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Reviewed by:
  • Shakespeare on the University Stage ed. by Andrew James Hartley
  • Michael W. Shurgot (bio)
Shakespeare on the University Stage. Edited by Andrew James Hartley. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015. Illus. Pp. xii + 292. $98.00 cloth, $31.99 paper.

Andrew Hartley notes in his introduction to this collection that "what can be said about campus Shakespeare is that the conditions around its production are unique in various ways" (2), and he adds that "any assumption that [these productions] are necessarily inferior is often simply wrong" (3). These wide-ranging essays by international scholars investigate the social, political, cultural, and economic context of these productions, although these scholars sometimes make starkly different evaluations about the productions' artistic and pedagogical value.

Although the essays are not divided by topic (but really should have been), a rough organization exists. The initial three essays are historical. Peter Holland cleverly details the beginnings of "Campus Shakespeare" as "fragments of a history," starting with Polonius "'play[ing] in the university'" (10); Mark C. Pilkinton discusses the doctrinal hurdles to playing Shakespeare at Catholic Notre Dame University, where until the 1926 creation of the University Theatre all performances were male only; and Michael Cordner outlines the enormous influence of George Rylands on the performance of Shakespeare at Cambridge and on several directors, especially Peter Hall, the founder of the Royal Shakespeare Company.

There follows the most pragmatic section of the book: twelve essays—the outlier being Paul Menzer's—that examine actual campus productions as well as the material conditions of their genesis and their impact on both the campus and broader urban environments. These essays study productions in the United States, India, China, Germany, Australia, Malaysia, and England. Although the cultural [End Page 402] and economic circumstances affecting these productions vary considerably, the authors generally agree that, especially when students perform Shakespeare in formerly colonial countries, "Shakespeare's plays become important vehicles not for the cultural snobbery they may have represented in the past but as texts that help us explore our own notions of identity and help us see our contexts in a different light" (Angelie Multani, 89). Lee Chee Keng and Yong Li Lan detail the often bizarre experience of performing Shakespeare in the shifting politics of Communist China, where "all the production choices we have discussed position Shakespeare in an ideological frame that comes into view precisely through the changing of the frame" (108). Nurul Farhana Low BT Abdullah writes movingly of the extent to which "post-independence English language theatre in Malaysia has been shaped by the politics of race, religion, and language" (175). From the creation of the National Arts Academy of Malaysia in 1994 and a subsequent university course in Classical Theatre Production emerged a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream in 1997 that Abdullah describes as infusing several elements of traditional Malaysian theater, including the buka panggung, or opening ceremony, and the use of huge puppets that represented spirits, or saka, for Oberon, Titania, and Puck. This fine essay reifies the much-praised "universality" of Shakespeare's plays while simultaneously locating them firmly within an indigenous culture.

Students' self-discovery permeates this set of essays. Yu Jin Ko superbly describes women at Wellesley College being "faithful to a vision of an authentic Shakespeare … that, in production, is gender-neutral and not decisively defined by sensibilities that might be specific to a single-sex setting" (60). Andrea Stevens concludes that "constraints of various kinds—of cast, of playing space, of money—in fact drive innovation in performance, especially with respect to non-traditional casting" (124). This last point is echoed by virtually all the American contributors who strive to include students of color and to practice color-blind and gender-blind casting. Rob Conkie, writing about his directing experiences with Australian and English students, concludes that "the period of play, or of role rehearsal, the participation in both the world of the play and the world of the production, results in players, not just characters, emerging perhaps wiser, perhaps humbler and perhaps with a clearer sense of who they are and what they value" (156-57).

The rub is Paul Menzer's fusillade against...


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