- Recent Studies in Tudor and Stuart Drama
Only at this point do I fully understand why SEL asks a different scholar each year to summarize the publications in Shakespeare and Renaissance drama. Further, my admiration for those who render this professional service has increased along with my fears about so demanding an obligation. It’s a bit like being pregnant. The gestation never prepares you for the pain—or the inevitability—of the delivery, and you never know how the baby will turn out. I enjoyed the singular experience of reading virtually everything in the field, for it has provided rewarding encounters with insightful writers. However, once is quite enough.
The first difficulty lies in deciding what to exclude and how to organize what is included. I have eliminated reprints, a few poor reworkings of doctoral dissertations, several efforts that simply do not rise to the level of serious criticism, some well-intentioned books by nonspecialists, and works where Shakespeare appears in only a single chapter or essay. I have also omitted new editions, since that subject was recently so well covered in SEL by James Shapiro. Instead, I will focus on the three areas of strongest activity—performance criticism, articles in periodicals or collections of essays, and books by single authors, concluding with a brief look at some new reference works.
I. Performance Criticism
While the attention devoted to Shakespearean performance has grown steadily in the last few decades, I cannot recollect a single year in which it [End Page 383] has bulked so large. Two series entitled Shakespeare in Performance are bringing out books on individual plays. From the first we have James N. Loehlin’s analysis of Henry V and Anthony B. Dawson’s of Hamlet. 1 Loehlin discusses selected twentieth-century productions to show a variety of cultural, historical, and interpretative possibilities, beginning with the Laurence Olivier film as a fixed point against which all subsequent performances have reacted. After exploring Terry Hands’s 1975 RSC centenary opener, whose antiwar premises sought to regain financial support in the face of political budget cuts, the book dismisses the bland BBC-TV version and links Adrian Noble’s 1984 RSC production to the Falklands war and the Brechtian tradition. By contrast, Loehlin sees Michael Bogdanov’s work for the English Shakespeare Company in 1986 as Kottian in its concern with the “continuous, cyclical nature of power” (p. 107), but marred by a “nearly cartoonish emphasis on clarity” (p. 112). Kenneth Branagh’s 1989 movie tries simultaneously to condemn the grimy brutalities of battle and to celebrate individual heroism, growing strongest at the points “when the film labours to redeem Henry from his least attractive words and actions” (p. 145). The last chapter’s glance at Peter Zadek’s Held Henry and Michael Kahn’s landmark Stratford, Connecticut production seems all too brief. Dawson’s study of Hamlet builds on the critical work of Peter Donaldson and Dennis Kennedy, foregrounding theoretical, practical, and cultural problems while also demonstrating his own expertise. After acknowledging the status of the texts and the distinctive style—“speech curls around on itself; madness gnaws at the edges of meaning” (p. 7)—Dawson sets the twentieth century against the social and theatrical significance of David Garrick, Edmund Kean, Edwin Thomas Booth, and Henry Irving. The 1920s saw a movement from the romantic hero typified by John Barrymore to the 1925 anti-romantic, modern-dress production of the Birmingham Repertory, which put an end to supporting characters played solely from Hamlet’s point of view. Following a formula which considers first the hero and subsequently each major character, the chapters move skillfully through the dominance of John Gielgud and Olivier in the thirties to Stratford’s postwar productions of 1948 and 1965 to 1980, which saw Hamlet at both the RSC and the Royal Court. Discussion of the Olivier and Grigorii Kozintsev films leads to splendid analyses of the Franco Zeffirelli movie and the BBC-TV version. Finally, this excellent book provides a fascinating glimpse of Vladimir Vysotsky’s Hamlet at Moscow’s Taganka Theatre (1971–80), which ended with the actor’s untimely death. John F. Cox’s edition of Much...