Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 2, No. 174. Saturday, 22 Jun 1991.
Date: Thu, 20 Jun 1991 11:10:05 -0400
Subject: Writings on Shakespeare in Performance
I think Granville-Barker's prefaces contain some of our century's
best writing on Shakespeare in performance. Every few years, I reread
them and learn new things from them. Particularly incisive and
illuminating are the prefaces to *King Lear*, *Othello*, *The Merchant
of Venice*, *Cymbeline*, and *Love's Labour's Lost*. Nearly seventy
years ago, Granville-Barker was saying good things about performers' and
producers' needs to disentangle the various Quarto and Folio texts. His
advice to producers of *King Lear*--base your production on the Folio,
but incorporate a few things from the Quarto--is still quite sound. (He
would add Q's mock trial and cut F's prophecy about Merlin.)
Further insights into Shakespeare in performance can be gleaned
from Peter Hall's Diaries, published a few years ago, from both of
Olivier's Books (*Confessions of an Actor* and *On Acting*) and John
Barton's *Playing Shakespeare*. Olivier has a fine description of his
preparation for the "Once more into the breach" speech. Roberta Krensky
Cooper's history of the American Shakespeare Theatre at Stratford,
Connecticut is full of anecdotes about performance, and contains useful
extended interviews with Michael Kahn and Morris Carnovsky, among
others. Her book allows the reader to compare and contrast several
performers' radically different approaches to the same role. Comparing
Alfred Drake's light, charming Iago with Christopher Plummer's monster
of sublime egoism is particularly interesting.
Finally, there is Robert Cohen's textbook *Acting Shakespeare*.
Though he is writing for acting students, he gives a lucid exposition of
the performer's complex intellectual and emotional preparation.
Non-performers might find his book useful, just as performers find use
in reading a book of criticism or scholarship now and again. I would be
curious to hear about non-performers' reactions to Cohen's book.
University of New Hampshire