- The Oxford Handbook of Shakespeare and Performance ed. by James C. Bulman, and: The Shakespearean World ed. by Jill L. Levenson and Robert Ormsby
Two recent collections exemplify the divergent pathways available to editors who wish to capture in print the "state of the field." In positioning itself as a decided intervention in the burgeoning discipline of performance studies, The Oxford Handbook of Shakespeare and Performance contains a number of essays that are set fair to become standard reading on the topic. But in having almost nothing to say about the politics of performance in terms of gender, sexuality and (dis)ability—and surprisingly little on the subject of race—it fails to capture an ongoing element in contemporary debate. Routledge's The Shakespearean World, on the other hand, offers a historicist roadmap to early twenty-first century Shakespeare studies, taking the reader through the intellectual developments that led to the present moment. In dating less rapidly, the Routledge volume may prove the more persistently useful of the two.
First, the Oxford Handbook. Edited by James C. Bulman, it is a substantial work with thirty-six essays and an introduction, arranged into four parts ("Experimental Shakespeare"; "Reception"; "Media and Technology"; "Global Shakespeare"). Bulman presents it as a successor to Barbara Hodgdon and W.B. Worthen's Companion to Shakespeare and Performance (2005). Hodgdon's introduction to that collection identified the study of Shakespearean performance as a pursuit that engages with the "enthusiastic exploration of performance past" (1) and deploys a productive mix of disciplines to analyze the work of theater in the here and now. Thirteen years later, Bulman offers a much less secure vision of the subject: he introduces a "slippery entity called performance," a "turbulent sea, into whose waves only the most foolhardy or daring amongst us venture to swim" (1). This anxious language says something about the contested evolution of theatrical performance in an era of encroaching broadcast and social media technologies, and perhaps something too about the widespread collapse in [End Page 559] optimism during the past decade: as Paul Menzer puts it in his contribution, "melancholia sits brooding upon performance studies" (220).
Susan Bennett's chapter sets a tone of skepticism for many of the contributions that follow. She exposes the vacuity of "experimental Shakespeare," arguing that after a half-century of evolution the term has decayed into a global marketing ploy. The rot sets in for Bennett in the 1980s, a decade that sees both the development of "global Shakespeare" as an international theatrical aesthetic ("the fusion cuisine of stage performance," 22), and the revival of an interest in early modern staging that came to be known as "Original Practices" (OP)—the phrase denoting different things on either side of the Atlantic. In Bennett's reading, OP-informed theaters work hand-in-glove with the higher education sector and the heritage industries, to the detriment of artistic innovation. Kim Solga writes damningly of another sort of theatrical conservatism espoused by theater critics: the pernicious demand for "respect" for Shakespeare's ostensible intentions, most noticeable as a form of critique when the director is female. Solga traces "reviewers' anxious policing of the Bard's gendered borders" (113) from the 1990s onwards. Recent years have seen both improvement (for example, Phyllida Lloyd's major all-female work for the Donmar Warehouse in London) and apparent backsliding: Solga regards Emma Rice's resignation from Shakespeare's Globe, announced at the end of 2016, as the artistic director's only choice given the perceived constraints placed on her work. This is an uncomfortable conclusion for the Globe, and it is not the only way to understand that difficult departure; it would be interesting to hear more on this topic in light of new artistic director Michelle Terry's radical feminist work in production style and casting from 2018. W.B. Worthen foresees extreme changes in theatrical performance. He considers "Shakespearean...