- Acts of Criticism: Performance Matters in Shakespeare and His Contemporaries. Essays in Honor of James P. Lusardi, and: A Companion to Shakespeare and Performance
Perhaps the most surprising thing about the two books under review here is that, while both are explicitly concerned with the study of Shakespeare in performance, there is no overlap in their contributors and virtually no cross-reference between them. Even taking into account the clearly different aims of each collection, this lack of cross-pollination is, as W. B. Worthen himself might say, arresting.
Also arresting is the degree to which the two positions staked out in these collections are represented by scholars of tremendous experience, achievement, and reputation. Anthony Dawson, Roslyn L. Knutson, Richard Burt, Michael Friedman, Ania Loomba, Alexander Leggatt, Margo Hendricks, Andrew Gurr: this list is only a small part of the critical pantheon that has produced these nine-hundred-plus pages of essays. The collective distinction of this body of contributors is, on the one hand, clearly the reason that the combined fifty essays make such stimulating reading; on the other hand, it is also clearly the reason why the positions the two collections represent seem entrenched rather than in flux. Acts of Criticism and the Blackwell Companion to Shakespeare and Performance together make vivid the bizarrely parallel but unconnected trajectories of two different kinds of performance criticism. After reading through both, it is difficult to find much hope for dialogue.
I will try to explain the positions staked out by these two collections. The Nelsen-Schlueter collection is interested in theatrical practice, in what theatrical practice can tell us about Shakespeare's texts, and in what theatrical practice can tell us about the cultural [End Page 366] act of interpreting Shakespeare's texts. In his essay on the treatment of Gertrude in filmed and staged productions of Hamlet, J. Anthony Burton alludes to the criteria for evaluation of performances laid down by James Lusardi and June Schlueter during their editorship of Shakespeare Bulletin: "'Does [a particular performance] read?' Does the 'written text and its realization in performance at one and the same time' achieve a coherent 'relationship between signals in the text and their translation into representation on the stage?'" (219). These questions neatly summarize the ethos of the entire volume. The collection begins with four essays by heavy-hitting theater historians—Roslyn L. Knutson, Jay L. Halio, Alan C. Dessen, and Andrew Gurr. Each is concerned with the recreation of lost theatrical worlds. Their minutely detailed accounts of (respectively) the sixteenth-century repertory system, the Smock Alley playbooks, the extravagant theatricality of Heywood's plays, and the evidence for Elizabethan stage hangings as generic markers underwrite the minutely detailed accounts of contemporary performance, on stage and screen, that follow in the collection's second section. These latter essays are concerned with the recreation of lost theatrical events: Naomi C. Liebler describes two 1990 off-off-Broadway Shakespearean adaptations, neither of which "was recorded on film or video in any form of performance publicly recoverable" (175); Edward L. Rocklin discusses the 2002 Royal Shakespeare Company production of the seldom seen (and likely never to be seen again) The Roman Actor and its particular effects on the audiences of which he was a part; Michael D. Friedman gives a brief history of the various "waves" of directorial feminism that have shaped interpretations of Taming of the Shrew since the 1970s. In keeping with the goals of Lusardi's Bulletin, these critics help in the construction of an archive and so allow future critics to recapture, or at the very least interpret, something like the immediacy of an ephemeral theatrical moment. While there is much valuable criticism in these essays, the goal is, as Liebler says, "ostensibly to assess, but principally to archive" (175) the...