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Introduction

From: Shakespeare Bulletin
Volume 29, Number 3, Fall 2011
pp. 273-277 | 10.1353/shb.2011.0042

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Most of the papers published in this issue are the consequence of a "happy wreck," if we are to pun on the name of the performance seminar which met in Weimar in April 2011. It was part of the ESRA (European Shakespeare Research Association) biannual conference, perfectly hosted by the German Shakespeare Gesellschaft along with its regular annual meeting. Joining the two events under the title "Shakespeare's Shipwrecks: Theatre of Maritime Adventure" offered a remarkable forum for scholars working in all fields of European Shakespeare to celebrate the 400th anniversary of The Tempest.

The focus of the seminar was on post-1989 stage, film and TV productions of The Tempest, thus considering the play's storm within specific historical, geographical, cultural and linguistic contexts. It invited participants to reflect on how performance engaged with Shakespeare's scripted tempests and wrecks, on how they were created on stage, on the impact they had on their theatrical worlds and the characters caught in them, on how they problematized gender, genre, nation, and media identities. We were interested in the way they grappled with or shunned politics, and how they configured and reconfigured their historical and performative contexts.

By the end of the discussion, a few interesting trends in the production history of The Tempest over the last twenty years had emerged. First, there was a notable difference between east and west, in that east-European productions were more abstract in their approach to positioning the events in the play and concerned with the aesthetics of performance. It also transpired that while theatrical performance often reached for cinematic techniques in recreating the storm and the island, film adaptations had been applying theatrical and early-film techniques.

The majority of papers in this volume come from three countries of what used to be the political entity of "Eastern Europe," Bulgaria, Poland and Romania. In an attempt to re-contextualize this assignation, we refer here to "eastern Europe" (lower case e), since the texts grapple with performances created after the fall of communism. At the same time, we are strongly aware that, in the geography of the old continent, "east" does not accurately represent the location of these countries, as a paper discussing an Anglo-Russian performance testifies. The remaining articles discuss filmic and televisual appropriations of The Tempest.

An important discovery made in the course of the seminar was that though the play had had a long history of translation across eastern Europe, it had been a rare presence on the stages there, a situation dramatically reversed after 1989 as witnessed by the boom of productions demarcating the swing between hope and disillusionment as the historical processes of those years took their toll. Hence the title of this volume: "'Un/Happy Wrecks:' Post-1989 Tempests," which tries to embrace the complex—and contradictory—nature of that period.

Why did political change make Shakespeare's late play emerge so suddenly from the folds of history? What work was it asked to do in the new circumstances and contexts? The essays included here suggest a few tentative answers. There are some obvious relevancies on the level of narrative: old grudges, power struggles, betrayal, an all-controlling—yet ousted—ruler, the re/discovery of Self and Other, and, importantly, an incomplete and problematic reconciliation. Another reason might be that, due to its marginality, The Tempest was not burdened by layers of compromised critical phraseology. It offered a clean slate on which young directors (and old) could write new histories without having to clear away encrusted traditions. Such texts appealed to the theatrical thinking during the turbulent early years of change with their insistence on liberated individualistic creativity. In a statement representative of this spirit, the Bulgarian director Stefan Moskov declared that he did "not serve literature as a corporal taking orders from a major," but responded to the way a text captured his own imagination, which could take him "in a direction exactly opposite to that of the text," or provoke him to add, cut, or amend (Shurbanov & Sokolova 263). In varying degrees, the productions presented here embrace this idea. To give them a blanket description, they are examples of theatrical de-textualisation: they...



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