- Prospero's "True Preservers": Peter Brook, Yukio Ninagawa, and Giorgio Strehler—Twentieth-Century Directors Approach Shakespeare's The Tempest
In What Is World Literature? (2003), David Damrosch argues that "world literature is not an infinite, ungraspable canon of works but rather a mode of circulation and of reading. . . available for . . . established classics and new discoveries alike" (5). A play's "mode of circulation and of reading" must include its performances on contemporary stages as translations or cultural adaptations. Arthur Horowitz observes, however, that "there is still a curious avoidance of 'international Shakespeare' in performance histories of [his] plays"; this has occurred despite some recent exceptions like Christine Dymkowski's Shakespeare in Production: The Tempest (2000), and the continued relevance of the intercultural as a concept within contemporary theatre and theatre studies (20–21, 182). (Another exception, not included in Horowitz' bibliography, is Peter Hulme and William H. Sherman's The Tempest and Its Travels , which juxtaposes accounts of three international performances with essays by literary scholars and historians; this collection's overall emphasis, however, is on the play as text.)
In Prospero's "True Preservers," Horowitz remedies this oversight, examining how three internationally prominent directors (Peter Brook, Yukio Ninagawa, [End Page 134] and Giorgio Strehler) have staged Shakespeare's play, often in translation and with actors from non-Western traditions. These stagings examined are Strehler's 1948 Italian-language production in Venice's Boboli Gardens, Brook's 1957 production staged at theaters in London and Stratford-on-Avon, his 1968 experiment intended for performance in Paris but performed in London, Strehler's 1978 return to The Tempest, Ninagawa's 1988 transposition of Prospero into the director of a rehearsal of a Noh play, and Brook's 1990 French-language production that drew on both his earlier experiment and his more recent Mahabharata. The diversity of these six productions reflects what Damrosch calls the "variability of a work of world literature," that is, one's ability to read it in a number of ways and within different contexts (5).
Horowitz's context is the twentieth-century theatre as a dynamic, international, and, ultimately, intercultural space. Brook's, Strehler's, and Ninagawa's careers exemplify and are defined by this space, productions which are distinct from not only more historically oriented, Anglo-American productions but also more local cultural adaptations, an overlooked category in this study. Although Horowitz notes that he is not simply appraising the series of six productions and placing them in historical and cultural contexts, these contexts are important, especially as the book's organizing principle, since the productions are examined in chronological order. This organization results in some overlap and repetition when a director returns to The Tempest, as both Brook and Strehler do.
Organizing around directors might have been just as effective, if not more so, since Horowitz' "[focus is] upon the stage director as [both] the controlling agent within the creative process" and "Prospero's surrogate within the theatrical exchange" (11–12). Horowitz asks whether Shakespeare's text forces the director into the latter role, and explores the performance history of the play to determine how it was performed before the stage director's role achieved its twentieth-century eminence. By focusing on this role rather than only on Shakespeare's text, Horowitz is able to address not only performance and mise-en-scene but also issues raised by The Tempest's translation into Italian, Japanese, and French and its circulation from Jacobean England to other, modern cultures. This last set of issues is especially pertinent to Ninagawa's production: Charles and Mary Lamb's prose retellings of Shakespeare's plays for children initially mediated Japanese audiences' understanding, particularly since the Lambs' narrative drastically reduced Caliban's part (115–116).
The emphasis in Prospero's "True Preservers" is thus on productions of The Tempest as they have been conceived and carried out by renowned, authoritative directors during the mid- and late twentieth-century (1948–1990) on stages throughout the...