- Replicating Richard: Body Doubles, Body Politics
At the close of an essay on reading Shakespeare’s bodies, Keir Elam writes: “A revised—which is to say historicized and materialized—post-semiotics of Shakespearean drama might offer an analogous space where social history, dramatic history and stage history interrogate each other. But in order to be both fully historicized and full materialized, such an enterprise can only set out from the one historical and material dramatic body we have, the actor’s.” 1 Although Elam’s gesture toward the actor takes an important step beyond recent work that turns material theatre practice into theatricality and material performance into performativity, even saying “the body of the actor” risks re-entering the terrain of the immaterial: as Adrienne Rich puts it, “when I write ‘the body,’ I see nothing in particular.” Instead, she argues for writing in terms of this body, one that bears a particular politics of location. 2 Rich’s reminder invites refining the questions at stake in Elam’s proposed project. How does “this actor’s body” become the bearer of texts, of social as well as theatrical histories? How does it become susceptible to meanings? How does “character” get resited in relation to the body of a specific actor, inviting spectators to engage in a negotiation between actor and character? 3 And how does that double body function as a locus for a spectator’s imaginative desire to reperform the role? I want to pursue these questions by talking about the “thisness” of two actors’ bodies—those of Al Pacino, an American film actor whose star image pulls in ascribed meanings from his previous mainstream [End Page 207] roles, and Sir Ian McKellen, best known for his stage performances in Shakespearean roles—in their recent performances of Richard III. 4
Because both are post-theatrical performances, the most obvious sense of replication to which my title alludes is that of repetition or re-production. Yet, although features of each screen performance do fold back into each actor’s stage enactment of the role, neither is a precise copy but evokes instead a sense of replication as the return of a sound (a reverberation, an echo), as a reply to their own previous performances. 5 That idea aligns with Richard Schechner’s definition of performance as “restored behavior” or “twice-behaved behavior”—by which he suggests that performance is always subject to revision and reinvention, never happening in exactly the same way twice—and, I might add, never seen or observed in exactly the same way twice. 6 Schechner’s sense of a doubling practice also intersects productively with Joseph Roach’s account of surrogation as a performative process. 7 Rephrasing Roach’s notion as “an uncanny act of replacement-acting, a deeply ambivalent replacing of previous performers and performances by a current behavior,” 8 W. B. Worthen suggests how surrogation points to its own doubling and redoubling, how it might be thought of as a collaborative body project, one that brings together Shakespeare’s body (as his text) with those of the actor, the character, and the spectator. And it is that confrontation among bodies with which I wish to begin.
In his diary for 13 March 1602, John Manningham tells of how a spectator, enamored with Burbage’s performance as Richard III, “appointed him to come to her that night by the name of Richard III.” Overhearing their conversation, Shakespeare went before and “was entertained and at his game”; when a messenger announced that Richard III was at the door, Shakespeare “caused return to be made that William the Conqueror was before Richard III.” 9 Manningham’s anecdote, in which Shakespeare’s body precedes that of Burbage, replacing one (appointed) performance with his own, offers an aptly material (and historical) embodiment of Shakespeare’s preeminent authority over the actor that echoes in two early sequences of Looking for Richard. Moving along a darkened corridor, Pacino pauses before a red curtain (“This is my entrance”), adjusts his silhouetted body to a hump-backed slouch, and walks through the curtain’s opening to reappear on a small stage where his scruffy, black-clad figure...