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Home :: Archive :: 1993 :: October ::
"Versions" of *Coriolanus*
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 4, No. 675. Wednesday, 27 October 1993.
 
From:           Jason Hoblit <
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Date:           Tuesday, 26 Oct 1993 13:18:07 -0700 (PDT)
Subject:        'Versions' of _Coriolanus_
 
Forgive me as a new member for dragging out what may be an old conversation.
Also forgive me for not paying sufficient attention to who espoused which view
(three months of discussion is a lot to wade through).
 
It seems to me that there is more to the discussion of 'variants' of
_Coriolanus_ being banned in the American Zone after World War II.  This
discussion brought to my mind the more general issue of assessing 'variants' or
'adaptations' of 'Shakespeare's' plays (after all, the divergence of 'bad'
quartos, _A Shrew_ and _The Shrew_, the multiple versions of _Lear_ make it
almost impossible to claim that any of the printed texts are in some way a
definitive 'Shakespeare' performance text).  When is a play 'Shakespeare's' and
when is it, say 'Irving's' or 'Kemble's' play?
 
Kemble's 'adaptation' of _Cor_  is almost completely from Shakespeare,
Sheridan, and Thomson - he does not write in new scenes. However, his
productions of the play seem to be highly motivated 'revisions' that completely
change the emphasis and interpretation of the play.  Exclusion seems to work
just as strongly as creativity in altering the possible 'meanings' of the play.
 To call the play Kemble's would seem to be disingenuous because he merely
edited and excluded, but to call his revision Shakespeare's _Cor_ seems equally
unsatisfactory.  Why not call Shakespeare's plays adaptations of Holinshed,
Hall, or Plutarch?
 
In Stephen Orgel's 'What is a Text?' (Research Opportunities in Renaissance
Drama 26 (1981): 3-6, reprinted in Staging the Renaissance, ed. David Scott
Kastan and Peter Stallybrass, (Routledge, 1991): 83-7) the issue is raised that
it is difficult to ascribe even 'original' Renaissance authorship.  Given the
separation of the printshop and the playhouse, the mid-production revisions
that occur today (and presumable in the Renaissance), and the possibility of
dynamic involvement by the actors and the entire theatre company, it is
difficult to make a claim that any 'version' of 'Shakespeare's' plays is
definitive.
 
The point of all this is that it seems to me to be absurd to say that there is
a difference in banning a 'version' of _Coriolanus_, and banning some
authoritative _Coriolanus_ as such.  To say that some performances and
interpretations would be acceptable does not mean that the ban is any less
significant.  It merely shows what exactly motivated the ban.  Any production
was unlikely to be a 'full-text' production anyway.  In 1988 I directed a
'full-text' production of _Cor_ which lasted nearly three-hours with the actors
speaking way too fast.  As soon as cuts are made (even for practical reasons)
the interpretation of the play is changed and it is necessarily an
interpretation favoring the remaining material at the expense of the cut or
'irrelevant' material.
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  | Jason  Hoblit            University of Washington - Seattle |
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