Update on the Shakespeare Industry


August 2008


Ton Hoenselaars and Paul Franssen

There are a number of new developments to report in the field of Shake­speare translation.

Jan Jonk, who has been an active member of the Shakespeare Society of the Low Countries for years, has published the first part of his complete trans­­lation of Shakespeare, as De volledige werken van William Shake­speare - Deel 1. De blijspelen (Breda: Papieren Tijger, 2008), ISBN 978-90-6728-207-9. As those who have heard Jonk present his translations in public will know, he has pronounced personal views on Shakespeare’s early modern English and its consequences for the translator. A lengthy in­troduction to the first volume of the series – we may still look forward to (i) De koningsdrama’s, (ii) De tragedies, and (iii) Overig toneelwerk en ge­dich­ten – gives the reader a good im­pres­sion of Jan Jonk at work. De blijspelen arrived too late to prepare a proper re­sponse here, but some of the excentric titles for the plays in this definitive edition of Jonk’s work suggest that there will be much here to make us look again at materials in Shakespeare with which we thought we were already quite familiar. For those who want a sample, we give some of Jonk’s Dutch titles for the comedies. Do they sound familiar? Zuchten zonder zoet? Or: Dit wou u toch! Or Het katje getemd. Or Driekoningen, of zo.

H. J. de Roy van Zuydewijn – the Dutch translator of The Sonnets, Julius Caesar, Hamlet, Macbeth, and Richard III, as well as the anthology of Shake­­speare entitled De Wandelende Schaduw – has published two new Shake­speare trans­lations. It concerns A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Tempest (Amster­dam and Antwerp: Uitgeverij De Arbeiderspers, 2008). Like his earlier trans­lations, this new collection in hardback (ISBN 978-90-295-6641-4) comes with a personal introduction and copious notes. Also in the genre of comedy, De Roy van Zuydewijn’s Dutch displays the di­rect­ness and trans­parency that have become his hallmark over the years. In metrical terms, this classical scholar and award-winning translator of Homer, takes a number of liberties. They grant these new translations a cer­tain idiosyncrasy and pace that ought to convince acting companies to try out the flexible result. A more de­tailed review of these translations will appear in a later issue of Folio.

A far briefer Shakespeare translation made the Dutch newspapers for not being broadcast. Comedian Freek de Jonge was to have appeared on De wereld draait door, a television talk show, on Friday 15 February, to read his version of a Shakespearean love sonnet, but was disinvited some three hours before the programme. The sonnet was part of a show entitled Echte Liefde by Urban Myth (De Volkskrant, 18 February). 

This year also saw the publication of Anna Cetera’s Enter Lear: The Trans­lator’s Part in Performance (Warsaw UP, 2008). Enter Lear studies the inter­sec­tion between translation and per­form­ance, and studies the idio­syn­cratic trans­­lation issues that King Lear pre­sents with the salient dra­matic features of the text in performance. This study represents a feli­citous combination of theory and practice, and makes an important con­tribution to this notoriously under-theorized area of Shake­speare and Translation Studies.

In earlier instalments of The Staple of News we have devoted at­ten­tion to the unusually prolific French translator of Shakespeare, André Mar­­ko­wicz. After his Richard II, The Tempest, Timon of Athens, A Mid­sum­mer Night’s Dream, and Troilus and Cressida, we can now enjoy his French rendering of Othello as La Tragédie d’Othello, le Maure de Venise (Besan­çon: Éditions Les Solitaires In­tem­pes­­tifs, 2007), ISBN 978-2-84681-210-8. As has become custom­ary, the new translation is ac­com­pan­ied by an intro­duction from Margaret Jones-Davies (Paris IV, Sorbonne). This introduc­tion aptly contextualizes the play in early modern European and British history, and, with many examples, illustrates how, since the eight­eenth century, a more or less shared racist perception of the play has stood in the way of a proper appreciation. Of special interest in Jones-Davies’ intro­duction is the argu­ment that the play is constructed around three types of knowledge, namely “wit,” “witchcraft,” and “wisdom,” and how this per­meates the play’s view of language and of cor­res­ponding is­sues in­cluding rhetorical seduction, the reliability of facts, metaphor, as well as the trou­bled correspondence between words and objects (“les mots et les choses”).

The 2004 essay collection Four Hundred Years of Shakespeare (ed­ited by Angel Luis Pujante and Ton Hoenselaars), contained a sub­stant­ial article by Dirk Dela­bastita, entitled “More Alternative Shakespeares” (113-33). In it he dis­cussed, among other things, the many changes in the Shake­speare industry which had altered its focus so con­si­der­ably over the previ­ous two decades. Dela­bastita argued that although essay collections like Alternative Shake­speares (edited by John Drakakis, 1985) and Al­ter­native Shakespeares Volume 2 (edited by Terence Hawkes, 1996) histori­cized the work of Shakespeare in dis­tinct­ly new ways, as well as the appropriation and the “afterlife” of the poet and his work, no-one had, apparently, felt the compulsion to include “Translation Studies” and its “alternative” approach to Shakespeare in recent years. The anglo-centred approach to English Studies, signalled by Delabastita, has been corrected in Routledge’s suc­cessor to the two collections edited by Drakakis and Hawkes. In addition to issues like readership, gender, the body, adapt­a­tions, and performance, Al­ternative Shakespeares 3 – edited by Diana E. Hen­derson – also introduces the issue of translation with Rui Carvalho Homem’s “Memory, Ideology, Translation: King Lear Behind Bars and Before History” (204-20).

Shakespeareans worldwide should also be delighted to learn about the re­cent publication co-edited by Tina Krontiris and Jyotsna Singh, Shake­speare Worldwide and the Idea of an Audience. Readers of this spe­cial theme issue of Gramma: Journal of Theory and Criticism (vol. 15, 2007), will find many familiar names, and valuable contributions, includ­ing a very useful review section. Among other things, it contains a new in­stalment of Michael Dobson’s con­ti­nuing project devoted to non-profes­sional and non-commercial Shake­speare, which chal­lenges many views that we have taken for granted about the man (meaning Shakespeare, of course), his work, and performance practice. It also contains an original and revealing contribution by Irena Maka­ryk, de­voted to au­dience surveys under Communism, and a new chapter of Mariangela Tem­pera’s cinematic Shakespeare project.

To more or less the same category belongs the new collection edited by Jean-Christophe Mayer, Representing France and the French in Early Modern Eng­lish Drama (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2008), ISBN 978-0-87413-000-3. This study of the role of France in the early modern English literary and dramatic fields is one of the fruits of quality research conducted under the auspices of the venerable CNRS (the French National Centre for Scien­ti­fic Research), where Mayer is a senior fellow. In Re­pre­senting France, Mayer brings together contributions from well-known colleagues including Dominique Goy-Blanquet, Richard Wilson, Deanne Williams, and Ladan Niayesh. The contributions here effectively re-assess the close inter­textual links between France and England, the representation of French history on the London stage, the position of the French language in English Renais­sance drama, and a range of French stereotypes in Eliza­bethan, Jaco­bean as well as Caroline drama. In doing so, they also pave the way for future research in this area.

It is a truth almost universally acknowledged that it is impossible to recre­ate “history,” and that what we take to be “history” is inevitably a fic­tional representation of the past. However, despite this impediment, we can some­times get very close indeed to recreating a “sense” of the past, gener­ating what Johan Huizinga and Frank Ankersmit have called the “sublime his­tori­cal experience.” If you wish to try an experi­ment, get Andreas Scholl’s 2008 CD entitled Crystal Tears (Harmonia Mundi, HMC 901992) and go to track 12 – Ariel’s “Full Fathom Five” from The Tempest. The stark lucidity of Andreas Scholl’s counter-tenor voice, studied and con­scious, surely, but no less disin­terested in its com­mitment to the lyrics set to music by Shake­speare’s con­temporary, Robert Johnson, create a truly magic corridor into the past, leading you to the stage of the Black­friars or to the court of James where the melancholic song was once performed, just briefly suggesting – as it may have sug­gest­ed to Shake­speare’s Ferdinand and contemporary audi­ences – that “nothing else is.”

Shakespeares after Shakespeare is the unusual title of an unusual two-volume re­ference work devoted to the afterlives of Shakespeare and his work in popu­lar culture. The 862 pages of double columns list and discuss a verit­able host of Shakespearean spin-offs and allusions, many familiar, but also many yet unknown. This reference work, edited by Shakespeare-in-popular-culture specialist Richard Burt (West­port, CT, and London: Green­wood Press, 2007), de­votes ample attention to cinematic adaptations of Shake­­speare’s plays, the occur­rence of themes, motifs and quotations from Shakespeare in the cinema, on television, in popular music, and so on. Each section of Shake­speares after Shakespeare is introduced by a sub­stantial essay from specialists in the field of popular culture. The odd con­tra­diction between entries in the various sections, and the idiosyncratic ap­proach that the contributors have been allowed to choose, do not detract from the quality of this achievement; they could be taken as signs of multi-vocality or polyphony. It may be a mat­ter of course that this mammoth en­ter­prise has such a strong anglophone focus (only blurred by two curious appendices devoted to Shakespeare in Japa­nese comics and Italian tele­vi­sion), but perhaps this is also the project’s saving grace. Picking one’s way through these two bulky tomes, the reader tends to get the rather un­pleas­ant sensation that those instances of popular Shake­speare that he or she knew and considered unique, have actually been spotted by others be­fore, and analysed to a considerable degree. Anyone with any experience from beyond the English-speaking centre is likely to ex­pe­ri­ence the urge to complement, complicate and challenge the materials pre­sented here, and the discussion would continue. Still, there is also a sense of finality about Burt’s project which, in printed form, begins to look like a monu­ment to some 25 years of academic interest in a part of our culture long con­sidered to be less relevant. With the “popular” now fully recognized as an inte­gral part of the Shakespeare Industry, and with its manifestations neatly cata­­logued in the tradition of the eighteenth-century encyclopaedia, is it not also time to reflect some more on the achievements of the past two or three decades, and on the direction into which we may be heading? There is a fine non-Shakespearean lepidopterist poem by Vladimir Nabokov, entitled “But­ter­fly.” The poem argues that nothing quite matches the immortality of the butterfly once it has been caught, killed, described and stuck onto a pin to be observed and admired. The irony which the Nabokov poem raises is, of course, whether objects really need to be butchered before they can be appre­ciated in full. Are the popular culture manifestations caught and put on dis­play in Shake­speares after Shakespeare still popular culture? Put differently, does popu­lar culture still have an afterlife?

Speaking of afterlives... For those Folio readers who, after finishing this new instalment of “The Staple of News” still have not satisfied their Shake­spearean ap­petite, it might be worth con­sider­ing the purchase of a real and rare first Folio of Shakespeare’s works. Certainly, it would in­volve a search of sorts, since no more than 200 copies are still in existence after almost four centuries. Also, one would need, perhaps, to sell some active and attractive shares. To give you an idea, a copy of the 1623 Folio was sold at Christie’s recently for £435,250. Given the fact that its original price was the equivalent of £100 today, though, this seems an investment with few risks.

And more on afterlives ... The grave of Shakespeare in Holy Trinity Church, Stratford, has been deteriorating, and it is in serious need of restor­ation. But there is, of course, a curse on the grave, since Shakespeare – held responsible for the text on the gravestone – warned against large-scale meas­ures: “Blest be the man that spares these stones, And curst be he that moves my bones.” As architect Ian Stainburn put it: “It’s our wish that we conserve this without anyone knowing we were there.” He added: “We want to con­serve it as it is and slow down the natural process of decay but we don’t want to recut it. It’s really a challenge.” For the time being, the money is lacking, but a substantial fix up job may be expected in the near future.

On Sunday 15 June, the OVT history programme on Dutch Radio 1 fea­tured a discussion of Richard III, in particular the way in which Shake­speare and others had misrepresented this last of the Yorkist kings as a veri­table monster. Theatre historian Els Launspach had written a novel en­titled Messire about this topic, published in tandem with Gerrit Komrij’s trans­lation of Shakespeare’s play, and she had been invited to the studio along with Astrid Stilma of Canterbury Christ Church University. In line with the argu­ments of the Ricardian society, the speakers undermined vari­ous as­pects of the well-known portrayal of Shakespeare’s favourite villain. While Shake­­­speare’s character seduces Lady Anne over the body of King Henry, Launspach remarked, the historical Richard had long been married to her at that stage of history. There is no evidence whatsoever that he had his nephews murdered in the Tower, said Launspach, and it would even have been against his interest to do so, as he was already king at the time of their dis­appearance, and this could have been used in propaganda against him. Stil­ma demurred at this point, saying that rival claimants to the throne always do attract malcontents and potential rebels; but still, that is no reason for holding Richard responsible, as there were many others with an equally good motive to kill the princes. Nor, the speakers agreed, is there any reason to think Richard was a hunchback or physically deformed in any other way.

Launspach then put forward her explanation for the rebellion against Richard: Richard had made himself unpopular with the nobility, as he had carried through tax reforms which might benefit the commoners. For this reason, Henry Tudor was put forward by the opposition as a claimant to the throne—much as George W. Bush was a frontman for reactionary forces in our era. After Richard’s death, the Tudors justified themselves by propa­ganda. Launspach speaks of “simulacra,” half-truths and fictions that achieve the status of facts in political discourse, much as the invasion of Iraq was justified with faked reconnaissance pictures of weapons of mass destruction facilities.

Asked whether Shakespeare had then himself been guilty of forging his­tory, Stilma explained that this may have been so, but that he would have been interested first and foremost in the dramatic potential of this fig­ure, as would have been the case with other dramatists in the period. Be­sides, he found his material in the chronicles already written to support the Tudor myth; and even if he had been eager to discover and do justice to the his­tori­cal truth, Tudor censorship would have made it impossible to stage such a play that undermined the very foundations of its dynastic claims. Descen­d­ants of Richard who might pose a threat had also been ruthlessly disposed of by Henry, himself certainly no less a villain than the man he usurped. Not that we are forbidden to enjoy Shakespeare’s villain; as long as we realise the dis­tinction between fact and fiction.

In an article in NRC (15 February), Kester Freriks took the controver­sial production of As You Like It (dir. Gerardjan Rijnders) as an occasion to weigh the pros and cons of director’s theatre, specifically where classics such as Shakespeare are concerned. “Extreme adaptations, refusing to be sub­ser­vient to the original, and interpreting classical plays in accordance with one’s own whim or concept: nowhere is this so common as in the Netherlands.” Whereas living or recently deceased authors like Beckett can restrain direc­tors, Shakespeare’s works have long been out of copyright, Freriks argues, and are considered fair game. Nevertheless, there is a feeling among part of the audience that they are not getting the classics they have come to see. Fre­riks gives examples of the Roman Tragedies transposed to the present by Ivo van Hove, the tango Romeo and Juliet of Ola Mafalaani, in which the bal­cony scene had been replaced by Romeo shining light at the audience with a little mirror, and, of course, the yo-yos, chickens, and car tyres of Rijnders’ As You Like It. Looking at the issue from various perspectives, Freriks ends by showing understanding for such innovations after all. Updating is neces­sary with classics to avoid a false sense of nostalgia, he agrees with Rijnders. So how about the yo-yos and the car tyres? Rijnders explains that the young courtiers who have fled to the innocent countryside are simply bored there, and long back for their lives of intrigue and eroticism at court. The yo-yos re­flect their boredom. The car tyres evoke feelings of vanity and emptiness: “Farmyards are al­ways littered with junk, nowadays with car tyres, in Shakespeare’s time there would have been broken wagon wheels. It really fits extremely well.” Also, the play is full of philosophies about the passage of time, Rijnders goes on, and that “really links up with yo-yos, and actors who start moving like a clock’s pendulum. I look for topical images to fit in with the text.” Not everyone was convinced, apparently: the production was criti­cised for its nihilism and humourlessness by Wilfred Takken (NRC, 29 Feb­ruary 2008).

To market As You Like It, the company also used yo-yos. In a video clip posted on Youtube (, Jochem ten Haaf, who played Touchstone, showed a few yo-yo tricks, and promised a free yo-yo for everyone who came to see the show.

De Volkskrant (5 June 2008) reminded its readers of a more controver­sial form of Shakespearean marketing from the past. In the newly opened Breda Graphic Design Museum, the paper reported, Anthon Beeke’s poster for Globe’s 1981 production of Troilus and Cressida was on display. It shows what at first looks like the backside of a horse, but on closer inspection turns out to be that of a woman, clad in no more than some leather horse trappings. The paper reports that the poster attracted vehement criticism from the women’s lib movement at the time, but that “Beeke had called his poster a feminist manifesto.”

Diever’s amateur Shakespeare company, who are staging Macbeth this year, were rewarded for their decades of Shakespearean productions with a piece of pavement from Stratford-upon-Avon, NRC reported (21 April 2008), “on which Shakespeare himself had once walked.” It did not say how the latter fact had been ascertained. The stone was a gift of the city of Stratford to Die­ver, as a token of friendship, and will be given a special place in the Diever open-air theatre.

On 23 May, NRC carried an article by Joris Luyendijk about the ef­forts of Sulay­man Al-Bassam, a British-Kuwaiti director, to produce his adaptation of Richard III in Damascus, with a cast drawn from several Arab countries. The Syrian authorities seemed to be less than cooperative, detaining vital props at the customs, and Luyendijk speculated that this might be because of painful re­sem­blances between the ruling Hassad-fam­ily and the power-hungry nobles of Shakespeare’s play, chiefly Richard himself. Al-Bassam remained non-committal (“there would have been other ways [of stopping me]”), but on a more general level acknowledged that Shakespeare’s history plays do speak to the Arab world in particular. Originally the plan had been to make Richard resemble Saddam Hussein, but now the setting had been changed to an un­specified Gulf State, and the play reflected on Arab dictators in general, of which there are plenty. The Richard in this production rewards one of his ad­visors with an oil field, and the scene in which Richard pretends to demur at his election is highly reminiscent of Egyptian president Nasser’s playing hard-to-get after his defeat against Israel in 1967. Richard wins the internet poll with 99% of the votes; the remaining 1%, he is told, did not have internet ac­cess. The wooing of Anne, Al-Bassam commented, is much easier to under­stand in a culture where women simply do not have many choices to begin with. As Luyendijk summarizes it: “A country where you can stage Shake­speare without any problems is a country where Shakespeare has lost much of his persuasive power (“zeggingskracht”). At the same time, a coun­try in which Shakespeare does get his message across is a country where chaos and ob­structions nearly make a production impossible. If it does work after all, it is unforgettable to the point of being emotionally stirring, as the Da­mas­cus production will prove.” The remainder of the article describes the Damas­cus premiere, a day later than planned. The political aspects were un­mis­­takeable. Biblical allusions had been effortlessly replaced by references to the Koran. The murder of Clarence was reported by an American spy as “a blow for the moderate fundamentalists,” and when Richard was finally over­thrown it was not by another Arab, but by an American. Luyendijk com­ments: “In this way Al-Bassam seems to be asking: are Arabs faced with a choice between in­digenous dictatorship and colonial rule”? 

Later, Al-Bassam’s play was also staged in Amsterdam, as a part of the Holland Festival. Wilfred Takken’s review (NRC, 10 June 2008) was less positive than Luyendijk’s longer article: it had been fast, exotic and enter­taining, but the melodramatic acting style was fifty years out of date, Richard was merely a stage villain without tragic dimensions, and the en­tire produc­tion had been somewhat unfocussed and confusing.