Taking the measure of Antony and Cleopatra, Royal Shakespeare Company, 1972, 1978, 1982
Carol Chillington Rutter
Opening with a question about the scale of Shakespeare’s play, this chapter looks at three seminal productions of Antony and Cleopatra at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre: in 1972 Trevor Nunn (with Janet Suzman and Richard Johnson as his principals) scaled it to epic proportions; in 1978 Peter Brook re-sized it around Glenda Jackson and Alan Howard for intimacy; in 1982 Adrian Noble made it a chamber play, putting Helen Mirren and Michael Gambon on a postage-stamp-sized stage that nevertheless imagined a space ‘past the size of dreaming’. Each of these productions is contextualised to its cultural moment: the anti-Vietnam student protest and women’s liberation movements in 1972; the reassigning of global politics to the domestic in 1978; the challenging of institutional policies in 1982.
This chapter discusses the singular beauty and strangeness of Cixous’s writings as a kind of perpetual disruption of the machines of academic professionalisation and enclosure. Her passion is for the edifying strangeness of dreams. Her writings show a constant interest in the relations between dreams and literature, dreams and the supernatural, dreams and secrets, dreams and the more than or other than human. Her work is often about traumatic experiences or events, but there is always also the power of joy and laughter. She writes ‘escaping texts’. Her writing cuts free of all conventional terms, such as ‘critical essay’, ‘creative writing’, ‘novel’, ‘autobiography’, ‘theory’, ‘post-theory’. Readers are invited to go down into a Cixous text in the same way that they might go down into the illuminated darkness of a painting by Rembrandt.
This chapter takes the openings of four of Cixous’s books (Manhattan, Hyperdream, Love Itself in the Letter-Box and Eve Escapes) as the basis for a discussion of the unconventional, experimental, even violent nature of her writing. Particular emphasis is given to the question of time and the speed of life: as Derrida more than once remarked, ‘Life will have been so short’. In what ways is this future anterior (‘will have’) perhaps especially characteristic of the contemporary world? Cixous’s work helps us think about the extent to which, as Mark Currie puts it in About Time: Narrative, Fiction and the Philosophy of Time, ‘the present is experienced in a mode of anticipation’. How might writing best engage what Currie calls ‘this anticipatory mode of being’? In quite different ways, both Gilles Deleuze and Jacques Derrida highlight an uncanny sense of speed in Cixous’s work. The chapter develops their work in order to suggest how deeply Cixous’s writing resonates in a time of climate change, mass species extinction and escalating dependence on teletechnologies.
This chapter focuses on Cixous’s Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing, launching off from Kafka’s celebrated remark about the need for books ‘to be the axe for the frozen sea inside us’. It starts, as Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing starts, with the ‘H’ at the beginning of Hélène Cixous’s name, pronounced ‘ash’, i.e. ‘hache’ in French, or axe. It explores the relations between writing and trauma in terms of the notion of signature, elaborating on the view of Jacques Derrida (following Jean Genet) that ‘the signature is a wound and there is no other origin of the work of art’. This in turn leads to a discussion of écriture féminine, bisexuality and, finally, the complex and multiple figurations of ‘giving birth’ in the context of Cixous’s work. Through a discussion of Plato’s Theaetetus and philosophy as ‘maieutics’, the chapter proposes the neologistic portmanteau term maiopic writing, which combines ‘giving birth’ with what Cixous calls ‘writing blind’.
This brief chapter offers a reading of Reveries of the Wild Woman: Primal Scenes. Like other chapters bearing the title ‘Cixous cuts’, this involves a discussion of the multiple senses of ‘cut’ in her work. Like every other book Cixous has published, Reveries of the Wild Woman: Primal Scenes is full of cuts of different kinds. Particular attention is given to the ways in which her ‘primal scenes’ are at once allied with Freud’s conception of this term and discreetly but significantly at odds with it. The chapter focuses above all on the traumatic, traumatised passage in Reveries of the Wild Woman in which Cixous recalls, as a seven-year-old in Algeria, witnessing the terrible fate of a veiled young Muslim girl on a Ferris wheel in 1944. This is announced as the ‘tale of a girl who gets cut in two’ and provides the final, most horrifying ‘primal scene’ in Cixous’s book.
‘Cixous cuts’ are also about the desire for ‘no cut’, for the sort of seamless, cut-resistant writing that Cixous admires in Clarice Lispector. Such seamlessness is also an element of dreams. This chapter explores further the notion of ‘writing by dream’. While Joyce might seem the obvious precursor in this context, here it is argued that the writer with whom Cixous has most in common as one who ‘writes by dream’ is Lewis Carroll. This chapter seeks to elaborate on the affinities between Carroll and Cixous developed in the preceding chapter (‘Portmanteau’), through a detailed reading and analysis of the figure of the ‘cut’ in the Alice books. Cuts are everywhere in Carroll’s work, but even in the most mortifying example (decapitation) they are always strangely innocuous. This chapter argues that Carroll’s books do something new in the history of English fiction with the figure of the ‘cut’, above all through the logic whereby (in Cixous’s words) ‘effects precede their causes: first the piece of cake is eaten, then it is cut’. The Alice books emerge as key texts for understanding Cixous’s double concern with trauma and with narrative composition as (in the White Queen’s uncanny phrase) ‘living backwards’.
The phrase ‘dream in literature’ can be understood in three distinct but interrelated ways, as 1) the role and importance of dreams in literary works; 2) the impulse or compulsion to dream, to fall into reverie, to lose oneself in a dream or dreamlike state while reading a work of literature, the experience of becoming fascinated, immersed or set adrift in a book; and 3) where ‘dream’ is a speech act, an order, request, plea or desire: dream in literature as one might breathe in the night air, inhale a perfume or a strange gas. The chapter explores Cixous’s ‘writing by dream’ (as Derrida calls it), focusing in particular on the nature of the ‘I’ of the dreamer, and the relationship between ‘realisim’ and ‘telepathy’. It interweaves readings of Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘Ligeia’, Percy Bysshe Shelley’s ‘The Question’, Virginia Woolf’s The Waves, Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, with readings of Cixous’s own writings (including Rootprints, Ayai! The Cry of Literature, Hyperdream, Abstracts and Brief Chronicles of the Time, and Death Shall Be Dethroned).
This short chapter describes how the author wakes up awash in the sounds of seagull cries, and recalls having dreamed of receiving a letter from Freud (written in English, nearly eighty years after his death). All that can be recalled of the letter is a feeling of great pleasure and the phrase ‘probably not’. Pondering what to make of all this, the author telephones Cixous to ask for her thoughts. We are all insane in our dreams, Freud noted in his earliest work, Studies on Hysteria: comparison is made between the insanity of Sigmund Freud and the insanity of Donald Trump. Contrast is made between Freud’s openness to thinking the other, and Trump’s position in which, as Howard Jacobson puts it, ‘nothing strange to him is allowed entry’. Finally, attention is given to the question of ‘dream treatment’, above all the question of (in Cixous’s words in Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing) ‘how to treat the dream as dream’.
Foreign Antony and Cleopatra in Britain and abroad
Carol Chillington Rutter
This chapter looks at foreign productions of Antony and Cleopatra played on stages in the UK and abroad, in English and in translation: Peter Zadek’s Berliner Ensemble production in a specially commissioned German translation at the Edinburgh Festival; Toneelgroep Amsterdam’s modern Dutch, modern-dress, high-tech production in Amsterdam; and in Washington DC and in Stratford, Ontario, productions in English that nevertheless saw Shakespeare with foreign eyes. In every case, this chapter discovers the ‘foreign’ to be a problematic concept, as demonstrated first with the production that sets up the subsequent discussion, Theodore Komisarjevsky’s Antony and Cleopatra at the New Theatre (London) in 1936.
Observing that after Shakespeare’s death, while Antony and Cleopatra survived in print, it disappeared from the English stage for the next 150 years, this chapter looks in detail at the play that replaced it on the Restoration stage: John Dryden’s All for Love, or The World Well Lost. It reads All for Love as a domestic drama for a formally correct but licentious age that conducts a psychomachia across a series of two-handed ‘debate scenes’: will Antony be summoned back to Roman duty – or will he remain tangled in the captivating toils of the Egyptian queen? The chapter then fast-forwards across a number of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century productions that all used Dryden’s text before Shakespeare’s, Dryden-free, was returned to the stage in 1849, just at the moment that ‘Egyptomania’ hit England and when spectacular Shakespeare, Shakespeare performed with eye-popping scenes and lavish costuming, was the rage. The chapter ends surveying twentieth-century productions of the play up to 1931, seeing earlier theatrical extravaganzas that necessitated deep textual cuts and re-ordering of Shakespeare’s scenes giving way, under the direction of Harley Granville Barker, to Shakespeare restored, with all his words and scenes, mostly uncut, played in the right order.