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  • Eco-Shakespeare in Performance:Introduction
  • Randall Martin and Evelyn O'Malley

Can performing Shakespeare address, let alone mitigate, the threats to human and nonhuman life in the Anthropocene?

Perhaps because its destruction seems to be virtually unstoppable and, on some levels, invisible and baffling, the answer so far seems to be, no. Today's worsening climate-change impacts, rising sea levels, and species extinctions are rarely reflected in today's productions of Shakespeare. James Shapiro has remarked that we read the news to find out what has happened in the world and then turn to Shakespeare to make sense of it.1 But this does not seem to be happening in terms of ecology and Shakespearean performance, even though ecocritics have been exploring relations between the playwright, early modern environmental history, and contemporary ecology for the past dozen years or so.2 These studies have focused mainly on textual readings of Shakespeare's and other early modern plays.3 In 2011, Lynne Brucker and Dan Brayton's introduction to their ground-breaking collection, Ecocritical Shakespeare, asked, "Can reading, writing about and teaching Shakespeare contribute to the health of the planet?" (2), leaving performance out of the enquiry. And while theater scholars Wendy Arons and Theresa J. May note that the "critical and theoretical intersections between literary ecocriticism and theater/ performance studies […] have been slowly but increasingly articulated over the past two decades" (3), there is little evidence, as yet, of ecocritical studies of theater and performance crossing over with Shakespearean ecocriticism.4 Randall Martin's epilogue to his study Shakespeare and Ecology calls for future work in this direction by asserting that "Shakespeare's greatest possibilities for becoming our eco-contemporary […] lie not in academic discourse but in performance" (167). Richard Kerridge makes a similar provocation, imagining a production of Macbeth that might realize [End Page 377] his ecocritical analysis of the play: "Such a production would be making a 'green' interpretation of the play," he writes, "I'd like to see it" (210).

This special issue accordingly asks how Shakespeare scholars and theater practitioners can make ecological relations and environmental politics a motivating concern of twenty-first century productions. The desired goals might be formulated as two related questions:

What opportunities are there in Shakespeare for making him our ecocontemporary in performance?

How can Shakespeare, both in his original scripts and in transcultural adaptations around the world, become an ecological discourse on stage, as well as a model for environmental practices in the theater?

This special issue suggests answers to these questions and illuminates the emerging field in a set of case studies pursuing three propositions:

To discover and articulate through theatrical fieldwork, empirical research, and scholarly analysis the conceptual frameworks and material relations that can reshape Shakespeare as our eco-contemporary in performance.

To analyze past and current productions for ways of modelling Shakespearean performance as an interactive platform among non-human actants and human performers.

To theorize community relations in locally-situated performances with a view to rethinking Shakespeare environmentally as a metacontextual playwright.

Common threads running through the papers are unpredictability, which connects climate and theater as improvisational conditions and opportunities of the Anthropocene, and desire/pleasure/affect. The latter are risky conditions in theater, but useful for shifting subjective perceptions towards global ecologies through local interactions, and for creating a new "distracting" and emancipating appeal in eco-Shakespeare (of which more below). The essays also raise questions about the relationship of theatrical genre, especially tragedy, to ecocritical representation of environmental crisis and the Anthropocene. As a whole, our case studies appear to suggest that tragedy is a more obvious fit with climate change and environmentally conscious productions. If, however, Shakespeare is indeed to be made eco-contemporary, the works will need to be meta-contextual in all genres, since the connections between the environmental [End Page 378] affordances, desires, and pleasures we are suggesting could be recognized and put into practice in any play.

Book-ending and interconnecting our essays are four papers that analyze outdoor performances of Shakespeare. Traditionally such productions take the form of "Shakespeare in the Park," a seasonal and festive staging formula often understood to be an easy path into "green...


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pp. 377-390
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