- Acting from Shakespeare's First Folio: Theory, Text and Performance
In the late 1990s, Patrick Tucker's Original Shakespeare Company (OSC) gave three experimental performances of unedited Shakespeare plays at the reconstructed Globe Theatre. These productions represented an attempt to replicate not only the performance conditions of Shakespeare's company but also its methods of preparation, a process now called original practices or First Folio techniques. Don Weingust is both a professional actor and a literary scholar, and his book draws heavily upon his experience observing Tucker's company prepare for King John (1998) and Cymbeline (1999) at the Globe. Noting that a prominent textual scholar once referred to a proponent of First Folio techniques as " 'the devil' " (ix), Weingust sets out "to play the devil's advocate" (44) by exploring the sources and development of the original-practices movement and defending its controversial principles. This partisan stance renders the book less than objective, but as an in-depth introduction to the theories and practical applications of First Folio techniques, the book provides valuable information and provocative suggestions to theatrical personnel, as well as to scholars interested in the performance of Shakespeare's plays on early modern and contemporary stages. [End Page 360]
Weingust divides his monograph into three chapters: the first explicates the nature and origins of First Folio techniques, the second considers them in the context of twentieth-century textual disputes, and the third illustrates their employment in Tucker's productions. According to Weingust, Austrian translator Richard Flatter lays the groundwork for the original-practices movement in his book Shakespeare's Producing Hand (1948). Flatter identifies several puzzling textual features of Shakespeare's First Folio, such as metrical gaps, irregular stresses, and uneven line divisions, which he ascribes to the "directorial sensibilities and intentions of the author" (Weingust, 9). Where modern editors tend to regularize such anomalies, Flatter sees them as significant cues embedded in the original scripts by Shakespeare in order to shape his actors' performances. To gain access to these authorial cues, Flatter's theatrical disciples work directly from First Folio texts. Of course, this attribution of textual inconsistencies to Shakespeare himself rests on unstable ground, given that they could have been introduced into the Folio by scribes, compositors, or printers. Weingust supplies the arguments of the New Bibliographers who attacked Flatter for his naïve belief in unmediated access to Shakespeare's intentions through printed texts, but Weingust also answers these objections by seconding "Flatter's broader definition of 'Shakespeare' " (13) as a corporate entity encompassing all of the "processes and technologies that went into the creation of the promptbook" (13). Even if textual features cannot be traced back to Shakespeare the playwright, Weingust argues that they are, by virtue of their creation by individuals linked to the Renaissance playhouse, closer to Shakespeare's intentions than the misguided interventions of modern editors, who strive to render the plays as literary, rather than theatrical, documents.
Weingust's second chapter places First Folio techniques within the context of recent editorial debates surrounding textual instability. With the death of the New Bibliography (and its goal of establishing a single, definitive Shakespeare text) came an emphasis on the multiplicity of texts in their original printed forms. Such early texts may appear to lack the unwritten para-text of stage directions provided by modern editions, but advocates of original practices contend that these cues are still present in the Folio texts: we have simply neglected the strategies for recognizing them. Modern editors, Weingust claims, exacerbate this problem by obliterating the textual irregularities that constitute such cues and by replacing them with their own conjectural stage directions, paradoxically leading readers away from authentic theatrical practices. In his call for renewed attention to the incidental features of Folio texts, Weingust makes compelling arguments, but his criticism of the New Bibliography's treatment of such features is occasionally overstated: "Its theoretical findings with regard to many textual incidentals are just those: theories. Many of these are quite thorough and...