Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 1, No. 10. Wednesday, 1 Aug 1990.
Date: Wed, 1 Aug 90 16:04 EDT
Subject: "Modern" Interpretations
Performance constitutes interpretation. We may learn from any
performance, but to characterize a production as modern, traditional,
historical, or whatever raises theoretical questions. The issue
obviously has nothing to do with being definitive or not; the issue
involves the nature of performance itself.
During Shakespeare's time, we know from the pen-and-ink sketch of a
moment in *Titus Andronicus* that costuming was flexible: in this
case, suggesting both Roman and contemporary Elizabethan dress at the
same time. Similarly, many "modern" production use costuming that
belongs to no identifiable period.
As we know, much contemporary criticism questions the notion of a
stable text. Stephen Orgel even argues in "Authentic Shakespeare"
that the closest we can come to authentic Shakespeare is the
performance history of a text:
The point is that the acting text of a play always was
different from the written text -- this means not
simply that it was different from the *script*, what
the author wrote. It also means that this was the
situation obtaining in Shakespeare's own company, of
which he was a part owner and director -- it was a
situation he understood, expected, and helped to
perpetuate. And it implies as well that Shakespeare
habitually began with more than he needed, that his
scripts offered the company a range of possibilities,
and that the process of production was a collaborative
one of selection as well as of realization and
The point is that production involves appropriation. Every
performance is "something completely different." Willard may be
correct to assert that "Perhaps the only criterion is whether or
not the thing works." For example, two of my most stunning
theatrical experiences were seeing the Brook *MND* in 1971 and
the Suzuki *Lear* in 1988.
Let me give the last word to Stephen Orgel in the hopes of
continuing this discussion:
The assumption is that texts are representations or
embodiments of something else, and that it is that
something else which the performer or editor undertakes
to reveal. What we want is not the authentic play,
with its unstable, infinitely revisable script, but an
authentic Shakespeare, to whom every generation's
version of a classic drama may be ascribed.
Hardy M. Cook
Bowie State University