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In the summer of 2006, Canadian director Peter Hinton mounted Webster's The Duchess of Malfi at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. During the Duchess's death scene spectators routinely walked out; it was rough, long, brutal, upsetting to watch, weirdly real. I saw Hinton's production live twice in the summer of 2006, and again on archive video in 2008. Every time the Duchess died I got the distinct impression that I was seeing something I was not really supposed to see, seeing what is not supposed to happen on a stage-and certainly not on a stage at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, a large, not-for-profit organization that bills itself as North America's leading classical repertory company and the largest festival of its kind in the world. In this paper I am interested in what it means that such a moment as the Duchess' death can appear on a stage as notoriously conservative as Stratford's, and why a director as well known for challenging, boundary-breaking, "intellectual" theatre as Peter Hinton should work at the Festival and be so very welcomed when he does. More specifically, I am interested in why scholars, critics, and some audience members have often claimed that this place is unwilling and unable to take risks-to risk political productions; to risk more non-traditional casting; to risk performing Shakespeare and his contemporaries in non-traditional modes-and what these claims imply about the complex valences of the term "risk" at Stratford and in reviews and scholarship about Stratford performances.
Stratford Festival,Emotional realism,Naturalism,Risk,Stage violence,Actor training,Classical repertoire,Shakespeare in Canada