The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 26.531 Monday, 9 November 2015
Date: Monday, November 9, 2015
Subject: SBReview_22: Intermedial Shakespeares on European Stages
Aneta Mancewicz. Intermedial Shakespeares on European Stages. London: Plagrave Macmillan, 2014. Hardcover: ISBN-13: 978-1137-360038; 202 pp. US$90.00.
Reviewed by Jake P. Claflin, PhD. Candidate, Idaho State University
The term “Intermediality” has seen an increased use among literary scholars in the last decade thanks to the digital turn as scholars develop new concepts to articulate how digital technology is affecting both the reading and the creation of literature. Coming from media studies, scholars who explore “intermediality” seek to examine texts that fall between the borders of accepted media forms, such as a live play using recorded video elements, or a comic that incorporates CG animation through a smartphone app. Like many newer terms, such as “multimodality,” “intermediality” is contested. Scholars have varied ideas about what constitutes an intermedial text, the differences between an intermedial text and a multimedia one, and even what the concept itself seeks to study. Still, in general, the concept of “intermediality,” however narrowly or broadly used, is valuable for scholars looking to understand texts in the digital age.
In her book Intermedial Shakespeares on European Stages, Aneta Mancewicz clearly defines how she is using the term intermediality: “Intermediality is defined in this book as inter-exchanges of media in performance, activated through digital technology, which involve interactions between mediatised (digital) and live elements, in a reflexive manner” (3). Mancewicz applies this idea to a number of European stage productions of Shakespeare plays, mainly on the Continent, arguing that these productions indicate how continental Europe produces Shakespeare’s plays. The goal of this book is to explore how, for Mancewicz, these productions employ intermediality to create new approaches to Shakespeare’s texts. While Mancewicz seeks to develop a new approach, and this approach is often intriguing and the terms useful, ultimately the most compelling aspect of the book is the way it documents important 21st century productions of Shakespeare, and identifies fascinating trends in Continental productions of Shakespeare.
To develop her approach, Mancewicz develops three new terms: “intermedial texture,” “intermedial stratigraphy,” and “intermedial mirror.” Over three chapters, she explores each term, examining a number of productions to show how these incorporate the ideas present in the terms. A subsequent chapter examines old and new media, basically how productions not only use digital media but also use other more classical media like sculpture and paintings. A final chapter looks at non-digital intermedial productions that still reference digital media.
In each chapter, Mancewicz examines at least two plays that make similar use of the intermedial concept she explores in the chapter. This allows a reader to see how each concept manifests in different productions, making it easier to understand the reach of her ideas. As a student of multimodality, a theory that examines how we communicate using more than language, I appreciated Mancewicz’s descriptions. She often breaks down the description of the productions into sections, such as “interweaving text,” “interweaving soundtrack,” and “interweaving video” for her description of Hamlice directed by Armondo Punzo. This allows a scholar to get an idea of how the different modes are working together to create the overall production Mancewicz is exploring.
This book seems geared towards those in media studies, as well as toward Shakespeare scholars. Mancewicz’s prose is lucid and usually easy to follow, but her use of media studies terminology could leave those outside of the discipline a bit befuddled. She also assumes that the readers are aware of Shakespeare’s plays. Aside from the specialized terms and familiarity with Shakespeare, readers from other disciplines, like adaptation studies or multimodality, and graduate students, can follow along pretty well.
One valuable aspect of the book is how Mancewicz handles the descriptions and analyses of the different productions. Like many of my North American colleagues, I am not familiar with how Shakespeare is handled in Continental Europe. It would seem that one of Mancewicz’s goals in writing this book is to change that, to bring more awareness of Continental Shakespeare to the American and British Shakespeare community. These productions are often radical departures from the more accepted Anglophone adaptations. They rarely use Shakespeare’s original text, and the translations are often modern. In some characters are cut, relationships rearranged, and themes explored in ways that Angolophone Shakespeare often does not. Mancewicz aims to validate these adaptations as worthy of study by suggesting they are not adaptations, but simply productions of Shakespeare, no different than a typical RCS stage production. Mancewicz is reacting to the fact that the term “adaptation” carries a stigma in American and British Shakespeare circles; however, thanks to adaptation studies this is changing and adaptations of Shakespeare are no longer considered to be “inferior” by many scholars.
Though these Continental productions are often commenting on events and ideas outside of Shakespeare’s texts, Mancewicz takes the time to describe how each director is using Shakespeare’s ideas, save for the section on Hamlet gliwicki (sic.). Mancewicz does an excellent job of describing how Hamlet gliwicki employs intermedial elements, such as live and recorded video projected on the stage. Unlike her description of the other productions in the book, for Hamlet gliwicki she does not mention much of how the play is related to Hamlet, except for some references to the mother-son relationship in Hamlet and between Lachmann and his mother. This leaves a reader wondering just how this production uses content from Hamlet.
Though the concept of “intermediality” may only be of interest to a small number of scholars working in intermediality or related theories, the fact that Mancewicz focuses on Continental European productions of Shakespeare that are radical departures from the text helps to bolster the idea that there is no “correct” was to produce a Shakespeare play. The book offers a valuable record of productions that many North American scholars would have missed completely. Indeed, for this reader, while the theoretical terms were helpful in identifying certain ways that varied media can work together, ultimately the examples Mancewicz uses were the best part, which allow a reader to get a good sense of just what is going on in 21st century European Shakespeare.