THE STAPLE OF NEWS - XV
Update on the Shakespeare Industry
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 (www.youtube.com/watch?v=Plum-CiH_w4), 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.