- 1616: Shakespeare and Tang Xianzu's China eds. by Tian Yuan Tan, Paul Edmondson, and Shih-pe Wang
In the post-imperial and post-colonial age, the rise of the modern nation depends all the more on soft power and cultural diplomacy. The opening and closing ceremonies of the Beijing and London Olympics in 2008 and 2012 are recent examples of how nation states construct and market national cultures to international communities. In this context, the rediscovery and marketing of national poets becomes culturally urgent and politically expedient. Tang Xianzu and Shakespeare have recently become the vehicles for British and Chinese cultural diplomacy and exchange. 2016 is a landmark year, because it marks the quartercentenary of Tang and Shakespeare. Multiple projects in the field of comparative drama emerged in this context.
1616 is an ambitious collection of twenty wide-ranging essays on Tang, Ming-dynasty theatre, early modern English theatre, and Shakespeare and his times. While it is published by Bloomsbury Arden Shakespeare, an imprint of Bloomsbury that is known for titles that attract a large, general readership, 1616 packs the latest scholarly apparatus and is a collection of pioneering, rigorous scholarship from late Ming Chinese and early modern English studies. Names of dynasties and individuals, both Chinese and English, are followed by years to give readers a clear sense of chronology, and Chinese names written in pinyin transliteration are followed by the original script, making the volume a useful tool for students and researchers.
In fact, in comparison to Bloomsbury's other relevant titles such as Shakespeare on the Global Stage: Performance and Festivity in the Olympic Year (2015), 1616 is not for the faint of heart or casual reading. The target audience seems to be graduate students and researchers in early modern and Ming-China studies. The book pairs essays in what the co-editors call a "dialogic" structure (p. 3). The twenty chapters in ten thematically organized sections examine Shakespeare and Tang (and his contemporaries) and demonstrate parallel theatre histories and historiographies. Each section opens with a number of research questions and, in some instances, a brief introduction to the two chapters in that section.
For example, the first section, "Setting the scene: playwrights and localities," features Paul Edmondson's historical essay on Stratford-upon-Avon in 1616—which begins appropriately with Shakespeare's death and burial in the Holy Trinity Church—and Yongming Xu's essay on regional theatre and Tang's drama. For a volume in pursuit of commonalities between Ming Chinese and early modern English cultures, these essays are successful in demonstrating how parallel [End Page 241] itineraries of and contacts with vibrant local theatre traditions shaped Tang's and Shakespeare's playwriting careers.
Of interest to Asian theatre and comparative drama scholars is section six, which is informed by an overarching question about print culture, practices of collaboration, and the concept of dramatic authorship in 1616 across the two cultures. While readers would benefit from more theorization that brings the two chapters together and more conversations between the two chapters, the two lucid, accessible essays by Patricia Sieber and Peter Kirwan in this section represent new scholarship on the place of playwriting at the margin of orthodox cultures. In late Ming China, drama as a genre evolved beyond court performance and communal rituals to a literary engagement for literati "either before the onset of [their] career as a scholar-official or when [they were] nearing retirement" (p. 150). Sieber suggests that, based on her analysis of anthologies and print culture, drama is both a vehicle for "publicly minded self-expression [by literati]" and a form of "literary games." There is space for individual transcendence of oppressive social conventions even as theatre continues to function as "collective communion" (p. 151). Similarly, with a case study of the 1616 folio of Ben Jonson, Kirwan argues in his chapter, "'May I subscribe a name?': Terms of Collaboration in 1616," that the model of dramatic authorship in the 1610s...