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Shakespeare, Language and the Stage, The Fifth Wall: Approaches to Shakespeare from Criticism, Performance and Theatre Studies (review)

From: Shakespeare Quarterly
Volume 57, Number 2, Summer 2006
pp. 235-237 | 10.1353/shq.2006.0060

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Reviewed by
Shakespeare, Language and the Stage, The Fifth Wall: Approaches to Shakespeare from Criticism, Performance and Theatre Studies. Edited by Lynette Hunter and Peter Lichtenfels. The Arden Shakespeare. London: Thomson Learning, 2005. Pp. xviii + 190. $49.99 cloth.

In addition to those in the theater trying to break down the "fourth wall" between the audience and the stage, there have been others trying to breach the "fifth wall" of distrust, misunderstanding, and mutual patronizing that has too often characterized the relationship between theatrical and scholarly practitioners. Lynette Hunter and Peter Lichtenfels's Shakespeare, Language and the Stage, the latest volume in the Arden Shakespeare's Shakespeare and Language series, records the efforts of a group of academics and theater practitioners, if not to break down that fifth wall, to at least "peer through [a] chink" in it (9). The Fifth Wall workshops held at Shakespeare's Globe in 2004 involved some of the usual suspects: academics who work on performed Shakespeare and directors who work at Shakespeare's Globe, the Royal Shakespeare Company, and the National Theatre. Interestingly, however, the sessions also included academics not known for their work on performance, others not known as Shakespeareans, and directors who work outside the major English-language Shakespeare companies.

Each workshop session involved one theater practitioner, one critic, and one performance theorist who served as both respondent and recorder of the session for this volume. The chapters vary considerably in usefulness and coherence. Some may have been fascinating as sessions but have dwindled in print, either hijacked by their respondents' own enthusiasms or diminished through the loss of embodied demonstrations and exchanges. Others seem to have been lifted out of banality by acute respondents. The best manage to capture intelligent and respectful debate through the lens of an engaged participant observer, most often a woman scholar content to set aside her own scholarly investments sufficiently to represent the various positions taken with a degree of equanimity.

The first four chapters evince considerable difficulty talking across the gap between scholars and performers, where even simple terms such as "voice" and "gesture" fail to translate without substantial slippage. In the first, language critic Lynne Magnusson challenges director Lichtenfels's account of helping young actors to find acting clues in the verse: "Is it true that consonants relate to action and vowels register emotional temperature?" (26). In chapter 2, Emma Smith productively challenges the framing question, "'What exactly is the relationship between the practitioner and the literary critic?'" (38), by pointing out that reading itself is a practice. Chapter 3 is somewhat more productive, as critic Margo Hendricks's focus on the text itself and "skin colour" as "a gesture" (73) might seem to work against any rapprochement with actors and directors for whom gesture is considerably less theoretical. But she articulates a situated version of how textual gestures form relations between the actors on the stage, the language [End Page 235] they are speaking, and the audience that harmonizes with director Annabel Arden's account of the gestural production of meaning as a relational act taking place in the moment of production. The fourth chapter, on visual imagery in film and stage productions, is perhaps the least productive, devolving into descriptions of films or productions the participants had seen (or directed) and introducing, through the diversion to film, a different set of material practices and discursive slippages.

Chapters 5 and 6, the best in the book, move the discussion away from the early questions of textual or embodied authenticities into the realm of productive resistances to received meanings. "Resistant Readings, Multilingualism and Marginality," written by Maria M. Delgado with panelists Calixto Bieito and Patricia Parker, focuses on translation, broadly understood, and "seeks to interrogate some questions around directing, translating and the excavation of language for alterior/ulterior meanings" (108–9). The chapter shifts away from an understanding of theatrical or critical production as the interpretation or realization of the text toward a practice of productive dialogue with that text, undertaken through various types of defamiliarization, recontextualization, and "dismemberment" (129). Like Parker, Bieito, artistic director of Barcelona's Teatre Romea, attempts to work with "'elements that have been slighted or marginalized...