- Living with Shakespeare ed. by Susannah Carson
Introducing Living with Shakespeare, Susannah Carson sets her agenda "to celebrate the many different approaches to appreciating Shakespeare that are possible" in a "joyful and endless conversation" (xvii). Aimed at casual rather than at academic readers, Carson's collected conversation could come across as chaotic in its purportedly infinite exuberance, especially since the celebration seemingly lacks an explicit editorial structure. However, approaching the anthology as a sampler of diverse perspectives rather than an attempt at a coherent, critical argument, one encounters entertaining and even enlightening insights into the lives of people who have, in Carson's words, "relax[ed] into Shakespeare's language [and found] those thoughts—rich and resonant, well-known and new—that help us make sense of our human condition" (xvi). Indeed, the value of this volume is in the unusual if not unique variety of human conditions and breadth of experiences the contributors convey, especially regarding performance practice.
Of the forty contributors, half are professional theatre/film-makers, and even many of those who are not invoke the influence of attending or participating in performance. In "The Living Drama," for example, Margaret Drabble credits the inspiration of her second book, The Garrick Year (1964), to her youthful seasons as a spear-carrier with the Royal Shakespeare Company: "I wrote some of it while I was sitting in the dressing room" (412) listening to the voices of Paul Scofield and Judi Dench, before moving on to a career as a novelist. Fellow novelist Eleanor Brown begins her examination of family in "Shakespeare's Siblings" by sharing her introduction to the plays through her elder sister, who played Bianca in a sixth-grade production of The Taming of the Shrew. Although Brown did not set out to base her book The Weird Sisters (2012) on Shakespeare, she found herself incorporating many of his themes: "In particular, the rivalries between Kate and Bianca, and between Cordelia and her sisters, Goneril and Regan, were on my mind . . . because they are such excellent examples of the complexities of sibling rivalry" (274). For both Brown and Drabble, as for others, Shakespeare, particularly in performance, has permeated their creative lives, as their reminiscences reveal.
More than mere nostalgia, however, many of the stories provide specific insight into the intricacies of individual and collective creative processes. For those readers who have viewed the productions discussed—or, in the case of filmed [End Page 151] productions, for readers who may yet view them—these reflections can add layers of resonance to interpretations. For example, Dominic Dromgoole and F. Murray Abraham's descriptions of their approaches to directing and acting, respectively, in Henry V (2012) and The Merchant of Venice (2006), both evoked and enhanced my memories of attending those performances. In "Playing Shakespeare at the Globe," Dromgoole writes about how, preparing Henry V, he realized that the Chorus should not be "played by a bullying, older male actor" (309) but by someone who could inspire and collaborate with, rather than command, the crowd. His rationale resolves why he cast Brid Brennan in the role—a choice I wondered about at the time, though I admired her spirited rendition. Similarly, in "Searching for Shylock," Abraham details a bit of business that filled a plot hole: in 1.3, how does Shylock know that the piece of jewelry Tubal mentions only as "a ring" is his wife's turquoise? Abraham writes, "In our modern production, the problem was solved with cell phones. We had Tubal in Genoa, and had him send a photo of the ring to me," a photo which he showed to the audience, a gesture that "provided me with the opportunity to be alone in my misery and to make that connection with the audience I so desperately wanted" (264). I recall the moment vividly, as might many others who were present at one of the performances, and like an extended program note, or a transcription of a DVD commentary, Abraham's account informs my retrospective reaction.
Though most of the essayists explore their...