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Reviewed by:
  • Shakespeare, Technicity, Theatre by W. B. Worthen
  • Amy Borsuk
SHAKESPEARE, TECHNICITY, THEATRE. By W. B. Worthen. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020; pp. 278.

W. B. Worthen’s latest book boldly argues for fundamental changes to how theatre scholars analyze the use of technology in theatre and performance. Through theoretical interventions and performance [End Page 600] analyses of contemporary Shakespeare productions, Worthen argues that theatre is not defined by technologies, but rather is a technology. This subtle distinction requires contemporary theatre and performance scholars to shift away from thinking about theatre as an essentialized apparatus that is disrupted and transformed when new technologies are applied to it, and toward thinking about the technicity of theatre: that is, theatre as itself a technology defined by the interactions of different tools, materials, and ideologies that change over time. To demonstrate his methodological and rhetorical innovation, Worthen offers constructive critical analyses of existing key terms in contemporary digital theatre and performance studies: interface, application, interactivity, immersion, algorithm, and code.

While Shakespeare performances are his key case studies, this book does not intend to provide a history of technologies in early modern Shakespeare performance or an accounting of how technology is understood in a Shakespearean text. Instead, Worthen argues that contemporary Shakespeare performances are useful tools for understanding how terminologies for analyzing technologies have been applied in theatre studies, and for demonstrating his proposed alternative methodological engagement. The other significant goal for this book follows on from his previous work: to decentralize the role of dramatic text in performance, and to understand all theatrical components from props to costumes to acting and movement as co-sources of theatrical meaning and signification.

In his introduction, Worthen provides a dense and complex theoretical overview that positions technicity against preexisting discourses of intermediality, communications, and theatricality. He encourages an expanded understanding of “intermediality” beyond the relationship between digital and live elements, because this focus oversimplifies the history of technology in theatre and eclipses the reality that all performance elements are mediated through a range of “practices of signification” (14). He argues for considering theatre as an event in which texts are not merely communicated, but remediated, divided, revised, and multiplied, especially through digital technologies. He critiques the framework, in Samuel Weber’s work and elsewhere, of theatricality as theatre’s medium, since this reinforces the concept of an essentialized theatre shaped by technology, rather than as the fundamental driving ideological and material component that shapes the technical apparatus of the event. Lastly, he sets up technicity as the frame through which he examines theatre and technology throughout the book: technicity encompasses representing technologies such as props, technologies that make the performance possible such as electric light and sound, and the architecture, texts, and the bodies of performers, and how these components necessarily and fluidly work together.

In chapter 2, Worthen uses Thomas Ostermeier’s 2009 production of Hamlet, the Wooster Group’s Hamlet, and Toneelgroep Amsterdam’s 2007 Roman Tragedies to explore how the face in onstage live-streamed performance mediates between the actor’s body and intermediating technologies. This chapter is heavily rooted in Worthen’s philosophical extension of Emmanuel Levinas’s metaphor of the “face” of the Other and its relationship to alienation to argue for the technicity of the actor’s face. Through close analyses of specific moments within each production, Worthen argues that the live-streamed performance of an actor’s face acts as both technology and self (a “what” and a “who”), because it conveys simultaneously the technology of acting and the notion of self and identity.

In chapter 3, Worthen uses digital devices and applications to demonstrate as fallacy the assumption that text is opposed to performance. He analyses multiple Shakespeare-centered apps, including Luminary Digital’s The Tempest for iPad and The Folger Luminary Shakespeare series, and critiques how the design and function of several apps creates a false hierarchy in which text is the core element, with design and performance as supportive pedagogical tools for understanding the text. He argues that instead, the interactivity of these components works at an interface between the “technological what” and the “human subject” (76), in which the technologies of theatre shape how...


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pp. 600-602
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