Book Reviews

Jan Kott, Fifty Years Later: Is Shakespeare Still Our Contemporary?


Jan Kott’s Shakespeare Our Contemporary was published in English translation in 1964, the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth. This was the same year that Burton’s Broadway Hamlet and Kosintsev’s film adaptation of the same play were provoking critics to ramp up discussion of a reconsidered, reimagined Shakespeare for their own time. It was the year during which Northrop Frye wrote, in A Natural Perspective: The Development of Shakespearean Comedy and Romance, that Shakespeare’s conscious anachronisms “help to universalize a historical period,” with the effect that “the past is blended with the present” (20). It was also—for better or worse—the year that the Beatles enacted the rude mechanicals from A Midsummer Night’s Dream in a BBC television skit.

The Antitheatrical Prejudice


Al other evils pollute the doers onlie, not the beholders, or the hearers. For a man may heare a blasphemer, and not be partaker of his sacriledge, inasmuch as in minde he dissenteth. And if one come while a roberie is a doing, he is cleere, because he abhors the fact. Onlie the filthines of plaies, and spectacles is such, as maketh both the actors & beholders giltie alike. For while they saie nought, but gladlie looke on, they al by sight and assent be actors.

     (From A Second and Third Blast of Retrait from Plaies and Theaters printed in The English Drama and Stage Under the Tudor and Stuart Princes 1543-1664, ed. W. C. Hazlitt (London, 1869, 104). Quoted in Barish, 80)

The Pleasure of the Phenomenological Attitude

Bert O. States, The Pleasure of the Play. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1994.

Bert States’s plan was to write an introductory text for a beginning course in drama, a book that would deal with the basic principles of dramatic construction. That plan was gradually abandoned as he became aware, first, that the elementary principles of dramatic structure—e.g., plot, character, action, thought—“demand the most complex consideration,” each being problematic in itself, each throwing off a host of related problems, and that, therefore, the audience for the book should not be beginners. He then, as he says, waked up to a fact that had been “in front of [his] eyes all along”: namely that Aristotle, in the Poetics, had already written “the real introductory text of the drama,” and that what he actually wanted to write was “a book about that book’s value as a tool for poking among these so-called elementary problems.” The resulting work—The Pleasure of the Play—is an engagement with drama that is profound, charming, and useful.

The Shakespeare Revolution Redux

J. L. Styan, The Shakespeare Revolution. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977

When recently I had occasion to turn back to Shakespeare’s Globe: A Theatrical Experiment, a very useful retrospective look at the first ten years of Shakespeare’s Globe in London, edited by Christie Carson and Farah Karim-Cooper, there was a niggling something in the back of mind that would not go away, a lacuna or absence that I could not quite place. Then, by chance, one afternoon, as I was sorting through piles of books that had been left behind by a colleague and which were meant to be catalogued for our department’s resource library, I found J. L. Styan’s Shakespeare’s Stagecraft, a paperback, yellowed copy, crumbling along its edges, at the top of a stack. Suddenly it clicked – it was Styan who was missing from the many essays and conversations recorded in Shakespeare’s Globe. I turned back to the index in Carson and Karim-Cooper’s volume and found only a single, ghostly remnant of the man who had articulated and defined, through his 1977 work, The Shakespeare Revolution, the very movement that had made the construction of the new Globe possible, and who had himself been one of the prime movers in the Globe project.

Shakespeare at the Globe: 1599-1606

Bernard Beckerman, Shakespeare at the Globe: 1599-1606. New York: Macmillan, 1962.

If I had been more familiar with the landscape of Shakespeare studies twenty-five years ago, I might not have looked at Shakespeare at the Globe because Beckerman was well known as a practitioner of performance criticism. He had come to the academic side in the early 1960s from a fifteen-year stint as theater director at Hofstra College (1950-65) where he directed fifteen plays by Shakespeare, thirteen of which were “on the J. C. Adams full-scale model of the Globe” (according to Marvin and Ruth Thompson in the 1989 festschrift for Beckerman, Shakespeare and the Sense of Performance [p. 20]).

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