The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.0921  Wednesday, 3 April 2002

From:           Martin Steward <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Tuesday, 2 Apr 2002 16:58:43 +0100
Subject:        Bradbrook on Appropriating Shakespeare

"It is by now a commonplace to observe that the modern theatre
approximates more closely to the Elizabethan and Jacobean than any in
the intervening years; not only the return of the thrust stage, circular
auditorium and multiple entry, but the audience participation derives
from the interaction of scholars and theatre men, beginning with Poel
and Craig. Some modern theatres built for Shakespearean productions can
offer special opportunities to modern plays (as Shaw's St Joan, at
Stratford, Ontario).

Reinterpreted in terms of other societies, Shakespeare has been played
in London in such varied styles as the magnificent Zulu Umabatha or the
Marowitz versions of Hamlet and An Othello.

The loss of a single stage-tradition of Shakespearean playing, such as
older actors relied on, may lead to what can appear permissive freedom.
Modern appeals to the cult of cruelty and violence can darken even King
Lear, and the director's theatre its most irresponsible can suffer from
the conditions denounced by Robert Brustein in The Third Theatre:

The democratization of art. ..is the inevitable consequence of a culture
where everyone is encouraged to do his own thing, and excellence gives
way before pemissiveness. But whilst all this self expression is
undoubtedly exhilarating to those who practice it, it could spell the
end of history, literature and tradition whilst banishing craft and
inspiration from the arts. For the arts, including the theatre, are the
culmination not of self-indulgence and accident, but of discipline and
imagination. What may be coming now is a theatre of liberated, arrogant
amateurs - a theatre where there will be no more spectators, only
performers, each tied up in his own tight bag.

Yet the director is by now very fully in touch with the history of the
age, and the freedom of interpretation aims at interpretation in the
light of such knowledge. At its best, it brings out a deeply creative
unity of form; knowledge of the past united with work that 'sank to the
depth of feeling was saturated, transformed there -"these are pearls
that were his eyes" and brought up to daylight again', so that 'it gives
the impression of having suffered a long incubation, though we do not
know till the shell breaks what kind of egg we have been sitting on'.
[Eliot, The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism, pp.146, 144]

The director's dream has to become united with the public response,
until through new intuitions a new objectivity is created - when the
composite work, in performance, evolves its own laws and corrects its
own mistakes.  Some modern productions have succeeded as no
archaeologically 'correct' play could do, because they respond to the
open form which is inherent in the Jacobean drama itsel 

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