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An infinite variety of appropriations in American TV drama

Serial Shakespeare explores the dissemination and reassemblage of Shakespeare’s plays in contemporary media culture, regarding the way this taps into but also transforms his preferred themes, concerns and constellations of characters. The appropriations discussed include isolated citations in Westworld and The Wire, a typology of the first female president modelled on figures of female sovereignty, as well as a discussion of what one might call a specifically Shakespearean dramaturgy in Deadwood and The Americans. By proposing a reciprocal exchange between the early modern plays and contemporary serial TV drama, the book focusses on the transhistoric and transmedial dialogue a revisitation of the Bard entails. The readings consider the Shakespeare text again, from a different perspective, but also address the fact that his text comes back to us again, from the past. The book claims that serial TV drama keeps appropriating Shakespeare to give voice to unfinished cultural business regarding the state of the American nation because both share the sense of writing in and for a period of interim. Given that the Bard continues to write and read America, what the book draws into focus is how both scriptwriters and cultural critics can, by repurposing him, come up with narratives that are appropriate to our times.

Westworld
Elisabeth Bronfen

The chapter begins by exploring the use Westworld makes of quotations from Hamlet to discuss the way Shakespeare haunts this serial TV drama in the manner of a ghost, a spectral presence. The chapter then moves to a set of quotations from Romeo and Juliet and The Tempest, uttered by a malfunctioning host. By crossmapping both plays with Westworld, what is at stake is the way these citations bring with them some of the concerns shaped in the plays from which they originated, notably the relationship between the exploitative power of theater in The Tempest and the equation of violent delights and violent ends in Romeo and Juliet. Shakespeare is shown to write the prototypical American myth, the frontier, in its digital refiguration.

in Serial Shakespeare
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The Wire
Elisabeth Bronfen

This chapter reads The Wire with Shakespeare’s first tetralogy, proposing an analogy between the war on drugs in Baltimore at the beginning of the 21st century and his historical reenactment of the War of the Roses. At issue in both is the deployment of systemic cycles of violence predicated on a struggle between political legitimacy and legitimation. At stake also is the theatrical display of power that connects Shakespeare’s world to that of The Wire, even while both tap into a rhetoric of surveillance. The theatre audience, like the audience of the TV drama, is shown to be made complicit in the violent traffic performed on stage, page and screen.

in Serial Shakespeare
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The joys of literature and the return of the dead
Nicholas Royle

This chapter offers a critical exploration of Cixous’s Dream I Tell You, alongside Jacques Derrida’s ‘Fichus’, in order to clarify an understanding of ‘dream’ in Cixous’s writings. Dream I Tell You is not a work of fiction, but rather a kind of twilight book of ‘limbo things’ – a seemingly haphazard collection of ‘innocent’ dream-transcriptions, accompanied by a densely poetic and suggestive critical foreword (‘Avertissements’). The chapter shifts from a discussion of Freud (described by Cixous as ‘the Shakespeare of the night’), to her conception of literature as the ‘daughter of Dream’, and finally to Shakespeare’s own work. Particular attention is given to the importance of Antony and Cleopatra (especially Cleopatra’s dream of Antony back from the dead) in Cixous’s writing and poetic thinking. This is illustrated through a reading of the early text ‘Sorties’ (1975) and more recent writings on the subject of ‘Los’, such as Abstracts and Brief Chronicles of the Time (2013) and the companion volume Death Shall Be Dethroned (2014). Dreams bring ‘joys the diurnal world never gives’, above all when they restore to us, alive again, loved ones who have died: the chapter foregrounds the strange and powerful effects of revenance and resurrection in Cixous’s work.

in Hélène Cixous
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Nicholas Royle

How does one finish a book about Hélène Cixous, a writer who is endlessly concerned with open ends, with what she calls ‘the book I don’t write’, and with the conviction that, quite apart from the living, ‘no dead person has ever said their last word’? ‘All wards’ is a neologistic formulation suggested by Cixous as a way of thinking about both writing and life. Exploration of the phrase leads to a discussion of ‘lingophobia’ (‘fear of language’ as well as ‘fear of the tongue’) and the ‘unidentifiable literary object’ (ULO), a term that, it is suggested, describes as well as any other the kind of texts she writes. At stake here is a distinction between realism and what Cixous calls ‘realistizing’. This chapter focuses on the concept of character (the subject of her remarkable early essay ‘The Character of “Character”’) and also explores the figure of the ULO in the context of Nicholas Royle’s An English Guide to Birdwatching and Agatha Christie’s Peril at End House, as well as Shakespeare.

in Hélène Cixous

This book writes a performance history of Antony and Cleopatra from 1606 to 2018. After considering the particular challenges Shakespeare’s script offers any actors, directors or designers who stage it, the book looks in detail at Antony and Cleopatra on the Jacobean stage and then at Dryden’s All for Love (the play that replaced Shakespeare’s from the Restoration to 1849). Fast-forwarding across a number of Victorian adaptations and early twentieth century English productions, it arrives at 1953, when, directed by Glen Byam Shaw at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre with Peggy Ashcroft as Cleopatra and Michael Redgrave as Antony, the play’s modern performance history begins. Thereafter, chapters offer in-depth analyses of fifteen productions by (among others) the Royal Shakespeare Company, Citizens’ Theatre Glasgow, Northern Broadsides, Berliner Ensemble and Toneelgroep Amsterdam in five countries and three languages. Combining close readings of theatre records – promptbooks, stage managers’ reports, costume bibles, reviews – with deep historical contextualisation, it sees how, and what, this play has meant each time it has brought its thoughts on power, race, masculinity, regime change, exoticism, love, dotage and delinquency into alignment with a new present. It ends seeing Shakespeare’s black Cleopatra restored to the English stage. Tragedy, comedy, history, farce: this book demonstrates that in performance Antony and Cleopatra is all four.

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Nicholas Royle

This chapter is an extended meditation on the beauty and polyphonic possibilities of the English word ‘away’, specifically in terms of how it enables a critical reading and appreciation of Cixous’s writing as escaping, in flight, going ‘away’, as text – but also as sound or music. This involves a detailed reading of Cixous’s ‘Writing Blind’ and Kafka’s ‘The Departure’, as well as extended discussion of how ‘away’ works in Shakespeare (especially Antony and Cleopatra), Keats’s ‘Ode to a Nightingale’, Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Stevens’s The Man with the Blue Guitar. A critical close reading of Paul de Man on Keats’s ode discloses a new emphasis on the haunting inscription of ‘away’ in the poem. This leads back to a further encounter with ‘dream in literature’, wherein the writings of Cixous, Shakespeare and Keats sound together in the figure of the nightingale.

in Hélène Cixous
Peter Hall, Olivier Theatre, National Theatre, 1987
Carol Chillington Rutter

Casting Judi Dench and Anthony Hopkins as his star couple, using an uncut text (taken not from any modern edition of Antony and Cleopatra but from the 1623 Folio), and referring to Harley Granville-Barker’s 1930 Prefaces to Shakespeare as his principal critical source, Peter Hall eschewed the orientalism of every production of the play on the English stage since 1953 to make this a very English Antony and Cleopatra, not least in his all-white casting, his near-religious attention to the text and his ‘iambic fundamentalist’ demands for the ‘correct’ speaking of the verse. Some reviewers heard the ‘true sound of Shakespeare’ in Hall’s large-scale production; others thought Hall’s ‘sumptuous nostalgia for the grand style’ lost something vital to Shakespeare – the rough, the raw, the immediate. All agreed that Dench and Hopkins gave performances of such ‘searing, wounded intimacy’ that they would ‘take you by the throat even played on a windy day on a Brighton pier’.

in Antony and Cleopatra
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The Citizens’ Theatre (Glasgow), 1972, and Northern Broadsides (Halifax), 1995
Carol Chillington Rutter

Taking a cue from Cleopatra’s nightmare vision of being taken captive to Rome where the ‘quick comedians’ will ‘stage’ her, some ‘squeaking … boy’ making a travesty of her ‘greatness’, this chapter looks first at the burlesque tradition from F. C. Burnand to the Carry On films of remaking Antony and Cleopatra as farce. Then it looks in detail at two straight but seriously unconventional British productions that reframed the play’s meaning by staging alternative interpretations to those currently on offer at the Royal Shakespeare Company. At the Citizens’ Theatre, Glasgow, Giles Havergal drew on the theatre’s history, location and popular appeal to make a radical adaptation of Shakespeare’s script that used only seven actors and cross-cast Jonathan Kent as Cleopatra in what reviewers called the ‘Zulu’ Antony and Cleopatra. In Halifax, Barrie Rutter continued his campaign to claim Shakespeare for the Northern voice, opening Northern Broadsides’ production with a burlesque scene played by a ‘squeaking’ Cleopatra that gave way to a serious staging in modern dress whose most celebrated quality was the electrifying delivery of Shakespeare’s writing.

in Antony and Cleopatra
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.

in Antony and Cleopatra