STAPLE OF NEWS – XI
Update on the Shakespeare Industry
On 27 March 2006, Shakespeare featured in Time magazine. In a mere 6 pages, also containing some photographs, Jumana Farouky manages to survey the entire Shakespeare industry, from Globe replicas (the latest in Rome) to portraits, from Harold Bloom to Stephen Greenblatt. Perhaps somewhat predictably, the emphasis is on the business side of the industry, with figures on the amount of money tourists annually spend in Stratford ($300 million), the book market (125 book titles by or about Shakespeare in Britain in 2004), and the number of languages into which his plays have been translated (over 70, including Klingon). Other topics include the appropriation of Shakespeare to sell just about anything, from tourist trips to Helsingør to “novelty underwear [and] board games.” A firm known as Olivier Mythodrama, headed by the son-of, offers management courses on the basis of Shakespeare’s plays, Henry V being a better text for this purpose than Hamlet, according to Olivier Jr. The article ends on celebrating Shakespeare as a scriptwriter for films, and reveals that the new Kenneth Branagh, which is to be released this summer, will be As You Like It set in nineteenth-century Japan. The illustrations to the article include pictures of performances in exotic places such as Kabul, and “a Dutch production of The Merry Wives of Windsor in Drente.”
Possibly to restore some balance, the article is followed by a one-page essay by Gary Taylor, who argues against putting Shakespeare on a pedestal as the only idol: “the only true faith is polybardolatry.” Taking the example of Thomas Middleton, Taylor suggests that some of Shakespeare’s contemporaries were also in his league, possibly superior.
Less qualified praise for Shakespeare was heard in the Netherlands, as two of the nation’s foremost Shakespearean performers told Wilfred Takken of NRC/Handelsblad (22 May) of their desire to “spread the word, to explain why we like Shakespeare so much.” In the theatre, Pierre Bokma and Gijs Scholten van Aschat explained, the visual element tends to take over; and this is why they had set up a programme entitled Rondom Shakespeare, in which they focussed on the texts. Partly, this meant acting out scenes for two players, partly they also explained Shakespeare to the audience: the reason “why Shakespeare often used three metaphors in a row,” for instance, was to appeal to the different social layers in his audience: “For the elite there were the comparisons with Greek mythology, for the middle classes the comparisons involving money, for the boozing groundlings there were the bawdy jokes. The people just wanted to see Schwarzenegger, so he also put in a lot of blood, sword fights, and murders of children.” Noone is better at sketching human psychology, or has more insight into the human soul, into what motivates different types of rulers. In particular, they are fond of Richard II, a daring play about deposing a King, which, according to Bokma and Scholten van Aschat, was quite unprecedented. In jail, the deposed king “comes to a deep Buddhist insight into human nature; that one first has to be brave enough to be nothing in order to become something” (a reference to 5.5.38-41).
In De Volkskrant (30 March), Aus Greidanus, leader of the Appeltheater in The Hague, also spoke of his love for Shakespeare’s texts: not productions that update Shakespeare, “the way Theu Boermans and Ivo van Hove do it,” but fairly straight: “The scenes in themselves are so forceful and theatrical, the more literally you play them, the more beautiful they are. It is about theatre, imagination. We appeal to the audience’s imagination with no more than a rope and a few chairs.” The spring season saw Greidanus’ highly successful production of The Tempest, the same play with which the Appeltheater had opened in 1976 when Erik Vos directed it.
The Rotterdam-based ro theater has announced a production of Richard III, directed by Andreas Kriegenburg, for this autumn. The German director has a reputation for grand productions, total theatre combining music, light, and images with classic texts. Roger Philipoom, a young actor who describes himself as a “street urchin,” will play the title role.
On 20 May 2006, a new offshoot of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet saw its world premiere. The Residentie Orkest in The Hague played a purely instrumental piece by Micha Hamel inspired by Shakespeare’s love tragedy. In an interesting interview in NRC-Handelsblad, Hamel explained how he had gone about the job of translating the play into a musical composition. The feud between the two families had been translated into a conflict between two families of instruments; the two solo-instruments (a hobo for Juliet, a horn for Romeo) gradually achieved harmony, while the accompanying instruments kept clashing. The piece is only 26 minutes long, which for Hamel reflects the speed and intensity of youth.
In January of this year, the Netherlands was in the grip of an unusual publicity campaign that became known as the “&-campaign.” It began when television channels like MTV and TMF broadcast a number of fast video clips, but without announcing any interested party, company or institution. The same messages started to appear in the popular papers and equally mysterious posters started to appear at bus stops and railway stations. What all of these messages had in common was the ampersand (&), and the suggestion that here the viewer witnessed ideal examples of integration between different social groups. This was a new means of uncommercially communicating positive achievements to the world at large.
Interestingly, Shakespeare was not absent from all this. One poster represented what looked like a rehearsal from Macbeth, a scene between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. A closer look, however, revealed that this was not a normal rehearsal. The hand with which Macbeth held the script was shrivelled. Lady Macbeth (as further investigations revealed) was an Iranian refugee. Both the actor and the actress had overcome their problematic backgrounds and frustrations by joining a Rotterdam opera production of Macbeth.
Last year saw the publication of a collection of essays entitled Books in Motion: Adaptation, Intertextuality, Authorship, and edited by Mireia Aragay (Rodopi: Amsterdam and New York, 2005), ISBN 90-420-1885-2. This collection (with a very fine and useful introduction, containing a historical survey of “Adaptation Studies”) is mainly devoted to screen adaptations of Pride and Prejudice, Wuthering Heights, James Joyce’s The Dead, Harry Potter, and Bridget Jones’ Diary, but it also contains an interesting Shakespearean contribution by José Ángel García Landa (University of Zaragoza, Spain), a short but insightful essay entitled “Adaptation, Appropriation, Retroaction: Symbolic Interaction with Henry V” (181-200). In it, the author looks at screen adaptations of Shakespeare’s Henry V – like Laurence Olivier’s film version of 1944 and Kenneth Branagh’s famous rendering of the same play in 1989 – and develops an argument about the way in which adaptations, like these screen adaptations of Shakespeare, produce a “retroactive transformation” of the “original,” not by changing that “original,” but by making us perceive it differently at different moments in time; they become part of the cultural heritage that we call “Shakespeare” and can no longer be dissociated from it as we see and interpret the plays. The article provides a useful analysis of the way in which a “Shakespearean” adaptation differs from other adaptations (for example because, given its traditional status, the source text continues to play a more important role in our appreciation of the “end” product) and argues an interesting case for the existence of a complex series an inter-pictorial and inter-textual networks commanding the perceived meaning and impact of the screen adaptations that we see. Given the original and promising thesis that Landa sets out to illustrate, it is curious that he should fall back on traditional examples from Henry V that so many critics have discussed, instead of advancing examples of filmic texture that his own novel approach could help us see for the first time. Nevertheless, his final argument that even as scholars we ought to be prepared to read Henry V in the light of recent political events, is bold as well as valid.
Also devoted to the adaptation and rewriting of Shakespeare’s work is Shakespeare en la imaginación contemporánea. Revisiones y reescrituras de su obra, an impressive collection of essays edited by Ángeles de la Concha (Madrid: Estudios de la Uned, 2004), ISBN 84-362-5033-8. This volume, among other things, contains a long essay on Shakespeare and popular culture as well as contributions from diehard Shakespeareans in the field like José Ramón Díaz Fernández (Henry V), Pilar Hidalgo (Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and Rachel Ingalls’ “Mrs. Caliban”), and Clara Calvo (Jane Austen and Angela Carter). It deserves careful attention, so we are having it reviewed in a future issue of Folio. Impressive, too, is Christoph Clausen’s rare effort to theorize and chart the fields of exchange between the early modern period and the nineteenth century, between the drama of Shakespeare and the operatic genre in “Macbeth” Multiplied: Negotiating Historical and Medial Difference between Shakespeare and Verdi (Amsterdam and New York: Rodopi, 2005), ISBN 90-420-1887-9. This book, “written expressly from the perspective of current Shakespearean criticism whilst striving to do justice to the topic’s musicological dimension at the same time,” should be of great use to Shakespeareans and opera specialists alike.
The Approaches to Translation Studies series from Rodopi (Amsterdam and New York, 2006) put out a collection of essays devoted to Travel and Translation in the Early Modern Period, edited by Carmine G. Di Biase. This rich, historically oriented collection of essays, contains one useful contribution devoted to Shakespeare’s The Tempest by the distinguished Americo-Italian Renaissance scholar Jack D’Amico. Adopting a broad cultural rather than a narrowly linguistic definition of the term “translation” for a reading of what it sees as a “New World” play, the article “‘Where the devil should he learn our language’ – Travel and Translation in Shakespeare’s The Tempest” (239-54) meticulously traces the multiple modes of transfer between characters and cultures as they encounter one another in The Tempest, and become engaged in a complex process of exchange. Of special interest is the way in which the author manages to broaden his argument, by relating it to the discourse on early modern state systems and diplomacy, and offers an interesting comparison between the situation in The Tempest and the work of Machiavelli.
Just out is Martin Allan’s Shakespeare in North-East Scots, the translation of a collection of Shakespearean texts into North-East Scots (Aberdeen: University of Aberdeen Central Printing Service, 2006). These texts include substantial excerpts from Macbeth (the play which had already been translated into Scots by both R. L. C. Lorimer  and David Purves ), and from the Sonnets (30, 43, 55, 60, 87, 90). Due to Allan’s creative approach to the Sonnets, each translation is accompanied by a retranslation for the sake of clarity as follows, in the case of the opening stanza of sonnet 55:
Not marble, nor the gilded monuments
Of princes, shall outlive this powerful rhyme;
But you shall shine more bright in these contents
Than unswept stone, besmear’d with sluttish time.
Nae mairbil saipulkers, noar gowd-prood tombs
Oa princes, wull ootlive thes pweesint screev;
Foar bie that strang screev’s lecht ye’ll brechter glaim
Noar graiven steen bie lustrin wins made veev.
Not marble sepulchres, nor gold-proud tombs
Of princes, shall outlive thís powerful rhyme;
For by that strong rhyme’s light you’ll brighter gleam
Than (even) graven stone by burnishing winds given lustre.
In his “Critique” at the end of this collection, translation specialist J. Derrick McClure notes how this collection is a “fine tribute” to both “the most Scottish of dialects and the most English of poets” but also “a memorable book in its own right.”
The so-called “Scottish play” also received a Flemish sequel recently in the form of a play by Xavier Tricot, entitled Macduff: A Tragedy. Sequel to “Macbeth” by William Shakespeare (Oostende: Devriendt, 2005): “Shakespeare’s great tragedy Macbeth finally has a sequel, where the prophecies of the Weird Sisters are played out to their gruesome conclusion. Xavier Tricot’s Macduff, filled with poetry and drama brings nightmare, murder and blind ambition back to Scotland once more.” The play was originally written in Flemish, and is presented here with the original language on the left-hand page and a convincing English translation by Alison Lacy facing it on the right.
The Dutch journal devoted to 17th-century literature and culture published a seminal paper devoted to Dutch appropriations of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew. It concerns Helmer Helmers’ “‘Prins van loos bedrog’: The Taming of the Shrew en de Engelse revolutie op het zeventiende-eeuwse Nederlandse toneel” (De zeventiende eeuw 21:2 , 292-311). This article, which draws on similar materials as the essay that appeared in an earlier version of Folio (“Christopher Sly in de Republiek,” in Folio 11:1 , 5-23), argues that Melchior Fockens’ Klucht van Dronkken Hansje (1657) is an adaptation of the Induction to Shakespeare’s Shrew play, in which Sly’s alter ego Hans functions as a comic mirror image of Oliver Cromwell. The article neatly contextualizes the Shakespearean materials in the appropriate political settings of England and the Dutch Republic.
A rather different way into Shakespeare’s works is that of José Luis Jiménez García, chairman of the Jerez Popular Cinema Club and author of a book on Sherry in Literature. In a brief article on the back cover of Vinos de Jerez, a glossy periodical dedicated to the promotion of Jerez’s most famous product, which he kindly sent to the editorial board of Folio, Jiménez sheds light on the works from the perspective of the history of sherry in England. After Sir Francis Drake captured 3,000 butts of it from an unfortunate Spanish fleet, what may have seemed like a defeat for the Spanish, turned out to be the beginning of a triumphal progress for sherry throughout England. Like other intellectuals, and indeed, “the English monarchs themselves,” Shakespeare “held [sherry] in such esteem that he included it in no less than eight works, mentioning it over fifty times.” Perhaps fortunately for the reputation of the Bard, who according to one legend died after a night’s heavy drinking with Ben Jonson and Michael Drayton, he seems to have liked water thrice as well as sherry – since he mentions that particular beverage no less than 159 times.
While the book by Brenda James and William Rubinstein, pushing Henry Neville as a possible candidate for Shakespeare-ship, came in for a thrashing by Hans Oranje in Trouw, and a more agnostic review by J. J. Peereboom in NRC-Handelsblad, the next hopeful was already waiting in line. In this emancipated age, it comes as no surprise that, next to Queen Elizabeth I, another female candidate should have been suggested: Mary Sidney Herbert, Countess of Pembroke. In his Sweet Swan of Avon: Did a Woman Write Shakespeare? – published, of all dates, on 23 April 2006 – Robin P. Williams argues for the authorship of this woman of letters, mother of the two sons to whom the First Folio was dedicated. One point in her favour, it appears from an electronic circular advertising the book, is that “of the 37 plays in the canon, only 12 appeared bearing Shakespeare’s name while he was alive.” The fact that not a single one of these plays has so far appeared bearing Mary’s name does not, however, militate against Williams’s candidate, as she, an aristocratic lady, would not have wished to be associated with the stage. The remaining arguments for her authorship, too, are of the usual kind: she was an aristocrat who had the requisite special knowledge to have written Shakespeare’s works, and there are similarities between Shakespeare’s works (in this case, surprisingly enough, the sonnets) and the author’s life. This should be enough to convince most readers that she is just about as likely to have written the works as any other anti-Stratfordian candidate.