of Shakespeare might wish to contest the interpretation of the odd character, but Stoll’s use of them is always imaginative: in the case of Beatrice and Benedick, for example, "the clarinet and violin play in entirely different keys, each trying to win the argument and trump the other, and yet the music flows between them without the modulations even being noticed." Miranda "is depicted as child, maid and woman. Scenes are presented in ‘flash-forward’ as Prospero watches his infant daughter." This type of musical composition might well prove a very useful teaching aid at various levels. The Shakespeare Suite comes from Riverrun Records, P.O. Box 30, Potton, Bedfordshire, SG19 2XH, UK. Price ^12.99 (^1 extra for postage overseas). For further information, you may also consult the company’s website at <www.rvrcd.co.uk>.

In an earlier issue of Folio (7:1), Ladan Niayesh reviewed Alan Dessen and Leslie Thomson’s Dictionary of Stage Directions in English Drama, 1580-1642 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999). The hardback edition of this impressive work was prohibitively expensive. Fortunately, Cambridge University Press, with a good ear for the demands of the academic market, have now issued a paperback edition of the dictionary, at ^16.95 (ISBN 0-521-00029-7 PB).

Many Shakespeareans in Flanders and The Netherlands, following the fortunes of Tom Lanoye and Luk Perceval’s Ten Oorlog, will have been delighted at the news that this epic production was restaged in German by the Schauspielhaus Hamburg (in collaboration with the Salzburger Festspiele). Few are likely to have seen it. Now the German version of Ten Oorlog has been published in book form as Schlachten!, translated by Rainer Kersten and Klaus Reichert (Frankfurt am Main: Verlag der Autoren, 1999). ISBN 3-88661-210-4. DM 28.00. Translation studies should have a field day with this new version of Ten Oorlog, certainly on those occasions where, in a highly creative manner, German solutions have been devised for elements too deeply rooted in Flemish culture to be obvious or intelligible to German audiences. Interestingly, this single-volume edition also contains a short version, now in German, of Jo de Vos’s discussion with Tom Lanoye at one of our Shakespeare Society gatherings in Ghent (1998).

In 1910, the Swiss composer Ernest Bloch wrote his "Opéra en un prologue et trois actes" entitled Macbeth. Those who wish to compare the more familiar version of Shakespeare’s tragedy by Verdi to this Debussy-inspired composition, will be delighted to learn that the world premiere recording appeared in 1999. On the Actes Sud label (OMA 34100), Friedmann Layer conducts the Orchestre Philharmonique de Montpellier, with Jean-Philippe Lafont as Macbeth (baritone), and Markella Hatziano as Lady Macbeth (mezzo-soprano). This first rate live recording has a fine sound quality, and lucidly captures the oppressive atmosphere of the original play in flexible, chromatic style.

Shakespeare has also been discussed at some length in the Dutch press. On the occasion of the centenary of Giuseppe Verdi’s death this year, Martin van Amerongen wrote an interesting article for De Groene Amsterdammer on the congeniality of Shakespeare and the opera composer. The same issue of De Groene Amsterdammer — 125:6 (10 February 2001) — contains Gawie Keyser’s well-informed review of Michael Almereyda’s Hamlet film, which is praised for preserving both visual and verbal complexity. The Cultureel Supplement of NRC Handelsblad (30 March 2001) carried Doeschka Meysing’s "Was Macbeth wel man?", written on the occasion of the RO-Theater project around Macbeth. One of Meysing’s more memorable allegations in this intelligent, though purely text-based piece, is that one could imagine Agriculture minister Laurens Jan Brinkhorst (with his royal connections) trying to seize the throne.

Stratford-upon-Avon has lost one tourist attraction, but gained another. Painstaking archival research has revealed that Mary Arden’s House was not what it purported to be at all. Fortunately the actual ancestral home of Shakespeare on his mother’s side, until recently called Glebe Farm, lies nearby and had for many years been the property of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. From the outside the real thing does not look half as authentically Tudor as the other house, as it has ordinary brick walls, probably due to rebuilding in the eighteenth century. Tourists who want to know what Mary Arden’s house looked like in Shakespeare’s time are perhaps well-advised to go and look at the building formerly known as Mary Arden’s House, after all!

The Royal Shakespeare Company has announced a restructuring, including plans to close down The Other Place, the small experimental theatre at Stratford. In addition, fewer different shows will be running concurrently at Stratford, so that instead of up to four different Shakespeare productions in one week, in a few years’ time there will be only two. On the other hand, more productions will be mounted in alternative venues, as far away as the United States. The changes are bound to affect the status of Stratford as a focus of interest in Shakespeare, including the popular courses offered by the Shakespeare Centre.

In May, there were reports of a new portrait of Shakespeare having surfaced in Canada. According to a label at the back of the oak panel, the picture represents "Shakspere, Born April 23 1564, Died April 23 1616, Aged 52, This Likeness taken 1603, Age at that time 39 ys." That might well make it the only likeness of Shakespeare to be produced during his lifetime, though that also depends on the authenticity of other reputed images of Shakespeare, such as the Chandos portrait. The owner, a retired engineer, claims that the picture, which has been in his family for centuries, is the work of a John Sanders, one of his forefathers and a player in Shakespeare’s own theatre company. The find has not gone unchallenged by the Shakespearean establishment. For one thing, it simply does not really look very much like the more familiar faces of Shakespeare, such as the Droeshout portrait or the bust in the Church at Stratford; but then again, those were posthumous images of a much older Shakespeare. But the sitter of the Sanders portrait does look somewhat younger than 39. Also, no actual John Sanders has been found in contemporary lists of players, though there were some people vaguely connected to the theatre business with similar names; and the label at the back is now virtually illegible. On the other hand, technical analysis of the paint and panel suggests that it is not a recent forgery: carbon dating and tree-ring analysis of the wood show that a date around 1600 is indeed highly likely. But is it also Shakespeare, or just an anonymous contemporary of his? If you wish to judge for yourself, see http://www2.localaccess.com/marlowe/portrait.htm

Shaksper, the discussion list or electronic conference concerned with Shakespeare and related matters, has recently opened a website at:

<http://ws.bowiestate.edu/>, [but has since moved to: http://www.shaksper.net/]

Apart from information about joining Shaksper, it offers a number of databases including a list of Shakespeare spin-offs, an easily searchable record of threads of discussion, a number of electronic editions of (pseudo-)Shakespearean texts and adaptations, and a growing number of scholarly papers on matters Shakespearean.

Hildegard Hammerschmidt-Hummel, whose speculations on the identity of Shakespeare’s Dark Lady were reviewed in Folio 7.1, has reportedly brought out a new work in which she argues that Shakespeare was not only a crypto-Catholic, but also helped smuggle Jesuit missionaries into England. Our Belgian readers will be gratified to learn that, according to Hammerschmidt-Hummel, the Bard received some of his training in a Flemish Catholic college. Some of the Lost Years were apparently spent travelling to Rome. We eagerly await further details, in particular on the considerable documentary evidence that will be needed to shore up these extraordinary claims.

In April, Valencia hosted the Seventh World Shakespeare Congress, coorganised by the International Shakespeare Association and the Fundación Shakespeare España. Some 500 delegates from all around the world flocked to the Spanish city to discuss aspects of Shakespeare and the Mediterranean. Plenary speakers included Jonathan Bate, Marina Warner, and Stephen Orgel. The emphasis seemed to be on contextualising Shakespeare, both in terms of his own period and in terms of the reception of his works in later eras and different cultures. The social programme included theatrical entertainments, such as a production of The Merchant of Venice in Spanish, directed by Hans Günther Heyme, featuring a limping Portia who supported herself with a walking stick. Her handicap was to motivate her nastiness toward Shylock as well as her desire for Bassanio, here portrayed as a gay playboy only interested in her money.

This seems the appropriate place to remind readers of the yearbooks of the Deutsche Shakespeare-Gesellschaft and the Société Française Shakespeare. Both their issues for the year 2000 are devoted to Shakespeare and nationhood. The German journal, edited by Ina Schabert (Band 136/2000) contains a fair share of the papers originally delivered at the "Shakespeare und Nation" conference held in Weimar in 1999. These include formidable contributions by Werner Habicht ("Shakespeare und die Gründer"), Michael Dobson ("Falstaff after John Bull"), and Ruth Freifrau von Ledebur ("Das Land, das Dich zum zweitenmal geboren"). Terence Hawkes’s paper entitled "Aberdaugledyff" is a fascinating cultural analysis of the connections between Shakespeare, Milford Haven, Standard Oil, and the Folger Shakespeare Library. Maik Hamburger’s review of Schlachten! should be of special interest to those who have been following the Ten Oorlog circus by Luk Perceval and Tom Lanoye.

Shakespeare en France, edited by Patricia Dorval (Montpellier: Société Française Shakespeare, 2000) concentrates on the place of Shakespeare throughout French culture. It brings together most of the papers presented at the Paris conference in February 2000. Readers should not miss George Steiner’s keynote ("L’inadvertance du Docteur Cottard"), Yves Bonnefoy’s sensitive but also provocatively unorthodox contribution on translating the Sonnets into French (including a convincing argument that translating a Shakespearean sonnet, while trying to retain its rhetorical and argumentative structures, may well require more than just 14 lines), and the outcome of Holger Klein’s project on the appropriation of "Shakespeare" by French literary historiography. Klein’s contribution is learned and offers new perspectives for research into Shakespeare’s role in the merger of culture and politics that produced the nineteenth-century definition of nationhood. In "Roméo et Julia ou l’amour hors la loi," Julia Kristeva propitiously complements her influential reading of the Shakespearean play in Histoires d’amour of 1983.

As always, ample attention is devoted to Shakespearean translations and productions in France. Not surprisingly, much of this focuses on the French premiere (after 400 years) of Shakespeare’s Henry V. Jean-Michel Déprats explains how he translated — rather successfully, it is said — this truly Babylonian play, and he chairs a valuable round-table discussion with Jean-Louis Benoit (who directed the production) and Philippe Torreton, who acted the part of the eponymous conqueror of France.

Julie Taymor’s long-expected Titus film, based on Shakespeare’s early play Titus Andronicus, has at long last reached Dutch cinemas. Earlier this year, members of the Shakespeare Society of the Low Countries were invited by the Dutch distributing company, Paradiso Filmed Entertainment, to attend the preview. Audience reactions were enthusiastic: Taymor has turned Shakespeare’s Roman revenge tragedy into a classic movie, which (just like the representation of Rome in Shakespeare’s original) brings together elements from many different periods and cultural layers, ranging from authentic Roman elements and medieval Catholic worship of saints to twentieth-century Fascism and American elections. Taymor and her star actor Anthony Hopkins allude to Fellini as well as to Hopkins’ own role as the modern-day cannibal Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs. Yet all this intertextual play never really becomes confusing, nor does it make the movie inaccessible: Titus should appeal to both fans of Gladiator and lovers of art house films. Most of all, the film puts across the same clear message that is implicit in many of the revenge tragedies written by Shakespeare and his contemporaries: revenge will only lead to more revenge, violence to more violence, until at long last the vicious circle is broken. Speaking of violence, a word of warning is in order: as in Shakespeare’s original, there is a lot of blood and gore in the film; not a movie to see on an empty stomach. Nonetheless, it must rank among the best screen adaptations of Shakespeare over the last ten years. After Branagh and Luhrman, a new director has come forward who is able to bring Shakespeare to modern-day mass audiences without compromising the complexity of the original play.

Four years ago, the Norton Shakespeare came out, edited by Stephen Greenblatt. It offered the most up-to-date text available, that of the prestigious Oxford edition prepared by Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor. To that it added the attractions of a general introduction by Greenblatt himself, new introductions to each of the plays, easy-to-use marginal annotation, lavish appendices on the Shakespearean stage, early documents relating to Shakespeare and the early-modern theatre world, a Shakespearean chronicle, a bibliography, and so on. This made it an attractive single volume edition, and a formidable competitor for the Oxford itself, the Riverside, and more recently the single volume Arden. Now the same Norton edition is available in four parts: Comedies, Tragedies, Histories, Romances and Poems. Each of these volumes features the entire general introduction plus appendices from the original. Advantages would include the smaller weight for each volume, as well as the price: at £12.95, it costs just over half as much as the complete single volume edition at £20.95. For a course on, say, Shakespeare’s comedies, this might make it an attractive option for students who are not planning to take any other courses on Shakespeare, or who hate lugging around heavy books. Real afficionados, by contrast, are likely to stick with the single volume edition.