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New Directions in Renaissance Drama and Performance Studies ed. by Sarah Werner (review)

From: Theatre History Studies
Volume 32, 2012
pp. 191-194 | 10.1353/ths.2012.0011

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In the introduction to New Directions in Renaissance Drama and Performance Studies, Sarah Werner establishes the focus of the volume: to give legitimacy to the study of performance of Renaissance drama. This book represents a third shift in Renaissance drama scholarship: a move beyond the first generation's naive assumption that performance practices and responses remain stable and consistent regardless of time, location, or culture and a rejection of the second generation's assumption that performances reveal modern theatre practice but reveal little about the text. The essays included explore a multiplicity of new approaches to studying Renaissance drama and performance, giving space to explore what has been omitted from the field of scholarship. The authors look at what can be learned in Renaissance drama through various methodologies and lenses ranging from semiotic and phenomenological analyses of performances to case study and analogous exploration of text and film.

Werner provides an excellent history of Shakespeare scholarship within her introduction and frames it in terms of "Shakespeare," not Renaissance drama, which exposes a central question of the book: How does one look at Renaissance drama without looking at Shakespeare? How can scholars move beyond the Bard? Several of the chapters explore this question and suggest opening the field to other relevant Renaissance drama. Thomas Middleton's The Revenger's Tragedy is one such play for examination. Considering that the play surfaces as either a reference or a focal point in nearly half of the eleven chapters, it would seem that the play is quite prominent as a viable means of circumventing Shakespeare. Werner sets forth several probative questions in her introduction, but the book seems to return to a singular overarching one: In what ways can scholars continue to seek out worthwhile inquiry within the study of performance of Renaissance drama?

The organization of the book is broad, divided into four major sections, but considering the various essays and perspectives, the divisions are fitting. The first section explores the ephemeral "dilemma" of performance and demonstrates scholars' struggles with "liveness." In "Replaying Early Modern Performances," William N. West explores the assumptions of an event's time and space and the concept of theatre as "replaying" rather than "loss" through an engaging analysis of The Wooster Group's Hamlet. The second section explores lessons gleaned from the intersection of literary and performance criticism. Overall, this was one of the more engaging sections, which includes critiques of self-fulfilling historiographic scholarship and of self-propagating performances and performance reviews. While the heading is inclusive, the topics explored in each chapter are quite varied. The third section of the book, "Resituating Shakespeare," attempts, through a variety of approaches, to decenter Shakespeare within the realm of Renaissance drama, suggesting that Renaissance drama is in need of a Derridean overhaul. The final section of the book, "Postscript," is a single chapter by Courtney Lehmann exploring Alex Cox's 2002 screen adaptation of Middleton's The Revenger's Tragedy.

Several chapters are noteworthy. In "Page and Stage Again: Rethinking Renaissance Character Phenomenologically," Andrew James Hartley uncovers the phenomenon of audience participation in the creation of character: we as audience fill in the gaps of a character, so that regardless of discontinuity of character, using the actor's body and our own experiences, we, the audience, create a whole character. Hartley argues that regardless of some scholars' perspectives of modern treatment of character as historically alien to Renaissance performance, the connection between actor and audience is the same whether past or present. Paul Menzer's "The Spirit of 76: Original Practices and Revolutionary Nostalgia" critiques original practices (the New Globe and others) and historiographic scholarship that values the architecture, or the trace, over the performance. He suggests that scholars should seek out the gaps or blanks of history rather than clinging to the material traces, imaginatively exploring the empty spaces. In many ways, Menzer and other authors in this book seem to be encouraging the employment of more creative scholarship similar to the creative approaches of theatre practitioners. Ayanna Thompson's essay, " 'Ay, there's the rub': Race and Performance Studies," is a fascinating introduction to her broader work regarding race in/as performance in early modern drama. In...



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