- Shakespeare in Production: “Troilus and Cressida”
Like the other volumes in the Cambridge Shakespeare in Production series, Frances A. Shirley's edition of Troilus and Cressida pairs the New Cambridge Shakespeare text (edited by Anthony B. Dawson) with a detailed introduction and footnotes that describe the play's performance history and specific theatrical treatments of individual scenes and characters. Shirley's edition offers a comprehensive account of major and regional performances that helps to reconstruct the decision making of actors and directors as they translate Troilus and Cressida into specific, historically inflected contexts of production. At its best, this edition combines evidence from interviews with directors, production notes, and newspaper reviews with Shirley's own detailed recollections of the many important performances that she has attended.
Shirley's edition begins with a comprehensive list of theatrical productions from 1602 to 2004, and her introduction offers detailed accounts of a surprising number of these productions. Naturally, her discussion places special emphasis on landmarks such as Jack Landau's 1961 production, with Jessica Tandy as Cassandra, set during the American Civil War, and the iconic 1960 Peter Hall-John Barton "sandpit" production (so called because of the large octagonal sandbox around which the action took place). Throughout the introduction, frequent quotations from newspaper reviews give important information on changing social expectations and prejudices that new theatrical productions of the play accommodated and sometimes challenged.
Shirley's edition is often strongest in its attention to dramaturgical details of productions, including costuming, the use of stage properties, and choreography. Yet at times her descriptions of the technical elements of productions leave one wishing for more insight into the essential interpretive spark of a performance. Her preference for precise but neutral descriptions is probably a result of the series' stated goal to act as a "dossier of materials" (viii), and it certainly has the virtue of allowing readers to make use of the evidence she presents in many different ways. Nevertheless, without an argumentative engagement by Shirley herself, we run the risk of skimming across the surface of the productions rather than being able to imagine the cerebral and visceral charge of specific theatrical interpretations.
One aspect of Shirley's treatment that does evoke the kind of vivid thinking that the best performances elicit in spectators is her detailed overviews of how specific characters have been conceived over time. These detailed accounts appear both in the general introduction and as footnotes in the text of the play itself. One of the highlights of Shirley's edition is her telling description of how Cressida has changed over time. Weaving together attention to broad social changes in gender roles, the impact of feminist scholarship on the play's interpretation, and such thaumaturgical considerations as the effects of costuming and stage choreography, Shirley traces how productions have gradually shed more light on the complexity and difficulty of Cressida's situation, and in so doing have opened new interpretive paths into the text of the play itself. [End Page 349]
There are a few instances where Shirley's account suffers from some reticence about issues of sexuality that have been an important part of both theatrical and scholarly interpretation since the 1960s. This reticence appears, for example, in Shirley's comparatively slight comments on the staging of the climactic encounter in 4.5 between Hector and Achilles in the Greek camp during which they admire each another's muscles and fantasize about inflicting harm on one another. Many critics and directors have come to see this scene as revelatory, pointing to the dark nexus of violence and eroticism that animates the play. In her footnote, Shirley merely quotes Robert Smallwood's statement about the 1999 National Theater production in which Hector "'somewhat naively found himself swept up in an erotic dance with Achilles.'" Shirley adds that "they had also danced in 1968, while in earlier performances as well as many later ones, there was the handshake the text indicates" (203). The 1968 production to which Shirley refers...