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Shakespeare Quarterly 54.4 (2004) 469-471



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Shakespeare Remains: Theater to Film, Early Modern to Postmodern. By Courtney Lehmann. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2002. Illus. Pp. xiv + 265. $45.00 cloth, $19.95 paper.

This is a first-rate study—densely written, expertly controlled, and intellectually invigorating. In essence, it investigates Shakespearean production in the light of theoretical constructions of the auteur. Locating in the Shakespearean corpus a host of "Shakespeares" that return not so much from the past as from the future, Lehmann brilliantly brings to bear on her subject an auteur culled from film theory; such a maneuver enables her to confront various manifestations of the Bard via montage and to avoid rigid categorizations of author and text. Because Lehmann favors a "deep-focus" approach, and because she sees Shakespeare as the "quilting point" around which gather multiple interpretive possibilities (24 and 174), she is further empowered simultaneously to concentrate on early modern and modern (or postmodern) formulations, which embrace both dramatic and filmic performances. Indeed, one of the unique strengths of the book is that Lehmann is critically comfortable in a range of temporal locations. As a result, Shakespeare Remains is a rare work—an original reflection on sixteenth- and seventeenth-century theater and an important contribution to discussion about "the contestatory nature of [Shakespeare's] inheritance" (236).

Of the chapters on the early modern Shakespeare, those on Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night's Dream equally impress. For Lehmann, Romeo and Juliet constitutes a play that worries at authorship. Romeo is seen as attempting to become the originator of his own destiny in enacting a material and metaphorical separation between bodies and texts, and his endeavor serves to explain a dramatic emphasis on books, imitation, and even competing versions of authoring selves. In pursuing her thesis, Lehmann reveals agility and persuasiveness, sensitivity and probity, gifts also in evidence in the chapter on A Midsummer Night's Dream. Identifying in the play two constituencies (player-author and nonplayer-author), Lehmann posits the auteur as a third configuration, going on to argue both for the centrality of auctoritas and for Shakespeare's coded engagement with the War of the Theaters. It is through the displacement of the dream, Lehmann contends, that Shakespeare enters into, and resolves, that contemporary conflict. An absorption in literary rivalry extends no less powerfully, it is claimed, to the ways in which A Midsummer Night's Dream rehearses modalities of authorship. In particular, Puck is understood as a montage effect and a combination of elements, since he incarnates the virtues of author and actor, thereby occupying a pivotal role.

Felicities on display at the start are just as apparent in later chapters, which alternate between historically diverse "Shakespeares." To cite a typical instance: the Hamlet chapter attends in the same moment to the play and to films of the play, thus functioning in a transitional capacity. Notwithstanding the boldness of her announcement that film theory begins in the seventeenth century with Hamlet, Lehmann proves her case, singling out Hamlet as a type of filmmaker avant la lettre. It is a logical yet still gratifying move to Michael Almereyda's film of Hamlet, which is, as Lehmann recognizes, [End Page 469] concerned with a postmodern crisis of the "real"/"reel" (98). By contrast, what characterizes Baz Luhrmann's film of William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet is a backward movement that nevertheless encompasses the modern. In other words, Lehmann maintains that this film registers an acute responsiveness to the play's self-consciousness about its own derivative status (its literary indebtedness to Arthur Brooke's 1562 poem, The Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Iuliet). Pinpointing a number of resemblances between Luhrmann's film and Brooke's work, Lehmann innovatively observes that William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet is not transparently postmodern: it deals with already-authorized material and returns us to much earlier manifestations of authorial struggle. In short, notions of adaptation and appropriation are arrestingly muddied here, with questions being asked about which "original," if any, should be prioritized. Crucial, then, are...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-3555
Print ISSN
0037-3222
Pages
pp. 469-471
Launched on MUSE
2004-04-09
Open Access
No
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