Seminar: History and Performance / Abstracts
Convenor: Lawrence Guntner, University of Brunswick / e-mail: email@example.com
“Stillness in Hamlet” (abstract)
My paper 'Stillness in Hamlet'- will focus on how Romanian productions of Hamlet after the 1989-Revolution negotiated their relation with history, that is to say, Hamlet's 16th century heritage, four centuries of international reception of Hamlet since, and more importantly, the relatively recent Romanian past which had turned Hamlet into 'a Romanian history play'. Looking at post-1989 Romanian productions of Hamlet, I begin by exploring how they strive to bring the 'still' text (which always comes with a 'history') to life in performance, and on the other hand, analysing the productions' methods of 'capturing' Hamlet (as a present story) in spite of the ephemeral quality of performance and before it becomes 'history'. For the purpose of this paper I will approach several Romanian productions of the play after 1989 with a view to their varying use of stillness: from slow-motion and immobility, to tableaux, split-screen, frozen screen, and computer projections.
Jacek Fabiszak (Adam Mickewiscz University, Posnan; firstname.lastname@example.org):
"Shakespeare’s Histories on the Polish Television Screen: the Cases of Henry IV (1975) and Richard III (1989)"
Shakespeare’s history plays are far from popular on Polish television. The reason seems quite obvious: on the one hand, out of Shakespeare’s plays, the chronicles are ones which, being oriented towards the recreation of incidents of English history after the Norman conquest, are least recognisable to a non-English recipient. On the other, outside Britain some of the histories were treated in terms of other, more readily recognisable genres: i.e. tragedies. This is certainly the case with Richard III, which in Poland was not presented as a history play, but a tragedy. At the same time, televisual versions of Shakespeare’s chronicles in Poland did fulfil one of the basic functions that are expected of theatre: topicality, and can be regarded as commentary on current events in Poland. Interestingly, both Maciej Zenon Bordowicz’s 1975 production of Henry IV and Feliks Falk’s 1989 Richard III approach the issues of political power and ways of exercising it. Bordowicz’s production was aired at the time of political stagnation, when Poles were halfway through the era of the gensec Edward Gierek, and it appears worthwhile analysing how this teleplay reflects the atmosphere of Poland before workers’ rebellion in Radom in 1976. On the other hand, Falk’s Richard III was produced and shown in the year which was critical in the Polish history: it marked the transfer of power and change of the political system: in June 1989 the first semi-democratic elections after World War II took place and the first non-communist government was formed. Thus, Falk’s production, shot in June 1989 and shown in December 1989 poses questions about the nature of power, both past and future. Significant in this respect is the final scene of the teleplay in which Stanley passes the English crown to Richmond. Yet one more aspect of the two productions will be considered in the paper: in both teleplays the main role (though not the eponymous one) is given to the same actor: Andrzej Seweryn, whose position, both artistic and political, was so different at the time when Henry IV and Richard III were produced.
Keith Gregor (University of Murcia; email@example.com):
“Shakespeare at the Espanol: Franco and the Building of the New Spain” (abstract)
The paper, which is part of a wide-ranging project concerned with the reception of Shakespeare in Spain, focuses on the early stages of the Franco dictatorship (the 1940s) and the place Shakespeare’s plays occupied in the repertoire of Spain’s chief ‘national’ playhouse, the Teatro del Español. It is particularly interested in the way the productions of the plays (commencing with Hans Rothe’s adaptation of the Merry Wives in 1941 and concluding with Hamlet in 1949), while fulfilling the Español’s professed aim of offering quality performances of classical drama to a culture-starved public, were recruited for the regime’s broader purpose of promoting a new national consciousness. The 1942 production of Macbeth (revived a year later) is symptomatic. Hailed some three weeks before the premiere as the cultural event of the year and as an instance of what the ‘new Spain [was] theatrically capable of’, the production was ranked by critics close to the regime as a triumph of both Spanish theatrical know-how and, more generally, of Franco’s policy in the period of complete economic and cultural autarchy. As well as discussing contemporary responses to the production, the paper will consider the irony of both these positions.
Malgorzata Grzegorzweska (University of Warsaw; firstname.lastname@example.org):
“´Blood sprinkled or blood spilt´:The History of Richard III Revisited in Contemporary Theatre”
Whereas Shakespeare’s chronicles could be regarded as a characteristic expression of the ideological and political concerns of his own times, their contemporary theatrical reproductions constitute at best a marginal dimension of political theatre; politically motivated stagings of Richard III or Henry V, being important exceptions to this rule, do not change the overall impression. The question “what Shakespeare’s histories mean for us today” seems to obtain radically different answers from textual scholars and theatre directors.
In my presentation I want to highlight two important aspects of the recent production of Richard II (Warsaw 2005, dir. Andrzej Seweryn). The primary function of this ambitious undertaking seems to have been to articulate the cultural policies of the National Theatre. The rich texture of poetic and highly ritualistic language of the play was supposed to provide a convenient antidote against the distorted, “mutilated” body of Shakespearean tragedy, displayed in experimental theatres. The effect, however, disappointed both the viewers who cherished belief in the plays written “not for an age but for all time” as well as those, who wish to read Shakespeare’s chronicles from a clearly defined historical perspective. The grandiose manner of acting overshadowed the subtle political overtones on the first act. Unexpected, and totally unmotivated recourses to comic convention in the second part completely distorted the size of stakes in Shakespeare’s world of murky conspiracy and revenge.
Taking the analysis of the Warsaw performance as a starting point for the discussion, I would like to encourage the participants of the debate to address several problems which seem crucial to our contemporary understanding of the play. The issue at stake, I think, is the play’s focus on the ideological appropriations of the ritual of bloody sacrifice; the ghost of “sacricificing Abel” whose blood “craves due revenge” determines our reading of the play whose ancient references take on surprisingly contemporary meanings in the world after the 11th of September. Of course, I do not mean to look in Shakespeare’s text for a straightforward ‘reflection’ of the vices of our own times. Instead, I wish to confront Shakespeare’s vision of history, and the way it was (mis-) represented in the Warsaw National Theatre with the provocative diagnosis of our contemporary culture, proposed in Jean Boudrillard’s recent book: Power Inferno (trans. from French: L’esprit du terrorisme’).
Stuart Hampton-Reeves (University of Central Lancashire; email@example.com):
“Plunder in Front of Hell: Henry VI – The Battle for the Throne (RSC 1994) and Civil War in the 1990s” (abstract)
In 1994, Katie Mitchell directed a version of 3 Henry VI for the RSC which mad provocative analogies between the fifteenth-century English civil war that Shakespeare depicts and the civil wars that broke out across the Globe in the wake of the end of the Cold War. However, rather than make explicitly topical allusions, Mitchell looked to the work of the Gardzienice Theatre Association as inspiration for a practical theatre method which treated English history as form of folk culture. By sounding the folkloric connotations of Shakespeare's world, Mitchell recovered the play as a cautionary parable about the causes and effects of civil war. She textured her England with folk elements from across Europe, including liturgical chants, Bosnian folk music, Belarussian films, other Elizabethan dramas and early modern Flemish art. My paper will explore the innovative ways in which Mitchell recreated Shakespearean history for contemporary audiences and retained a strong political message without recourse to stereotypes of topicality. Sitting behind this discussion will be a broader issue about the ethics of staging Shakespearean history as a response to contemporary events.
Nancy Isenberg (Università degli Studi Roma Tre firstname.lastname@example.org):
"Export-Import: Shakespeare´s Rome on an Elizabethan Stage in the Heart of the Eternal City 2004” (abstract)
During the summer of 2003, an idea for a raised wooden stage that might host outdoor performances in Rome’s Villa Borghese park, quite by accident and with no particular pre-defined cultural platform, materialized in a full scale replica of London’s neo-Globe theatre. During its first year in existence, Rome’s Globe offered little promise of becoming anything other than an architectural capriccio: it remained without an artistic director, without a cultural plan. But the following summer it hosted, among other activities, a Shakespearean project entitled Nel grande teatro del mondo. Appunti dalle tragedie romane di William Shakespeare (‘In the Great Theatre of the World. Notes from William Shakespeare’s Roman tragedies’). This paper will explore the way memory works in this trafficking - this exchange of cultural goods - involving the reshaping of Roman history for an Elizabethan public and its re-importation and performative refiguring centuries later on a Shakespearean stage in the heart of Rome. It will further propose a ‘reading’ of the project as a strong appeal for the future of Rome’s Globe as an arena for political and cultural debate.
The man behind the project is Roman theatre director, Walter Pagliaro. His choice of plays and the sequence in which they were presented give pause for thought. The project took on the structure of a triptych, consisting of extracts from three plays. The extracted scenes, in each case, brought center stage a particular theme, reflected in the title: Il mantello squarciato (‘The Lacerated Cloak’) from Julius Caesar, La marionetta egiziana (‘The Egyptian Puppet’) from Antony and Cleopatra and La recita della follia (The Performance of Madness) from Titus Andronicus.
Pagliaro did not choose to work with the set of the so-called ‘Plutarchian’ plays, but selected two and discarded the third. By flanking Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra with Titus Andronicus and not with Coriolanus, Pagliaro’s project, first of all, gave Titus Andronicus comparable stature as a Roman play despite its traditional, lesser identity as an early experiment in revenge tragedy . Second of all, by placing this play AFTER Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra, Pagliaro created a Shakespearean alignment which is more Roman than Shakespearean; that is, he set us thinking about developments in the history of the Roman empire rather than about those in Shakespeare’s career or on the political stage of Elizabethan England. The resulting accent on discourses of empire within the project as a whole becomes a provocative invitation to reflect on the destiny of empires of our own times .
[I plan to have sketches by the set and costume designers to show at the seminar, along with the one photograph I have so far been able to track down.]
Tina Krontiris (Aristotle University, Thessaloniki; Krontir@enl.auth.gr):
"The Brief Appearance of Henry V and Richard II on the Greek Stage" (abstract)
Apart from Richard III, which has been staged six times in the course of the twentieth century, Henry V and Richard II are the only English history plays that have been presented to a Greek audience. The first was performed in March 1941, just before the arrival of the German Nazis, and the second in November 1947, a year after the problematic referendum concerning the future of the monarchy in Greece and while the country was in Civil War. In both cases it was the National Theatre that had staged the plays and in both instances the productions had failed to make an impact on the audience. The aim of this paper is twofold: to establish the historical context of the performance of these two plays and to explain why the plays failed to make the desired impact when they were staged by the major producer of Shakespeare in Greece up to that time and they were meant to influence public sentiment.
Patricia J. Lennox (New York University Pjlennox2@aol.com):
“EU Shakespeare on the New York Stage: Critical Reception as Memory” (abstract)
When EU country productions of Shakespeare travel to the USA they are almost always imported as part of a “festival,” usually one identified with experimental or fringe theatre. This means that these productions frequently offer a chance to see some less traditional and more transgressive approaches to the plays. The “festival” establishes a framework for brief appearances (usually less than a dozen performances) by a range of international theatre companies, which are often well known in their native countries but less known by American audiences. Festivals provide an economically feasible structure in terms of performance space, publicity, and administrative costs for productions that could not survive the staggering costs of presenting plays in New York. A festival organized by a major theatre venue, such as New York’s Lincoln Center, also helps to insure, among other things, that the productions will receive adequate press coverage in major publications, like the New York Times, coverage that is often the only record of the US performance, coverage that becomes a performance “memory.”
This conference paper will consider the memory created through critical reception of European Shakespeare productions at two major “festivals“ in New York City: the Lincoln Center Summer Festival and BAM [Brooklyn Academy of Music] New Wave Festival. Both are successful commercial ventures by major New York theatre conglomerates. Both focus on what they identify as “experimental” international productions. However, the term experimental may be relative since the directors chosen generally have well-established and often long-standing reputations. For instance BAM favours directors like Peter Brook, Ingmar Bergman, or Ninagawa, while Lincoln Center is more likely to include Theatre de Complicite or Adrienne Minushkin. Still, these productions are likely to be far more innovative when compared to American productions. Americans embrace Shakespeare as part of their cultural heritage, but with a provincialism that relegates highly experimental performances and productions to college arts centres and obscure off-off-Broadway performance spaces. Although summer Shakespeare festivals flourish across the country they present comparatively conservative productions designed to attract a large, general audience. Further, it is generally left to visiting British companies to provide “authentic” performances that set a standard that is not too far from the familiar. Modern dress is all right; some textual cuts and changes are fine in the style of Peter Brook; even an all-male cast can be acceptable. Go too far beyond that and the production drifts into another category -- one saved for the visiting foreign theatre companies.
“EU Shakespeare in America” will focus on critical reception in terms of larger patterns, including articles and publicity materials, along with individual critic reviews of this “foreign” Shakespeare. Reviews will include those by mainstream critics, such as New York Times’ reviewers who may be writing outside their comfort zone, and “downtown” critics, such as Village Voice‘s, who may find the same productions rather traditional by their standards. Productions considered will include those from Great Britain, Scandinavia, Western and Eastern Europe.
David Middleton (Trinity University Dmiddlet@trinity.edu):
One of the fascinating ironies of performance history emerges from the inherent tension between the content of a drama and its presentation. A playtext of Shakespeare is always the same, yet circumstances of presentation (historical auspices as well as elements of production) are always different, in that the show is literally re-presented by the company to be singular and to speak tellingly to contemporary audiences.
Laurence Olivier performed Shakespeare’s Henry V twice, and a study of two productions proves revealing indeed, in both personal and aesthetic terms.In the spring of 1937, working under the direction of Tyrone Guthrie, Olivier brought Shakespeare’s warrior-king to the legitimate stage for the first (and last) time in his career. Europe felt menaced by the looming specter of war, the necessity for which remained unclear and produced troubling uncertainty in national and international dialogue. Britain was about to undergo a demoralizing change in monarchs brought about by King Edward VIII’s abdication. And on the personal level, both Guthrie and Olivier felt pushed by their own convictions toward an isolationist—or at least noninterventionist—stance, and so they brought Shakespeare’s text to life as a cautious anti-war statement.
By 1944 everything had changed. The war had become a pitched battle to the death between competing ideologies with all the attendant rhetorical fervor afforded a cause that can be understood (and represented) in clear, unambiguous moral terms. Olivier had passionately embraced the medium of film—and consequently an enlarged audience, one raised with radically different assumptions about the aesthetics of performance. In this context the production of Henry V works toward very different ends and affirms both the moral and political efficacy of war as an instrument of national policy.
Francesca Rayner (Universidade do Minho, Portugal; email@example.com):
“Between Transgression and Institutionalisation: Teatro Communo´s Measure for Measure” (abstract)
Whilst much critical attention has been given to the ways in which theatre has operated under totalitarian regimes or on the cusp of revolutionary change, there has been less attention given to the ways in which theatre has faced the challenges of creating under democracy, especially relatively recent democracies like the Portuguese.
As the name suggests, Teatro Comuna are one of the theatre groups most closely connected with the 1974 revolutionary movement, which established a national theatre network for the first time and abolished theatre censorship. Although they have continued to maintain an oppositional stance and, in the words of the poet Pedro Tamen, “have resisted, and continue to resist, becoming an institution”, there is no doubt that there has been an increasing standardisation of their theatrical practice over the years for a clearly identifiable audience. Moreover, director and founding member João Mota has spoken openly about the ways in which the closer relationship between theatre groups and those in power implied by the awarding of state subsidies can lead to the abandonment of “the only valid form of creation, which is transgression”.
It is in the context of the awarding of the first regular state subsidies for theatre by the Socialist Government in 1997 that Teatro Comuna performed Shakespeare for the first time with a Measure for Measure that commemorated their twenty-five years of existence. Direct parallels were drawn in press releases between the dramatic world of the play and 1990’s Portugal as, according to João Mota “there is something rotten in both kingdoms”. There was also a continued stress on the ability of theatre to reflect and prefigure social change in interviews given about the play. Yet a cursory analysis of the performance of the play would seem to indicate the almost complete absence of this more political stance within the staging of the play itself. Had a history of transgression become reduced to a memory of a transgressive history? To what extent was this rhetoric of transgression little more than an effective marketing ploy? Through a particular focus on the women involved in the production, both as actresses and translators, I aim to analyse how the production illustrated Teatro Comuna’s negotiation of transgression and institutionalisation in the late 1990’s and the wider implications for the performance of Shakespeare of increased and centralised regulation of the theatre by the State.
Glenn Odom & Bryan Reynolds (University of California-Irvine; firstname.lastname@example.org):
“Pressurized Belongings and the Coding of Ethnicity, Religion, Nationality in Peele & Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus” (abstract)
It is not uncommon to point to the early modern period in Europe as the crucible in which many contemporary Western ideas were crushed into their present form. Both the concept of race and the concept of science begin to take on their modern meanings during the later part of the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. The rapid expansion of the borders of the British empire created an overlap between the still-emergent sciences of linguistics and anthropology and the British representations, especially in the theatre, of the newly encountered plethora of non-English peoples. The public nature of the works of England's Royal Society and the close connections of many playwrights to the court ensured that theatre -- both in the public theatre and at court -- further manifested and manipulated these developing ideas. This occurred within academia, high society, and popular culture.
There has been a recent profusion of scholarship dealing with the character of Aaron in Titus Andronicus. Scholars who rely on historical accounts of “blackness” in the period seldom neither relate this history to a close reading of Titus itself nor develop the concept of race in any meaningful theoretical way. Our paper views the historical accounts of race in Europe, the literary and performance history of Titus, and the text of Titus itself through the lens of “transversal theory.” Specifically, we examine the multiple codes Aaron performs (Moor, black, villain, foreigner, male) in terms of the “principle of translucency.” This principle allows us to analyze the effects of the competing Elizabethan ideologies on the portrayal of Aaron and of Moors in general. By situating Titus in terms of its performance, literary, scientific, and social history, we are also able to comment on the related concepts of performance, race, nationality in the early modern period.
Tatjana Schaaf (University of Heidelberg; email@example.com):
“Macbeth as Political Education in Post-War Germany” (abstract)
For the seminar History and Performance as part of the projected conference SHINE: Shakespeare in Europe: History and Memory, I will introduce a contribution to the discussion with the preliminary title “Macbeth as political education.” The paper is concerned with the re-education programme of the Western Allies in post-war Germany. My contribution is about how the drama of Macbeth was used for political purposes. Nevertheless, my paper is not only about the problem of how to make use of this drama politically in the abstract. Each political “functionalization“ has always a historical reference as well. If this historical reference is provided by the fact, for example, that a certain performance was staged some time ago, then this is also about the actuality of the play concerned in its time: The way in which this was once staged, refers to the political intentions at that time. It is necessary to bring out these intentions, if an analysis of the political “functionalization” of a classical piece of literature is concerned. This exactly is meant by the preliminary title: Macbeth turned in a “political-educational” way means the political “functionalization” of Macbeth. In this sense my attention will be directed towards a specific performance of Macbeth. It was produced at the Kammerspiele in Munich fortheir reopening in October 1945. In the light of the (political) circumstances, under which this performance took place, the re-educationprogramme of the Western Allies at the time may be illustrated, as I believe, as well as its ultimate failure.
The historical reference is given in this case several times: The performed play used, in a most specific historical context, a historical “material” which had become itself historical in the meantime a n d followed up a most specific political aim at the same time. The connection of “History and Performance” is in this respect not just given in an entirely general sense. It can also be shown, how a certain (intended) way of a performance made a certain classic to a subject for political education: I mean the following.
According to the morals of his time the poet and dramatist Shakespeare had interpreted in the framework of his cultural context an event which had become historically significant already at that time. But he did not only interpret it. His interpretation was genuinely aesthetic. This aesthetical treating was changed in the course oftime, had become historical in the genuine sense in the year 1945. And this historical event was now in the context of an explicitly political intended usage a subject of a certain way of performing. It is this coherence which I want to reconstruct and to reinterpret in my paper.
Starting point for the worked out considerations in this paper was a lecture, which was held by Andreas Höfele on December 2003 at Utrecht, with the title: “Re-educating Germany: BBC Shakespeare 1945“. The BBC programmes analysed by Höfele followed up a double aim. The drama of Macbeth seemed to be an example for that in particular: The German audience, who had become a slave to Nazism for more than a decade, should be “purged” .Thus, not only the connection of Germany should be guaranteed to the liberal tradition of the West. But also a connection to the German enlightenment should be effected. Background knowledge for this was an obvious thesis, the “catharsis-thesis”. It is this thesis, which I will bring out in order to discuss it explicitly. In so far, my planned contribution to the discussion exceeds Höfele’s demonstration by far, and aims in general at the hermeneutic problems of reception.
In my paper the question will be raised, whether forms of aesthetical education could contribute something to a change of consciousness at all.
From my point of view, which rests upon a different theory of aesthetical reception from that of the London intellectuals, I tend to negate the question. Especially the performance in Munich on the 12 October 1945 seems to me to be a beautiful piece of evidence for that, that every attempt of political misuse (“Zweckentfremdung”) of genuine aesthetical ideas comes into conflict with a psychological reception. It can be made plausible though, as mentioned above, only if you consider a certain psychoanalytical thesis as well and with the help of this analyse the contemporary circumstances and political aims of the performance in Munich on October 1945. That is especially legitimate in this case: The intellectuals of the Western Allies themselves were German emigrants of the Frankfurter Schule, and their Re-educating planes were based on a certain psychoanalytical thesis.
The thesis of the intellectuals of the Frankfurter Schule maintains that every form of aesthetical confrontation functions cathartically. That means in particular: the audience s h o u l d identify with the protagonists. Macbeth seemed to be perfect for that. One believed, that the recognition of guilt enables a reorientation of political convictions.
The psychoanalytical theory of reception, which I hold, reaches a completely different result, and it explains, why the “purging programme” of the Western Allies was doomed to fail at least in this respect: Explicitly intended political catharsis is seen through as such, and the mechanism of “repression” is simply transferred to deeper levels. The general statement holds true: Partial identifications reinforce the denouncement of one’s guilt instead of dissolving it. It is just this which distinguishes the original psychoanalytical “dialogue” from a fundamentally “culture-consumptive” mass event as every performance inevitably has to be. Supposing therefore, the Germans had actually developed in the first shock of the confrontation with the atrocities of the concentration camps in the year 1945 a horror about that, what was brought about in their name, then according to the psychoanalytical theory of the so called “unbewußte Schuldgefühl” (unconscious sense of guilt) what is not expected is a process of identification (e.g. with Lady Macbeth), but rather a shift of the repressed to deeper psychological levels. The exact description of this mechanism must be suspended at this point.
To the critical reception, here just one voice, which illustrates my point. It is quite obvious that a Shakespeare specialist had felt the performance in question to be extremely flattening, he writes, I quote it in German for reasons of authenticity:
Einem nicht uninteressanten, aber gefährlichen Irrtum ist allerdings hier mit grundsätzlicher Ablehnung zu widersprechen. Es ist der (bisher wohl erst einmalige) Versuch, Shakespeare mit Gegenwartsretouchen und Umdichtungen zu aktualisieren, wie es im Herbst 1945 bei der Wiedereröffnung der Münchner Kammerspiele in der Inszenierung des „Macbeth“ durch einen sonst so klaren und stilbewußten Regisseur wie Friedrich Domin geschah, zweifelsohne aus einem damals noch zu geringen Abstand zu dem Grauen der Zeit, dazu mit der Auffassung einer kätzchenhaft verniedlichten Lady, deren Hauptszenen sich auf einem Diwan abspielten. (Es war die ausgezeichnete Salondame Maria Nicklisch.) Shakespeares Größe beruht eben gerade auch darin, daß er seine ewige Aktualität (um dieses unschöne Wort zu gebrauchen) in sich trägt und darum nicht ihrer äußerlichen Bestätigung bedarf.
Veronika Schandl (Pázmány Péter Catholic University, Piliscsaba, Hungary; firstname.lastname@example.org):
“´I cannot a lover prove´: Richard III and the Subversion of Theatre in Hungary 1955” (abstract )
This paper wishes to investigate a 1955-Richard III production in Hungary, which due to its historical position has become something of a legend. Put on just before the 1956-revolution it has often re-interpreted as a revolutionary act, the best example of the early subversion of the theatre. However, the play was performed in the first theatre of the nation, strictly controlled by central cultural authorities, directed by one of the major figures of new Socialist propaganda theatre, Tamás Major. All these circumstances led me to ask questions about the nature of subversion and Shakespeare’s role in it, especially in the early Socialist years.
Questions this paper will raise many, answers I hope to find with the help of the discussion at the seminar.
P.A. Skantze (University of Glasgow; email@example.com):
“Uneasy Coalitions: Culpability, Orange Jumpsuits and Measure for Measure”
“Negotiating meaning with a specific national and/or European context” on stage in the 21st century requires that makers of theatre understand the nature of history narrated by way of images projected on screens private and public. If the history of warfare in, for example, the 15th century came either through the immediate experience of soldiering or the more distanced reception of news through letters and stories, today the ‘news’ that will become shared history comes in visual bits and orchestrated sections of nightly coverage with titles to indicate where to file the particular historical moment, “Operation Iraqi Freedom.” (CNN)
Throughout Shakespeare’s works small scenes of individual discontent with ruler or country appear alongside the large narratives of the Henrys and the Richards. When the governments of the UK and the USA along with Spain, Italy, and others formed a “coalition” to occupy Iraq and topple the regime of Saddam Hussein, they did so with a remarkably small percentage of support from the people, with the possible exception of the US, though the numbers were never clear. So the notion of being “American, British, Italian” when the war began sat uneasily with the governmental definition of those identities as in active support of the war. This is a kind of historical narrative in the making ripe for theatrical examination. The frustration felt by millions after they took the streets to protest and yet it clearly had no effect on the decisions about the war was palpable. “European” identity also took on a different visibility when seen as against the US and Britain. The very mention of “France” or being “French” stood for abstention from an ill-considered political move (a dubious but durable assumption like those made about anyone who identified him or herself as from the US and therefore assumed to be pro-war).
No wonder then that one of the most ubiquitous costumes in these past years has been the orange jumpsuits worn by prisoners illegally held at Guantanamo Bay: the ear mufflers, the jumpsuits, the shackles shown from a distance, a secret unearthed in photos. For my paper for the seminar, I want to examine Complicite’s Measure for Measure performed at the National Theatre in the summer of 2004. One of the most interesting features of this brilliant production is that it conjured up so many reflections on identity, community and authority in the immediate moment without using making the more obvious choice of a history play about war. Complicite employed overt signs of the times -- portraits of Blair, orange jumpsuits, corporate authority making for military decisions -- as well as their own style of physical theatre to constantly place the audience in the position of citizen community. The strange somewhat desperate state many Brits and Americans felt they shared, of being hijacked by corporate/government choice and being yoked into an unwilling coalition, became the backdrop for Vienna’s corruption and the Duke’s merciless manipulation. All this in a play ending in a plea for mercy made one wonder, what is the nature of mercy in our transnational/corporate world?
“Reading History Through Shakespeare: LuchinoVisconti´s The Damned”(abstract)
In 1967, Luchino Visconti commissioned to Suso Cecchi d’ Amico a scenario for a modern dress Macbeth set in post-war Italy (Macbeth ’67). That version of Shakespeare’s tragedy was never filmed, but some of its characters and some plot details were reused by the director for his La caduta degli dei (The Damned: 1969). Through the story of a fictitious family of steel magnates, the Essenbecks, the film explores those crucial years (1933-34) when stopping Hitler might have been possible. Asked why he chose to set his film in Nazi Germany rather than Fascist Italy, he answered “Because of the difference between tragedy and comedy.” And to him, tragedy was Shakespearean tragedy. This Italian aristocrat who was also a member of the Communist party, looked at German history through the works of a Renaissance English playwright.
The paper will analyze the influence of the prose outline for Macbeth ’67 on The Damned and the parallels between Shakespeare’s tragedy and the story of the Essenbecks. It will suggest Verdi’s Macbeth, which Visconti had directed, as yet another mediator between Shakespeare and 20th Century European history. It will also highlight the moments when the director draws inspiration from two other Shakespearean tragedies (Hamlet and Richard III) to portray the incestuous relationship between mother and son and the consequences of the protagonists’ destructive interaction on those who surround them. It will conclude that, rather than through direct transposition of individual scenes, Visconti pays homage to the English dramatist by filming the events from the point of view of his own understanding of Shakespeare’s exploration of the historical consequences of the power games played by rulers.
The conference gets financial support from:
ACUME, the European Thematic Network for Cultural Memory in European Countries
Institute of English Philology, Jagiellonian University, Kraków
Rector of the Jagiellonian University, Kraków
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