- Arden of Fevershameby Hoosier Bard Productions
For those who regularly review early modern dramatic productions, it is rare to have the opportunity to see an early modern play that one has neither seen previously nor read. Director Terri Bourus’s production of Arden of Fevershame(aka, Arden of Faversham) offered a further twist. Presented by Hoosier Bard Productions, the theatrical partner of the New Oxford Shakespeare Project, which is preparing the forthcoming multimedia New Oxford Shakespeare, the purpose of this staging of Ardenwas primarily to explore the possibility that Shakespeare had a hand in its composition.
Editors and scholars have long speculated about whether a young Shakespeare may have contributed to Arden, registered with the Stationer’s Company in 1592, and many, most notably A. C. Swinburne, have been inclined to think that he did. Familiar with neither the criticism nor the text, I was agnostic. Yet, aware of the contested status of the play and curious as to whether I might glean enough through the production to form an opinion, I was confronted with several possibilities. I could: 1) read the play, skip the critical literature, see the production; 2) read the play, read the critical literature, see the production; or 3) skip reading the play and the critical literature, see the production. Each of these levels of preparation would present a different lens. In an ideal world, a scholar and theater practitioner steeped in Shakespeare would be so attuned to the patterns and particularities of Shakespeare’s language that he or she would spot Shakespearean lines in an unfamiliar setting the way a metal detector picks up loose change on the beach. I certainly don’t live in that world, however, and I knew that hitting stone cold a demanding play staged by a mostly nonprofessional cast would yield very little. So I opted for #1, read the play in advance, and left the opining of others until afterwards.
To shift metaphors, I felt a bit like the princess and the pea the night of the production. My cursory reading of Ardenhad produced little that was revelatory. I found it, like a lot of early-ish Elizabethan material (Shakespearean and non-Shakespearean), declamatory, sluggish, and verbally cumbrous. I had directed George Peele’s The Battle of Alcazar, [End Page 146]and, although different in genre, it seemed afflicted in the same way: both were plays that wanted to be action-oriented but became tangled up in speechifying. There were just a few too many lines, precisely at points where one wanted the narrative to leap forward; they bore the marks of having been written at a time when a static rhetorical tradition was still evolving, in fits and starts, into a dynamic dramatic tradition. There were certain places in the script of Ardenthat seemed to break away from exposition to show flashes of spiritedness, written with dexterity of characterization and leading to something surprising or unsettling. A line or passage here or there would seem to exhibit Shakespearean flourish, but I was wary—Shakespeare, after all, did not have a monopoly on flourish.
I had no confidence, therefore, that the production would provide any insight, no expectation that nuggets of Shakespeare would stir my consciousness, but of course this was never director Bourus’s intent. Bourus, who is one of the New Oxford Shakespeare’s general editors, had chosen to stage Ardenfor perfectly sound reasons: the degree of intimacy produced through the rehearsal and performance of a play can only augment one’s sensitivity to the nuances of the play itself. It can shine a Klieg light on corners of a play that have remained in the shadows, but there is absolutely nothing staging can do to test the authorship of a play. Even in a self-consciously “original practices” production, modern stage practices...