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Granville Barker's Production of The Winter's Tale (1912) Brian Pearce Granville Barker's 1912 production of The Winter's Tale is considered to be a landmark not only in the stage history of the play but also in the history of Shakespeare production. Dennis Kennedy writes that "it is one of the four or five most important Shakespeare productions of this century" and that as the first of them "it has an undeniable place in the theatre history of our time."1 Although the historical evidence will be re-assessed in this study, it would be time ill spent to attempt to add any new information about the performance to the wealth of detail amassed by Dennis Bartholomeusz, J. L. Styan, Norman Marshall, and Kennedy among others. Rather, an attempt will be made to re-evaluate the production in the context of the period and to account for the great success that it has enjoyed among theater historians. William Poel (1852-1934) and Edward Gordon Craig (18721966 ) are often taken as the revolutionary figures in Shakespeare production during the early twentieth century. From 1894, Poel and the Elizabethan Stage Society had been performing Shakespeare in Elizabethan costumes on bare platform stages in an attempt to re-create the original conditions of production of Shakespeare's texts. Poel established a tradition of amateur performance which eschewed the lavish realism of the Victorian actor managers and re-established Shakespeare's texts without the cuts and interruptions of stage action that had become customary during the nineteenth century. Although Poel cut lines from the plays, he did not cut scenes, and his productions tended to vindicate the stageworthiness of Shakespeare's plays while concentrating attention on the stage action and the interaction of the characters.2 While Poel attempted to return Shakespeare's plays to the context of the Elizabethan theater, Edward Gordon Craig moved towards a modernist style. Like Poel, rejecting the realism of the 395 396Comparative Drama Victorian theater, Craig attempted visually to interpret Shakespeare and thus to create visual metaphors for the play's poetic themes. Craig's approach stressed the visionary and symbolic dimension of Shakespeare's texts. Craig was forced to work outside mainstream British theater, and his ideas were assimilated more within the realm of European stage production. Often regarded as the heir of Henry Irving, Craig's work was acknowledged for his revolutionary stage designs. His most famous Shakespeare production was his collaboration with Stanislavski on the Moscow Art Theater production of Hamlet in 1912 in which Craig's main role was that of designer rather than director, although his ideas for the production far outweighed Stanislavski's in their impact. Granville Barker was influenced by both Poel and Craig. Poel directed Barker in the title roles of Elizabethan Stage Society productions of Richard II in 1899 and Marlowe's Edward II in 1903. Barker was greatly influenced by Poel's insistence on the continuity , swiftness, and immediacy of Shakespeare's plays when performed on a bare platform stage. However, he was also attracted to the abstract, symbolic quality of Craig's designs. Christine Dymkowski, in Harley Granville Barker: A Preface to Modern Shakespeare, takes the work of William Poel and Edward Gordon Craig as the starting point for her analysis. Poel and Craig are treated as "forerunners of Barker." Dymkowski's interesting and informative book represents the orthodox modern view of Barker's achievement. The attitude of "the nineteenth century" towards Shakespeare "easily justified the mutilation of his texts by actor-managers, who produced the plays as vehicles for themselves. . . ."3 After a discussion which seems more sympathetic to the work and ideals of Poel than Craig, Dymkowski evenhandedly concludes that "[Craig] and Poel, together, succeeded in sweeping the Shakespearean stage clean, readying it for the entrance of Granville Barker."4 The Shakespearian stage in London in 1912 was still dominated by Beerbohm Tree, while in Stratford F. R. Benson reigned. Barker's work was essentially reactive. He was not filling an empty pre-existing stage, he was creating one in opposition to the Shakespearian stage of the time. Indeed, one could argue that it was only as a direct result of the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 395-411
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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