- Editorial Comment
“I conjure thee to write me a commentary that is both witty and profound.”—Doctor Faustus, C-text
“Conjure,” of course, is intended here as an efficacious performative utterance, and I trust that Andrew Sofer will forgive my feeble attempt to be amusing at the expense of his subtle argument and first-rate scholarship. My frail invention is intended not as parody but as homage. For many years, I have felt that an academic community already glutted with books and articles on the bard and his contemporaries could survive through the millennium without anymore. The process of selecting articles for the current issue of Theatre Journal has, at least provisionally, tempered my mulishness on the subject of Shakespeare and his contemporaries, perhaps because Sofer has succeeded in making the familiar—Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus—sufficiently strange to revive my curiosity about the text, the performance, and the period. Surely that is what careful, creative scholarship—whether it is historical, critical, or theoretical—is intended to do. Whatever form it takes—new wine in old bottles, old wine in new bottles, or new wine in new bottles—inspired scholarship rearranges the arrangement of existing knowledges and predispositions, and therein lies the pleasure of the encounter. Pleasure, which seems in such short supply in this time of furloughs and budget reductions, will, I hope, describe the experience of Theatre Journal readers as they engage with the articles gathered here. Although disparate in subject and treatment—a constant peril of general issues—they exemplify our discipline’s best critical, historiographical, and theoretical practices.
Despite the disparities, thematic and methodological similarities between and among the articles repeatedly emerge. Revisionism—understood in this context as urgently needed reconsideration of conventional views and interpretations of canonical texts—is central to articles by Andrew Sofer, Theresa Smalec, Evan Winet, Laura Edmonson, and Michele and Harry Elam. Edmonson and the Elams consider the politics of narrative, especially its power to shape public response to genocide and racial injustice. As different as black magic and conventional religiosity claim to be in theory, practice, and effect, Sofer and Winet assert both as efficacious performatives. Issues of performance and performativity persist in Smalec’s reassessment of Ron Vawter’s role in The Performance Group, and gender is central to articles by Winet and the Elams. In short, all of the authors engage with questions and issues that continue to energize our discipline.
Echoing Mephistopheles, one might say of “How to Do Things with Demons: Conjuring Performatives in Doctor Faustus,” that theories of perfomativity and Christopher Marlowe’s play were the cause of Andrew Sofer’s article, “but yet per accidens.” Though the play continues to fascinate and rumors of extra demons appearing during performance surely increase its mystery, the task of Doctor Faustus here is to further complicate the twin riddles of performativity in the theatre and phenomenlogical effect on the spectator. Understood in its historical context, the language of conjuring in Doctor Faustus—the dangerous language of black magic—was intended to be efficacious; that is, to summon that which it named. Thus Doctor Faustus belies assertions by J. L. Austin and others that theatrical representation must be dismissed as “hollow performativity.” Surely the tendency of Austin, Judith Butler, and others to dismiss the very discipline from which they have borrowed so freely has grated on theatre scholars. Challenging received wisdom on stage performativity, Sofer asks, does the dialogue in Doctor Faustus describe or produce a damned soul? Did the actor playing Faustus perform sterile stage-hocus pocus or actually conjure the extra demon who, according to eye-witnesses, appeared onstage with the actor-demons? Elizabethan audiences certainly believed in the possibility of the latter—even if it happened inadvertently. “Be silent then for danger is in words”—even, we must suppose, in the hollow performativity of the theatre. [End Page 1]
Theresa Smalec’s “Scenes of Self-Recruitment: Ron Vawter’s Entry into The Performance Group” is partly recuperative history and partly classic performance-studies scholarship. Although often eclipsed in histories of The Performance Group (TPG) and the Wooster Group by luminaries like Spalding Gray, Willem Dafoe, and Elizabeth LeCompte, Vawter’s influence on...