Vickers' Review of New Oxford and Norton3 Shakespeares

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 28.166  Monday, 24 April 2017


From:        Gabriel Egan <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         April 21, 2017 at 12:20:30 PM EDT

Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: From TLS (Vickers)




That Brian Vickers has bad things to say about the New Oxford Shakespeare is no surprise. He didn’t like the 1986-7 Oxford Complete Works of Shakespeare either, although it was done along entirely different lines from the New Oxford Shakespeare and the two projects should not be conflated the way Vickers’s conflates them in his review.


SHAKSPERians with long memories may have noticed that Vickers tends to vehemently disagree with an idea right up until the moment he accepts it, at which point he flips into not only endorsing the idea but also pretending that he had endorsed it all along and that it was other people, not himself, who just could not see that it was correct.  He even gets exasperated by the blindness of those who just cannot see the truths that he himself not so long before had rejected.


Reviewing the 1986-87 Oxford Shakespeare’s Textual Companion, Vickers was scathing about its claims that Shakespeare co-authored a substantial body of his writing. He found that this claim relied on the work of “a very miscellaneous group of scholars who tried, over the last century, to quantify Shakespeare’s style” (Review of English Studies 40 (1989):

402-11, p. 410).


Which miscellaneous scholars exactly? Vickers was happy to name them and they included “E. K. Chambers . . . Karl Wentersdorf . . . [and] Ants Oras” (p. 410). At this point in his career, Vickers was deeply sceptical of co-authorship, which he found “so often bruited in the past and so often discredited for inadequate evidence” (p. 405).


Fast-forward 13 years, and Vickers signals his change of mind by publishing Shakespeare, Co-Author (Oxford University Press, 2002). But he doesn’t acknowledge that he has changed his mind. Instead, he laments “the ingrained resistance that still exists whenever the question of Shakespeare’s co-authorship arises” (Shakespeare, Co-Author, 43-4).


And what of that “very miscellaneous group of scholars who tried, over the last century, to quantify Shakespeare’s style”? Vickers now approves of them. E. K. Chambers is approvingly cited many times (on 21 pages, says Vickers’s index) and he provided “the most reliable data” (p. 127) for verse tests. Karl Wentersdorf is now credited with “providing convincing documentation” (p. 42) of Shakespeare’s collaborative writing and “recent research by [A. C.] Partridge, [David J.] Lake, and [MacDonald P.] Jackson has confirmed” (p. 132) what Wentersdorf found. Verse tests went out of fashion for a while, but “their validity was confirmed by the introduction of far more rigorous metrical procedures by Ants Oras” (p. viii), whose “work has many important implications for Shakespeare studies” (p. 54) and was based on “meticulous computation” (p. 55).


Same scholars, different Vickers review. I won’t be surprised if the new authorship attribution claims in the New Oxford Shakespeare one day get endorsed by Vickers and he complains about the “ingrained resistance” of those who resisted them.


Gabriel Egan

General Editor, The New Oxford Shakespeare




Crimes at Midnight

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 28.165  Monday, 24 April 2017


From:        Charles Weinstein <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         April 21, 2017 at 11:43:15 AM EDT

Subject:    Crimes at Midnight


“In 1980,...Chimes at Midnight...was considered a failure.”


Indeed it was, and for good reason.  When I first saw the film in the 1970s, I thought that it contained (a) a powerful battle sequence, (b) an impressive performance by Gielgud, and (c) nothing else of value.  Subsequent re-viewings have not altered my opinion.


--Charles Weinstein 




Rice’s Parting Words

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 28.164  Monday, 24 April 2017


From:        Hardy M. Cook <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         Monday, April 24, 2017

Subject:    Rice’s Parting Words


Emma Rice, Shakespeare’s Globe Director, Offers Some Parting Shots

By Christopher D. Shea

April 21, 2017


LONDON — Emma Rice, whose short stint as the artistic director of Shakespeare’s Globe ended with a spat with the board and a sudden departure from the role, wrote a spirited letter to her successor that was posted to the theater’s website this week.


In the letter, addressed to the as-yet-unnamed “future artistic director” of the theater, Ms. Rice described the position as the “most precious of jobs,” and suggested that her decision to leave resulted from disagreements with the theater’s board. “As important and beloved as the Globe is to me, the Board did not love and respect me back,” she wrote, adding: “They began to talk of a new set of rules that I did not sign up to and could not stand by. Nothing is worth giving away my artistic freedom for — it has been too hard fought for.”


Ms. Rice, who came to the Globe from the immersive theater company Kneehigh, swan-dived into her role in the spring of 2016, programming several tweaked updates of Shakespeare’s plays, including “Imogen,” a version of “Cymbeline” that reimagined the work as a female-driven play; and a production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” starring the cabaret star Meow Meow. Before she took the job at the Globe, Ms. Rice had drawn headlines for comments including an oft-circulated statement that she became “very sleepy” when trying to read Shakespeare’s plays.


[ . . . ]


Ms. Rice will stay in her role until April 2018. Applications for the position of artistic director are being accepted until 5 p.m. on Monday, April 24, according to the theater’s website.




Riffs on Shakespeare

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 28.163  Monday, 24 April 2017


From:        Hardy M. Cook <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         Monday, April 24, 2017

Subject:    Riffs on Shakespeare


Theater to Commission 38 Modern Riffs on Shakespeare

By Jennifer Schuessler

April 21, 2017


The yearlong celebration of Shakespeare’s 400th death-i-versary ends on Saturday. But before the clock strikes midnight, the American Shakespeare Center, a theater company in Staunton, Va., is announcing a future-oriented tribute: a 20-year contest to create 38 modern companion pieces to his plays.


The project, called “Shakespeare’s New Contemporaries,” invites writers to submit plays inspired by each of Shakespeare’s, on a schedule coordinated with the theater’s season. Two winners will be chosen each year, and will be performed in repertory along with the Shakespeare play that inspired them, starting in 2019. (Each winning playwright will receive $25,000.) The final year will consist of a retrospective of the best work from the project.


Jim Warren, the artistic director of the American Shakespeare Center, said in a news release that the company wasn’t looking for straight retellings but, rather, wider-ranging riffs that might include sequels or prequels; plays focused on minor characters or on the first productions of one of Shakespeare’s dramas; or plays that feature modern characters interacting with those from Shakespeare.


The goal, Mr. Warren added, was to create plays “that not only will appeal to other Shakespeare theaters, but to all types of theaters and audiences around the world.”


The project is only the latest to recast the entire Shakespeare canon in a modern idiom. The Hogarth Shakespeare, begun in 2015, has commissioned novelists including Margaret Atwood, Gillian Flynn and Jo Nesbo to write prose retellings of each play. And Play On!, a project of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, has commissioned 36 playwrights to create what it is calling line-by-line modern English translations of the plays.




HAMLET Around the World

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 28.162  Monday, 24 April 2017


From:        Hardy M. Cook <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         Monday, April 24, 2017

Subject:    HAMLET Around the World


Their Hours Upon the Stage: Performing ‘Hamlet’ Around the World

By Stephen Greenblatt

April 21, 2017



Two Years, 190,000 Miles, 197 Countries, One Play 

By Dominic Dromgoole 

Illustrated. 390 pp. Grove Press. $27.


It began, we are told, as a whim lubricated by strong drink. In 2012 the management of Shakespeare’s Globe — the splendid replica of the Elizabethan open-air playhouse, built on the bankside of the Thames in London — was considering possible eye-catching new initiatives. In the midst of the merry collective buzz, the theater’s artistic director, Dominic Dromgoole, impulsively said, “Let’s take ‘Hamlet’ to every country in the world.” No doubt even crazier cultural ideas have been proposed, but this one is crazy enough to rank near the top of anyone’s list. Yet it came to pass. An intrepid company of 12 actors and four stage managers, backed up by a London-based staff that undertook the formidable task of organizing the venues, obtaining the visas and booking the frenetic travel, set out in April 2014, the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth. They did not quite succeed in bringing the tragedy to every country — North Korea, Syria and a small handful of others eluded them — but they came pretty close. One hundred ninety countries and a series of refugee camps later, the tour reached its end in April 2016, the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death.

While helping to run the busy theater in London, Dromgoole managed to venture off and see for himself some 20 iterations of the production he had co-directed and launched. “Hamlet Globe to Globe” is a compulsively readable, intensely personal chronicle of performances in places as various as Djibouti and Gdansk, Taipei and Bogotá. The book is in large part a tribute to the perils and pleasures of touring. The Globe troupe had to possess incredible stamina. Keeping up an exhausting pace for months on end — Lesotho on the 1st of April, Swaziland on the 3rd, Mozambique on the 5th, Malawi on the 8th, Zimbabwe on the 10th, Zambia on the 12th, and on and on — they would fly in, hastily assemble their set, unpack their props and costumes, shake hands with officials, give interviews to the local press, and mount the stage for two and a half hours of ghostly haunting, brooding soliloquies, madcap humor, impulsive stabbing, feigned and real madness, graveside grappling, swordplay and the final orgy of murder. Then after a quick job of disassembling and packing, they were off to the next country. When one or two of the company became ill, as occasionally happened, the group had rapidly to reassign the roles; when almost all of them succumbed at the same moment, as befell them after an imprudent dinner in Mexico City, they had to make do with improvised narration and zanily curtailed scenes.


Dromgoole explains that he set the troupe up in the full expectation that not everyone would last the full two years. Hence his insistence that all the actors learn multiple parts so that they could switch around at a moment’s notice. As it happened, the same 16 people miraculously made it through the whole tour. Perhaps changing roles from time to time helped them build the collective sense of trust that sustained them. Perhaps too, as Dromgoole suggests, they drew upon “the gentle support of each line of verse,” so that even in the most trying of circumstances Shakespeare’s iambic pentameters “kept them upright and somehow kept them moving forward, into the story and towards the audience.”


[ . . . ]


Dromgoole heightened this adaptability by refusing to give the production any strong interpretive twist. “The best way to avoid a misconception,” he observes, “is to have no conception at all.” As a reviewer in São Paulo wrote admiringly, “The text was acted in plain mode — no verbal excesses or unnecessary shouting, just a harmonious recitation of words combined with essential corporal movement.” If there was a special emphasis at all, it was on the prince’s lightness and wit. Hamlet was less the melancholy Dane than the jester in a corrupt world bent on outlawing laughter. “Our show didn’t dazzle or explode,” Dromgoole concedes, “but it worked.”


Looking back on the initial motivations for his wildly ambitious project, Dromgoole ruefully notes two delusions: first, that “Hamlet” charted a journey toward peace, leading the troubled prince to a serene recognition that “readiness is all”; second, that it would have a comparably beneficial effect upon its audiences, leading them in some small way toward a resolution of their social and political problems. In reality, over the course of the two years, global problems only seemed to get worse, and the story of the prince, as the company performed it, seemed to tell not of spiritual enlightenment but rather of a bright young light that flamed for a moment only to fade and die.


[ . . . ]




Subscribe to Our Feeds


Make a Gift to SHAKSPER

Consider making a gift to support SHAKSPER.