- The Shakespearean Dramaturg: A Theoretical and Practical Guide
As the title suggests, Hartley sets out to specifically discuss dramaturgy for Shakespearean plays, but the advice he offers applies to many types of productions. Hartley draws heavily upon his nearly decade-long relationship with the Georgia Shakespeare Festival, where he is now the resident dramaturg, to provide the practical examples in the second half of book, and the underpinnings of his theoretical discussions of the profession that comprise the first half.
While Hartley focuses on the dramaturgical dilemmas that appear specifically in Shakespearean productions, the underlying issues in his examples can be easily extrapolated to other dramaturgical positions. The early chapters contain useful discussions of adaptations, the authority of texts, the nature of collaboration, claims of authenticity, and historical reconstruction, among other germane topics. Even though Hartley’s own point of view on the role of a dramaturg is quite clear—“the dramaturg’s allegiance is to the show, not to the text or the author” (63)—he is careful to present the varying ideological viewpoints that lead to debates over the role of a dramaturg in production. Indeed, his succinct summations of the major issues in the field provide a young dramaturg with an invaluable primer of how to negotiate the complicated territory where he has to be a “scholar and theatre practitioner, a historian, a thinker, and an artist, someone invested in both the material conditions of the stage and in its intellectual implications” (16). Hartley acknowledges throughout that the job is fraught with historical perceptions that can complicate the balancing act, yet at times he seems a bit too overly apologetic for his profession, and comments like “[w]e dramaturgs might not always look or sound like other theatre folk, but we come in peace, and we’re here to help” (6) are scattered throughout. The book is directed at dramaturgs, both those who come to the profession from academia and from the professional theatre; hence, one wonders whether the apologies are included to assuage the fears of new dramaturgs, to persuade them to not live up to the worst stereotypes of the profession, or to warn them about how others might perceive them.
In the second part of the book, Hartley shifts focus to practicalities, but continues to present multiple sides of key debates while still clearly supporting his preferred approaches. Discussions of editing choices (opacity, aesthetics, substitutions, and so on) are supplemented by ample textual analysis and examples. Chapter 13 is comprised of editing examples—useful for class discussion, if inconveniently separated from the explanatory endnotes. Hartley, as he does throughout, clearly acknowledges his editing biases such as his “aversion to the Renaissance ejaculation of impatience ‘when!’” (219, n. 11), and he concedes that the editing decisions may be controversial. The latter, indeed, reinforces his core premise that “each production is innately different” (115) and hence dependent on local variables.
Despite this focus on local production needs, the author is still able to address many of the practicalities of the profession in a variety of employment scenarios. The thoroughness of these discussions makes this book particularly useful for an academic training setting. However, a practicing dramaturg might find the multiple permutations to be less than helpful. Hartley does warn readers that he presents a volume that would be useful to all dramaturgs, and such a goal necessarily involves discussing issues that some of the readers might find obvious or irrelevant (1–2). Similarly, a reader who wants a step-by-step guide of how to be a dramaturg might be better served to look elsewhere, for the strength of this volume is in its theoretical discussions and personal musings on the role of dramaturg within the theatrical production; indeed, he eschews such a formulaic approach to the profession. While much of the job of a dramaturg is perhaps best learned in a production setting, he is still able to provide readers with a solid understanding of the practical aspects of the profession while addressing many of the more nebulous...