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.

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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Author: Rachael Gilmour

At a time when monolingualist claims for the importance of ‘speaking English’ to the national order continue louder than ever, even as language diversity is increasingly part of contemporary British life, literature becomes a space to consider the terms of linguistic belonging. Bad English examines writers including Tom Leonard, James Kelman, Suhayl Saadi, Raman Mundair, Daljit Nagra, Xiaolu Guo, Leila Aboulela, Brian Chikwava, and Caroline Bergvall, who engage multilingually, experimentally, playfully, and ambivalently with English’s power. Considering their invented vernaculars and mixed idioms, their dramatised scenes of languaging – languages learned or lost, acts of translation, scenes of speaking, the exposure and racialised visibility of accent – it argues for a growing field of contemporary literature in Britain pre-eminently concerned with language’s power dynamics, its aesthetic potentialities, and its prosthetic strangeness. Drawing on insights from applied linguistics and translation studies as well as literary scholarship, Bad English explores contemporary arguments about language in Britain – in debates about citizenship or education, in the media or on Twitter, in Home Office policy and asylum legislation – as well as the ways they are taken up in literature. It uncovers both an antagonistic and a productive interplay between language politics and literary form, tracing writers’ articulation of linguistic alienation and ambivalence, as well as the productivity and making-new of radical language practices. Doing so, it refutes the view that language difference and language politics are somehow irrelevant to contemporary Britain and instead argues for their constitutive centrality to the work of novelists and poets whose inside/outside relationship to English in its institutionalised forms is the generative force of their writing.

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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
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‘Say Parsley’
Rachael Gilmour

The Conclusion discusses the work of French-Norwegian poet and multimedia artist Caroline Bergvall, which challenges the ways in which English is employed in the contemporary moment to patrol the borders of national belonging, and makes the case for its radical openness to other kinds of language. Returning to arguments made in the Introduction and throughout, the Conclusion finishes by turning to the contemporary moment – the run-up to Britain exiting the European Union, and the UK Government’s 2018 Integrated Communities Green Paper – and political and popular discourses that focus on language in the context of anxieties about border security and national belonging. By way of response, it restates the importance of literature’s resistant capabilities, to follow Bergvall in trying to imagine ‘a future perfect of English as language practice’.

in Bad English
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Rachael Gilmour

Chapter two discusses a group of Scottish writers, working as academics and translators as well as poets, whose poetry of the later 1980s and 1990s employs a synthetic, ‘dictionary-trawled’ Scots language in the context of a Scottish turn towards an internationalism of minor languages. Rather than being drawn from the lived language of everyday experience, their ‘Scots’ is a highly synthetic, neologistic medium, indebted to Hugh MacDiarmid’s ‘synthetic Scots’, salvaged and reinvented from sources as diverse as antiquarian dictionaries, contemporary media culture, and digital technology. The chapter discusses Robert Crawford’s early, ambitious techno-Scots poetry which casts itself, in its unsystematicity and unboundedness, as capable of internationalising English – part of a wider movement of ‘barbarian’ linguistic-literary insurrection across the formerly colonised world. It concludes with David Kinloch’s intimate poetry, incorporating a queer, dictionary-trawled Scots always on the verge of vanishing, a language that bridges the gap between past and present, living and dead, and stands for affective bonds between people and languages. The chapter concludes by considering, via Kinloch’s poetry, the wagers and risks that come with claims to solidarity on the grounds of language.

in Bad English
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.

in Antony and Cleopatra
Antony and Cleopatra, 1677–1931
Carol Chillington Rutter

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.

in Antony and Cleopatra
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Bad English
Rachael Gilmour

Starting with Vahni Capildeo’s poetry, and also considering Sam Selvon’s novels and short stories, the Introduction suggests how writers’ everyday experiences of multilingualism give form to their work and how English signifies as a language of power and exclusion in their writing, but also as a form of language open to critical reshaping. Turning to think about the politics of language as a context for literature, it considers how English has been asserted and contested as a signifier of national belonging in Britain, in political and popular discourses, in education and debates over citizenship throughout the past 50 years – from Enoch Powell to the aftermath of the 2011 riots. The Introduction surveys scholarship on literary multilingualism and argues for the value of bringing together writers diverse in race, class, and ethnicity under the rubric of ‘bad English’.

in Bad English