- Shakespeare, Memory and Performance
Shakespeare, Memory and Performance, a collection of thirteen essays by some of the best scholars in the field of early modern drama and performance, is an ambitious study of Shakespearean performance from a strikingly original angle. As editor Peter Holland notes in his introduction, "Shakespeare performance studies have so far … tended to ignore the recent theorization of memory and investigation of its cultural and social practice" (4). This is a problem Holland seeks to address with this collection.
The essays included in Shakespeare, Memory and Performance approach the topic in a wide variety of ways. The book is divided into five thematically organized sections, which focus on memory in Shakespearean texts or performance; editing Shakespeare; costumes, properties, and actors; reconstructing past performances; and in the final section, technologies of performance. Within these sections, the chapters often speak to one another; for example, the second chapter, "Shakespeare's Memorial Aesthetics," in which John Joughin uses theories of aesthetics to explore suffering, scapegoating, and collective mourning in Richard II and Hamlet, is juxtaposed with Anthony Dawson's chapter, "Priamus is Dead: Memorial Repetition in Marlowe and Shakespeare," in which the author examines similar themes of suffering and loss from an individual rather than social perspective. These two chapters, as well as Bruce Smith's fascinating and personal opening chapter in which he gives an excellent close reading of issues of memory in the text of King Lear, all serve as a superb entry to the topic by providing definitions of memory, including early modern conceptions of this faculty.
Particularly noteworthy are chapters by Barbara Hodgdon, Peter Holland, and W. B. Worthen. Hodgdon's beautifully illustrated chapter, "Shopping in [End Page 336] the Archives: Material Memories," discusses ways of remembering performance (and performers) through "material traces" (136). Hodgdon uses performance photographs and the RSC costume archives to show the many ways costumes themselves can "engender narrative" (160) both in performance and later, in the memories of audience members, researchers, or other performers. (It is regrettable that none of Hodgdon's illustrations could be presented in color.) Holland's own essay, "On the Gravy Train: Shakespeare, Memory and Forgetting," deals with the opposite of memory—forgetting. Holland examines the actor's memory, which is "visible only when it fails to work" (234); he discusses the ways actors remember, and what happens when they forget. He also employs extensive research in both Shakespearean scholarship and theatre studies to create a complex metaphor linking the theatre with the human mind, and he concludes with an examination of Kristian Levring's 1990 film, The King Is Alive, and Peter Stein's Shakespeare's Memory, using these examples to show how "theatre practice … is endlessly haunted by the memory of Shakespeare" (230). Worthen, in his chapter titled "Fond Records: Remembering Theatre in the Digital Age," begins by discussing how "digital culture has altered the ways in which we understand and enact 'the human'" (284). Using Philip Auslander's concept of "liveness" and Walter Benjamin's theories of the auratic, together with a close examination of Michael Almereyda's film version of Hamlet and Baz Luhrmann's William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet, Worthen shows how in the digital age, a play can become "hypertext" as technology transforms or edits the original, instead of simply reproducing it.
Shakespeare, Memory and Performance is a superb collection of essays on Shakespearean drama and performance, and certainly a useful edition to any early modern scholar's library, but it is not without its faults. Michael Cordner makes good points in his chapter, "'Wrought with Things Forgotten': Memory and Performance in Editing Macbeth," noting that sometimes editors are too prescriptive, too general, or don't understand the craft of acting. Cordner marshals carefully selected examples from Nicholas Brooke's and A. R. Braunmuller's editions of Macbeth, but on the whole, this chapter seems nitpicky, overly critical of skilled editors who must, like actors, make choices in their work. A more general problem in the book is that since the authors are writing for both Shakespeare...