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  • Recent Studies in Tudor and Stuart Drama
  • Emily C. Bartels (bio) and Emma Smith (bio)

Shakespeare lives—at least in our scholarship. If in the past decade early modern scholars have attempted to shift the focus to other plays and playwrights, in the books that SEL has received since the last review essay Shakespeare dominates. The theater, too, has its day as a historically distinctive and culturally embedded space, and drama takes the stage as a distinctive art form, closely tied to the performances and intertexts that give it (and that it gives) being, across time and in both European as well as non-European cultures. The year's work, too, returns us to an England haunted by war, fractured by its past and its religions, and preoccupied with the impermanence of empire. "Anxiety" is no longer our critical keyword (there may not be one this year). But it seems telling that if there is a play of the moment, it is the ubiquitously impenetrable Hamlet or even Macbeth, a play we are afraid to name in the theater. In the face of this impressive range of work, it is hard to know where to begin. As we survey the broader field, maybe the best place to start is with Shakespeare [End Page 465] and with an ontological question coming to the fore now as perhaps never before: what exactly is the body of work we call "Shakespeare"? As we engage more and more with the multiple texts, performances, media, and cultures, how do we draw the line around our object of study?

Shakespeare in Production

In Shakespeare and the Problem of Adaptation, Margaret Jane Kidnie confronts the question head-on by looking for an "authentic" Shakespeare that can bear the test of our times. She finds that Shakespeare in "the work," in the dynamic intersection of text and performance (p. 29). Asking how we can "distinguish the work from its adaptation" (p. 30), Kidnie answers that we cannot. That "indeterminacy" allows her to shift the site of authenticity from the work itself to the "community of users" (p. 31): "an individual instance 'counts' as the work if, and so long as, readers and spectators are willing to confer recognition on it as being a legitimate instance" (p. 30). Crucial here is "so long as." For Kidnie, the dramatic work is an "interpretative consequence, rather than origin, of textual and theatrical production" (p. 32) and one that necessarily changes over time. To make her case, she juxtaposes two recent Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) productions of Shakespeare, one "work" and one "adaptation," and charts the ways the "critical assessment of the particular instance produces, rather than meets, the criteria of identity by which the work is defined" (p. 34). She looks as well at "interventionist production[s]"—Djanet Sears's Harlem Duet and Robert Lepage's Elsinore—which "openly declare an adaptive distance from Shakespeare's works" (p. 65), and shows how Shakespeare's work "intrudes" on (p. 82) and "continu[es] to take shape" within them (p. 85). A discussion of the BBC series Shakespeare Re-Told links "recognition of Shakespeare's work" to "technologies of [its] production" (p. 104). Her final chapter turns from performance to text: emphasizing the editorial process as itself adaptation, she advocates that editors "disentangle" the production of new editions from "ideas of textual origin" and from past productions and focus rather on "the work's ongoing development and editors' active contribution to its formation" (p. 164).

In Kidnie, adaptation is always, productively, a "problem." That is to say, the difficulty of determining when Shakespeare stops and adaptation starts exposes "the condition of uncertainty" which is "always inherent to work production" (p. 161). "One never [End Page 466] 'gets back' in any historical sense to the work," Kidnie argues, "because it is always constructed in the present moment" (p. 161). Kidnie's insistence on the ongoing nature of Shakespearean production puts important emphasis on the bidirectionality of intertextual exchange: to remake Shakespeare is, indeed, to remake Shakespeare, since the construction of the new inevitably changes the lens through which we see the old. On the "community of users" who ultimately determine what is and is...


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pp. 465-516
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