STAPLE OF NEWS – XI

 

July 2006


Update on the Shakespeare Industry

Ton Hoenselaars and Paul Franssen

 

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 [1992] and David Purves [1992]), 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 [2005], 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 [2004], 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.