Looking at Shakespeare: A Visual History of Twentieth-Century Performance, and: The Oxford Encyclopedia of Theatre and Performance (review)
- Comparative Drama
- Western Michigan University
- Volume 38, Numbers 2,3, Summer/Fall 2004
- pp. 315-320
- View Citation
- Additional Information
Reviews Dennis Kennedy. Looking at Shakespeare:A Visual History of Twentieth-Century Performance. 2nd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,2001. Pp.xxv + 408 + 23 color plates. $90.00 casebound; $30.00 paperbound. Dennis Kennedy, ed. The OxfordEncyclopedia ofTheatre and Performance.2vols.Oxford: OxfordUniversityPress,2003. Pp. Ii + 1559 + over 100 black-and-white integrated halftones . $275.00 casebound. Dennis Kennedy's LookingatShakespeareis one ofthe most important assessments of Shakespearean production in the twentieth century we have to date, and will long hold that distinction. For this second edition (the first was published in 1993), he has added a tenth, final chapter (45 pp.),"Century's Close," on productions ofthe 1990s—thus completinghis account ofthe century.Moreover , he has added two color plates (for a total of twenty-three), twenty-two additional photographic illustrations (for a total of 172), further notes and references , plus corrections to the first edition. Crucial and engaging reading for anyone seriously concerned with Shakespeare's plays, including theater historians , literary and performance critics, actors, directors, designers, scholars and university teachers, it accomplishes superbly what Kennedy states is the"job of the theatre historian": that is, "to reimagine the moment of past performance and to contextualize it with a narrative about its social meaning" (16). In his focus on "the relationship between scenography and international Shakespeare performance in the modern and postmodern eras," as Kennedy puts it, his "intention is two-fold: to investigate how the visual relates to Shakespeare on the stage and transmits meaning, and to attempt to understand some of the complex cultural uses of Shakespeare in the century" (xxii). Prior to Kennedy's Looking at Shakespeare, there have been, in his words, "general histories ofscenography and general treatments ofShakespearean performance, 315 316Comparative Drama but none that join the two" (11); that Kennedy has integrated the two so astutely constitutes a major contribution. In its organizational strategies, the book is chronological, from the pictorialism and "Elizabethanism" of the Victorian period through the 1997 production of Giulio Cesare, by Societas Raffaello Sanzio, directed by Romeo Castellucci-, Kennedy's account of historical changes in scenography and performance , however, is far more than descriptive. Kennedy's analysis is informed by a theoretical perspective drawn, he states, partly from "recent developments in theatre semiology" and "materialist interpretations ofculture"(10). Furthermore , he works with an acutely sophisticated awareness of how problematic visual records of performance can be. As part of his outstanding introductory chapter, "Shakespeare and the Visual," in which he articulates his theoretical approach, he offers a briefbut important discussion, full ofknowledgeable caveats , of major challenges in methodology and documentation when assessing visual evidence in production history. Of necessity Kennedy had to leave out many valuable twentieth-century productions; instead of aiming to provide a sheer survey, he instead focuses on "three types of movements": [T]hose that clearly established a new visual vocabulary for Shakespeare that was exploited by subsequent designers and directors (like the work of Edward Gordon Craig, or the Peter Brook-Sally Jacobs A Midsummer Night's Dream); those that, while not innovative in themselves, were particularly successful in using design elements already established (like the many examples of Expressionism outside of Germany, or the elegant simplicity of Motley in England); and those that reflected a unique and powerful approach to performance, itself integrated into a visual conception, usually under the influence of a master director (like Granville Barker's productions, designed by Norman Wilkinson, or, more recently, Peter Stein's As You Like It, designed by Karl-Ernst Hermann). (Kennedy 2001, 1:10-11) Rigorous with historical evidence and precise in scholarly detail, the book is never pedantic; its style is lucid, vital, compelling. Kennedy is a playwright and director as well as a university professor, formerly in the Department of TheatreArts at the University ofPittsburgh, and now Samuel Beckett Professor of Drama and Theatre Studies at Trinity College, Dublin. His first major book, Granville Barkerand theDream ofTheatre (1985),v/on the FreedleyAward for theater history, as did the first edition of Looking at Shakespeare. As a theater historian, Kennedy is also a sociocultural historian whose critical consciousness is both theoretically informed and international in scope. Comparative drama is one of his major strengths...